Author's Note: Part 2 is now up! To read it, click here: (Part 2) More coming soon!
In this first in a series of glances at how to make your own pen and paper RPG system, we’ll look at the foundational aspects that need to be undertaken and considered before diving headlong into the creative process. Consider the following aspects of creation carefully as you progress into your project and make your own interactive contribution to the world of creativity and storytelling as it unfolds around you, but most of all remember that the most interesting and celebrated RPGs are those that push the boundaries, ignore the rules, and do something wholly unlike anything that has ever come before.
- TTC: The Cygnus War
Weekly science fiction series upon which the Cygnus War ITSG is based.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when creating your own pen and paper RPG is the genre or setting that you want it to take place in. Remember, playing an RPG is essentially just a form of group storytelling– the system (aka the ruleset) is just there to keep everything on track. As with any story, you’ll want it to be based in a particular “world” or “universe” (preferably your own original one, if you’re going to sell it as product, but it’s okay to make an RPG system based off of other people’s universes if it’s just for use by yourself, your friends, and other fans of the work – just don’t sell it!) Do you want your game to take place in a high fantasy world (like D&D or Lord of the Rings,) in a science fiction setting (like Traveler or Cyberpunk 2020) or in some other kind of setting altogether? What is the mood you want to impart, the world you want to explore, the world you want to share with others and build for them to play in?
How complex do you want your system to be? Highly complex systems with massive sets of carefully plotted out rule sets usually yield a more realistic experience, but they also make for more rigid and more binding systems that can be hard to play if you’re constantly going back to the book to track down some obscure rule for say, Mace combat that doesn’t apply to automatic hammers, pickaxes or tasers. Generally, the simpler the RPG is, the easier it will be to play, but this isn’t true for everyone. Some people find more complex RPGs easier to play simply because they are more binding, and because a larger rule set ultimately provides more rule support, like an outside referee who calls fouls and reminds the players of the rules, providing defined options for every situation.(Whereas a simpler RPG that is made to be used as openly and freely as possible often still has many options, just not etched-in-stone definite ones with painted arrows pointing to them saying “You can do this too!”)
Complexity is also key when determining what kind of dice your system will be using. Fans of D&D and D20 system RPGs are often partial to systems that go the full gamut and use everything from two sided dice (basically a coin that is flipped) up to the massive number yields of the percentile dice, but there’s always been a movement and a fandom for systems that run off simple, supermarket-grade D6's (six sided dice). After all, if everyone forgets their dice bag at home, it’s often a lot easier to make a trip out to the grocery store than it is to take one out to the comic book store, and grocery stores often keep better hours anyway. (They can afford to.)
Stuck for ideas?
- Wednesday Writing Prompts I-IX
Nine different installments of weekly writing prompts
Determining the role that your players will fill in your RPG is another critical aspect to consider. Not all RPGs are hack-n-slash like Diablo or based entirely around gathering up all the money in the world and stuffing it into your ears– many RPGs take new paths altogether to keep the industry fresh and give players something new to run through. Consider the way games like Paranoia and Munchkin pit the players against one another and incorporate their own unique dynamics when it comes to goals and the way those goals are achieved. Call of Cthulhu plays off fears and the unstable nature of the human mind when faced with unworldly terrors, superhero RPGs are concerned with saving the day against all odds, RPGs that take political maneuvering as the finest point of strategy in the game require a keen mind and wholly different way of playing, just as blasting Zentradi in a Robotech campaign requires a wholly different way of playing than say, Game of Thrones. In order to make an RPG unique, to make it stand out and function as a game, it needs to have a driving role for the characters, preferably something fresh, original, and most importantly-- Fun!
Another important aspect of your game to consider is the medium through which it is played. For D&D, that’s pretty simple and straight forward– the DM has his module, his dice, his screen that blocks what he doesn’t want the players to see, and the players have their sheets and their dice. The game is played through the interactions between the DM and the players with the challenges and rewards of the DM’s module being put up against the skills, abilities and raw stats of the players’ character sheets (not to mention their wits and intelligence!) This is a pretty common and widely used approach when it comes to RPG systems, but it is by no means the only approach. In the game Deadlands, poker cards play a prominent role in play, in Enchantment to Fulfillment, Storm Constantine's Wraeththu RPG, dice are provided in the book through a creative random flip system (with dice listed at the top of the page.) In some Serenity games I’ve seen, players make “Equipment cards” that allow them to keep better track of what they pick up, what they’re carrying, and what they’re bringing to any given firefight (with the added advantage of making it look like they'e holding a hand of cards-- a great addition to the space western ambiance the series provides.) Some RPGs are played wholly with cards, some have boards and miniatures, and some have a prominent online or electronic component, often making it necessary to bring a laptop to a game. When it comes to this aspect, do what feels best to you, what you feel best adds to the ambiance of your game, and don’t spend too much time worrying about the complexity or number of materials unless the reduction of that is one of the key things you’re going for with your game.
Next up: Character Sheets!
MeganOliver on April 04, 2020:
twix on April 19, 2015:
Yes but how do you do the rules i have no idea where to start with the rules?!?!?! Please help
g.o.w (games of war) on May 21, 2012:
very helpful tanx im making my game survivor
Lord_Boofhead on September 30, 2011:
@katescottuk: Erk, Rollmaster? Do not speak its name!
But seriously any generic game has the problem of not doing anything well.
I liked the fact that the writer explained the most important step in designing an RPG is picking a setting and/or theme...
Aeglewaygate on September 03, 2011:
IRC RPing is such a retrospective platform, it's most difficult to find players. I even have to advertise through PBp means. XD
Kate on September 02, 2011:
This is a really great piece for beginners. I have a homebrew system of my own that I put on Scribed @ http://www.scribd.com/doc/63732736/Rogues-Manual so I can share it with my friends who live at a distance without sending multiple emails. I have to say it is a lot more fun than the standard games you can buy.
Aeglewaygate on June 24, 2011:
IRC MEDIVAL FANTASY RPG/DICE BOT: Aegle Waygate
IRC Server: irc.sorcery.net
#Aegle_Waygate, a Medieval Fantasy Roleplaying Game with a game system that'll put customization in the hands of each player. Aegle Waygate is dicebot and character-sheet enforced.
Aegle Waygate is an inspiration of two RPGs the co-creator and I once played, combined with additional flare and personal touches. Approximately 10 years of online, IRC RPing have granted us an appreciation for Medieval Fantasy freeform as well. Such freeform characters are always welcome.
Like the Owl's wrath stood towering peaks; the horizon rarely shown between drooping gorge o' swaging willow limbs and nestled in the establishment brilliantly from the roadside travelers eye. Far, far in distance does it exist out of the pleasantry of civilization. When merriment passed innocent lips and stilled them perpetually; only soon to rival a sense of belonging, drawling crowds of lurkers- by hearsay, they gathered here: Endow Moors Tavern, upon the thorn-thickened forest within Lavellan. 'Tis a dangerous place for the clandestine, yes, and they well know what costs it brings, although being a highly guarded expansion. No somber romantic story weaves the tapestries, or haunting from the past ordeals. Infact, it seems as nothingness, broken - Spring forgetting to bring splendorous aura amid the seasonal changing. Sea-dredged monuments, such as a lone statue, bearing the resemblance of an underlord God centers the Courtyard, inscribed beneath moss laden and eroded marble therein Gaelic tongue: "A'd acras adhlac" or "In thy hungers burial." Many who have translated keep the words to themselves, in fear of what the prophecy could bespeak, the otherlings too feared. The paths worn, mapped - word spreads almost as easily as the traditions themselves; in only the most shrouded of havens in attempts to bury myth.
Owner/ops: Sholin & Leilani
RPG: Dicebot, Character Sheet, Medieval Fantasy, customizable.
Site/game e-mail: Aeglewaygate@hotmail.com
superhero101 on May 27, 2011:
master pasta on April 13, 2011:
i like so totally love it i am going to make a space and fantasy rpg based solely on these instructions
Lin Poa from at the beach on March 01, 2011:
Nice idea, I used to play some RPG games on the PC a couple of years ago..
jig on February 11, 2011:
thanks for the info... iv been trying to find something like what you said for almost a year! lol thanx a lot
LOL : ) on December 28, 2010:
for the people who were asking where the second part is just click the bit that says "next up character sheets"
katescottuk from UK on December 04, 2010:
You can create your own RPG world with just a little imagination, however I would suggest you use a set of booklets called Rolemaster and Spellmaster to implement the rules of your universe (if you can get your hands on a copy, I bought my set way back in 1986 and have used them ever since). Google 'Rolemaster' or 'Iron Crown Enterprises' - Hope this helps!
Guide de jeux on October 29, 2010:
We expect the second part ? :D ...
teethgrit on October 11, 2010:
Thank you so much for posting this! I was having trouble deciding on how to make my rpg work out, system and everything, but this broke it down into nice, easy steps. Thus, the most daunting task, figuring out the dice system, was easily and almost readily accomplished, and I can finally move on to the rest of the game now that I have the basic points written down.
starlance from The Great Northwest on August 13, 2010:
Nice information. Creating your own gaming system can be daunting. I've tried a few time with friends with little to no luck--but always fun. At the most, we create worlds and places. An entire gaming system that is balanced has always just ended in overbalance/under-balanced characters and messy combats. I'd like to see more about how to make a system balanced. Great hub.
cybrim on August 11, 2010:
Well it didn't exactly have the information I am personally looking for as I have already decided everything listed here for my own game, basically I need to know the best and easiest format to present to users as far as character sheets go. I really enjoy a D10 system, it makes sense to me D6,D4,D8,D2 and D12 seem to have an accuracy issue with me and D20 doesn't really scream "my own" D100 is just too much calculation to be a play on the fly kind of game
sorm on August 11, 2010:
where is part 2???
flutflutflyer from Isshu on July 26, 2010:
Awesome! Thank you SO much. I'm in the progress of creating an RPG called "Noche" and I'm really glad that I read this!
starvagrant from Missouri on July 06, 2010:
Can't speak enough about the importance of flexibility/rigidness of rules. My GM had a knack for using the source material of a complex universe and mixing it with a different system for the sake of rules. (DND 2.0 based on Warhammer 40K mechanics
Chris on May 01, 2010:
This is great, but you should put an example of the end result of each of the tutorial parts. Since some people learn better by reading how to do it along with seeing the instructions being put together.
Apc107 on April 25, 2010:
The new name of the game is: project grid racing, and i have the cover art for it, 157 cars in the game, car parts only last a certain number of races, used and new parts ececpt used parts dont last as long as new parts, no car dmg, terran: city, open, desert, and ice. New! Racing days: only certain shops are open on certain days: used car parts shop, new car parts shop, used cars shop, new car shop, and Advantages(single race upgrades). New! A.I. options: simple and advanced
Apc107 on April 24, 2010:
Game modes: circuit(4-cars): normal race, lap knockout(4-cars): last place in each lap is out, stock race(4-cars): u have fuel and tire grip, u have to make a pit stop. One-on-one(2-cars): u give ur oppenent a head start and try to win, total laps(1-car): u try to finish a certain number of laps in a certain amunt of turns, time attack(1-car): try to pass the finish line in a record amount of turns, and death race(4-cars) there are 3 car classes with different hp,speed, and weapons, try to surive and get1st
Apc107 on April 24, 2010:
Im doing it! Its called advanced grid racers. It has rules for A.I., driving, turning, manuvering, and terrain. It has 10 tracks, Boston to U.S. speed ring, has over 150 events, has over 100 new and used cars, with custimaztion.
Apc107 on April 21, 2010:
And im talking deep. You know lots of cars that are different, terrain makes a diffence in tracks, racing events, used cars, etc. Like a real racing simulator
Apc107 on April 21, 2010:
Is it possible to make a solo, racing paper and pencil rpg?
GreyWolf79 on April 20, 2010:
I would like to see part 2. Part 1 is definitely a nice read and looks like it may help me on a project I am working on. Thank you for writing this.
sucker on March 08, 2010:
well, I think that you did okay, but my friend made a paper and pencil RPG att school one day, and It's a great game. He didn't need a guide, and I just made a noard game that is pretty good without reading this. How I got her you may ask, I typed in "How to make an RPG" Because I would like to make an awesome web RPG and I saw this and though it looked cool. seriously dude, don't waste tome telling people about it and make one yourself and show it to people, I just looked at this one article about how to make an RPG on powerpoint and maybe you should do that.
AD&D on February 23, 2010:
Where are the next chapters?!!??!!
MORE PLEASE!! :)
ash123 on February 19, 2010:
I also think this is useful because i make up begings for my games when i'm in the shower[makes me think batter].
L on February 04, 2010:
I found this vary useful VARY useful.
deltamonk from UK on January 14, 2010:
Nice article, some interesting points! I'm in the middle of my own project & just redoing character sheets now, it'll be interesting to see the next intallment!
Porshadoxus from the straight and narrow way on October 22, 2009:
I found it there. Thanx. I gues its the second or third edition of the rules, a bit different than what I was hunting. Still, reminds me of some good old days.
Earl S. Wynn (author) from California on October 15, 2009:
Which edition of Shadowrun are you looking for? Catalyst has a copy of the quick start rules on their page for fourth edition for free, I think. Definitely worth a check-out.
Porshadoxus from the straight and narrow way on October 15, 2009:
As a 5th grade teacher and longtime RPGer, I have begun using a homemade RPG to help explore ancient cultures. I borrowed the D6 system from WEG, but I find it a bit bulky. I have played the Shadowrun D6 system, which I thought made more sense, but now I can't find any documnetation on it, outside of buying a SR core book. Any suggestions where to find the ShadowRun D6 system for less $$?
Gerrosimo on October 09, 2009:
I've been writing a series of fantasy books for about nine years and i got the idea to make it into a huge rpg about 3 months ago. There are 11 books in the series (none of them are finished yet but they are about 1000 pages combined)and there is so much info that the DM will HAVE to have a laptop; there's about 40 documents (maps, lists, system rules...)so far and I've only started on one continent out of four. I'm looking for inspiration for a new system though...
gnibbles on August 30, 2009:
You mentioned creating a gaming "system". Will you be writing about how to come up with new mechanics, or modifying existing mechanics to suit a custom setting as well?
Tim2u on August 23, 2009:
I just checked this out on a hunch pretty cool,
Chris Marlowe II on August 20, 2009:
That's really nice, a RPG!... But This Is Not A Game where I am in!
Dangazzm on August 06, 2009:
who doesn't know what an RPG is? Just getting, but seriously this is a great guide and I'm going to make sure to use it with my friends the next weekend we have out together. Screw D&D a brand-new fantasy realm awaits us! Nerd talk.
Al Hawkes from Cornwall on June 17, 2009:
There is plenty of information here, one thing though, had to check your tags to find out what RPG was, think I must be a thicko or something!!lol