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OLIVIA ★ HILL @machineiv
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So game design. The more I'm exploring, the more I'm feeling that essays and pamphlets work better than books for the form. The Communist Manifesto was an 80 page pamphlet, and it was able to do what it needed and then some.
When I was working with White Wolf, I kept pushing to make Vampire 5E a pamphlet. 60-80 pages. With comprehensive rules you could literally print on a playing card. And a character sheet to suit. But I got pushback because "our audience is focused on collecting."
This is to say that playability and focus had to take a backseat to the form. The form, in this case, had to be a tome with a spine that had a bold presence on a bookshelf someone would expect to keep for 20+ years and perhaps open once.
My model was closer to a subscription. We'd do a core pamphlet, and "clan pamphlets," one a month for a year (with one extra month for good measure.) In my model, every clan would take a boldly different approach, with different writers and developers.
Those 40-60 page faction pamphlets would have to be ambitious and tight, hyper-focusing on important aspects and not just reveling in self-indulgence and lists. Game mechanics would be required, but space limitations would demand there be no filler, just communication.
This would serve a dual purpose. A lot of fans can't afford $100+ hardcover tomes, and a lot of them still want that physical artifact. Pamphlet-style design would save on printing and space costs, and shipping which is essential for foreign fans.
Where a lot of players can't shell out $100 for a hardcover, they can muster $15-20 a month. Instead of looking at these massive Kickstarter tomes, it'd be more like a comic book pull list. It's a thing to keep your interest fresh.
Doubly important to the cost in currency is the cost in time. I don't have time to read 500 pages. If I want to play a game with my friends, I might have an afternoon to learn the game and do setup. I'm an adult with a career and a life.
Give me something that looks cool that I can carry on a train. Give me something I can read on my commute, or pull out during my lunch break without carrying a camping backpack to work. Give me something that, if my kids spill juice on it, I'm not gonna cry and can just replace.
And this is a double win because there's nothing that precludes you from taking those 14 pamphlets and turning them into a super digest hardcover, featuring errata and further editing. The collectors end up with a much more beautiful artifact.
This is important, too. You can charge MORE for those massive tomes, because then you are exclusively selling to people with more disposable income. Your less well-off fans can just buy the pamphlets, and have all the content without struggling.
So many times I see people who work at Gamestop or Subway who WANT to get that new game, but it's $120 on Kickstarter. And maybe they do? But it kills them. They're eating ramen to have that fucking game. That's unethical design, and hurtful to your fans.
It's also infinitely better for new fan acquisition. Try getting a non-gamer to shell out $120 for a hardcover book to get started. Or three $60 books. That's just not gonna happen. But tell them it's a $20 book they can read in an afternoon? You've got a much wider audience.
You can afford to truncate rules in 2018, too. So many people are learning games from streams and let's plays. You're just supplementing that viewership, and giving them an easy reference point. You don't need to be comprehensive. They know the experience they want.
And let me just be frank: If you cannot communicate your game's essential concepts in 80 pages, your game doesn't know what it wants to be.
Form factor is also important. Not everyone can afford the space for numerous 8.5" x 11" books. For example, in my Japanese family apartment, there's just no room. And our gaming table? It barely fits the five clipboards we use for character sheets, let alone anything else.
I remember when I was in college, a lot of my friends lived in dorms. They LARPed with us. But when I asked why they didn't have any of the books, they said, "I don't have any room for them." Yet, they had manga. They had magazines. They had novels.
Full-size RPG books have an awful physical imprint that's intimidating. It's a form of gatekeeping. It says very clearly what kind of player you want playing your game. Me? I want new people at the table.
A lot of people say they want diverse voices in gaming. But ultimately what they're really getting at is that they want women and POC... who live lifestyles conducive to having massive bookshelves full of expensive, unwieldy books. That's less diverse than you think.
And with that talent? You're also pulling from "people who can afford to write for $0.03-0.05 per word." That's actually not a diverse crowd. Not at all. If your books are shorter, with massively lower overhead, you can afford to pay more. That means more diverse voices.
This pamphlet subscription model can also remove one of the biggest issues with game design: Financial risk. If you use a subscription system like Patreon, you remove the uncertainty. You know how many people are buying month to month more or less as a foundation.
One thing we were told when pitching ambitious books to White Wolf was, "We don't know if this'll sell." If it's just one issue of a subscription, then that's not really a big concern. You can experiment. You can play with the form. You can evolve your game. Elevate it.
Ironically, when I was pitching my idea for this pamphlet model for Vampire 5E, I was told, "It's a great idea. But it's never been done, so we're not sure if it's a safe play."
Pamphlet form also lends itself to very short bits of text. This? This makes it ideal for interactive app format. If you can fit each important entire game concept on an iPhone screen without scrolling, holy shit you have a revolutionary game book.
Imagine the White Wolf model where you have two page "splat" character options, with two pages of expanded information. That was revolutionary for its time. Now, imagine fitting all the necessary information onto one iPhone screen. How that changes the game entirely.
Do you think you can't express "Brujah" within one page of an iPhone? Then it's a muddy concept, or you have shitty writers. Go back to the drawing board or hire good writers.
Part of the problem with the old model is that, when you're paying utter shit and you have to fill 500,000 words, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even your actually talented writers have to churn out 50,000 words a month (a NaNoWriMo book) every month to pay bills.
If your book is 500,000 words, your writers are going to pad their word counts. Period. There's no avoiding that. You get fucking exhausted saying the same things in a hundred thousand different ways. You need time to step away from it for a while.
But if you pay me to write 15,000 words this month, then 15,000 followup words two months later, and you pay me $0.15 - $0.35 per word, I assure you those words are going to be infinitely better than the 210,000 you could have got from me in one month for the same cost.
This also goes for art. Good artists can't always afford to do 8.5" x 11" detailed paintings. But, ask them to do a tighter 4.5" x 6" piece? They can nail that in a fraction of the time.
Editors? Most good editors simply cannot make time to do a 500,000 word book in two months. So you're stuck with the people who can. And do you know why they can? Because nobody wants to hire them and they're scrambling for whatever work they can find.
But as an editor, I can squeeze in a 40,000 word book. ESPECIALLY if I know that it's good-paying, consistent work I can expect from month to month.
I remember the last time I developed a 500,000 word book. The editing was awful. And it took months over schedule. It wasn't necessarily the editor's fault: She was making shit money and had to prioritize paying the bills. So something had to give.
Pay timing is another important aspect. Even if you're paying well, it needs to be timely and understood as such. Ironically, a White Wolf book I worked on before my son could walk MIGHT pay off next month. Might. He's six years old now.
Can you imagine, as a professional, taking jobs for shit pay that you're not sure if you MIGHT get within, say, four years? Who can realistically do that? At that point, your talent pool is purely hobbyists. So you've got to expect your quality to suffer for it.
And mind you, IF that book pays off next month, which I'm not holding my breath, it will pay my electricity bill. Well, not the whole thing since it's higher in the summer thanks to air conditioning. But at least some of it. And it took me a week's work to do.
So yeah. We need new models. Give me pamphlets. I haven't been invested in a game in forever, really invested. I buy some indie games here and there. But they're one-and-done affairs mostly. I want to get immersed in your worlds and ideas beyond that first 80 pages.
It's funny. When I did that pitch for White Wolf, they said we couldn't do the rules on an index card. So I did them. They said we couldn't do the splats on a single phone page. So I did them. They worked. The old models only exist because we're afraid to shed them.
And, I don't mean to sound negative here. But there are only so many people willing to spend $120 on tomes. That number is only going to go down. It's polishing the deck chairs on the Titanic.
One-and-done indie games aren't the solution here. They're cool. But they don't scratch the same itch. Games like Vampire were big because their worlds were big. You could really dive in, and make That Game a hobby in and of itself.
I keep looking back to my first game, Maschine Zeit. I love it. I could revise it, I have great ideas to revise it. But that's just revision. I said what I wanted to say with that game. I didn't WANT the world to be big. It was supposed to be self-contained.
I keep looking back to some of the bits and pieces of the old World of Darkness material that really resonated with me, and it was because it was weird and quirky and focused on such a narrow aspect of the world that it got to feel REAL. Like, for example, Havens of the Damned.
It was strange, too, because a lot of those books really only existed because they were at the end of their release cycle and ultimately they felt like they "ran out of ideas." No, they hadn't. They just covered all the broad concepts to death.
Even if you cover weird, potentially shitty ideas like, "What if a mummy lived on a pirate ship?" then the pamphlet model guarantees you're not disappointing your audience for your Only Release For Six Months. It's just a bump, you move on, and whatever.
And Mummy On A Pirate Ship? That's fun. That's a memory. That's a thing your fans can come up to you at conventions about ten years later and say, "What were you thinking? I mean I loved it but WOW that was left field!" Those moments are fucking beautiful.
There's a bit in a Shadowrun book I wrote a decade ago I still sometimes get questions about. I spent a few paragraphs talking about how guerrillas favor clean socks over cyberware any day, because consistency is invaluable. As designers, we need more room to talk about socks.
And I'll tell you, as a writer, being able to fuck around and talk about socks sometimes is so much more interesting than having to find a fifty seventh way to explain that the Sabbat are bad guys who actually think they're go— *yawn*
I promise you, if you think we're cool and creative writers, then you WANT us thinking about shit like socks instead of trying to find new flowery ways to present broad concepts. Because we will come up with some mind-blowing shit. That's where all my best work comes from.
Because, drum roll please, roleplaying games are about people and their choices. And giving us more room to explore more choices and more people? That means more about what makes roleplaying games roleplaying games.
If you like me, if you like my work, I promise you that you want twelve little books from me in a year instead of one big book. You'll be getting MORE than twelve times the awesome stuff.
It's less risky for the reader, too! Imagine buying a $120 hardcover book that takes a week to read and being disappointed with it! That'd suck. But a $20 pamphlet you read in an afternoon? No big deal.
There's a lot that sucks about my time with White Wolf. But, I really wish that version of Vampire 5E got to exist. Not just for me, but for gaming in general. It would have been a unique opportunity with plenty of momentum on its side.
So yeah. This settles it. I'm gonna do a Patreon. My world's gonna be pamphlets, not tomes. The Communist Manifesto, not Das Kapital. I want games small enough that people can write rebuttal games as diss tracks. I want games that can be torn up and made into mixtapes.
I want games we can lend to our friends without worrying about ever getting them back. I want games we can give to strangers because they expressed interest and we know we can just replace them.
I want games that we can give to new players as welcoming presents at LARPs. I want games we're not afraid to write in the margins of. I want games we're not afraid to bend at the spine and fold back to the page we want to reference.
So yeah. Pamphlets. Designers of the world, unite! The only thing we have to lose, is, um, terrible shipping costs, unfair expectations, shitty wages, and games nobody has time to read!

Okay that was a weird place to take the analogy. But you get the point.
Please unroll this thread @threadreaderapp
(Also re: Pamphlet model. If you work for a publisher, and are interested in exploring this model, I consult. I'll be doing my own stuff, but I'm interested in helping get this model off the ground. Be bold! Pick up where Vampire dropped the ball!)
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