Designer’s Notes

Here’s a question for everyone, sparked by a comment on a recent post.

If I self-publish a book, I get to pick what I want to include. As I like talking about the why of a game as well as the what, I’d be inclined to include designer’s notes. However, it’s occurred to me that burying these in the rules might not be the best place for them. I could, for example, include them here, so that anyone could read them – not just the people who bought the game.

What do you guys think is the best place for designer’s notes: in the rulebook they apply to, or on the web?

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39 Responses to Designer’s Notes

  1. Marcel says:

    Must be in the book also – at least as attachment with small lettering. In my opinion.

  2. Maurice Schekkerman says:

    I like my rulebook to be complete, so they should be in the rulebook, preferable in an appendix so I can skip them if I just want to reference the rules.

  3. Jon Finn says:

    The web: printed pages cost money.
    If the notes are on the web then there’s the scope to make them interactive or at least updateable.

    • Ben says:

      The additional cost isn’t that much. Do it PoD demand in b&w and you’re talking about 1.5p per page.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Actually, I think that the issue is more one of unwieldiness. Detailed designer’s notes can be quite long (especially if I’m writing them), and that makes the book bigger. There’s something to be said for small rulebooks in terms of utility during a game.

      As Ben says, the actual cost of printing an extra page is quite small (though there are the additional costs of art and layout which also have to be paid for somewhere).

      • Ben says:

        You could always do two versions of the book. One with just the rules and one with the rules + back matter. Assuming you go the PoD route it’d just be a case of creating two files, one with the back matter and one without, and there’s no extra up-front printing costs (as opposed to trad publishing where you’d have to order print runs of each in advance).

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I considered this, plus the option of just making the extra stuff into a separate book that people could get or not. I do like the clarity of a single option though. Still undecided.

  4. Stu says:

    Back of the book, or possibly as notes in the margin where it applies.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I like margins for notes as a theory, partly because they remind me of glosses in medieval texts. In printed work they are often a pain. For practical reasons you’ll want a reasonably consistent layout, and this leaves you with some very empty pages, and others rather crammed. I’ve laid things out like this before, and it didn’t look as good as I’d hoped. Worth exploring though.

  5. Ben says:

    As you touch on, it really depends on who you want to read them. If they’re just for the people playing the game, then stick them in the book. If they’re for everyone, stick them on the blog. Obviously the latter could lead to additional interest in the game.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Of course, designer’s notes are fun to read when you play, sometimes helpful in explaining intent or including extra examples to add clarity. On top of this they are an advert for the style and thinking behind a game, and may encourage people to give it a try themselves. They can do lots of things. That’s clearly an argument for them being freely available for all. However, the best articles to fill these differing functions would be written separately for each, so perhaps a version of them in different places, rather than just a copy and paste. Not that I like making more work for myself or anything…

  6. Drew Williams says:

    Honest answer both! Brief comments could be made in the rule book, perhaps referenced to, or alluding to, indepth comments made on a website.

    Bottom line is you don’t want to detract from the flow of, or sense made when reading the rules. Perhaps an appendix if you wanted more indepth discussion in the book?

    Copyright infringement may be a possibility if you cite too many details from inside of a purchased product (if done without permission that is) on a website.

    Your question lends itself to a discussion you had at the last mantic open day. You were explaining how people were using the leadership value / activation system in deadzone contrary to how you intended, with players activating as many of their players as they could every turn.

    If you had somewhere to discuss the intention, and show examples of play, of the rules as written, it could help and would be a good regular read for communities / lovers of the game.

    On the plus side of online rules design discussion you also invite people to give you their take on rules, kind of like structured continued beta testing.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      See my reply to Ben, above.

      I always find rules easier to understand when you know what they’re trying to replicate (assuming it’s a specific thing and not something like Kerplunk). Having read a great many rulebooks over the years, I’ve seen a number of different approaches, and remember having lightbulb moments while reading a couple of sets that did not explain the why. Once I worked out what they were trying to model then it clicked into place nicely. That taught me that understanding the event or effect a rule is trying to recreate in the game is (for me at least) a big help in understanding and (crucially) remembering the rule itself. On the other hand, being unclear about which text is background, which is description or comment, and which is actual rule leads nowhere but confusion.

      Over the past few years of this blog, I’ve had some cracking discussions with people based on my design note posts, and look forward to posting more. I’m always happy to talk about games.

      The DZ example you mentioned was a result of the rulebook being too squashed. Several things got left out that I would have rather included, but we simply ran out of pages. With hindsight, we all recognised that hadn’t been the best of plans, but that’s what you do: learn and try not to make the same mistake again 🙂

  7. If you print it in the book, you can’t go back to tinker with it, clarify what you meant, or change your mind entirely. A living FAQ/errata/design notes online can always be kept up to date.
    I think we both know what you’d prefer.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Actually, with pdfs and POD you have a much greater ability to go back and change stuff than with traditional printing, though you do risk upsetting and confusing people if you shift stuff a lot/frequently.

      I do like the flexibility of online work, though it can’t do everything. I’d argue that some comments are best within the rules, and indeed on the same page as some rules that require particular comment or explanation. My designs often include slightly unusual aspects because I don’t see a good reason to simply copy existing games and am always seeking to streamline or improve what’s already there. Unusual stuff needs explaining so people can see why I thought it was worth using.

      More traditional “essay at the back of the rules” sort of designer’s notes have their place too, and I’ve personally spent many happy hours reading just such articles. So when I pose the question, I know it’s really more subtle than simply picking option A or option B. I just thought I’d get a straw poll of what folk thought and see what everyone else’s experience could add 🙂

      • Well I particularly enjoyed your Deadzone FAQ style, with a simple answer and then the waffle behind it. It helps you get into the game and relate to the characters if you understand the rules. Tricky sometimes, blaze away being an example of where you’ve used rules to mimic an effect in an interesting and realistic way, but for some people will always feel a little counter-intuitive (correct me if I’m mistaken in this impression)

        • Drew Williams says:

          Blaze away, suppression fire, cover vs various firing types…

          All really good examples of where this kind of in depth discussion makes a huge difference.

          Another off of the top of my head is strikers in dreadball, a fairly narrative point granted, but still the explanation of why they can’t slam, it’s not that they don’t push, shove, scuffle etc, it’s just that they don’t go out of their way / are equipped to / are expected to significantly damage opposing players during play.

          Because the rules don’t model the general scrabble, just the meaningful actions.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Thanks nighthaunter. That style of FAQ is the result of a number of me learning from a number of less successful ventures, and s my current best option for that. I think it covers most bases fairly well.

          And yes, some people are always going to struggle with innovative rules. There’s a while spectrum of gamers, from the real grognards to those who can’t cope with anything more than roll the dice, move the piece. That’s fine by me. I assume that most of the people who don’t care won’t read the Dn anyway, so it’s not an issue. By using the FAQ style night hunter mentioned I separate the two elements (rules and explanation) with the aim of being useful to the widest range of users.

          @Drew – yes, rules can only model a small fraction of what’s actually going on, and to my mind it’s the job of any notes or explanations to help the reader contextualise this so they understand which bits have been left out or subsumed into other features. Often in my own rules, things aren’t missing, they’re just dealt with in a different way.

  8. Barks says:

    In the book.

  9. diggah says:

    Rulebook for me. Helps give the notes context and I’d actually read them. I doubt I’d go to a website to then cross read.

  10. mattadlard says:

    Hmm its a difficult one as would like to see a book with both but understand how it could become complicated and unnecessary but it could be a little snippets in the book in the margins, with a ‘Book’ exclusive link back to a the site with a more comprehensive background detail and design history. So covers both angles.

  11. crimsonsun says:

    In a specialised book or published document that is not for actual game play use instead its closer to a Art design theme book, where you have the rules with comments in the margins, highlighted sections, foot notes kinda like your studying a subject for a critical test paper. In addition you could include discussion between various sections as well as a foreword, plan, afterthoughts etc basically its the start to finish of that rules systems design however it would be utterly useless as a rule book.

    I feel rule books should be kept without any design notes in regards to design choices (themes and ideas are fine for the occasional text box) to reduce confusion and to keep the RAW the core subject rather than RAI, a minor foreword and appendixes are fine though most of the later should be additional RAW content based (expanding those text boxes for example).

    Now I would love to read such a book but I’m not sure how much of a marketable product it i, funds are limited and thus for such a book to have a £ value attached that I’d consider to buy it as a luxury purchase within a luxury hobby means its got to have some serious presentation and a huge amount of word count beyond the original (for lack of a better comparison), because I just don’t have the fund for non hobby utilised hobby products at the moment despite how much interest I may have upon the subject.

    Thanks for reading

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I tend to agree that a notes book on its own would not sell well. It is, however, another possible approach so I thought I’d mention it.

      I think you should always play the rules as they are written. Unfortunately, what one person understands from what is written may not necessarily be what their opponent takes them to mean, even assuming that neither of them is actually trying to leverage some advantage. Language is so complex, and meaning so dependent on background, dialect and slang, that it is almost impossible to be 100% clear to 100% of your audience. Explaining the intent of a rule can be helpful to support the correct interpretation.

  12. braxandur says:


    I really like reading designers notes in a rulebook as I’m intersted in how an author came to some ideas or conclusions. Similarly, having designers notes online can help people who are not sure yet if they would like to buy a rules set or not.

  13. Nurglitch says:

    Rather than including designer’s notes in a rulebook, why not write an actual book on your philosophy of game design? Broadens the market a bit. Or just maintain a wiki.

  14. Archie Hart says:

    I don’t think in the main text is the place for the reflections however as an appendix that would be excellent and give me another reason to purchase the rules.

    Take God of Battles for example, a magnificent game and I would have with real interest read your design thoughts if those had been included. You did include some general points about your goals when deisgning that game, in the introduction, and those made interesting reading.

    I would have happily have read more in an appendix.

    One benefit would be when the game doesn’t play as expected / desired and there is a circumstance that seems unclear. A stronger understanding of the design thoughts might aid home rule creation.

  15. otakupuntocom says:

    I like the designer notes in the book. you can publish in the web too. But if you include this in the book, it can be interestic, funny and perfect to explain the “why” in some rules… (sorry for my weird english).

  16. Linus says:

    I like how the Flames of War team made their rulebook.
    Every rule was explained with three different texts.
    The first one was written in italic and was just a narrative explanation of the event that the rule tries to cover.
    The second text was the actual rule. Extremely simply and correctly written.
    The third text was the explanation of why the rule was the way it was. They designers notes if you will.

    I found it easier to learn the rules when it was written in this way.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Yup, that’s a clear sort of style. It’s a similar approach to the one I use in my FAQs.

      I’m not a big FOW player, so my latest version is the 2011 edition. That’s only got 2 styles (description in plain and rules in italics). Same principle though.

  17. jgoldenf says:

    Someone mentioned the back of the book, which I like. A few other ideas are brief notes in the margins (somewhat like MS Word does now when you edit a document) with lines guiding to each breakout or footnotes with annotation style. Either way could still allow you to point to an Appendix in the back with the full information and keep you from reposing some information as your notes may not be as linear as the final book.

  18. Z says:

    I think crimsonsun says it well. Rule books are for rules. Fluff, even explaining the *why* might be better elsewhere, but if I’m gonna buy that elsewhere, it’s gotta have some value.

    How about a Designer’s Commentary? Just a chair, a camera, a roaring fire, and you, reading the rulebook, explaining WHY some of those rules are the way they are and how they were planned to interact with all those other rules.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Judging by the questions I’ve answered about various rule sets over the years, I know that there are times when rules commentary is best suited to the same page as the rule itself. Not always, and not necessarily a full discussion, but still…

      I’ll see what I can do about the roaring fire angle too. It’s on my list 🙂

  19. Matt Price says:

    I much prefer a leaner rulebook. Just the rules. Maybe a bit of background or “fluff” but not much.

    But particularly designer’s notes and details on the “why” I’d prefer to find online. It certainly does interest me, but I can hunt for that on the web.

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