If you saw last week’s post, you got a glimpse at the big picture in my head, the Questionable Adventures survey system. I’m proud to announce the alpha testing of it is going live for people to quest through and help collect data to make it easier for designers of games make tabletop RPGs even better!
Please remember this is essentially a proof of concept and alpha testing of some code elements. It is nowhere near the end application. Just like any video game, the first development iteration of Questionable Adventures looks nothing like the final product!
So… what exactly does the end goal look like? Let’s bullet point the key aspects so it’s easier to digest:
Questionable Adventures is not just a survey site, but meant to be a full fledged storytelling game that is built around a survey framework, complete with art assets and animation.
Rather than playing a pre-rolled character, you will have your own custom character, complete with race, class, background, skills, and even an equipment system.
There will be multiple different campaigns (and one-shot adventures for shorter survey paths). Each one has a theme, but can be called back upon by other campaigns for even larger story-arcs.
The current story exists to help the proof of concept. The full version of Questionable Adventures intends to be a far richer world to explore with far more paths and possibilities.
Interactivity between survey takers. There is a wealth of useful data in observing players interact with each other under controlled circumstances that can provide game developers an advantage in creating their games to account for many more possibilities than they would originally have thought up.
To better illustrate the development of story complexity (and why I kept it really simple for the proof of concept, let’s look at these two images:
The first one is closer to what I have now, although a tad simpler. It’s quick and easy, perfect for a proof of concept. The latter shows a crazy pathing of possibilities, almost like seeing the explosion of development on a map and how everything expands outwards and flows along to different possibilities and overlaps (this visualization is actually derived from pretty much that). Obviously for simply creating a proof of concept for quick testing it’s just a little too much investment of time and effort.
Now you’re probably asking why not just make a game? Why incorporate surveys into it? Glad you asked!
This allows creating an invaluable pool of data for game designers. They can see what their player base prefers, what they get hung up on, as well as a huge slew of correlations between different games, playstyles, etc.
Tabletop RPG developers have to rely entirely on playtesting for this sort of information and otherwise have to guess and tweak constantly to create a successful game. Now, this will not replace such processes, but having access to actionable data about players and trends in their gaming practices will allow game designers to quicken their development of the next iterations of a playtest.
Innovation of new and revolutionary game mechanics will occur more rapidly as designers will spot underlying ties in data that may take years, if not decades, of playtesting many iterations to spot… and then they have to playtest them.
And let’s be honest: If we just made a survey site without making it FUN™ we probably wouldn’t be able to collect as much data as possible. I know that even I don’t want to fill out hundreds of possible data points about my own gaming habits through pages and pages of text and not get any entertainment out of it!
And so we come back to the current proof of concept for Questionable Adventures. I hope you enjoy seeing it’s early stages as well as see the potential of what we can do with it.
If well received, I definitely will be progressing ahead on the project and taking it from mere prototype to a full platform to aid game designers everywhere, regardless of if they do tabletop RPGs, board games, or even video games.
This is a preview of an upcoming post I am putting together to help showcase a little bit of the sort of design that I have done. It’s a racial system for a d20 system (originally designed for Pathfinder, but tweakable for other d20 systems). I’ll have a post up in a few weeks actually giving you the races I have generated (they need some cleanup and updating from my playtesting notes first and my current priority is having a blast at PAX and collecting the Questionable Adventure surveys).
A race is mechanically broken into several aspects:
Core Racial Traits – These are the traits which are most likely to appear in a race, which help to define it against others. Each race has at least four racial traits; some heritage lines may have less than four.
Bloodlines – Also known as “subraces”, these are defined pools of traits and differences within a core race: a classical example are the variations of elf, like dark elves. Each has it’s own traits which are selectable.
Racial Iconic – This is an ability only gained by those who possess a majority of traits within one heritage – either 100% or 75% of their main traits.
Advanced Racial Abilities – These abilities are selectable at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels and represent more powerful racial characteristics evolved later on in an adventuring career. A character needs at least one racial trait from a race to select it’s racial abilities.
At character creation, a player is to decide on their Core Racial Traits.
They may instead choose to be of mixed heritage, choosing between two (or rarely three in some cases) races. For characters of such diverse blood, they are to choose a total of four core racial traits, mixing and matching between their races. These traits chosen provide their mechanical benefits, but also imply the level of heritage a character may have with a given race:
A character who has 3 or more traits within a race primarily identifies with this race: a character with 3 elf traits and 1 human trait is primarily an elf, though they may have some human-like characteristics.
A character with two traits of each race is a half-elf; roughly in the middle between the two races.
A character can only select a trait assigned to a subrace if they have previously selected a trait assigned to their core race; thus, characters must be at least roughly half of a heritage to be considered a member of a subrace.
Your race can help to build your background and physical traits, but within that the exact details remain up to the player.
At 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th character levels, characters select an advanced racial trait. This can be from any race, heritage, or subrace they have previously taken a trait from. Characters can also gain a trait from a lower-level choice, but not first level traits.
Characters gain the ability score modifiers of their primary race, modified by their subrace (if any). Characters with an even number of traits from two separate races must still select a single race (and a corresponding sub-race their primary race, if they choose to have a subrace) to take ability scores from.
Characters without any subracial traits may select an applicable subrace to take ability scores from.
Shorter post than most I will do, but busy with putting together a project outlined below, enjoy the sneak peek!
One of the inspirations for the name of this blog was a survey system I had cooked up years ago while in my Entrepreneurship class in college. The basic premise was that as users took a survey, a narrative story would unfold based upon their answers to the questions contained within it. To continue the narrative, the user would have to continue to answer more questions, driving them to answer even more questions to give more marketing research data to work with. Upon completion, they would be able to share their narrative with others and invite them to complete their own to share!
Just in time for PAX, I have the survey site ready to gather market research data and hopefully generate some buzz through good ‘ole fashioned guerilla marketing tactics. A developer and a writer have teamed up with me to make this a reality, and I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished together!
Initially, users will be invited to take a quick survey that is 15 questions long and explains the format of the surveys. It’ll also prompt them to name their character they will be taking through the narrative with their survey responses and set a couple other variables to be used. Upon completion of this survey, they’ll be thanked and sent an email validation to ensure future surveys go where they are supposed to!
The second survey goes out about an hour after the first one, and actually starts to generate the first chapter of their narrative. Upon completion, they see their narrative thus far, and are encouraged to keep an eye out for the next survey to be delivered to their inbox inabout 4 hours (plenty of time to enjoy PAX in the meantime before taking a break to complete another survey and reveal more narrative adventures).
They continue this process for up to ten surveys (all have 15 questions each) to complete the entire narrative. Share buttons will be available at this stage, and hopefully gather more responses from folks who were unable to attend PAX (or just didn’t cross paths with me).
I’ll be sharing the results of these surveys naturally in a future post once data is compiled and sorted in a readable format!
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
(Full Alternate Title: How Women’s Shoes Became the Inspiration I Needed to Take that First Step to Becoming a Game Designer)
Today, I officially start a journey approximately three years in the making. It has certainly not been easy getting to this point and I certainly cannot predict where I will wind up, but I do know full well that my true tests and challenges are only beginning. Thus “Questionable Adventures” as my choice of naming this blog chronicling my journey. I want to share my vision, quest, and even my opinions here, engage with others who are similar minded, as well as those who perhaps think I am a little crazy (but hopefully in a good way). Let’s start with some back story with how gaming was introduced to me, at least the iconic moments that defined my wanting to become a game designer:
A many years ago, in the summer of 2002 I was introduced to roleplaying with Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition. I remember my first character quite well, a lovable halfling thief named Fliberd. He didn’t get too far sadly, as by his third adventure he had managed to grow a little overconfident in his abilities and trigger a cataclysm of traps in the entire dungeon with the intent of springing them on the inhabitants to avoid deadly combat. Brilliant idea, terrible execution as his wisdom of 5 had caused him to conveniently “forget” he was essentially an inhabitant of the dungeon from the perspective of the traps. I recall quite vividly the damage rolled, taking 74 points to my meager 18 hit points.
Only the Wizard had survived as he was outside the dungeon trying to sort through our magic loot. He had quite a haul to bring back to town, as he could now traverse the entire dungeon essentially unhindered by any monsters. Rather than resurrect us with the prodigious amounts of treasure, he simply decided to retire. That was a mutual group decision, however, as it then allowed all of us to start a new campaign in the exciting Third Edition rule set (I had joined a campaign late into its fifth year). I played a half-elf bard for a couple sessions before stopping, I didn’t connect to the character the same way and had plenty of school things to do at the time as well as a hockey season to play.
And I discovered Morrowind. I was in love with that game, and it still remains to this very date my top pick of any video game out there. Nothing can ever take away my nostalgia from that game, and the sheer mod-ability and thus re-playability of it. I was impressed with the community that existed simply to create mods for the game. Although I never partook directly in this community or uploaded any content, I had tried my hand at modding myself and was amazed at how easy it was to create my own story or change the game. It wasn’t just a computer game then, it was *my* game, personalized to how I wanted to play it.
Then, through all of those personalized experiences, Morrowind eventually got me back into tabletop gaming about when D&D 3.5 Edition released. I had a new outlook on pen and paper roleplaying, and I took to heart the changing of the default game to run what I wanted to run. I wasn’t familiar at the time with house rules or homebrew content, I just considered it “modding” the system.
Enter 2007, I was graduating from high school and entering Georgia Tech hopeful for my physics degree and perhaps entering a master’s program after to study the unified force theory and how to tie gravitation into it. But it wasn’t my classes or studies that changed me, but all the new options that presented themselves to me. I joined a wargaming group there, and played Farsight Tau in a WH40k Apocalypse style battle towards the end of the Spring term (sadly I did not make time for the campaign they were running during the school year, wish I had).
And then there was the high speed fiber internet and campus-wide wifi, I was able to be online 24/7 doing virtually anything I wanted. I didn’t have parents disapproving of my gaming habits over my shoulders. So much wealth of information and knowledge, I found myself actually discovering others “modded” Dungeons and Dragons themselves, as well as a plethora of other systems that I did not know even existed. But I stuck with D&D, not because of familiarity, but because I saw the Open Gaming License, and I was smitten with the direction that Wizards of the Coast was going with that. It was practically inviting me to create my own content, even if there was no “official” validation of my homebrew.
I eventually realized I didn’t want to study physics for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to be an “academic” stuck in some lab or classroom for all eternity. I wanted to tweak games, make them, break them, fix them, and ultimately share them. Thus I was no longer a student, but that cliched guy with insane ideas to make his hobby into a career. It wasn’t about the money I could make, I wanted to share, change things, bring my imagination to life and spark the dream in others.
I got my reality break eventually. I wasn’t enjoying myself without being a productive member of society, I didn’t really manage to grab a job in the economy (although I certainly tried), and eventually found myself at a friend in Seattle who offered a fantastic deal on rent in a far better economic area than the deep South I was stuck in. I moved, gave up my gaming and found myself in the joys of retail just before the holidays. And my department? Women’s shoes.
I did pretty well selling them, honestly. But my mind would find myself wandering back to gaming quite often while I searched the backroom for that box with just the right size and color the customer wanted. I don’t know if you have ever seen the back room of a department’s store’s shoe section (notably women’s shoes), but if you haven’t it is a maze of shelving with shoe boxes upon shoeboxes. We’re talking nearly 50,000 pairs of shoes in this back room. Organized by style (long boot, short boot, tennis, sandal, heel, etc), then color, then brand, and finally by specific model.
My moment of epiphany came then during the 2010 holiday season. This lovely 20′s-something year old gal was shopping for shoes to match with a variety of outfits and would show me pictures on her phone as to which outfit she was looking to match with and have me go searching for that perfect complimentary shoe. I had started that shift right after running a D&D game online via IRC, so I still had gaming fresh in my mind while I shuffled through the backroom and tried to stack as many boxes as I could reasonably carry.
Somehow, I started to associate each box with a different mechanic of a roleplaying system. Why? I can’t really be sure, but I assume it goes something like this metaphor:
Your closet is the entire system you want to have.
Each outfit describes the feel/mood/etc you want each element of the system to be able to express.
The shoes are what allow you to match to that feel or mood and still actually be able to walk where you want to go (read: the mechanics that allow you to play the story as you want to).
In essence, those knee-high brown leather boots became the robust and comprehensive combat resolution system, while the red heels were the bloody and gritty injury mechanics. The Uggs became the downtime traveling mechanics: comfortable, not particularly robust, but get the job done without bogging you down.
I was stacking up boxes of shoes for her like they were part of a Lego set, building exactly what she wanted for her closet/system. My brain clicked right then and there that the mechanics of a pen and paper system can work virtually the same. I probably had a crazy gleam in my eye from all the inspiration as someone else wound up collecting the commission on the shoes I had gathered, but I knew I was onto something and didn’t care.
I spent weeks turning the idea around in my head, eventually realizing that I could even tie in my visions of homebrew and even crowdsourcing (I was following Kickstarter avidly) directly into the modularity, just like Morrowind allowed anyone to create modules to customize their game. It wasn’t just now the shoes or Lego pieces that I provided, but the ones that others would cobble or sculpt up. I knew I had the vision to make this happen, but I also realized that it was not going to be an easy road.
For starters, I had to get back in school as a business major if I wanted to actually make this a viable proposition. And I wasn’t able to get the financial aid I needed until I managed to turn 25 (for varying reasons). So I spent the next couple years figuring out exactly which college would offer what I needed and started working grocery after the holidays had subsided and devoured every book I could on business and game design I could get my hands on.
Early 2013. I enrolled at Bellevue College. They had entrepreneurship, the transfer programs I could utilize to get into a larger and more robust business school, and my final deciding factor: an excellent sign language program (I was born with hearing aids after all, and wanted to learn it while I had hearing should I lose it).
I want my vision out there, I want to build a relationship with people, share my ideas, know what others want out of their games, and work together to make this a reality. This blog will track my questionable adventure through both the design and business side of things, as well as let me share my own thoughts on the industries.
But know this: game design is still not about the money for me; it is about the love, passion, and thrill of creating something and watching it unfold to tell fantastic stories and maybe, just maybe, change the lives of others. Gaming changed my life and it is now time for me to try and return the favor to others who want something to spark their creativity, be a part of something more than just their own little slice of life.