Writing a Free RPG

The Free RPG Blog: Rob Lang’s free guide to organising your RPG is a nice guide that I’ll definitely be returning to when I try to write up my system notes for my latest franken-brew. The part that I’m unsure about is just how necessary setting information is. I never use it myself, except perhaps to cannibalize it for an idea here or there, but Rob feels it’s the lifeblood of any free RPG. Michael Wolf (aka Sanastar) has encouraged me to include some, so I probably will…

11 thoughts on “Writing a Free RPG

  1. I don’t believe that a setting is the lifeblood of any free RPG, but a good setting helps to make it something special. If you even add a adventure and a perhaps a few pre-generated characters, it will probably much more successful. And when you compile all of your stuff in a professional looking PDF, people are much more likely to give it a try. It’s all about style!

    Stargazer’s last blog post..The future of roleplaying #2

  2. @RolePlayGateway: if you like you may review my Ad Astra Primer. It’s just a system-less setting, but perhaps you like it nevertheless. 😉

    @Joshua: And I have to admit I am looking forward to your RPG.

    Stargazer’s last blog post..The future of roleplaying #2

  3. I don’t think setting is that important all the time. It’s a nice addition, yes, but for most games, a statement of intent and tips on what genre to play it as, are enough to get somebody going on how to use it. And if it’s a generic system, adding a setting could be a liability as it would give it a label it doesn’t necessarily want.

    Wyatt’s last blog post..Monsters of Eden II: Gravesite Spirits

  4. Wyatt is onto something about generic games, but I think that something more than “a statement of intent” is needed for a more specific game.

    The thing is, there are so many systems out there and considering many gamers play only one game in all, you have to have something as a hook. Sure, some people looks at anything that’s intriguing enough, but then you’ll have to be intriguing enough!

    Andreas Davour’s last blog post..Green Devil Face #1 and #2 has arrived!

  5. Some RPGs are about setting, some are about system, and some are a mix. Wushu or Fudge coming bundled with a setting would be just as silly as a Whitewolf game coming without one.

  6. I’ll stand by my statement, long considered as it is. Free RPGs live, breathe and die by their setting. If you are going to write an RPG, you should definitely include one.

    Generic systems are the obvious exception but if you are creating a generic system anew you need to be asbsolutely convinced it is novel, fit for purpose and complete; else no-one is going to play it. A gamer coming to a free product is more likely to use a one of the big generic systems rather than a lesser known one. Fudge, Fuzion, Jags, Yags, Fate etc. They are all established and work a treat. All of them have settings too. I’m not talking about those, I am talking about gamers-wannabe-designers who have that game in their head and want to get it out.

    Gamers are hobbyists and as such have a limited amount of time to prepare for the game session. Not a ground breaking statement, I know. Free RPGs are not well considered by most gamers. If it doesn’t come in a beautiful book, why play it? I’ve come up against that for 14 of Icar‘s 19 years of existence. Free RPGs need to do what commercial RPGs don’t. They need to be different, fill a niche and most importantly they need to be accessible. If a GM downloads a game and then has to write a setting for it – you’re putting up a barrier to them playing. If you have a setting but no example adventure then you’re putting up another barrier.

    A GM is less likely to steer their group away from the usual, trusted, often purchased games if the game isn’t ready to go. A series of mechanics (regardless of how clever) is really not enough for most gamers to switch to your game.

    It’s more than just flavour – it’s a starting point for the GM. It makes the GM’s life easier. Many do make their own campaign settings but that tends to be for well known genres and games. If you’re game is just a series of rules with a Steampunky genre, you’re really not going to get anyone to play without describing the huge cities based running on rivers of steam and airships filling the sky.

    You can, of course, create the game and upload it as a generic mechanic but without being played it becomes an intellectual exercise. I’d rather it was both creative endeavour and worthy result.

    Rob Lang’s last blog post..Rob Lang’s free guide to organising your RPG

  7. @Rob – FUDGE has a setting? Or do you just mean people have released settings for it?

    I’m not saying you’re wrong as to what people are looking for, just that I’m surprised that my tastes are so unusual. To me except maybe for licensed games setting is just as much “fluff” as designer’s notes on the justification of the rules… maybe more so. At least I usually read the designer’s notes. The last RPG I bought that came with setting info was Necessary Evil, and even though I’ve incorporated parts of those rules into my Savage Worlds game, I’ve yet to do more than skim the stuff about the city, plot points, and so forth.

    I’m probably going to include a section on setting info, in deference to your opinion. I wonder, though, whether it would have more take-up if the setting was system-less, even a book on its own, with info in the appendix tying it to one (or more) systems? Does bundling it just make it so that people have to like both to give either part a try?

  8. Fudge does not have an official setting but it does have settings that Blind Pew browsing the web on my old Nokia could find. If you get my drift. Generic systems are still the exception, though.

    You need to ask yourself what you’re trying to produce. Is it:

    1. Feather-lite. Only the bare rules are available. Gamers must create spells, skills, setting, adventure. Pretty much everything.

    2. Marshmellow-lite. Mechanics are complete, skills and spells are there. Gamers must create setting: maps, governments, feel, bad guys, a sample adventure.

    3. Medium Weight. Mechanics fleshed out, outline of a setting with major components. Gamers must create adventures.

    4. The works. Mechanics, full setting and sample adventure. Everything you need to play.

    Pick where you want to aim at and describe it correctly at the start of the book. That way everyone knows what you’re getting at.

    Some other feedback I got from gamers at Gen Con UK 2008 is that they want one book – one thing to download. One thing to print and bind. Like the best website mantra: don’t make them think. Click-download-print. I treat games the same as software. I dislike it when a game forces me to root around for a setting to back up the rules.

    As for designers notes. They belong on a supporting website. Not in the book. They do not serve to aid play, they should not be included.

    I’m sounding very absolute about this and I don’t mean to be. Design is a matter of taste. I am searching for a starting point for those gamers bubbling with ideas and no conception on how to get them across. I am not trying to set out laws to govern and ultimately condemn those that break them! There is a free RPG inside everyone and I am trying to get it out. 🙂

    A word of warning on the system. If it is not tied to the setting and is quite generic – are you providing anything new? Mechanics have a nasty habit of boiling down to existing systems. Or differences in minutiae that the average gamer (whatever they are) will not recognise. If the system is tied to the setting then you’re more likely to achieve something novel, something to grab the attention.

    Thanks for the blog post. It’s allowing me to solidify my ideas on the subject, perhaps to the point where I make my case in a future blog post! I expect we’re going to agree to disagree at some level, shake hands – and in the future seek out the other when experiencing absolute opinions! I do hope so.

    post scriptum: is that you on 1km1kt? I see Majyc has similar opinions to you, perhaps? http://www.1km1kt.net/community/showthread.php?t=1482

    Rob Lang’s last blog post..Rob Lang’s free guide to organising your RPG

  9. Yep, Majyc is me.

    I dunno exactly about “agree to disagree”…you’ve convinced me that it’s probably worthwhile to include at least a minimalist setting in my game, something I’d never really considered before. On the other hand, I’m not suddenly going to start using other people’s settings any more than I’m going to start borrowing their underwear. Sewing something myself in the style of is the closest I get.

  10. @Joshua: Thank you for hitting the nail on the head of a feeling I’ve never been able to verbalize. I never use anyone else’s setting. I never would. Thus, it utterly confuses me that people would want settings. But apparently, there are people who would no more make their own setting than we would use someone else’s. There’s nothing wrong with that, and without those people, those of us who like making settings would have a lot less of an audience. But it still confounds me.

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