Curious about TTRPG Design Challenges

Q: For Tabletop RPG Designers: What are your top 3 pains or challenges and why is that?

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Working from such a tiny niche it could really be a fleahouse. (“niche” means doghouse in French), far below “RPGs are D&D” itself far below “RPGs are videogames”. The immensity of this tinyness is a burden.

Keeping up with the amount of production. There are few games that have new things for me and the newness is often well hidden. Among a plethora of visually charming works it’s really like skimming for a glitter of gold.

Specialism. Language varies between the various crowds, making interunderstandability the exception. This blocks a lot of probably good works off my radar, with very few translators, and that’s a pity.

Each of these challenges is also a reason to like RPG design : a tiny area of hyperexpertise with a lot of visually pleasing production.

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  1. An expectation in the Indie design space that adventure/scenario design is less useful or meaningful then system design. This not only seems to mean that adventure designers aren’t valued as part of the scene, but also that the theory and of adventure design is largely ignored or unknown. This results in the frustrating situation where there’s 100’s of new “games”, mostly with very minor changes to their mechanics, and nothing to play with them. Even successful designers tend not to support their own successes by producing adventures or setting material, instead moving onto a new next system. If I’m learning a new system or playing something one or two times, I’ love someone to have designed an adventure for it.
    In my own niche of Classic RPGs based on early D&D this isn’t as bad, but instead tends to mean that while almost everything is playable with the 1981 Moldvay rules, there’s a new big retro-clone every couple of years with its own minor shifts and changes, demanding updated stat-lines and confusing newcomers to this niche of the hobby about what system they need to use to play adventures from 1979.

  2. Scope and scale of adventure design. The amount of material required to run a decent procedural dungeon crawl from someone else’s work is considerable, yet the ability to read and hold information in ones head while refereeing and the willingness to read longer works as part of prep is understandably limited. Trying to balance these goals in key/location design is especially tricky if one isn’t leaning on vernacular fantasy to fill in description.

  3. Expectations that fantasy RPG settings which aren’t firmly rooted in the vernacular fantasy, or aping its appearance are “weird” and thus will be so focused on their deviations from these expectations that they will be under-realized and/or be difficult to use or play.

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Lack of motivation or clear goals, really. I right now do the part of game design that I find interesting or fun, but then stall out when it comes to finishing, publishing and promoting games. Because those tasks are work, and I don’t want to put in the effort without some idea of what benefit I’ll get from doing so. And it’s clear that I’ll never make significant money in RPGs and I’ll never achieve widespread acclaim. If I put in twice the effort making a game and earned ten times as much money? Well, I’d still be better off getting a part-time job at McDonald’s. So then the question is: why spend more effort?

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