I'm writing this design post mortem after being up all night writing and editing, so it might not be the most coherent thing ever. I am sure it is full of typos.
But I feel like I need to process the labor of the past nine months before I sleep. Or more accurately, walk my dog, feed the animals, and then sleep.
I Feel Proud
That is a weird statement to make about a creative project of mine. I know there's a 100% chance in the future I will see all of the flaws and unfinished work. But right now I feel like this version of the game represents a huge step forward. I feel like the biggest improvements fall into 4 categories:
It says something about the design that for the first time, when someone asks me a question about the design, no matter how obscure, I can explain it off the top of my head.
(There is 1 mechanic I know is a bump in the prettiness—having the three magic souls always use their original approach to magic, requiring some translation of special abilities depending upon approach—but I'm not ready to kill that darling, and I do think it has value in the way magic users aren't penalized by trying different soul disciplines that would force them to use less developed actions otherwise).
But back to the parts I like.
I feel like this version really does put oppression, rebellion, and relationships front and center in the design. From the sell out mechanic to the conformity tracker to the narrative build up of the campaign to the option to come back as an antihero, the core premise permeates the design.
I feel like the idea of team ambitions and team goals helps groups focus in the middle of many moving systems/parts.
I feel like the bonds/grudges system works well, and I like that I've dropped that trapping of using a fixer instead of the team building relationships directly with faction agents; it makes the social dynamics more immediate.
I feel like the disciplines are in a good place and each soul has an interesting angle to play.
I feel like character creation has been changed to allow for more freedom (xp trigger choices, contact choices) while also providing more structure to make it faster (archetype choices). I cannot describe how freeing it was to make xp choices, since the rigid/limited version in most playbooks always bothered me.
Overall, I feel like the different rule systems layer on top of each and feed into each other in a way that makes sense.
I kept holding up the final-final version of 4.0 because I wanted to get some additional GM-supporting content in the game. I am really happy I finished the GM chapter on running the game. I hope it provides enough narrative guidance and pre-generated starting situations it feels less overwhelming to get a campaign off the ground. I'm also happy I (finally) finished the chapter that details what each action does, exactly, with examples. I think it will clarify a lot of the questions GMs get from new players about what action does what.
(Side note: I am actually really happy I have no "hack" action, because it means you have limits on what you hack and have to think about your approach, versus treating that word as the cyberpunk equivalent of "open sesame").
Similarly, I'm happy I finished the personal code examples (GMs often get put on the spot for ideas when players get stuck or lost); happy I added some clarification about how special contracts work; and I'm glad the variety of team ambitions can offer groups more narrative options than "do jobs for corps, repeat." I mean, I enjoy that gameplay (obviously) but I also like the increased room to focus on the campaign threat or community or relationships in your game, if you want.
While the Campaign Creation chapter is a bit choppy in its current state, I am glad I cut some of the more detailed/labor intensive aspects of creating fronts. It just felt like too much work, and being expected to know too many things when you first started playing.
Finally, I'm glad I've already updated the quick reference sheets for rules. And I'll always be glad for Paddy's suggestion to make a name page, to help GMs with quick ideas. I know I use it all the time.
Defining the Visual Aesthetic
I intentionally never really focused on the look of the character sheets before this version. When I still needed to refine and test core game mechanics, it seemed like misplaced energy. I always understood that pretty sheets would attract players, but I had too many other priorities.
That said, I'm happy to be in a place where I can start attending to the visual details. Layout actually matters a great deal to me, and I've been experimenting with possible aesthetics on the side for the entire 2 years. The look of the playbooks, teams, and special contracts all seem cohesive, legible, and have a specific feel to them.
I'm now working on art for the pdf...and less happy. Good art might need to wait for a later edition, or a time I can afford to hire professionals.
Fulfilling Old Promises
I started work on the antihero classes 1.5 years ago. Maybe longer. They've gone through several iterations (this one will need another few revisions, I can already tell), but I'm happy to get them into testing. I don't like to miss deadlines (game design has taught me how bad I am at predicting realistic ones), so it feels good to get these out.
The rulebook has also been missing a description of the standard items on the character sheets. I know. It's such a simple thing. I put it off because it felt tedious and unimportant; it took me ten minutes to get at least something basic down. Similarly, as much as I hate writing and reading (so yeah, it will need edits) the "how to play the game with fictional positioning", it's a relief to get it in there.
Overall, this version of the game feels close to complete. There is nothing you need to go find in Blades in order to play this game; it's its own, complete item. That feels really good.
This is obviously not a critical post mortem for v4.0, but after more than 2 years of working away, it's pretty cool to feel like the game is in a good place.
Next steps include one more copyediting pass, official layout with InDesign, some time spent indexing the book because I freaking love indexed rulebooks, and then I'll take a break. And let my brain get some distance, before I come back for another round.
Addendum: I like the game's title more now that the reference isn't so obvious. I'm still hoping to come up with a better idea (names are hard) ...but it also sorta works better with this version.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.