Explaining the Toolkit Approach

Last week I was subtweeted by Rob “co-creator of Fate” Donoghue. I’d be terrible at self-promotion if I didn’t capitalize on the fact that a well-known, award-winning game designer unleashed a whole tweetstorm based on something I wrote. I’ll explain what happened, but the bottom line is that I feel I need to write some sort of manifesto explaining my toolkit approach to tabletop roleplaying design and publishing.

The whole thing started when Daniel quote-tweeted my developer journal entry about social anxiety

The quote was from the end of the post. What I meant was, “thankfully I can make it all about you, because making it all about me is more than my social anxiety can handle”. As the creator on this side of the supply chain, I’m defining the parasocial aspect of our partnership based on my comfort level. The feedback I received shows most people got that. I actually got a lot of kind feedback from fellow sufferers, thankful that I was open about it.

Anyway, Rob quote-tweeted Daniel without acknowledging the origin of the quote or addressing the context. The way Twitter presents quote Tweets means you need to click extra things to get to the link to my post, and few people are going to do that. Which is fine. Rob wanted to make his points about the toolkit approach.

Let Me tl;dr This

I never said that it was either/or. This was specifically about the design choice that I have made for my games, my books, and my publishing company. I abhor “one true way” idealism in tabletop gaming. Play what you want to play, the way you want to play it. DXP creates material for a niche audience within a niche hobby. If you have other preferences, there are other games and publishers out there creating things that better align with your tastes.

Rob goes on to unleash a tweetstorm about what people like, the pros and cons of toolkits, and so on. You can find it by following the linked tweet above if you care to read it. I think it glosses over a few things, like why Fate is popular, why Evil Hat made the creative decisions that it did, and oh, I don’t know, anything about why I take the toolkit approach and how it’s reflected in my games. 

Design the Game You Want to Play

I like games that allow me to create my own fiddly bits. That is, give me a nice selection of spells, or guns, or superpowers along with the rules on how to create my own, and get out of my way. Give me so plot hooks to tease out using my own ideas, and let me run wild. Provide enough setting material to give me the feel of things, and allow me to develop the world into what I want it to be.

If you ever read any of my settings, you know that this is the approach I take. In 2022 I’m going to be releasing a ton of settings, and they’re all toolkits. They’re going to have pre-generated characters and a ready-to-play supporting cast. There will be plot hooks and loose ends that you can use, incorporate with your own ideas, or completely ignore. That’s all part of the toolkit.

There Is No Canon

Every time you sit down to play, you are creating your own canon. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a published adventure for a commercially published setting. Your group’s experience with that adventure is going to be different from my group’s. The choices they make aren’t the same ones my crew will make. How the outcome of the adventure affects your campaign will differ from the effects on my campaign. All of that chaos become raw material for future creativity. That happened. Now, what happens next?

If you’re playing in a licensed setting, you already know that your game isn’t canon. You can have fun trying to create adventures so that they don’t contradict that one storyline in The Expanse or that episode of Star Trek. It’s fun to reimagine a whole season of Buffy or ignore the movies starring your least-favorite James Bond actor. Your Forgotten Realms campaign isn’t the canon of the novels. Same concept.

The toolkit approach acknowledges this. One of the reasons I lean into lighter setting material and systems with do-it-yourself options is my frustration with Classic Traveller. I’ve written about how the aesthetic and the simple rules inspired me. The density of the setting is my example of how not to do it. They mapped out every planet in every sector of space, leaving me no room to add in my own ideas. (Yes, I know about Foreven Sector. I’m talking about leaving some room within the official setting to add my own material, not setting aside an empty sector for me to develop entirely from whole cloth).

The Toolkit Approach

This is all part and parcel of the lo-fi publishing aesthetic. Keep rules concise. You don’t need 300 spells, or guns, or superpowers when I can give you a dozen examples and the rules to easily mix. match, and create your own. There’s no need for full-color painted interiors that are only there to make the book shiny and expensive. You only need what’s necessary to play the game. Not creating massive setting books is right in line with my mission to publish affordable books packed with useful content.

This is punk rock. I’m giving you three chords. You bring the attitude.


I hope you’re doing well today.