dat room

SPOILER ALERT: I really like the musical Hamilton.

So what’s up guys? I’m going to write down my method for designing a game, and you get to be (figuratively speaking) in the room where it happens.

The room where it happens.

The room where it happens.



No, not THAT Room, for the love of God!

SPOILER ALERT: I might actually be said to have a Hamilton “Problem”.

My method is just my method. My method is not the best method. My method is not the only method. My method was arrived at by designing games, which means my method is informed by the 10+ roleplaying games* I have already designed.

(There is exactly one inaccurate word in the sentence “Devon Oratz has been actively engaged in game design for his entire  adult life”. That word would be “adult”.)

It would have helped to have the method before I designed all those RPGs, but se la vie.

My method is pretty different from Frank’s and may literally be it in reverse. And Frank may literally have put that in writing. That’s fine. I type faster than anyone I know and I don’t use the home row. I’m cool with doing things backwards if the result is awesome. And judging by how many fans we’ve made in the last five years coming out of nowhere with no marketing and no fad and no nostalgia cache (“memberberries”, if you speak South Park Season 21)  behind of us…it’s inside the bounds of possibility that my results are at least awesome-adjacent.

If anyone reading this knows of any other methods that have been put in writing, let me know. I want to read ’em.

  1. Figure Out How To Make A Character: This will make you have so many “known unknowns” (plus an…ironically…unknown number of “unknown unknowns”)  that your inquisitive, questing brain will immediately build a map of those things. Eventually, that map will be your character sheet. The territory the map describes will be the game. In between them is the game design process. In other words, the basic unit of a roleplaying game is a character. It is the first term which must be defined.
  2. Make A Character: If you did anything really, really wrong during step one, if things are sparking and flaming and on fire and leaking hydraulic fluid, this step will show you where the hull breach is. If you have identified the hull breach, iterate step four. If not, move on to step two.
  3. Make At Least Six Characters: Every single thing you did wrong during during step one will now be thrown into sharp relief.
  4. Go Back And Fix It: Fix everything you did wrong during Step 1.
  5. Design An Adventure: During the course of this, you will need to design a fair number of NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS (unless your game doesn’t have them, which might mean you can skip to a later step). That means that it is assumed that an additional iteration of step three is built into step five. Note that if you want to FAIL FASTER you can also design NPC opposition that could never be playable characters–like ghost robots or whatever the fuck I don’t know what your game is about why do you think I know Kevin–which will help increase the certainty that Step 6 will cause you to go back and iterate step four to near 100%.
  6. Run The Adventure: This will almost certainly result in an additional iteration of step four: go back and fix it. This step is also known as alpha-testing.
  7. Design A Campaign…A Whole, Entire Campaign: Stat it ALL THE WAY OUT. Most importantly, this will most likely require you to…
  8. Make At Least LIKE 60 Characters: If there’s anything you fucked up during step one that you haven’t caught yet, you’ll either catch it now or in actual beta-testing, which would be step number. Designing an entire campaign will also involve designing the “monsters” or “monster analogues” your game has, if any, so…. if you didn’t do that in step five? You’re gonna have to do it now.
  9. Run The Entire Campaign: If you’re doing everything right, this will send you running back to Step 4 on an almost weekly basis. Good. That means the Oratz method is working.
  10. Actual Playtesting: Which is to say, beta-testing, which is to  say, finding other people to GM it for still other people while you are NOT PHYSICALLY PRESENT.  This is also known as beta testing in the industry, and is less the last step of designing a game and more the first step of PUBLISHING A GAME, in my experience to date.

And that, children, is a story for another room.

Although I will add the following: in Ron Edwards’ very, very old Threefold Model, the base assumptions not mentioned here are: that the game designer in his role as game designer is most concerned with the game fulfilling his gamist and (genre)-simulationist “agendas”, AND that this is in spite of, perhaps even because of, the fact that in his role as a GM he might lean very far in the opposite direction.

Final Addendum: Appropriately enough, I forgot the part I always forget when writing an actual game, which is writing out the actual rules for all the minigames that make up the game (like combat), spell out best practices for GMs and how to tell stories, and so on. I almost-always do that shit at the last minute, and I have been known to do a half-assed job. I’m not making that part of the method, for obvious reasons. But if it was, it would be a necessary step before or during Step 5: write every part of the game–including your best practices and advice on how to actually play it–that isn’t the characters.

*For almost every conceivable value of roleplaying game (TTRPG, LARP, JRPG, CRPG, etc) (note that THIS method is only designed to work AT ALL for tabletop roleplaying games, and might or might not be disastrous to apply to any of the other kinds).


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