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On Private Spaces

Private Community Spaces

As a designer, one of the most important things you can do for your craft is to surround yourself with your peers, friends, and mentors. Throughout the ages, artists have formed communities to learn and hone their craft, but today’s digital world presents both a blessing and a curse. The transient nature of online communities and shallow friendships can make long-lasting connections more difficult. Everyone stays an “acquaintance” at arms length and you keep your guard up. From behind your fortress walls you shout to others inside their own fortresses, and everyone wandering between those two strongholds gets to listen in to your conversations. There’s a better way.

If you haven’t been invited to a private community space, you might just have to make your own. Here’s how.

Making Friends

Making friends with other designers isn’t some arcane formula secreted away in a sacred vault. You need to interact with other designers — with integrity and genuine interest — and step from the lurking shadows into the spotlight. There are a dozen social platforms now (Twitter, Bluesky, Threads, Mastodon instances, Discord, old forums, and even more) where you can begin to reach out. Find designers that you look up to, designers that are working in the same space as you, designers that are new like you, and anyone else that you vibe with. Begin interacting. If they post something cool, don’t just like it. Comment. Start a conversation. (Important sidenote: if no conversation springs up, don’t take it as a failing of your character — just move on and continue to be civil and normal about things.)

One of the secret sauces of making friends is to offer help in some way without expecting anything in return. Don’t push yourself if you don’t have the time or resources, but if you can spare a few minutes to help someone with a task that might be difficult for them but trivial for you, do it!

Eventually you’ll reach a tipping point and be “known” by a few other folks. If you’re publishing your own work (either finished or works in progress) you may even have comments and boosts from other designers. Continue the course. If it’s appropriate, send out private messages that don’t have ulterior motives or strings attached. Just be a little bit chatty.

Going Private

When you have a few designers that you’re friendly with it’s time to make the next move. Create a private, invite-only space. For our purposes, we’ll talk from here on out with the intention of making a private Discord server. Reach out to your friends and offer up an invite. Be courteous and normal if they say no — it’s not the end of the world. Depending on how many people you know and how well known you are, you might have between 2-20 people on the list. You can also ask your friends if they have any suggestions to add, but I’d suggest starting small. Expansion will come.

Running the Space

Once you’ve got your private server set up and you’re ready to send invites it’s time to think about how the server is going to actually function.


You should have some kind of rules document in regards to the private space, but it can be much more informal than what you’d see in a public community server. This is a place of friends, not random people wandering by. If you’re worried about how people will act in regards to the Big Issues you should probably look a little closer at your invite list first. Still, a concrete “what this place is” will be helpful for newcomers.

Design Talk

Since it’s likely that you’re recruiting from a pool of fellow designers you’re probably going to want to chat about design. This is good and natural, but chatting about design is one of the easiest things to do in a public space (and sometimes designing in public can help boost your game’s hype).

You’ll want a place where you feel completely safe sharing entire works-in-progress with others, and trusting that they won’t get out. If you don’t have that trust, check your invite list again. As a caveat, though — you shouldn’t worry about someone “stealing” your mechanics. Those things are a dime a dozen and every time someone takes a mechanic and modifies it, you can take it back and make it even stronger.

Open Talk

This is, in my opinion, the heart of what the private Discord provides. You can talk freely about things here, amongst people that you trust. I think the heart of a design community is actually in the non-design talk — most friends talk about everything, not just the one interest they share. This is a place where you strengthen the community, learn about the lives of the people you’re close to, post memes, talk about the latest movie, and be merry. Don’t neglect this in server design. This is where the vibes live.


As a designer you’re probably going to get frustrated a lot. Someone took the idea you tweeted about. Your fulfillment company for the Kickstarter is messing up. You can’t get ahold of people that you’ve paid for work.

The boon of a private space is that you can post this sort of stuff without worrying that it’s going to get away from you, or that random lurkers are going to hear it and spread the fire. Since you’re in a space with people you trust, you don’t have to be candid or coy. If someone is about to sign with a company that has screwed you over in the past, you can steer them clear with the full story as opposed to a vague “oh, that might not be a good idea.”

If you’ve been bumming around the TTRPG design spaces for fifteen minutes, you’ll be well aware that we’ve got a monster locked up in the basement: The Discourse. It rears its ugly head every couple of months. This can be a space to vent about that, but be wary. This isn’t a space to coordinate attacks or pile-ons. Your space is where you’re safe. Don’t bring The Discourse home and give it a place at the dinner table.

In one of the servers I’m in, I coined the term SOP is DNE, meaning standard operating procedure is do not engage. We have a DNE reaction to slap on messages when someone might be spiraling over a public issue. It’s helpful to know you have people in your corner, and engaging with The Discourse is not game design. (However, there are times when it is important to speak up publicly — on issues of equality, harassment, justice, etc. The important things. System matters is not an important thing.)


If you’re working with fellow designers it’s likely that at least one of them has done something before that you need to do now. You can ask them outright, and since you’re in a space where you trust everyone, it’s not so much a problem when you ask one person something and everyone else chimes in with their experience. In a public space it’s easy for the waters to get muddied with every lurker crawling out of the woodwork to offer an opinion of their own. By sharing knowledge with your private space everyone gets to learn.

One important caveat — you still need to work hard to share your knowledge in the public spaces when you can. Helping other designers never goes out of style.

Mediating Problems

If you’ve created the server, you’ve now put yourself in a position of power. You can share that power, and you can work hard so that everyone feels equal and that you aren’t the big bad mod, but eventually there will come a day when something happens that you’ll need to step up and lead.

There are a lot of guides and YouTube videos out there on how to mediate problems — I’d recommend glancing over a few of those. But keep in mind this is a private space among friends. If you’re constantly having to mediate (or think you’ll need to mediate regularly if you invite someone) you may have to look at your member list and be a bit more diligent with your choices.

When you do have to lay down the law, you’ll need to be firm and fair. Lay out your process and reasoning for the decisions you’re making. I also recommend finding someone else that’s part of the server (perhaps multiple people) that can help with these steps so it’s not just you. You need to be empathetic, communicative, and confident in your decisions.

Unclear decisions that are communicated poorly will be very bad for the space. Problems fester much worse here than in any sort of public server. In a public space everyone has their guard up and they’re usually ready for weird administration decisions. In your space, if you’ve cultivated it correctly, people will be vulnerable and open. When things are handled poorly your space will take the hit. Once trust is lost, it can be incredibly tough to build back up. If people no longer feel safe, the place becomes a private space that feels public and loses its appeal.

It may be months before anything happens where you need to step in. It might be years. But the day will come. Be ready for it, and remember to act with honesty, integrity, and openness. You’re among friends.

Growing the Server

It’s likely that you’ll meet new people outside of your private space and want to add them. Other people within the server may make suggestions. It can help to create a concrete procedure for adding new members. Here’s my suggestion: everyone can nominate someone to join the server. Anyone within the server can veto that person. Every so often, take the entire list of nominees and choose one to reach out to. You’ll need to explain the server to them and what happens within it.

Grow the server small. Once you have your list of nominees, invite someone once every couple of months or so. It’s likely that you’ll have potential members mapped out for the entire year.

Slow growth is by design. New members must acclimate to whatever ecosystem you’ve created and adapt to the vibes of your space. Everyone in the server must have the chance to get to know them, and too many new people at once can make a small private space feel a lot more impersonal.

If someone vetoes a person, don’t question the decision. You’ve already filled the space with people you trust, so trust that they have their reasons.

Life in the Server

Once you have your space up and running, you want to use it! People might be shy in the beginning — especially newcomers. It’s likely going to be up to you to get discussions going and to make people feel welcome. If no one else steps up, you’ll always need to be the person onboarding new members. Be prepared for that. It’s okay if someone joins and then lurks ninety percent of the time, but they should be lurking because they want to — not because they don’t feel welcome in conversations.

Try and set up something that happens on regular intervals. This might be a movie or a game night that happens every Thursday with whoever joins the voice channel. Make sure to advertise and talk about it enough so everyone knows they’re welcome. It might even just be social hangout time or a drawing stream! A lot of people find these hard to organize, so you might once again need to be the one spearheading the event.

Involvement of Everyone

This entire post has mostly talked about you as an entity running the server. That’s a lot to shoulder, especially once it gets bigger. Since the space is meant to be a place among friends, encourage everyone to set up their own events! If someone suggests a new channel or way of doing things, be open to it. Perhaps a vote is in order, to see what everyone thinks.

Involving everyone is where the magic happens. That’s the Goldilocks zone where you get inside jokes, server rituals, and ridiculous made up acronyms that nobody else gets. That’s the special sauce. The only way to get that sauce is to let the space simmer on low heat as momentum builds.

A Final Note

If you take one thing away from this, it should be this: as a designer, you’re going to need somewhere you can talk, vent, and be yourself that isn’t on display to the public. That might be in real life with your partner, friends, or just in the DMs. The comradery you can find from a space where you can truly be yourself is unmatched. If you’re craving this kind of thing and haven’t been invited to one of these spaces yet, well — all your friends might be chomping at the bit for the very same experience.

Ty, a gold ENNIE-winning designer, wakes up every morning and goes to battle with his thoughts, trying to wrangle them into words and the occasional good idea. Sometimes he wins. Find his work on Mindstorm.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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