by Delos

Game Design: A Journey

This is how play testing can be sometimes. All is well then…

For the last few months I’ve been working on a hack/RPG. Something new that fits into the *World category. While I’m not ready to talk about the project itself I have learned a bunch about game design. Here are a few observations.

Play Test

If you can’t play test your brand new games and think you’ll get it right the first time, whoo boy you are in for a world of hurt. I’m now on my third iteration of basic moves and last night’s play test has proved that once again I have to scratch a few ideas off and try again. Honestly when I wrote the latest “Kick some booty” move, I was sure that I had it perfect. Turns out the new mechanic I wrote up was completely useless. Never got used. Also the new numbers were wonky and I either didn’t hurt them or darn near one shotted them. Not sure if that’s a fault of the mechanics or they way we were playing.

Play testing can also be incredibly frustrating as you see this perfect move or class you wrote up get destroyed once it is used. Don’t flip the table. Things in theory won’t always work in practice. Take it as a learning moment, which leads to…


Get play testers that will be honest with you and will criticize your game. You need this and you need to learn to take it well. Remember criticism is not tearing down your idea because they hate it. That won’t help you. Good criticism will tell you where you are hurting, what specifically went wrong, and possibly what a solution would look like. If you write up a draft and play test it and all your play testers say it was great and super fun but don’t offer any criticism, then you’re either a savant or they aren’t doing your job. If you want to publish a game for the general public, it needs to be able to appeal to a broader audience than just your home group.


It’s very tempting to release a product or talk about it a lot before you actually have all of your ducks in a row. Don’t. I did this be mistake with Dresden World and the response I got was luke warm to darn right cold. I just said “Here are all my notes, what do you think?” and it turns out hardly anyone cared to look them over. Much later I got actual play books made but when I showed them, what ever excitement I got from my first announcement was gone. Have something you could sell before you show it off. Most people have a notebook of random ideas and sharing yours, while fun, won’t really trip anyone’s trigger.

Clear Goal

This is something I still struggle with. When you start up a project, come up with a few lines of what you are trying to do and write it down. For example:

  • A tactics heavy combat simulation
  • A high fantasy wuxia-like game
  • Dark and gritty sci-fi

As you write up other things for the game, keep your goals in mind. If you find yourself going against these goals then reevaluate them. If you take your design in a whole new direction that’s ok! Just change your goal. These are in place for when you are thinking “Does this move/mechanic/class work for my game?” If you can’t really see it fitting your goals then try something else.


When you are talking to your play testers, say what you are thinking. If you really want to just test a certain aspect of your game then tell them that. Play testing isn’t necessarily the same as just playing the game. You need them to looks for flaws, holes, and cracks that can make your design break down. So tell them that. You’ll get more for your time if they are actively looking where you want them to.

Well I hope this helps anyone out there thinking of writing up a game or hack. I’m still plugging away at my monster and you should to. Remember that the more set backs you have will make that victory all the more sweeter. Thanks for reading!


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