Five Things Gamers Can Learn From the Good Place

I haven’t written one of these since 2016. Good lord. But hey, why not. I enjoyed the run and it made me think about what made it good. Note: there are some light spoilers here for series one. Nothing major.

1 Always Leave Them Crying For More

The Good Place was not the first sitcom of the binge-TV age but it is arguably the first to be most adjusted to the format. Gone are the days of must-see TV because now it comes direct to you in large binge-able chunks and to encourage you to keep on binging, the Good Place ends almost every single episode with a gigantic cliffhanger. Or if not this, then a clear and obvious hint to some new and exciting step of the journey coming next. It was like Lost, only not annoying.

Too often in RPGs we finish at what feels like a nice finishing point. Now that makes sense because we aren’t binging RPGs, and we can forget stuff. But it’s actually easier to remember things when you stop in the middle of the action with things still in mid-air, or with things just about to being in a new scene. Because this creates a sense of urgency and you carry that urgency with you when you leave. Don’t just say “Coming up next week” and offer hints, wait until the players have made a plan, walk into the tavern, and announce that the big bad is sitting next to the wizard that hired them and THEN end your session.

2. World Building is For Suckers

The world building of The Good Place isn’t particularly robust, but like as-aforementioned Lost, what is more important is it was done on the fly, only without being annoying. Although each series was written as a block, nothing was really nailed down when the first series began, and things were added and developed as needed. And when they seemed fun, they stuck around.

I like worldbuilding in RPGs and I like pre-writing plots, but both of these things are overrated in terms of their necessity and both of these things are overvalued when it comes to fidelity. A good GM has a skeleton of plot that he adjusts as needed; the same can be true of your world building. Have a rough idea of what you need for act one, and let how that plays out tell you about act two. And don’t worry too much about cohesion because..

3. You Can Always Just Reboot It

Okay, so you can’t quite erase memories and invent entirely new universes from scratch. You are a Janet of sorts but your worlds have consequences and your NPCs aren’t paid actors and if you wipe out the world and rebuild it then people are going to die. On the other hand, your world is very much like the neighbourhoods of the Bad Place, in that they are fictional, they are full of actors who don’t matter and the whole thing is really about the real humans at the core of it. And like a Janet you have a fair amount of ability to reboot things.

If you like, you can cut to weird dream sequences about trolley problems. Your players CAN just wind things back and blank people’s memories and start the scene over again with people knowing what they should know (or forgetting what they were supposed to forget). If you break a few rules of logic or the lake is full of popcorn you can just reboot the scene and fast forward back to where we left off. It can get crazy up in there for a while, and that’s part of the fun, it’s how we explore things and try out characters. And like the minds of the humans, we almost kind of remember those other versions and they can inform the “real” ones. So yes, talk about which of your D&D characters would be which desperate housewives and act out that scene in game. Randomly switch one week to running the whole campaign with Skyrealms of Jorune and everyone wearing a cowboy hat. It can always be rebooted. And when it is, you’ll know your characters better for it.

4 It’s the Characters, Stupid

You can get away with all this because of the biggest secret in all writing: nobody really cares that much about world building. They don’t even care that much about plot. Mostly, people read books for the emotions and the feels and above all, the characters. And with TV and RPGs (but I repeat myself), this goes triple. TV shows and RPG groups are proxy-families that we love because they are familiar and all we want to do is come back to them over and over again. It doesn’t matter if one time we’re all Janets or suddenly we all live in Australia for poorly explained reasons or now we’re back in hell: we want our heroes and we don’t care one tiny bit how we get them. Indeed, The Good Place is at its weakest when there are three new mortals in the mix. Nobody cares because they’re not the mortals we’ve become addicted to.

It’s an old saw with RPGs but it really is all about the characters. Good players use their characters to tell stories but for the most part, all any player wants to do is use the toys they’re given. And NPCs and settings aren’t really toys to play with much unless you do a LOT of player narration. Rather, the toys players get are the powers on their character sheet and the personality blurb they’ve settled on. That’s what they think about between sessions, that’s what they are itching to get back to. If you’re very lucky they want to see the other characters as well and a few popular NPCs. They’re not there for the plot or the world. Sorry. But that means you can make that shit as wobbly as you want. And there is one thing they ARE there for that GMs can be best at and that’s:

5. Theme is King So Put It On a Throne

What makes The Good Place so special is apart from being weird as balls and often unexpected, it is a show with a very strong theme. It’s not just about moral philosophy, but about exploring the fundamental questions therein. What is goodness, and why are people good and bad at being good, and how might we change them for the better? And it doesn’t just lean into that in the plot or world building, see, because nobody cares about that. It leans into that with theme. Chidi is what we call a theme-insert, the character who runs entirely on the theme, who has the super power of explaining the theme. Meanwhile he’s also an example of how even smart people can’t untangle moral philosophy. The other three characters are embodiments of the three principles of moral philosophy: Jason is consequentialism, Tehani is virtue ethics and Eleanor is deontology, weirdly enough.

This isn’t impossible in RPGs. You can ask players to do it directly but with strong theme communication in your games they’ll do it anyway. I was in a game of Brave New World, a supers game where superheroes are forced to work with the an oppressive fascist US government, and we just ended up making two foreigners and two Americans, two old people who remembered the past and two young people who didn’t know what had been lost. In my Buffy game about Watchers at Oxford we got two rich kids and two poor kids; two British kids and two non-British kids; two people with backgrounds in the occult and two people who had the occult thrust upon them. This just naturally happened because players like to make characters that interact with the themes of your world if you make those themes strong – and good RPGs and good worlds do that for you. Put your themes forward and players will follow suit and bring them even further into the light. Not sure what your themes are? Look at who they make, and you’ll know.

And then all you have to do is make up a neighbourhood for them to explore, fill it full of made up people and see if they can learn to be better people along the way, while you make up the world as you go and reboot it when needed and keep on hinting at the next terrible and/or awesome thing to come. That catches their energy – then they do the rest. And in the end, you fall in love with them and you become the better person along the way.


Find the Steve, Save the Universe

Aka, where will Steve be at PAX AUS this year, part 4 in an ongoing series!

4th, 5th and 6th of October I won’t be at PAX I’ll be running Relics at Phenomenon in Canberra

THURSDAY THE 10TH of OCTOBER from 4pm I’ll be at DevCon at the Boyd Community Hub in South Bank! This is the pre-eminent industry event in Australia and I recommend it most highly!

All Weekend

Relics Sessions will be running over the following sessions (ie continuously) in the RPG Area (table number to come)
11am-1pm, 1-3pm, 3-5pm, 5-7pm, 7-9pm, 9-11pm. (only the first three sessions on Sunday)

10am – 2pm I’ll be running demos of my new party game SNATCHPHRASE! at the Collaboratory area

12:30pm – 4pm Me or Teja will be working the TGDA Booth, promoting Relics! (Tabletop booths)

6:30pm – 7:30pm I’ll be joining Alex, Ben, Jill and Irma as we MAKE A GAME IN AN HOUR! Part three of an increasingly silly tradition! That’s in the Ibis Theatre



11am – 12pm I’m moderating a panel on the Return of the 3D Platformer in the Ibis Theatre

12:30pm – 4pm I’m back on the TGDA Booth promoting Relics and perhaps selling Baby Dragon Bedtime

Saturday evening there’s often award ceremonies going on so and other things but nothing’s been announced so honestly who the hell knows and why can’t people be organised and tell me stuff? I digress. I might just go out and do an escape room with my buddies.



10am-2pm I am once again running SNATCHPHRASE! at the Collaboratory. After 1pm it may be my lovely assistant Nick

1:30pm – 2:30pm I’m moderating a panel of unruly young RPG writers talking about Cyberpunk roleplaying and why it’s new and rad and hip with the kids.  That’s in the Kookaburra Theatre.

At 3:00pm-5:00pm and maybe a bit beyond I’ll be teaching the lovely folk in the Diversity Lounge how to make their own board game!

and then I run away and catch a late flight! Kapwing! He’s gone! Leaving only a single silver die in his wake…

Gamma Con: Relics Booth and Panels!

This weekend we’ll be at GAMMACON at the EPIC stadium in Canberra! We’ll be in section C of the left side of the auditorium, with plenty of Relics stuff to sell and free games to give away as always! PLUS! I am running two seminars:

From Fun to Funded: How to Turn a Game Idea Into a Successful Kickstarter
11am Sunday in the “Glass Paperweight” Room

How To Make Your Own Roleplaying Game: A Workshop
2:30pm Sunday in the “Speakwrite” Room

Theses will be informal and focus on question and answer. And if we have time in the latter, maybe even some group exercises to make our own game right there!

Come and say hi! Free games!

Safety and Stretching in RPGs

Games are inherently antagonistic. Even co-operative ones or solo ones. There are things we want to do, like put the cards in order from Ace to King. There are things preventing us from doing so: the rules.

In most roleplaying games, where there is a GM or GMs, the antagonism is between GM and player(s). As much as we pretend it isn’t, that they are working together, the core standard model requires there to be some antagonism. Ultimately, what players want is to use their characters’ abilities to not just tell a good story but to command situations, to interact with the fictional reality using their fictional instrument (their character) and the constraints placed upon them, and interact in such a way that they get what their character desires, or what they then player want.

The rules play a part in this, of course, but for a lot of RPGs, there’s grey areas. Because RPGs simulate some sort of reality, fictional or otherwise, it involves images in people’s heads. Players and GMs attempt to imagine the same thing but usually (usually, don’t heat up my inbox with all your famous exceptions) there’s questions to be answered. How far away from him am I? Would I know if I can cold-cock him, since my combat skills would allow me to read the body language and see what kind of fighter he is? Can I get to him before he pulls the trigger? Do I know how to pick this lock? The last two questions can be answered by the rules, generally. The first two are more up to the GM. Individual rules systems vary about how much they leave open and free, and how much they specify; individual groups and GMs also vary about how much they feel like locking down, and how much they’re happy to hand to the players.

But no system ever is going to let the players make the bad guys just vanish in a puff of logic when the players want. They have to use their character’s abilities and use them in situations where the full application of them is not entirely clear, because no rules set can cover every possible interpretation in a fictional reality. And the GM is the arbiter of whether those things work. Inherently, this conversation is antagonistic, because the players want everything to work. They want every +1 they can get. And the only person telling them no is the GM.

“Stretching” is the word we use for this in Relics. When something might or almost cover a situation, but doesn’t as written. Yes, you know about how to fix a car but that doesn’t mean you know where the nearest garage is. Or how to identify tire marks. But it could? I guess? Does it let you know where to shoot the car to disable it? Which car the bad guy chose to steal based on easiness? Where the nearest chopshop is? How long it takes to get new plates? Longer and longer the stretched skill gets, pulled from repair to forensics to local knowledge to grand theft auto…

The thing is, stretching is inevitable. And it’s natural. Players want to win. They also want to feel safe from failure. They don’t want to feel like they chose the wrong skill. They took repair and then the car didn’t break down at all and they need something else. That makes them feel stupid and exposed to danger that could hurt their sole playing piece and that piece’s sense of being awesome. Human beings will go a long way to avoid feeling unsafe, unready or foolish. So we stretch.

What’s the point of all this? The point is be aware of it and indeed, think about building it into rules. I don’t mean just “let skills be broad”. It’s more than that. Because broad skills and narrow skills will both get stretched. EVERYTHING will get stretched. The trick is making explicit rules about stretching.

Famously, the old West End Star Wars game had rules for this. If a player is making a big argument about why an action technically shouldn’t reeeeeally be giving them a Dark Side point because it is good, then hoo boy do they get the Dark Side point. Stretching is a sign of the Dark Side indeed. In the third edition of Over the Edge, they build this right into character generation. Everyone gets a Main Trait that defines their core skill set, and a Side Trait that gives it flair and difference. You might be a BODYGUARD who can TALK TO SPIDERS. If Bodyguard is your main trait, then it can stretch. It can be about any part of the bodyguarding business. You’re gonna be like Eliot on Leverage, baby. You can tell who is ex-CIA because those guys protect people with a very distinctive stance. And so on. But your side trait doesn’t stretch. You can’t talk to crabs. You can’t intuit how to treat a spider bite. Don’t try it on. The GM will tell you to shut the hell up.

We actually made the same rule in Relics, although not quite so perfectly and succinctly. Memories are the abilities that cost points and play time in Relics, and give control of your character to someone else. Therefore, Memories can stretch. Anything else you basically get for free or is a powerful supernatural element. So those DON’T stretch. If you paid for it, it goes a fair way. If you didn’t, shut up and pay for something new to cover the gap.

Generally, in RPGs, the rules we actually play by aren’t written in the book. They’re social rules and they’re about things like who can stretch (people who the GM likes more?) and how they can stretch (if they talk a good game?) and how the rules and setting bend to help them (horror games less than fantasy?). It’s actually worth thinking about these rubbery invisible rules and pulling them right into the forefront and shining a light on them (and maybe even making games where they are explicit). Then you can actually figure out what’s really going on and make things better and richer for everyone. Instead of say, allowing that one player who whines to stretch all he wants and ignoring the players who try not to stretch at all.

Just something to think about – and a tip for Relics GMs. If they paid for it, they can stretch it. Otherwise, tell them to pull their damn heads in. There’s a rule in the GM’s section that we put there that says you can tell your players to shut the hell up. Feel free to point to it when you need it.

Two Podcast Ideas

DHHk6l7XcAAqtPVAs they say in business, the best way to get money from people is to provide value beforehand. If you can do stuff that creates value, people feel they owe you for that as well as your shiny new game. So as I charge money for more stuff, I’m looking for more ways to provide value and shove my face and voice into everyone’s feed. The lovely folks at Boomer Radio Network are looking for nerd and nerd adjacent stuff from Australian podcasters. Here’s my two pitches. Both would aim to be about 20-25 minutes an episode, mostly just two people discussing things, with occasional guests, coming out every two weeks or so.

Chit/Bit/Crit: As more and more people enter gaming and more and more voices are out there reviewing gaming and developing a shared consciousness and language about gaming, we desperately need more voices in gamer criticism, in the sense of the word as used in literary criticism. Commentary that places gaming in a historical, political and cultural context and examines it from that point of view. Without doing reviews. As Oscar Wilde said, the purpose of the artist is to inform the critic, the purpose of the critic is to inform the audience. Lacking a critical voice is why so many bad games are being made and absorbed.

What I lack here is any grounding in computer gaming, so my cohost would need to be across that field (Chris Lee is one I’ve talked to about this, hi Chris!). Don’t have to be a computer game designer but you should be very literate in them.

Lancing With Myself: While most of the gaming industry remains a cottage industry where every game designer must also be their own publisher, freelancing is increasingly the way of the future in other fields. Art and design know the side hustle but there’s always more folks keen to learn about it in game dev in general. I’ve been a game dev freelancer for twenty years now and a lot of people ask for my info on the process, so there is much to share. Also we’d talk about financial practicalities and self-care tools.

What I lack here is someone across the art/graphic design field, which has a very different kind of tempo and culture than other areas. You don’t need to be too experienced though as that can make a nice contrast to my long experience.

Relics: The Last Four Words

A few years ago I joked “The GM’s Section of an RPG should just be three words:

“We Trust You”

It was a joke, but like most of my jokes I was kidding on the square. So much of running an RPG is about experience and making good calls on the spot, and mostly that’s not something you can teach. Mostly, what holds people back is fear they are getting those things wrong, and they probably will get those things wrong. But it doesn’t matter. Your games will still inevitably a lot better than you think they’re going to be, and better than you imagine them to be in your head. You can’t really stuff up that much. Trust yourself. And we, the game designers, trust you.

You don’t have anything to prove or to live up to. You can’t do it WRONG. Games don’t work like that. There isn’t actually a right way to do things with them, there’s only the way the players play. And so it is an act of trust giving your game away.

All art is a kind of leap of faith: this is my truth, tell me what you think about it. But games are a tool, an artifact of engineering. Here is something that might produce fun, we say, and then we watch how you use it and how you react. And we then fix it until it is fun, not based on the idea in our head, but on the experience you created. We trust you to tell us when the tool is fun. We trust you to be our eyes and ears and our insight. Take this clay and mould it, take this puzzle and solve it, find the fun, unlock the secret. And you know best, not us designers and certainly not the game. We put our trust in YOU. You are the centre, the true north, that leads us to the game. We trust you, not the vision in our heads.

I just wrote the last four words in Relics, and they are along these lines, but even stronger. They aren’t we trust you. They’re


We believe in you.


Relics is a game about belief, in all its forms. It’s a game about what to do when you have nothing left to believe in, and the answer turns out to be, believe in things harder. Believe in God only as practice for the really hard things, like believing in yourself, and believing in other people.

Relics is about memory, and it aches with age now that it’s taking me two years to write it. Relics is about the audacity of action in a world where being passive feels like the only way to be safe, and it is my scream into the void, my audacious act of unfettered creation that deforms the universe and demands to be seen. Relics is about the problem of evil and so much of that rises up around us. And Relics is about belief, and in the end, that’s what the act of writing a roleplaying game is.

It’s not just that we trust you to tell us where the fun is, but that we believe in the stories you will tell with it. We believe in the greatness you will find in it. We believe in the power you will wring from it and the glory you will shine with it and the lessons you will teach with it. A lot of people ask “is this right? is this okay?” when they are making characters and they’ve always been amazing and inspiring to me. When I began work on Relics I was burned out on GMing but I’ve come to love it again because every time I run Relics people astound me with the ideas they bring to the table and the majestic things they create.

Relics wouldn’t be Relics without Jake’s input – he’s already taken my world and filled it with amazing characters that make it even more real and wonderful. I believe in his gifts. I believe in all of the characters you will make and the stories that you will tell, that they will not just fit Relics but exceed it, and all my dreams of it. I believe in all the characters you’ve made already and all the stories I’ve begun to see. It’s not just that I trust that they will be good. I believe that they will be real and solid to you and to me. And I believe that they will go amazing places. I believe in the hope and wonder they represent.

Here’s my game. It says: I believe in you.

Relics: A Game of Angels goes to Kickstarter April 10th. Join the mailing list and find out more here:

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.