Have you ever written a standalone set of RPG rules?

Poll: Have you ever written a standalone set of RPG rules?

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  1. #1
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    talien's Avatar

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    Mar 2002
    Fairfield, CT

    Have you ever written a standalone set of RPG rules?

    Commercial RPGs have existed for some 45 years. Where RPG ideas are concerned, there's not much new under the sun. Then why do people keep writing new RPGs? It's a LOT of work, even if you don't do it well. I think of composer Sir William Walton's remark after writing his only opera: "don't write an opera. Too many notes." Change that to "RPG" and "words" and you have my point of view.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Attachment 105630
    Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

    With help from Twitter correspondents I've made a list of "reasons why" that I'd like to discuss. I'm sure some readers will have yet-other reasons for make an RPG.

    • You have an ideal game in mind and no such game exists
    • to make money (most unlikely, but it happens)
    • to gain a modicum of fame (or at least, notoriety!)
    • for your friends, to make a game they'll enjoy more than existing games
    • to make a limited set of rules to use in conjunction with a board game design (my reason)
    • Creative outlet

    Of course, there are lots of tongue-in-cheek reasons, which I'll leave to readers to convey. (Rule #1 for a columnist may be, don't try to joke in "print". Someone will misunderstand and dislike it.)

    Let's discuss these in turn.

    The first reason, that you have an ideal game in mind and no such game exists (as far as you know) is probably a common reason. I understand the search for perfection, but knowing all the difficulties of completing a standalone game, I modify an existing one (D&D), rather than start from scratch. The "Cult of the New" may come into this: the belief that new is necessarily better. So your new game will be better than older games. Some say "the old ways are best"; more say, "the new ways are best" (the Cult of the New). I say, the best ways are best. To hell with old or new.

    “To make money” is a poor reason, because most of those writing RPG rules don’t make money. Old joke: “How do you make a small fortune in RPG publishing?” “Start with a large fortune”. While it may not be quite that bad, most RPGs sell hundreds rather than tens of thousands of copies, it’s not a place to make money unless you’re extraordinarily lucky (it’s something like playing the lottery) or extraordinarily good.

    "To gain a modicum of fame"
    certainly is in the minds of some. Anyone who has written an RPG has done something much more notable just play a game, or GM a game. But how much fame you get from this may be doubted. And keep in mind, designers are known more by the names of their games than by their own names.

    "For your friends to play" is praiseworthy, and probably related to the first reason that no existing game is good enough for you. Fortunately, if your game is just for friends, you can get away with notes rather than much-longer formally written rules.

    "To make a limited set of rules to use in conjunction with a board game design" is my reason, but has to be exceptionally unusual. My prototype rules are suitable for a limited campaign if a GM is available, but lack the myriad details of many rulesets.

    Designing a game can be a creative outlet. So many people have nothing in their lives that appears to be creative, but no one can fail to see creativity in game design (though often there's much less than people think). Creativity, like destruction, helps people feel powerful and good about themselves. Sadly, destruction is much easier.

    We're also going to try something different, and offer a reader’s poll.

    Topic for comment: If you've tried to design/write an RPG, what were your reasons, and how far along did you get?

    This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Lew was Contributing Editor to Dragon, White Dwarf, and Space Gamer magazines and contributed monsters to TSR's original Fiend Folio, including the Elemental Princes of Evil, denzelian, and poltergeist. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!

  2. #2
    Lama (Lvl 13)

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    Feb 2015
    Renton, Washington, United States
    I've attempted two, but only finished one.

    The first one was a 12-15 page project for a Lit class back in high school. Instead of writing a typical paper about MacBeth, we created a rather violent d10 (not 100) game based on the play. There was very little magic, and that was all rituals. I don't remember the rest, because it was 27 years ago. I just know that we rolled to hit and location at the same time. There were parry rules. Combat was generally fatal, which meant that the scheming and plotting were the best way to achieve goals.

    The other was with that same partner. In some ways it was like GURPs in that it tried to do everything. The tone was a bit grittier and we attempted a bunch of stuff that would look archaic and stupid now. That ended when I joined the Army and he joined a cult (at least that's what other people told me. I haven't seen him since.)
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  3. #3
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    May 2004
    Planet Alcatraz & D/FW
    I wrote one. It was bad.*

    I’m sure I could do a decent one nowadays, but I don’t see the need.

    * it was better than my “Magic vs Tech” war game, though. (Maybe.)

  4. #4
    Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)

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    Twin Cities, MN, USA
    Back in high school in the mid-80s it seems we all did. One of my friends did a good job, but most of us did a poor job.

    My problem at that time was that I spent my summers on Student Conservation Association projects, living in the middle of the wilderness with a small group, either living out of our backpacks or from a camp that was supplied by rangers who brought in supplies by llama. This made me annoyed by how wilderness travel was handled in D&D and made me annoying with my "realistic" home brew and my penchant for throwing in lots of wilderness survival challenges into my campaigns.

    Also, this was still 1e days, so even the games we made from scratch in other genres involved lots and lots of tables, which often cross-referenced other tables.

    I've had much better luck with a couple miniature war games. But the only thing I published were articles adding to existing games or short adventures. I'd like to write more, but it is hard to make the time and the money certainly isn't worth it. If I try publishing anything at this stage in my life it is only for the validation that someone else found it good enough to throw a few bucks my way.
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  5. #5
    Greater Elemental (Lvl 23)

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    San Diego
    Interesting. In twelve hours, nobody who answered the poll has denied trying to write one.

  6. #6
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

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    Apr 2014
    I did one because someone asked me.

  7. #7
    Greater Elemental (Lvl 23)

    Blue's Avatar

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    Cedar Grove, NJ 07009
    Created several, in various stages of completion. The first being back in '82 when I wasn't even a teen making "Heroes & Hydras" (derivative much?) - what now people would call a Fantasy Heartbreak.

    Which is a motivation of a lot. "I can do this, but BETTER." Regardless if you intend to publish or not. Competing with D&D in the marketplace was the last thing I was thinking about at that age.

    I've done several over the years, though rarely got beyond the "limited playtest" stage and many others not even reaching that point.

    Right now I have two perpetual ongoing projects - one an outlet for my narrative ideas, and one a crunchy one with different modules for genres and specific settings. I find that if I have specific rules, I really want them to actively bring home the flavor, not just allow it, so having setting specific rules is important for my crunchy RPG design endeavors.

    As a side note, I have taken base mechanics from the crunchy one, upped the crunch while streamlining out resolving creative actions and made a Battletech-like wargame.

  8. #8
    Time Agent (Lvl 24)

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    Jun 2002
    Colombus, OH
    I can remember at least two that I started on but never finished, which in retrospect was probably a good thing for the world. One was a fantasy heartbreaker with a rules set that was probably better suited for a computer program than play at the table (every attack did multiple kinds of sorts of damage, mitigated separately by corresponding defenses), and another was intended as rules for a Dune RPG that was sort of a hybrid of WEG D6 and the White Wolf Storyteller system.

    I have finished a rules set called SIPS which I wrote when my daughters were like 5 as a rules light game to play with them. There is a mostly complete supplement called, "SIPS for Hogwarts", which gives a less free form skill list, and tacks on to the game a somewhat elaborate magical system (replacing the very simple 'superpower' rules of SIPS) meant to simulate the process of a student slowly learning magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

    I also have an ever evolving house rules document for 3e D&D that is about as different from 3.0e D&D as Pathfinder is from 3.5e D&D, and which (now that I've played pathfinder) is likely to adopt at least a couple rule changes I've seen in the Pathfinder rules in some hypothetical future version.

  9. #9
    Lama (Lvl 13)

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    Jan 2002
    I remember two, back in my junior high/high school days. The first was a combat game using our youngest brother's G.I. Joes. (These were still the big ones, before the smaller set that came out with the comic book and cartoon.) We used d6s to determine hit locations and hit points and devised rules for what so much damage in one area meant: slower movement rate for so much leg damage, attack penalties for having to shoot with your off hand, etc. We used a measuring tape to determine how far the G.I Joes could move and the "board" was various rooms in our house, explained away as different types of terrain. (The sofa was a cliff, for example.) We had to keep making up rules on the fly as they came up (like how one went about climbing a sheer cliff, for example).

    The other one was basically a series of Iron Man-type combat armor heroes entering a deathtrap - like something Arcade would come up with, or the X-Men's Danger Room. One guy would design the deathtrap and the other would run his armored hero through it. Half the fun was designing the combat armor - I remember we had built a list of possible components (boot jets, weapons, defenses, sensors, etc.) with a point-buy system and in lieu of XP you got more points to spend to upgrade your armor if you made it through a deathtrap.

    I don't think we ever bothered to name either of these games, but they served their purpose in any case: keep us amused during the summers. Eventually we got D&D and Gamma World (and later on, Champions) and no longer felt the need to come up with our own games.


  10. #10
    Time Agent (Lvl 24)

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    Mar 2005
    Victoria BC
    Not sure how to answer the poll - I've never done one right from scratch but the amount of damage I've/we've done to the 1e D&D system over the years has our game system almost to the point of being its own standalone thing, though still derivative. Where does this fit in the poll spectrom?
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