How we design a role-playing game

I thought I’d share a bit about how our game design process works and (in a subsequent post) what we’re currently working on. This is not necessarily the best way to design a game, and we’re always looking at ways to get more stuff done, but at the same time we are only two people, geographically separated and both with full time jobs and families. This is what works for us.


We have lots of ideas. Any time we have an idea that might be game worthy, we put it on our (private) Wiki. Currently we have around 40 ideas that are worth making an entire game from. At this stage the idea is simply a 1-4 line premise. This could be as simple as “A spy game” or as in-depth as

Status: Refugee (working title) – Set today, the Solar System is destroyed by a nova. Luckily for us, the Interstellar government intervenes and transports all 6 billion of us off-world, in the very short space of time we have left before the Sun explodes. We all then become refugees spread across dozens of worlds, with no clue about laws, customs, aliens, technology, where our families are, etc. Many, many campaign and adventure possibilities.


We let the ideas sit on the ideas page for a while to germinate. Because we tend to read that page relatively frequently, we’ll see something that catches our eye and remember something to add it to the idea. Eventually, one of us will write a piece of fiction or a scrap of a system or background, often as a blog post. This gives the idea enough weight to drop into …


At this point we give the idea it’s own wiki page and move any content to there. Usually we’ve had enough work done on this point to at least fill one page. Our wiki sends us updates via RSS any time someone makes a change to any page, so that’s usually what sparks things off. I’ll check out an update Matt has made, then I’ll add a bit to what he’s done, based on whatever goes click in my head when I read (and vice-versa). This tends to be bursty, so we get 4-5 “bits” done at a time, where a bit can be anything like a collection of relevant links, a piece of relevant fiction, some background notes, or even an entire system.

Our projects hang out in this stage for a while, until they gather enough of these bits that the wiki starts to become an unwieldy place for them to gather any more. We currently have 12 games in this stage, some of which we have blogged about (as seen under our Game Design category). This is one area where we are inconsistent on what happens next, but generally we go into …

Book Development

We create a book outline (with all four parts of course) that gives us some idea of how big the book is likely to be. Then we’ll slot whatever blog posts and wiki material we have into that book outline in a desktop publishing app.

From there we keep adding written material, look for artwork, rewrite things we don’t like and so forth. We currently have 5 ideas in this stage, at various stages of completion. We expect to see one of them drop out of this part of the funnel and into print Real Soon Now.

About AJ

Gamist: 14%, Simulationist: 29%, Narrativist: 57%. Ah, the irony.
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