I’ve been thinking, and talking online, and I’ve concluded that it’s not quite right that low production values are better for my enjoyment. Rather, what I want on my table, and in my prep environment, is artefacts that have a particular aesthetic and that (partly because of that) give me certain intuitions. There will always be an irreducible element here of “subjectively what I like, but cannot describe”, but I can put some of it into words.
So, in terms of direct things-we-can-agree-we-are-looking-at, what I am looking for in third-party artefacts I put on my game table is this:
- First, the presentation needs to be unobtrusive. It needs to be somewhat subdued. Put on my table, in my dining room, with the artefacts I’ve made myself, it shouldn’t stand out very much.
- This pushes design towards plain white paper, with monochrome or muted inks and a matte finish
- I think there is space here for some colour, for some striking art. It just has to be subordinate to the whitespace of the page. E.g. I’ve not seen Wet Grandpa in full, but the sample pages online suggests it fits in this category.
- This applies to covers as much as to internal pages, not least because small books tend to end up lying closed. I particularly enjoy matte covers on books, and would like some rpg books with cloth binding.
- The art can’t be cartoony, because that’s not something I can imagine an rpg world to be like. Cartoony art thus interferes with my internal image-making. Photorealistic art can work, as can more abstract forms. But the art of Dungeon World, D&D 5e, even Fate, doesn’t work for me.
- Explicit recognition that groups will hack and modify, without pretending that this is novel or that a book can give (or take) authority to do this.
- Shout-outs go to Knave for its “Rationale” sidebars, to the 5e DMG for its “three things to be really careful with when you’re hacking” (p263, para “Beware of…”), and of course Apocalypse World for its “how to hack this” appendix.
And as for the feelings and intuitions I get from them, I am looking for these:
Continue reading “There is an aesthetic that I want and a way I want to feel”
To better fit my current projects, and to be more memorable, I have changed the name of this blog from “Mhu Thulan” to “The Wrong Kind of Wax”.
I’ve been thinking some more about my concern in my previous post – that “high production values” are a net negative for my pleasure in rpgs. There are three reasons for this. For clarity, I will express them purely in terms of art:
First, if the art doesn’t work for me, it damages my fragile images of the imagined world. For example, anything cartoony feels wrong to me — Dungeon World, Masks, Fate… even D&D 5e is too far down this path. I’m sad to say that Silent Titans gives me trouble, too — I find Leichty’s art powerful, but too abstract and far too garish. It thus prevents me visualising the Silent Titans world.
Second, even art I like can be a problem if creates an unwelcome contrast with things I’ve brought to the table. My own rules and texts have basic typography and little or no art. I might have art printouts or a Pinterest board, but they’ll have a mishmash of artists and styles. I might have made a map, but it will look a bit shit. If there’s a game text on the table produced to a high standard, my work will look poor by comparison.
Continue reading “Low production values are better for my enjoyment”
I think David Grogan is right, in that improving production values in rpgs may be antithetical to improving actual gameplay. Now, sure, people can make what they like, charge what they like, and buy what they like… but I don’t think the move towards ever-fancier production is net-improving our gameplay experiences.
(for a narrower, more personal, angle on this, see my post Low production values are better for my enjoyment)
So, I have a proposal — we could start an annual prize for the best rpg product with modest production values. This would reward people who come up with good ideas, good words and good game design, but don’t want to (or can’t) take the cost, delay, and risk of fancy art and layout and printing.
A few possible rules:
- Bottom end of “modest” is “competent use of a word processor”
- Upper end of “modest” is “POD-quality book with some spot art and maps”
- So e.g. Patrick Stuart’s Deep Carbon Observatory might scrape in at the top (although that feels a bit like cheating as Scrap’s art has a misleading effortless quality)
- Middle ground might be something like Archipelago III
- No weird distribution channels e.g. “You have to get it from the author at a con”. Has to be easily available in at least one Anglosphere country
Ideologically, I’d like to make it PDF and POD-only, because it supports idea that this competition is about avoiding barriers that some creators put between (their ideas and design expertise) and (people who might use and benefit from them). But I’m not wedded to that.
I envisage this as being something I run alone, and that has no reward other than glory — something in the vein of the Rammies. If I’m feeling extravagant, I might send out hand-signed certificates.
A Broken Candle combines rules similar to those of Immergleich with a setting not unlike Beyond the Forest — 14th century Britain with modernised norms and fantastical elements. The most powerful influences are medieval history, folk horror films, action-horror video games like Bloodborne, and OSR/Post-OSR/ArtPunk D&D. There will be of course be meat, and there will of course be liquids.
Ahead of the first test session this week, here are key documents for A Broken Candle:
I have also started a Pinterest board to set the tone.
Some years ago, I created a play-sequence checklist for Burning Wheel Gold, explicitly to remind me of those rules features I was most prone to forget.