WRIT 1133 | Writing: Indie RPGs | jesse.stommel@du.edu

Here’s what we’ll spend our time doing this quarter. The schedule will evolve as we proceed. Watch regularly for more details, added activities, and stuff might change or move around as our conversation does.

Unless otherwise noted, we'll meet at our regularly scheduled times each week:
WRIT 1133 Sec. 55 on Tuesday and Thursday at Noon (Margery Reed Hall 214)
WRIT 1133 Sec. 52 on Tuesday and Thursday at 2pm (Margery Reed Hall 006)
WRIT 1133 Sec. 23 on Tuesday and Thursday at 4pm (Margery Reed Hall 119)

The rest of our work will be done online via Discord and wherever you choose to do your work for the course. Generally, you should try to complete the required readings before we meet in person. The rest of the activities can be done at any point throughout the week, unless there's a specific date listed.

Week 1: April 1 - April 7

Tuesday, April 2: Introductions and Wing It
Thursday, April 4: The History of RPGs

Read and watch:
A Critical History of Role-playing Games
What is a Tabletop RPG?

Do some stuff:
1) Sign up for our Discord server, using the invite link in Canvas. Here's a quick getting started guide for Discord, if you haven't used it. Discord will be our "classroom" when we're working online, for both synchronous and asynchronous activities.

2) You'll need a space online to share your work for this course. A couple options: (a) Use your own personal site or blog, if you have one; (b) Sign up for a free account on Medium; (c) Prepare to publish anywhere else (Google Drive, WordPress, Tumblr, etc.), as long as you can post regularly and share your work with the class via hyperlinks. Feel free to leave your full name off of your site (or use a psuedonym).

Week 2: April 8 - 14

Tuesday, April 9: 1-page RPGs
Thursday, April 11: Online asynchronous class (which means use class time or work at your own pace on the stuff below)

Read and play:
1) Read the 1-page RPG that you'll get in class on Tuesday this week. Find some folks to play it with. Most of these should only take about 2 hours to play. If you aren't in class to pick up a 1-page RPG, here are some more recommendations. Most of these are very low or no cost.

2) A couple recommended books if you want to check out more mini-RPGs:
The Ultimate Micro-RPG Book (print or Kindle)
#Feminism: A Nano Game Anthology (pdf or print)

Do some stuff:
1) At the time we'd normally be meeting in person on Thursday, make a short (less than a minute) video introducing yourself to us. This can be super simple (shot on your phone, no editing, etc.). Share your video in the #who-are-we channel in Discord.

  • Don’t tell us your major, unless you have a story about it
  • Don’t tell us what you did over the holiday break, unless it involves giant snakes, parachuting, a unicorn, or it will be documented in a viral video
  • Don’t tell us where you grew up, unless you’re going to show pictures
  • Do tell us what moves you, what you care most about
  • Do tell us what you hope to get from taking this course, but only if you can do so in a limerick
  • Do tell us where you are
  • Do give us random facts we can come to know you by

To share a video in Discord, upload to YouTube (or any other site where videos live) and share with a link. Or click the little + to the left of the message box in Discord, select a video file you created, and add a title or hello in the message. There are limits to how big a file can be, hence why using YouTube might be easiest.

2) Watch some of the videos of your peers, respond, add reaction emojis, etc. There are three sections of this class. When we hold in-person sessions, you'll come at the time your section is scheduled. However, all three sections will work together in our Discord server.

3) Write a short response to the 1-page RPG you read/played. Talk specifically about game mechanics, your experience playing the game, etc. Publish your post wherever you will be doing the work for this course (a blog, Medium, Google Drive, somewhere else). Share a link to your work in the #our-work channel on discord. Make sure your work is viewable by anyone with the link.

Looking Forward: Over the next couple weeks, you'll be working on your own 1-page RPG. It can be a single page, but should be no longer than a single page (front and back). The shape of the page is up to you. It should contain everything a person needs to play the game. Look to any of the other material for this week for more models. You'll bring a draft to class next week (week 3), which you'll revise and share for playtesting by the end of the week.

The guidelines for your 1-page RPG are simple:

  • A role-playing or collaborative storytelling game. Any genre. Serious or weird. Story-driven or combat-driven.
  • A single page, one-sided or front and back. All the context and instructions someone would need for your game to be "playable." Most (not all) 1-page RPGs can be played in a single session of 90 minutes or so.
  • The game mechanics can be as simple or as complex as you want. We'll talk about game mechanics more as the course goes along. At this point, feel free to experiment. Most one-page RPGs include a little bit of world-building (context that helps set the stage). Some have players make characters. Some have players using 6-sided dice or constructing their own cards with slips of paper. Some incorporate other stuff a person might find around their house. Make sure to say how many players you recommend for your game and what age(s) you recommend it for.
  • Feel free to incorporate some graphic design, sketches, etc. into your 1-page RPG, but it can also be just text.
  • If your game asks people to engage with potentially sensitive topics, incorporate a boundary-setting mechanic. Lines and veils are one common example.

Week 3: April 15 - 21

Tuesday, April 16: Discuss drafts
Thursday, April 18: Playtesting

Read and play:
Continue looking at the 1-page RPGs recommended for last week, as you begin to craft your own. If you're struggling to find or hone your own idea for a 1-page RPG, here are some resources:

Thor Bronwyn and Litza Bronwyn, "You Have Two Stats"
"50 Tips and Resources for Making Your Own Single-page RPG"

Do some stuff:
1) Bring a draft, a sketch, or an idea for your own 1-page RPG to class on Tuesday this week. We'll spend some time in groups discussing and honing your ideas.

2) By Thursday, share a link to a playable draft of your 1-page RPG in the #our-work channel on Discord. Make sure to give your game a name, and I recommend including a single sentence description or preview to get people interested in checking out your work. Begin playtesting and/or offering feedback on games as soon as they appear in Discord.

3) Playtest your own 1-page RPG. We'll playtest a few games in class this week, but we won't have time to playtest all of them.

4) Then, revise based on your experience and any feedback you get on your own game. Share the final draft in the #one-page-rpg channel in Discord (by Sunday, the 24th).

Week 4: April 22 - 28

Tuesday, April 23: Bring a final printed version of your 1-page RPG to class today. Also, share a PDF version in the #one-page-rpg channel in Discord.
Thursday, April 25: We'll begin building D&D characters together in class.

Read and watch:
Critical Role: "Campaign 2 Character Introductions"
Ginny Di: "POV Roleplay," "50 Character Builder Questions for your Tabletop Character," "Backstories don't have to be tragic to be interesting"
Antero Garcia, "Privilege, Power, and Dungeons & Dragons: How Systems Shape Racial and Gender Identities in Tabletop Role-Playing Games"

Do some stuff:
Build a D&D character. There's a few ways you can go about this. 1) Print a character sheet, and use the Step-by-Step Characters guide in the D&D Basic Rules. 2) Use D&D Beyond to make a character online. Here's a quick walkthrough. Whichever method you use, especially if this is your first character, take time to flesh out the personality and background section. Like so many of the games we've played D&D involves a lot of improvisation, which is much easier (and more fun) when you've got a clear frame to work within.

Week 5: April 29 - May 5

Tuesday, April 30: We'll play the game Ten Candles. No need to prepare anything for the game.
Thursday, May 2: Discussion

Read and Play:
José P. Zagal and Sebastian Deterding, "Definitions of 'Role-Playing Games'"

Choose one short Indie RPG to read. Here are some options I recommend (across different genres), all available in PDF format: Bluebeard's Bride, Thousand Year Old Vampire, Microscope, Sleepaway, The Skeletons, Our Last Best Hope, Eden, Downfall, Ten Candles. (If you choose Ten Candles, I recommend waiting to read the game until after we play it together.)

You can find more options at Indie Press Revolution or Drive Thru RPG. Look for games that contain the entire rules inside a single book of 30-100 pages.

Read the rules for the game.

At some point this week, outside of class, find a group to play the game with.

Whichever game you choose, research the game. Find out what the creator(s) has said about the game. What other games have they written? Read through reviews of the game. What other games is it being compared to? What is the game's genre? What other games seem similar within its genre? Find pockets of the internet where the game is being discussed. See if you can find evidence that helps you guess at how well the game has sold, how many copies have been played, etc. Has the game been mentioned in any academic articles, dissertations, etc.? (For some of these games, this will be unlikely, but dig deep to see what you can find.)

Week 6: May 6 - 12

Tuesday, May 7: Asynchronous online class. Work on your midterm self-reflection in place of class today.
Thursday, May 9: Optional Zoom conferences.

This week, you'll think about and work on your midterm self-reflection. There’s some recommended reading that might help as you think about how to evaluate your work for the course.

Read some or all of this stuff:
Nancy Chick's “Metacognition”,
Alfie Kohn's “The Case Against Grades”

Write your self-reflection:
Click this link to write a self-reflection

Looking forward:
If you haven't already, begin thinking about your idea for the final project. In short, you'll write either a short indie RPG or a campaign setting or sourcebook for D&D 5E (or some other system). You can work on your own or in groups on this assignment. Your work should incorporate several components:

  • Research: survey the genre you'll be working in, looking at other books/systems. Consider how players have responded to those books/system (in reviews, on social media, etc.).
  • Writing: If you do a traditional book-shaped Indie RPG, imagine a finished product that is about 30 pages if you're working on your own, more if you're working with a group. However, you can also imagine different shapes for your writing: for example, a game structured around a deck of cards, or a campaign book in graphic novel form. So, don't get too hung up on word count. You'll do some world-building and also write some rules/mechanics, so your style will range from technical writing to creative writing. Experiment with your own voice at both ends of that spectrum.
  • Graphic Design: Think about the content of the game, but also it's form. Incorporate some basic graphic design, line art, watercolor paintings, book-making, whatever best helps realize your vision.
  • Play-testing: Approach the play-testing of this final project a little more systematically. Create a brief survey for players (or a set of questions you ask them). Gather specific information about how your game plays, how it looks, whether the writing is clear, if the world you've built captures people's imaginations.

We'll talk about each of these aspects of your work as the term proceeds, so don't fret about them all at once. Start with an idea and work your way from there.

Week 7: May 13 - 19

Tuesday, May 14: TBA
Thursday, May 16: Workshop early ideas for final project.

Read or Play:
Staffan Björk and José Zagal, "Game Design and Role-Playing Games"
Andy Campbell, Spawn (2002)
Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Howling Dogs (2012)
Matthew S. Burns, The Writer Will Do Something (2017)

Do some stuff:
Draft an outline, introduction, description, or sketch of the game you're writing/designing. Bring it with you to class next week. In class this week, we will be looking at early drafts of your games, an outline of your system, a couple pages of world-building, a game mechanic. Make sure you bring enough to get useful feedback from the group.

Week 8: May 20 - 26

Tuesday, May 21: Watch Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons and Dragons in class
Thursday, May 23: TBA

Read or Play:
Jean Wells, The Palace of the Silver Princess
Cecilia D’Anastasio, “Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women”

Continue working on your game.

Week 9: May 27 - June 2

Tuesday, May 28: TBA
Thursday, May 30: TBA

We will begin playtesting this week.

Week 10: June 2 - June 9

Tuesday, June 4: TBA
Thursday, June 6: TBA

We will continue playtesting this week. And will work to refine our games. (Check week 6 for a reminder about the various components of the project)

Week 11: June 10 - 13

We won't meet in person during the final exam period. In place of a final, there are two things to do by Thursday this week:

1. The Writing Program asks all students in WRIT 1133 to complete a brief portfolio. Click here for the full instructions. The gist: Cut and paste into a single file (DOCX, RTF, or PDF) two samples from the work you did for WRIT 1133. (No need to revise further.) These can be major or minor assignments, whatever you think represents your work. Then, write a short introduction (1-2 paragraphs) that describes your work and what you learned about the writing/research process. You can use links in the document at will to multimedia components. The instructions ask you to e-mail me your single file. Email to: jesse.stommel@du.edu.

2. Before Thursday, complete your final self-reflection by clicking here.