Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design

One of the most interesting "how to" books that I have read in a while is the Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design, by Wolfgang Baur and including essays from such Role Playing Game Design superstars as Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, Michael A. Stackpole, Keith Baker and others. The word "complete" is no misnomer, as this tome contains over forty essays, some original to the volume and others drawn from three previous volumes of game design advice.

The book covers everything from rule creation and setting creation, to campaign design, to understanding your audience, right down to how to craft a pitch for a publisher and how to handle rejection. It is valuable both for creating game systems from scratch or for writing inside existing properties. Michael A. Stackpole's essay "Designing Magic Systems" is priceless, likewise Rob Heinsoo's "Seize the Hook". But despite all the luminaries in the volume, it is Wolfgang Baur's own essays that stand out for me as the most useful, applicable advice of the book.

In fact, Baur's "The Process of Creative Thought" is worth the price of the entire collection alone. In the essay, Baur attempts to "systematize and demystify creative thought for the engineering and technical professions." His result, breaking creativity into the stages of 1. Defining the Problem, 2. Borrowing Ideas, 3. Combining and Connecting the Borrowed Ideas, 4. Incubation, 5. Judging the Work, and 6. Enhancing not only articulates processes that I have used for decades but provides a structure to writing collaborations that is invaluable to any team product. This is an essay that, like much of the Guide, has applications outside game design for any creative endeavor. Likewise his essay on "Using and Abusing Misdirection." And I wish all writers would read "The Three Audiences."

I have read a great many books on creativity and writing across the years and very few of them offer much of lasting value. The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design sets in a place of honor amid this very select list. I highly recommend it not only to game designers but to anyone involved in any creative narrative undertaking. And look, Baur has just come out with the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. I don't see how I can resist the urge to start into that soon.

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