Steve’s PAX AUS 2018 Timetable

This is a living document because oh boy is there a lot on and I’m just trying to keep it straight.

The PAX Panel Schedule is now up! 
The PAX RPG Schedule is now up!

Thursday the 25th:

12 noon: R-Dev Con, the convention of Australian RPG developers!

4pm to late: Dev Con, the convention of Australian TT game developers!

Friday the 26th:

10am-1:30pm I’ll be on the TGDA booth showing Relics to everyone who stops by! If all goes well I will have free Quickstart Guides to hand out!

11am-1pm:  Teja, my Lovely Assistant will be running Relics for me in the RPG area!

2pm-3pm: Panel: Let’s make a board game! A panel. Last year we made UNSTABLE the game of cybernetic psychic horses fighting and fucLOVING EACH OTHER in just one hour (and then I made a companion RPG, Stallions of Steel). Can we make a better game this year? You better believe it. Join us in the FRUITBAT THEATRE.

5pm-6pm: Panel: Cake or Death: Game Dev When You’re Dead Broke in the IBIS THEATRE. We talk about how to make it when you can’t make ends meet.

7pm-9pm: I’ll be running Relics in the RPG area! The maker’s touch!

Saturday the 27th

10:30am-11:30am: Panel: Not Just to Win: The Psychology of Tabletop. What are the reasons people play games? How do you know why you play game, and why does it matter? In the KOOKABURRA THEATRE. 

3pm-7pm: Find me demoing Relics at the Collabratory!

3pm-5pm: My lovely assistant Teja will be running Relics in the RPG area!

5pm – 8:30pm: Relics is on the TGDA booth again. Keiran will be staffing until I get there at 7. Booth number to be advised. Come on down and make up your Relics character!

9pm-11pm: My lovely assistant Teja will be running Relics in the RPG area!

Sunday the 28th:

10am – 2pm: Relics will be on display at the Collabratory! Showcased by me!

10am – 12:30pm: TGDA Boothing again! This time Phoebe will be on the booth!

1pm-3pm: Teja once again running Relics in the RPG area!

3pm – 5pm: Make Your Own Boardgame. Why not end the con by making your own game to take home? In the DIVERSITY LOUNGE.

And then I’m gone, on a flight by 7pm. Crazy…


Ten Things To Do Now You’ve Written Your 200 Word RPG

Gosh, wasn’t that exicting! It seemed impossible and then wow, you did it! Excellent! But don’t let it end there. You can use your experience to learn so much more. Here’s my thoughts on What Happens Next.

1. Don’t Get To Wrapped Up In the Winners

Once again, there were over 700 entries. Ultimately, although it has a prize, the 200 Word RPG Contest is not about the winners. That just ensures the judges read everything. Hooray! Your game is getting read! Eventually you might even get a comment! But there are other ways to get comments – the amazing Michael Wenman and Ivan Neville are both going to read every single one. Watch out for yours and get the thrill of feedback! But also just enjoy that someone, somewhere is reading it. That alone is amazing. Plus you wrote a whole RPG! ALSO amazing!

2. Read a Friend’s, and Give Feedback

Or a strangers. Most people put some twitter handle or email address in their submission. If every single submitted read just one other entry and tweeted about it or wrote back, the contest would be so much better. Go long with the feedback, talk about what you liked and didn’t, what worked, what needs work and what you’d like to see more of. Most people SUCK at giving feedback because they don’t know how. It’s a skill. Take your time. Write at least 200 words. The 200 word feedback competition is MUCH more important to enter.

3. Read Ten of Them

You can’t read 750 of them. So read ten. Read them at random. Read ones that catch your interest. Read ones that have silly titles. Read ones I share on twitter! Follow the 200 word RPG bot on twitter which shoots you a new one every day, and read some of those. You don’t have to write anything. Just read. You’ll get ten new ideas you never thought of, and that will make you a better designer. Read ten already? Go for 20. Go for 200. Eh no that’s too many. Or is it? Want to rest your eyes from the screen? Get a hardcopy and read one out at the dinner table every night.

4. Reflect

Have a look at what you wrote and why. Why did you choose that subject? Where did it lead you? In 200 words you don’t have much time to plan things. That’s the whole point, it helps you tap into your subconscious and just FEEL out the work. So why did it go that way? What kind of design did you go for, what choices do you make instinctly? What does that tell you about how you design? If you did one another year, are they similar? My last two have been very political. Guess that’s my thing right now. Let’s call it my Political Period. Now I feel like a real artist and you can too!

5. Break It Down

The other thing the competition helps with is completing something. Your RPG is finished, hooray! That means it is complete (or close). So what does an RPG need? Do you have all those elements? Can you separate them out? What is the setting? What is character generation? What are the core rules? Is there a GM section (is there a GM?)? Breaking it down into sections gives you insight into what you designed (for reflection, as above) but also gives you insight into RPG construction in general and how you ticked off all the sections.

6. Built It Up

Now that you’ve got it in sections, write out a table of chapters. Imagine what this game would look like if it were 2K words, or 20K, or 200K. The structure would still be the same, or close. Maybe there’s not much to say about some parts – you couldn’t expand the setting any further. Or could you? Imagine it. How COULD you turn that two sentence setting into two thousand words? Into a novel? How could you weave a whole game around that core mechanic? Jot down some notes. See the artwork. Think about the example characters and adventures.

7. Sell It

Want to practice another skill? Figure out how you would sell your game if it were real. Whether you do this with the 200 word version or the 200,000 word one you just imagined, the core is the same: it will be GMed or GMless. It will be for a certain number of players and a certain kind of player. What style does it support? Who kind of roleplayer would be most likely to play it? Newbies or old hands? Combat freaks or drama kids? What age group? And how would you sell it all to them?

8. Summarize It

Got the idea of who might want to play it? Now come up with your sales pitch. Not the dynamics you just worked out, the “a GMless one-off game for fans of Science Fiction and In a Bitter Age”, I mean the hook that grabs that market. What’s the beating heart of your game? What is the punch in the face that demands it be played? Is it cutting edge satire that tells a tale as old a stime? Will it make you cry as you peel back the layers of domestic harmony? You wrote it in 200 words, can you sum it up in 20? Or 10?

9. Double It

Cut it down to 20? Good. Now beef it up to 400. Seriously, try it. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. But it’s great because it lets you do all those things you couldn’t quite fit in. You can explain what was in comments. Better still, you can fill out those sections you identified in step 5, and make sure that byline in step 8 sizzles off the page, and the key demographic you spotted in 7 is made explicit. Add some GM notes to get that intent clear. Maybe go up to 500 words. You deserve it.

10. Publish It

I know what you’re going to say: but I can do MORE. I could make it 1000 words, or 10,000 so it would be a REAL(TM) ROLEPLAYING GAME. Sure. But the point of the 200 word RPG competition is to go through all the steps as fast as possible so you get the whole megillah without stopping, without the voice in your head saying “maybe not, maybe nobody cares”. Take that 400/500 word version, and stick it on the web. Or print it on a postcard. Hand it to your friends or strangers. Say “Free game!”. Oh it’s scary. But it’s a fear you have to face, and it’s easier to do a postcard than a 300 page book. And the fear of handing out postcards can actually stop you making the book. Beating that fear can HELP you make that book.

The other day, someone sent me a tweet saying a post-card game of mine had captivated their entire share house of ten hours. It wasn’t just that I had the idea. It was that I made it physical and handed it to someone – that’s what got it played (and later, put on the shelf to play more later). Print the thing out. Hand it to someone. That’s what gaming is. The virtual is a good start, and you should do that too, but games are about sharing. Look someone in the eye and give them your RPG, whether its 200 words or 400 or 10. That is a sacred and beautiful thing. That’s why we submitted these silly things online, but you can do more than just that. Take it further. It’s 200 words, but it can be so much more. For that game, for you, and for someone else.



200 Word RPG 2018

As usual, I can’t escape political satire. Last year’s was much the same. There’s some cutting stuff in here. It’s designed to attack society, not people. I hope that comes through.


Got an important meeting and just can’t get there? Don’t waste your time with cyber-presence. Our hosts are waiting. Wearing special headbands linked to their phone, your face will appear over theirs. They see a real living person – no tiny screens, no being stuck to the wall. Make a “personal” appearance without leaving your couch. That’s convenience. That’s aPeer.

Everyone finds a picture of a celebrity, about A4 size. Ideally one they admire. Cut it out of the magazine or advertisement or print it out.

Gather. Pass your celebrity to the player to your left.

Pick up the picture and hold it over your face. That person is now using your body through aPeer. Talk to the other celebrities. You’re all at the same event, how exciting. Talk about how you don’t normally use aPeer but there’s a taxi strike, a fuel shortage or you had trouble finding a babysitter. They don’t have a union but you always tip.

Comment on how nice your aPeer host is. Perhaps the last one was a bit smelly or a bit fat? Commiserate others if they got a fat one.

Leave a comment for your aPeer host, and a rating out of five.

My Path to Gaming

People have been tweeting about their “path to gaming” this week on Twitter – meaning their path from being just somebody who might want to make games to being someone who does, and maybe even makes some money or a career out of doing so. I think it’s good to share stories, but I also think the very nature of these stories are tricky. They can be tools, but they can also be lies. All stories are, after all. And they only make sense after the fact. I could tell you that as a kid I was so desperate to own my own copies of games that I tried to make them from whatever I could, even trying to assemble thousands of trivia questions to make my own Trivial Pursuit. But it’s only now, looking back, that I can see that having anything to do with what I do now. To say that is part of my path is to suggest a cause and effect, and if there was one, it never felt like it. And that, I think, is what we’re really looking for. A sense of cause and effect. Of what we might do to get where we might want to be.

Or even more so, what we might be to prove we are who we hope we are. We’re searching for a Dumbo feather.

If you’ve not seen it, Dumbo is a Disney animated film from 1942 which depicts a large-eared elephant who turns his disability into his power when the ears grant him the capacity to fly. It’s a film that’s deeply important to me and, like most good stories, is about psychology. Dumbo can’t fly until some helpful crows give him what they call the “Magic Feather” which lets anything fly. While holding it, Dumbo can fly. At the climax of the film he drops the feather and his companion Timothy tells him the feather is a lie, it was a proxy to get Dumbo to simply believe he could do it. It was that belief that allowed him to permit himself to learn to fly, without self doubt getting in the way.

It’s a cliché, but we keep talking about it because permission, self-belief, self-conception, these are core concepts of who we are. Artists and writers who go to work for Disney are almost certainly looking back at their past and seeing a young creator who wondered if they are permitted to dream. So naturally it comes up a lot in their films.

For me, the place I sought the Dumbo feather was in pathways of other writers. When I maybe should have been reading more or writing more or going to art school – but couldn’t, because I could not permit myself – I still wanted to be someone great. I craved fame more than skill, always have. And the only way I could sympathetically align myself with that, permit myself to believe it was possible, was to read the histories of writers and look for similarities. It was vooodoo doll magic: if I found that Tad Williams or Douglas Adams had done this or that thing as a young person, and I too had done those things, why then…by association, I could be like them. It would be allowed. Or at the very least, I could see those parts of myself as not signs of failure or cowardice.

So when I think about my path, what comes to my mind is what it was like going through the story. I can tell you the story the way it seems to be now, from the end. Of course I can. It’s not very complicated or hard. I wrote a bunch of stuff for roleplaying games I wanted to work on, and when they put out open calls for submissions, I submitted that stuff. I made myself useful and a friend online. The two helped me get freelance work, and I’ve been a freelancer ever since. After about twenty years of doing that I finally had enough mental health to permit myself to design my own games, and I just put them on the web and hardly anybody has found them so far, but I enjoy it anyway. I like having permission to feel like they’re okay games and I love that a few people have played them and had emotions as a result.

But the story from inside it, that’s a story of a dark and brutal war with my self and my demons, of agony and fear and confusion, of never knowing where to go or why, of never knowing what would take me where I wanted to go and never knowing what I wanted to begin with. When you ask me about my path, I think about that. I think about the mental journey I had to go through. I think of Dumbo feathers.

If I can tell you something that is your feather, then that’s a miracle. And I can tell you that it’s okay to be confused, to not know where you’re going, to not know what you want or what to do when you get there. And I can tell you that not only are you allowed to dream, you can not dream also, you can just do whatever, life isn’t going to punish you for not reaching whatever goal the movies tell you to aim for.

In the meantime, do what makes you happy, learn what you can, ask questions, be a helper, show up often and take the leap. Forgive yourself, love yourself, and love one another. The road is going to be rocky and weird and unclear, but if you do those last three, it doesn’t have to hurt. And it shouldn’t hurt. You should be having fun. You should enjoy the bumps where you can.

It’s a stupid cliché, but we keep saying it because it’s true.

Elevator Pitch – Not Just A Game

So two weeks ago we launched our new game Eletumblr_nab5zuqvzh1skd4ego1_400vator Pitch!  It’s a hilarious party game of film cliches and cliched films. It’s ALSO a full RPG about genre-busting cops who bust genre crimes! Two games for the low price of twenty five dollars.

And it’s so much more. The cards are a writing tool, a creative prompt for writers of any kind, be they GMs, authors, film makers or comic crafters. Whatever you write, however you write, Elevator Pitch can help. By sharpening your skills on random draws you can get better at understanding your storytelling instincts, and trusting them. Here are some fun exercises and ideas that you can play with the game:

In A, With A, While A: Draw a Character, a Scene and a Plot. Explain why the character is doing that thing in that place. Speculate on what happens next.

Unlikely Bedfellows: Draw two Characters. Describe their relationship: how do they know each other, or why are they drawn together? What will they do about it?

From Here to There: Draw two Scenes. Describe a plot point that might take characters from the first to the second. What would carry the scene forward while they travelled, if it wasn’t a jump ahead in time? 

Three Act Story: Draw two Plots and an Ending. Lay out a three-act structure with the first plot as the first act, the second as the second act and the ending as the third. This also works with Character-Plot-Ending or Scene-Plot-Ending.

Genre Shift: Think of a film, book or TV show you enjoy. Then draw a Genre and try to re-imagine that story in the drawn Genre. 

Three Important People: A great way to develop a character is to think of three people who changed their life. Draw three Characters for those three people. You can do this to develop a character already in mind, or with a blank slate and then build the character from those influences.

But Then!: Draw a Character, a Scene and a Plot. Work out a narrative that involves all three. Then draw a new Plot. Explain why this makes sense in the story (even if the audience never saw it coming). This is also fun to do in the middle of other stories. Wait for an ad break or chapter break, and draw a Plot card, and extrapolate. What if in the middle of Pride and Prejudice Lizzie and Jane became bitter rivals? Justify it, then take it forward!

The Chain: Use the rules of Then What Happens from the games section, but by yourself. Start telling a story with a random element from a random card, and keep drawing cards and going through the numbers. Generate a new element every few seconds, or whenever you take a breath. See how long you can go. See if you can turn it towards a satisfying end point, whether after five, ten or twenty cards.

Now, it’s so easy to say “but that doesn’t apply here!” when you draw a card. With the cards right in your hand, it is easy to discard an idea as being inappropriate or poorly fitting and just pull another. Resist this temptation! Sometimes the best stories come from the unpredictable and unexpected. Also, card concepts can be interpreted metaphorically and expansively, adjusted to fit other genres – and genres are more rubbery than they might appear. Don’t fight the strange – embrace it. Follow it. It goes somewhere important, powerful and wondrous.

Getting my Game Jam On

This weekend is the Adelaide Tabletop Game Jam Weekend! I’ve been super busy and am house-sitting so have none of my tools with me. BUT! We soldier on. I have made the instructions for YOU to make the game. I can’t make it or test it but you can. All you need is some markers and cardboard, some pawns and 20 six sided dice. If you get it made, play it and get feedback back to me by midnight, you get a design credit! You can jam with me! I call it CROWD JAMMING.

Bad Day at the Office is a collaborative game of causing your office to destruct so you can all go home and not have to work any more. It taps into our shared fantasy of burning down the system. It supports 2-4 players, maybe up to 6, and should take about an hour I think?

Bad Day

Pandemic Series 2: January

The truth is that as stories, there’s not much in each game in itself. The pull back and forth, the tension of each turn, you can’t write those elements down and then turn it into fiction unless you wrote down every single card. We note down the major events and I’ll see if we can turn it into some kind of story. One thing we like is that apart from our victory being pretty good, a lot of what S2 assumes is true matches our S1, like the disease originating on the east coast of the US.

I am Wren, 5th degree Mason of the Green, and I am of the blood of the Builder.

It is the 71st year since the Fading Sickness ravaged the earth.  My great-grandfather, the one who is only ever called Mr Abotu, helped stop it from destroying everything.  What is left of the known world is a tenuous network of cities arrayed around what was once called the Atlantic Ocean, held together by the Havens he helped organise and build.  My home is named after him, and Port Abotu boasts the most beautiful habitats and most elegant hydroponics, and I am personally responsible for the design of the Great Desalination Plant, by the Grace of the Auspices.
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To the north lies Angel Station, who follow the lessons of Dr Knight, and pass them on to the rest of the Grid to keep the peace and quiet.  To the east is Aegis Island, who stand watch against the Hollow Men and the raiders, mindful of the warning of the traitor Colonel Jones.  Angel Station creates, Port Abotu preserves, Aegis Island destroys.  Thus we keep the world safe.

And yet, we have had no word from our leaders, who were due back after the annual meeting.  My nephew PT has urged me to take the lead and represent Port Abotu for, while I am yet to reach the Inner Circle, none question my standing in the community.  I am to join the record-keeper Tell from Angel Station and the administrator Charlie from Aegis Island, both solid friends, to form a new Alpha Team to investigate.  Tell’s knowledge of the network and Dr Knight’s lessons will be invaluable, and Charlie has always been able to organise travel routes regardless of resources and weather, and I am truly glad to be with them.  But supplies of vaccines and food dwindle across our whole network, and the Fading Sickness is always ready to come back.  The Grid has to be kept safe, even as we risk travelling back into the ashes of the old North America to find word of our leaders.

My heart skips a beat as I wave goodbye to my husband and to my little girl.  I am of the blood of the Builder, and I am bold and ready, but where we tread is where the Fading Sickness started, and despite the ashes that fire may not be out…



They call me Tell, for that is my duty. And our Leaders are no more today, because they failed to tell us the truth. Supplies are at catastrophically low levels, and they hid this from us for too long. Our only option is to rediscover our world, whatever the cost. The Hollow Men are out there, but so is what they used to call Amrica. It is not enough to simply stop the plague from spreading; now we must explore the forgotten land.

We established a base in Washington, named for one of the old kings, and where we know the Fading Sickness did begin and end in the histories. But this month the ocean was our enemy as it so often is: as we built our base we got word that Tripoli was collapsing, and London too, as raiders stole resources and sickness spread. Our back up, Team Bravo, shored up Tripoli, while Charlie was airlifted to London. Even as we prepared to build a base in Lagos, it collapsed from disease but thankfully the people were soon resilient. The Quiet was with us.

And then it wasn’t. The ocean, demon that it is, struck again. Seeing our base, the Hollow Men struck at Washington, burned all the supplies. Disease sprung up. Facing the exposure, Mason Wren came away changed. They became anxious and deliberate, and from now they would leave no box unchecked, consider no base fixed until it was perfect. Charlie raced back to pull them out, and when we looked for escape routes, we made contact with Chicago. A new city on our map. And from there, word of others, like Los Angeles and Atlanta, cities lost without roads to reach them.

Everything is about the tyranny of distance in this world, and the Ocean that keeps us apart. While we built a base in Istanbul, preventing its fall, and finished our work in Lagos, London began collapse. That ancient city almost fell to the plague. Cairo too, we saw the dead begin to pile up, just like in the stories of the old times. We had new friends in Amrica, but so many were dying in the east. Our world is not stable. There is no future guaranteed, no secure path. We are not building a new garden but once again saving a world teetering on a brink of survival. Just as the old ones fought, we must fight. Or the world will truly vanish forever.

But we are ready. Already I have learnt to be a Supplier, mastering the networks our Leaders used. The Ocean will not beat us. We will survive.

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(I’m a bit disappointed we can’t name the cities we find. Maybe later? Everyone wants to build the setting as much as possible.)