Talking ThreeForged RPG Design

So a little while back I participated in Game Chef Design Challenge which is a RPG writing competition thingy that’s been running for over a decade now, inspiring people to get stuff down on paper. Hot on its heels came the ThreeForged RPG Design Challenge, conceived by one of the primarchs of indie design, Paul Czege. Game Chef is about coming up with something to fit a list of ingredients. Three Forged is different.

ThreeForged takes on something like “Exquisite Corpse” model: contributors create one game, up to 1200 words, and pass it on, and then get someone else’s first entry. Then they take that first entry and develop it into a 2500 word game, and then pass it again, and taking someone else’s second phase game, produce a final product. Unlike Exquisite Corpse though we weren’t adding blindly but taking what we were given and taking it further.

Starting with an enormous amount of entries 102 made it through to the final round, and everyone – yes, even you – can vote for the best. As long as you read at least five, you can nominate games for the final round, and all the games can be found here. The numbers beneath each game show the amount the game has been downloaded so we can share the love (make sure you review what you download!) but if you can’t decide a helpful fellow has put a randomizer up.

I’m not allowed to identify which game I worked on so that the judging is anonymous. I can reveal that my first stage game did not emerge at the end, which is a damn shame. Not just because it would have given me three shots at being a finalist instead of two (my third-phaser and my second-phaser) but because I think the 1-2 change over was the most interesting, and hardest part of the process. And where I learnt the most. And in both cases because it was when the rubber hit the road for the first time. By stage two we were used to it, but that first encounter was hard.

A thousand words is not a lot but it is enough to mark out clearly what a game is about and the main moving pieces. And the game I got was about something I felt I had no connection to. The mechanics were not my style and the stories uninteresting and the topic something I disdain. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see what to do with the game but that I didn’t want to do anything with it.

Luckily the most important rule Paul drummed into us was that we could change absolutely anything, as long as we kept what we believed was the core of the game. So I came at the question a different way: what was in the idea that I could connect to? Truth is there’s usually something in everything we can connect to, once you cast it through your own eyes. And then to find how to make it a game we would want to write, and more importantly, play.

And that was the revelation for me. As a freelance writer, your primary skill is to be the chameleon (yes, chameleons don’t do what they’ve been co-opted in language to do) – to be exactly like the style you’ve been hired to emulate. When you combine that with the general artistic pressure to fit into a culture and meet a level of quality, one of the biggest mistakes writers and creators do is try to emulate too much. “Write what you know” is not great advice, but “write what you want” is super important advice. Even though it sounds obvious. We get so caught up in trying to be what a writer appears to us to be we think we have to copy them, and write the way they do, about the things they do, and that means, almost always, you aren’t writing something you want to write. And there is no greater way to kill your love of art than to do that. Don’t try to tell a story if you don’t burn to tell it. Don’t try to write a game if you don’t keen to play it. It sounds so obvious, but I’ve been making that mistake all my life.

But having that lightning-bolt moment powered me into the contest like a new man. I took a game that was light and fluffy and made it a blood-soaked horror story. And when I got my 2nd stage game, I was ready. I found my hook, tore out everything, and wrote a new game. Not one word of the original survived, and I don’t apologize for that. That wasn’t the point. Or not the only point. Paul’s admitted his sneaky point was in fact to build a community and get people working together, and we will because once the voting is over and we can reveal our names I need to go back and thank my muses for handing me ideas. I hope they won’t feel hard done by when they see how much I changed, and here’s why: there’s no way I could have made either of the two games I created without getting their ideas. Because how could I? I would never make a game about some random topic I had no connection to. Unless, of course, I had to.

It’s like what I said a few weeks back about how artists are not singular people, and artwork is not done and should never be attempted to be done alone, because that’s not actually how it works. And now I have the perfect example. Some might look and see that I was given manuscript A, deleted every word and produced manuscript B and conclude that B had nothing to do with A. Others will see two manuscripts where you can clearly see how everything was kept and added to, and they will say that the second example is a clear collaboration and the first is total reinvention. And they would be totally, utterly wrong.

You know how in mystery stories, it always takes a minor character saying a random word or describing a completely unconnected experience that allows the mystery solver to see the truth? Writers always write that not just because it’s a genre trope but because that’s how WRITING works. And it is impossible without those people. You can’t make a quilt with one square. An artist’s job is to sew us all together. And you are part of that. If you talk to an artist, share with an artist, live, laugh and love with an artist, you are an artist, and we create together.

I got three games out of this. One I could have always created, but two I could never have. That’s the win.

One thought on “Talking ThreeForged RPG Design

  1. Pingback: Threeforged: Coming Clean | D-Constructions

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