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Thread: Making a tabletop RPG [tutorial]
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- Jan 2012
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Making a tabletop RPG [tutorial]
I am by no means an expert, but this is my attempt at a tutorial for making a tabletop RPG.
Making an RPG
So you want to make a tabletop RPG? Well, this is the place for you. This tutorial assumes you know the basics of playing RPG's already, so I don't need to define GM, PC or dice shorthand.
Before you start making your own tabletop RPG, you should read a bunch of them, especially if you only really know one or two systems. If you only know one system, you might copy it just due to not knowing any better; if you know many, you have a deep well of ideas to draw upon.
If you want to make your own tabletop RPG system, you first need to answer one simple question: why? What would your system be good for that other systems can't do? You need what I will be calling your system goals. To determine your system goals, you should answer these questions:
- What is the system good for?
- What setting or genre?
- How complicated/simple?
- What dice/randomizers?
- What are the basic elements of a character?
- What is your core mechanic?
- Serious or comedic?
- What do you want to reward and how?
To walk you through the process, I will be designing a tabletop RPG as an example. My sample game will be called Canine Supers, and will be about dogs with superpowers fighting mad scientist cats.
What is the system good for?
This is the most basic question and the most important. What is your system supposed to be good at?
Well, in the case of Canine Supers, I'm going to be making a game that can be played with minimal headaches and maximum laughs.
What setting or genre?
Are you making a fantasy game, a sci-fi game, or something else? This should be the easiest question of the lot.
In the case of Canine Supers, I am making a superhero game.
Some like complex games, some prefer simple games. You need to know what you are trying to make.
Canine Supers is going to be a very simple game.
Another easy question. How does your game get its random numbers? Does it use dice, cards or does it not even use random numbers at all?
Canine Supers will be using just 2d6.
What is your core mechanic?
This is perhaps the second most important question, and is also the most complex. How does your game work at its most basic level? To answer this, I have two example questions:
* What are the basic statistical parts of a character (i.e. their base stats)?
* What is your resolution mechanic, both opposed and unopposed?
For Canine Supers, I will be using 4 basic stats (Str, Dex, Cha, Int) measured on a scale of 0-8, where anything above 4 is super-canine (1 is the canine average).
The resolution mechanic will be "roll 2d6, add the matching stat, try to meet or beat the target; if opposed, target is the other roll; if unopposed, target is set by GM".
This is known as a "roll-over" method, where you roll and add on modifers, trying to beat a target number. Another common method is "roll-under", where you make the roll trying to come under some target (where your character skill raises the target). There is also "dice pool" where you roll a ton of dice (the better your characters skill, the more dice) and each dice might provide a success, and you want enough successes. Or you could make up something new altogether.
Serious or comedic?
This is just a matter of mood, and should be very easy to answer.
Canine Supers is comedic.
What do you want to reward and how?
Now this is the third most important question. People will play your game to have fun. What do you want them to do? For example, D&D rewards killing monsters (it rewards other things too, but just go with it). Not just that, it rewards killing monsters by making your character stronger (via XP and treasure). Now, having a character grow stronger during play is a powerful reward indeed, but D&D goes a step further. Now that you are stronger, you can kill stronger things, and grow even stronger. A feedback loop like this is a powerful tool, and shows up in almost every RPG.
That said, getting stronger isn't the only reward you can give out. Story can be a powerful tool as well. If the players can make their mark on a world they care about, some players would want that more than the fanciest magic sword you've got.
In Canine Supers, I want to reward being superheroes and stopping mad scientist cats. So, by stopping threats, the characters will get more powerful, allowing them to stop bigger threats, creating that powerful feedback loop.
Once you've gotten past these questions, your game is likely coming together already. You know what you want and the basic rules. Now it is time to get down into the details, with some more questions:
- How do you make a starting character?
- How do characters advance?
- What do your basic elements mean?
- How exactly does your core mechanic work?
- Do NPC's play by the same rules?
- How does the core mechanic handle the actions you want to reward?
- What other mechanics do you need for your rewarded actions?
- If your game has some form of special abilities or equipment, how do they work?
As before, I will go through these questions one at a time, going into more detail, and giving an example in the form of Canine Supers. Because these questions call for a lot of detail, my examples will be quite large.
How do you make a starting character?
Simple enough, you can't play if you can't make a character. You need to detail the process of making a new character.
In Canine Supers, you just need to choose your 4 base stats. You need to fill them in with the following numbers: 0, 1, 2 and 4. This creates your starting stats. However, each character has a fifth stat; their Power Level. A characters Power Level is half their base station total, rounding up, so a starting character has a Power Level of 4. You also start with 1 Super Power, but I'll cover those later.
How do characters advance?
Just as important as how to start is how to advance. You need to detail the process of making a character stronger... or not. Not every game has character advancement; perhaps characters start at full strength.
In Canine Supers, you gain power crystals from the tech of defeated cats. The crystals come in 4 colors: Red, Yellow, Green and Blue. By spending these crystals, you can improve your base stats. To improve a stat, you need a bunch of crystals of the same color. The number you need is 2 less than your Power Level. Once you spend the crystals, you gain +1 to the stat that matches that color (Red=Str, Yellow=Cha, Green=Dex, Blue=Int). Note: your Power Level might have also gone up by one, increase it if so.
What do your basic elements mean?
What do your basic stats actually mean? If you've got a ton of skills, what do they mean? If you have base stats, what are they for?
In Canine Supers, each of your 4 base stats represents a different set of skills:
Str: Physical power and force
Cha: Social skill and guile
Dex: Physical speed and grace
Int: Mental power and wits
Power Level is how much raw power you have, and so how much damage you can take.
How exactly does your core mechanic work?
Simple question, detail how exactly your core mechanic works.
In Canine Supers, whenever you do something with a risk of failure, roll 2d6 and add the base stat that best fits what you are trying to do. For example, if you are trying to move a heavy object you add Str; if you are trying to scare off a bank robber, you add Cha. If your total is higher than or equal to the target, you succeed. The target should be 8 for tasks where the average dog would have a 50% chance of success, and change from there. Tasks with target 13 or higher are super-canine feats. If someone is trying to stop you from doing something, the target is the roll they make to stop you.
Do NPC's play by the same rules?
A strange question, you might be thinking, but it is important. Do your NPC's use the same rules as your PC's? They don't have to, and some find it easier to do it that way.
In Canine Supers, NPC's do use the same core mechanic and do have the 4 base stats, but they do not have a Power Level. They also can't get stronger using power crystals nor do they get super powers from a high stat. However, evil cats can use cat-tech, while super-dogs can't. Assume the base stats for a cat are all 1 (mooks) or 2 (stronger villains), then move 1 point between stats. Assume humans have the base stats of a mook cat.
How does the core mechanic handle the actions you want to reward?
You have your core mechanic and your rewarded actions, but how do they connect? If your core mechanic can't handle your rewarded actions, your game is fighting itself.
In Canine Supers, I want to reward stopping evil cats at their evil plots. So, I need rules for combat. Making an attack requires a roll, which needs to beat a defensive roll the victim makes. Each uses whichever stat best describes their attack/defense.
What other mechanics do you need for your rewarded actions?
Complex games have a ton of little mechanics for tons of things, but for now let's just cover the ones you need for what you are rewarding. If your game rewards combat, maybe you need rules for damage and healing. If your game rewards pushing yourself to the limit, you need rules for going over it.
In Canine Supers, I do in fact need rules for damage and healing. As a basic rule, all attacks do one damage. A super-dog can take damage equal to its Power Level with no effect. Any more and the super-dog dies. Evil cats can survive either 3 (mooks) or 9 (stronger villains) damage; any more kills them. Anything else (like a bank robber or innocent bystander) can't survive any damage; even 1 point kills them. An hour napping removes 2 points of damage.
Canine Supers also needs rules for turns and actions in combat. The rule is quite simple: all members of a team share a turn. Whichever team starts the battle goes first. Arrange all other teams in a random order after that. During a teams turn, all members of the team may act in any order they see fit. Each turn, you can move up to 20 feet and make 1 major action. Attacking is a major action.
If your game has some form of special abilities or equipment, how do they work?
This question is getting into the nuts and bolts of your game. A lot of games have small little powers and items that make the game work. You don't need them, but if you have them, how do they work?
Canine Supers actually has a lot of these. The various dog-powers and cat-tech all need details. You don't need to see them at all, but I will put them in if you want to see them.
There are a total of 8 dog-powers in Canine Supers; two for each stat. A super-dog (and only a super-dog) can use any power they have a high enough stat to reach.
Fire Breath: requires Str 4, you can breath fire up to 20 feet away as a major action, fire attacks deal 2 damage.
Flame Blast: requires Str 7, you can make a 10 foot radius fireball up to 20 feet away as a major action, attacking everyone in that area.
Healing Paw: requires Cha 4, you can touch someone as a major action to heal them 2 damage.
Recalling Howl: requires Cha 7, by howling as a major action near a dead body (died in the last hour), you can raise from the dead. They lose 1 point from the base stat of their choice.
Swift Flight: requires Dex 4, you can fly in any direction, when you move in combat you can move up to 30 feet.
Super Speed: requires Dex 7, you can act twice during each of your teams turns (moving 30 feet twice and taking 2 major actions).
Mental Hand: requires Int 4, you can move nearby objects with your mind, you get a +1 to all rolls.
Mind Glimpse: requires Int 7, you can read minds, you get a +3 on all opposed rolls.
There is a wide range of cat-tech in Canine Supers. All cat-tech is powered by power crystals; super-dogs who manage take the tech can take the crystal for themselves. All crystals in the same device must be the same color. Ignore the fact that cats should have difficulty handling these items; it's a game, just relax.
This is the most basic item of cat-tech there is. Unarmed cats can not deal any damage, so they need a weapon to deal damage. Attacks made with the lazer-pointer 1.6 deal 1 point of damage with a laser. The color of the laser is the color of the crystal powering it. Crystals: 1.
An upgrade of the lazer-pointer 1.6, this weapon is more powerful. Attacks made with the lazer-pointer 2.4 deal 2 points of damage. The color of the laser is (as before) the color of the crystals powering it. Crystals: 2.
A intricate collar that contains a single power crystal. The cat wearing this collar gets a +1 bonus to the base stat that matches the power crystal in it. A given cat can wear up to two collars (one on neck, one on waist). Crystals: 1.
A more complex version of the super-collar 1.1, this collar grants even more power. The cat wearing this collar gets a +2 bonus to the base stat that matches the power crystals in it, and also gets the dog-power that requires 4 points in that stat. A given cat can wear up to two collars (one on neck, one on waist). Crystals: 2.
A basic doom-machine, inflicts a minor effect on the surrounding area. All humans within 1 mile suffer a -1 penalty to the base stat that matches the power crystal in it. Someone at the machine can turn this effect on and off as a major action. Crystals: 2.
A more powerful doom-machine, inflicts a major effect on the surrounding area. The effect produces a interesting random effect of the GMs creation. Someone at the machine can turn this effect on and off as a major action. Crystals: 4.
And so on:
From here, you just need to keep working on the details. Don't forget to test your game, and have fun.
Last edited by qwertyu63; 2020-11-03 at 09:33 AM.
- Join Date
- Jan 2012
Re: Making a tabletop RPG [tutorial]
This seems like a good overview of the process.
Last edited by Grinner; 2014-02-01 at 08:45 PM.