Teatime with Make Big Things: Crowdfunding for All Sizes

In May, we were joined by special guest designers Caroline Hobbs (Downfall), Ben Robbins (Microscope), and Kira Magrann (Mobilize, Strict Machine) to talk about crowdfunding RPG projects of different shapes and sizes.

Caroline lent great insight into the excitement and terror of Kickstarting a game that made over 2000% of its original goal, Kira talked about crowdfunding RESISTOR, a zine featuring original games, artwork, and fiction, and Ben shared thoughts on budgeting, timelines, and all those crucial parts of a project that are easy to mismanage.

Check out the video below for the complete hour-long talk and hear us discuss what makes a good Kickstarter video, backer communication, stretch goals, unexpected challenges, and how to stay sane through the whole process.

Want to join us for a future teatime? Teatime and Game Talk is a once-monthly live hangout, featuring designers, GMs, and players of games.

To stay up to date, check out the Teatime and Game Talk G+ community, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Missed our June teatime? Check out Let’s Workshop a Horror Game, where Evan Rowland and I attempt to design a Shining-inspired LARP live on air.

Our July 14th teatime is all about the magic and mystery of 2-player RPGs! Sign up to watch here!

It’s the final countdown: 32 hours left for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter!

Thank you!

As of writing this blog post, Noirlandia has 677 backers on Kickstarter. (Whoops, make that 678!) We’re simply blown away by the support and enthusiasm our friends and the larger indie gaming community have shown for our creation.

There’s 32 hours left to go for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter, and we just got past our stretch goal to include amazing casebooks with every level that gets a physical copy of Noirlandia. Now, we’re on to our final stretch goal: at $22,500, we’ll produce these amazing custom Noirlandia playing cards for the Private Eye ($75) level and above.
660f784ae43f606ff97684330b0cfd56_originalWhile we’d love to create these playing cards, our main goal is get Noirlandia into the hands of as many people as possible. We’d deeply appreciate it if you helped us spread the word to anyone you think would like the game, as well as on your social media platforms of choice.

We can’t wait to share the final product with you, and hear all about the mysterious cities and murder mysteries you dream up. Thank you so much once again.

Best,
The Make Big Things Team

Hacking One RPG to Make Another RPG: An Interview with Evan Rowland, Designer of Noirlandia

Earlier this year, Make Big Things launched an interview series to strike conversations with indie game insiders, discussing their process, hopes, and work. For this installment of the series, we decided to sit down with one of our own: Evan Rowland. Currently, we’re running a Kickstarter for the game that Evan is the lead designer and artist for: Noirlandia. We thought this presented a great opportunity for Evan to share his insights on how to create a roleplaying game.

Brian: What inspired you to create Noirlandia?

Evan Rowland
Evan Rowland

Evan: Noirlandia was, in part, inspired by a single mechanic present in the earliest drafts of Questlandia.

This is how it worked: When creating the main characters of the game, the rules had you use some tables and randomizers to generate as many people are there were players at the table – plus one. Everybody chose their favorite, and then there’d be one extra character left behind. In Questlandia’s final ruleset, that character is just cleared away. But in the early draft, that character was killed. The death of this character would kick off your story.

We eventually decided that we didn’t want every game of Questlandia to be a murder mystery. But the seed was planted…

Much later, Hannah and I decided to simultaneously create two hacks of Questlandia for an upcoming convention. Having recently rewatched Chinatown, I felt ready to do a full-fledged murder mystery conversion of the system!

Brian: What was your biggest challenge designing Noirlandia, and how did you eventually overcome it?

Evan: From the start I wanted the game to center around the creation of a crime board – a corkboard with polaroids and newspaper clippings all pinned up and strung together with yarn.

Getting this to mesh with the rules and work properly was a long process. I started with a sort of absurd, prescriptive system: First, you find a connection, then you’ll find a clue, which then allows you to pin up a lead, which finally supplies you with an answer. You’d repeat the process four times, once for each district of the city. It was a bad system. I made bad rules.

But I playtested them anyway, and modified them, and playtested some more. I’m lucky to have many resilient and open-minded friends who were willing to try the game over and over as I iterated through rulesets.

As they stand now, I’m finally happy with the corkboard rules – they feel quick and intuitive to me. The boards actually end up looking like the tangled, paranoid boards you see in films. It’s gratifying!

A figure in a coat overlooking a valley of skeletons.
Brian: What do you hope people feel after they finish a game of Noirlandia?

Evan: I hope they feel like, somehow, all the clues and mishaps of the case have somehow, miraculously, become understandable. The best games I’ve played have taken complicated crimes and puzzled out a convincing solution. And those solutions, more often than not, have been indictments of large-scale societal structures – systems of poverty, oppression, or consolidation.

I don’t know the word for that feeling. A sort of hopeless defiance. “Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.”

Brian: What’s something you learned about game design while creating Noirlandia?

Evan: In roleplaying games, you don’t make a closed system of rules. You have an additional input – the imagination of the people at the table. Your rules have to make space for the players to add their own ingenuity to the scene. And you can shape the space – it’s like drawing with negative space. This is a part of all the rules in Noirlandia, but in particular, I grappled with this concept when designing connections.

Connections, in the game, are when two different leads on your board are tied together with string. You learn how they’re related – for instance, maybe the ivory eagle was hidden away in Ms. Beuville’s attic. This is an ideal place for player input – human brains are fantastically talented at making connections. But the task actually gets tricky when it’s in the context of a larger mystery – what connection fits the information we’ve learned so far? What connection will progress the investigation?

So the task has to be opened up again to give the player some freedom in choosing the best connection to make. Normally, when this comes up in a game, there are 3 or 4 pairs of leads to choose from, which seems to give enough freedom to make a relevant choice, without being overwhelmed with options or too tightly constrained. Creating the right constraints for those moments took a lot of trial and error!

Noirlanida being played on a corkboard.
Noirlandia being played on a corkboard.

Brian: What advice would you have to people looking to design their own roleplaying game?

Evan: Start playing the game as soon as possible. Get a playtest scheduled immediately. Then do everything you can to make the game playable by that point. Let your playtesters know they’re trying something incomplete. Play the game, take notes, what went well, what was broken. Then immediately schedule the next playtest.

Playing the game with other people is how you’ll find out what your game is about, what makes it special, and the bizarre consequences of your rules. Play it!

The Art of Noirlandia

Noirlandia is a game about dark cities and the dark mysteries they hold. Appropriately, the art in Noirlandia is often gritty and full of blurred lines. Here’s some of the concept art and experiments being made, some of which will be fleshed out and make it into the final game:

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The art in Noirlandia focuses both on the people at the center of the mysteries and the cities where the mysteries are born. Games in Noirlandia take place in the worlds you dream up: they can be so close to our own with one big difference, or they can take place in a fantastical space opera or fantasy setting, like an island city on stilts.

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Noirlandia chapter page - crimescene

At the core of every Noirlandia game is the story of a corrupt city, and how it corrupts the city’s people. There are suspects, victims, innocent bystanders, those who want to keep the mystery quiet, and people who will do anything to solve the case.

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All of the art here are concept pieces and practices for the game’s final design. The art will be used throughout the Noirlandia book as well as leads that you will pin to the corkboard to track down clues and suspects. Want to see the final art? Then keep an eye out for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter that will be launching around April 19th!

Dreamation 2013 Rundown

Dreamation 2013 ScheduleSnug as a bug in western Mass after a successful Dreamation 2013. The scope of my weekend was limited, so I can’t provide a comprehensive synopsis. Most of my time was spent preparing to run games, pondering new game mechanics, and catching up with friends.

I had a great convention debut of Questlandia, which is really coming together. The game is receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback; a good omen for a game that’s still in the playtest phase. Read more

Playtesting and Inspiration

Second Questlandia playtest today. Things are looking good. There are still mechanics to figure out and kinks to work out, but we all had a great time…so much so that we’re continuing with this storyline. I’m excited, because this will be the first time I’ve played the game through to the end.

Hoping to update soon with some Questlandia fiction, or at least a rough play-by-play. In the meantime, check out Blockhead and be inspired.

Questlandia Playtest: Aria

Aria, artwork by Evan Rowland

From Jiffycon yesterday, a brief description of our kingdom and characters from the first official Questlandia playtest:

The game took place in the Kingdom of Aria. Aria is ruled by a polytheistic theocracy, where the gods walk among the people. The game centered around the unnamed capital city. The capital is an ancient, overbuilt city with new structures stacked atop crumbling stone. The Kingdom of Aria, once home to a great many races, is now dominated by a humanoid majority. The wealthier human race lives at the top of a mountainous peak, while the oppressed minority races congregate at the bottom. In Aria, military service is required to secure citizenship. Despite all races serving in the military, after fulfilling their duties, they are equal citizens on paper only. Read more