January 6, 2009

REVIEW: The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Vol. II - How to Pitch, Playtest & Publish

Chapter 6: Promises, Promises: The Art of the Pitch
Open Design recently asked that I review Chapter 6: Promises, Promises: The Art of the Pitch for their recently released second volume of The Kobold Guide to Game Design by Wolfgang Baur. Honestly, I loved the first edition on Adventures. Owning the hard-copy allowed me to sit on my back-deck and soak it up leisurely over a period of a week or so. I had few complaints, and have recommended it to many DMs since as a 'must-read'. As far as the second volume of the book is concerned, I can't comment on the entire contents of the book (my printed copy has yet to arrive), so this review will be limited just to the chapter I was provided by Open Design. In short, Chapter 6 maintains the same high standards of insight as the previous edition of the book would lead me to expect, but I'm afraid that its appeal overall is limited to a more narrow audience.
"The number one rule is simple: Don’t be boring."
This chapter opens with an emphasis on the setting the two fundamental rules of pitching an adventure, story, campaign setting, or whatever you might be interested in: don't be a bore; and know thy audience. These two bits of advice may seem obvious, but the Baur writes with enough wit that it remained an entertaining read nonetheless. He goes into some detail about having a thick skin as a writer, be prepared for rejection, and most of all write what you love. There are a few bulleted points throughout the chapter, but for the most part it reads like you are having a conversation with your writing mentor. He is telling you like it is, and you had better be listening. What I liked was that Baur interjects anecdotal references and commentary throughout the chapter. Its definitely not an academic primer on the subject of how to pitch; but it does serve up some honest advice from someone who has built their own publishing company from the ground up (something I may hope to emulate, who knows?).

One of the more interesting points made in the chapter is that of trust. As in, trust between an editor and a writer. If you are pitching your first story to a magazine or publisher and you have no proven track record; expect to be put under the magnifying glass and even then (especially if your work is out of bounds, or risky) you might get rejected. Established writers can produce material that is more off the wall, but newb writers should stay a bit more to middle path. Establish themselves as credible, well studied authors and then pitch the wacky ideas later on.

While overall I enjoyed the read, I did have a two complaints. First off, as I mentioned before, this book is not for the average gamer. This is not even for game masters who are addicted to home brew campaigns (whereas Vol 1 definitely is for them). This chapter, and from the titles of the other chapters, seems to indicate a narrowing of the audience. While some of you may not consider this a real complaint, per se, it is something that should be known before making a purchase. If you do not think you are the type who will take the time to design, play test, pitch, and write up your own material for publication - then this book may not be fore you. Again, this is based on reading one chapter - and the titles of the others - but it is something to consider nonetheless. My second complaint, also minor, would be that the chapter lacked examples of pitches that worked, and ones that failed horribly. There's tons of advice on all the different facets of what makes a pitch successful in this chapter, but sometimes its good to see the finished product. Like they say - a picture is worth a thousand words; and in this case a couple of working and failing examples would have been extremely helpful.

All in all, I give this chapter four out of five stars - it would have been five if examples had been included. Nonetheless, it still worth it and I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of Volume II in the mail. In the meantime I'll have to just wait and read the reviews of the other chapters to see what the rest of the blogosphere thought.

You can pick up your own copy of this as a PDF or in PRINT from the Open Design online store.

Chapter Titles...
  1. Fortunate Accidents
  2. Lessons from Playtest
  3. Talent Won’t Save You...
  4. Design Guidelines: Playtesting
  5. The Infinite Onion: Creating Play Depth
  6. Promises, Promises: The Art of the Pitch
  7. Challenge and Response
  8. The Mystery of Mysteries
  9. The Magic Bullet for Publication
  10. Maps, Monsters, and Bottom-Up Design
  11. How NOT to Design a Magic Item
  12. Design that Matter
PS - wow.. this is my first review on The Core Mechanic. Wohoo!

Want to read more about The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Volume II? Read on...


  1. I actually haven't read any Kobold Quarterly stuff yet (I know, I'm behind the curve). Although I personally wouldn't get a lot of use out of that, I have a friend who this information would be perfect for. It completely applies to something he is working on right now. Nice review!

  2. Thanks Sam! It's my first... hopefully it didn't come across like I had gloves on... i figured, if I'm going to review something, it's got to be the gods honest truth otherwise why bother, right?


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