The way we create a new track is a combination of individual developer style and codified process. This is my general process, other devs may go other theirs at a later date.
First we have the inciting concept. Normally this is a thematic idea, but sometimes I think of an interesting mechanic and then figure out what a good theme for it would be.
Regardless of which I start with, the other is the next thing to figure out, as the combination of base mechanic and theme will be the basis for the rest of the track. I generally end up imagining how I think a character with this track would fight, in a very imaginative, cinematic form, basically staging fight scenes in my head. Then I try to break those scenes down into abilities that would lead to that.
For combat teleporter, I imagine a character teleporting around, striking at foes who don’t know where they are coming from, and in turn teleporting out of the way of counterattacks. For assassin, I imagine a very quick, agile fighting style which emphasizes finding vulnerabilities in their opponent then ruthlessly exploiting it. For a shield master, I imagine them epically raising their shield to block huge attacks, and defending those near them.
So combat teleporter grants the ability to teleport as your basic movement, and can teleport next to people to make them off guard, with a dodge chance counter. Assassin gets a basic attack with lots of accurate attacks, but also a devastating auto damage attack that requires the opponent to be off balance. Shield master gets an immediate minor to protect himself against attacks. These form the basic mechanics to give the tracks their identity.
From there, I brainstorm additional abilities for the track. New cool things it could do, upgrades to old things, alternative action uses, whatever seems to fit. I arrange them to form a facet progression based on how foundational they are vs how dramatic they are. Then I fill in any gaps in the progression and try to shore up any weak facets.
At this point I start evaluating the track for design flaws. For instance, we want all tracks to work well with all other compatible tracks, so if it doesn’t do that, we need to revise it. Maybe the track only combos well with a direct attacker, and do we offer some alternative facet options to work well for other archetypes.
I will also have done the math to balance the abilities by this point. When I do it varies, sometimes I do it as I write the abilities, sometimes I just outline it and come back later to fill in the specifics. I will also fill in remaining details – figuring out which facets need perk points, add in any ability tags it needs, fill in fluff descriptions and the intro sections.
Then it’s time to share it with the other devs. Sometimes it still has some holes that I want their help to fill, but primarily this phase is about getting critique from each other to make the track the best it can be. We check each other’s math, examine it for potential design flaws, and provide constructive criticism in general. This generally yields a few rounds of revisions.
Sometimes we aren’t satisfied with the initial draft, and someone else will take a crack at writing a track with that concept. Sometimes we go with this new version, other times we then mesh it with the first take to produce something better than either.
Once we get approvals from enough other devs and nobody has any serious concerns, we can convert the track into LaTex, which allows us to format it for inclusion in the rulebook. We release it out to the players base for play testing, and will make further adjustments down the line if necessary.
For track creation I think about a single moment as the core theme – intercepting attacks, fireballing things, supporting a very /special/ ally, etc. This serves for me, as the heart of the track. After that then I think about gameplay loops and how that would feel in play, and try to get in the mind of a player getting into or using those kind of situations or abilities, to either enable those moments or protect against disabling those moments in a cool way.
Mystify calls this the inciting concept which is pretty apt.
This is all a very high visibility process; I’ll usually put all my working notes and proposed wording in Google Docs (though any document/text sharing will do) for review, discussion, comments, etc. This is the /fun/ part because now I, as the primary author, have to refine what is in my head against system rules and expectations and making sure this all remains true to the heart and doesn’t get super OP or underpowered and also clear any objections from the other devs that would prevent this being releasable.
Part of this is ability ranking at what facet, too. Generally the abilities that are required to function come at the lowest facets, and the most powerful/coolest/most looked forward too go at higher facets, spaced out so you always feel lie you’re getting something useful each facet.
Sometimes this is the death of the track – I can’t get it to satisfy what’s driving me to make it and be system valid. Sometimes this takes a while as I iterate through options and refine and edit things. Sometimes it’s pretty quick, and sometimes I’m pushing against the walls of system expectations in small ways.
Once this is done and enough devs have thumbs-up’d it (it doesn’t have to be 100%, but it tends to be due to some shared concerns), I’ll tag it as ready to include in the next book release, where Mystify will take care of the latex part.