Introduction to (Tabletop) Role-playing Game Design

A brief (4 hour) course to introduce you to RPG design. A section of "need to knows" about game design is included.
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Instructed by Lewis Pulsipher Design / Game Design
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  • Lectures 39
  • Length 5 hours
  • Skill Level Beginner Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 5/2015 English

Course Description

This brief (4.5 hour) course introduces you to RPG design. (No course of this length can pretend to be comprehensive, of course.) The goal is for you to understand the fundamentals of RPG design (which is a subset of game design). For example, what are you really doing when you "design an RPG?" There are at least three parts to that.

The three main sections are an introduction to game design (mainly "Need to Knows"), an introduction to RPG design, and a discussion of the business of RPG design. The primary purpose of the last is to help you understand why RPG design, especially tabletop, is very unlikely to earn you a living.

What are the requirements?

  • Some familiarity with game design is useful, though the course provides a summary

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Understand the fundamentals of RPG design (which is a subset of game design)
  • Recognize that RPG design, especially tabletop, is very unlikely to earn you a living

What is the target audience?

  • This course is for inexperienced designers, taking you through "game design" quickly to RPG design and the business of RPG design

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.

Curriculum

Section 1: Introduction
01:59

The business section of this class is primarily for tabletop RPGs. I also lean toward the tabletop side because people can create tabletop games without the programming and other skills required to create video games. Furthermore, video RPGs tend to be "big" games, because of the great amount of content required, and big video games are beyond the reach of individuals. Nonetheless, much of the advice about design applies just as much to video games as to tabletop. (Keep in mind that video RPGs derive heavily from tabletop RPGs.)

This class is not a recipe book or (much worse) a "monkey-book". That is, I don't give you step-by-step simple-to-follow instructions to make an RPG. Because game design is about thinking, not rote. There is no formula.

04:15

For most people, RPG design will never be more than a hobby, though possibly a money-making hobby. There's just not much money in it unless you work full time for a publisher.

RPGs are a very small segment of tabletop games ($15m out of $700m) not much more than two percent. Except for a lucky few, designing RPGs is a hobby, not a living.

Designing RPGs is somewhat different from other design because they are co-operative, episodic games with (on the tabletop at least) no win condition. The big difference is between the tabletop and computer, as tabletop designers can rely on the human referee, who is far more able than a computer; computer opposition must be pre-generated at great cost, so tabletop budgets can be small, computer budgets tend to be large.

02:17

You can look me up in Wikipedia. I used to be contributing editor to Dragon, White Dwarf, and other magazines. The Princes of Elemental Evil, among others, is one of my contributions to the original Fiend Folio in the 1970s.

I'm most well-known for my boardgame Britannia, which has been in print most of the time (in one edition or another, including four non-English editions), since 1986.

Many like my book "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" (McFarland, 2012).

My latest adventure game, Sea Kings, has gone throughthe Kickstarter and is scheduled to be released in summer 2015.

Section 2: Designing Games
09:33

This is an attempt to point out all the reasons, other than money (which you probably won't earn much of), to design games. Remember, my premise is that most "game designers" don't make a living, or even close to one.

14:19

There's nothing here that I haven't said in my classes and blogs, but gathered and summarized for convenience. 10 is an arbitrary number; I have another video with 11 more.

12:42

This is a follow-up to ""10 Need to Knows about Game Design." There's nothing here that I haven't said in my classes and blogs, but gathered and summarized for convenience.

09:29

Nothing original here, rather a summary of some ways to learn game design (video or tabletop). You'll probably want to use several.

11:42

Game design can't be reduced to rote learning, but there are steps most designs (and designers) go through. This is a brief explanation of those steps.

07:39

This video grows out of my experience at the East Coast Game Conference in April. There was much discussion of story in games, Ken Rolston (Morrowind, Oblivion) called himself a writer rather than a designer, and the notion floated around that writers were the ultimate creators of games, not designers. Is that so? Which are you, designer or writer?

09:04

Tastes in games vary so greatly that it's impossible to make a universal list. There is no universal "fun", there are so many ways that people enjoy games. So here's my list for hobbyist games, games for adults that play games as a hobby. Part 1.

11:42

Tastes in games vary so greatly that it's impossible to make a universal list. There is no universal "fun", there are so many ways that people enjoy games. So here's my list for hobbyist games, games for adults that play games as a hobby. Part 2.

08:53

Most of this is software to help design games, not to create video game software. A video game designer benefits from having some expertise at some of the latter, however, and if you're doing a video game solo, you'll have to learn a video game engine.

08:39

With thanks to Robert Fulghum's little poem “All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” It has inspired people since the late '80s.

Keep in mind this applies to video games as well as tabletop. As many have written (especially when Gary Gygax died in 2008) D&D is a massive influence on video gaming.

This is part 1 of two parts.

08:11

With thanks to Robert Fulghum's little poem “All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” It has inspired people since the late '80s.

Keep in mind this applies to video games as well as tabletop. As many have written (especially when Gary Gygax died in 2008) D&D is a massive influence on video gaming.

This is part 2 of two parts.

Assessment: Designing games
10 questions
Section 3: Designing RPGs
06:13

When you "design an RPG", what are you actually doing? There are three major parts, potentially, and more details, as described here. Part 1

06:59

When you "design an RPG", what are you actually doing? There are three major parts, potentially, and more details, as described here. Part 2

06:26

This provides a good list of "need to knows" about RPG design. Part 1

06:20

This provides a good list of "need to knows" about RPG design. Part 2

03:32

Pacing is how you regulate the periods of tension and relxation in an adventure (or story). If it's always tense, if you're always saving the world, that in itself becomes tedious.


From my (very large) "Learning Game Design" course.

06:06

Tips based partly on my own experience (which includes contributing monsters to the original Fiend Folio, and to Dungeon and White Dwarf magazines), and what I gleaned from a GenCon panel that including Wolfgang Baur and Jeff Grubb. Part 1.

06:39
Tips based partly on my own experience (which includes contributing monsters to the original Fiend Folio, and to Dungeon and White Dwarf magazines), and what I gleaned from a GenCon panel that including Wolfgang Baur and Jeff Grubb. Part 2.
02:53

In my piece about creating good RPG monsters, I mostly talked about the Dos, little about the Don'ts. Making up for it here.

06:54

In keeping with my motto (short version: Keep it simple), a game designer should find ways to avoid using lots and lots of dice. Examples and explanations here.

04:37

Though RPG rules are more like minis rules than boardgame rules, subject to lots of negotiation, you still want and need people to play the game as you conceived it. You have to write a clear set of rules. This is a summary of a my 4 hour course about this topic. Part 1.

07:52

Though RPG rules are more like minis rules than boardgame rules, subject to lots of negotiation, you still want and need people to play the game as you conceived it. You have to write a clear set of rules. This is a summary of a my 4 hour course about this topic. Part 2.

Assessment: Designing RPGs
6 questions
Section 4: The business side of tabletop RPGs
04:01

This is a brief description of the tabletop RPG market. In the Bonus Materials is a more recent, and far more detailed, discussion, "RPGs - Prisoners of Capitalism?"

This one comes from my class "How to Design Levels/Adventures for Video and Tabletop Games."

02:49
Monte Cook observed several years ago that adventures seem to be much more story-oriented than in the past. Here's my suggestion for why that may be so.
12:03

Freelancers write/design material on contract, usually (except for full game designs) on a "work for hire" basis.

13:34

When you have a game published, you should help market it. You are a brand, and (we hope) you've been promoting your brand for quite a while, to help raise interest in your games. This is a discussion of the many ways available for you to do that.

07:38

Twitter is such an important resource for marketing that I've made a separate video for those who know little about it.

On the face of it, the 140 character limit on Twitter doesn't promise much for a discipline that revolves around critical thinking. But Twitter can be useful in many ways, especially publicity for you and your projects.

13:22

This video is about attracting support for board and card games, but it can serve for RPGs as well. Unfortunately, unless you're already very well-known, Kickstarter is a poor place for role-playing games, perhaps for the same reason that it isn't good for card games. (Yes, I know about Exploding Kittens; but that was The Oatman's influence, not the game. I am talking about the norm, not about outliers.)

Assessment: The business side of RPGs
5 questions
Section 5: Bonus Material
09:47

When Warren Spector and company were making the now-famous video game "Deus Ex" (2000), he specified a set of rules for the game that he recently revealed. Here is my description of them. This is from my course "How to Design Levels/Adventures".

14 pages

Lew's online courses and information sources

08:24

Why write a book in the 21st century, an era when people rarely read non-fiction books? And why a game design book? Here's why I did it, and how it's different from other game design books.

Lew's Games, as of August 2015
20 pages
04:40

If you write a game design book these days, you'd better have some ways in which it's unusual or unique. Here are mine for "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish"

07:41

RPGs are "prisoners of capitalism", doomed to fail periodically.

First, the economic need to constantly produce more rules results in games that have become too complex, and have to be replaced.

Second, "over"-saturation has set in.

Third, “crowd-sourcing” changes things.

Together, they've made the RPG market very difficult for all but the largest publishers, or for small PDF specialists.

Part 1

07:30

RPGs are "prisoners of capitalism", doomed to fail periodically.

First, the economic need to constantly produce more rules results in games that have become too complex, and have to be replaced.

Second, "over"-saturation has set in.

Third, “crowd-sourcing” changes things.

Together, they've made the RPG market very difficult for all but the largest publishers, or for small PDF specialists.

Part 2

4 pages

If you're convinced you're going to get rich designing games, you might want to read this. You're more likely to win big in a lottery.

(Keep in mind, "Notch" (Minecraft) is a one-off. There are more people who win big twice in lotteries, than there are developers as successful as Notch.)

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Instructor Biography

Lewis Pulsipher, Commercially Published Game Designer, College Teacher

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher (Wikipedia: "Lewis Pulsipher"; "Britannia (board game)"; "Archomental" ) is the designer of half a dozen commercially published boardgames. His game "Britannia" is described in an Armchair General review "as one of the great titles in the world of games." Britannia was also one of the 100 games highlighted in the book "Hobby Games: the 100 Best". He has over 17,000 classroom hours of teaching experience including teaching video game design and production, and over 20 years of part-time graduate teaching experience.

His book "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" (McFarland) focuses on practical advice for beginning game designers, about how you actually create and complete game designs. He also contributed to the books "Tabletop: Analog Game Design," "Hobby Games: the 100 Best," "Family Games: the 100 Best." His game design blog has been active since 2004, and he is a contributor and "expert blogger" on Gamasutra, the #1 site for professional video game developers.

His latest published game is the 2011 reissue with additions of "Dragon Rage," originally published in 1982. Three new versions of Britannia, including a 90-120 minute version and a diceless version, are forthcoming, as well as several other games from Worthington Publishing and others. His Viking adventure game "Sea Kings" was published by Worthington in August 2015.

Lew has a Ph.D. in military and diplomatic history from Duke University, from ancient days when degrees in media, computer networking, or game design did not exist--nor did IBM PCs. In 2012 he was a speaker at the East Coast Game Conference, PrezCon, Origins Game Fair, and World Boardgaming Championships. Long ago he was contributing editor for White Dwarf and Dragon magazines, and publisher of various game fanzines. In 2013 he was Industry Insider Guest of Honor at GenCon, and in 2014 is again speaker at the ECGC.

Game design blog and teach game design blogs are on blogspot

"Expert blogger", Gamasutra

former contributing editor, White Dwarf, Dragon, Space Gamer, etc.

former publisher, Supernova, Blood and Iron, Sweep of History, etc.


"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest." --Mark Twain

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