Tuesday, 17 January 2012

How to write a free RPG - Chapter 6: Organisation

In this Chapter, you'll learn how to organise your free RPG. Organisation is very important because a poorly organised game can be confusing and will put people off playing it. An RPG is both read and referred to. It needs to be reference material as well as something enjoyable to read. To achieve this, you must be careful to choose a logical structure and a layout which is both pleasing and useful. This is an improved version of a previous guide to organisation.

The Structure

Organise the game in a logical structure such that it reads clearly. Explain concepts (such as Attributes) before you use them (in mechanics). You game should include the following sections in this order:

Front Cover

At the very least, it must contain the name of your game. It does not need to be a graphic but the name is a nice font. You've put a lot of work into it, I do hope you're proud of it so put your name on it, or use a pseudonym. If a GM is printing your game to convince their players to play, the better it looks the more likely the prospective GM will be able to run it.

Contents Page

A contents page should include all the major headings and sub headings. Lists of tables, images and diagrams belong in the Appendix. Try and keep the contents to a couple of pages and compress the font or line space to fit more on a page. Contents pages are used to scan from front-to-back for topic headings, if you make it too large, it does not become useful for this. Lines can be compressed as people will only scan through the Contents, they are unlikely to read it like paragraphs of prose. This is only optional if your game is under 7 pages.

Thank you / Version / Dedication

(Optional). Chances are you're going to need to thank someone for helping you through the game and this is best place for it. Might be a spouse, girlfriend (if you have both, don't include both here). Try and keep it to a page. Always put on a date. If you feel you need more than a date to uniquely describe your game, put on a version number. If you don't like software versioning (1.1, 1.2 etc) use round numbers (1,2,3,4,5...).


The introduction is likely to be the first thing that the reader will go to after the cover, avoid fluffy marketing speak. It must include the following:
  • What is in the book? System? Setting? Sample adventure?
  • What is the genre of the setting? What are the major themes?
  • What will the characters do?
  • What sort of mechanic is it (dice/diceless/pool)?
  • If you game requires another book to use (such as Fate core rules), then say so here.

Character Creation

Begin this section by listing all of the steps so that the reader knows what is coming. Then describe each of the steps, giving examples when needed. Optionally, include a start-to-finish character generation. Make sure your example character will fit into the example adventure you provide. Don't put your skills inline unless there is only half a page of them. Put them in the Appendix.


If you have designed your own mechanics, start with an introduction to them. What sort of mechanic is it? Target number? Dice pool? After this brief introduction, deal with each mechanic area in turn. Beginning with unopposed action resolution and then opposed actions. Combat / magic / narrative mechanics last. If you have a core concept that runs through them all (such as rolling dice to meet a target number), deal with that first.


For more information on writing the Setting, see the Chapter on Settings.

Gamesmaster Section

GM sections are important and at the very minimum include an Example Adventure. The example adventure should showcase your setting without relying too much on the system. Imagine the experience the roleplayers will have: They'll sit down. Make characters and the GM will begin. Make the adventure simple to understand and also get the point of the setting. Perhaps give example characters too.

Additional setting information should also be included. If there are things the players should not know but the GM should, then include them. It is normally the GM that presents the game to play to the group so make it delicious for them too.


Any item that disturbs the flow of explanation should go in the Appendix. Lists are the biggest culprit. Put them at the back, they won't get read through from start to finish and are used more like reference. It might feel a bit jarring to move the skill list from inside the character creation section but I assure you that it will be better off in actual use.

Examples of things that should really go in the Appendix are:
  • Skills
  • Equipment
  • Spells
  • Bestiary
  • Charts and Tables
  • Character Sheet

Back cover

I would have a bit of advertising blurb on the back and perhaps instructions to the print shop that it is ok to print for personal use. If a prospective GM has printed it and bound it nicely, the players will soon go to the back cover. Avoid suggesting that it is the best game in the world and that it will change the way people live their lives, instead pick out things that the characters would do and make those things sound exciting. Is the game about sticking a giant sword into the face of a particularly shifty looking dragon? Great! Tell us on the back cover.


Layout is a very subjective part of game design and as such, this section is really intended for those who do not know where to start. When deciding on your layout, take the following into account:
  • The first time your game is seen, it will be on a monitor
  • Many people still print the games for use at the table
  • Printer toner and paper are expensive

A stock layout

A stock layout is a portrait page with two columns evenly spaced. Images are placed within the text. Some packages allow you to curl the text around the jagged edge of the image (rather than being square). To maintain readability, leave a gap of at least 4mm between the graphic and your prose.
  • Margin thick enough to allow someone to bind the game.
  • Number of the chapter at the bottom in the middle. Putting it in the corner means that the person printing it cannot choose between single and double sided paper print.
  • Chapter names in the header are useful when used as reference.
  • Two columns is normally easier to read, long lines make it difficult for the eye to find the next line.
  • The above is portait, if you're going for landscape then consider 3 columns.
  • The eye naturally tracks to the top left and bottom right of the page. Put text there to keep the reader's attention. If it fits the layout well, aim to put images in the top right/bottom left of the page.


Thought said...

I liked your first take on this topic, and this version doesn't disappoint. However, I am almost positive that I’ve seen you recommend where to place images on a page (based on where people naturally scan to when reading a book). If that sounds at all familiar, perhaps copying that information into the layout section of this article might be useful. Or if I just made that up, ignore me.

Anonymous said...

Back Cover section has a dangling sentence. "Avoid suggesting that it is the best game in the world and that it will change the way people live their lives, instead pick "

Pick what? Another phrase, your nose, what? I need to know!

Rob Lang said...

@Thought, thank you. I have said that and it is correct. I have updated the layout section.

@Anonymous. Shoddy warning! Thank you for that, I can't believe I glossed over it in my read through. I'll make sure I read Testing more thoroughly. I've updated the sad trailing sentance. :)

Anonymous said...

Being with = Beginning with ??

Good job with this series.

Rob Lang said...

@Anonymous, thank you! Have fixed. Glad you like the series.

I must say that this has been the shoddiest post I've ever made. It's been full of typos. I've been back through the others to ensure a better quality and they're not nearly as bad as this one!

Thanks everyone.

anarchist said...

"Images are placed with the text but curling text around them can be difficult to read."

Is this meant to imply that images should take up the whole column? If so, it might be worth saying that explicitly.

Rob Lang said...

@anarchist - Good call. Have improved the sentence.