How best to structure your own RPG? It’s not a new dilemma. Back in the day games publishers always sought to innovate, whether that be a relatively small change, like adding spell points to a D&D chassis, or something more fundamental, like dispensing with class and level entirely, making skills more central to the game. Turning over the box or book of a game in the 80s you would usually see an excited description of the unique innovations within; no alignment! Personalised magic! Just d6s! Play an animal! Be evil!
Later, publishers hit upon the notion of a core system that could power multiple games. The next step was to open up that system for others to play with, in the hope that eventually there might be one game system to rule them all. D20 looked like it might actually achieve that at one point, but soon enough other companies followed suit. Now there are dozens of open games systems that the nascent publisher can use to boost their ideas into reality.
As a first step for me and my homebrewed game, I had to decide which route to take. Early on it became clear to me that my best system ideas were built on the shoulders of games I’d played over the years. Like many gamers I have binders full of house rules and other things I had done to tinker with my engine of choice. I had fewer ideas about systems built from the ground up. My decision was clear; I was going to work with an open gaming template.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about pre-existing mechanics is the mental space it gives you to apply your creativity to the things outside of the rules. The story, the flavour, the setting and the presentation. These are the parts of the game where the adjectives come to life. The rule themselves are merely the nuts and bolts, that’s why they call them mechanics.
Having made that decision, the harder decision presented itself; which licence to go with? Wizards of the Coast supplied the hobby with the OGL back in 200O, and that’s powered so many other options. In the end I wanted to stay close to fantasy, and my favourite relation in the D&D family has long been 13th Age. This game has its own SRD, called the Archmage Engine, and it’s one I'm more than passingly familiar with. So, that has become the skeleton of my system.
Staying true to that choice hasn’t always been easy. Every time I pick up a new game I find something interesting that I want to paste into my work. I love the downtime activities in Blades in the Dark. I love the equipment packages in Into the Odd. It’s easy to get distracted and end up with a game burdened like the mule in Buckaroo. Must resist!
So with the SRD in one window, and a blank doc in another, it was time to bring it all to life.