Fail Fast!: An Introduction to Weird Secrets
Hey all, Stacy D here! I'd like to introduce a series of posts I'll be writing entitled 'Fail Fast!', which will cover how I'm developing my game, Precious Dark.
If you work in tech or the startup world, you've already probably heard the term 'Fail Fast'. It's commonly used to refer to tech companies getting a product out before it's complete to quickly explore what works and what doesn't work. It's especially helpful in tech where you could potentially spend millions on a project from start to finish, then find out the first day that what thought people would use frequently, they don't.
This can often be done by doing everything manually. For instance, I consulted at a company a few years back that was trying out a variety of different product ideas. One of those ideas was to develop a product that monitored your spending habits and sent you messages on how to save money. Rather than develop a product from beginning to end, the product's creators started out by taking a pool of people who volunteered up their cellphone numbers and spending habits. Interns then periodically looked at those habits, applied the rules they wanted the end product to apply, then texted the people involved.
The product wasn't a success, but they found out that it wouldn't be a success without having to build the whole thing from the ground floor.
I've been applying this same methodology to developing Precious Dark. I've just started up a brand new campaign where I'm running a group through with the rules I've been adjusting, tweaking, and changing since the first time I ran it for a ConTessa game at our first annual convention. Since I've largely been developing 'in public' since the beginning, I thought it'd be nice to share with you my process, my learnings, and how I'm applying those learnings to the development of the game.
Before we get started, though, an introduction is in order...
About Precious Dark
Precious Dark started out in a completely different form than it exists, now. Originally, I intended to use the setting from a game I hacked together using World of Darkness and Cyberpunk 2020 in the mid 90s called Purgatory. Purgatory was set in a post-apocalyptic world on a mesa in Colorado. The wealthy elite and megacorporations all lived above ground, while anyone that fell below the 'extremely rich' line lived in 7 levels underground. Things got worse and more lawless the further down you got.
I intended to make Precious Dark in this setting, but found that I'd grown tired of the whole 'grimdark' setting, so after starting on the game I scrapped everything, then went back to the drawing board.
Now, Precious Dark is a game set in a post-apocalyptic world where all of humanity has been living underground for about 100 years-ish. After fallout shelters, mines, and other underground facilities became too crowded, people broke into an elaborate cave system deep in the crust of the earth, where they found a sentient power source called The Weird. The Weird is a capricious thing and causes all sorts of mayhem. It can animate the inanimate, make pretty much anything sentient (like cellphones), and has the effect on humans of mutating them when they reach puberty.
The current playtest package is available in PDF form, though I warn you... whole parts are still not complete as I'm still failing fast. ;)
The first game I ran for Precious Dark was the first annual run of ConTessa. That first year, I had no help putting together the convention, and spent all my time making sure all the events were set up properly, everyone knew what they needed to do, and on top of that I was handling marketing, talking to sponsors, giving out prizes, creating many of the prizes, etc...
I quickly ran out of time to prep a PDF of the game rules, or even to really finalize the game rules... so I had to spend about the first hour of each of those two convention games explaining how to make a character, what the world was about, and so on. At the very first one, I didn't even have an adventure set up to run. While the players were running through character generation, I was quickly pulling out a random cavern map and keying it with things to do and places to explore.
It turned out to be awesome. The mechanics failed on several levels, and succeeded on several other levels. The feedback I got then helped to inform my next round of development.
Here are the two first runs of Precious Dark:
I ran the next campaign off air because I wanted a more relaxed environment - primarily for my own benefit. It went smashingly well, so I used the first adventure from that campaign to run the adventure 'Zombies of Walmart' for the second ConTessa.
By then, I had rewritten a lot of the rules, and I had an actual prepared adventure to run everyone through (Zombies of Walmart is a random table adventure, one I'm writing up as a systemless adventure to share here). So, I ran it...
Each time I've run the game, I've come closer to the goal of the type of game I want to run, and I've gotten a lot of wonderful player feedback on the system, the setting, what works, what doesn't, and so on... in effect, I'm writing the game by running the game. It's an awesome way to develop, a lot of fun, and it doesn't make the idea of writing the game seem like such a gargantuan task.
I've just begun the next campaign for the continued development of Precious Dark. I'll be posting my results here as I go along so you can see me developing in public. Due to all of the projects I lead, the episodes will be posted here well after the actual live session. As I'm writing this, in fact, I'm three episodes behind.
You can, however, watch the sessions live without my notes every Wednesday night at 6PM Pacific / 9PM Eastern by following me on Google+, looking at our events page, or following my channel on YouTube.
In the next part, I'll post our first episode, character generation!