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HOW TO MAKE A ROLE PLAY GAME AND NOT DIE TRYING

by John Stain on 03/28/19 09:44:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I'm not going to explain what a role-playing game is, because if you're here it's because this term is not new to you, otherwise you would not consider creating a role-playing game . Because, regardless of who you are, you can not do a role play if you have never played the role.

The content that follows is a compilation of the advice and learnings of many of the great role creators of the North American industry. I will summarize nine years of lessons that have come out of the forge and the publication of independent role. All this information does not come from me, but from many of the great authors and game designers whose works have earned a place on the podium of the best RPGs in history. That said, do not bother to criticize destructively what is exposed here, because unless you have published a role play that is among the 10 best in the world, you will make a fool of yourself.

Straight to the point.

We start from the premise that you want to make a role play from scratch . Before explaining what you have to do, I'm going to show you what you DO NOT have to do.

HOW NOT TO START

To save countless disappointments and abasements, and so you can invest all those hours of your time in focusing the project better, the first thing is to know what NOT to do:

DO NOT ASK PEOPLE WHAT KIND OF GAME YOU SHOULD DO

The fear of failure pushes us to look for the magic formula of success in what we are undertaking. I save you the search: there is no such formula. Creating a product for commercial purposes will never give a fruit that you feel proud of. In addition, people's opinions are volatile and could change with respect to before and after seeing the final product.

Another reason for not trusting the market research is that this niche is too small , it is not as simple as asking who likes Coca Cola and who the Pepsi, because RPGs are not precisely the favorite hobby of the society of any country (unfortunately).

DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT MARKETING, PUBLISHING, OR PRINTING, BEFORE HAVING THE GAME

Make the game you want to do, because you feel like it. That must be the only reason; because you feel like it and you are going to enjoy the process. The public can not comment on something that does not exist. And although they could get an idea of the project, it will never be clear enough for their opinion to make them understand that this is really what they will experience when they play it.

And then what happens happens ...

Who would have imagined that a game of dinosaur-ridden gunmen confronting reptilian aliens was going to become a success?

No one. What kind of market would welcome something like that?

Let's imagine that you have an idea for some cereals. But before doing them, you design the container that will contain them, with your drawing and everything, and you ask the people for an opinion. How will they know if they will like those cereals just for the packaging? It's stupid. And yet, it happens exactly the same with a role play. How do you want someone to think about an experience they can not experience? All you're doing is asking your potential audience if they think the cereal box looks nice.

Most of those who care about a market study, or whether or not they like their role playing, usually have no idea about the real numbers that moves the industrial role. Instead of worrying about unpredictable issues, ask yourself the following questions: "Should I print 6,000 or 12,000 copies?"

Do not pretend, do not expect to become a millionaire with your RPG. Just do it. If then it triumphs and you become rich, that which you take. And if not, then you're just like when you started, but with a great game that you love on the shelf.

If you have the opportunity, ask people who have already published a role play and tell you how they have fared . Experience is something that is not learned in books and nobody can be prepared for any unforeseen event. Even the big publishers that have been publishing for decades are facing situations where chance plays a determining role.

And now is when the big question comes ...

CAN YOU LIVE DOING ROLE-PLAYING GAMES?

Anyone who has fantasized about "living the role" will have asked this question a thousand times. Many others, optimists, dream of making a role-playing game that becomes so successful that catapults them to fame , a role-playing game that allows them to live from it for the rest of their lives. The great role play of the new generation. Now, is this a realistic thought?

Yes and no.

Good RPGs sell a few hundred copies. The greatest hits sell a few thousand copies. Lucas Crane , who made Burning Wheel, has sold enough to devote full time to this business. Now he is also a professional editor and game designer who has been promoting his work for several years.

What I want to say with all this is that you look for balance. Do not think that your RPG will not be worth it and you will spend less time than it deserves, but do not think that you will be the next revelation author and you will change the industry with your game. In virtue there is virtue.

The ideal is that you have extra support , something that puts money in your pocket but does not consume all your time. There is not a magic wand, nor a great idea, waiting to be found, that will give you billions to play or make role plays.

If you can accept this, great, you're on the right track.

WHAT IS THE STRONG POINT OF YOUR GAME?

What's your game about? What is your strong point?  You have to be very clear about what makes your role play special . Normally an original idea is not enough, it is necessary that the product is sufficiently novel to awaken the curiosity of potential buyers. Now, neither an extreme (a game traced from another and that brings nothing new to the industry), nor another (a game so original and experimental that it is hardly accepted by a publisher and few will be the intrepid players who dare to try it ). You're going to have to think a lot about this.

GLOBAL COHESION

The vision that makes up the game must have a global cohesion. You can not make a mix of ideas that you like and make a cocktail. This will be untenable at a certain point of development. In addition, it is a very childish and dishonest attitude; It is one thing to make a role-playing game that you like, and quite another to make a role-playing game exclusively for you as a player.

You must be very clear with this point, because it will affect the entire structure and the entire design of the game, either because you will add things that support that vision or elements, or because it is the key to selling to which you will turn. Therefore, before entering the second phase of development , it is essential that you can respond with total clarity to the following six questions:

  • What is your game about?
  • What differentiates your game from others?
  • What do you expect people to do with your game?
  • What kind of stories are going to take place in a game?
  • What kind of things should not happen in the game?
  • What do your rules do to support all of the above?

It is important that the player inside you enjoy the creation of the role play, but always maintaining a critical and objective attitude . You should never do without self-criticism. A role play is a reflection of the tastes and preferences of its creator and, precisely for this reason, the author must strive to be fair and honest with himself. Even Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson,  who created what can be considered the first RPG , betrayed their love for Tolkien and all the epic medieval fantasy that enveloped the fashionable literature of that time. If you do a role-playing game, you will most likely notice what kind of games you prefer as a player, what literature you usually read, and what settings you enjoy the most.

The style and type of game are also a factor that will determine if your idea works or not . There are formats that are not compatible with what setting, just as you can not pretend that a tragic story is the main pillar of a comedy.

DO NOT PLAY A GAME WHERE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING

This "No" will help you to concentrate on what your game really is.   If someone asks you, "What can the players do?" And the answer is: "You can do whatever you want!" Then you just told that person: "It's like GURPs , you have total freedom to do what you want". What are you offering then?

As George Orwell expressed in his novel,  1984 : "freedom is slavery". This, in one of its multiple senses, is fully applicable to the case that concerns us. If you allow the characters to do everything, the players will be overwhelmed. A player, of any kind of game, whatever the format, needs limits . Any game has its own limits that characterize it ... Even Minecraft has limits! What limits does Minecraft have? Something as simple as the impossibility of making a figure without angles. And there precisely lies the charm and what makes it special. In its own limitations. Any group of players with a little imagination can pick up a history book and set up an adventure in any era. They do not need your rules. The "you can do what you want" does not force me to buy your RPG. With a blank sheet of paper and a pen I can improvise a role-playing game where "I can do whatever I want". In a way, when a player looks for a role-playing game, he does not look at the possibilities he has, but quite the opposite: limitations.

If for example I am passionate about samurai stories, the Edo era of Japan and everything that surrounds that atmosphere ... I, as a player, can play GURPs or Milestones , any game that allows me to set the adventure in any location and time . Now, if you tell me that there is a role play called The Legend of the Five Rings, where everything takes place in that atmosphere (stories of samurai, ninjas, Edo period ...) and has countless details that bring color and freshness unique to that universe , I'll definitely stay with The Legend of the Five Rings!

MAKE IT EASY TO SUMMARIZE

Any creative project, not just a role-playing game, requires a good Elevator Pitch . That is, you have to be able to express much of the essence of the game in a few sentences. If someone who is in a hurry and knows absolutely nothing about your RPG, asks you HOW it is or WHAT it is, what would you answer? If you need half an hour to tell them or you are hesitating in the middle of the question ... your game DOES NOT work , it's in diapers, or directly it's a bad idea.

TRY VERY DIFFERENT ROLE-PLAYING GAMES

Artists go to museums, musicians listen to music, writers read books ... why would game designers be different? Know the world in which you work, go deep into it and experience all its formats and modalities. Do not stay in your comfort zone rolera, in what you master: you must go further and try everything that is put in front of you.

It is not necessarily about seeking inspiration. Simply, by trying new games, you will have a bigger and better vision of what works, and that, in one way or another, can have a significant impact on your work. You may even discover something that works exactly like something you had already thought, but in a much simpler way. It is always good to know those options and be well informed.

That said, do not get stuck in the standard. And to break that comfort, you can start by experiencing the following:

  • Play a role-playing game with a system that lacks the Game Director.
  • Play a role-playing game that allows players to narrate the results of their own actions.
  • Play a role-playing game that has statistics for emotions and social relationships.
  • Play a role-playing game that goes beyond going around killing enemies.
  • Play a role-playing game that involves an interpretation challenge.

Obviously, there are many more game models besides the ones listed here, but these are some of the most basic ones you should try, whether you are a role-playing designer or a video game programmer. And these are the classic formats that you can find in video games:

  • Puzzle games
  • Platforms
  • Fight
  • MMO
  • Real-time strategy (RTS)

Knowing this type of games first hand is necessary to be minimally informed. You must have played at least one of these, before thinking about creating your own RPG. Obviously, there are many more things out there, within the genre, but these are the most basic things that a game designer, a scriptwriter or a video game programmer must have experience. 

PLAYTESTING

Although mathematically your game is perfect (or so you think), any game needs a lot of hours and hours of testing . In fact, there are always hours of testing, there is never enough. It does not matter if it is a role playing table, figurines or PC, in one way or another failures always appear after launch . Do not wait until the game is so perfect that you no longer need testing, because that day will never come. Even so, there are ways to make the testing as effective as possible.

MAKE DIFFERENT PEOPLE TRY THE GAME

Not only among your circles of friends, there are also groups specialized in testing role-playing games (and in most of them you do not even have to be present). Not only do you need to test the mechanics, but also the writing. That is to say, that the rules are clear and understandable to someone totally oblivious to the development of the game. If a table is testing your game and they constantly misinterpret the rules, confuse directions and do not understand why something works in such a way, you have a serious writing problem.

Many role-playing designers agree that the feedback they receive from their testers is the most useful thing they have gained throughout the process and what allows them to get ahead. And as they say: four eyes see better than two.

PUBLICATION

Do you want to know if your RPG is ready to be published? It is easy. All you have to do is answer a question: Is there any aspect of the game that has been "lame" and can be improved? If you consider that you are not ready to go out there and make your game known, go back and finish it. It's that simple and complex at the same time. If on the contrary you consider that your game is already ready and you want to publish it, read on.

As an author, you should worry about issues that you can not leave entirely in the hands of your editor. How much money are you willing to risk? Maybe you're interested in self-publishing your RPG in PDF. Or maybe you're so convinced of your success that it's worth risking a little. All up to you. You are the author, do not let an editor make you feel like an employee of your own work.

Needless to say, this is common sense: register your RPG. Do not think of doing it public without first having the rights to all the content.

DO NOT GIVE AWAY YOUR GAME

It is very common to be drunk with a feeling of humility that makes you want to give your RPG to everyone. First you start with friends and acquaintances and then you let anyone openly download the PDF on the network. DO NOT DO IT. Value your work, your time and your resources, you do not have to give that to people, not even your friends or family.

If you give away your product, and then you regret it and want to market it, nobody is going to pay you a penny for it. Simply because before it was something that could be obtained for free.

SOME TIPS TO FINISH

Do not be proud and ask for advice . It should not be very difficult to give the email with authors who have already gone through what you are going to happen. And what better way to avoid messing up, than talking to someone who has already done the same. Most authors will be happy to help you, do not be afraid of it. They will inform you about the market pitfalls and how they executed the sale. In these cases, each council is a treasure.

What you're doing is not new , you're not revolutionizing publishers for publishing a role play, you're not the first . Also, the more money you invest (or invest), the greater your need to talk to people who advise you. Take advantage of the advantage that those who preceded you did not have, you will appreciate it.

Another point in your favor: you are not subject to a contract , nor do you respond to a deadline . The good thing about working on something "for the love of art" is that you are your own boss and you decide the time you need for your project to advance properly. Neither are you a company that is forced to take out a role-playing game a year so as not to lose your audience. Take your time, but without pause.

A good role-playing game is going to be selling per secula seculorum , while a junk role game, which covers a purely commercial function, will not last long once the hype dissipates. Do something original, of quality, that is worthwhile, and your work will be eternal.


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