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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 94 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: The Impossible Design  (Read 6928 times)
JasonPalenske
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Posts: 31

Lost in the Gameverse


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« on: October 25, 2005, 02:53:59 PM »

The Impossible Design

Over the last week or so I've noticed a profound change in the Forge. I say this as it comes from actually not being present on the forums for over a year or more.

Notice #1
GNS has become more than a theory of design, in my opinion, but has become an actual design practice.

Notice #2
As a result of Notice #1, there has sprung up a wealth of terminology that applies to game design, but I feel has a not always intended lean towards GNS. This of course is in no way anything against the work Ron has done.

Notice #3
GNS has become I feel, more of a veteran game designers formula to work within.

As a result I think a new designer may come to the Forge, look around, and go "Holy Crap! I just wanted to design a game. I didn't think I needed a degree to do it." This is not to say that members of the Forge aren't more than eager to jump in and help clarify things and in general just be horribly helpful, but I can see how the forums may look intimidating. Especially the Theory and GNS forums.

John Kirks RPG Design Patterns which can be found here I think has made great strides in finding useful success techniques within the more prominent games and help as a design tool, but in a way may be too much for a beginning designer as well. Troy's Rant #3 and other Rants also help a lot too.

In general though when a person proposes their design or idea I find that we may lean too much on the first Big 3 Questions?
1. What's it about?
2. What do the characters do?
3. What do the players do?
From here on out I will use my own game of Frontier as an example and a bashing target. It's what I'm the most familiar with and I shouldn't be afraid to open it up as an example.

When I first presented Frontier and was faced with these questions I had very straight forward answers.

What's it about?
What's it about, it's a game, you play it.

What do the characters do?
The characters? They're just pieces of paper, figments of my imagination, they don't do anything.

What do the players do?
They have fun, what else do they do?

My answers changed a lot as I became familiar with GNS, they changed as I worked on it.....................then I walked away.


And something changed.

Thoughts of GNS drifted away, thoughts of target audiences and publishing woes left me alone. Theory and looking at others ideas faded. Frontier had drifted, I had drifted. All that was left was...

The Impossible Design

It couldn't be done. Frontier was gone and all that was left was a bunch of scribbles on paper and in a computer. It wasn't what it started as, just a game.

So I got a clean piece of paper and started over.

As I wrote, just what was in my head, all the original things Frontier had been, I realized something. Not only had I dissected Frontier, I had dissected myself in some ways. The original goal was coming back. The theory was simple.

Many Forge members have posted that many games arise as having been written for a specific group of players. The design later then has to be rethought to appeal to a larger target audience. Others can dissect the idea with terminology and theory they are comfortable with. In the end all that is often left is a very confused and often discouraged designer. Which left me with...

The Impossible Design: Or the Plain English Guide to Game Design for Newbies

Step 1
Forget everything you ever thought you knew about games.

Step 2
Forget everything you thought you learned about designing games

Step 3
Rinse and repeat Steps 1 and 2 as necessary

So you want to design a tabletop role-playing game.

Tabletop:
For the purpose of this guide Tabletop will be defined as a game you play with a group of friends that does not actively involve miniatures. That's a whole different monster. For this guide we'll even create a game from scratch.

Part 1
Inspiration

First you need some. That can come in many ways, it can be a world you and your group already play in, part of a story you have written, it could even be from a weird dream you had.

We'll call this the Setting, or the environment in which the game takes place. It could be a strange world of dreams, a galaxy of tuna wielding barbarian tabby cats, or maybe just a game about vampire high school students. This can be the hardest part since sometimes it can be hard to feel unique. Since I'm not feeling ultra inspired at the moment I'll used the Vampire high school students as my inspiration.

I'm gonna call it,
Blood Sucking Fiends from the Valley

Part 2
The Character Creation

Now some character creation is very detailed, some leaves a lot to the imagination. For BSF's from the Valley I think it will be kind of light. In general I like lots of imagination.
Most games use things to determine things like physical or mental attributes. Skills they know etc. Since BSF's is a simple game I'll do it this way.

For the Physical we'll call it Hottie, because in the Valley that's all that really matters anyway.

For the mental we'll call it Duh! because if you don't know your so like stupid, hello. This I think will cover our skills nicely too.

But this is a game about teenage vampires in the valley, we need something to show that. We'll call it your Bla-blah (fingers in front of teeth please). This will show something, just don't know what yet.

Part 3
Da Rules

Every game has them. Some are rules heavy, some of them are so light we can barely taste them, but they are there. They're most often used as an impartial means of judging if something happened or not. Mostly to help get us away from the "I got you. No you didn't I got you!" we tended to deal with as kids.

Since BSF's Is a light game the rules will also be light. They'll help us keep from going no you didn't and also convey the point of the game.

First what is the point of playing BSF's, beside having what is obviously going to be a lot of fun. Well we have vampire high school students in the valley. I guess the funnest thing would be to try and survive all your classes without going Bla-blahn (finger please) all over everyone, or at least have the Duh! to cover it up if you do.

Now we need rules to lets us do it.

Lots of games have one person who runs the show, most often this is called the GM or game master. Others make it a group effort, letting players take turns being in control. Since BSF's is light hearted I think everyone should be in charge at some point in time.

What we have so far...

Blood Sucking Fiends from the Valley
High school was never so freaky

Goal
To survive classes without going Bla-blah over everyone or be able to cover it up.

3 Attributes
Hottie
Duh!
Bla-blah (fingers in front of teeth please)

Da Rules
Everyone takes a turn at being in charge.

So far it doesn't seem like a lot, but I think it can become something.

Most games you will find use multi sided dice to help figure out what happened. More and more games are using different things. Since I have only made dice rolled games I'll try something different. But what?
 I'm loking around my desk, there isn't much. Bunch of paper, some disks, checkers board, deck a cards, some checkbooks. I think I'll use the deck of cards but the checkers board did have some potential.

So now we have a deck of cards giving us suits of Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds.
What do we do with them though?
First we'll have them get the starting attributes. Each player will draw one cards in a round robin style writing the face value down in the attribute. Ace's will be worth thirteen. This will show how on your game you are when you get to school.

I think we need some other things.
School runs on a schedule, we need some kind of timer. Watch, microwave, anything will do.
6 classes, five passing periods,
some blank pieces of paper, at least one for everybody.

as you can see my little guide would continue on. Not really to show how I design a game but to simplify things down into an easy follow format.

Although the Forge is a great place to find an amazing theory turned practical application, it isn't always the simplest to learn or follow. Maybe instead of asking

What's it about?

What do the characters do?

What do the players do?

we should ask

What's the idea?
What's your idea for the background for the game?

How do you play? or if that is still unknown What is the point of game?
Do you have a specific goal in mind? Such as epic adventure, a single nights fun, or maybe the answer is bizaar.

What do the players do?
My personal opinion is that the answer should always be have fun, or why else do we play? It would probably answered within the Idea or how do you play, but it could easily include extra points that are players specific.

How we change how we pose our questions I feel can only help new designers further their designs instead of possibly requiring them to learn a lot of jargon, or maybe feeling intimidated by how blunt the questions can seem in a prove yourself to us sort of way.

I apologize if this post seemed to ramble but I used it as a method to exorcise some thoughts that had been running through my head as of late when visiting the Forge.
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Adam Cerling
Member

Posts: 159

WhiteRat


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« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2005, 04:34:07 PM »

Jason,

One of the things that attracted me to the Forge (before I even dreamed of being a game designer) was precisely that "Holy Crap!" you mention. Here was a wealth of ideas I had never encountered. Here was an internet forum where discussion left me grasping, as opposed to charging in with confidence that I knew it all already. Here I sensed there was something to learn.

I don't think that's for everyone. Some people don't care to learn about rhythm and rhyme, meter and verse, Shakespeare and Keats: they just want to write poetry. And they can do that. Nobody will stop them.

If, however, these aspiring poets want to have useful discussions about poetry with other poets, they'd better learn some common terms. Alliteration; stanza; sonnet. Otherwise how can they communicate?

To me, that's all the Big Model (once called GNS) does. It provides a language with which to describe all these phenomena I see happening while playing games.

Of course it takes effort to learn. Communication is hard. Anyone can communicate poorly, but good communication takes work.

Is that intimidating? If so, there's no help for it. You get out what you put in*.

*Minus thermodynamics' cut.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
JasonPalenske
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Posts: 31

Lost in the Gameverse


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« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2005, 05:31:11 PM »

Jason,

One of the things that attracted me to the Forge (before I even dreamed of being a game designer) was precisely that "Holy Crap!" you mention. Here was a wealth of ideas I had never encountered. Here was an internet forum where discussion left me grasping, as opposed to charging in with confidence that I knew it all already. Here I sensed there was something to learn.

I don't think that's for everyone. Some people don't care to learn about rhythm and rhyme, meter and verse, Shakespeare and Keats: they just want to write poetry. And they can do that. Nobody will stop them.

If, however, these aspiring poets want to have useful discussions about poetry with other poets, they'd better learn some common terms. Alliteration; stanza; sonnet. Otherwise how can they communicate?

To me, that's all the Big Model (once called GNS) does. It provides a language with which to describe all these phenomena I see happening while playing games.

Of course it takes effort to learn. Communication is hard. Anyone can communicate poorly, but good communication takes work.

Is that intimidating? If so, there's no help for it. You get out what you put in*.

*Minus thermodynamics' cut.


I totally agree, but I think it would help us in creating a simpler model in which new designers can begin with before starting on the learning curve to the Big Model. Or for that matter, creating a simpler common consensus for those who do not wish to get into the greater details of theory and design.
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Adam Cerling
Member

Posts: 159

WhiteRat


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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2005, 06:31:40 PM »

I totally agree, but I think it would help us in creating a simpler model in which new designers can begin with before starting on the learning curve to the Big Model. Or for that matter, creating a simpler common consensus for those who do not wish to get into the greater details of theory and design.

To me, "those who do not wish to get into the greater details of theory and design" sounds like "those who want to benefit from the Big Model without having to learn it." I don't think we can help them.

I agree that the Forge would benefit from simpler and more up-to-date introductory essays. The Glossary is not easy to dive into. But I don't think we achieve that by "dumbing down" the Big Model into something less than it is. We achieve it by presenting the Model in digestible chunks.

The questions are one starting point for doing that.

"What is your game about?" "What do the characters do?" "What do the players do?" No Forge jargon exists in any of these questions. They don't refer to the Big Model in any way. They are utterly simple.

Why do you find them confusing?
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Nogusielkt
Member

Posts: 55


« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2005, 07:38:57 PM »

When I first came here, the impression I got (and still get) is that people love to invent words and to redefine words.  Sometimes it makes no sense.  Chargen means character generation, but the total abbreviation only saves a handful of letters.  Even the glossary uses words and phrases that are unclear without reading the glossary or having been here for a long time.  There are no... examples in there.  I think there is a lot of bias towards types of play as well.  I don't think that this community will ever change to one where anyone can wonder in and immediately understand everything that is going on.  You'd probably be better off starting a new community for that.
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greyorm
Member

Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.


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« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2005, 10:06:34 PM »

I don't think that this community will ever change to one where anyone can wonder in and immediately understand everything that is going on. You'd probably be better off starting a new community for that.

Unfortunately for modern Western man raised in our sound-byte society, where everything is and must be NOW, there exists NO established community into which you can wander and immediately understand what is going on. That is simply a feature of communities built around any subject whatsoever, and all communities that exist for any length of time eventually come to exist in this state.

All groups have their terms, their jargon, and confusingly redefined words that seemingly exist as such for no better purpose than people enjoying redefining words. As anyone who has ever been in any technical field eventually realizes, this is part and parcel of human communication. Words are not redefined just for the sake of it, but for clear purposes that serve the goals of that group: specialized communication always looks bizzare and confusing, even useless, to those outside the group.

For a prime example, just look at the computer technology field. Closer to home, try talking RPGs to your non-gamer mom as though she were a fellow gamer.

So, while one could go and create a new group that everyone could immediately jump into and understand everything going on, it wouldn't stay that way for long. I'll note the former is exactly where the Forge started out, too. In order to remain that way, the Forge would have had to have done nothing over a five-year period, no communication, no theory development: complete stasis.

To me, the annual "Hey, you have to read stuff at the Forge to participate! That sucks!" threads are just our regular culturally-motivated "wanting to ignore reality" idea regurgitation. Not to say lowering the barrier to entry wouldn't be a good thing, and I respect someone wanting to do it...as long as they DO IT and don't just talk about how it should be done (you know, by someone else).

Thus, I do applaud Jason's attempt above...but in looking at it, I have to question it as well. His three questions are just...the original three questions put through a thesaurus. If they help Jason understand or answer the standard questions better: GREAT!

But, as Ron often notes in threads about GNS eureka's that include the "what you're trying to say is...", understanding is reached through rephrasing the existing statement into something you grok, it doesn't mean it is an improvement over the original, except for you. (I guarantee that someone else is going to find your questions just as "confusing" as you find the originals, and will come along and say, "Well, why not ask it like THIS? That's much clearer (to me).")
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Ben Lehman
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Blissed


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« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2005, 10:30:11 PM »

I don't get it.  I mean, I don't get your design advice.  It doesn't make any sense to me.  Character creation before rules?  Isn't character creation a rule?  How are "How do you play" and "what do the players do" different questions?  You say you need to forget everything you know but all of your structure is based around "most games."  (Must games use dice, Most games have physical/mental divides, Most games have character creation rules.)  So am I supposed to forget everything or not?

What do "rules heavy" and "rules light" actually mean?  Those combinations of words are impossible to wring any meaning out of, at least in my head.  Does it have to do with the weight of paper for the rules text?  I don't know.

I'm all for new design techniques, but I can't fathom how to even parse what you've just said, let alone put it into practice.

yrs--
--Ben
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JasonPalenske
Member

Posts: 31

Lost in the Gameverse


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« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2005, 06:51:39 AM »

Quote
To me, "those who do not wish to get into the greater details of theory and design" sounds like "those who want to benefit from the Big Model without having to learn it." I don't think we can help them.

I think this can be true as well, but I also think there are those who just would like to get some help to finish their design versus debating how it falls within the Big Model.

Quote
I agree that the Forge would benefit from simpler and more up-to-date introductory essays. The Glossary is not easy to dive into. But I don't think we achieve that by "dumbing down" the Big Model into something less than it is. We achieve it by presenting the Model in digestible chunks.

I agree on the simpler essays, I don't agree that it would require a "dumbing down" though.

Quote
The questions are one starting point for doing that.

"What is your game about?" "What do the characters do?" "What do the players do?" No Forge jargon exists in any of these questions. They don't refer to the Big Model in any way. They are utterly simple.

Why do you find them confusing?

I don't find them confusing in any way, what I do find is the wording can be somewhat cold, well perhaps not cold, perhaps intimidating. I think by putting those first questions in a friendlier tone it could perhaps attract more designers to allow us to follow along in their designs.

Sometimes "What is your game about?" isn't the easiest thing to answer. Instead try asking "What is your idea?" For some it is easier to pose an idea, especially if everything isn't concrete, than to give a detailed synopsis of your work. I've feel a good portion of the of the people who pose these questions do have the BIG MODEL in the background as they ask. Mostly because they use it on a regular basis.


Quote
All groups have their terms, their jargon, and confusingly redefined words that seemingly exist as such for no better purpose than people enjoying redefining words. As anyone who has ever been in any technical field eventually realizes, this is part and parcel of human communication. Words are not redefined just for the sake of it, but for clear purposes that serve the goals of that group: specialized communication always looks bizzare and confusing, even useless, to those outside the group.

For a prime example, just look at the computer technology field. Closer to home, try talking RPGs to your non-gamer mom as though she were a fellow gamer.

So, while one could go and create a new group that everyone could immediately jump into and understand everything going on, it wouldn't stay that way for long. I'll note the former is exactly where the Forge started out, too. In order to remain that way, the Forge would have had to have done nothing over a five-year period, no communication, no theory development: complete stasis.

To me, the annual "Hey, you have to read stuff at the Forge to participate! That sucks!" threads are just our regular culturally-motivated "wanting to ignore reality" idea regurgitation. Not to say lowering the barrier to entry wouldn't be a good thing, and I respect someone wanting to do it...as long as they DO IT and don't just talk about how it should be done (you know, by someone else).

I do agree with this completely, my mom would be utterly clueless. Now my dad on the other hand, if you took the idea to him, totally ignoring any kind of jargon, and just say here is my idea and what I want to use to make it work, he would throw so many concepts and techniques at you it could make your head spin.

I don't want this to be viewed as a Forge should change but I don't want to be the one to do it thread. For a community to change for the better, the community has to be involved. This should be a how can we make the Forge better and more open thread.

Quote
Thus, I do applaud Jason's attempt above...but in looking at it, I have to question it as well. His three questions are just...the original three questions put through a thesaurus. If they help Jason understand or answer the standard questions better: GREAT!

Yes the questions are changed but remain the same. The hope however is to put them in a more open tone that may encourage rather than discourage.

Quote
But, as Ron often notes in threads about GNS eureka's that include the "what you're trying to say is...", understanding is reached through rephrasing the existing statement into something you grok, it doesn't mean it is an improvement over the original, except for you. (I guarantee that someone else is going to find your questions just as "confusing" as you find the originals, and will come along and say, "Well, why not ask it like THIS? That's much clearer (to me).")

This is true, the hope can be that we could find the the questions that are the least confusing.

Quote
I don't get it.  I mean, I don't get your design advice.  It doesn't make any sense to me.  Character creation before rules?  Isn't character creation a rule?  How are "How do you play" and "what do the players do" different questions?  You say you need to forget everything you know but all of your structure is based around "most games."  (Must games use dice, Most games have physical/mental divides, Most games have character creation rules.)  So am I supposed to forget everything or not?

What do "rules heavy" and "rules light" actually mean?  Those combinations of words are impossible to wring any meaning out of, at least in my head.  Does it have to do with the weight of paper for the rules text?  I don't know.

I'm all for new design techniques, but I can't fathom how to even parse what you've just said, let alone put it into practice.

Well first I apologize if you found it confusing, a great deal of that probably come from my writing.

1st- Character creation before rules? Isn't part of the rules?
In my opinion, no their not. The reason I say this though is I find them to be more of frame of how to interact with the rules. For example if you want things to show the mental and physical attributes of your character you decide on them. The rules accomodate them. They aren't a rule within themselves, their a descriptor. Or a guage. Should they in end not be needed they can be easily dropped.

2nd- How are "How do you play" and "what do the players do" different questions?
I've found when you ask what do the players do it can be construed as something beyond. Almost all games I have ever read, be it boardgames or an rpg, they don't say "What the players do" they say "How to play". When someone brings a game over do you ask them what do you do or do ask them how do we play it?

3rd- "You say you need to forget everything you know but all of your structure is based around "most games."  (Must games use dice, Most games have physical/mental divides, Most games have character creation rules.)  So am I supposed to forget everything or not?"

On this your right, it needs to be clarified. Most do have these things but it is up to you whether you do or not. It would help if this is reworded to more say that you forget what you know so that you don't have any preconcieved ideas of what you must do for yours.

4th-What do "rules heavy" and "rules light" actually mean?  Those combinations of words are impossible to wring any meaning out of, at least in my head.  Does it have to do with the weight of paper for the rules text?  I don't know.

Your right this does need some clarification. Rules heavy would be where the rules of the game are many and have a great deal of importance within the game. One example of rules heavy would be RoleMaster, that's a game with so many rules it can make your head spin.

Rules light on the other hand would be the opposite, the rules are quick to learn and few. A rules light game would say be one where things are resolved playing rock paper scissors.

Rules Heavy may be considered a Gamist style whereas Light may be considered more along Narrativist lines. Simulationist may be more of a Medium in some cases. But for those not familiar with GNS it can be easier to say it's heavy on rules if that is your interest or it's light on rules for those who don't care how much damage they do.

I hope this clarifies things some.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2005, 08:10:58 AM »

Hey Jason,

As I see it, you've nominated yourself as a front-runner to write exactly the sort of articles you'd like to see here.

Best,
Ron
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JasonPalenske
Member

Posts: 31

Lost in the Gameverse


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« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2005, 09:45:45 AM »

Hey Jason,

As I see it, you've nominated yourself as a front-runner to write exactly the sort of articles you'd like to see here.

Best,
Ron

Ron I would be more than happy too.
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greyorm
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Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.


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« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2005, 01:47:52 PM »

I don't find them confusing in any way, what I do find is the wording can be somewhat cold, well perhaps not cold, perhaps intimidating. I think by putting those first questions in a friendlier tone it could perhaps attract more designers to allow us to follow along in their designs.

There are two things I see as wrong with this: the first is that "tone" -- and things like "intimidating" or "cold" -- are all value judgements that exist solely in a person's head. You can't write to value judgements because "friendly" to you is "cold" to someone else.

The second problem is I don't see mollycoddling as particularly effective. When you're trying to get someone to think honestly, deeply and objectively/critically about something, holding their hand is not conducive to the process. To me, what you're saying isn't "let's make it easier for them", it's closer to "let's make them think about it less, we don't want to scare them away."

This is why art, or design of any sort, is hard for most people: they aren't prepared to be critical or to do the necessary hard work and hard thinking (and please note the difference between wanting to and being prepared to). IMO, preparing people to be critical is beyond the boundaries of the Forge, its theories, or teaching game design.

So, there are really two questions to ask here regarding the idea that if only the hard work were easier, somehow, then more people would do it! First, I don't know that is even possible, and if it is, is that a good thing?

Because looking at a question and saying, "Geez, I can't/don't know how to answer that. Maybe I'm not prepared to do this thing." is not a bad answer that should be avoided or that the questioner should strive to help others avoid. It is actually a very good answer, and as good as being able to answer the question "correctly".

I see it this way: you're either prepared to do the hard work, or you're not. Now, I could be completely off-base there, and maybe somehow making it less intimidating and getting the same sort of quality and depth out of the process of design is both possible and a good thing. I guess we'll have to see what you develop along those lines, and what designs and practices develop from that.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
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