Starting a Tabletop / App Hybrid Game Project

I’m officially starting a new project today. This is an idea that I have been kicking around, in one form or another, for several years now. The concept is still very nebulous, but it’s starting to shape up.

I regret that I did not blog more actively while doing one game a month and making Flibitz. I’ve vowed not to make this same mistake again, so here we go…

Game Concept Overview

At its core, this new (currently unnamed) game is a tabletop roleplaying game, but is more than that. In parallel with the development of the game itself, I will also be developing a mobile/browser/cloud application that assists in playing the game and also helps groups of players build an archive of their game session details.

The game will most likely be an extension of the FU ruleset. FU (pronounced “foo”) stands for “Freeform Universal.” FU is a very lightweight ruleset, focusing on a narrative style of play, using only minimal mechanics.

If you are a fan of our Earthdawn podcast, “Live from Barsaive,” you have probably heard us discuss Earthdawn “Age of Legend.” Age of Legend is also built upon the FU system. While this new game will not be an Earthdawn product (we are not affiliated with Vagrant Workshop or FASA Corporation in any way other than simply being uber-fans), the mechanics will be familiar if you have played Age of Legend, or any other FU game.

App Support

What will set this game apart will be its use of the companion app. Obviously, this is not an original concept in itself. Other tabletop games have used apps to varying degrees of success. Mansions of Madness is one game that does this very well.

Apps in tabletop games are tricky. While they can streamline the experience and eliminate some of the bookkeeping, that’s a double-edged sword. To some extent, I like the bookkeeping. I like dice. I like charts. I like maps. Some of that can live on my phone or tablet, some of it belongs on my table. I can’t claim to have that balance figured out yet, but it is on my mind.

Design Problems to Solve

Another thing that sets this game apart is that it will be designed from the ground up to combat the issues that make it difficult to start and maintain a tabletop gaming campaign. Using a lightweight ruleset is certainly part of the equation, but it’s not everything. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the things that I have found that tend to kill a campaign:

  • Prepping adventures takes a substantial amount of time.
  • Everyone has to be available at the same time, or a game session can’t happen.
  • Recording campaign history is time-consuming, but without it the game eventually dies.
  • It’s hard to bring new players into your campaign, especially if they may not stick around.

In future blog posts I will be delving into these issues more. My aim is not just to solve these issues, but to do so at a very low level within the game design itself.

Rather than playing a typical RPG and then trying to combat the issues as they crop up, what we need is a new kind of game, one whose core design naturally leads toward sustainable campaigns. Again, I don’t have this all figured out yet, but these are problems that I’m eager to solve.

What’s Next?

In upcoming blog posts I will be drilling down into these issues and others. This will be a multi-pronged project, and I will also be going into detail about some of those other prongs.

Specifically, I will have some technical information about how I’m constructing the cross-platform front end, and the back-end, of the app. These more technical posts may be hosted here, or I may launch a separate site that focuses on the programming side. I’m not sure yet, but I’ll keep you posted (ha, ha!)

I will also be laying out a vision for this project, going beyond this game itself. At the beginning, my focus will just be on making this particular game the best it can be, but while I’m doing that I will be looking for ways that this design and technology could spawn a wide range of new tabletop gaming experiences.

If these ideas sound interesting to you, I would greatly appreciate it if you left some comments below or shared this post to your social media platform of choice. Thanks!