Building a TTRPG in 10 days: The Build.
How I made an RPG and formatted it within a span of two days.
If you’re new, welcome! I’m Arjun Agarwal and this is my newsletter. I hope it convinces and helps you to make the game which dethrone the ‘greatest roleplaying game in the world’.
In theme with my one week startup, I am gonna now make an entire TTRPG and launch it into the world within a short span of 10 days.
Alsoall the volunteers from the Reddit Makes a RPG project, I have added you here but you are by no means obligated to stay, but I request you to read this through and then make your decision.
Mechanics and Settings
Any TTRPG has two main elements: Setting and Mechanics.
And yes, we cannot combine them in some arbitrary manner without using our heads.
As said by u/SR__16 in the rpg design subreddit,
I see a lot of people on this sub who are absolutely amazing worldbuilders, each of them capable of building intricate worlds full of interesting lore and compelling atmosphere, who then proceed to simply staple on a slightly hacked version of dnd 5e. Much in the same way, a lot of people seem to create a very interesting and intricate ruleset, and then staple on an unrelated setting.
A good setting is pointless if you can't feel the setting permeate through gameplay, otherwise its probably better to just let the players design their own setting. A great example of this done right is CoC, it's Lovecraftian setting is reinforced through how vulnerable the players are, and the lore plays an active role in gameplay through the use of insanity. CoC would not be nearly as good as it is if the designers used the wonderful setting of CoC in combination with the ruleset of Lumen (which is also a great RPG, but it's ruleset doesn't enforce the principles of CoC's setting).
Setting and mechanics do not exist in a vacuum from each other, and as designers we miss out on a massive opportunity to make our games a lot more atmospheric and interesting by treating them as such. This is why GURPS is so customizable, if it was simply a ruleset that can do everything, it becomes a ruleset that does nothing well, but by allowing the players to mold the ruleset and change it to match their setting GURPS acknowledges that even universal RPGs are not exempt from this.
A good example of this from video games comes from dark souls, say what you want about it's difficulty, but it's made more effective by the dire and gothic nature of the setting, and likewise the setting's atmosphere is reinforced by the crushing difficulty. Another example from the tabletop scene is Trail of Cthulhu, which uses it's investigation mechanics to reinforce the mysterious, horrifying, and unknown nature of it's specific genre of horror. I hope by showing how two different Lovecraftian games do this I demonstrate that you can still go in a distinct creative direction despite this, and that we shouldn't view the fact settings and mechanics should work together as a restriction on what we can do as designers, but rather an opportunity to magnify the effects of our mechanics and settings.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk I suppose.
SRD stands for system reference documents. Basically it is a set of mechanics premade for you to hack and use in your own RPG.
Building a mechanic system from scratch takes a lot of time and we normally have no way to find out if our new system will sit well. If a SRD is listed under CC BY or CC BY-SA, you can use it make your game and earn money as long as you credit the author and in case of CC BY-SA, launch your game under CC BY-SA.
If the SRD’s CC has the term NC in it, it basically means that you can’t try to sell your RPG.
For my game, I am using the Lumen SRD designed by Spencer Campbell of Gila RPG’s. He has said in a post that he doesn’t care if people use his system and make profits out of them as long as they don’t forget to credit it appropriately.
However, for a running example, In this post I am going to make an mini-rpg for which I’ll use Lasers and Feelings by John Harper.
However, one size seldom fits all. So here is a list of SRD’s which I was told about by the folks at r/rpgdesign .
World of Darkness SRD
Powered by the Apocalypse SRD
Star Wars d6 SRD
Threads of Lachesis SRD
Five Powers SRD
Wretched & Alone SRD
Lost & Found SRD
The Caltrop Core
Forged in the Dark SRD
Lasers & Feelings SRD
Dungeon World SRD(similar to Powered by the Apocalypse as it is based on it)
Pathfinder SRD(Its complicated, but can be hacked)
Mutants and Masterminds SRD
Four Points SRD
Wu De SRD
There also a lot more SRD’s on Fari Games site. I have only included in the list the ones I have read and can be hacked without legal troubles.
Setting is basically, when and where your RPG is based. It could be in alternate history like Hot War(Alternate history of the cold war) or in actual History like Night Witches(About the WWII and the first female night bombing division) or in a fantasy like Dungeons and Dragons or in real world with a magical layer like City of Mist or in plain old real world but about specific situation like Alice is Missing(Friend’s disappearance) or Fight With Spirit(Sports teams)…
The one’s we crowd-sourced from r/rpgdesign were:
Floating colonies in the atmosphere of a gas giant
An alien tidepool
A sealed arcology
The shared 8-bit world of arcade games from a fictional 1980s
Late 10th century Europe (before AD 1000) where the big change is Jesus never resurrected and God damned the whole world, basically creating a middle age setting where many cities have fallen under evil and Satan worshippers are plotting to make a newly born Antichrist pretend he is the Second Coming of Christ.
Imagine Crusaders fighting the dead, tomb raiders walking through a deserted, ghost infested Rome, heretics fighting true heretic evil cults, rampant pestilence, and so on. Basically a post-apocalyptic Dark Ages. I just suggest not going full fantasy because it would be cliché-y. I mean, using actual historical locations and characters (with a twist, considering the alternate history thing) and creatures from real superstition and religions instead of classic fantasy monsters, also because the former are way creepier.
Set within the Bible's Book of Revelation, you must survive as the seas turn to blood and horrid beasts pour fourth.
Theocratic states locked in a Cold War fueled by divine high magic. Adventurers are often the pawns in a proxy war. Will you trigger the Apocalypse?
Your backyard. You play as small/faerie people in the tall grass. Everything is dangerous when you're small. Something is bringing the scraps of trash and leaves to life. Inspired by the art of Richard A. Kirk.
Precolonial Africa. Everyone has done movies and games in feudal Europe/Japan/China etc., Africa is avoided for whatever reason.
On that note, pick any historical place that isn't rich today and you'll find very little content for it.
Afghanistan's history is full of surprises. Playing a game set after the death of Alexander the Great and during the rise of the Seleucid Empire would be interesting. The Seleucid calendar gave us a "year zero", previous calendars were cyclical. One scholarly book even suggests the idea of the "start of time" suggests an "end of times"
You play as scammers in a war-torn African state, like a mix of Nigeria and war-time Liberia. You have to keep corrupt police, regional warlords, and multiple spouses happy at the same time. Every PC also has a "scam" they always fall for too.
So try to scam some tourist into marriage while trying to to have your heart ripped out an eaten by General Snake or any of your other girlfriends finding out. Oh and Officer Magandu is on your ass for a cut of the heist you pulled last week. No pressure. You know a witch doctor that sells you just the luck you need.
Kuiper asteroid belt after Earth is uninhabitable.
Weird West steampunk setting. Think the Wild Wild West movie with Will Smith, but taken even further towards steampunk. Bandits, mining colonies, ranchers, etc. but everything has a steampunk flair with better tech than we actually had at the time and frontiersmen working to maintain their steampunk gear. Like prosthetic limbs, steampunk weapons, and more.
A Mouse Utopia-esque experimental simulation. Could be in an indoor hive-like area or an outdoor wilderness.
A gigantic boat, the only habitable place on an hostile ocean world.
--Iceberg 2: an awesome action movie set on the Titanic right before and then while it was sinking
--Landscape: In a war-torn lawn, a rag-tag handful of insect heroes must get to the tree
--Los Santos vs the Monsters: a group of Mexican masked wrestlers must solve wax museum-style mysteries and fight mummies, invisible men, werewolves, draculas, and frankensteins with their wrestling moves
--The Great Valley: anachronistic cavemen try to protect a herd of infant dinosaurs from various sharp teeth while guiding them to "The Great Valley," a legendary fertile and safe grazing land that totally, 100% exists...
Within the bowels of a nation sized alien space ship after earth is destroyed.
City state nations with vast plains and rivers between them. natural forests are rare and highly valued for the lumber.
High Fantasy but it all takes place in a phantom-zone like dimension that spellcasters are banished to for various "mage crimes"
All the players are mages, so Each playbooks is based on a mage-crime or forbidden form of magic. For example; demonology, necromancy, eldritch, flesh grafting.
The objective wouldn't be fighting monsters for loot. It would be more about prison politics.
We are all alone.
-Space opera/sci-fi means one thing, modern means something else.
We are the progenitors/forebears/first ones/ancients ones.
My mommy always said there were no monsters - not real ones - but there are, aren't there?
I hope you guys you find a setting which you would like to use in your game or atleast have a moment of ephiny or a spark of inspiration and get your own setting,
For my Lumen game, the players are Bond-esque agents negotiating with criminals, having cool gun fights and asking the president to stand down as you do your duty.
For my example game, that is in Lasers and Feelings, you are all quirky detectives in the 99th Precinct(or any other Precinct). Basically Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the TTRPG.
How to Hack
Now with a setting and an fitting a SRD in mind, we just need to put two and two together to make an hack. But hacking is more than just pasting the setting on the top of a SRD. We should feel free to add or subtract things from the SRD to make it suitable to our settings.
For example: In my Brooklyn 99 RPG, we are hacking Lasers and Feelings. Based on the elements in lasers and feelings, We need to create:
A name, probably with two unrelated words which would later serve as the attributes/stats.
Description telling of the characters location and (optional)a reason why the main leader/controller is missing.
List of styles for your character. Basically an adjective about what you like/your personality.
List of roles/jobs. Basically another adjective, but about what you do.
Describe your attributes by telling places where it can be used.
Make a list of thing every character has.
Make a list of possible character goals.
Create a way to make the place where the game is set a bit more personal.
Name and describe your super success
Create a four table generator to quickly create the idea for the game.
Write some things to explain what players should do(i.e. Player Goals) and what the Game Master should do(i.e. GM: Run the Game)
Give some credits.
For my game:
-Name: Cops and Comedy
-Description: YOU ARE THE DETECTIVES IN THE 99TH PRECINCT. Your mission is to serve and protect the citizens of Brooklyn, while having as much fun as possible.
List of styles for your character: I am gonna call them quirks. Everyone has two from the list- childish, cocky, loves Die Hard(or some other cop film), super secretive, tough, badass, ambitious, incredibly organized, competitive, narcissistic, addicted to phone, professional, stickler for the rules, eccentric, optimistic, lazy.
List of roles/jobs: Detective, Captain, Lieutenant, Secretary.
Describe your attributes by telling places where it can be used; Cops(Detective work like: interrogation, solving murders, finding who ate your ice-cream), Comedy(Non-standard things like delivering a ring to a friends wedding, playing guitar to break a suspect, participating in the precinct Olympics.)
Make a list of thing every character has: Badge, gun, phone, a desk with all your stuff(including some weird stuff you like, example- your pet mouse Algernon)
Make a list of possible character goals: Become Captain, Shoot Bad Guys, Find a new thing to do today, Solve a unsolved mystery, Prove Yourself, or Keep Being Awesome
Create a way to make the place where the game is set a bit more personal: Choose a number for your precinct, make a layout- inspired by a real precinct or some strange place, or just use the one from the show Brooklyn 99.
A good layout has a desk for every character and NPC’s who work in the precinct, a kitchen with a fridge for yogurts where one can re-heat tacos, a break room where everyone can have fun between cases and obliviously an interrogation room.
Choose two special things to put in the office, like a vending machine or the ball pen.
Choose one weird thing to put in the office, like a Japanese photocopy machine.
Name and describe your super success: Comedic Eureka, you get to ask the GM a question which they have to honestly answer.
Create a four table generator to quickly create the idea for the game: In the sheet.
Write some things to explain what players should do(i.e. Player Goals) and what the Game Master should do(i.e. GM: Run the Game): In the sheet.
Give some credits: In the sheet.
For all who are hacking Lasers and Feelings, here is doc to help you format it easily.
If you wish to play my game, Cops and Comedy, refer this doc.
As for the Lumen game, I’ll revel it to you’ll later.
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Comment below if you want to ask something, share your RPG or tell me why my RPG is not your taste, I’ll try to reply to all comments.
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