Game Design Hour: What You Need for a First Draft

Posted by on April 18, 2017
'Writing Pencil' by home thods

‘Writing Pencil’ by home thods

This is an ongoing series of posts where I look at tabletop RPG design pretty darned exhaustively.

Let’s say you’ve got an idea for an RPG, and you’ve written down some notes and rules. Let’s further say that you want to release this to the public.

Before you do, you’ll want to show it to at least somebody else to know what makes sense. You should playtest it, too, but let’s say you know one or two people to whom you can show an RPG, and can read it and get back to you with reasonably useful feedback.

We’ve now helpfully established the goal of the first draft: This is the version that you will show to other people.

So, what is the minimum content needed for a first draft of an RPG?

I think you need three things:

You need your core mechanics. This is further composed of four things:

  1. What do players do in the game?
  2. What do player-characters do in the game?
  3. When do you break from the fiction and use a randomizer (like dice or cards)?
  4. How do you interpret the randomizer’s results back into the fiction?

You also need to explain character creation. Assuming players play characters, they need to know how to build one.

You also need decent spelling and grammar. I’m not trying to be your grammar teacher here; this grows naturally out of your goal. Other people will be reading your work. If you know you’re poor at spelling and grammar, you know they’ll have a tough time even understanding your sentences, much less the game you’re trying to explain to them. If this is a problem for you, find a friend who can fix this before you pass your first draft off to other people.

That’s it. Note what I’m not including:

  • Setting
  • Sample of play
  • Introductory adventure
  • Optional rules
  • How to level up

Those are all useful things to include, but they’re not necessary for your first readers to grasp the essentials of your game. Focus on the basics.

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