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I have been working on a short narrativist system for quite some time now. I intend to offer it freely to anyone interested but I'm not sure about a couple of things:

First, how do I package it? One option is to make a website with the rules. In that case, is making lots of small interconnected pages a good idea? Or is it better to keep it linear and on as few pages as possible? Another option is to make a book-like pdf, possibly using LaTeX. Assuming people go as far as the download page, will they be willing to get the pdf? Is it easier to read?

Second, how do I let other people know? I can't just barge into forums spamming about how great my system is. Should I look for contests or challenges, like the 24Hour RPG? Is there any point to posting on social news/bookmarking sites? Is it good form to contact game review sites and ask them to consider my game?

Feel free to ignore the secondary questions if you want to; they're there only to expose my reasoning thus far and to inspire answers.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Let's get the depressing bit out of the way. Publishing for free on a website is a thankless task. The web is littered with sites on which beautifully-designed games languish. So you have an uphill struggle. You can't just publish it online and hope people will find the way to your site.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it. It means you need to work hard on getting your game out there.

For inspiration, look at Lady Blackbird, a very successful freely released game. What did John do to make this game work? I'd suggest the following:

  • The graphic design is beautiful, so it's something you want to play.
  • He designed the game itself well, so that people enjoy playing it.
  • Before publishing, he built up many relationships online, with people who then played the game.

You can do all those things. Make your game pretty. Design it well. And exploit any online relationships you have, asking them to promote the game. (For example, you should be sending private messages to me and Brian, politely giving a link to the game.)

Here's a fourth point, which John Harper didn't actually do before releasing Lady Blackbird, but which you should:

  • Playtest your game a lot, at conventions and with local gaming groups, and
  • Once it's released, play your game a lot, at the same places.

So, have you playtested your game? If so, you should have a little community of people that know about the game and are enthusiastic about it. Use them. If not, playtest more. Playtest it to death. It makes your game better and it builds that little community.

And, after you've published it, play it a lot. Play it with your local gaming group. Play it at conventions with strangers.

So, to answer your questions directly. How do you package it? There isn't one answer, but a beautifully laid-out PDF is one tried-and-tested way. How do you let other people know about it? It's a difficult question, but playtesting it is a good start.

(On some specific subquestions. Will people download the PDF? Yes, people will download anything, but the greater battle is getting them to play it. Is it easier to read than a website? Perhaps. It's certainly easier to print out.

Should you look for contests and challenges? Probably not, since your game is already designed. Is there any point to posting on social sites? Yes, but those are only tools, and first you need to get people playing. Is it good form to contact game review sites? Yes, contact whoever you can.)

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3  
Key point by Graham is to play test A LOT. Early on especially, but in general you'll get your best advertising through word of mouth by people who have played it. I don't think I'd have ever started playing RPGs when I was young based on advertising. It was by having friends invite me to join them in sessions. –  BBlake Nov 20 '10 at 17:10
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Yes, play it, run it for people, play it where people can see and go, "Hey, what game is this?" The game I am currently playing and running I learned about because it was being played at a convention I attended. I never would have known about it otherwise, and now I'm teaching other people to play it. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '10 at 17:39

Both the answers given so far are good. I would add that the last time I looked, Lulu allowed you to both give away the PDF (or indeed sell it) while offering a print version at cost price, if you're not doing this for profit. You'd need to get the layout sorted, so that you allowed enough for bleed and gutters, etc. but this is potentially a useful distribution channel. I know some people who are fairly pleased with it, anyway.

Regarding reaching out, the best advice I can give is to try to find out what kinds of people would be interested in your game. This is not just something you work out by thinking about it, but also by testing the waters and paying attention to what the world tells you back. The people who you think will like your game and the reasons why, may be quite different from the way it turns out.

But it sounds at first glance as though the Story Games community would find this interesting, and there is a category for self promotion there, so long as you're prepared to stick around and take part in discussions about your game (which you should be, because some very good game designers hang out there). At the worst, you'll discover that this is not your target audience, and that's useful in itself.

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I think the most important thing to do is to build relationships and credibility and goodwill. You do this by being, for others, the very thing you want them to be for you, without asking for anything in return.

Go playtest people's dodgy games and give them feedback. Post actual play reports that are useful and informative. Participate in communities of practice that are relevant to your game. Be enthusiastic about helping others and others will, in turn, help you out. It isn't a quid pro quo situation, it is one of altruism and community-building.

This won't make your game a success if it is terrible, but if it is terrible you'll eventually learn that, and get lots of useful feedback to make your next game better.

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This is an important perspective, I think. The answer to "How do I let the world know about my roleplaying system?" is "Help everybody else with their roleplaying systems and hope they reciprocate." –  Graham Nov 21 '10 at 18:32
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Thank you. It's both encouraging and humbling to realise that my relationship with my prospective players should be one of mutual support. I'll try to be a player for the games of others. –  Naurgul Nov 21 '10 at 20:10

Both PDF and hypertext. A book with good layout is sellable and demonstrates professionalism. A good, hyperlinked "SRD" allows people to easily access your content.

The PDF, as an accessible and printable offline document will appeal to the people who prefer reading dead tree. It is also where you should put your setting information. The SRD should be mechanically focused and present well indexed information.

One way of letting people know is by offering to run demo games on various venues that allow people to solicit players.

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If he's giving it away already, the concept of "SRD" is inapplicable and just makes this answer slightly confusing. The OP also said this is a narrativist system, so it's highly unlikely that there is any setting to separate from the rest of the game. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '10 at 17:41

If you are giving it away as a freebie:

  1. RPGGeek.com - create the RPGItem in the database, including a link to your website, then upload the PDF and/or ePub versions to the files area. That gets a good bit of access at no cost to you nor the user.

  2. Add a link to it to your board signatures in any boards that don't consider such to be spamming. (some do.)

  3. Talk it up on any boards you're on with general RPG chatter and no institutional biases against the style of engine you've written. (IE: If it's narrativist, don't hype it on RPGPundit's theRPGSite.com; if it's Old-School, don't hype it on the Forge.)

  4. Recruit a few people to seed the a Facebook or Myspace fan page; then create and have them like the fan page. Make certain the fan page has a link to the hosting website.

  5. Tweet about it on Twitter. Regularly, but not exclusively. Tweet about other stuff, too. Don't create a separate twitter account to do so until you get complaints about the non-game stuff, then migrate the game to its own twitter feed.

Packaging: The two most commonly used off-line formats I've seen are PDF and Word Doc. Word doc, however, is really suboptimal in many ways. (Lack of pagination control, for one, lack of font-binding for another, and many people won't be using Word to actually read/print it, so it mangles the formats even further than different editions of Word do.)

A rising star, however, is ePub. There are readers for almost all current mainstream OS's (Win ME/XP/Vista/7, Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, iOS, Blackberry OS, WinCE, Android, I think even Palm...) ePub is used on almost all of the ebook devices (Sony 600/700 and newer, Nook, Kindle).

For a web based version, several medium length pages is best, In my opinion, but fully cross-linked is essential. Include an index in a frames version. Offer an offline version as a zip file of the folder, and use only local reference links in that offline version. People with older readers can convert that to LRF, PDB, and other proprietary formats fairly easily, and preserve the links (but not the frames). Make certain all the graphics included in the web version are in a single subfolder, rather than dumped in with the page files themselves.

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