My Design Process

I am ramping up my designing for games.  I want to be an actual professional at this game and some of the work I have put into the website in the past few weeks has shown that development from me.  I have one source-book for a game going into layout for publication soon-ish, one Pathfinder module with the publisher for consideration and I also recently signed a contract that may see me develop adventures and ideas for another product line.  I have had to look at the way that I design games and make some changes to what I have done in the past and I hope to give you some ideas about how I go about this material here.

Design is harder than just “the concept”

As an amateur designer I could get away by cutting a lot of short cuts.  All I really needed was an idea that would work in the situation I was gunning for.  Most of the time this was an in-person group or online with some players I know that will opt in every time with a game I offer.  this makes the pressure less for me.  But what if you have to design for a con or you are just starting out with online hangout or Virtual Table Top (VTT) games?  Why is there added pressure?

my design
The original scan of my last map (reduced in size)

Well, you have to have a better idea than just a singular concept.  You need to flesh that out and consider the concept from different angles.  For example, does the adventure you are planning depend on the good nature of the characters?  What if the players decide to go all evil characters?  It blows the concept of riding in to investigate a bad situation out of the water, unless there is looting and pillaging to be done.

There is one thing for certain, there are a lot of unique gamers out there.  I am still learning and I have been playing for 29 years or so.  The dynamics that different players build up simply by interacting with the group can throw curve ball after curve ball.

Of course you have to reasonably cover what you can in an adventure so try to think of what commonly happens in game and cater for it by providing the GM some advice for the situations, but you also have to realise that you are not responsible for every eventuality.  The first Pathfinder module that I wanted to create is still being built and has been replaced by a nice simple adventure.  I had a plot and an area with some maps to go along with it but I was afraid that it would not be accepted without a holistic coverage.  So now I have an adventure that should fit into a 50 page book that has blown out to 100 pages and I need to deal with the pruning before it will ever be looked at.

But “the concept” is hard too!

Getting the initial idea can be pretty difficult at times.  Especially if you are trying to force an idea out.  I find that the best ideas come to me just by exposing myself to as many different styles and other writers as I can.  Not necessarily even fantasy or sci-fi, some of the best inspiration can come from real life, you just have to keep your eyes, ears and heart open to everything around you to get the idea.  I am also lucky enough to have been practising my mapping skills and if I do not have an idea for a plot then I will work on the place and see what comes out of it.  That might inspire me later on, especially if I do a good job of it.

Secondly, I find I work well with pictures so I have a Pinterest board (try that link – may not work) with a few interesting boards of my own up.  What I like is when people grab stuff from my boards because I can then look at them and see what else they have and that gives me a lot of interest too.  If you want to follow me on Pinterest search for me under Mark Knights or “knightsy5”.

I especially love images of single characters which will trigger my ideas for NPC’s.  I also very rarely pass up the chance to get my hands on a deck of NPC images in card form.  I find them really good, as well as cards like the Short Order Heroes that give me motivations and emotions to throw into the mix.

Art is hard work

I really suck as an artist and so I generally only stick to the simpler things that can be represented.  Plus I had a good friend of mine open my eyes to the beauty that is Creative Commons, with some of the licences allowing me to use image commercially.  I think overall though that some of my material will be through a set publisher and that I will look to them to getting art to pad out my material.

Maps I think I can handle, but my maps are very old school in style.  Black ink on white paper is how I draw them and I mostly draw them freehand and rarely even use a ruler.  I like the style but it is not for everyone.  I have found though that the process of taking that image in, scanning it, cleaning it up, adding text, compass roses and the like is very hard work!  I want the maps, even though they are hand drawn, to be attractive and a focus of the work that draws people to them.

designing the map
The almost finished version of the map printed out

I look at other map makers that I emulate and they each have a style that I can pick a maps creator just by looking at it.  I am still developing and have a long way to go before that occurs.  Regardless, I want to improve equally with my maps as I do with my content.

Bringing a product together

Is hard, hard work.  Especially as I am not a full time designer.  I have a job, study, family and a blog to look after too.  Most of my development occurs where I have a down moment in work or my family are watching TV.  A project may take me several months to complete or more depending on the size of the project.  For example, I am still slowly working on my own game setting/system which I had hoped to have completed two years ago.  I think that there is still a year or so to go!

Then there is the problem I have of focus.  Give me a month and I will likely have three great ideas.  I will probably start concept work on one of them and that makes me lose focus on other projects that I have been working on for a while.  I am not an organised person, I do not make lists.  I have calendars on my computer that I largely ignore and I move ahead with what is interesting to me and that is normally the things that offer me a creative challenge.  Once the creativity is complete and there is just the job of putting the words to the ideas I tend to struggle.

Knowing that about myself means that I have had to sequester myself at times and force myself to complete projects.  It is just something that I have to do.  Creativity is a wonderful thing but remember:

Success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration

Thomas Edison’s quote is so very true.  If you want to design and get the best out of it, have the ideas locked away, then there is still work to do.

The tools I use

I did a post about this recently which you can view here but I will offer up an abbreviated version here.  A word processor is a must.  I used Scrivener for a while but I think it distracted me too much from what I was doing so I went back to the simplicity of a word processor.  I do use Realm Works a lot now too, though that can be like “Alice down the Rabbit Hole” as well because of the multitude of brilliant options and suggestions for information!  I try to use it though as I do want to be able to offer some stuff up via their online marketplace eventually.

I use the GiMP to do all of my digital clean-up and work on maps and images.  A lot of the people that are around me that I see as role models use Inkscape and I have a little but I find GiMP easier to use.  Plus, when I want to do some real fancy stuff then GiMP has the power to do it.  I use it extensively as a teacher as well so that is probably where my comfort zone comes from.

Finally, good pens and notebooks.  A plethora of notebooks.  I always have as a minimum two notebooks on me at all times.  They are not an everyday ordinary notebook either.  They are pretty notebooks, or unusual notebooks.  Anything that fires up my creativity.  My wife continuously gets me these as she knows I use them all the time.  My mapping notebook is a metallic clasp held blank paged A4 book.  I have a lined A5(ish) notebook with K9 (from Doctor Who) all over it in a 1940’s war propaganda style.  Finally, my last “most used” notebook for the past month or so has been a notebook that on every double page spread has a full colour photographic image of a wall that you can graffitti.  Every two page spread is different.

GM Tools
You can see my trusty clutch pencil and my brand new notebook!

Pens, pens, pens.  I do not use ballpoint pens ever if I can help it.  I do not like the feel of them on paper.  So I like gel and ink nibs and fine-liners of all colours and breeds.  My wife gets a little frustrated at me because I refuse to use the pens that the school provides me to do my work and I have to have a completely different style.  I am fairly certain that the people that buy the stationery are pretty happy with me though!

So there you have it, a bit piecemeal but that is my view on how I do what I do.  Despite wanting to become a professional at this I also want to keep the blog going and continue to provide free material where and when I can for you to use.  I found that when I wanted material of a good quality free for games that it was non-existent so I hope to offer some more up to you in future.  Keep rolling!

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