Posts Tagged ‘hell for leather’

Hell for Leather – Job Done

This week, I finished editing Hell for Leather for the author, Sebastian Hickey. It’s gone for proofs, will be printed next month, and should be available in August at GenCon.


This last editing phase took one full weekend, every evening for a week, and a lot of lunchbreaks. This follows weeks and weeks of edits from various people (particularly on the excellent HfL mailing list) Fortunately, the designer Sebastian quite likes getting Google Spreadsheets with over a hundred final edits. Or at least is very polite when he does.

What I’ve found interesting in editing this, other texts and a lot of my own older work is the focus we take as designers on the really nifty bits of the system, and explaining them just so. Man, we obsess. But we gloss over huge, vital components of play because they’re automatic for one reason or another. Over-explaining ‘The guy who is doing the stuff right now’ and under-explaining ‘So once everyone agrees…’

Some of the Hell For Leather playtesting ran into trouble where social dynamics at the table papered over gaps in the system or text. For example, the group became so comfortable with building custom settings that no system was needed beyond a checklist. When we got through more external playtesting, and playtesting at conventions, it looked like a short system was needed to help everyone get what they wanted, which became a slick bidding mechanic.

There were also a few areas of player and character motivation where gaps crept in, but some recent revisions have added a bit of depth to PCs which makes the violence that much more shocking (or hilarious).

Now that the book is really on its way, I’m going to talk some more about the marketing we’re doing for the game.

Design til it hurts.

I’m corresponding with Steve Hickey about Left Coast, a game about sci fi authors in 1960s California, and how they deal with paranoia, hallucinations, alien incursions and bills to pay. Superb premise, but the system isn’t quite there yet.

Last year, I did an online course called Game Design Concepts. Most of the course was angled towards videogames, but lots applied to RPGs. My favorite topic was iterative design. Design something good, then test it to see what’s bad, then feed that back into design changes. Cycle that a lot. Weekly. Daily.

After all, you shouldn’t aim to write a a finished game. You can’t do that, so don’t worry about it. Just produce something that works enough that your band of intrepid and generous playtesters can poke at it at the table and see where the system skips.

As an example, I’m developing The Hammer Falls with the creator, Pooka . He was terrified he’d produce something that wouldn’t work… so we got a playtest about 6 weeks after he started designing. If he lost 6 weeks investment that’s no big deal. Lots worked, lots was confusing. Pooka was too necessary an ingredient for it to be a finished game. So the design gets tweaked.

(It helps hugely that the mechanic allows for lots of changes. We’re using playing cards for resolution, and one of the mechanics ramps up the difficulty by adding cards together. Initially, you added the values together. Now, it looks like you’ll add the number of cards to the first card drawn as it took too long to add more than two cards. Glad we chose cards where it’s easy to do that).

Hell for Leather is another one. The designer, Sebastian Hickey, playtested the game about 3 weeks after he first put pen to paper. Lots sucked. Lots worked. But because the premise of the game was enjoyably nihilistic, you could at least paper over the system cracks with fun roleplaying.

Left Coast seems to be in a similar boat. It’s got such a strong premise that I’ve no doubt charitable groups would give it a shot and paper over in a similar way. Then, when you look back and see that you motivated your character to do something, but that perhaps the system should be doing that instead, you can design towards a system that matters.

Some Done

Nice. Kidbots has actually turned into something. Looks like it’ll be a relatively simple orthogonal stakes d6 vs d6 game, as that’s a fun way to get kids talking, with Fate-style aspects thrown in for flavor. Maybe rerolls. Character generation, setting and situation are all jammed together. And the characters very much hit the ground running. Green meteors ftw.

Also wrote ~500 words for the lovely Andrew Kenrick’s Dead of Night II. Decent writing, too.

And Hell for Leather got its vanity URL: