Gah! Just Let Me Drive!

At some point, you absolutely must cater to the GM. What do GMs need? If the game involves slaying monsters and grabbing loot, it’s probably best to have a book with monsters and a GM’s book detailing all kinds of cool loot. That mentality of “set up everything for the players and tell the GM to wing it” is going to go stale pretty fast.


I’m having an egoic moment, but I have to say something as a fan and “Old Grognard.”

First impression of a game should not elicit shock and dismay.

I’m not going to name and shame any game companies, but I noticed the 2022 release schedule for a new RPG that just released this year. For a brand new game with a brand new system, this thing looks anemic. I’m incredibly underwhelmed by what I’m seeing. If it were my company, I daresay we’d be doing things a little differently.

Maybe it’s the drooling fanboy in me. Maybe it’s the writer talking. It could be the guy that’s been on the retail end of the RPG industry for years. I just have a sinking feeling that this company could do better with a flagship release. The second half of the book made me cringe. The subsequent releases made me start looking at other games again. My quest for “the One” may yet continue, sadly.

Honest disclosure: I’ve never run a game company.

Most of us can probably say the same? However, I have seen dozens of companies come and go over the years. I have an RPG collection on paper larger than I can easily catalog. Then there’s pdfs. Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot of game settings in a lot of systems. Could I do better? Maybe.

Here’s the thing. I’ve seen some definite winners over the years. Games that came out with a solid core book or books and followed up immediately with things they know fans will be clamoring for. Some games even go so far as to promise certain expansions in their core rules because they know there just isn’t room to cover depth and breadth without creating a 700+ page nightmare to the tune of $65.00 or more.

For example, if a new modern combat game comes out; after the core rules, what does everyone likely want? Well, if you’re like me the order is usually first guns, sometimes a setting book, next vehicles, and then a GM’s book. Then the order probably depends on the setting. You have various factions, cyberware, hacking rules, monsters, magic, and so on to consider depending on the game.

What did I see?

Without naming and shaming, the company in question flopped hard on their first release. The core book was lacking and a bit mediocre. The system in question is a solid B+, the art is an A-, and the rest is pretty lackluster. But then it got kinda mopey. I can’t give too many details because I want to teach and not offend.

What would I have done differently? So far the writers have done a great job catering to the players. The art for a game is make or break in a lot of cases and they did that fabulously. The question I think the company needs to ask is, who’s running the game?

At some point, you absolutely must cater to the GM. What do GMs need? If the game involves slaying monsters and grabbing loot, it’s probably best to have a book with monsters and a GM’s book detailing all kinds of cool loot. That mentality of “set up everything for the players and tell the GM to wing it” is going to go stale pretty fast.

Maybe it’s because we’re in some freaky modern era of game design?

I think there is a LOT more to designing an RPG that just handing everything to the players and oh, yeah that person behind the screen. Unless you’re branding the game as GM-less or some other wacky players-only mechanic, that person behind the screen is important. That person behind the screen is going to need a lot more than a screen last I checked.

I’m going to go more into depth on this in my next article. There’s a lot more to pulling together a first product release and subsequent supplements than anyone could really cover here in one article. The problem is, I have a pretty fair idea of how to do it, but not the resources to actually build a company and release an RPG. So, I’m playing armchair quarterback for now.

Have a lovely day. Please stay safe. Thanks for being here. See ya soon.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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