Author: Phil Vecchione

About The Author

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.


Design Flow: Campaign Playtesting

One of the great joys and challenges of game design is playtesting. On one hand, seeing your creation doing what it is supposed to—and people enjoying it—is incredibly uplifting. On the other hand, watching your perfect mechanic break under play can be heartbreaking. Despite the emotional roller coaster, having people that are not you playing your game is a necessity. Much like gaming in general, you can playtest using one shots, or in a campaign. Playtesting with one shots is pretty straight-forward, but playtesting for a campaign is a different beast altogether . . . and happens to be...

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Design Flow: Kill Your Darlings

Right now I am sitting here, not wanting to write an article. Not that I don’t love writing to you all, but rather this article is between me and further game design work I am doing, and I have fallen into the design rabbit hole; a place where nothing matters other than designing—not eating, not sleep, not anyone else, just a burst of ideas on a page as you try to make a thing. Today’s article is not about the rabbit hole, rather it’s why I am in the hole. That starts last week at Origins . . . ...

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The Power of No

One of the worst pieces of GMing advice I ever gave myself was to always make sure the players were happy, even over my own happiness; to avoid saying No. This ridiculous piece of advice has lead to more campaign deaths in my career as a GM than I should admit. The thing is that saying yes to every idea or whim a player has isn’t a good idea. Sometimes we have to say No. No, so that we keep the stability of the campaign intact. No, so that the game remains fun for the majority of the group....

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Design Flow: Teaching Setting

The last few weeks I have been working on writing the setting of Hydro Hacker Operatives. For an RPG with a defined setting, this is an important task. You need to be able to teach the setting to the GM and the players, so that they can share in the world you created, and give them enough interesting elements that they can go off and have their own adventures. Previously in this series, I talked about designing worlds. This week I want to talk about the ways that this information can be presented, and the approach I decided to...

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Design Flow: One on One Play

I first learned D&D from the boy who’s house I was living in, during a rough period of time my Mother and I were going through. He was older than me, and I was not cool enough to play in his group, so he ran a game for me, alone. For a while, my only experience of D&D was one on one play, and I rather enjoyed it, despite the challenges of not having a party for support. Over time, I would get my own gaming group, and rarely ever got back to one on one gaming. When I...

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Design Flow: World Design

The world of Hydro Hacker Operatives resides mostly in my head. The rules for how to play Hydro Hackers (H2O) have been well enough documented on paper for the game to be run in a playtest capacity. But right now, I am the only person who can GM H2O because no one else fully understands how the world works. The truth is, I don’t fully know either. I have just enough of a world built for playtesting to work. Which was fine when I was more concerned if the rules of the game made any sense, but now that the game...

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Design Flow: Tools

There is no “right” way to create a role playing game. Everyone comes at it a different way. For me, with a background in project management and software development, I tend to come at the process in a structured manner. For me, developing an RPG is really no different than software, and so most of the techniques that apply to software development seem to work in creating RPGs.  In this installment, I am going to describe a few of the techniques I am using to create Hydro Hacker Operatives. Why is it like software? For all of my tools...

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Design Flow: Not The Game I Intended To Make

Hydro Hacker Operatives is not the game I intended to make. I had originally set out to make a Fate-based Cyberpunk game and wound up with a Powered by the Apocalypse Hydropunk game. But game design is weird like that, sometimes you set out with a specific idea in mind and bring it to light, but in most cases what you end up with is not exactly what you intended – and then there are times like this, when what you wind up with is only a shadow of what you started with. A Little Something Different Normally I spend my time providing you...

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How You Prep Is How You Run

I was making my breakfast the other morning while listening to the boys at Gaming and BS . Specifically, I was listening to an episode (#101) where the question was posed, and I paraphrase, is the rush towards improv style GMing diluting the more traditional storyteller type of GMing? It got me thinking, not so much about a dilution occurring, but rather how do we adopt one of these styles and how can you change your style. So I gave it some thought, flipped my eggs and came up with this… Three Types of GM For the sake of word count, your...

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Gaming Groups – Keep or Build

I had my main gaming group for over 20 years. That’s quite a feat in terms of people being around, sticking together, etc. In some ways it was quite a treat, I always had a group to game with. In some ways it was a challenge, working to keep the group together, deciding on what games we wanted to play, etc. Today, my gaming life is a bit more fluid. I know more gamers than ever before, and I have access to dozens of new and exciting games. The question becomes, do I keep the group I have and...

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Poking at Lingering Wounds

For the most part, RPGs deal with damage in a numeric sense, with the most common being the Hit Point. There are other games that explore different ways to represent physical damage, but for the most part damage is a resource mechanic. Take too much damage, you run out of that precious resource, and you are dead. In the real world, we never take 10 HP of damage, we suffer something like a punctured lung, a broken arm, etc. When we heal, we don’t just get back our 10 HP, we go through a process where bones mend, and...

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Location-Based Campaigns

I have recently started a Corporation campaign, and unlike my other campaigns for this game, which spanned the solar system, I wanted this campaign to remain rooted in one location. I wanted to be able to improv a large amount of the campaign, and if the game spanned numerous locations it would be harder to have re-occurring NPC’s and consequences from the players actions. So, I rooted in the game in a Beanstalk. In doing so I altered my prep to account for running out of a central location, and modified how I manage the campaign between sessions. I...

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Asymmetrical Play Experiences

Recently, I was given a chance to run a game for a group that I previously GMed. This was back before my playing style changed over, from a more traditional prep-medium, linear story, to where I am now with a lite-prep, more improv/collaborative style. At first, I was a bit hesitant to run for this group, since their focus is not improv play, and more on what might be labeled as “traditional play”. My concerns centered on if my improv style would mesh with their play style. After some thought, I decided to run for the group, despite my...

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Planning Well

On a recent episode of the Misdirected Mark podcast, Chris and I talked about why planning never really works in RPGs, and why mechanics to emulate planning fare better at the table. If you are interested in that discussion go and check out the show. Understanding that planning is never going to leave RPG’s, I want to take this article to talk about ways to make planning less painful. This article is aimed at the Players, so send this link out to them and hopefully their next plan will be more fun. Hello Players, lets talk about planning… The...

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The Player-GM

Recently, I was a guest at the Tacticon convention in Denver, Colorado. One of the things that the convention organizers stressed to me was to not only run some games, but to play in games that were being run. I enthusiastically followed their advice, and in any time slot where I was not running something or on a panel, I played many great games. As I was sitting on the other side of the screen, I realized that I could use my GM skills to not only be a good player, but also to be helpful to the GM....

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