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An Overview of Role-Playing Game Development

by: J. Edward Casteele ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Role-playing games are a popular form of entertainment, but creating an RPG from scratch takes planning and dedication. There are several things which must be considered when you developing role-playing games, including the general theme of the game and the types of actions it will contain.

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    Role Playing Games

    Role-playing games, also known as RPG's, are games in which a player takes on the role of a specific character (often of their own creation.) The player makes decisions for the character, determining not only what equipment they buy and how they fight opponents or overcome obstacles but also how they interact with other players and non-player characters. Though popular role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and the World of Darkness games are the most well-known RPG's, there are actually a large number of lesser-known games available as well. Some players even prefer the gameplay styles of these lesser-known RPG's, making the role-playing game market ripe for new ideas and gameplay styles.

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    Choosing a Concept

    When creating a role-playing game, the first thing that you need to do is choose a concept for the game. Your concept doesn't have to be an in-depth visualization of what the game will contain at this point; you simply need to know what type of a game you want to create so that your work can be focused on that game type. Do you want to make a fantasy RPG, or one that takes place in the modern world? Would you like to create a steampunk game, or one set in the far future? Will there be a core theme to your game such as the battle between good and evil? Coming up with a concept for your role-playing game will help you to create a roadmap to follow as you proceed through the development of your game.

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    Developing a Setting

    Once you know what sort of a role-playing game you would like to create, it's time to develop a general setting for your RPG. At this point you don't have to create a definite game world, but you do need to make decisions on what sort of environments your players will encounter. Develop your setting by determining the sort of environmental challenges you might like your characters to face, keeping in mind how those challeges would fit into the game concept you created previously. Decide whether you want big cities, vast wastelands, or a setting that takes place in a single location such as a farm or village. Your setting can be as large or as small as you want it to be, so long as it encompasses everything that you want to include in your game concept. Though you don't have to create a game world at this point in development, make sure that you take notes of any specific ideas you might wish to incorporate later.

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    Creating a Rules Framework

    When you have created both a concept and a setting for your role-playing game, it's time to start developing a general framework for the rules that your game will run on. Many refer to the core rules of an RPG system as the "game engine", and unless you are creating an adaptation for an existing role-playing game then you're going to need to build your engine from scratch. It isn't necessarily difficult, though the development of game rules can take a bit of time.

    Going back to your concept and your setting, make a list of everything that players might be able to do within your game. Don't forget common actions such as movement, combat, and even shopping. You will need to develop means by which players can do everything on your list, and will need to choose a means of randomization for those items if you wish to allow random outcomes. Continue adding new items to the list as they come to mind, even if you come up with them later in the game creation process.

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    Combat, Travel, and Other Actions

    After creating a framework for your role-playing game engine you will need to start fleshing out the specific mechanics your game will use. Develop specific rules to be used during travel, combat, spellcasting, and other actions that characters will perform. Be sure to include ways in which these actions can interact with each other, unless you wish the game to be completely turn-based. If one character attacks or is attacked, include a means by which the attack can be countered or parried. If one character runs, include a means by which they can be chased or stopped. Though you can make your action rules as simple or complex as you wish, it is recommended that you try and find a balance which is both easy to understand and robust enough to allow players a number of options within the game.

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    Character Creation

    After developing the specific rules concerning the way that player characters can interact with the world around them, you need to develop the means by which players will create their characters. Role-playing games use a number of different methods to generate characters ranging from dice rolling to assigning attribute points; regardless of the method you choose, make sure that it is consistent and easy enough for beginning players to understand it. Create attributes or character statistics as they are needed, keeping in mind that each attribute should have a purpose within the game and not simply be created for the sake of having a complex character sheet. Create specific rules for how character creation should go, including a natural order in which different portions of the character sheet should be filled out to minimize backtracking and referencing within the rulebook.

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    Populating the Game World

    As you continue to create rules for your role-playing game you will reach the point where it's time to begin creating the game world in earnest. You should already have a vague idea of the setting... now it's time to fill that setting with places, creatures, and items to make it come alive. Draw maps of different key locations in your game world to help you visualize it and keep the features of different cities and locations separate in your mind. Create a bestiary of monsters or other creatures that may be encountered as friends or adversaries. Decide on the items that may be available for sale and how much they should cost. If your RPG includes magic, create spell lists and begin filling in their descriptions. Basically, you should take the rules that you have created and generate statistics and descriptions for everything you will need to convert those rules into a fully playable game.

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    Playtesting

    Playtesting is an important part of role-playing game creation. By getting other people who weren't involved with the creation of the rules to actually work through character creation and play within the game world you will learn a number of valuable lessons about what works and what doesn't. Have playtesters take notes on any difficulties that they might have and their thoughts on the game in general, then use these notes to modify rules and statistics. Run playtesting sessions with different player groups so that you can get a wide range of opinions, then make revisions to your game engine and playtest again. You may go through several rules drafts before you have a well-balanced game that is easy for new players to pick up and challenging enough for experienced players to want more, but the time you spend creating an enjoyable role-playing game will be worth it in the end.

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