Opening the Game Design Toolbox
Recommendations for someone starting their journey designing tabletop roleplaying games, from someone who's nearly finished designing his first game ever!
While I work on the final details on the public release of Fight or Fright, the game I’ve been designing here, I thought I’d jump in and participate in a blog carnival started by Sam at
So here are three recommendations for designer commentaries to check out, a game recommendation, and a word from me at the end!
MCDM - Designing the Game
I started following Matthew Colville from MCDM many years ago, and his “Running The Game” videos helped me understand how to be a better Game Master. When they began development on their own Heroic Fantasy RPG this year, they decided to ‘open’ their development, writing blog posts on Patreon and creating videos to document their process.
These videos are fun and informative, and when you watch all of them you’ll start to understand their own design flow.
My main takeaways: Don’t get tied down to ideas if they’re not working, find the fantasy you want to bring to the table, Collaboration is a strength.
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RPG Design Panelcast
This podcast collects panel discussions from a range of RPG conventions and conversations, and repurposes them as Podcasts! With a wide range of topics, and an even wider range of speakers, you’re bound to find inspiration or answers in their huge backlog of episodes.
I’d recommend this one about Questions as game mechanics!
My main takeaways: Mechanics should enrich the player experience, rather than act as obstacles. Questions as mechanics can serve to deepen connections, bring the fantasy to the forefront, and help players engage with the story world.
Lumpley Games Blog
The Bakers have been making games since 2001, and on their website they host an incredible blog that details everything from high-level RPG design theories, to single mechanics and how minor adjustments can take them in completely different directions.
There’s a lot here, but this article about mortality was particularly interesting to me. Playing With Mortality – lumpley games
My main takeaways: Consider why we play certain games, and how experiences at the table can be rooted in our own lived experiences and curiosities about the world
Game Recommendation: Lasers and Feelings
To experienced designers, this recommendation might seem a bit…basic? But for someone working on their first project, I think it contains some very important lessons.
Lasers and Feelings was the game I looked at when I was designing that made me stop and think: “Woah. This is possible?” The game’s simplicity, presentation and widespread application helped break me out of a particularly challenging spell when working on the base system for Fight or Fright. When you take a look at this game, consider how it finds the core fantasy it wants to replicate, what it gives all the players to use, and what experiences players might have when sitting down to play it.
Check it out here on itch.io.
A Word of Advice - Let creativity challenge your assumptions!
I went into designing my first game with a lot of assumptions. My own experience in RPGs was fairly limited, and I found it hard to shake off the way I thought things had to work. That manifested in replicating a lot of what I’d experienced, specifically in writing style and mechanics.
When I had an idea that excited me, I struggled to work it into the frameworks I didn’t realise I’d established. But those ideas kept poking at me, and eventually I just had to break past those ideas and forge my own way.
There’s lots of advice online about how to start. Start small, start in a system you know, don’t make a whole system. I say, start with what excites you! Follow that creativity to where ever it takes you, or as Morgan Davie said on the first episode of Wait, Roll That Again!, “find the rainbow and chase it!”
Thanks for reading this week’s article! If you’ve enjoyed it, please make sure to share it with a friend who might be interested in designing a game for themselves!
Next week, I’ll give a bit of an update on the Fight or Fright release, and discuss what’s next for this Substack between seasons of Wait, Roll That Again!