|saving throws: against or versus?|
Search to improve your writingChoosing the right words for rules text is less of a challenge for experienced designers with a solid mastery of the rules and a strong familiarity with the game's norms and standards. For the journeymen, myself included, one great way to find the right words is to search Paizo's PRD and d20pfsrd.com for some keywords and phrases that are similar to what you're trying to get across, and then analyze the results.
This is true whether you've already written something and simply want to compare it with existing materials of a similar nature, or are struggling to produce or recall the right words. Even if you don't use what you find, you'll likely come across something in the results that helps you find the right words to say what you want to say. If you have all the books you need, and can quickly locate passages relevant to what you're writing, that's a nice bonus, but nothing beats the speed and filtering capabilities of searching with a computer.
Search to conformMany rules, mechanics, and effects have already been written clearly and concisely, and appear in standardized fashion across products from Paizo and other publishers. If you're writing rules about an effect that has a radius, there already exists a standardized way of writing about that. Using those words not only saves you the trouble of wondering whether your rule is clear enough, it also helps you conform to the publishers' styles, which is exactly what they want out of you if you work or hope to work for them. If the rule or mechanic you're writing has no precedent whatsoever, a search or two may still help, since it's likely that at least parts of your novel idea have already been addressed, such as the terminology surrounding saving throws.
I'll provide some examples and tips below, but before I do, let me address a couple of questions you might ask:
Search the PRD or d20pfsrd.com?Both are valuable resources, and each has some advantages and disadvantages depending on what you're searching for and why. I'm limiting my discussion here to searching for rules-language and precedents therein. Searches made by players and GMs looking for a rule, either in-game or during preparation, are another matter.
The main advantage of using the PRD, and it's a big one, is that you can be relatively certain that your results will adhere to Paizo's style, without having to check the source. One disadvantage of using the PRD is its smaller volume of material. Another is the fact that many entries, especially items, don't have their own separate pages, which makes it difficult to count your results.
The main advantage of using d20pfsrd.com, and it's a big one, too, is its huge volume of material. If a rules-language precedent has been set in a resource that isn't on the PRD, you can bet it will be on d20pfsrd.com. Another advantage is that more entries appear alone on their own page, which makes it easier to count results. While the number of appearances of a phrase is not the sole determinant of the phrase's precedence, it is valuable to have that information. A minor disadvantage of using d20fpsrd.com is that you have to check your sources if you're looking for precedents from a specific publisher, since the search results include materials from a number of publishers. You also have to watch out for edits or the occasional typo, though mistakes are not rampant.
When I search, I switch between the two different sites on a case-by-case basis. When I want to be particularly thorough, which is almost always, I end up searching both.
When I'm GMing, prepping, or playing, I use the search boxes that the two sites provide. When I'm searching for rules language, I prefer to use Google's "site:" command. This is partly just a personal preference, but I find that I can better control and filter the results using Google's search tools. For those of you who aren't familiar with the "site:" command, it's a command that lets you search only a specific web site when you search using Google.
For the PRD, the syntax looks like this:
- site:http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ "your phrase" or words (RESULTS: PRD)
For d20pfsrd.com, it looks like this:
- site:http://d20pfsrd.com "your phrase" or words (RESULTS: d20pfsrd)
Hypothetical search example 1Suppose you're designing a monster, a giant cuttlefish that mesmerizes its prey with flashing colors. You know that you want creatures affected by its ability to be fascinated (as in, have the fascinated condition). You also know that you want it to be able to use this ability every round without much effort, that it should work on creatures up to 20 feet away from the cuttlefish, and that there's a saving throw involved. So, you've drafted the first portion of the ability without any trouble:
Mesmerizing Strobe (Ex)But here, you pause. Creatures that can see it flashing must...what? You know there's a saving throw, but how do you word that? (I've included "DC" to limit the results to entries with a save DC)
Once per round as a move action, a giant cuttlefish can cause its skin to flash and pulse with bright colors. Creatures within 20 feet of the cuttlefish that can see it flashing must...
||Here's an interesting tidbit: At the time of writing, the number of results on d20pfsrd.com for each of the last 2 searches at left is exactly 1280.|
Also, had you been tempted to write something like, "creatures that are __ feet away", these two searches (here and here), would have shown you that "within X feet" is preferable.
Hypothetical search example 2After analyzing your results in example 1, you may have ended up with something like this:
Mesmerizing Strobe (Ex)Once per round as a move action, a giant cuttlefish can cause its skin to flash and pulse with bright colors. Creatures within 20 feet of the cuttlefish that can see it flashing must succeed at a DC 15 Will save...
Here you pause again. Is it "...succeed at a DC 15 Will save to resist gaining the fascinated condition..." or "...succeed at a DC 15 Will save or be fascinated, as the condition..." or "...or else be fascinated..." ?
- "to resist gaining": (RESULTS) Nope
- "or else be" (RESULTS) Nope - only a few, and even less that are applicable
- "to avoid gaining the": (RESULTS) Nope - not with conditions, anyway
- "or gain the" condition: (RESULTS) Closer, but not quite (requires a little analysis)
- "save or become": (RESULT) That's the one!
Once per round as a move action, a giant cuttlefish can cause its skin to flash and pulse with bright colors. Creatures within 20 feet of the cuttlefish that can see it flashing must succeed at a DC 15 Will save or become fascinated for 1 round.Mesmerizing Strobe (Ex)
Hypothetical search example 3
This is a real short one. Suppose you're designing a magic item with a secondary power that protects its owner from poison. You might have started writing something like, "In addition, this gewgaw grants its wearer a +2..."
- "bonus to resist poison": (RESULTS) Nope
- "bonus when saving versus poison": (RESULTS) Nope
- "bonus on saves versus poison": (RESULTS) Nope
- "bonus on saving throws versus poison": (RESULTS) Hmmm - not much
- "on saves against poison": (RESULTS) Looks promising
- "on saving throws against poison": (RESULTS) This is what I'd use!
• • •
I'd like to hear from any new or veteran game designers reading this. Do you think it's valuable to search while designing or editing, or do you consider it unnecessary? Are there any pitfalls you can see? If you do find it valuable, how do you approach your search? Finally, do you have any tips to offer?