Hinterlands: the state of the game, and playtest four. / by Nathan Harrison

Looking back at the last two posts, I find it fitting that the 4th playtest fell on the same day that I posted about the 1st one — the year turns, and Labor Day weekend sees another installment of playing Hinterlands.

It also means that while it's been about 4 months since my last post on the game, it's been a full year since I started being more intentional about my design work. It doesn't feel like it's been that long (does it ever?) but the proof is right there in terms of how much progress I've made. One such step I've taken: registering a domain for the game! While it's just a landing & contact page now, feel free to bookmark www.hinterlandsrpg.com for future developments.

Since the beginning of this summer, I've been meeting up regularly with some friends who are also doing game design work, albeit their efforts are for digital games versus my analog/tabletop focus. But it's highlighted some additional tools I can employ to track my progress week-over-week on what I want to get done.

One example of that is using Trello, to track my tasks for both this game, other games, and just work & my life in general. I found a tool called @cardsync that will let you link cards on two Trello lists together, and via that tool my public Trello board for Hinterlands is here. You can follow along with me as I check off each milestone, one-by-one!

Here's an overview of where I'm at right now, starting with what's done:

  • Custom moves written for all playbooks (about 7 per playbook; 92 in all)
  • Unique relationships for each playbook (7 per playbook)
  • Booklet form layout for each playbook
  • 9 of 13 playbooks in "finished" first-draft form with no placeholder text

This is what's not done, that I'm working on actively or will be focusing on soon:

  • Finish remaining content for 4 of 13 playbooks (intro text, look, possessions, etc.)
  • Outline and write initial ideas for the Seasonal Moves sheet (a mandatory move at the start of each season, an optional move open during the season, and other seasonal effects)
  • Generate more entries in the namelists for players & GM to employ

All told, the InDesign document I've been rounding out currently stands at 31 pages: the Basic Moves sheet, 13 playbooks, Village Creation & Village Charter, plus the GM's Reference Sheet. The default Seasonal Moves will probably be another two-page sheet, and eventually the GM's sheet will have material on its backside also.

Once those 34 pages are in a first-draft state, two much longer processes will begin. One: playtesting the hell out of Hinterlands to find out what doesn't work in campaign-style play. Two: starting in on the actual game text covering the ins & outs of the game in full detail — how it works, how to get started, advice on running it, suggestions on how to customize it, etc.

I'm not sure yet when I'll begin looking into commissioned art in earnest. I know a couple bits already that I'd like to have; for example, I'd like each playbook to have custom corner ornaments for the front page of the booklet, unique to that archetype. I can also imagine a couple of full illustrations that would communicate the concept/pitch of the game in an immediate way, though taking action on those ideas at this point seems like getting ahead of myself.

Quickstart materials are the other thing I have knocking around in my head as a good idea, though likely not until the full game exists in a firmer state. The materials I used for the 4th playtest are overloaded with stuff that's not really necessary for a convention-style oneshot game. I'd eventually like to winnow out the campaign stuff from the core, so that I have something that's easy to give others who want to take the game out for a spin, either at home or in public. As that starts to resemble having an actual "marketing strategy" for the game, it feels the most distant of everything I've mentioned. And given that one of the things I've mentioned is a book-length game manual, I have a humble appreciation for mountain of work that still lies ahead of me.

So, that's where it stands. I'm too much of a completist to show some of the playbooks before I have the full set in a decent place, though I hope to be able to share that soon. It's hard not to share! As a taste, and a sense of where the game is since 4 months ago, check out this version of the Basic Moves I exported just now, versus the one from my last post. Fewer major shake-ups than prior iterations, but lots of good lesser edits abound. That's been the task at hand — and if you're really eager to know what I've been up to, the Trello board is an excellent window onto my process.