The benefits of researching before you design are:
- Helps avoid reproducing a game that's already out there
- Ensures your facts are straight
- Aids inspiration
How much research?It is important to set a limit on the amount of time you spend researching. By capping the amount of research you do, you will limit the scope of information you have to sift through. Do not set a cap on quantity as it is quality that matters. Set one of the following caps.
- By date. Set a date and be finished by then.
- By duration. Set a number of hours and stick to it.
How to researchThe method I prefer to use (both for RPGs and academically) has three steps: Grab, Sort and Filter. Repeat this process until you run out of your self-allotted time.
GrabYou run round grabbing whatever you see that is appropriate. This requires a lot of Googling (see Where to Research) followed by pasting into a note taking tool. Good tools I've used are Google Docs, Evernote and your notebook. Don't worry about tagging, organising or even reading your information in depth. Just collect it: text, images, quotes, search terms, links, YouTube videos - anything!
SortFor each piece of research you find, group it into one of these categories:
- Core. Information that you know you will need.
- Inspiration. For those items that just light your mind up but does not have an obvious application.
- Off Topic. Some of the things you grabbed might turn out to be not useful. Don't throw them away because you might need them for another game.
FilterFor each of the categories you sorted, order them in importance. The very top item should be absolutely key to your game. Be ruthless in your filtering, too much information is overwhelming. Get to the nub of what your game is about.
What to research for?Research is best performed in those areas where you are going to diverge from what you already know. For example, if you know what roleplaying system you are going to use then do not research lots of roleplaying mechanics. If you are creating your own diceless system or you do not know what system to use then it is worth researching those areas. It is comforting to read research that is familiar but that comforting feeling normally means you are wasting time cementing what you already know.
A list of things to research for:
- For each of the main themes of your game, find five relevant web pages. Try finding a YouTube video that represents part of your game concept.
- Read around inside the genre of your setting. For example, if its Fantasy, read something other than Tolkein.
- Find an existing game that is the closest match for your concept. What does it do well? What does it do badly? Is your concept different enough to be worthwhile?
- If your ideas are based around a new System, try and find an existing system that has the same benefits or drawbacks.
- Read a few other free RPGs that are similar to yours. Take notes on how they are organised and how they describe complex things. Do they do it well or poorly? You can find lists of free RPGs in either my free directory or the venerable John H. Kim's Free RPGs on the Web.
- Read those free RPGs that people are always recommending (Risus, Sketch, Fudge, Fate, Dungeonslayers, Five By Five, Lady Blackbird, Warrior Rogue and Mage). What makes them good? Why do people like them? What can you do in a similar way?
- Read a few reviews of Free RPGs (from this blog or elsewhere) and check out the common themes. Most of the common problems I have found will be listed in the course of this guide but other reviewers come up with excellent points too.
- Collect a bunch of images (or deviantArt or Flickr) that help you define the feel of your game. These are not images you necessarily use in the final game (so can be copyrighted images you find at random) but will be useful for inspiration.
- Ask on forums about the concept, do people think it is a good idea? Perhaps someone may know that it has been done before.
Where to research?The best research is from the source. If you are creating about a place, go there. If it is media (Books, TV, film) then consume that media. The local library and Wikipedia are also useful but beware that these sources can be third hand. If you are writing a game about the world in which we live, try and find an expert in the precise area - for example you might want to ask a grandparent about life in the 1950s.
Google can also be a wealth of information. Google Streetview can help you describe a place in the modern world (if you cannot go there) and Google Maps can be used for inspiration. Be careful not to copy copyrighted material. Google Images can be used to help inspiration by typing in keywords associated with your concept.
Research for chgowiz: The RPGFor research, I gave myself just two evenings (about 4 hours). Below is the end result of my grab, sort and filter. I have grouped them by some of the What to Research topics and have left out things that are Off Topic.
For each of the main themes of your game, find five relevant web pagesGiant monsters:
- Japanese monster films
- Giant Monsters Attack blog
- BBC TV Planet Dinosaurs
- Wikipedia list of giant monster films
- Japanese spider crab (real!)
- Kill all monsters blog
- Attack of the Clones
- Wikipedia article on Supersoldiers
- Soldat - mad 2D shooter
- Genetic engineering in Sci Fi
- Genetically Modified Super Soldiers or Robotic ones
- Trillion of dollars of missing from US defence department
- Military government corruption around the world
- Above top secret
- Top 10 most destroyed cities in movies
- Top 10 movie explosions
- Top 5 military gadgets
- Top 10 coolest sci fi weapons
- Best and worst Sci Fi gadgets
- Extreme sports gadgets
- Strange and Cool vehicles