Parsec and Lessons Learned

As I never tire of announcing all over the Internets, my science fiction RPG, Parsec, is out at last.  It is my first RPG credit, and was a long time coming in retrospect.  Like you’d expect with any first-time outing, there is a lot about the project that isn’t perfect.  Also, since I was working for a publisher, there ended up being a lot that just wasn’t under my control.  Being new to the hobbistry, this is something I’ve just had to get used to and accept.

Just like with any threshold crossed, I’ve been working out what I’ve learned from the whole process, what I can take with me as I move forward to other projects and future goals.  A few things come to mind.

There is no substitute for time
Writing this book took a LONG time.  I started playtesting it about 2 years ago.  Now, granted, during the time I was working on this book I was also going to graduate school and simultaneously working multiple jobs on the side.  I worked 80 hours a week at a hospital for a year.  Then at one point I technically had 6 jobs at once.  So it wasn’t exactly a picnic time in my life either.  But still.  I have a much more realistic view of how long it takes to put together something with as many moving parts as a roleplaying game: approximately 6 times as long as I expect.

I cannot playtest too much
I actually only ran 3 or maybe 4 playtests of Parsec.  I had a few people read through it and give me feedback, and I went through it very carefully many times, but playtesting was kind of a challenge to put together.  Fortunately, Parsec is, underneath it all, a pretty simple game. It is a combination of things I know work from other kinds of games combined with a few things I tested in the playtests I did run to see how they turned out – things like the Initiative, zero-G combat, and Scars.  Otherwise, it’s a dice-pool task-resolution system most of the time – it’s just the system that I’ve always wanted for simulationist hard science fiction.  For other more innovative designs that aren’t built on a dice-pool/task resolution skeleton, I know I’ll have to find a way to playtest even more.

Do I want to publish, or be published?
This is a good question put forward in one of the Accidental Survivors’ Collateral podcasts, and it was good food for thought in light of my recent experience with Parsec.  I guess my pipe dream is to be published, but to have creative control over the entire project.  Good luck with that, Doug.  Instead the question is creative control OR being published by someone else.  Do all the work myself, or give up some of the creative control to someone else.

That’s a hard choice.  Are there companies that will just put something out, unchanged but under their imprint?   Maybe.  That still leaves me either learning layout or hiring someone to do it; either becoming an artist or finding, recruiting and paying them.

Self-publishing is probably something I can do – but can I do it well enough, on top of everything else I have to do well (as a solo pastor, that’s everything), to justify not finding and hiring someone who can do it a lot better?

I heart collaborators
Yup, that’s about it.  Parsec was 98% designed in a vacuum.  The feedback I got from playtesting helped, but as I noted above, I didn’t playtest as much as I’d like to in the future.  Other feedback I got was on the writing itself, from people who are more familiar with other kinds of writing and not specifically writing gaming systems – really helpful, but not exact.

I feel like in an  hour with a couple people I can hash out more good ideas than in a month by myself – maybe it’s just how I work.  The price paid for collaborating, though, is that things can also go a lot slower between bursts of inspiration and creativity.  And yeah, sometimes you hit a snag where you just don’t agree, and it’s hard to see how to move forward then.  Also, people can be unreliable, myself included.  But there’s always the chance that I get left holding the bag for a big project when collaborators find they are no longer interested.  I find I have a hard time letting go, even 7 years later.


Well, regardless, Parsec is out, for sale at what I think is a good price-point for what it is.  I come away from it a little wiser and more experienced, a bit proud and also thinking of how I can do better next time.  There was nothing about the experience that makes me want to do it less, so here we go – I’m already waist-deep in the next few projects…

5 thoughts on “Parsec and Lessons Learned

  1. Scaled back or not you have a lot to be proud about with getting this on the market and I think your lessons are all good ones.

    I have definitely been one of those occasionally unreliable collaborators. But we'll keep plugging away.


  2. I hope this all turned out well, and I'm glad that episode of Collateral offered up some thoughts that may have helped, or at least focused what you wanted out of this.

    I think you and I are very alike in that it was the need to control our work that led to self-publishing. I recently had a horrible experience publishing my magnum opus through another publisher.


  3. Hey Fraser, thanks for the comment.

    You know, it's surprising to me how much I hear about things like that happening. Maybe part of it is loving our little creations too much (if such a thing is possible). In my case there was also a strong dose of just really wanting to get into the hobbistry one way or another.

    I guess the first time I do anything, though, it's all about learning and not so much about success. I wish everything with Parsec had turned out better, but I did learn a lot, and it bothered me enough that I'll likely only make those mistakes once.


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