Making Indie Pen-and-Paper RPGs


I’ve been working on small-scale tabletop RPGs for the past couple of years, and I just released my latest thing - an action-focused pastiche/homage of the early 2000s supernatural action flicks, ala Blade and Underworld. You can check it out here. I’m rather fond of it, but, of course, I’m fairly biased.

Is anyone else here trying to do the indie RPG developer thing?


Sounds pretty cool, just watched a bit of one of the Underworld movies a week or so ago and thought it would make for an interesting setting to have an RPG take place in.


Isn’t Underworld already based heavily off the White Wolf TTRPG games?


Thanks! Yeah, the entire thing came from the maybe-not-so-wise decision to watch all the Blade and Underworld movies over the course of a weekend. The book itself is designed to let you build out your own setting, with specific bits of setting lore for the different monsters to get you started.

Also, as the title implies, it is heavily focused on the genre trope of mythical hybrid creatures that are stronger than either of their parent breeds - be it Blade himself, or the Werewolf-Vampire hybridization in the Underworld movies.

Pretty much. Though the Underworld movies always had that extra dose of early-2000s trench-coats-and-sunglassses action movie nonsense.


Not a developer, just messing around with an idea for a game. Well, half an idea. Okay, not so much an idea as “my friends and I want to play something that might not exist.” Basically, we are nuts for Indian movies. (Such a bummer that Filmistan is already taken as a name.)

I keep hoping I’ll find a game system I can reskin or hack to incorporate musical numbers. Actually what I’m hoping is that someone else has already made this game. On the up side, I’m learning about a bunch of games and systems that are new to me.

Do you have a good system for taking notes? I just transferred everything from my journal to index cards so I can pin it all to a bulletin board (visual thinker). Is it even possible to keep everything in one place/format?


That is a super interesting idea. I don’t know of anything that already does this, specifically, but I’m a big fan of incorporating music into table-top sessions (actually already the topic of my next project, though in a very different fashion), and this is style of doing that I hadn’t considered.

I almost want to say check out Inspectres? It has a mechanic for Reality TV-style confessionals, that might serve as a decent basis for a musical number mechanic. Ooh, or maybe a hack of Wushu that replaces the fighting with choreography if you want the actual dance numbers to be a big part of the play experience.

As for taking notes, I’m afraid I don’t have much advise to offer - the system I’ve worked out for myself is a series of Note documents on my phone for early work-shopping and on-the-spot ideas, then a series of sprawling Illustrator documents where I do most of the formatting, art, and style experimentation.


I’ll check out Inspectres and Wushu, thanks for the tips. I’m looking at a bunch of paths. Swapping out action sequences for songs was my first impulse. I’m also thinking about some kind of in-game currency to spend on songs. On the other hand, a menu of minigames might be the better way to veer in strange directions. And I’m intrigued by World Wide Wrestling and Hong Kong Action Theatre!, where the players are performers trying to build their audience & starpower.

And then on some days, I think, “screw it, I’ll reskin Lasers & Feelings and be done with it.” There is also a version that’s a drinking game and the floor is lava. So yeah. Not sure what the heck I’m doing.

What got you into making games?


I’m never going to be totally over how good Laser & Feelings over/under-single-stat thing is, from a theme-expressed-as-mechanics angle.

As for what got me started, honestly, it’s just that I tend to run games more often than I play in them, and I’m super picky about systems.

In particular, I ended up trying a whole bunch of action-heavy RPGs, and never managed to find the exact mix of tone, pace, and power-level I was looking for. I love the work that’s being done in other genres in the indie RPG scene, and wanted to see what I could do in terms of applying those lessons to more action-focused games.



Sorry so late, but this is a cool thread. I like the idea of your game (All Of Their Strengths.) Can I ask what kind of resolution mechanics it uses? If a custom-made, is it it d20, multi 6 hits, roll to keep-style, etc? I really dig the premise!!

I am working on a PnP rpg myself. Actually a couple, but both are still works in progress.

The first is a Cypher System game about people whose dreams have touched the world of the Faerie and so are reborn there after they die, with limited memory of their former life. Turns out, the dreams of mortals have started causing havoc on that world, and only they can deal with them properly. So there’s this dynamic of the Reborn being pretty disliked since the Fairie are used to being the ones intruding on other worlds. I am using dreamscapes sort of like mini-Recursions (from The Strange) but they can happen anywhere at any time and can cause devastation. My Faerie Courts are also very dark, menacing takes on fey tropes, and each Court (Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall) has its own feel, regions, and culture. Game is called “Penumbra.”

The second is a fully-custom game called “Summer Island Boarding School,” and it’s my labor of love. It’s kinda like “When Harry Met Buffy” combined with Planescape. School mechanics, a miniature-based fictional sport, and students battling myriad threats from the Underworlds that the school exists to guard against. I am trying to basically mix the school rivalries/activities from something like the Potter books with the American, butt-kicking cheese of Buffy and mixing in various planes of existence in which GMs can craft all manner of content.


Thanks! And absolutely - it’s a custom-made, and is a system I’m going to be using for a bunch of titles I’m intending to put out. It’s core resolution mechanic is “all actions happen as described” with the note that the very next action taken by another player can be used to foil the previous action. This doesn’t undo the previous action, but does mean its effects are altered, weakened, or averted in some way.

Various other rules modify and limit which actions you can take or foil, but that’s the core tenant.


That mechanic sounds pretty cool, it’s very different from what most RPGs use. I’ll have to remember to take a look at your system when I have more time.

I’m currently working on my game “Hunting Knives”, which is a monster hunting themed hack of Blades in the Dark. It started as adapting Monster Hunter to BitD, but I’ve started expanding the scope a little so it can also work for a more Bloodborne or Witcher style of thing. The premise is as follows:

Hunting Knives is a game about a group of bold and daring monster hunters fighting to protect their home in a world filled with dangerous creatures. You hunt, track, kill, and capture terrifying beasts, crafting new gear and upgrading your home base, while also serving those who rely on you, and maintaining the natural order of the environment you are a part of, lest you bring shame upon yourself.

I’m hoping to get some basic stuff out there for testing this month, so I’ll have to sit down and make some sort of play kit. Hopefully I don’t get distracted by some other project again, because I tend to come up with a new design idea every few months and end up dropping whatever I was working on before. A friend and I started on a Pokémon/SMT/Persona style urban fantasy monster pets sort of thing over the weekend, but that’ll have to sit on the back burner for now.


That sounds cool. For how many RPGs are explicitly about combating monsters, there’s still a ton of room for a more methodical, monster hunting game.

Oh, and I dig the two ideas, @Speely. Forgot to say that. Especially the second one. How were you handling the fake sport?


Yeah, I tried to do some monster hunting in my D&D and Dungeon World games, but the experience wasn’t quite what I was looking for. While Hunting Knives won’t feature super granular planning and tracking, due to the nature of the system it’s built on, it will feature a very methodical balance between hunting and downtime, and the ability to jump right into the action, which is a big reason for why I decided to hack BitD instead of some other system.


I’ve started trying to think out a GM-less co-operative RPG where a regular deck of cards represents the events that form the story the characters are part of. The four suits represent four core interests in the world, at least one of them friendly, at least one of them hostile, the other two at player discretion as they decide the core conflict of the game.

I’m very much planning out the idea in the loosest terms as yet, but the idea is that on the one hand the juxtapositions of card pairs create situations the players have to deal with, but also they are collaborating on describing what the situation is and how their characters deal with it. I’m thinking of a story game approach along the lines of those Lame Mage games like Kingdom or Follow to define the scenes but then something more based on simple character playbooks for the skills and abilities that the players use to resolve the scenes.

I like the idea of something creative, collaborative and gm-less that still lets you create a strong story with some fun random elements. Almost a story-game roguelike in a way. Whether I have the chops to make it happen is another matter entirely.


Dope idea. Would love to know more details as you flesh it out. As a rookie GM how difficult would you say it would be to run a game of this style?


Blades in the Dark itself I’ve found pretty easy to run. It leans heavily to the improv side of things (as opposed to prepared content), and relies on players being proactive, so mileage may vary. I’m looking to strike a similar balance for Hunting Knives, with a lot of tables and such for quick generation of NPCs, locations, and monsters. Unlike BitD, which leans very heavily on the baked in setting, the setting for Hunting Knives will probably be a bit more nebulous, which means that it’ll rely more on group created setting instead of learning the existing setting and making it your own.


Wow what a cool thread. As an aspiring GM this has been a really nice insight into amateur game design. My GF and I have been working on adapting a favorite erotica series into RPG form using FATE Simple as a base. I’ve not found a lot of RPGs with Romance mechanics and I’m still trying to put together how such a system would work


It might be worth checking out Monsterhearts (2), which is about teenage love, angst, body image, and other such things. Chances are you’ve already heard about it though, because there sadly aren’t a lot of RPGs out there that focus on romance, love, and erotica.


That sounds really interesting! Sounds ripe for creative play.

And thanks for the compliment. The fake sport adds a miniature/board game element. Basically, the athletes control their characters normally, but movement and actions are limited by the rules of the game (unless they cheat!)

It’s a 4 on 4 combat sport where no damage occurs, but the special armor worn by players gains “heat” when attacked by special, energy-based weapons. The field is populated with recessable structures to facilitate a wargame feel. Overheating causes the target to be encased in a big ball of solid light, and the game then turns into soccer with weapons. The structures recess into the ground and players try to score by hitting the “ball” (called the "star) through the opposing goal.

That’s the overview :slight_smile: In the setting, it’s supposed to have a half-Quidditch, half football feel. There’s a whole metagame where players can tune their armor, weapons, and Abilities within the scope of the sport’s rules.

All optional. Players don’t have to be jocks :slight_smile:


I would love to try this out but: a) I don’t have the people to do it with b) I don’t have experience with tabletops c) effort??? oh no