designing an srd

Having the majority of my published games being hacks of some sort, I thought it would be interesting to dive into SRDs (system reference documents). What are they? What makes them usable and accessible? The following post is based on my experience as an SRD reader and utiliser.

If you find something I’ve missed or think should be changed/improved, don’t hesitate to send me a message.

What is an SRD?

A System Reference Document is a way to share your game for others to iterate on it. SRDs allow creators to be more intentional in how others interact with your content. I’ve found the core of an SRD to be:

  1. A permission to modify and iterate on your work
  2. The game text that falls under that permission

Permission is usually given in the form of a copyright license.

On licences

This is not legal advice! Copyright law is complicated and I am not a lawyer.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Creative Commons is an organisation that offers free licenses to creators. To use the license you will need to reference it in your text.

  • There are several types of Creative Commons licences. For game texts I would look into Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (or its Share Alike counterpart). It allows others to iterate on your work, allows them to get paid for it, and your work is being credited.

  • If you want to explore other license options check out the Creative Commons license chooser.

Examples:

Mörk Borg third party license is an example of clear guidelines on how to properly use its license. Its strength is in the step-by-step approach and straightforward explanation.

Necronautilus has a license integrated into the game. Precise language on what falls under the permission and what doesn’t.

Clarity and extra content

Additionally to the game text itself and a permission, SRDs offer resources for designers to use when hacking and writing for your game. You can use these methods to improve your SRD:

Clear intent. Express who this document is aimed at, what your goals are, etc. It can be helpful to get someone else to look over the text and give feedback.

Clear logo. Something that will visually represent a connection to your game. Completely optional, but useful if your game has a style you want others to use for marketing purposes. You might use a phrase like Compatible with …” to show a link to your game.

Accessibility. Provide a .txt file. It is the most accessible file format for use with screen readers and epub readers.

Way for people to pay for your work. Writing a comprehensive SRD takes effort. I recommend exploring a PWYW (pay what you want) and tip jar options.

Designer commentary. In addition to the game text itself, it is helpful for other designer to understand why and what choices you’ve made. Break down the game text, explain the relationships of those pieces. It will help designers find a way to use and combine parts of the game in a new and exciting way.

Resources. Art, layout files, inspirational links. Anything that makes the process of putting out a game easier.

Great indie SRDs to check out:

March 9, 2021 guide

digital publishing on itch dot io

May is soon! Wow! It will be a year since I have started publishing on itch dot io under the physical games section. Throughout the year I’ve been mentally collecting various thoughts and resources on digital publishing. Finally I have found the time to share it over the net in a neat blog post.

As always, if you find any stuff I’ve missed or have any questions -> drop me a message.

Contents:

Formats

Accessibility

Game Jams

Communication

Pricing

Page Design


Formats

Itch io allows for almost any kind of content to be uploaded in a variety of ways. Here are some formats I’ve used myself or discovered on the site:

Single Release

The classic. Upload your files and hit save as public page. The beauty of digital publishing is that you can quickly edit and/or upload any revisions you might have after intial release. If you are swapping files, you can give a heads up to those who already got the game with a devlog (which I talk about later in the post) with relevant notes.

Modular

Because itch io allows easy modification of the game page and files, you can split up the release of your game into modules”. Each being a chapter/episode/act of the overall project. Every module can have its own theme/game, or some extra rules in addition to the core” module.

Light by Spencer Campbell and 2400 by Jason Tocci both started out as two page games, but over time grew into an expansive collection of modules that explore different aspects of the game.

Preorder

Which is when you sell copies of your game before it is released. Great for gauging interest and collecting funds for production.

Spark by Spencer Campbell for example does preorders in a more of a season pass style.

Itchfunding

The crowdfunding method in itch io form, what I coined as itchfunds. It is similar to preorders in a way, but you set more concrete goals (in terms of sales/revenue). To have a neat progress bar, you will have to set up the game as a sale.

Check out this list curated by Kegan to see the latest itchfunding games.

  • note: this is not a definitive collection of formats in any way! as I find more ways to put out work the article will be updated. I encourage you to experiment and find a format that suits you best!

Accessibility

Here are some things to keep in mind when exporting to make your content more accessible:

  • Provide .txt files for epub and screen readers.

  • Export PDFs in spreads and pages formats. Provides flexibility for viewing on computer, mobile and tablet screens.

  • Export PDFs with hyperlinks/bookmarks. If you have a large page count, you might link important chapters/page references for easier navigation.


Game Jams

Submitting to jams is a great way to start making and releasing games. It can help you get inspired, get some eyes on your game, and may even result in some connections with other designers. Check out the game jams list that I host to get familiar with ongoing jams.

Organising jams can encourage other designers to create stuff for your game/idea.

Best practises:

  • be clear about your goals
  • give guidance on entries
  • prohibit hateful content

Be sure to promote the entries as best you can! Help the people who took their time to engage with your game jam.


Communication

Comments are the default for itch io pages. Great for smaller projects. A space for reviews and feedback.

Forum swaps out the comment section to threads. Each thread can be assigned a topic, so you can keep discussions about your game neatly organised.

Devlogs can be used to make updates for your games. They will be visible on the itch io feed of those who follow you and/or got the game.

Emails take about a week to be approved by itch io (the process is manual). Once it is done, you do not need to be approved again. There’s a limit of one email per day + people have an unsubscribe option, so you should for sure avoid spamming.


Pricing

If you are comfortable with charging for your game, I think you should. Making stuff takes time and effort and you deserve to be fairly compensated. And besides, a price tag doesn’t have to be a barrier for others to check out your game if you set up community copies.

  • note: PWYW is equivalent to free in terms of sales. So keep it in mind when pricing your stuff!

On Community Copies

With these you can charge for your game, and at the same time make it available to anyone who can’t afford it for one reason or another. Check out this guide by Chris to set up Community Copies on your page.

Revenue Sharing

Until itch io add this functionality for single projects, revenue sharing can be done through bundles.

Cellular Harvest and Can Androids Pray are both revenue sharing bundles between two (and three) creators. The same game is hosted on the two creators’ pages, so they can use the bundle feature to share the revenue.

Furthermore, you can organise bundles with several creators to drive your collective sales. Community projects like One Shot Megabundle, Science Fair, Mothership 3rd Party Bundle are an excellent way to boost each other’s work.

Keep in mind that when you save a bundle you cannot change it / add or remove projects. Itch does this so that when participants agree to a bundle, it is not modified without their knowledge.


Page Design

Your game’s page is the first encounter people have with your project. The more the page represents the game, the better. One way of doing that is by showcasing what the game is about using photos and/or screenshots. Here is a neat guide by Star West on using images.

To edit page colours and fonts go to View Page>Edit Theme. There you can also upload a banner and background images. Make sure that there’s plenty of contrast between the text colour and the background.

You can use custom CSS to enhance your creator and game pages, make them more suited for your purposes. You can also do cool custom stuff like unique themes or content warnings. To enable custom CSS on your pages you will have to contact itch io support.


All in all, I hope this guide has helped you in some way! Really looking forward to new ways of using itch io features AND to the growth of itch io as a platform for ttrpg designers. I’m feeling positive for what’s over the horizon…

P.S. You might also check out Itch io creators documentation for a more in depth descriptions of itch io options.

March 2, 2021 guide

to the glass castle

a Mausritter session report

Cast: Lily - beetleherd, Hyacinth - ex-noble, Daisy - street tough, Ambrose - sparrow rider with no sparrow, with a guest appearance of Eight Corn.

We start of in REDPOND, when the party is looking for a ride to the ANTHILL with their pile of weapons for the ANT QUEEN. This is when they meet LILY the beetleherd and JUNIPER, her loyal beetle (very cute). Lily takes on the party’s loot and they travel one hex south safely.

At the Ant Hill, Lily remembers that she can actually speak some ant, though with a bit of difficulty. The Ant Queen holds up her end of the bargain — the party receives an 80% charges APPLE WATCH and ties it on to the back of Juniper. Before leaving with the ant army for the GLASS CASTLE, the party spends the evening exploring this glowing artefact, but its many wonders still remain a mystery.

When the party arrives, they see giant (for mice) WALKING SUNFLOWERS destryoing ant siege weapons in front of the Glass Castle. DAISY remarks i’ve never seen anything so fucked up in the whole 3 months i’m alive”. We also see that the Glass Castle is actually a HUMAN GREENHOUSE. The mice decide to avoid the action, and sneak around the west wall to get into the castle. There is a broken window on the other side, but none of the party memebers have any twine to climb the wall.

The party goes to explore THE SHED to see if they find anything useful. The mice find a purse with EARBUDS with a strong chord (equivalent to grapple hook), some chapstick and a mirror. This is a moment when a HUMAN IN HIGH HEELS comes into the shed. The mice scrable but only Daisy manages to hide. Hyancinth and Lily get tangled in the chords, while Ambrose poses cutely next to the purse. The human screams and runs away, frightening the mice. The party escapes while they can through the front door.

WItht the newfound equipment they successfully climb inside the castle and signal the TWO MICE GUARDS with a white flag. The party is greeted and taken to the QUEEN OF THE GLASS CASTLE. Before we reach the royal chambers we pass seven FROZEN PEASANT MICE. The guards explain that they have no need for peasant labor, but they still want to save” their peasants when they return to their lands. Next, HYACINTH pretends to be a noble mice from SHALLOWATER, with the rest of the party as her retainers. This works and the mice gain trust with the royals, we learn that the FRONT DOOR is the weakest point of their defence. We also learn from the local WIZARD that the Walking Sunflowers are their doing, and are only effective during day.

The party leaves the castle to find the ANT GENERAL. As we pass the battlefield at sunset, we can see the Sunflowers losing their strength and being overwhelmed by ants. Lily talks to the Ant General and they agree on a deal: the seven frozen mice are spared in exchange for opening the front door.

Right as the party leaves the general’s tent, they spot a TRAVELLING MERCHANT in the distance heading their way. Lily whistles a universal bettle frequency for stop. It works and they approach the merchant and their guards. We learn that the merchant was unaware of the raging battle and they thank the party for their help. The mice buy some equipment and sell a NOBLE’S DAGGER to the merchant, who is very pleased with the arrangement. AMBROSE proposes the BAT CULTIST BLADE, but Laurel (the merchant) refuses, saying that they are an ex-bat-cultist and that they stay away from such things”.

All the mice get on so well that they decide to camp the night together. Through the chats we learn that:

  • The noble mouse in Redpond is angry and promises retribution to whoever has stolen their things
  • There is a community of mice living in a tree (on hex 12) who have tamed sparrows.
  • We knew that the mice in the Glass Castle are originally from Hex 19, but we are told that it is a human waste dump.

In the morning the party says farewell to the travellers. The mice go into the Glass Castle through the VENTS in the east wall. They decide to split: Daisy and Hyancinth will take care of opening the door, while Ambrose and Lily will try to convince the wizard to join their cause. The wizard negotiations go poorly as we learn that they have served the royal family for several generations and are not fancying betrayal. While that happens, the rest of the party opens the door, slowly letting in more and more ants.

The wizard figures out what the mice are doing and tries to grab Lily by the neck, but Juniper pushes her away and rides to a safe distance. The wiazard is killed by the combined spear strikes of Ambrose (jabed in the torso) and Lily (flown into the head). As the wizard’s body disintegrates, two mice appear out of their hat: EIGHT CORN a merchant mouse and NO-NUT their pack rat.

As the mice escape they fight off the mouse guards and the walking sunflowers. Eventually the party reaches the vents and blocks of the exit.

They will live another mouse day.

February 25, 2021 play report mausritter

errant character sheet

Here lives the semi official character sheet for Errant RPG. I made it with the goal to support new players as much as possible in character creation and the first couple of sessions (tho I think this sheet can be useful at any point, I just think players will find it easier to do their own custom solution keeping track of characters). Hope you enjoy it.

Download here errant sheet by mv_v2-1.pdf

how to use this sheet

  • Hatched half in Speed and Encumbrance: it is used for putting in the values when your character has their backpack off (so only the handy’ and hand’ slots count towards Encumbrance).
  • For the Item slots, mark the very left rectangle for available slots (note that left and right hand slots are already marked), and mark the small circle if the slot is handy.
  • 1/4 circle in the Item slots square is to track the (item slots)/4 value, needed for encumbrance calculations.
  • To mark the 1, 2 and 3 encumbrance thresholds, mark each PHYS number of quarter slots. So if your PHYS is 11, mark the 11th quarter slot, 22nd and 33rd quarter slots. When your items pass a marked slot, add 1 to your Encumbrance track (then +1 when you pass all your available slots, and +1 for every filled slot after that).

If you have any questions about this sheet, let me know so I can update this section!


Updates - v2.1 19/5

  • added movement dice under the speed stat
  • moved Encumbrance next to the Item slots section
  • added a small retainers section to highlight the usefulness of the PRES stat
  • added small fields in Speed and Encumbrance to track backpack off’ values
  • added a field next to Item slots to track the x/4 value
  • darker greys for better printing

February 25, 2021 character sheet

sib’s basic guide to french cinema

My friend Sib wrote this guide in text message form — so I converted it into an easy to use file with letterboxd hypertext links.

The low-key Bresson greats are ‎Angels of Sin, ‎A Gentle Woman, and ‎Four Nights of a Dreamer.

For French new wave stuff, if you don’t like Godard, watch ‎Éric Rohmer.

For surreal shit, ‎Raúl Ruiz is god.

For cinema made purely on feeling, ‎Philippe Garrel is the dude. ‎Le Révélateur it’s his most experimental, maybe start with ‎The Virgin’s Bed. ‎L’Enfant secret and Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights… are my favs though. Pure dream cinema.

For modern masters: watch Maurice Pialat and ‎Claire Denis.

February 10, 2021 film guide

visiting the museum

a flash fiction I wrote based on a friend’s prompt

I always wait until tomorrow to do my work, then tomorrow arrives to fuck me in the ass. I am outside the museum building. Knife in hand. There is no turning back now. I could stand there for the whole day. Time meant nothing to me then… does it mean anything to me now? How could I tell if I have no time to think.

What time is it? No time to look back. I am going in. I pass the ticket booth. Suggested donation” my ass. The guard glanced at me. I think he knows. Fuck.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I advance into the infinite rooms of the museum at a moderate jog. I need to escape all the tourists. Fuck, I bumped into one of the tour guides. I run into the next hall. It is quiet here. Tranquil. I like it that way.

Okay. Breathe. Here it is. Hello Vermeer” I mumble. He doesn’t here me obviously. Time separates us. Fuck time. Fuck. Where is the knife? WHERE IS THE FUCKING KNIFE?

I run back into the room with all the tourists. They are gone now. My knife. It is over there on the floor. I fall. Fuck. The guard. He is standing in the doorway. We are looking at each other. He reminds me of Vermeer. Long hair. Red lips. Starry eyes. I could stare into those eyes forever.

Gunshot.

I am bleeding out.

Fuck.

Tomorrow arrived to fuck me in the ass.

February 10, 2021 flash fiction