Have you ever written a standalone set of RPG rules?

Have you ever written a standalone set of RPG rules?

  • No, never tried

    Votes: 28 19.3%
  • No, I tried but did not complete

    Votes: 20 13.8%
  • In the process of doing so

    Votes: 24 16.6%
  • Yes, but only for my own use

    Votes: 49 33.8%
  • Yes, and tried but failed (so far) to get it published

    Votes: 4 2.8%
  • Yes, and self-published it (e.g. via Kickstarter)

    Votes: 16 11.0%
  • Yes, and it has been published by a conventional publisher

    Votes: 4 2.8%

  • Total voters


Community Supporter
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.
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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!

bedir than

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.)


Staff member
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.)


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.


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.


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.



Victoria Rules
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?


Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
A couple friends and I started to create one in college, with "realistic combat options." Two hours into the first playtest we all agreed "this sucks" and shut it down.


i pretty heavily houserule just about every system i use but I've only written one complete from scratch. It was for a very specific campaign I'd had in mind for a while that was set in a colonial era and focused on the dangers of fairy tales and other folklore being real but in a generally real world. Magic wasnt something for humans, meddling with it was very dangerous, generally forbidden and at best only resulted in simple charms. Studying the power though could result in being able to channel into effects on the users own physical form, some permanent and deliberate, others temporary or accidental.

Nothing I found on the market really matched the feel I wanted or those ideas so I wrote my own. Never tried to publish it though.


I have, over the last 20ish years probably written an easy dozen stand alone rpgs. The majority of them were done as one shot adventures built around either a Twilight Zone-ish story I had in my head, or pieced together around a mechanic I thought was fun. In college these were done as beginning and end of the year 'welcome back' and 'bon voyage' kinds of games, though I'd run them again for other groups over the course of the year. Later, they were done as games I'd run for friends and family when I went back home for the holidays.

I had had plans on compiling them into a book and getting them published, though I never chased after that at all. I'd want to overhaul most of them quite a bit if I were to run any of them again. My philosophies of design have changed quite drastically over the last decade or so.

There are also probably about an equal number of half started ideas in the box with all the unfinished board and card games I've made.


Registered Ninja
I've designed a couple and self-published.

The first, Abstract Dungeon, was very much because I had an idea that I didn't see existing anywhere else. I wanted something that could handle conflicts fast to keep fights from bogging down the story, and I ended up using a resource spending mechanics. It makes the game very fast, flexible, and naritive driven, but sacrfices thigns like tactical combat and rules granularity.

The second, Magical Kitties Save the Day, I originally self published, but it's now been taken over by Atlas Games. That I made because I wanted to make something that kids could easily grasp, but that would be fun for all ages. Also it has cats with magic powers that fight evil.

Interesting. In twelve hours, nobody who answered the poll has denied trying to write one.
This is why forum polls should not be trusted as representing the general population. I be that most people who have not designed a game just ignored this thread.


This is why forum polls should not be trusted as representing the general population. I bet that most people who have not designed a game just ignored this thread.
I would bet that this thread is fairly representative of this forum, but that the forum population is naturally skewed toward designers rather than the general population.


Made a separate one once, looked at it a couple of more times. No commercial aspirations so mostly I mod / homebrew existing systems. Extensively :)


I would bet that this thread is fairly representative of this forum, but that the forum population is naturally skewed toward designers rather than the general population.
Yeah, it’s like going to a forum devoted to classic roadsters and asking how many people have tried to restore one. :)
The reason I create games - which is not in your list - is for the challenge of doing so.

The pencil, paper, dice rpg is basically a design challenge. You have very limited resources and yet a lofty goal: create a game which is better than D&D - faster, more realistic, and more engaging - without simply recreating D&D. It's a bit like playing Jenga where each rule is a block you add to the stack and then to slim the system down you remove what you can, all hopefully without causing the system to crash.

It's also a good way to get inside the mechanics of a game, to understand why one system would do initiative one way while another system does it in a completely different way. Unfortunately, there is that necessary slimness that a game needs to have which doesn't allow for the designer to stick in notes about why things are the way they are. If you can't just ask them directly then the best way to get to these answers is to take the game apart, largely by building something similar to it.

I am one of the "Yes, but only for my own use" types. I have built and trashed at least a dozen systems since 1993, having never done anything but some meager playtesting with a close group of friends who really would have rather been playing something else (but hey - favors). The reason I've never ventured past that point are all the other reasons mentioned in the post. The frosting of images and layout costs money which will probably not be returned by sales. The fame that comes from being a game designer is dubious in certain circles. And - on top of it all - you have to contend with the herd mentality which only wants to play what everyone else is playing, which right now is D&D.

To sum it all up. This may sound strange but I do it for fun and while I will not give away my fun work for free, the fun generally stops at the point where designing a game becomes a business. There are better businesses one can be involved in.
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When I was younger, I tried to make my own, a post-apocalyptic RPG in the tradition of Mad Max (this was in the 80s and well pre-Fallout influence.) I did not get very far past ability scores and basic combat before I realized I was re-creating D&D and stopped. :) I have kit-bashed the hell out of everything from combat sub-systems, new classes, new ability scores, new magic systems, etc. to the volume of creating a new RPG, just with subsystems rather than an all-new work. To be honest by this point in my life there already exists an RPG for my every need, it’s a waste of my and my friends’ time for me to get that involved with a whole-cloth effort.