the Fairgame Archive

2005-12-20: Tail of the Serpent
by Emily

Following up on what Meg wrote in the suck of having an idea part one, and part two, I'm hitting a wierd part of this process of role playing game design that defies my rational plotting and planning: hounding a pie in the sky idea into taking shape in the real world.  It's like following on the trail of your idea as it slips on ahead of you, constantly changing and trying to elude your grip.  Like Janet kilted in her green kirtle, holding fast to the shifting shapes of Tam Lin at the crossroads, holding on to the tail of the serpent.

I started out with a lovely little structure for a 2 or 3 player game for Shooting the Moon, a sequel to Breaking the Ice, with a neat little back-and-forthing economy of currency manipulation tied to giving your opposite number grief.  But when I started to write the draft and think about how to describe the pieces to somebody else, I realized that that shape that made such sense in my head (even tried it out once before) just doesn't lead you anywhere.  I had all kinds of nice piles of cues that point in every direction except where the players actually will want to go when they hit that part.  Crazily, my idea for the game is not and likely won't be what's really there. Instead, my idea is a first stab, a clue that will put me on the track of the procedures that will actually bring the players to experience what I hope for them.  Perhaps it's simple sanity to realize that what I'm after is what really needs to happen, not just my ideas about it.

So, as the idea shifts and changes, going from an ideal to a plan, I just have to hang on and keep trying.  If I can flow with the shapes it takes, I'll find what I'm really after. If I let go too soon, I'll be stuck with the serpent, or nothing at all.

2005-12-20 21:51:21 Matt Wilson

I am so "yeah totally!" with everything you're saying. I think I'm gonna just stop trying to describe what I'm working on, because it might not be anything like that when I'm done.

But back-and-forth currency is good. Yay!

2005-12-20 22:21:56 Joshua BishopRoby

The central mechanic that inspired 90% of Full Light, Full Steam is no longer a part of that game.  I know where you're coming from.  Luckily, I'm finally to the point in development where I can't overhaul things without it being an effort in futility—file new ideas away for Next Game.  I hope you get there safely (if not quickly) with Shotting the Moon!

2005-12-20 22:42:35 Ben Lehman

And if it's a snake and not a man, what then?



2005-12-21 14:11:04 Emily


2005-12-21 15:13:19 Emily

Thanks, Joshua & Matt. I think this comes down to Ralph Mazza's sacred cow principle.

But you know what? We playtested the char gen last night and it worked great. : ) On to the next sanctimonious bovine...

2005-12-21 18:45:50 Tom

My serpent's a tease:

"Hey this is really cool."


"Bleh, it's cool in concept and I've got a few concrete bits in place, but none of the pieces fit together.  This is stupid and dumb!"

[enter serpent]

"Here, have a piece."

"Oh hey!  This isn't stupid and dumb anymore.  This might actually work out!"

[exit serpent, hissing all the way, stage left]

"Hey!  Get back here with the rest of my pieces!"

[cue Benny Hill chase music]

2005-12-22 05:18:18 Blankshield

Setting briefly aside the fact that my December is always taken up with friends and family and my solo hobbies take a back seat, this is exactly where I am with Reality Cops right now.  I've been hanging on since October, and I'm sure as hell not in Kansas anymore.  I think I'm closer to wherever that first sticky note came from, though.


2005-12-22 15:08:46 Emily

It's like, you get this idea—the "first sticky note" captures it perfectly—and then all this stuff accretes onto it.  Some gets you there, some is just dead ends and blind alley ways.  It's good to look back at those initial notes & see if you've lost the spirit of what first inspired you.

And then again, it's like you need to make all these stabs, to see what strikes.  Early on in my process with BtI I had you make your character by writing a personal ad, or even using a real one(!).  It was kind of catchy, but in practice gave bupkiss for play.  I took a bit of a break in writing it, so when I went back I came from a completely different, much better angle.  So sometimes just hanging on & hanging out is good. Gives the snakes time to lose their grip on



2005-12-22 19:13:52 C. Edwards

The process of game design does often feel like trying to sculpt as your block of stone grows larger with every hammer blow. Eventually you pull out the jackhammer and lay waste to all that useless rock, leaving you with something resembling a fun and functional game. Then its back to the fine chisel work.

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