Your TTRPG Design Principles?


My youngest son and I have written some home RPG rules that we are using in our current campaign. The organization is a train wreck, much of the game is derivative, and in short it's a glorious mess. But, we are having a lot of fun.

We came up with some design principles for our game:

1. Character creation should be simple.
2. The experience system should create lots of hard and interesting choices for characters. It should be far more complicated than character creation.
The idea behind the first 2 goals was to create something that is simple to learn, but increases with complexity as you play it - much like chess or bridge.
3. The magic system should not be predictable and have an element of danger for the user.
4. Heavily skill-based game.
5. Use percentiles, (I know this is a dealbreaker for lots of folks), so that players can quickly ascertain their chance of accomplishing something.

I am not asking for you opinion on our design goals - although you are certainly welcome to do so.

I am more interested in what your design principles for a TTRPG would be?

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1. Challenges should offer a progression in kind, not just in scaling. You should need to employee different abilities in different ways as characters progress.
2. Rolling dice isn't interesting; the interesting portion is the risk management decision making.
3. Skills should be objective; they should provide specific mechanical interactions with listed, knowable breakpoints that players can use in their decision making.
4. Adjudication of a unknown mechanic is a failure state, not a norm. Most action declarations should be parsable, and if they aren't, the GM should be able (and strive to) find an analogous mechanic to use.


1. Roleplaying Games are about players trying to make the best choices they can in a given situation and then having to deal with whatever the consequences if their actions turn out to be. RPGs are not a tool to let the GM present an already completed story. Any RPG that aims for that fails the most basic requirement for being an RPG.

2. Players should as much as possible approach any challenge by thinking what a person in that situation might plausibly do. Players should never be put into a situation where the solution to a challenge becomes a math problem that can be calculated.

3. Therefore, a game should not have points that are generated for doing certain things, which then later can be used to increase the chances of a die roll.

4. To be an actual game and not just a freeform activity (which I guess is fine for people who want that), an RPG needs structures and procedures. You need to have some kind of gameplay loop, and the ability for players to work towards making progress towards the goal of the game.

5. Temporary, situational modifiers to dice rolls are bad. You just keep forgetting to apply them half the time. If something provides a modifier to dice rolls, it should be permanent so that you can include it in whatever ability modifier is written on the character sheet.


My youngest son and I have written some home RPG rules that we are using in our current campaign. The organization is a train wreck, much of the game is derivative, and in short it's a glorious mess. But, we are having a lot of fun.
That's #1.

My other ones:
  • Be willing to let your sacred cows and darlings lie on the cutting room floor
  • Have as many 3rd eyes on your work as possible, because they aren't in your head, and some things that seem obvious to you might not be for them.
  • Use editors
  • Fun over realism
Everything else depends on the type of game you're creating and the target audience.


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
For simplification i'll post with a fantasy heartbreaker in mind;
Im a believer in Bounded Accuracy.
I prefer MAD over SAD design (but believe strongly you need to pick and not have both!)
Advancement entirely baked into character progression, not into magic items.
Skill system is better when its options are wide and deep, also interacted with each level,


Guide of Modos
Well, it's been a while, but I started and possibly ended with some ideas like these:

  • Simplify. If there's a simpler way to do it, or a rule can be thrown out, do it.
  • Get modular. Taking a rule out (as above) shouldn't cripple other parts of the game.
  • Get symmetrical. PCs make similar rolls to the GM's. Character attributes act in similar ways, and have similar numbers of related skills.
  • Leave room for creativity. Gear, powers, attacks, and hero points are just some of the things that players can make into what they would expect for their characters, not what the rule book says they must be.
  • Lay it out there. Rules should be easy to find and understand. One that isn't is one that will be misused or ignored.


Here are the broad strokes I'm going for when tinkering with rules and settings. Some of it is subjective but as far as the complexity of game rules, consider D&D 5e verging on the "too complex" side of things.

  • The game should be fair and offer comparable options between player-characters, but does not need to be symmetrical (with NPC/monsters/creatures).
  • Options should be significant with relatively immediate effects, even if it means fewer of them. Archetypes and some level of niche protection are fine, but no character path that needs planning from level 1 (so to speak).
  • The rules and setting should go hand in hand and be focused enough to give clear indication on the intended play, but versatile enough to allow players a panoply of options within those themes.
  • The rules should offer enough mechanical intricacies to allow some tactical options and system mastery, but not as many as to drown the player in paralysis or ineptitude.
  • A quick look at the character sheet should give you a good idea of the game's options and possibilities as a (player) character.
  • The game needs to be easily manageable for players and GM. The more you can do with as little dice rolls, the better. The more you can read out of a single dice roll, the better.
  • Player-character should have the tools to contribute equally in most situations. Degrees of expertise is wanted, but no situations where only one player is having all the fun (looking at you space combat).
  • And obviously, the game must be fun first and before all.
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Victoria Rules
I don't know how multi-quote works on these boards; if I did, I could pick and choose about a dozen principles from the above 8 posts to make my own list - I think every one of you has something I'd fully endorse, and you each also hit something I'd not want to use. :)

So, cribbing from the above posts in some cases:

--- character generation has to be simple. 15 minutes, tops, to get it table-playable; fine-tuned details can be filled in later.
--- character generation involves a moderate-to-high degree of randomness, players should be encouraged to come up with character concepts after seeing what the dice say, not before.
--- character options (playable classes, species, etc.) need to be clearly laid out, along with the relative benefits and drawbacks of each.
--- gating some of those options behind roll requirements etc. to enforce rarity is acceptable
--- general principle: no benefit without an associated drawback, and vice-versa.
--- exceprience and-or advancement is a reward for what the character does, not the player
--- no metacurrencies (e.g. 5e's inspiration, luck, etc.) that allow a player to overrule or retry a die roll after the result of the first roll is known
--- the magic system should be powerful, but sometimes have risks attached both for the caster and anyone nearby (hat-tip @pogre )
--- players should as much as possible approach any challenge by thinking what a person in that situation might plausibly do. (hat-tip @Yora )
--- get modular. Taking a rule out [or changing or adding a rule] shouldn't cripple other parts of the game. (hat-tip @GMMichael )
--- even if there's a best-playable or "sweet spot" range of character levels, make the design open-ended; i.e. no hard cap on level or progession.
--- design the zero end of the game as well as the hero end and let each table decide what part(s) of that they want to play.
--- PCs and NPCs are mechanically the same - a PC is generally representative of its class and species in the greater setting.
--- short-term balance between characters is a fool's errand, long-term balance is a worthy goal.
--- players have to know up front that bad things (including but by no means limited to character death) can and will happen to every character at some point, and the game has to be able to follow through on that threat.
--- the game needs to provide means to overcome or reverse those bad things, at some sort of major in-character cost or long-term penalty.

Well, that's a longer list than I expected. :)

The Soloist

  • Simple yet not simplistic
  • Magic uses a pool of points (does not harm the wizard)
  • Armor blocks damage
  • Rules designed for the genre you are trying to emulate (as imposed to generic rules applied to any genre.)
  • Skill-based, no classes
  • Experience awards based on actual play
  • Make monsters less predictable somehow.
  • Lethal yet forgiving.

I tried to design such a game and then I received my Dragonbane box set.

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