In the world of pen and paper games, certain names stick out in everyones’ minds. Dungeons & Dragons, World of Darkness, Rift, Shadowrun, GURPS… But how many of you have heard of Blue Rose or know that there is a Final Fantasy RPG? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tabletop RPGs out there, some old, some new, but all of them created by gamers, for gamers. Note: For a fairly comprehensive list check out this Wikipedia page. But what if you can’t find a system that covers everything you want in your game? Well, most systems, like the d20 system, make it fairly simple to add whatever content you want. I mean… most of them are designed for you to create your own worlds in – entire planets fueled solely by your imagination, and the imaginations of your players. It’s easy to create new monsters, new villains, even new races and classes in D&D or World of Darkness. The rules are in place to help… and even encourage you to do so.
But… what if it’s the rules themselves that you have an issue with?
Well, this gets tricky. You could look for a new system to play. You’re unhappy with the magic system in Dungeons and Dragons? Try Blue Rose, a system designed around magic. Or maybe you’d prefer GURPS. Maybe you feel like there’s more you can do with your level 8 Gnome rogue in that D&D 3.5 campaign, but you just can’t figure out what from the rules. Try Pathfinder, or Rift. Every game has a different rule set, or a different take on the same rule set, or a different way of approaching part of the system. Personally, I hate the magic system in D&D up until 4.0. I think they finally made the magic system approachable from a simple perspective in D&D 4.0, whereas in the previous editions you had to either be a statistics analyst, or a math whiz (an exaggeration) to understand it. Too many charts, too many mechanics, too many spells. But there are so many other things that I don’t like in D&D 4.0, that I’d still much rather play 3.5, and just play a rogue. We make sacrifices for the systems we love, because we can’t find one that perfects it.
Or maybe we can…
In 2009 Piazo Publishing released Pathfinder, the culmination of over a years worth of playtesting and development, as their answer to this question. A perfect example of how, when “house rules” can’t solve your disagreements with a rule system… make your own. Pathfinder takes the rules of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and expands, revises, and alters them in many ways. But at the same time, Pathfinder has it’s own issues. In many ways it makes the game even more confusing than some players felt D&D 3.5 was. These are the gamers that feel like they had too many options. Too many rules. Too many possibilities… before the game even starts. So what can you do about that? Make your own game.
Any gamer who’s played enough different systems will tell you there are things they love about all of them, and things they hate about all of them. And any dungeon master, storyteller, game master, whatever you want to call them, will tell you that they’ve changed rules from time to time to suit the game and players. But why not create your own system. We create our own worlds all the time when we game, why not the universe, “the physics” so to speak, that encompasses those worlds as well? The rules, the races, the systems… everything? Lately I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. Why not create my own system? There are things I dislike in many different systems, how would I fix them? So I started putting one together, taking aspects I like from various systems and discarding the aspects I dislike. Of course there are other roadblocks. I have yet to play a game with a magic system I like, so how would I handle that? Create an entirely new one myself? Or spend hours working the kinks out of whichever one I dislike the least? Seems simple to me… And of course there is the dice system. If I’m going to change enough aspects of the game to make it unique, I can’t use a pre-existing dice system… at least not in the same way. So that is something else I need to create… Still, seems simple enough.
When all is said and done, creating your own role-playing system seems very daunting, to be sure. But it’s really quite easy, especially for the seasoned gamer. And there are lots of resources, created by other gamers, to help. John Kim is a physicist, programmer, and teacher who has been gaming since the late 70’s. On his site he has pages upon pages dedicated to the theory and design of role-playing systems. He has tons of information regarding different systems, how to develop/determine which dice system (if any, there are a few systems out there that use cards instead) to use, as well as even more links to other helpful sites that I won’t go into here. There is also The Forge, a website and forum dedicated to independent role-playing games. They have pages, as well as a section of their forum, dedicated to new system development.
So don’t let the seemingly daunting task of system creation stop you. A bunch of fans of the Final Fantasy series got together and developed an entirely new RPG based off of the Final Fantasy universe and system which they released online for free. And anyone can contribute to it, via the forum, or IRC development sessions. Greg Dean, creator of Real Life Comics, and Final Fantasy fanatic, even contributed to the work. And it’s comprehensive, trust me.
So don’t let anything stop you if you really want to develop a role-playing system. It’s possible. And maybe once I finish mine I’ll release it online too…
Read more of Ian E. Muller’s writings over at Aberro Specus.