It’s about this time of year, when things are normal, that I’m preparing to go out to conventions, talk to folks about gaming, and run numerous playtest games of Delve. It’s a fun time of the year. A couple of weekends ago, I would have been at Norwescon. In a couple of weeks, I would be getting ready to fly out to Colorado Springs to see my family and interact with all the wonderful folks at KoboldCon. But, as all of know, these are not normal times.
This week, I want to talk about why those trips to conventions are so important. It’s not only so I can spread the word about Delve to new and interesting people, but every convention allows me to have a new set of fresh eyes and healthy imaginations interact with the game. While all playtest, processes are essential, if you only have a handful of playtesters and they happen to be either your friends or coworkers, there’s the hazard of creating a kind of echo chamber—especially if you know those people really well. I don’t mean to discount that kind of playtesting. If you’re like me, your friends and coworkers are brilliant people who can bring a lot of excellent analysis to the table. But there is nothing like hoisting your game on complete strangers to see how they’ll react.
These interactions have been crucial when trying out new ideas. How long are the players puzzled? When does the lightbulb go on? When do they feel frustrated? When do they feel empowered by their abilities and the game rules? When do they feel like the rules get in the way of the story? When does the story just flow? While I run games, I’m very keen on gauging the reactions of the players within the game, not just the conversations that I have with them after the game is over. Why is that? Well, allow me to get a little philosophical, psychological, and even economical.
There are several books that I think that everyone who wants to pursue game design should read. Very few of them are about the actual art of game design (Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses being the chief exception to this rule). Two of them are The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And I would advise reading them in that order.
The Undoing Project is written by the same guy who wrote Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, and covers similar ground. But in it, Lewis basically realizes that what he wrote about in Moneyball was expressed years earlier in the works of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman—a pair of Israeli psychologists interested in cognitive bias and the assessment of risk in decision making. Lewis’s narrative puts that work in context, with a breezy tale (or at least as breezy as you can get with such a weighty subject), while Thinking, Fast and Slow is the meat of the story.
The gist of the story is that human beings have two modes of decision making analysis. To use Kahneman’s terms, we have a System 1 and a System 2 for such things. System 1 is quick, intuitive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, logical, and somewhat lazy. Or, as I like to put it, System 1 is your response to some bullshit you see on social media. System 2, is musing on something you just read on in The Economist.
Or, in terms of gaming, System 1 is used most of the time when you are actually playing a roleplaying game (puzzles being an exception). In contrast, System 2 is often used when you are creating or leveling up your character or studying a new sourcebook. Of course, different people use their systems slightly differently, and we would all like to think we use System 2 far more than System 1, but as Kahneman points out in his work (with compelling evidence), that’s just not true.
And that’s not a bad thing. Much of our System 1 responses are good enough for everyday life. Sure, it doesn’t often get the finer points of logic, and it’s absolutely atrocious when it comes to calculating probabilities, it is where our brain mostly lives when we talk about fun, fairness, and what we like. It’s a critical system, especially for game design. And it tends not to lie—or rather when it does, it lies to protect itself. It’s very “me” centric. And that shit is gold for a game designer playtesting the game. While careful analysis is essential, being able to watch how folks first encounter rules in the game is critical.
There have been many parts of Delve, where I designed, watch folks struggle with the rule, feel disappointed by it, or—worse still—don’t use it at all. Every time that happens, that bit gets reevaluated. I bang on it until it fits better, and try the new version out. System 1 may be quick and sloppy, but it’s a perfect bellwether for what will create excitement and mechanics that’ll end up having the most traction.
Okay. A few things to keep in mind. We are approaching May, and I’ve paused payment on the Patreon account for a couple of months. I’m still pounding away on the book (I’ve turned my attention to the sample adventure, The Crystal Manse, this week). Rick is still working on artwork, going up today are few new general talents on the Patreon for Sneak Peek Friday. This Monster Monday, I’m detailing a group of centipede monsters on the Patreon. Keep in mind, the Patreon price freeze is only for ongoing members. If you join now, you’ll still get charged for the initial joining (either $1 for the Lurker level or $5 for the Delver level) but will not get charged further for as long as the pause goes on.
Now, a new bit of information. We are finally getting the online games rolling. This coming Tuesday will be our first go at it (finally), and I’m testing out recording and streaming these sessions. This game will be the test run, and if it works, I’ll throw the game up on YouTube. Stay tuned for more information on that soon.
One last bit, while I’ll miss going out to Colorado Springs to run games at KoboldCon, I will be running at least one game a Virtual KoboldCon! Right now, I have one Delve game on Friday, May 1 at 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time (4:00 p.m. Pacific). As of posting this,
I have one slot in that game left. So, if you are interested in playing Delve online, check that out. Never mind. It’s not full.
That same weekend, I will also be a guest at QuarantinedCon that same weekend (May 2-3). This is a free pop-culture convention where I will have a virtual booth and will be doing some virtual panels. It looks like I will be selling prints via the convention of Monster Monday pages and Delve iconic character sheets, maybe even a map or two. You can also just stop by my virtual booth and seminars, chit-chat, ask questions, or whatever. We are still working out the details, but as soon as I have them, I will post them on my Upcoming Events page and put out a social media blast.