Developing an Tabletop RPG


Last weekend I announced that I’ve made the decision to write my own tabletop RPG.   This week I’m going to talk a little about what I have in mind.

First off, what is a table top RPG?

Simple answer, its a role playing game played by a group using paper, pencils, and dice sitting at a table.  Its a way of telling a story, as a group, with rules and guidelines as to what can happen.  Each player assumes a the role of a fiction character and one person acts as a sort of director called the Game Master (or GM for short).  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say…

Tabletop and pen-and-paper (PnP) RPGs are conducted through discussion in a small social gathering. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes. Some outcomes are determined by the game system, and some are chosen by the GM.

This is the format in which role-playing games were first popularized. The first commercially available RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), was inspired by fantasy literature and the wargaming hobby and was published in 1974. The popularity of D&D led to the birth of the tabletop role-playing game industry, which publishes games with many different themes, rules, and styles of play.

This format is often referred to simply as a role-playing game. To distinguish this form of RPG from other formats, the retronymstabletop role-playing game or pen and paper role-playing game are sometimes used, though neither a table nor pen and paper are strictly necessary.

So now you know what a RPG or role playing game is.  Dungeons and Dragons was a fantasy genre game, but RPGs can cover all of the same genre’s that literature, movies, etc. does.  Which brings me to my next question.

What genre RPG do I intend to write?

Role playing games can and do come in any genre you can think of.  Some mix elements of more than one.  As I began outlining the kind of game I wanted to create I started listing genre’s that particularly interest me.  That turned out to be quite a list.  It ended up including things like…

Turned out to be quite a list, though with some common themes.  From that I began thinking about the specific kind of setting I might want and what I wanted to include off that list.  I quickly realized that my ideal setting and rules system would have to support a genre mash-up.  That is a mix of a many different genre’s.

In the main I want to write a space science fiction with strong elements of Space Western and Planetary Romance.  But I also like the idea of exploring Cyberpunk and Transhuman themes, and even post Transhuman / Cyberpunk.  I like an element of Dystopian future thrown in there (I don’t think the future is going to be some perfect paradise), but not too much as I don’t believe the future will be all dark.  Something of a mix of good and bad.  Add a little Horror and a little Fantasy to season and that should be about right.

In all of this I also realized I needed to give thought to the kind of rules system I wanted to create.  That line of thought soon led to the conclusion I might be best developing my rule / game mechanics and the setting parallel but independent of each other.  That is, the setting would be written to use my rules system but could be used with others.  Likewise, the rules would certainly work with the setting, but could support other settings written by me in the future or settings written by others.

What kind of Game Mechanic do I intend to use?

For those that don’t know, a game mechanic refers to the core system of math and dice used to determine the outcome of various actions, choices and events in a role playing game.  There are many kinds of systems in use.  The d20 system was made popular by Dungeon’s & Dragons.  Traveller uses 2d6 (read as two die or “dee” six, meaning roll 2 six sided dice and add the result of each die together to generate a random number from 2 to 12).  GURPS uses 3d6 while games like Shadowrun use “dice pools” of 5 or 10 or as many as 20 d6 rolled but each result is handled individually to as “hits”.

For me personally, I prefer a d100 or “percentile” system where you roll two ten sided dice where one die represents the 10s and other the 1s giving a result from 00 to 99 (or 1 to 100, depending on whether you read the 00 result as zero or 100).  One advantage of a percentile system, in my opinion, is that modifiers to actions can be a little easier to estimate since they are a straight percentage chance adjustment.   Taking your time when performing an action might be a 10% or 20% bonus, being hasty might cause a similar penalty, as one simple example.

I’ve already worked out a percentile system for my skill checks.  Taking the basic concept of skills being given a percentage rating with various modifiers increasing or decreasing that chance, simple an easy to understand.  To that I’m adding my own “twist” to the system and the results but I think I’ll keep that under wraps for now.  I don’t want to give too much away (considering I haven’t file a copyright on anything yet).

I also have a very basic start on a combat system, attributes and a number of other things.  The initial foundations of the game system are already starting to take shape but there is so much left to do yet.

How long will this project take?

I’m working on this alone, doing all the writing myself.  Since I’m also an artist and illustrator, I’ll probably end up doing my own art as well.  The good news is that means I won’t really need a budget to work on this.  The bad news is that means it will take more time.  I would expect this project to take 2-3 years minimum and quite possibly longer.  That’s just being realistic.  To write a complete game system, test it, as well as write a complete setting, and also do the artwork is a huge undertaking for one person.  But this is something I’m doing, at least for now, more as a labor of love than trying to meet a publishing dead-line.  I do intend to publish when its ready and that means doing a professional job, paying attention to gaming trends and what people consider playable (and not just what I necessarily would want).  But the short explanation is, it’ll be ready when its ready.

Plus I have to balance my time on this between doing 3D models and graphics projects to pay the bills.  I’m gonna be a busy guy!  That’s it for this week, and remember… do something creative!


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