Peregrine’s Nest: Facing Down the Blank Page

Want to make your own RPG? You have to start somewhere, and facing down the blank page is just the beginning.

Want to make your own RPG? You have to start somewhere, and facing down the blank page is just the beginning.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Is Your Idea Useful?​

So, it’s just you and a blank word document and a head full of ideas. Before you dive in, do an internet search or look at your own games library. Ask yourself if your game is really new. The more games you know the better. If your game isn’t that different, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it. But you might consider making it a supplement to an existing game.

Too many nascent designers have only ever played D&D and often work on a game they think is massively new but is only really an amendment of D&D. If you’re a D&D fan, consider instead making it an Open Game License (OGL) setting book for a new D&D world, with a few tweaks to the rules here and there. There is a wealth of open systems beyond the OGL, from Savage Worlds to 2D20 to BRP and many more. Each is a tried and tested system you know will work and comes with a fanbase looking for more stuff.

Be Ready to Do the Work​

This is the big one. To make a game is work, often hard work. Don’t believe what you see on television: Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote seems to just run off a book every weekend; Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City makes a great income by just writing for an hour or so at the end of the week. It is easy to imagine that being a writer means waiting for the muse to strike, and then being just a conduit and the spirits guide your willing fingers on a typewriter as the game flows through you.

But for most of us, that’s simply not reality. The blank page is just as intimidating to experienced writers as novices. Don’t wait for the muse (it only appears when you’re not looking anyway) and just get something on the page. Just force yourself to get something down. You can always rewrite and edit afterwards, and at least you will have taken a few steps forward. If you are finding it hard it doesn’t mean you aren’t good at it, just keep going. That said, there are some days it’s just not going to happen, and it is fine to not write a word on those days. But part of the skill is recognising when you need to give yourself a push, and when you need to go for a walk instead.

To give you an idea of the scope of a typical project, an adventure is around 5,000 words, a small game book around 50,000 words and twice that for an average core book. You need to be prepared for that, and the time it will take. It is a marathon, not a sprint. But the good news is that (at this point) you don’t have a deadline. If you just get a little done as often as you can, you’ll make excellent progress.

Playtest with Someone Else​

While you can never have enough playtesting (and you can start as soon as you have any rough notes) you also need to know when to stop and get the game out there. Otherwise you will never finish. If all goes well you can do a new edition a few years later, or just apply what you have learned to your next game.

But one thing you should do is pass the game to someone who has never seen it or heard you talk about it and see if they can make it work. You might run it for your group and it all looks good. But you already know the game, and it will also suit your style of play. Every gaming group is a little different, even playing the same game. So see how it works for someone else, without your guidance. That is what is going to happen when you sell it after all!

While some playtest results will be hard to hear, you also need to listen to them. You don’t do a playtest just to hear how great your game is. Find people who don’t like it and listen to what they say. They may have a valuable insight. They may also just be an idiot too though. Learn the difference and listen to all your critics. But it is your call what you do about any adjustments.

Learn how to filter what the testing is telling you. When we playtested Dune: Adventures in the Imperium one of the main criticisms we received from the beta test was that the system of Drives didn’t work. It didn’t make sense and people didn’t like it. But we were also playtesting the game at conventions with the excellent Wrecking Crew. Their main reports were that people loved the Drives system! So what that told us was that people would like it, but we needed to explain it much better than we had already.

You’re On Your Own…​

Generally speaking, few major publishers are interested in taking on new games by new writers. They already have a series of game lines they are trying to support and are probably massively overstretched anyway. What they absolutely don’t want is “more ideas” either. Ideas are easy, and every game writer has at least 5-10 games in their head they’ve never had time to make. Only a fully fleshed out game is worth looking at. For the most part, you’re on your own.

But let’s assume you are lucky enough to interest a game company in your game. They will likely have notes. Sometimes it will be things their experience tells them need to be changed because they don’t work. But other times it will be to fit the style of games they make. To get your game made by someone else, you will have to be prepared to let them have creative input. Being prepared to give up the reins of your game to a third party is a compromise not every creative is willing to make, so consider carefully how you might take criticism or feedback on your game.

That said, there is a middle way in which publishers can help, and that is by taking you on as a “third-party publisher.” You will still have to make and produce the game, to the point it is ready to go to a professional printer, but they can take it from there. A third-party agreement is great for a small indie designer as the publisher will help you out, get the game printed, distributed into shops, and advise you on what you need to get the right sort of print files ready. Not only this, but they will get your game into larger distribution channels. While they’ll take a cut of your profits, your game will make much more money and have greater reach than if you just tried to sell it on your own.

…But You’re Not Alone​

In the early days of tabletop role-playing games, there were few resources for game developers to get started. That’s changed for the better: There is now an array of indie game designer meetups, forums, and community support available to a new game writer starting out. They are full of people a little ahead of you on the path who can warn you of the pitfalls and offer advice. Get as much advice as you can, and then apply and adjust your game and your plans the way you think works best. There is nothing like producing a game you love, so make sure you still love your game by the time you get to printing it. You won’t please everyone, so make the game works for you.

New Year, New Game​

If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution to finally get that game started, now’s your chance. While this might all sound like hard work (it is) it is worth it. There is nothing like the feeling of holding a book you have made in your hands. It never gets old. There is also nothing like seeing people do amazing things with your work, play great games and add the most incredible things you’d never have thought of. The journey may be hard, and you should be prepared for that, but it is worth every step.

Your Turn: What are you tips to get your game development started?
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

I think its important to note there is a great chance you are never going to make any money. Do it because you want to share your creation.

When 4e came out it wasn't for me so I started tinkering with rules. I tstarted running campaign with my home brew system and so codified the rules over the next few years. I did it for myself and to make it easier for my players I created a decent looking rules book.

I sunk hours into it, and we enjoyed multi year campaign with it. I am glad I did it but I never had expectations that it's the next big thing. Even to generate a little interest I would have needed to market it and promote it, money that most likely would not have seen a return.


Still I am glad I did it. Even if everyone (including me) moved to 5e. I still have my very unique version of D&D in a neat 32 page package.
 

dragoner

KosmicRPG.com
Too many nascent designers have only ever played D&D and often work on a game they think is massively new but is only really an amendment of D&D. If you’re a D&D fan, consider instead making it an Open Game License (OGL) setting book for a new D&D world, with a few tweaks to the rules here and there. There is a wealth of open systems beyond the OGL, from Savage Worlds to 2D20 to BRP and many more. Each is a tried and tested system you know will work and comes with a fanbase looking for more stuff.
I have to say this sort of violates the "write what you know" creed.
 

Corone

Adventurer
I have to say this sort of violates the "write what you know" creed.
Not entirely. "Write what you know" is much broader than people usually think. You know games, you know what a character needs to be fun to play, those things go beyond system. There is space for more D&D style games I'm sure, but not much. I'd argue most people who want a D&D like game are playing D&D or Pathfinder already.

That being said, write what you want to write, and what you want to play. But it never hurts to have a wide experience of as many games as you can find.
 

dragoner

KosmicRPG.com
Not entirely. "Write what you know" is much broader than people usually think. You know games, you know what a character needs to be fun to play, those things go beyond system. There is space for more D&D style games I'm sure, but not much. I'd argue most people who want a D&D like game are playing D&D or Pathfinder already.

That being said, write what you want to write, and what you want to play. But it never hurts to have a wide experience of as many games as you can find.
That is why I said sort of. Though in an interview the other day, someone in the audience asked why did I write Kosmic for Cepheus Engine, and not Year Zero or another system, and I simply replied I know Cepheus, I don't know that other system, I have not played it. The idea of going through years playing another system to learn it is daunting a bit, at that point I think it might be better to create a whole new bespoke system.
 

Corone

Adventurer
That is why I said sort of. Though in an interview the other day, someone in the audience asked why did I write Kosmic for Cepheus Engine, and not Year Zero or another system, and I simply replied I know Cepheus, I don't know that other system, I have not played it. The idea of going through years playing another system to learn it is daunting a bit, at that point I think it might be better to create a whole new bespoke system.
Very much agree. A system you know well and have available is a good one to pick.
If you do hear of one you don't know that would suit your needs it is always worth a look as you may get some useful ideas even if you can't do a deep dive. But usually no one ever tells you about said system until after you've already written your game!
Sadly whatever you pick there will always be someone insisting you should have used their favourite instead! :)
 

dragoner

KosmicRPG.com
Very much agree. A system you know well and have available is a good one to pick.
If you do hear of one you don't know that would suit your needs it is always worth a look as you may get some useful ideas even if you can't do a deep dive. But usually no one ever tells you about said system until after you've already written your game!
Sadly whatever you pick there will always be someone insisting you should have used their favourite instead! :)
I agree. One can convert as well, I took Caverns of Thracia, and converted it to Mythras, played it that way, it wasn't difficult.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I have to say this sort of violates the "write what you know" creed.
That generally applies to fiction. And the bit people always overlook about that is it refers to humans. You know humans, so write humans. Complex people with rich emotional lives. Even if they're aliens from another planet or bug-eyed monsters. You can find the human in just about anything and write that. You don't need to be a world-class detective in real life to write about world-class detectives in fiction, for example.
 

dragoner

KosmicRPG.com
That generally applies to fiction. And the bit people always overlook about that is it refers to humans. You know humans, so write humans. Complex people with rich emotional lives. Even if they're aliens from another planet or bug-eyed monsters. You can find the human in just about anything and write that. You don't need to be a world-class detective in real life to write about world-class detectives in fiction, for example.
True, though if all you know is 5e, you should write about that. Given the thin margin of success, that would be where you will get the best traction. Like I mentioned adding talents to m-space over at brp central and people were enraged, those are feats! Some people loved them and thanked me though.
 

Jellybeanz

Villager
"50,000 words and twice that for an average core book" is a joke. The whole point of indie TTRPGs is that they're not going to do what D&D/Pathfinder does, and certainly streamline their rules for approachability. Honestly I took one look at 2E Pathfinder's length and said I'm absolutely not dealing with that.

A good, modern tabletop trying to explore something new should be maybe 25k words/50 pages. 100 pages is generous if they're putting everything in a single book instead of separating them by type (GM things/player things). D&D has such a stranglehold on people's idea of what a good tabletop will look like that advice like this always reads, "you need to have a HUGE book. You need to have 100,000 rules". It doesn't need to be a 2-stat system, but not every book needs to be a monster. As this article even suggests, don't try to be D&D if you want to create a new game. But then why would I want to fill 322 pages (5e PHB including spells)? WOTC can get away with a 300 page book but an unknown showing up with their hot new game is NOT going to grab new players when you hand them a textbook.
 

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