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My first self published Tabletop RPG: I'm in over my head.


New member
Hello, first off I am New and sought out this forum specifically to reach out to the community and try to gain some much needed perspective. I've been cooking a game up mentally for a long time and kind of procrastinating about it but recently it all just started unfolding and I am confident I have a great idea that will be an engaging and wonderful experience for veteran RPG players. I started looking for artists to hop on board and take a chance at getting a foot in the industry alongside me. Now, however, I am absolutely terrified. I'm officially in charge of leading the design for this game and really I have zero experience making games. I truly have done a ton of research, I'm a veteran of almost 18 years of RPG nerdlove but I don't really understand the process. We are currently working on the proto type and it's just overwhelming I have an unbelievable amount of work on my desk and no clue where to start. the game was designed by theme vs mechanics and both were fully cooked. I don't want to just reveal the theme or mechanics because I am protective of my project but I assure you it incorporates the best of the best from popular mechanics while exhibiting an epic twist on the DM role. I can say this much, it is a raid based dungeon RPG with a level progression system and talent trees. If you were taking a game like WoW and making it a table top board game where the raids were the board and the key focus were boss fights where would you begin? Any help is appreciated. I am in over my head.


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Start with the "check" and know everything about how your dice work.

The basics of how your dice work, how you bonuses and penalties work, will define EVERYTHING. Will it be a "linear" distribution like d20 is supposed to be (which it loses when the roll is opposed) with a ton of +2s? or is it going to be dice pools like Shadowrun or World of Darkness? or rolling two different dice of differing sizes based on attributes and skills like Where Æternity Stands? Sounds like you already know what you're wanting to do, but make certain you understand EXACTLY what it is doing. http://anydice.com will help you tremendously to understand what the odds actually do in many situations. The dice dictate the world in its entirety, from how combat functions to what makes a character "tough" or "fast." Gravity does not exist because things fall, things fall because of gravity. The dice are not so because the character, the character is so because of the dice.

Edit, edit, edit, edit, play test, and edit...

I know this sounds cheesy, but the fundamental need to be clear and easy to use. Do not be afraid to write and rewrite them, even if the rewrite says the exact same thing. And expect to change things. Some stuff just wont work and you won't see this until you try to use it, or even well after you've put it in, used it, then something changes and renders it obsolete.

Group communication

Make certain that everyone is on the same page in terms of theme and design strategy. And make certain that everyone's voice is heard. The simply fact is that if you want "your" game, then you have to do it alone. When you bring others in, things will be affected by their involvement. It's not a bad thing. It's often a good thing in fact.

Hope this helps.


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I don't want to just reveal the theme or mechanics because I am protective of my project but I assure you it incorporates the best of the best from popular mechanics while exhibiting an epic twist on the DM role.
Not to slight your sincerity, but unimplemented ideas are worthless in this business. There is never any point in concealing mechanics or basic premises from the audience because A) everybody making a game is already obsessively enthusiastic about their own concepts and B) an idea, per se, is unsalable until it has been wrapped in the mantle of a product on the virtual shelves. What people may eventually pay you for is not going to be your idea, it's going to be the pain, suffering, expense, and tedious labor of transforming that idea into a 200-page softcover they can order from DriveThruRPG.

Right now, you've backed into the wrong structure for your current situation. You're a raw newbie game author who's never put together a finished product before. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being one, and it's an unskippable step toward being a game author with an actual salable product, but this is not the time to be assembling a team for anything at all. You are nowhere near ready to be commissioning art, ordering layout, and coordinating multiple contributors to the manuscript document. If your game hinges on physical artifacts such as printed game boards or the like, then you've officially jumped into the I Will Lose All My Money end of the pool. What you need to do now is back things out until you're at a position where you can plot functional milestones for your project and only add new personnel when you're ready to benefit from them.

The first thing you need is a completed game manuscript, one that has been rigorously playtested. While it's possible to get advice and contributions from outside parties, this generally requires a degree of expertise at project management that is unlikely to be possessed by someone who hasn't already done a great deal of this or who hasn't a similar skillset from their day job. The unfortunately more likely outcome is a vague blob of semi-contributors who rarely send in their assignments, and when they do the coordinator doesn't feel up to reconciling the inevitable differences. The likelihood of this happening rises dramatically as the pay for the work decreases, down to a near certainty for unpaid volunteer work. Or for royalty-based work, which is a way of saying "unpaid" with more paperwork. What this boils down to is that you should expect to have to write the full manuscript yourself.

Does your game include boards and pieces? That's bad. That's very bad. Anything that can't be shipped as a normal paper book adds a brutal level of logistical complication to its printing and fulfillment, because you will not be doing a conventional print run of this game unless you want to take a trip to that I Will Lose All My Money experience. You will be doing a print-on-demand setup where you publish the game through DriveThruRPG/RPGNow and let your buyers buy POD copies. Now, it's possible to arrange things so you can print map tiles along with a paper book and bundle them so people can order them both at once, but map tokens are limited to print-and-play stuff through this outlet. And if you don't sell your game through the OBS back end that powers DTRPG/RPGNow, you're walking away from the Amazon of the indie RPG publisher retail outlets.

Once you have the rigorously-tested manuscript, it's time to move on to the layout stage, where you find someone to do the layout for the book. They'll arrange the text on the page, assign art slots, and otherwise turn your raw words into a recognizable book. Once they've specified the art slots, you can then start hiring artists to fill them according to the topics and dimensions involved. Once that's done, then you get your OBS publisher account and load it up there, get a print proof to make sure everything's right, and then activate it for public sale. And then sell approximately 50 copies of it over the life of the game, because as a new publisher you have no existing fanbase and you're competing for attention with dozens of new games and products released weekly.

As is implied by this probable sales magnitude, you can't afford to spend much money on this project. You will not be getting a meaningful financial return on it. If you support it relentlessly for several years, you might start to see some real money come in, but you will be working for a year or two at a minimum with trivial returns. And if Kickstart starts looking like a cure for this, allow me to strongly counsel against it. Aside from newbie publishers not having the fanbase to support a Kickstarter, those who have never published a game before are strongly advised not to try learning to do so on a deadline where failure will result in public humiliation and potential lawsuits.

If you're serious about publishing this, I would instead urge you to put the game aside and start with something much more manageable. A D&D 5e module offered through WotC's DMs' Guild storefront, for example. Something small, 20 pages or less. Learn to mimic the general layout yourself with Scribus, familiarize yourself with the layout process, grab free art for your DMs' Guild project from the website, and just use it as a practical learning experience for producing a product from idea to POD-printed book. Then offer it up for free on the DMs' Guild site so you get exposure and begin building a mailing list which you can later use to pitch your larger projects. It may be that you have no interest at all in making a module. That's great! Because if a person can't plow through 20 pages of work they find totally tedious and uninteresting, they may not be ideally equipped with the diligence to handle a full-fledged game. Sadly, I can guarantee you that there will be far more than 20 pages of hatefully tedious work in building even the best-loved creation.

For general tips, I can recommend a few of my freebies:
The Sandbox #1 for advice on Kickstarter management that includes details on the layout and art direction stages of RPG production.
A Brief Study of TSR Book Design for a basic vocabulary about layout, even if you don't intend to replicate any TSR styles.
The Smoking Pillar of Lan Yu for an example module in the old TSR style, with an .idml source file that Scribus can read so you can play around with the layout.


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Umm, before you get to the dice,
What is the goal of the game? What will each session of play look like? How broad or narrow do you want the game's focus to be?

Basically, do you want this to be a game about character interactions as they deal with the pressure and tension of clearing dungeons? Or is this a game about epic combat against ultra amazingly powerful villians? Or perhaps is this a game about deep and thoughtful strategy?

Whichever it is, that will determine what you need from your mechanics, especially your dice mechanics.

Deep and thoughtful strategy will require many combat options, the effectiveness of which will need to depend on multiple factors, while awesome and epic combats will need quick rounds of combat will options for amazing and epic antics, yet where each combat will last for several rounds, while the character focused concept will need more mechanics to deal with tension and relationships with the combat relegated to being short and sweet, with interactions between players being important and having important mechanical effects.

(actually that would be cool. Can you imagine the two players needing to roleplay a downtime scene with rolls about how they talk to each other to see if they successfully cheer each other up, or merely drive each other apart, all with raising tensions along the way, which will of course affect their next fight? Totally awesome concept if it could be done right. I think I just gave myself a new rpg project. I should help others more often. :D )

Anyway, once you know the focus of the game and what you want a session to look like, then you can start with the core dice mechanic and see how well it fits within the idea of a perfect session. Then you can start adding the detail mechanics and character options, trying each one out against that perfect session, and against all mechanics that are already included.

Also, beware of bloating. When you get ideas of neat things to add in addition to your initial ideas, write them down then forget about them. When your initial idea is playable and stable, then you can dig that paper of other ideas out of it's hole and check each idea to see how well it fits. If it seems doable, then you can add it, test it, and make sure previous mechanics and character options fit well with it. Once that idea has been implemented successfully, then you can check the next, and so on.


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What the others above me have said is valuable.

I'm a newbie game writer too. But, after having some reservations I put enough of my material out on the web (and later on DriveThruRPG) that people could actually play the game for free. The result has been that I've gotten a lot more feedback: some extremely positive, others extremely negative. Guess what? Both the good and bad feedback is incredibly useful. It can be both wonderful to hear the good stuff, and hard to hear the bad stuff, but it is something necessary to hear (and to also work towards getting used to deciding just what to do with). If you don't put your product out there, you won't get that feedback. Especially when new it is important. I've had people take my ideas, but only in ways which were harmless and flattering. Plus, if you get it out there publically first, it isn't like people can't trace an idea back to you if there's legitimate harmful theft (which seems highly unlikely to me).

So, write your game, playtest it, refine it, and eventually, get it out there. Get a playtest version out to the public that's enough for them to use. You don't have to give everything out for free, but something to show off that is enough for people to start playing is good.

But, don't be fearful. Your first game (and maybe to some degree all the ones after) is an experiment in finding out where you are going right and where you are going wrong.

"If you're serious about publishing this, I would instead urge you to put the game aside and start with something much more manageable."

I really second this bit from CardinalXimenes... it's part of the reason I decided to pair up with someone with far more experience than I and work on a small project while I delay my larger one a bit. If you can, pair up with someone that has already published material, and get that experience too. Just propose doing something really small. It's a good experience and makes things more manageable.
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Bruno Carvalho de Paula

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Lots of great advice in this thread. I'd like to add my own 2 cents. It is a thing that some fellows already touched, but I want to make it clearer.

Fail Faster. And by that I mean: Publish. Publish ASAP. Use it to learn from your mistakes. Don't be wary of publishing little free games, or even a rules-lite quickstarter module to your own game, or anything. The more you can publish small projects before you launch the full-fledged game, the more steam you'll garner around your name and your game. Most "voluntary" playtest data will only come up AFTER you've published your game, as people will sincerely approach it to play it and find points you never imagined while designing your masterpiece. DO NOT spend years of work before publishing anything, as it will only sap your determination.

And do not expect to make a living from writing RPGs. Should it happen, thats great news. But know that it only happens to VERY few people in this VERY niche market.


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Take a look at design posts here like Unity, or take a look at how Red Rogue started out.

People lay out mechanics, ideas, heck Red Rogue is a computer game, and half the code was being shared at the time of development.

Your idea will presumably have many permutations, and has depth beyond what a few lines can encompass. Don't be so paranoid about sharing, and be aware that if you have enough of a product that you can publish, and someone steals it, IP law is 100% on your side anyway. It isn't like there is a lot of gray space.

To answer your question, if I were making a raid-based board game, I'd...first get more detailed than that. Are we simulating waves of adventurers, or do individual characters matter? What will the bosses be like? What mechanics make a boss battle central to the game? Things like that.

But I agree with all the others. If your inclination is to get help while keeping all your cards hidden, neither you nor we will be very satisfied with the quality of conversation that results, I suspect. We won't be able to give you the detailed feedback that actually helps, only abstract things that have a tiny chance of inspiring you. And you won't be able to share anything about your game that matters.


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To agree with pretty much everyone else in the thread, I would strongly recommend sharing as much as possible so as to get feedback. I can somewhat understand not being willing to reveal the mechanics, but if you aren't willing to talk about the theme... well, I'm not sure what you could possibly get out of this. You say you're overwhelmed, but I'm not entirely sure what by. Is prototyping really complicated? Assembling some physical hardcopy? Iterating on the base design?

This board can be a great resource, but you need to give to get. I've posted a ton of "original" ideas here, including a mostly-complete system, but am not especially worried. Think about the amount of work you need to do, and how concerned you are about it: anyone who wanted to steal your ideas would need to do all of that plus some more, for an idea that they're probably not going to be particularly passionate about. Building a system is hard, time consuming work, and then they'll need to contract art, run a kickstarter or something similar, put together a finished layout, etc. Pretty much anyone who was willing to do that already has games they would love to work on, and are highly unlikely to abandon those to steal yours.


New member
I don't have the time I need to reply to each post individually so I'm going to be vague and broad in trying to reach all of you. The game is called Omnivia Tactics: Shadow of Souls. The theme of the game is enlightenment or achieving nirvana. The story takes place not in a location or a fictional world but inside the players hearts, in what is described as the real world, the realm of the soul, a realm of imagination incarnate. The whole plot of the story is that players will create an avatar to represent their soul and then enter into Omnivia to cast out their demons. The dungeon system is based on the 7 deadly sins and the classes are the 7 virtues. Each dungeon and it's minions and bosses are themed around that sin. The twist is that the player acting as DM is not just manipulating the bad guys and NPCS, he is acting as the last boss of the game who is a mod of Satan, called Eve'el. Eve is banished in abyss and unable to enter into the world of Souls, but her power is liken to God and she has been influencing the world for a long time rallying legions of the dampened to act as her puppets. As you and the DM have skirmishes which lead up to boss fights the DM levels up the last boss, because experience is gained by combat not successful combat. This lets the DM have a character they are becoming invested in as well ans they will see the other side of the story.


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There are some interesting ideas there. I'm going to focus entirely on the mechanical side of things, since the fluff lives or dies on implementation, and will be a lot harder to evaluate.

Building a system around a final boss for an entire campaign is interesting. It has some obvious benefits, but it also has some obvious issues. What if players never get there? What if players want to keep playing after they kill the final boss? What if they encounter the final boss early somehow and kill it?

Having the final boss gain xp over the course of the campaign is also interesting, but potentially raises way more issues than it solves. The DM already needs to deal with making dungeons, statting out NPCs, and running the game. They're presumably already invested. Having them need to make another character, one that probably won't become relevant until the end, may be seen as pointless annoying busywork, especially if, as is not unlikely, the game won't ever reach that point. Plus, they're already going to need a way to balance enemies against the party, so there isn't much different between just statting out the final boss when times comes for that, based on the level of the party, instead of needing to actively tally xp per combat. You, as a designer, now also need to balance the final boss to ensure that players will have a fun engaging encounter even if they've lost some fights and therefore given more xp to the big end-guy.

I think a lot of people in this thread were asking a bit more about the nuts and bolts, of what players will be doing over the course of a given session or encounter. How are actions resolved? What dice system are you using? That kind of thing, since those are often the mechanics that determine if a game is fun or not.
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