This guide assumes that you would like to share your free RPG with the world in the hope that others play it (the desire of most RPG philanthropists). You might have an RPG already or the seed of one sprouting in cranial firmament. If you are playing your lite fantasy RPG at home with friends and jealously guard it, never to share it outside your gaming group then ignore this post. Furthermore, if you are into crafting retro clones, your job is to hark back to the early thrashings of dice and minis. Carry on as you are!
Although much of the below can apply to full length fantasy roleplaying games it is the Lite games that often become indistinguishable. The desire to keep rule and page counts down means that individuality is slight. If you have sent me a lite fantasy game recently, please do not think I'm just talking about you! This post has been months on the back burner and a recent flood has brought it to the fore.
Write a settingA setting is where you can really personalise your game. Most free fantasy systems imply a setting in the loosest of terms: the existence and style of magic, the types of races, attributes and skills go a long way to suggest a setting. However, it is often not enough to be unique. Add maps, local personalities and organisations, secret societies and so on. The mechanics can remain light: flesh out how the system is implemented to make a different game.
Avoid standard fantasy elementsThe definition of player character races is the first place where you can depart from fantasy lore. You may have an excellent idea for Elven creatures but the word 'Elves' brings along a huge amount of baggage. Use a different name and you are free from the strictures of fantasy canon. The only exception is 'Humans'. You don't have to put Humans in your game but if you do, then it is an understandable benchmark. If having Elves, Humans and Dwarves defines fantasy to you then do put them in but be aware that your game is running down a well trodden path.
Go back to the folklore sourceSo much of Eddings, Tolkein, D&D and other great fantasy proponents is inspired by northern European folklore and history. So can you! I'm no expert in folklore, and neither is Wikipedia. You don't have to be to pillage for inspiration.
Read other gamesIn research, there are two schools of thought: Ignorance provides you with freedom and knowledge allows you to avoid other's mistakes. Having tried both academically and in roleplay, I can recommend the latter. By reading other games, you will be able to find a niche for your own game by reading what is already out there. You might think Norse is different enough but then you find Midgard by Ben Redmond or The Beast of Limfjord by Nathan Russell.
Invert a popular themeBy taking a popular theme and turning it upside down you can end up with a very different type of game. For example, magic in most games is wielded by Wizards. Instead, what if magic was the purview of the general populace?
Optional Mechanic CrunchA lite system can be given a little more edge by having optional rules to add crunch for those gaming groups who like their game hard and crispy. I won't dwell on this technique because I do not think adding rules is a good solution to this problem.
Borrow from outside the genreWith care, you can take concepts from outside fantasy and build them into your fantasy universe. While watching a Sci Fi or CSI:Miami, think about how various things would look in the fantasy world. Robots might be magical constructs - beings moulded from natural detritus and bound together as a servant. Perhaps your game is about fantasy Crime Scene Investigation: the Dwarf is missing a head, find the head, find the killer.
To go further with this idea, you might want to crash two (or more) very different genres head on. Steam-punk-fantasy, Space-Opera-Supers, Cyberpunk-Anime-Supers, Modern-Fantasy.
Take from the natural worldThe natural world is an awful place. So inhumane! Lift some of the terrible things animals do to each other and place them into societies. Imagine a player group stumbling into a society of mostly ladies and young boys only to find out that the local custom is for the woman to eat her lover after conception! When projected onto sentient species, the actions of nature reads like a nightmare.
Get feedbackBeing objective about a labour of love requires a heart of granite and a mind of onyx. Instead, find some roleplay author colleagues (knowledgeable types are best) and ask them for their frank opinions. I do try this with my player group who delight in any opportunity, no matter how small, to ridicule and guffaw at any idea.
If you are stuck for useful friends (as I am), then I can recommend the free RPG community at 1KM1KT, who will always react for calls for help and will offer as many different opinions as there are people on the forum.
Have your say!While patting this entry out on my duck tape repaired laptop, it occured to me that I might read like something of an arse. If you agree that there are enough good lite fantasy systems out there or perhaps that I've lost the plot please do let me know in the comments.
Finally, I'd like to thank Badelaire of Tankards and Broadswords who acted as a sounding board on Google Wave while I was drafting this post. Thanks Badelaire!