The Distillation Process Continues: GameDev as Cooking

Though editing and refinement of ideas takes place throughout game design and development, this condensation is increasingly the emphasis of my work as I lean into playtesting. Now that my players are directly engaging with the rules on the regular, it’s easier to spot the gaps and confusing parts of the Player’s Guide.

As I mentioned in my last gamedev post, because I’d integrated the coming change in rules system into the storyline of our game as a migration by some of the Eminences to a new universe, I was constrained in how much of the changes I could reveal to the players before their characters experienced their version of those changes.

Those changes included (most dramatically) narrowing down the number of Eminences and peoples, as I mentioned. But they also included things like realizing that I had one more basic character stat than I actually needed; Cheer went away, with its function split between Banter and Empathy.

A character creation choice—do you want to start with more specialized magic where you are rank 4 in one thing and rank 2 in two others, or more generalized to be rank 2 in three things?—was eliminated after I realized that that choice didn’t make much of any difference once you got to higher levels.

There is a feeling of repeated cycles of throwing things into the pot, cooking them together, and reducing them to a more concentrated mixture. Rules as roux.

Today, in response to feedback from playtester Lila, I leaned in hard on the spellcasting parameters to reduce those to a more manageable number. These parameters are part of Our Magic’s modular spellcasting system which allows players to invent their own combinations of magical effects, bringing multiple spells and parameters into a single casting, often involving multiple spellcasters.

Four of the ten parameters have now been moved to more appropriate spots. The ability to delay a casting going off is no longer a factor of the rank of the casting, but is a Basic spell which can be added into a casting. The ability to cast more subtly has changed from being based on the rank of the casting to coming from Metal element magic spells you could add. The detectability and identifiability of spells is no longer a parameter you can change at casting time, but rather a note on the behavior of the Investigate Magic spells at different ranks in relation to the rank of the magic being investigated. Lastly, the discernability of illusions is now footnotes on Fire element magic’s illusion spells.

As with so much of the condensing and concentrating I’ve been doing, there’s a feeling of getting to something that feels right-sized for players and GMs to work with. I am finding the way to keep the flavor and the spice while boiling things down to something more comfortable to swallow.

There is one other boiling down to note: I’m now better able to concentrate on story and fun in our game sessions because my wonderful players/playtesters have agreed to let me record in Zoom for my personal use. Not having to wear the game developer hat at the same time is going to make me a much better and happier GM. I can just note times in my regular GM notes for things I want to go back to and think about from a game mechanics perspective, but in the moment focus on keeping the story moving and the players happy.

Amusingly and appropriately, I took a break from the keyboard while writing this post… and decided to make some soup stock. It’s all ‘boiling down to the essential goodness’ all the time around here these days!

Thanks once again to my wonderful players and Patreon supporters who help my creativity flourish! 💖

Author: Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg

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