The fantasy and sci-fi genres are known for their world-building. Giant tomes of novels and gaming manuals describe worlds in great complexity and detail. So why would any gamer even attempt an RPG game in only 200 words? We interview challenge creator David Schirduan to find out.
Dark Tower Games (DTG): First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself, and your history with gaming.
David Schirduan (David): Hmmm....where to begin? I didn't start playing Dungeons and Dragons until college and was unimpressed. Video games were more my speed. A year or two later my friends asked me to run a game for them, since I had played before. I learned about a game called "Legend" by Rule of Cool, which introduced me to indie RPGs. It wasn't until I started playing Dungeon World 2-3 years ago that I really got into RPGs and RPG design. Dungeon World was so influential and inspirational that I've been making fun little games and writing about them ever since.
DTG: On the challenge website, you explain why a short word limit encourages creativity while remaining a doable project. Why 200 words in particular? Why not 500? Why not a Twitter-style 140?
David: I've toyed with the idea of changing the word count, or allowing images back in, adding more categories, but keeping it simple seems more in line with the spirit of the challenge. As for 500 words, it's been a very popular suggestion. Maybe next year we will have a 500 word category?
At this point the problem is one of scope. It is day 6 of this year's challenge and we already have over 450 entries. Judges only have so much time, and reading ALL of those entries will be a huge commitment. If entries were any longer it would require a bigger team or much more time. We'll see what the future holds.
DTG: This is the third year of the challenge. What did you learn from the first two years? What were the biggest successes of the challenge? The biggest failures?
David: Honestly the entire 200 Word Challenge was an accident. I was working on a game that I just couldn't finish and forced myself to do it in under 200 words. I posted it on G+ and went to bed. The next morning I had tons of people who liked the idea and started working on their own 200 word games. I scrounged up some prizes, judges, and boom: the 2015 RPG challenge was born.
Most of the mistakes from the 2015 challenge were simply from lack of preparation and time. Since then I actually got to plan ahead significantly reducing stress!
As for the 2016 challenge, my biggest mistake was trying to raise money for charity, which sounds weird to say out loud. I kept all of the entries hidden until the contest was over, and then collected them into a PDF and sold it for charity. In practice it was a good idea.
However it made it difficult to reference specific entries (since they were all in a massive PDF), and there wasn't nearly as much buzz since people couldn't see entries updated every day. I think we raised about $70 total, which wasn't nearly as useful to the community or the charity as I hoped it would be. Another failed experiment was offering a supplement category. Although some people really liked it, they weren't NEARLY as popular as the RPGs.
This year (2017) I went all out and made a custom website that automatically sorted and displayed entries. It was easy to handle everything on my end, which was a REALLY nice change. I'm SO happy with how well the site works, it saved me hours and hours of effort. As for mistakes this year, we'll see! The new website makes it easy to look at and discuss entries, and the community has been bigger than ever. So far, so good.
DTG: Did you take any inspiration from other community writing events, like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?
David: Actually I was inspired by some of the other table design challenges, notably Game Chef (which is awesome), the One Page RPG Contest, ThreeForged RPG Contest, and the One Page Dungeon Design Challenge. I participated in some of those, and admired the rest.
They have been instrumental in shaping the 200 Word RPG Challenge. Micro games like Lasers and Feelings, Roll for Shoes, and Lady Blackbird also went a long way in showing me how powerful small games can be.
DTG: If you could give any advice to someone who wants to begin creating games, what would it be?
David: Find a community! Find people you can work with on small projects, throw ideas around, get feedback, etc. My biggest hope for the 200 Word RPG Challenge is that participants will work with one another and turn their ideas into full-fledged games!
I guess along with that advice is to share your ideas freely. We'd all love to think that our next game will make thousands of dollars, but in most cases that simply isn't true. Trying to protect your precious creations with licenses and non-disclosure agreements will just result in less people knowing or caring about your game.
You don't need 50 people working with you, but a handful of people can make some really incredible things!
Oh, and my final advice is to participate in the 200 Word RPG Challenge!