After a certain amount of time involved in our wondrous hobby, many players and GMs will consider the prospect of creating their own game. It’s an enticing notion, to have a game with your name on it and born of your creativity. The best place to start is with a small game of limited scope, dubbed Micro RPGs by the community at large. What follows are four essential aspects of a Micro RPG to help you create your very own.
1) A Unique Take
While it’s not necessary that you reinvent the wheel with your small project, you must present your game in an original way. The game might be traditional fantasy, but perhaps all player characters are pixies. Maybe you’ve got a revised or simplified set of mechanics for an existing idea. Perhaps even you’re attempting to parody a well-known game series. Whatever your variant, fill it with your personality. Since you don’t have to create a perfectly balanced system that will appeal to everyone, feel free to make it wholly yours.
2) A Simple Mechanic
No Micro RPG should be too complex that it couldn’t be learned in a single sitting. Since most players will only turn to a Micro RPG once every so often (like so many board games), your game mechanics should be easy to grasp even by hobby novices. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t address holes in your system, only that not every aspect of life has to be given a stat and a dice roll. Keep your system focused on the reasons why you’re playing. Is it a game about space pirates? Give players a “plunder” skill that covers everything from raiding, to stealing, to leading a boarding party. Is combat a non-issue for your game? Eschew hit points entirely. So long as you keep everything simple, your game will be ready to be played at the drop of a hat (such as when your friends are sitting around thinking of something to do).
3) A Smattering Of Randomness
To keep things fresh, I recommend allowing the dice to dictate some of the lesser aspects of the game. You can create a table of outcomes people can roll, or a deck of wacky items that everyone contributes to prior to the game’s start. Part of the enjoyment of any roleplaying game is the drama of the dice roll. Will a player’s attempts to flee from a demon succeed or fail? Will that treasure horde hold something awesome or something hilarious? Whatever path you choose, you should certainly include an element of uncertainty in your game.
4) A Spark Of Life
Here follows the most important of the aspects listed. The energy that you bring to the game’s creation will be represented in its display. If you create it using your own creative methods and ideas, it will show at the table and your players will love it all the more. This spark can be anything from a wacky set of props that vary from game to game, the requirement of players to have shifting characteristics as the game progresses, or the spirit of competition (such as in the game Everyone Is John). Let that flicker of ingenuity guide your game and run with it. Sell it with your own enthusiasm, and your players will certainly jump on board.
I wholeheartedly believe that every gamer has a game inside them waiting to spill out onto the table. If you’ve had an idea that you’ve been busting to share, this is the best place for it. Let us know what you’re working on or what you want to create!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. He’s currently creating a Micro RPG (tentatively) called Fame, wherein players take control of actors and their own characters in an under-budget film. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Picture reference: http://www.ebay.com/cln/xiagen/mini-dice/135436579016
I am a huge fan of the Fate Core roleplaying system. I came at the game from a theoretical perspective; I was looking for a game that fit a list of criteria for what I liked in a role-playing game, and it seemed to fit. Now, the group I play with is just wrapping up a year-long campaign (with myself as the gamemaster) base on Ed Turner’s ‘Aether Sea’ setting, and I found that the system really does deliver on its promise. The mechanics are light enough that you can play a whole session without opening a book, but substantial enough to put meat on the bones of the game world. There is also a ton of content developed for the system: worlds, extras, and characters, much of it free for the taking.
In this article, I want to share and review a few of the tools that I found useful when playing Fate. I take no credit for the things I didn’t make - just linking to information that I found already available on the interwebs. I hope you enjoy!
1) Fate SRD
The System Reference Document of any role-playing game system is a must-have for gamemasters. For the uninitiated, it is usually the text of the core rulebook uploaded to the internet in a searchable, hyperlinked form. Super useful. Amazing Rando Design has done this for the Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition rulebooks, as well as some additional material.
2) Fantasy Creatures Site
Inkwell Ideas, Inc. has developed a website resource for the Fate Core system. It features a long list of fantasy creatures, many of which will seem familiar to long-time role-players: roper, kobold, tarrasque, etc. (it’s missing the Beholder, though. I was disappointed! Trademark issue, maybe?). The list has everything you could want in order to play a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder-style campaign. One weakness: the creatures are all designed to be Main NPCs or powerful supporting NPCs, so don’t set your group up against a full raiding party of orcs from this list. That being said, it’s quite a simple matter to have one to four big baddies surrounded by a horde of nameless NPCs. Fantastic (+6) resource!
3) Character Generator
Reddit is a vast, desolate landscape you shouldn’t even try to enter without a cleric who can prepare ‘Create Water’ daily; but out there you will often find gems. On a FATErpg forum, green_circles randomly (and quite generously) uploaded a spreadsheet random character generator, for which I am eternally grateful. Enter something in an empty cell on the sheet and press enter, and the sheet randomly generates all the aspects and skills for a random main or supporting NPC, as well as a list of situation aspects for everything from guards to terrain, and physical, mental, and social advantages. I never used the characters as they were randomly generated, but it was a great brainstorming tool, and all of my important NPCs had at least a couple of aspects generated by this spreadsheet.
4) Opposition Sheet
This one is a Landru original. One thing I had trouble with as a gamemaster is the amount of player agency that Fate offers. Not only can players go a completely different way than you expected, (every gamemaster’s plans work until the players show up) players also have the agency to solve problems in multiple different ways, using a variety of skill in non-linear ways to create advantages and circumvent created encounters. Eventually, I more or less gave up planning. I created a ‘difficulty level’ spreadsheet to help me to improvise. This meant that no matter what direction the players took the narrative, I knew more or less the difficulty I should pit them against to create the appropriate dramatic tension. I incorporated the core rulebook’s guidelines for passive and active opposition; the scale on the right hand side corresponds to the scale used on the Fantasy Creatures site; and on the left I included some situations where each level would be appropriate. The file is uploaded below. You’re welcome!
5) Snarf World
This is the bonus track for people who have kept reading up to this point. One of the wonderful and hilarious accidental products of our game was the creation of snarfs. Snarfs are an alien species of indeterminate anatomy that the sentient races have begun to use for entertainment. They are raced against each other, with bets being placed on who will win, who will lose, who will place, who will eat their jockey, and whether or not the race will even finish. It is a fun side-quest that can turn into the entire focus of a game if you let it. At the bottom of this article, I have included a text file of the rules for running your very own snarf race. The point of this is to create an absurd fictional narrative in the style of a race sportscast. Have fun!
There were several other resources that I created and/or modified for use in the Aether Sea setting (now also linked so you can grab a copy from DriveThru RPG), and I plan to share those in an upcoming article. I hope these resources help you to take your game to the next level!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Nothing helps create flourish in a homebrew campaign setting like unique experiences. Everyone in my group is familiar with my campaign settings. When I throw them "Warpling" demons and Shadow Sorcerers, they are reminded who's universe they are in. Those creatures are to my campaign what the Uruk-Hai are to Lord of the Rings, White Walkers are to Game of Thrones, or what Dementors are to Harry Potter.
It's that extra bit of flavour that instantly reminds your players where they are adventuring. Sometimes this can be as simple as reskinning a monster. Many game masters find it fun to create a new monster from scratch (whether it's a completely new monster, or even a modification to an existing monster). Maybe you want to revamp your Orc faction by creating an Orc who wields two maces, called an Orc Juggernaut. Or maybe you want to create a whole new monster to assist your kobold dungeon defenders by creating a hydrake (a drake with five heads).
It may also be useful to note that customising (or even re-skinning monsters) can help with both conscious and subconscious metagaming. It's always handy to keep the players on their toes. Even if they are not trying to metagame, somewhere in the back of their minds they'll have preconceived ideas about how to position/attack certain types of monsters like Grells or Mind Flayers. But if you put in little twists or custom monsters, you could even catch them off guard!
I have a few tips to help you when you are creating some dangerous monsters. I hope these will help you on your way to adding many memorable moments to your homebrew campaign, or even a surprise twist as part of a published adventure!
1. Who Are The Monsters With?
Think about where your monster fits into the world. Think about what faction they will be with. Would they be raiding alongside demons, or guarding an undead tomb? Think about what kind of monster they are. Think about who they would be working with. You can look at the factions that are in your campaign and the monsters and build them together logically.
I like to do lists, per faction, of the different monsters that are in that faction. So my undead faction, The Legion, has skeletons, zombies, ghouls and vampires. I’d list all these enemies, for all my factions. This allows me to look at each list and see which faction needs some more units in its arsenal. Let’s say my demon faction only has three monsters on its list - it’s a bit empty, so I would think about another demon-themed monster or demon ally.
An ice golem wouldn't hang around a group of fire demons in a volcano; they'd melt! Similarly a monster working alongside Medusa would either be blind or have something that makes them immune to petrification. So make sure that you use this line of thinking when considering adding monsters to a faction. By adding with theme in mind, you can further immerse your players.
2. Where Does The Monster Fit in Their Faction Hierarchy?
Think about why the monster is part of the faction. What role do they fill? If an Orc tribe uses dire wolves and giant bats for reconnaissance, tracking, flanking, and otherwise quick-reacting support, then they probably wouldn't also use Displacer Beasts, giant spiders, and Stirges too, as they perform the same roles.
When creating a new monster, make sure that it has a reason for existing. It has to bring something to the table, the goblins don't train wolves for fun, they train them to use as fast, mobile units. Ensure that your custom monster which serves as a bodyguard for a dragon, doesn't step on its master's toes by solely using a breath weapon and claw/bite attack.
Look at the list of monsters in that faction. What is it lacking? A powerful goblin clan might lack big tanky enemies - in which case you could throw in bugbears, trolls, etc. Or maybe if they are industrial goblins, they could create automatons as custom monsters that fulfill the same role!
3. What Makes Your Monster Cool?
What makes your monster memorable? Giving an Orc two maces instead of an axe isn't enough. They need something on top of it. Give them cool abilities, unique traits, something that the PCs will remember, both during and after subsequent sessions. ("Oh crap, not the crazed blue-orcs with the double maces!" your PCs might say.)
Maybe the orcs with blue blood are far more brutish and barbarian-like than their green-skinned brethren. It's very easy to portray this with a few little unique traits. "Whenever the blueskin scores a critical hit with a weapon attack, the PC must pass a strength save or be stunned." Then "every time the blueskin takes an instance of damage, increase his own weapon damage rolls by +1." You could even provide him an ability from the Barbarian class to make them more memorable.
You can really go to town with giving creatures abilities or traits to really define them, and make them cool and memorable. Maybe pyro goblins are infused with the power of a fire elemental, giving them fire resistance, and a 1/day use of a fire breath attack (which uses a level 1 burning hands spell effect). Perhaps the Orc chieftain can use his reaction to attack a PC that hits him in melee. Don't be afraid of adding things that give monsters a unique or cool factor to them.
4. Is Your Monster Fun to Fight?
Some monsters are cool, yes, but are they fun for the PCs to fight? Think about ways to change that. Ensure that you are aware of abilities and traits that take away player agency and abilities, and make sure that you use these in moderation. Having an enemy wizard with shield and counterspell isn't too bad as an infrequent boss, but having 4 straight encounters with counterspell-wielding enemies will frustrate your spellcasters immensely.
Another thing to look at when deciding whether something is fun to fight is the amount of time a combat with this monster would take. For example, a monster that forces saving throws constantly will slow down the game. Too much of this can make encounters less fun. Be careful with monsters that can force multiple saves, have multiple complex legendary actions, or other abilities that can slow down the game too much.
When making monsters, put yourself in a PC's pair of shoes. Is this monster fun to fight? If it's too boring, too disruptive (disruption is fine in moderation), or too controlling, or too time demanding, then you should take note of this and make adjustments accordingly. These adjustments can either be made to nerf or rework some of the abilities, or you can simply use these monsters more infrequently, or in specially designed encounters to balance out the encounter a little.
5. Expect the Need For Modifications
Nobody can expect every custom monster they create to be perfect from the moment they hit the battle grid (or the mind theatre, depending on how you play your D&D). Expect that your monster may be more or less powerful than they look on paper. Ensure that you make adjustments either after the encounter or during, to nerf or buff as needed. Perhaps their abilities aren't working the way you wanted, in which case you may need to rework them for future battles. Or you can just drop it completely and modify it for use in the next campaign in a few months/years time for a good re-release of the monster.
Either way, never feel disappointed if a monster isn't quite as powerful as what you wanted, or if it is too powerful when you first release it on your PCs. Fine tuning is a very common thing here. While experience definitely helps, the bottom line is having the stats on paper is only the start. You will need to see it in action before you can really judge how it goes.
I hope that this guide is useful in giving you tips that help you start, or improve, your custom monster creations. The only true way to improve is practice, but sometimes all you need is a little bit of motivation and inspiration to start creating some little critters.
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.