As I write this, Mike Bohlman is at GenCon running playtests of what we’ve been working on bySwarm. Since most of you doubtless don’t know what I’m talking about, bySwarm is Mike Bohlman’s really cool project that I’m part of – the idea behind it is essentially cloud-sourcing a rolelpaying game and setting. During the first stage, various designers and writers proposed rpg settings and everyone rated them and then ultimately voted on them to see what we would go with. The second stage was choosing a system, whether we would adapt an existing system or build our own, and we ended up voting for adapting Pathfinder.
Stage three is where we are now, fleshing out the setting, which is the Dark Golden Age. We’ve been designing aspects of the setting, creating new races and feats, adapting the magic system for the special conditions in the Dark Golden Age, and other fun stuff.
The reason I bring all this up is that the playtests that Mike Bohlman has been running are essentially setting tests, and I haven’t really thought about that distinction before. We know that the system works – tens of thousands of people playtested Pathfinder, and I’ve played it, and there’s no question that it works. It’s incredibly easy to come up with feats and races and so on to add to the system as well, so that’s not a concern really. They key is really testing the setting itself.
I’m thinking about what one would do in order to test a setting rather than a system, and I definitely want to talk to Mike about it after he’s recovered from GenCon. It’s one thing to have an interesting setting, the way a novel might – it’s another thing to be able to specifically highlight that setting as part of a game. No one reads those DM handouts about setting, in my experience, so if you want something to stand out as part of the setting, you have to tie it into the scenario you are running.
This is of interest to me not only because I am a bySwarm contributor, but also because games like Heroes of Karia that I am working on are in a large part setting-driven. It isn’t enough to have a cool setting. You have to find a way to have cool setting elements come up in every single session – most importantly in a convention demo that is supposed to be showcasing a new setting.
As a concluding note, if you want experience working on a collaborative rpg project; if you want to be a published rpg writer and designer someday, come over to bySwarm, read up on where we are right now with the Dark Golden Age rules and setting, and be a contributor!