Bolt On

This was unexpected:

It’s a tweet from Sean Nittner from a series concerning submissions for Forged In The Dark. Weirdly the image comes from a two year old post from this blog concerning Dice Clocks.

(it made me wonder if he’d read what I wrote and this was some very, very oblique vaguebooking)

The opening tweet is a bit nonsensical: if you’ve created a rule for a new kind of action, then surely the system reflects that by definition. But I don’t want to take it out of context so here’s the whole text for this point:

Mechanics concern: Bolting on new tech. If you’ve got a rule for a new kind of action in the game, that is fantastic. If it’s core to the game that’s even better. The trick is to make the system reflect that, which might make for a deep (and possibly uncomfortable) dive.

If games looks like “Everything Blades has plus a random treasure table” or really “and plus anything” then chances are there is still to many Blades in your Dark! Consider these ideas (and I’d love to hear more):

  • Create your system from the fiction you want to see. Decide what you care about (that’s really important, this is your game, what YOU care about is what matters here) and build from there.

  • Consider your values and how they affect your design choices. They always are!

  • Question the narrative of play. Why the are the characters taking the actions they do? What is happening in your setting? How do those interact?

  • Leave spaces to fill in the details, but define enough of it that everyone knows the basic parameters they are working with.

Crucially Nittner is speaking as a publisher to a potential pitch, so his opinion is critical (in more than one sense): this is what he would like to see from a differentiating product. I’m not that audience, although I am an advocate for genre awareness (hence Fictoplasm). But I’d also say, why not bolt things on? A lot of games are modular by design, Blades included (along with PbtA, OSR, etc.).

The other interesting thing is this is Evil Hat, home of FATE, a system so generic and malleable that it should be simple to apply desired settings (a great strength, particularly if you’re developing games). But with FitD suddenly talking about baked-in mechanics which drive towards a particular genre. I’d be very interested to see how much the different Forged products differentiate themselves from the source and each other. I think I’m right to say the best PbtA games require incredible dedication and thought, plus engagement with the playtest base to achieve the creator vision.

Will company oversight help the differentiation, or will everything come out smelling of FATE?


Cthulhu Dark: Annihilation


  1. I think the crucial point – which applies to most mechanics, with almost any system – is if you just bolt something on, the basic feel of the game is going to remain unchanged. Add a relationship mechanic to D&D? It’s still going to be primarily a game about dungeon delving. Add a treasure table to BitD? It will still be a game about scoundrels doing scores.

    Which is fine, if that’s what you want. Tweaks are ok. It’s probably fair to say they’re more the province of blog posts and house rules rather than deserving a separate publication, though, which I guess is where Sean is coming from.

    • Smiorgan

      I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. For example take these versions of FATE

      According to the above Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files and Starblazer Adventures differ only minimally system-wise. Yet they are differentiated by setting, content and implied core activity.

      The truth lies somewhere between “system matters” and “I can run any game with any system — it’s what happens at the table that matters”. I think it’s a nature vs. nurture thing.

      As for whether you should or should not publish a game that’s a barely modified version of another, that’s an economic decision rather than an artistic one. A publisher can say yeah, there should be no more OSR retroclones because there’s no way they can sell in the market; but otherwise, who cares how other people spend their time or money?

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