Below is a collection of resources I found to help guide me through the process of becoming a game designer (who writes their own system, or writes adventures for different systems). It is not comprehensive, and is a living document. My hope is to continue to grow this resource so that others can benefit from the collective insight of the ttrpg/design community.
- Making An RPG Zine Start To Finish by the Highland Paranormal Society (Nate Treme). This is a fantastic overview of how to make a zine, especially since it guides the viewer through within the context of an actual ttrpg zine over its 4 and a half minutes runtime.
- Digital Zinemaking Basics: A Guide by Zeshio is a fantastic overview to making a zine from start to fnish (through 8 detailed steps), guiding the reader through the process of developing Adventurer’s Guide to the Yol’Najj Forest as the framing.
- PART 1: HACKS AND SRDS
- PART 2: PROGRAMS
- PART 3: LAYOUT & FONTS
- PART 4: IMAGES
- PART 6: PRINTING & PUBLISHING
- PART 5: ACCESSIBILITY & DESIGN INTENTION
- PART 7: MARKETING
- PART 8: FUNDING
So you want to make a game but are unsure about writing rules from scratch (also a note on writing modules/adventures/mysteries using existing systems)….
Well great news! Many games live their lives as hacks for other games/rule systems. This means that you can start with a framework from which you can adapt to serve your idea/concept.
SRD (System Reference Documents) is a way game designers share their work. Often it includes what can be used, and how, so that other designers can iterate and create new games.
Below are some examples of different SRDs that you can use as a starting point in designing your own game. Many games have an SRD, but the one’s I’ve included have robust communities around them and are versatile enough to meet a myriad of needs.
Games have different licenses that dictate what can be used from the core text. Be sure to check their use/licenses to make sure you meet the requirements in your final product (an inclusions of established statements, attributions, etc).
Note: Sometimes you don’t want to write a hack or new game and instead want to write an adventure, mystery, or modul. Luckily all the advice in this guide still works for that. SRDs are still great because they can provide rules references that you can use to make your zine compatible. I wrote a small twitter thread on the different supports Liminal Horror provides for people who are wanting to write their own mysteries/sessions/adventures. That can be found here: Interested in writign cosmic horror adventures?
- Liminal Horror by Goblin Archives: A rules lite modern cosmic horror hack of Cairn (which combines Into the Odd and Knave). It adds a stress & critcal stress fallout mechanic to those systems.
- Cairn by Yochai Gal. It is an adventure game where players explore dark and mysterious woods. It is based on Into the Odd and Knave.
- PINKHACK by Monkey’s Paw Games. Rules for Fantastic Role-Playing Wargames, Monkey’s Paw Games has created a combination of the Whitehack and into the Odd.
- Beak, Feather, & Bone by Tyler Crumrine. This rule framework is one that involves building a world through collaborative map making.
- 24XX by Jason Tocci is a framework of rules that works as a modular plug-and-play toolkit. Rules lite and dynamic, 24XX SRD is axtremely versitile and includes a plethora of templates and resources to help designers get started.
- Tunnel Goons by Nate Treme. Tunnel Goons is an extremely straightforward system that fits on half of a page.
- Trophy by Jesse Ross. Trophy is a narrative system that focuses on the doom that befalls the characters. Beware the horror and doom that awaits.
- Wretched & Alone by Matt Sanders & Chris Bissette. These are solo journaling games that focuse on struggle, survival, and striving to achieve.
There are a ton of fantastic programs one can use when writing and designing games. Below are what I used to make Liminal Horror.
- Free Graphic Design Resources & Best Practices For TTRPG Creators by Ghost Lore. This post gives a great overview of the different aspects of design (from programs you can use, to different ways of building your skils, to important things to consider when working with others’ work).
- How to Design TTRPG Sheets with Google Sheets by Momatoes is their guide on how to create a phenomenal and unique character sheet with google sheets.
- Video Stream: teaching google sheets by Momatoes takes you through the process of creating a character sheet like the one made for ARC.
- Slide Deck: Google Sheets for fun, design, and games by Momatoes is the slide deck that was used in the stream and acts as a great reference.
- Google Drive for file organization & management.
- Google Docs for writing the base text of Limnial Horror. This also allowed me to share the document and recieve notes/feedback.
- Affinity Publisher. This is an affordable, single purchase program (currently $54.99)
- Canva is a free website that really scaffolds small scale design in a way that allows anyone to create professional products. It is used a ton in teaching and other fields. A great overview by Jeeyon Shim, on how to use it in ttrpg spaces, can be found here
- Top 15 Tutorials. Affinity has a bunch of helpful tutorials to lower the learning curve and this had some good ones included.
- Tips for adding interactivity to your digital publications
- GIMP is a free, open source image editor. While I do own Affinity Designer and Photo, I still primarily use this to edit the images I used in Liminal Horror.
- PIXLR X Is a free browser based photo editor. Described as an easy-to-use photo editor (with help of templates)
- PIXLR E Is a free browser based, powerful photo editor. Described as an advanced editor for pros.
- Dither Me This is a tool you can use to dither images.
- Inkscape is a free vector graphic program.
- Krita is a free open source painting program.
- Artflow AI allows users to generate visual content wit hthe help of an AI. Currently it is built to generate portraits. The output is licensed under CC BY which allows commercial and noncommercial use with attribution.
Here is a list of alternatives to Adobe programs created by xdaniel Art (they require a regular subscription that is predatory and if you don’t pay you often get hit with massive hidden fees and lose access to things you have made/bought)
Having a good font and layout is vital toward making your game engaging to read/use. Here are some resources I found to help learn about layout/design.
- Johan Nohr (one of the designers of MÖRK BORG, which pushes the layout and typeface envelope) wrote two must read threads on choosing a typeface and setting a body text. These dives are worth reading if you have any interest in design and are a great way to start your journey.
- Designing Layouts (Layout and the Grid) by Clayton Notestine. This was the single most helpful resource in my learning how to do layout for my game. Not only does Clayton go over the core concepts of layout, but he goes on to give annotated examples of TTRPGs and their layout. 100/10 recomend.
- Layout Design Tips For Your Next TTRPG Project by Ghost Lore. This is the final entry in a series that gives a good progression of layout tips that is well worth reading prior to starting the layout of your project.
- Why Is Layout Important in Graphic Design? by Stephanie Corrigan is a great overview of layout prinicples with visual examples to reinforce concepts.
- Using Canva to layout your ttrpg by Jeeyon Shim is a fantastic thread on how to leverage a great design tool to create small games. They look great and result in a quality that supports any new designer. Jeeyon is extremely thorough in their step by step guide in this thread. Well worth considering for your next project.
- Pamplet RPG Template For Affinity Publisher by wizardthieffighter (writer of the awe inspiring Ultra Violet Grasslands). This template will get you all set up for writnig your own pamphlet using Affinity Publisher (a great single payment layout software…Adobe makes you pay monthly)
- Pinterest: Look up layout, design, zines on pinterest to see examples of different design ideas you can use. This helps build visual references for the kind of things that are possible.
- My pinterest board.
- TTRPG Zine Layouts by Guilherme Gontijo.
- Designs that could be TTRPGS by Guilherme Gontijo
- Typography in Ten Minutes, by Matthew Buttericks is a great resource for building your schema and dipping your toes into that world.
- Summary of key rules is another great introductory resource by Matthew Buttericks.
- Free fonts compiled as a twitter thread by Guilherme Gontijo.
- Coding with Character by Doug Wilson. This blog is about utilizing different fonts for coding and could easily be applicable when thinking about what typeface to use for your project (especially if monospaced type aligns to the aesthetic of your project). Be sure to check the licensing of any fonts you are interested in to make sure they are available for commercial use.
- Google Fonts is a collection of fonts released under open source licenses.
- dafont is another place to search for fonts and includes easy to find licensing information.
- WhatTheFont! is a tool for finding out what font is used in an image.
One option is to design your own images. There are a few different programs you can use (some are listed here) to make your own maps and images. There are some online tools that allow you to create maps for your adventures. Always be sure to check the licensing information of resources you use.
- Perplexing Ruins Hex Map Tile Set! by Perlexing Ruins is a fantastic tile set that is made available for use through donations. It provides assets for Hex Kit Software
- Dungeon Scrawl by ProbableTrain is a map making software that supports you in creating CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
If you are like me and not the most visual creative oriented, luckily there is a robust group of talented designers and artists out there. Often you will see them advertising that their commissions are open. Have a clear concept in mind as well as your budget range. Understand that commissioning work is a collaborative process between professionals and requires respect and clear communication.
For those of us who are not artists, or don’t have a budget to commission art for our work, public domain images are what we use to add artwork to our games. These are images that are able to be used in commercial work (either because their copyright has lapsed, they are not copyrightable, or they were released under an open license from the start). Here are some places you can find art for your games.
- Public Domain Art List by Yochai Gal is an extensive list of public domain images and the different places you find public domain art.
- A flickr collection of curated Public Domain Images by Guilherme Gontijo.
- unsplash is a collection of freely usable photos.
- pixabay is a collection of freely usable images. While it includes photos like unsplash, it is better known for its vectors and illustrations.
One of the big things I wanted when writing Liminal Horror was to push mystelf to find ways to support people’s ability to access information. This largely arose from my background in teaching, and how it is important to provide multiple access points and opportunities for people to engage in the work.
- Tips for adding interactivity to your digital publications
- Making Your Game Accessible Is Easy by Nate Lee
There are a lot of benefits to creating epub versions of games. Text only games are able to be used with screen readers, and have boosted accessibility functions (fonts, font sizes, margins). Two recent (as of August 2021) twitter threads have gone over how to create ePub documents. There will be a Liminal Horror Epub available for free in the near future (or past depending on when this is read).
- Sean Patrick Cain had the initial twitter thread that went over step by step how he created a ePub version of his game Long Haul 1983.
- Peter Eijk created a followup thread to talk about how one can create accessible tables in ePubs using html.
- A Year in RPG Self Publishing: Year 1 by Ian Yusem. This is a great peak behind the curtain on some of the realities of self publishing. Ian does a great job of consistantly opening their practice (and a few of their blog posts about Kickstarters are linked in the funding page).
- Zine or Pamplet? The format you choose to present your writting will be a factor when trying to market your game. Jared Sinclair (bookseller for spearwitch, editor, and writer) wrote a great thread of the financial considerations to choosing your format.
If you are selling your digital game, two major market places for selling digital games are itch.io as a physical game (yes, ttrpgs are tagged as physical games even though they are PDFs) or on drivethrurpg.
So you’ve put your game on itch or drivethru and you want to get a print run going. Here are some resources that can help guide you in the right direction.
- So You Want to Make a Zine: Printing by Mazirian’s Garden expands on the different ways you can print a zine (use a copy machine, print at home, print at a print shop, print through an online printer).
- Indie Game Publishing Resources by Lone Archivist collects many different avenues you could use for getting your game into print.
- The Printing Process Demystified For TTRPG Creators by Ghost Lore. This helpful guide goes over the different aspects of printing. back to index
One option for selling your printed game is to sell it yourself (on your website, as an add-on on itch, or using some other platform). The other option is to try and get some of the fantastic online sellers to carry it. This means reaching out to their buyers. Below are some different sites that sell ttrpg zines along with where they are based out of. If they are located in a different country, it may be benefitial to coordinate with them about doing a print run near them to cut down on international shipping.
Starting Guide to Pricing by Jared Sinclair (bookseller for spearwitch) gives you a good idea of a starting point for pricing physical copies of your game.
- Exalted Funeral (US). Their purchasing agent is Fiona and can be reached at email@example.com
- Floating Chair Club (US). Contact them on their twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spear Witch (US). Contact them at email@example.com
- ratti incantati (CA). Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Four Rogues Trading Company (CA). Contact them at email@example.com
Monkey’s Paw Games (CA). Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cardboard Monster (AU). Contact them at email@example.com
- Melsonia Art Council (UK). Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Soul Muppet Publishing (UK). Contact them at email@example.com
- Rook’s Press (UK). Contact them here.
Iglootree (UK). Contact them here.
- All The Problems In This World (Germany/EU). Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are two great resources on marketing your game, especially when starting out.
- A Crash Course On Marketing Your Indie RPG by Sean McCoy (the cofoudner of Tuesday Knight Game and designer of the phenomenal Mothership RPG).
- Marketing Yourself: Learn From Me As I Run Myself Like a Content Marketing Gigby Ash Kreider (designer and writer of The Watch).
- A TTRPG Creator’s Guide To Logo Design by Ghost Lore. An important part of marketing is creating a logo for your TTRPG brand, and Ghost Lore takes you through the process from start to finish.
I want to preface this section by saying that I do not have a depth of knowledge in this area. Liminal Horror was self funded (mostly through me doing the different roles of writing and design) with a commissioned cover. Since this was a smaller work that leveraged programs I already had and public domain artwork, there was not a lot of cost involved. This is not the case for all games. I truly believe that work should be fairly compensated, and so looking into the future there may be times where funds will need to be raised to pay for:
Other than self funding (or getting someone to invest/partner), there are two main crowdfunding platforms: kickstarter and itchfunding.
There have been a lot of people who write about their experiences running a kickstarter. For a truly in depth wakthrough of the pitfalls, struggles, and successes of kickstarter and ttrpg publishing, then look no further than Ian Yusem’s writing.
- Zine Quest 3 Post-Mortem: The Drain by Ian Yusem is an overview of their experience running a kickstarter for zinequest 3.
- Kickstarter Fulfillment 101: Pledge Management by Ian Yusem continues his exploration into the different facets of kickstarter. This one pertaining to pledge management.
- Kickstarter Fulfillment 101: Shipping Costs by Ian Yusem focuses on shipping costs. Since this is such a variable aspect of selling physical ttrpgs (especially in respect to the timelines from a kickstarter) this is an important part to plan for.
An alternative to Kickstarter that is newer (but avoids many of the issues with kickstarter) is itchfunding. This is most likely the avenue I would go if looking to raise funds for future work. It allows creators to move away from Kickstarter and raise funds on the same platform many of us are launching games.
- Itchfund FAQ by KeganExe is a great place to get an overview of what itchfunding is and what it can do. PlusOneEXP hosted a great discussion on Itchfunding.
- Part 1 is with Jeff Stormer
- Part 2 is with KeganExe, Adam Bell, Nic Masyk
- Part 3 is with Thomas Manuel & Sam Leigh.
- Google Doc compiling notes on the discussions by EldritchMouse.