A DivNull Lark (#01): Indie gaming gift, late 2009

The Story Games forums focus on the creation of independently produced roleplaying games. On October 2nd, 2009, forum member Valamir started a thread asking members to hypothesize about how they would use $1000 to produce their game.

On a whim, DivNull Productions decided to take this out of the realm of hypothesis, with Wordman posting:

This post started with the following hypothetical:

Posted By: ValamirImagine said benefactor announced “Pitch me your game ideas and the designer whose idea I like best will get $1000 to bring it to fruition”

Other popular game design forums maintain, however, that debate about hypothetical situations are useless and only “actual play” matters. So, let’s play…

As of now, there actually is a benefactor (i.e. me) saying “Pitch me your ideas for how you would use $1000 to either make a new game or improve an existing one that hasn’t been released, and I’ll donate $1000 to the idea I like best to help make it happen”.


  • Only pitches made on this thread, publicly, will be considered.
  • No pitch made after 15 October 2009 will be considered.
  • Donation will be made on or before 31 October 2009.
  • If your pitch is selected, you have until the last minute of 31 October 2010 to make good on the idea. At that point, the world will know if you are person of your word, or a failure.
  • This donation in no way affects any rights you have to your work. Nor does the donation create any liabilities from your work for the donator. Succeed or fail, you’re on your own.

While this pitch process was neither widely advertised nor, to be frank, particularly well run, a number of compelling proposals were submitted. These remain visible in the thread linked to above, but have also been reproduced as the first 11 comments of this thread as well.

We are no longer accepting pitches; however, there are likely to be more of these “DivNull larks” in the future. This one was something of a trial run, so was deliberately kept somewhat quiet. Future larks will be more public.

DivNull will announce who receives the gift in a few days, both on this blog and in the original Story Games thread.

14 thoughts to “A DivNull Lark (#01): Indie gaming gift, late 2009”

  1. With $1000 I would bring my game Höstdimma to the English speaking market. It is already completed in Swedish.

    Höstdimma (Autumn mist) is a game that bridges the trad and indie styles of games. Use it to ease trad players into indie-gaming or vice versa. It is a traditional GM + players game, where players are handed some controll over things that usually are in the GM’s domain.

    The setting is fantasy 18th century post apocalyptic agent action. Think Brotherhood of the Wolf with the Three Musketeers in the lead and a hint of Final Fantasy. The Swedish release is 150 pages 6×9.

    Money would go to proof-reading if I translate myself or proper translation if I can find it, paying the artist for using the illustrations in another project, editing, a full colour cover instead of the B/W one the game uses now.

    I think I can do the project under budget, if there is $400 left I will release the game for free download and provide at-cost printing through Lulu. If less than $400 I will hand the remains back to the community in a similar challenge.

  2. GLASS: Generic Live Action Simulation System On $1000

    GLASS has been long-stalled in development because it is a large-population LARP system built along the lines of HERO for tabletop: highly flexible, customizable Abilities on a framework of three key stats. While I have been able to do “paper tests” by making up PCs and Packages and Templates and estimating how they fare relative to each other (for cost balancing), there is nothing as effective as having 30 to 50 people make characters for a weekend-long game (or series of games) and actually fighting and throwing packets and using the system. And breaking it, so I can fix the unbalanced bits.

    So what I propose is simple, really: I would host at least two and up to five weekend events, in my area (unless hosted elsewhere and within 8 hours drive) at which all expenses other than food are covered by me (and that $1000). These events would be open to both new and experienced LARPers, and I would focus on testing a different genre interpretation each event, perhaps with a Rift-like multi-genre setting or just by re-casting characters into the genre’s color (GLASS is a generic system, so most Abilities should translate to an appropriate counterpart, from genre to genre). The short list would begin with high fantasy, then do modern horror, followed by post-apocalypse. If I have spare funds, I’d really enjoy doing a Neolithic game and a “Dangerous Liaisons” style of game.

    So, then, you see that–at a BARE minimum–a few score people would enjoy fun weekends, being out in the sun and rain, getting exercise with full-speed combat (safe weapons), and stretching their improv legs. And at the end of the process, the world will have something I have not yet seen commercialized: a LARP system that is both simple and flexible and which, therefore, allows for fast convention play prep (due to common rules) and easily managed Living Worlds for traveling LARPers (i.e. you could have a single character in multiple games with different hosts that you attend throughout the year). The LARP community seems to develop for one of two extremes: laundry lists of genre-bound effects with considerable handling, resource, and verbal requirements that leave new players totally lost… or non-structured freeforms or minimal rulesets that essentially codify improv practices or Pass The Stick. GLASS offers simple techniques and rules to provide emergent complexity for simulating almost anything that you can’t just do (e.g. pick a lock) while not trying to simulate that which folks can barely imagine (e.g. the tactical information and increased defensibility available when in flight).

    I anticipate as many scenario-play paintball and Airsoft players as SCA and boffer LARP players, in my final market; and I intend to aggressively market to both of those hobby groups. I have also recently considered GLASS’s applications for Serious Gaming, but I doubt that emergency responders and the like require as much structure for training (i.e. they need props and actors, not systems and abstractions). But it’s still a thought, perhaps something I’d design as “modules,” hiding GLASS under the hood, so to speak.

  3. My pitch is for Boilerplated

    It was to be my GC 2009 entry, still is, but I have not the interest right now to finish it. I have lots of other things online. But Boilerplated is intended to be my house/home/all the stuff I like in a system for myself.

    The core setting is to be steampunk/surrealist/modern world similar to my in progress Capacity without the more aliens / SF feeling to it.

  4. Here’s my pitch for Blowback, my Burn Notice-inspired spy game.

    Blowback is a labor of love and the project I’ve most enjoyed working on in all of my forays into indie game design. It’s got all of the human, falliable relationship stuff that’s important to my enjoyment of characterization, as well as the enjoyment of spy stories like the afore-mentioned television show as well as things like the Jason Bourne movies and Spy Games. I’m pretty proud of the Momentum mechanic, which works in a way I kind of always wished Exalted successes worked (when you win, you win gloriously, when you fail, you fail gloriously). It’s important to me that the book be a wonderful thing to hold in your hands, and that the book is a strong source of reference for more than just the game’s mechanics: I want to include a bunch of “spy” information, as well as a full glossary of important vocab (for instance, the names of all the major analogues to the CIA in the world, as well as other organizations, and the lingo used within them) so that people can feel like they’re badass spies right out of the box.

    The $1000 would go to a few different things. First of all, art: I’m doing a full-color book with gorgeous photography. My goal is for the photography to be mostly, if not all, produced by women, and for the art to skew subtly towards sexy, badass depictions of men in danger and non-slutty, sexy-because-they’re-badass girls saving the day. (Some people are doing similar things with fantasy, but the spy genre continues to be male-dominated, both with authors and depictions of successful spy characters. The closest I can think of are slutty, badass archaeologists, which isn’t quite the same thing.) Having more money would give me the flexibility to be choosier about my art, and commission pieces from female photographers I admire instead of relying completely on already-existing stock.

    Furthermore, I’m fascinated and excited by the idea of utilizing technology in ways to make my games more accessible and to enhance the play experience, both face to face and for online play. I’d use a portion of the money on an iPhone developer kit, to allow me to create play aids for the iPhone– I enjoy games with boardgamey and other chart-type elements, and so there’s a good chance that Blowback will utilize something along those lines. If not, access to the diagrams, character dossiers you can fill in, save, and transfer to other phones alone would make gaming on the go easier.

    Finally, I’d be remiss in taking that much money from the community without giving back. I’d be willing to distribute iPhone applications for other designers through the SDK I would purchase with the money, and also start a new blog which would outline all of the successes and failures of designing a game with the $1000 budget, as well as something that’s been really hard to find out in public lately: hard numbers. I will talk about deals I find, money I blow, things that paid for themselves and mistakes I never should have made. We can see if Jonathan’s right that someone with a bunch of money to blow on a game would just waste the money, and what can be done with $1000 no strings attached. I will be no-holds-barred honest, keep a running total, and a countdown to my deadline. My hope would be that other people would learn from my experiences, and good discussions could arise about some of the choices I make that would help us all. And even if the game turns out to be no fun, the information gathered would be worth the cash.

    Except the game will be fun. Because I’ve played it and it’s fun already. So really, win win.

  5. Brownstein’s Mini-Muffin Games

    I like playing games with miniatures. I also like all kinds of dirty-hippy mechanics in games. I’m convinced these kinds of things can go together. Unfortunately, you can only go so far describing this stuff online or in rules write-ups. To see the thing actually function, you need to be able to bust out some toys and have a go at it. And that’s where things tend to reach a stopping point. Unless one of the interested readers also has a biggish minis collection and a willingness to hack together a scenario, everything is left as purely theoretical online ponderings.

    I have solid test of the concept, my Low Budget Mexican Horror Film Game that says those things can go together successfully.

    I also own a few thousand dollars worth of miniatures of different kinds already.

    My idea is that I put together small, one-shot games like Maladicion as kits. Each kit is a unique game that I’ve scratch built, and includes everything you need to play. That means all the terrain, all the minis, and any special widgets I’ve made for use with that particular game. Maybe dice, too.

    Here’s the kicker: I don’t plan to sell these kits at all. Instead, I want to mail them off to folks (at my expense) who are interested and want to try them out. A recipient would need to agree to a couple of conditions to get a game from me:

    They can only keep the game kit for up to 30 days after receiving it.

    After that, they need to either mail it to another person on a list of interested parties, or back to me ( optimally, none would ever return to me, instead going onward like an Amish Friendship Bread batter starter). Tracking and insurance would be required.

    They have to add something to the game.

    It could be a hack for another game system using stuff from the kit, it could be extra physical add-ins if they’ve got some, it could be an upgrade of the minis and terrain if that’s where their talents lie. Or, it could just be some pics of themselves and their game group trying the thing out and a bit about themselves.

    I’d run the whole through a simple freebie site like a Yahoo group and just let things spread by word of mouth.

    The site would be used to house info on the different kits available, including any add-ons in electronic format, and be a contact point for folks to get in on this game trying and trading project. I’d add a donation button along the way for folks who wanted to see the project continue or expand, and I would add regular disclosure of how any donations were spent to further the project.

    What $1,000 would do

    It would let me make full kits.

    I already own the vast bulk of the miniatures that would be used. The rest of the money would be spent to make simple terrain and board pieces, as that’s the sort of stuff that would need to be created to go with the minis to complete the set up.

    It would pay for shipping to the first set of recipients.

    As folks pass it along, that end would be covered as it went.

    It would give me enough money to take the initial risk and send this stuff off to give it a whirl.

    Hey, I’m a blue-collar guy. This stuff was pricey for me to create. If I should fall flat on my face with this experiment, I’d like to fall a little less hard out of the gate.

    Scale of project:

    In addition to the complete Maladicion braunstein, I have three near complete one-shot scenario games on the back burner, and another four or so in less developed forms. By the beginning of January 2010 (or sooner), I could have all of those kits ready to ship, and the Yahoo group ready to fly.

    If the initial send-out proves successful, I’ll just keep adding to it on my own. I already buy and complete minis and create these scenarios for my own pleasure, and those would get added on as well.

    Hopefully, as participants try these things out, they’ll decide to have a go at making their own kits and putting them up at the site for sharing as well.

    Like David Artman’s idea, this is essentially a non-profit venture designed to share a kind of gaming I like with other people who may be interested in experimenting with it, but who have not had the time or budget to try it out.

  6. I want to have Ad Infinitum (my generic Sci-Fi game) completed along with a supplement by next year. The core book will come in a two pack with the first being everything you need to play, and second being the GM guide (primarily) and design toolkit. Supplements will be along the lines of BESM supplements in the sense that people wont need them but a plethora of additional options and work has been done for the group as well as tons of fictional goodness.

    To begin things will be digitally published and have the “Digital Pimp” program in place. My idea is asking some one to buy my products then go out of their way to write about it (including responding to posts) kinda makes me feel like I am socially whoring my fans out. (<– totally just my opinion) So the idea is if the purchaser runs a game and writes an AP about it I will give them 5% store credit; if some one lists having made a purchase as a result of reading an AP by some one they get another 5% store credit. If some one completes both of these at least once they will get the official “Digital Pimp” title in the forum I will be setting up. If it is found out that some one cheated in some way they will receive a backhanding on their forum status which can never be wiped away. <– subject to thematic change though I kinda like it this way.

    Another thing I will be doing along side publishing the core book is trying to wrangle some lovely animator student to do me up a music video for the song that I commissioned a band to make specifically for my setting. The hope is that some stills will be able to be taken from the music video animation/slide show and used in the final project of the source book.

    That being said the money (along with my own) would go to three places, and directly influence another.

    1. Core book completion
    2. Programing of the basic frame work for the affiliate style program so I can at least manually keep track of things and then move on to automated system when I have the money. <– or off the bat depending on the price I get.
    3. A slide show/animated video for the song Born which will act as promotion for future development and some art.

    Once operational I would like to skim 10% off my profit until I amount $1k and then gift that in the same manor as I got the funds. I would proceed to do this a second time in a pay it forward manor in hopes of keeping the spirit of this awesome idea going.

  7. Ok, this is the game I’m working on at the moment. Already got some art, but a bigger budget would let me get more images and make it far more pretty. I’d probably split the budget down the middle, plough $500 into art and retain the other $500 for the initial print run and web advertising through likely-looking venues, postage for review copies and the like. I already have $500 of my own personal money earmarked for the project, so that should be sufficient.


    Imagine a city in which imagination is illegal.

    It’s an undeterminate time in the future at an undeterminate place, a city of gleaming white skyscrapers and technological marvels. But behind the facade of perfection, its culture is stagnating. The governor of the city, known almost universally as ‘the Gray Man’, is obsessed with controlling every aspect of his city and its inhabitants. People are taught what the government decrees, take the jobs they are told to, wear only the clothing that the state deems appropriate. They listen to government music (bland) watch government movies (soulless), even sport has been subtly adjusted to remove any sense of competition. Because it upsets people when they lose. And when people get too upset, they tend to disappear. Stifled under this torrent of laws and regulations, the city’s culture is crumbling away to nothing.

    Enter the rebels (who still need a good name, but I’m working on it!) This illegal group oppose the government not with violence, but with style. They organise parties playing illegal music, they spray graffiti on every wall they can reach, they leap from rooftop to rooftop pulling crazy stunts while they do so, anything to get people’s attention and spread their message. The laws must stop. But they never kill anyone, for all that the government call them terrorists. Where’s the victory in killing some mother’s son? It only turns the people against you, and it’s the hearts of the people that they have to win. So when the authorities turn up to arrest them, they run. And they’ve gotten good at running. Almost supernaturally good. Which is lucky because some of the things coming after them don’t look too human either. Cops, SWAT officers, MIBs, giant robots, mysterious demon-like entities, flying skyscrapers and the Mystical State of Everblue are only the start of it.

    This is a game about the chase. Call it Parkour / Free Running the RPG if you like. It’s also a game about loud music, crazy art, personal freedom, and sticking it to the Man.

  8. For $1000 I’d spill the beans on what Lacuna Part I. is actually all about.


    I’d write a sweet game about necrophilia in the far future.
    Or the late-90’s darkwave scene in San Francisco.
    Or a kids’ RPG where you play dinosaurs.

    You know, the usual.

  9. I’m interested in putting that $1000 towards Heart of Ashes, a fantasy game that blends elements of dark, fairytale and young adult fantasy.

    I’ve already designed it and playtested it 4 times. I’m interested in developing it and publishing it.


    You’re children, who stumbled into another world, a strange and magical world (for now, let’s just call it Place). Place endured a magical apocalypse long ago, at the hands of Seven Flames. Most people lost the ability to cast magic – strangely, you enter Place finding yourself capable of it. That sounds great, except… there are rumours that Seven Flames will return soon, to finish what he started. The Torches, his cult, grow in number. The Savant Guard, an elite task force of mages, have declared a state of emergency. Ribbon Fox has rallied a militia to protest the Guard’s curfews and codes. Tensions are rising, danger is blooming. And suddenly in walk these children, from far away, who can do strange magic (aka, you). And these adults could really use your power. They are greedy, power-hungry and desperate. You just want to go home… but it’s not that easy.

    Design Goals:

    Create a fantasy game about children and adults, where danger and fear and greed and corruption are real and immediate. Design the game for both adults and children (ages 12+), being unafraid to use big words, introduce meaningful concepts and challenge them with ethical dilemmas. Have the game support exploratory play (witnessing this fantastical world in all its glory and lurking horror) and also real, biting decision making.


    • Uses a simple conflict resolution system, at its core (roll skill+3d6, versus a GM doing the same)
    • introduces Risk Dice (functionally, the same as Exhaustion Dice in don’t rest your head), which give you stronger dice now but might spiral out of control…
    • gameplay is divided into Shadows (volatile situations), and if your Risk (dice) exceeds your Threshold, the Shadow falls on you. If the shadow was “Vampiric assassins are stalking the village”, then the Shadow falling might mean that they capture you, or turn you into a Vampire, or turn the mayor into a Vampire…
    • Magic powers (discreet powers bought like D&D4E Powers, SOTC Stunts or TSOY Secrets) are fuelled by gaining Risk Dice as well, making the use of magic a difficult choice with serious potential consequences.
    • Situations (and NPCs) are introduced alongside Antagonistic Keys. If someone buys the Antagonistic Key, that situation or NPC becomes an ongoing part of the story (and that player gains XP for interacting with it). If not, it’s a one off encounter. Explicit, mechanically-rewarded flags that create ongoing situations and generate character development!

    Antagonistic Keys – An example

    Key of Troll-Thing

    Troll-Thing is a monster with many eyes, and a propensity to confuse unrequited love with the necessity for violence.

    Gain XP whenever you: seek out Troll-Thing; offend or enrage it; attempt to help it; take pity on it; show it affection.

    Buyoff: Escape Troll-Thing, and its love, for good.

    Publication Plan / Budget

    $1000 is a perfect amount to publish this game. Let me break it down:

    I want to offer the core rules of the game (along with GM & player advice) in a free PDF, but also sell it as a book through Lulu (paperback).

    The pdf/book would explain the rules concisely, include lots of context and advice for using the pieces of the system (why they exist, how to generate good stories with them), and advice and examples for how the GM can introduce & play their situations and NPCs.

    The coolest part of the game for me, in all three sessions, is the idea of cycling through monsters, groups, leaders and situations… partially because there’s cool stuff there, but largely because I’m sharing with the players what interests me, and they’re responding with the directions they want to go. Antagonistic Keys are a clear way of saying “THESE! These things are working for me. Weave them together and put them at odds and involve us in THIS.”

    But that’s potentially a lot of monsters, groups, leaders and situations (from here on in, I’ll collectively call these: SPLATS). The crux of the publication model would be releasing these splats in an ongoing way, in a webcomic format. Each week, perhaps even twice a week, I’d release another splat. So one week you might get Vampiric Assassins, the next you might get Troll-Thing, the next you might get The Weaver’s Circle, and the next you might get the Village of Tinyfeet.

    I have two artists lined up, both friends of mine who are enthusiastic to work on the project (and interested in working for cheap).

    $300 to each of them.

    $100 for editing of the main book.

    $150 for layout of the book and the website.

    I don’t know how much it takes to host a site like I’m envisioning, but I’m going to estimate $100 right now.

    The hard copy books would be printed through Lulu, which eliminates the need for stock… but the remaining $50 would go towards buying several copies that I could take to conventions with me and sell.

    I’d personally cover additional costs out-of-pocket, if stuff came up (if website hosting is exponentially more than that… if I wanted to create cards or fliers…)

    Since I’d be funded, I’d have no need to make back investments.

    Thus, I’d be able to offer the game as a free PDF with ongoing free updates, published like a weekly webcomic (featuring colour art).

    Selling the book would allow people to show their fandom/support, and put a little money into my pocket (bonus!)

  10. Well, I’m in, and very much hope this is a serious opportunity, as being a jobless artist $1000 would, in no uncertain terms, cover my bills for two months, effectively giving me 60 days where I am forced, both from a debt to a benefactor and a very real validation of my work, to focus on nothing else until the project has made significant progress. It’d also help me take my mind off the impending bills associated with my mother, who has just recently been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Essentially this would enable me to continue working towards publishing, and really make publishing a game a realistic endeavor for me.

    Submitted for your approval.

    For the last two years, in what little spare time I have had, I have been working on a trilogy of interwoven projects, collectively known as Gestalt. Each of these games has been received well in my local circles, but time, motivation, and a few small hangups in design have kept the project from reaching its’ zeitgeist as I’d hoped.

    The game is a deeply introspective, immersion-focused take on how far people are willing to go to achieve their goals and fulfill obsessive desires. The game’s structure emphasizes specific moments in a character’s life which have become focal points of trauma. Play has a strong Shakespearian slant, with characters (and, by design, the players as well) slowly throwing their lives away to achieve their one perfect moment, then realizing how much has been lost in pursuit of an impossible dream. In its’ final playtest, one of the players commented, “singlehandedly the best roleplaying experience I’ve had, and the first that seems somehow really relevant to how we live.”

    That notion of relevancy on a literary level is one of my two design goals; the other is to encourage an internal dialogue about one’s priorities. In that respect, the game is synergistically engrossing and therapeutic, entertaining while encouraging catharsis. The secondary goal is to build a game model that, much like classical literature, inspires us to look at ourselves and strive towards something better.

    In the last two years I have had several magnanimous artists, editors, and layout experts all graciously donate time and energy to help make my game designs something beautiful, and this thousand dollars would be all I’d need to compensate them fairly for all their hard work, and publish a short run of books for sale at conventions and online. I’ve done the math, and while I understand how big some folks think, $1000 wouldn’t just be a help, it’d be a godsend, enough to fund the entire project’s completion.

  11. I’m working on a fantasy adventure RPG called Delve. I’m definitely going to make it playable, concoct a nice cover, and publish it in some fashion. There’s one thing that I’d really LIKE to do, but don’t have the money for: an in-fiction photo shoot.

    The game’s designed to enable and encourage a “seeing through your character’s eyes” experience. At the same time, I’m endeavoring to explain the game procedures (including meta-level stuff about group agreements and GM prep) in a way that’s easy to immediately apprehend and reference. My solution is:

    1. to use simple bullet points, cartoons and diagrams for the book’s instructional sections, with no game-fiction flavor at all
    2. to use photos to depict the game fiction itself.

    I went to Ireland and got some great shots of old castles, but what I really need for my photos are player characters, NPCs, and medieval village structures. Many parts of getting this together are cheap, but I think I’ll need a professional photographer, some actors, and some props that’ll cost money. I’d also need to consult with a photographer who’s expert in Photoshop to go over the options for photoshopping the people into my Ireland shots. I would think that $1000 would be enough to do it as well as it can be done (well, as well as it can be done for less than $20,000).

    As for the game itself, Delve is a fantasy adventure game of exploration and discovery of how the supernatural works. The GM throws out leads, promises, and hooks, and the players pursue whichever ones they want. I have a system that fixes the biggest historical problem with genuine attempts at RPG sandboxing, that being GM overwork. Basically, Delve does the thing that all the gamers I know tried to do with AD&D 2 & 3.

    I’ve got some bits and pieces online here if you wanna take a peek. I can also send you the latest incomplete PDF edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.