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Introduction to the First Thoughts forum: read here first

Started by Ron Edwards, August 18, 2009, 08:24:27 PM

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Ron Edwards

You are working on a new game. You're excited about it. You want to share your idea with others, get feedback on it, and make it better. That's why you're posting here. How do you make sure that you engage other designers and get the ideas flowing?

Post in the right forum. This forum is for working through early drafts and posing design questions about the fundamental concepts for new games. If you have thought about, begun to design, or even extensively designed a game that has never been playtested, then it may be discussed here in First Thoughts. All degrees of development are welcome: the seed of an idea, a mostly finished game with some loose ends, or something in between. Again: as long as it has never been playtested.

However, if your game or any aspect of its rules has been playtested, ever, even a little, then all discussions about this game's content should go into Playtesting. Even discussions that aren't about literal playtesting should go into that forum for that game.

If you're interested about how it might be published, or have ideas for doing so you'd like feedback about, then use the Publishing forum. If you can't find playtesters, post in Connections to get help.

Consider posting in Actual Play first. The Actual Play forum is probably the best entry point for you to post, but not about your game in design. Post instead about any experience you've had playing published games. Why? Because, although it may be hard to believe, but we really and truly do not know what you may mean by "balance," "immersion," "real role-playing," "realism," or any of a host of other terms. However, if you use the term while talking about a real instance of play, then we will indeed learn what you mean by it, and can honor that meaning in later posts of yours. The alternative is to see a tedious and usually contentious muddle of posts in your thread as people try to find out what you mean and you (thinking you are being attacked) defending it without clarifying.

Before you post in any forum, read the forum rules that are stickied at the top. They not only tell you the law of the land, but they also contain links to useful threads that discuss ways of thinking about design. Also, more generally, you should look at the overall site rules stickied at the top of the Site Discussion forum ().

Make sure you know what result you want from posting. Why are you posting? The First Thoughts forum is not an advertising board. It's not a place to take polls of what people like and hate. You're beginning a discussion, so let us know exactly what you'd like to discuss. Saying "blah blah I think X blah" doesn't start a discussion. Neither does "Do you think X or Y? tell me all your blah!" There are lots of other websites for that sort of thing.

Name your posts clearly. Your subject should point to your topic's material. For starters, consider using your game's name in the title. You have a cool name, "Intergalactic League of Brawlers," so that's a plus. One thing people do is put the game name in [square brackets] and then the topic afterwards: "[Intergalactic League of Brawlers] Handling techniques." Try to avoid being witty with thread titles.

Focus on one thing at a time. It's tempting to drop a giant bolus of information here but we will choke on it. Determine a specific thing you want feedback on and limit your first post to the basics needed for people to help you address that thing. Err on the side of saying too little, as people need only ask specific questions to draw the extra information out. I'll say this again and again, but The Forge is a conversation, not a soapbox.

Break up your post into discrete topics. If you want to talk about attributes, resolution, and setting, use bolded subheadings within your post. You can even start several different threads with distinct subjects if each deserves love. People can quickly tell what your post is about and what you want them to address. If you create more than one thread, please summarize what your game is about or...

Link to your older posts. Don't assume that people have read about your game before. If they haven't, they probably aren't going to search for them. They might just assume they aren't your audience and stop reading. Either give them the information they need right there in the post, or give them a link to a post that has it. Make it easy for people to help you.

Ask questions. Be sure to tell people what problem you are working through. The Forge is a conversation, not a soapbox. You're posting because you want feedback, so be sure to help people know what feedback you want.

Write your post clearly and briefly. Make it easy for people to engage with you. To best engage us, start by telling us what your game is about, who the characters are and what kind of stuff they do in the game. We'll ask questions from there!

Be ready for other games to be mentioned. You're probably designing a new game because you played some other games and you felt something about them was lacking. People may respond with recommendations to look at other games, or references to their mechanics. Some may provide links to other games' websites, or lists of other games of some kind. This isn't a slapdown or a dismissal, but an offer of useful information in case you thought you were being entirely original, and because comparison is a valuable part of the design process. No one is saying "Been there, done that, shut up." They are giving you more vocabulary and the benefit of broadening your knowledge.

Make sure the foundation is solid. It's too easy to start asking questions about dice probabilities before explaining to us why you need dice at all. Start talking about your game by telling us what the game is about (setting, situation, and characters are a good start). We'll ask questions from there. Once you've gotten everyone to understand what you're trying to accomplish, we'll all be better equipped to answer nitty-gritty technical questions about dice pools.

Take your time. Think first, write second. Preview your posts before clicking "Post." Editing is permanently disabled here except for a very brief window of opportunity after you post. Consider writing long posts in an external editor and then pasting the text in later. It sucks to lose your post because of a browser error or network burp.

Take your time in replying as well. Consider the issues raised in On charitable reading seriously.
What about the Power 19?

The Power 19 is a series of nineteen questions that Troy Costick designed to tease out a game's design. It was meant as a list of questions for people to ask people like you about their games. The idea was that we could ask you these questions one at a time as conversation starters. Over time, people have started using it as a questionnaire: "Go answer the Power 19." Sometimes people post their Power 19 answers as their initial First Thoughts post.

While the verdict is still out on the utility of the Power 19, pretty much every Forge veteran seems to agree that their eyes glaze over when people post that much text about their game. Sometimes people respond to those posts. Sometimes the long, long posts sit there for weeks without responses. More likely than not, a responder might find one thing in the post -- usually in one of the answers to the first two or three questions -- and hammer on that a bit, and it changes the original poster's answers to everything else (invalidating many of the original 19 answers).

In short, don't post 19 questions and answers. It's too much to read all at once. It puts people off. It's a long, one-way conversation that is too late to interrupt. Tell us what your game is about and who the characters are and what the characters do. That's a good start.

What about game mechanics?

You just came up with this cool game mechanic, like a way to roll dice or a new reward system. Can you tell us about it? Sure. But remember that game mechanics are integrally and intimately tied to specific games. That is, they are pretty meaningless out of context.

For example, "Which is better? 2d10 or 1d20?" Out of context, there's no good way to answer that question. If you are posting mechanics ideas outside of the context of a game design, expect us to ask you more about what you're trying to accomplish in the first place.

What about setting ideas?

Setting design is part of game design. We love good settings. As a First Thoughts post, though, we'd want to know if it's a setting for an existing game or for a new game. If it's for your D&D campaign or similar, it probably doesn't even belong here (though we'd welcome a post about playing in it in the Actual Play forum, which is for games that are already published).

Also tell us how you want the setting to be used. What are your goals? A setting design is best evaluated as part of a game design. If it's an existing game, tell us what the game is and how you're using it. If it's a new game, it's better to back off the long setting post until we've had a discussion about what the game is about and stuff. Setting will tie tightly to character and situation.

In general, you'll find that a lot of Forge veterans feel that giant books full of setting material don't necessarily produce fun play. Most of it goes unused during play. Focus your setting material on the stuff that players will readily use.

This post was composed mainly by Adam Dray, using information from previous discussions, which I then revised slightly. One key paragraph was written by Lance D. Allen.

Here is the old Rules for the First Thoughts forum thread, which is full of noise and is also out of date.