Talk about polar opposites! I couldn’t wait to write (sic) today’s entry about, well, how to Write tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs).
This is something that I’ve done with both fiction and TTRPGs: start small. I know you have a great idea—or ten—for amazingly complex, mainstream-defiant roleplaying games but, as your first project? Go for something small that you can complete in a decent amount of time. That way you can begin building some muscles that you’re going to need: reliability (if you want to write others this is especially important), discipline, the skill to finish what you started and, most of all, experience. You’ll now know how it is to go from start to finish, from idea to finished product and everything in between.
Small projects include but are not limited to: an adventure for your favorite TTRPG or any kind of homebrew creation, such as an ancestry, class, feat, power, etc.
Once you finish this project, share it with everybody else on the Internet. You’ll hopefully get some invaluable feedback and then you can improve/iterate on your design.
Remember That You Are Writing So Others Use Your Stuff
This is perhaps the single best piece of advice I ever received when it comes to writing TTRPGs, from the mouth of John Wick himself. I don’t remember the exact words, but he told us to remember that we were writing stuff that others should be able to use at the table.
Never forget that.
Fiction is all well and good—I love it! I write it too!—but it has little to no space in a TTRPG. Maybe a page or two, at the beginning, and I’m being super generous. Better a paragraph or two, at most.
You’re writing a TTRPG. Use the space for rules, explanations, and examples. Believe me: you’ll need it.
Stand On the Shoulders of Giants
Read and play as many TTRPGs as you can. Be critical of them and trust your own taste; you’ll be able to say what you like and dislike before you can actually do something about it, so learn to lean on what you have.
Let yourself be influenced by others. It’s no crime to learn how to write your own TTRPGs by following in the footsteps of those that came before you. Make use of systems that are “Open” or are published under Creative Commons; they are the legacy of decades upon decades of innovation in TTRPG design.
When designing, look if someone did something similar before you. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from your predecessors. Don’t be afraid! You’ll never find someone who did exactly what you wanted before you. They’ll be similar, but your voice and perspective are unique. No one can ever write your game for you, for good or ill.
Playtest Is the Most Important Thing
Writing a TTRPG is all well and good, but playtesting it is equally important. Your written design is only half-complete; the other half comes about when you play it and run it for hopefully various groups of different people.
An important lesson I learned at last year’s IGDN Diversity Sponsorship: playtesting is very similar to herding cats. You need a strong idea of what you want to playtest and what results you’re expecting. And then, you need to stick to your plan as much as possible. Most players are not accustomed to playtest stuff, so they need crystal clear instructions on what you’re expecting from them.
If you can get someone else to run for another group of people—or, if you’re lucky, even for you—take that opportunity and run with it.
Your playtest will probably change a lot of what you wrote and thought it was good. That’s alright. What you’ll get will be ten times better than what you had and, what’s better, it’ll have the experience of being used at the table as its basis.
Write, Write, Write, and Then Write Some More
You need 10,000 hours of training to become an expert on anything. That means that you’ll need to write a lot before you produce your best stuff. So write and write and write. Finish what you start.
You’ll notice that every finished project, no matter how big or small, will help you to get better. If you’re open to it, these experiences will change you and teach you many things. Your writing will become clearer and better structured. You’ll be able to convey your ideas better and more succinctly.
In summary, you’ll become a better writer.
But, to do that, you have to write. A lot. And often.
Get a routine. Write every day, if you can (and why couldn’t you if I could?) I trust you. You got this.
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