Game Design

Weapon Switching - Quality or Quantity? - by EHJ Brouwer Blogs - 20 March 2019 - 3:33am
Article analyzing different versions of weapon-switching in action-games.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Olympics of Esports is back - by Paul Vilanoma Blogs - 20 March 2019 - 3:33am
The Olympics of Esports is back! WCG 2019 Registration is open right on their home page:
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Google unveils first-party game studio led by Jade Raymond

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 19 March 2019 - 11:44am

As Google took the wraps off its streaming game platform Stadia, the company also announced Stadia Games and Entertainment -- a new game studio headed up by industry vet Jade Raymond. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

'No console required': Google unveils streaming game platform, 'Stadia'

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 19 March 2019 - 10:46am

At GDC 2019 this morning, Google detailed its long-awaited streaming game platform, dubbed Stadia. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Business of Gaming Retail: How do you sell new Magic?

RPGNet - 19 March 2019 - 12:00am
Magic for Beginners
Categories: Game Theory & Design

GDC 2019 kicks off today! Follow Gamasutra's coverage here

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 18 March 2019 - 8:30am

Gamasutra is on-site at GDC 2019 in San Francisco this week! Follow our coverage at our dedicated event page. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: The Flappy Division Bell Is Ringing

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 18 March 2019 - 7:36am

This week's highlights include a look at Flappy Bird's effect on the indie game scene, The Division 2's politics (or lack there-of), info on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite & Days Gone & more. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Session Zero: Confessions of an Uber Nerd

Gnome Stew - 18 March 2019 - 5:27am

Just when you thought that the idea of a session zero wasn’t nerdy enough, along I come to show you how I recently upped the nerd-ante, hopefully to my benefit, the benefit of my players, and the game as a whole.

If you are not familiar with the concept of session zero, it is basically a session that takes place before the start of a campaign. In this session, the players and GM discuss what they would like out of the game, and often characters are created. If you would like to learn more about this idea, check out the delightful GnomeCast on the subject. Generally speaking, session zero is used by most groups as an opportunity to get all of the players on the same page regarding the campaign and their characters.

A couple of months ago, I began a new campaign with a group of six players. Five of those players have been in the group for several years. We had just finished a two-year game of Vampire: The Masquerade, and were now looking to play a campaign of the Kult horror RPG. An old friend was joining the group as a new player. I have grand ambitions for the game, and I thought I would start out by trying to make the most of my session zero. I had a few goals: I wanted to lay down the table rules, I wanted to discuss the framework for the campaign story, I wanted to get a sense of what my players were looking for from the game, and I wanted everyone to make characters.


Yes, I created an agenda. Yes, I was roundly mocked for doing so. However, it did what a good agenda is supposed to do – it kept us on track, and kept the session moving along so that nothing important went unaddressed. Would you like to see it? Of course you would:

Session Zero Agenda
  • Survey
  • Table Rules
    • Table Safety
    • Start and end time, how long (years) should the game last
    • Scheduling, rescheduling, cancellation of games
  • Player Responsibilities vs GM Responsibilities
    • Leadership/Decision-Making
    • Recaps/Notes
    • Player Roles
      • xp, calendar, group gear, notes, maps, etc.
      • Motivation
        • All need to be interested in saving the world, or humanity, should that come up
        • All need to have an interest in being part of the group
          • Why would I stay with these a-holes? Whose responsibility is that?
      • Connection to other PC’s
  • Game Structure
    • Modern Game, intro session circa 1992
      • Family, but not parents
      • Everyone needs to have an emotional attachment to _______________.
    • Historical Game
      • Germanic Tribe circa 378 CE
    • How often do we switch?
    • XP – fast advancement or slow advancement?
  • Character Creation
    • Niche roles – options, how to decide?
    • Family members in modern storyline
    • Make the tribe in the historical storyline

Note that this game is making use of two separate timelines, with two sets of characters (that whole idea is a discussion for another day). When crafting an agenda, I recommend that you consult with players via email prior to the session in order to see if there are any burning issues that they would like to see discussed.

Using this agenda not only facilitated a very productive session zero, but when one of my players says something like, “I think my character likes the idea of the end of humanity,” I have something to point to when I express my incredulity. In the end, this was a very valuable document, and our session zero had many productive discussions which continue to be referenced during the game when needed.


Photo by:


What is that survey thing at the top of my agenda, you ask? In order to truly escalate this session into the upper echelons of nerdocity, I created a survey for all of us to fill out at the table and discuss. Note that this survey was created specifically for this campaign, so it has a variety of questions about horror and suspense. In crafting the survey, I took some inspiration from Chris Sniezak’s excellent article about the different types of fun:

Session Zero Survey       (1 is strongly disagree, 5 is strongly agree)

I like games with difficult decisions.

I like games where a central authority directs our course of action.

I like games where I get to explore something new.

I like games with a big mystery or puzzle to solve.

I like games with a lot of action.

I like games with a lot of side discussions or “back room” play.

I like games in which I feel that I can always trust the other PC’s.

It is important that bad decisions have dire consequences for the PC’s.

Gaining experience and advancing my character is important to me.

Gaining treasure or magic items for my character is important to me.

Having a personal connection with an NPC is important to me.

The central story arc is important to me.

Having a long-lasting antagonist that I hate is important to me.

Having a niche that I am the best at within my group is important to me.

Having a chance to explore the psychology of my character is important to me.

I like suspenseful scenes.

I like horrific or disturbing scenes.

I like scenes with gore or graphic descriptions.

I like scenes where I might have to make a horrible choice.

I like scenes with frantic action, where my character’s life is at risk.

I like scenes where we discuss things without using dice for a long time.

I think good pictures or visual aides are important for a game.

I think good props are important for a game.

I think good ambient music is important for a game.

I think appropriate lighting is important for a game.


The key to using a survey of this nature during a session zero is to go through it at the table and have all of the respondents read out their answers. It was very illuminating for all involved. We discovered that one player didn’t love problem solving because she felt that she wasn’t very good at it. Another player loved exploring new environments best of all. Surprisingly to me, everybody liked graphic descriptions, but only one person felt that gaining treasure was important. Everyone thought that visual aids were important, but no one felt strongly about props. Some people felt that it was important to have a niche for their character in the group, but others did not; knowing this made everyone more sensitive about role-specialization during character creation, because even if it was not important to the person making the character, they recognized that it was important to others and didn’t want to step on toes.

This was a great experiment which wildly exceeded my expectations. The survey led to everyone understanding what the other players look for in a game, and it gave me some direction regarding how I spend my prep-time. Rather than invest two hours into creating a prop, I can spend that time looking for evocative pictures. I don’t have to have a lot of “treasure”, but I should make sure that I have some in order to satisfy one of my players. I don’t need to worry so much about censoring my descriptions of gore, because everyone is into that. When I have a big problem-solving session, I should make sure that I have something else for the player who is not into puzzles. The survey led to everyone understanding what the other players look for in a game, and it gave me some direction regarding how I spend my prep-time.  Share1Tweet1Reddit1Email

We Didn’t Finish Making Characters…

My agenda was so jam-packed that we didn’t end up finishing our character creation, which proved to be a bit of a problem during the first few games. However, I am not sure what I would sacrifice from my agenda in order to make sure that characters were completed. The survey was a goldmine of information that we have referred to many times over the first few months of play, and the other items of the agenda were all valuable. Should I have two session zeros next time? I can’t say that I would recommend that, but I will certainly give some thought to how I can make even better use of this time in the future.

What do you think? Is there anything that should be added to the agenda? Are there other tools that you use to facilitate a session zero? Is this entire exercise too much for you? I look forward to hearing what you think.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Fuzzy Thinking: Pop!

RPGNet - 18 March 2019 - 12:00am
Fuzzy teleports.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Creating Cool Boss Fights - by Dmitry Aborilov Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:59pm
Banzai Games game designer Dmitry Aborilov talks about inspiration, cooperation between the teams, and game mechanics used to achieve the WOW effect in boss fights.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

GPU Path Tracing in Unity – Part 3 - by David Kuri Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:57pm
Our Unity Compute-Shader-based ray tracer can now display spheres with fuzzy effects like soft shadows, glossy reflections and diffuse GI, but we're missing an important piece of the puzzle: triangles. This is our job for today.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Article - History of Game Design Part 1: Race Games - by Caleb Compton Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:41pm
Most of the oldest board games that have been found are Race Games, and they are found all over the world. They are also incredibly popular, being played for thousands of years to the modern day. Learn the secrets of this ancient game genre!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Game Workers Unite GDC 2019 Plans! - by Larry&Brandon GDU Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:40pm
No stranger to our podcast and fresh on the heels of more industry shakeup, we sat with Emma of Game Workers Unite to delve deeper into the “cough” state of the union (pun intended).
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Lone Hero Dev Journal 1 | Our new game - by Petter Dahne Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:31pm
Lone Hero Studios is a three-people team from Sweden. This is our first dev journal and here we are going to share what we are working on and the progress we are making. Anyway, today I want to introduce our new game!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

From Indie to AAA: Notes from a Game Writer - by Danny Homan Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 11:31pm
The path to becoming a video game writer is tough -- and different for everyone. But in case it helps, here's how I got started. My video game career began after a hilariously bad birthday.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: The Flappy Division Bell Is Ringing  - by Simon Carless Blogs - 17 March 2019 - 4:29am
This week's highlights include a look at Flappy Bird's effect on the indie game scene, The Division 2's politics (or lack there-of), info on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite & Days Gone, & more.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Epic's Tim Sweeney addressees privacy concerns for the Epic Games Store

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 15 March 2019 - 12:38pm

Epic Games head Tim Sweeney and VP of Engineering Daniel Vogel offer a look at the inner workings of the Epic Games Store following a Reddit thread on privacy concerns. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

An Examination into Kaizo Design - by Josh Bycer Blogs - 15 March 2019 - 9:30am
The design known as "Kaizo" has existed on the internet for years, and we're going to take a look at how modders are making some of the hardest games imaginable.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Come to GDC for an inside look at the AI built to playtest Battlefield V!

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 15 March 2019 - 9:03am

Come to GDC next week to learn about the birth of AutoPlayers, autonomous bots used for playtesting Battlefield V in scenarios ranging from full 64-player soak tests to specific scripted test cases. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Play-by-Post for the Modern Era

Gnome Stew - 15 March 2019 - 7:00am

Pretty much as soon as 1) the internet and 2) roleplaying games were both widely accessible things, people were playing roleplaying games on the internet. Even without the definition of a singular roleplaying game or ruleset, how many of us gamers today got our start in places like freeform forum RPs? I met a girl in grade school who introduced me to some of her text chat RP friends, they sent me over to the custom forum they’d made for RP, and the rest was history for me.

In recent years (since maybe 2008?), that “retro” form of internet RPG has been on the decline, as video chat platforms and streaming have widely overtaken them. Why wait two hours for your friend in another timezone to reply to your forum post when you could prearrange a time to meet and not have to wait? Plus, you can see their face and hear their voice! Those are great things!

Home sweet home

But I don’t think we should throw away the good with the bad, when moving on from old things to new things. I think there’s still a ton to be gained from “old-school” text-based RP, whether that’s in a chat, a forum, email, wherever you like to type text, whether you’re just freeform RPing or playing with an actual rule system. A lot of us, myself included, stopped participating in text RPs for any number of reasons over a decade ago. I’m here to bring us back home.

But Why Text-Based RP?

In a few short paragraphs, let me outline some of the key benefits of old-school text RP, primarily focusing on forums, because that’s where I got most of my experience. There are a lot of them, trust me!

You don’t have to schedule time. You don’t have to find a way to set aside four uninterrupted hours to play a game every week. Four uninterrupted hours is, frankly, a precious resource for many of us. Jobs, school, family, any other kind of responsibility eats into that. With play-by-post, your time commitment shrinks drastically, with most groups I played with having some kind of understanding that most people will post 1-3 times per day, as time permits. Your time commitment goes from four straight hours to five minutes here, five minutes there, ten minutes here.

Four uninterrupted hours is, frankly, a precious resource for many of us. Share1Tweet1Reddit1EmailYou don’t have to find space. Listen, my regular gamers reassure me every week that they don’t mind how messy my house is, but I mind. And the FLGS, much as I love them, is often crowded and noisy. But there’s no place like cyberspace, to bring this back to the early 2000s. People can and will post from the bus, while they’re waiting in line at the store, while they’re in bed, while the oven is preheating to cook dinner, while procrastinating at work. Time and space are what you make them.

To the above point, everyone carries the whole internet in their pockets now. Smartphones weren’t a thing back when I used to do forum RP every day, and that’s probably for the best given I was in school then, but now? To have my games at my fingertips, wherever I am? To be able to bookmark that post where my character had a really cool moment and come back to it whenever I want? What a precious gift!

I don’t know why this stock photo already existed, but I’ll take it

Game flow is not non-existent and is much harder to disrupt. When I’m GMing in person, I sometimes struggle with distractions, or with wanting to look something up without taking too much time away from the game. That’s just not a thing with play-by-post. As long as most people are posting once a day or so, the rhythm of the game keeps on a-moving. Look things up to your heart’s content, whether that’s the stat block for the monster you didn’t expect your players to pick a fight with, or a picture of the cursed diamond necklace your heist crew is in the middle of stealing from the museum.

And the biggest thing to me? Time to think. I take more time than I like to come up with something really good to say, whether I’m playing or GMing. I don’t want to take that time away from other players, so I often default to a couple of standbys. And I don’t want to be brainstorming my own stuff during other people’s turns, because I want to hear what they’re doing too. Plus, sometimes you just come up with better, more creative stuff when you’re not pressed for time, it’s a simple fact.

But What Are the Downsides?

Well, I’m not going to pretend there aren’t any. One big one is that everything takes much, much, much longer. A game module that takes four hours to play in real life can take a whole month in play-by-post, depending on how frequently people are posting. Combats, in particular, will take entire days to play through. One way to avoid this is if you can combine play-by-post and real-time online play through Roll20 or another platform when you feel like it. Hey, it’s 2019, you can have your cake and eat it too.

It doesn’t take much tech savvy to get started with text RP if you don’t want it to – most people know how to post comments nowadays. But if you want to get into fancier stuff: setting up your own forums, a wiki to serve as a repository for stuff, etc., it might take some know-how.

…everything takes much, much, much longer Share1Tweet1Reddit1EmailAnd yes, you will miss seeing people’s faces and hearing their voices. Again, this is averted if you schedule a two hour real-time play every so often, but otherwise, it is the big thing lacking from text-based play. One thing you can do is ask people to make quick voice recordings in character, to give you an idea of their voices, or use their real pictures as their avatars on your forum. It’s not perfect, no, but what is?

I’m Sold! So How Do I Do This?

There are tons of pre-established RP sites if you just want to make an account and find a group. Literally tons of them. is a solid place to get started, in my opinion. It’s got a simple forum interface and a pretty broad user community. It does gear mostly towards freeform RP, and not using a given rules system, if that’s your jam.

But honestly, if I was getting started today in 2019, here’s how I’d do it: make a free WordPress site. Really? Yeah, really! There’s all kinds of free add-ons for adding a forum interface, if that’s what you want, or you can have people make comments on blog posts set up by the GM or facilitator. You can add a built-in wiki full of your locations, NPCs, notable objects, character diaries, etc. You can customize just about everything.

Wait, no, not THAT forum…

This will work best, of course, if you have an established group you want to play with (real life friends who’ve moved away, people you’ve met online who want to move to a different platform, etc.). If you don’t have an established group, this might feel backwards – why would you build the site if you don’t even have players yet? But I promise you: if you build it, they will come.

I think there’s a hankering for this kind of RPG experience now. Something without as much pressure as streaming a game, but that still allows you to connect deeply with your world and your characters and your fellow players. Play-by-post isn’t for everyone, but I think for a lot of us, it scratches an itch we might not have even known we had.

Do you play-by-post? Did you get started in text-based RP? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: Game Theory & Design


Subscribe to As If Productions aggregator - Game Theory & Design