Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How to use a plan to create your RPG

Having a plan is the best thing you can do when you're engaged in any task that has an end point, like creating an RPG. There's no point in having a plan if you're not going to use it. My NaGaDeMon plan spontaneously combusted at the weekend but I'm still calm. I'm calm because I'm organised and that allows me to make a new plan. The plan is dead. Long live the plan! Let me explain how I do all that.

What's in a plan?

A plan (in the sense I'm going to use it) is a method of achieving your goal, including time spent, your other commitments and what it is you're going to actually create. I do not view the plan as carved in granite, unchanged against any storm that mother nature throws.
A plan to me is a malleable friend that helps me control my fear of not finishing.
A friend I get to abuse, cut bits off, mock, reshape at will and set fire to. It's my plan, after all. Plans help show you what's possible from the outset and when things go badly, put into perspective what you have already done and what you can still achieve.

Set out your goals

You need to know what it is that you're going to try and achieve before you start. Obvious? Yes. Until you try and do it. On the surface, NaGaDeMon's goals are quite simple:
  • Create the game in November.
  • Finish the game in November.
  • Play the game in November.
  • Talk about your experience.
Those rules get applied depending on what you're creating and who you are - for example we each have our own perception on what "Finished" is. Goals are only useful when you can measure yourself against them. When you get rules like NaGaDeMon, it's best to extend them to make more tangible ones.

NaGaDeMon is a competition against yourself, it's only your point of view that counts. My additional goals are:
  • Create an RPG, system, setting and enough resources to play it with the mimimum amount of winging it*
  • Put it in a PDF
  • Make it look nice (with pictures)
  • Put it somewhere where people can get at it
* This is my personal definition of finished, which I only ever apply to me**.
** Except Icar, which will be finished when the proof readers are done with it.

Make a list of tasks

What goes into an RPG? Fortunately, I made a handy guide on how to do just that. I used the sections of the guide to write down a big list of tasks. I broke down the tasks into items just large enought that I could finish a task in one evening. Or thereabouts. Do not keep the plan in your head, write it down. Your brain has got enough to worry about.

Right from the start, I used Trello to organise ideas and tasks. You can check the board out with having an account. Each card on Trello has a checklist that I can tick off as a I go. Some of the research I did on my smartphone (reading Wikipedia), so I could tick them off at any time.

Organising my columns

The columns in Trello are really handy for keeping my on track. I use:
  • Roadblocks - for problems, things I must address but cannot think of a solution just yet. Kept in plain view, I can see they exist but they do not block my progress.
  • Must haves - any task that is required to meet my goal.
  • Like to haves - tasks that would be nice to include but not required for the goal.
  • Batshit crazy - any ideas that crop
I move the cards as I progress, keeping the things stopping me (roadblocks) in clear view. I also like to track crazy ideas. By writing them down, I get to work on them later rather than being sidetracked during the project.

Estimate task length

With my list of tasks, I estimate how many "evenings" each item would take. I used "evening" as a measure of time because I tend to get time after my 3 year old son has gone to bed. I worked out that in about 10 evenings, I could have the system and setting done. Knowing how many evenings I had was imperative for the next step...

Work out time left

Using your own measure of time, work out how much time you have until the deadline. For NaGaDeMon, at the start of November, you have 30 days. Or 29 evenings for me. Once you have that raw number (which will look really big in a moment), take away any commitments you know are comming up. Now you have the best case amount of time. You won't get to use all of that because life happens. Now the original raw number looks really big.

For me, I took the 29 evenings (raw number) and started hacking:
  • Removed evenings where I had family commitments (4 evenings)
  • Removed evenings where work might need me (5 evenings)
  • Removed evenings where I do other things (such as GMing! - 5)
Which left me with 15 evenings in the best possible case. I knew I wouldn't get all that time because life gets in the way but at least I had a feel that there was only so much I could expect of myself given that I had 15 evenings in the best possible case.

My estimate was 10 evenings, so 15 evenings should be enough.

Negotiate more time

With existing commitments, try and negotiate time off. Do so as early as you can. Last minute cancelling of events doesn't keep you any friends, especially if it is to do a fun hobby task.

Mrs Lang, the dearly-loved-long-suffering-non-gamer-wife-o-matic-unit mk1, is very understanding about my gaming problem and as such can be negotiated with. Normally, with a delicate application of crap movies and chocolate, I can negoatiate a whole day at the weekend where she disappears with offspring #1 (of a 1 part set) to leave me in peace to create. I am much more productive during the day. I also took a day's vacation too.

Set milestones

Milestones are mini-deadlines by which you know that you need to have done certain things. Splitting up a big project into a series of smaller deadlines gives you a sense of a achievement in bite size chunks as well as allowing you to chart your progress.

I set milestones for:
  • Deciding on the setting and system
  • Writing the system
  • Writing most of the setting (enough to play)
  • Playtesting - important to set up front because other people would be involved
  • Layout and graphics. Do it last.
  • Writing blog posts, although I felt those milestones could go by-the-by

Make the plan fun

Completing tasks should have a reward. Be it the pleasure of ticking a box on a check list, putting a sticker in a potty training task or a chocolate treat. If you hit a milestone, treat yourself; perhaps get a pizza one night or if you're hard up for a few brain cells, watch the latest episode in the Twilight saga. I like ticking off items in my lists, which is another reason that Trello is perfect for me.

Re-evaluate the plan regularly

The plan needs to be checked regularly, even early on when you have it all fresh in your mind. Keep updating it. Live throws stuff at you, expect it and expect to change the plan. The plan doesn't mind being hospitalised for a bit.

Plan on fire? Make a new one

If you find that your plan has combusted then that's OK. Making a new plan out of the ashes of the old one is a great thing to do; you know where you were unrealistic and you know what is feasible. You are nearer your goal, so there is less to estimate.

Wife Unit #1 took ill on the day that I was going to have alone to do graphics and my day off never materialised. But I was not disheartened. I didn't panic. I just took a look at all my lists, realised that I had jolly well completed rather a lot and brought my playtest date forward.

Do you make plans?

Do you make plans? What works for you? Is there any planning technique that is particularly useful or to be avoided? Did you make a plan for this year's NaGaDeMon?

1 comment:

Nathan said...

A plan is a must.

I also define the dev pipeline on a Kanban board specific to the project.