How to Write Your Own Role Playing Game



Ever sat there with an RPG book in your hands and ask, “Who writes this dreck?” Yep, me too.

In fact that’s what inspired me to write my own darn game. The genesis of Star Run was my frustration when I went looking for a science fiction game as an adult. When I was a teenager I played a lot of Traveller, but even then I found the rules a bit clunky. I joined the navy after high school, saw the world and didn’t return to gaming until I was in my late 20’s. Perusing the shelves of my local hobby shop, I discovered that SF RPGs were no longer in style. In fact, the only one to be to be found that year was something called Mark Miller’s Traveller by Imperium Games. To be honest, the game was a disaster. Over complicated and contradictory rules custom designed to drive a gamer mad.

“Screw this!” I shouted to the world, “I’ll write my own damn game. the question then arose, “Where do I start? Well, if you read this post you will not only have a start, but an insight into what the finish looks like as well.untitled

In the fundamental, every role playing game consists of the following elements in this order:

1. Character generation– How do players create characters? Do they roll dice on random charts or do they allocate points. What are the attributes that measure a character? Attributes such as strength, intelligence, charisma, dexterity, education or wealth define the basic outlining of what a character can and cannot do. Being so basic to your game, each attribute must have a specific definition. For instance, you may choose to have two separate attributes for strength and endurance, but what is the difference between the two? Finally, what skills can the character has needs to be answered here. These decisions will guide you as you write the rest of the rules–as will become obvious as we go along.

2. Task resolution- This refers to how “mundane” things get done in the game. What does a player have to roll so that his character can fix the warp drive on the starship? Or, can a wizard cast a healing spell on a dragon? Your system of task resolution must be somehow based on the character’s attributes or skills (or else why have attributes and skills in the first place?). Also, a given task may be easy or hard, and your rules should reflect that in some way to give your game realism. For instance, a doctor preforming first aid should be a fairly easy task, brain surgery with a pocket knife…not so much.

3. Combat system- Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of the game. How combat is resolved will have a great deal to do with how successful your game is. Players relish combat, mostly because it is a hallmark of adventure.  The basic questions to be answered are: (1) how to hit a target, (2) how much damage is inflicted when a target is hit, (3) how does the damage effect the targets performance as the combat progresses? How to hit can be guided by the task resolution rules you already wrote. If shooting a gun is a skill you can easily use your existing rules as opposed to creating new ones. Damage inflicted is often measured by subtracting points from a character’s attribute (such as endurance). Once the given attribute is reduced to zero, most games consider the character to have been killed. You of course will have to define death in your game as well. Now that you have those basics out of the way, you can write rules for how much cover helps a character to avoid being hit or how much damage is absorbed by armor. Which leads us to the next fundamental.

4. Equipment- This can be a bit tedious for the game designer but it must be done. Players will want to know what their character’s can buy, how much it costs and what it dose. Guns, swords, radios, body armor and medical kits must be listed and described. Important information includes the limitations of the various items for sale. How much ammunition can a gun hold in it’s magazine, or what is the range of a walkie-talkie, are questions demanding an answer. I advise you not try to creat a list of every possible thing that a character can buy. Just stick to the kind of adventure gear that will be basic to your game and that should suffice.

5. Vehicles and or monsters- If your game takes place after the invention of the car, cars are sure to play a part in the action. Taking that one step further and you will need rules for aircraft or perhaps even starships. How fast will the vehicle go? How many characters can ride in it, and how much equipment can they take? Then comes the issue of combat in vehicles. What does it take to knock out a vehicle? What happens to the characters inside when a vehicle is damaged? A tip from me; the closer your vehicle combat resembles your standard man-to-man combat the simpler it will be for you. Now, if your game has dragons or other monsters they will need to be defined in terms of their attributes; much like your characters are. If the dragons can fly the question becomes how far and how fast? Can the characters ride a winged beast, and if so, what’s involved in that?

However, after you have knocked out these five fundamentals you’re still not done. The next step is play-testing. Honestly, you have no idea how well or poorly your rules work until you get a bunch of folks together to play a game. I guarantee you will discover things you need to improve on in the first pass, and probably on the tenth as well. Lets say you have chainsaws in your equipment rules but never considered that a character would use one as a weapon. On the third night of play-testing one of your players decides to pick up a chainsaw and do just that–congratulations, your about to write a new rule. After a while, however, most of the kinks get worked out and you have a customized, enjoyable role playing game for all to enjoy.

Well, that’s it. Writing your own game can be extremely rewarding and, who knows, you might just try to sell it one the internet someday. Just remember, if the game isn’t fun your doing something wrong. On the other hand, if it is fun your doing great. Good luck.


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