I am currently writing a guide to creating a free RPG and I would like to include a section on how to mould the game in such a way that would make it appealing to the general roleplaying public. What is important to you (beyond personal taste) when choosing an RPG to play.

Need a hint? Perhaps you look for some of the following:

  • High quality artwork
  • From a trusted publisher
  • Rave reviews online
  • Featured at Friendly Local Games Store (FLGS)
  • Interesting premise
  • Size of book (big/small)
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is a bit misleading: Because the most important thing in choosing a game is personal taste and the gaming situation. But these are not things a game designer can really address, which is what you want. \$\endgroup\$ – PiHalbe Sep 23 '11 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you've misread the question. I want to know what is important, not what is 'most important'. There isn't a single factor when choosing an RPG and I want to understand what people find important. As subjective as it is, there will be cross-over and it is those times that crop up the most are the ones I want to ensure I am including in my guide. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ If people are mis-reading the question, perhaps it should be edited for clarity. At the moment this is also clearly a variation on the "answer provided along with the question" and "equally valid" (poll) question types we are advised to avoid as a bad fit for the Stack Q&A format. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Nov 18 '14 at 9:58

12 Answers 12


For everything I say, I make exceptions (especially if it is just in one or two areas), because some games are just so outstanding (in the media). These are just some rough guidelines of what I like.


  • small book, which will contain between 30 and 150 pages
  • easy-to-read layout
  • a usable table of contents (and, if possible, a usable index as well)
  • pages are generally not too busy
  • a game-play overview sheet
  • no awful graphics (lack of illustrations will do, but awful illustrations are really a downer)


  • be playable in a single evening, campaign option is nice to have
  • accommodate 3…5 participants (2 and 6 are also nice)
  • feature a twist on known rules
  • feature a twist on known premises
  • no long lists of items, skill or what-have-you to reference

Meta data:

  • available AP reports (I usually don't read them, but I want to make sure, they are there)
  • available reviews (to have people other than the author tell me stuff about the game; I don't care about the grade that much, but I like the change in perspective)

I don't care about:

  • FLGS coverage (which is poor in Germany, anyways)
  • the publisher
  • the author (though I might simply stumble over more games from known authors)
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Some great feedback here that is presented in a format that can actually be handed on to authors, thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:16

While I do look for Interesting Premise most often, and check Reviews (usually at Critical Hits or Gnome Stew) the other factors that come into play when I'm looking at games are usually variables.

For example, the Rule of Fun: Would my usual group enjoy playing it? For that matter, would I?

Also, one of the main questions I ask myself is: Are the rules too complex for my group to enjoy? I have a pretty diverse group, and while some people enjoy the number-crunch of D&D 3.5e, others are way more freeform and are turned off by keeping track of multiple stats and conditions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for thinking about your group. Having everyone keep playing is always important if you want to...keep playing. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Hayes Aug 25 '10 at 12:39

I find that I'm drawn to a new RPG because it has a great premise, an intriguing solution to the premise (i.e. mechanics that allow the premise to be played out in a new or interesting way) and I can pick it up and play it fairly effortlessly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning premise. I think a bland or poorly described premise is why many cool games get overlooked. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:12

Before I buy any game, I need to peek at the core system. Game mechanics are important to me. Not all mechanics work for all genres. You can have a great world to play in, but if the mechanics don't support it, then the game will fail.

Once I decide I like the system, I need to like the setting/premise.

If I like the premise, then I return to the system and try to figure out how complex it is. I, too, like fewer rules.

And finally, I have to mention the artwork. I'm a sucker for art. I've almost bought games I wasn't interested in because of their covers. If I'm on the edge after my preliminary assessment, great art is almost sure to suck me in. The power of good artwork cannot be understated, as it has the ability to draw people into experiencing (albeit slightly) the game world without even having to play the game.


Don't cater for the general public.

Find a niche and write for that: gamers are really diverse and have different needs. Aiming for the general public means writing something that, in a way or another, will be mediocre.

Plus I reckon that "general public" doesn't want to spend what a small press publisher want to charge, and you need good distribution to avoid being a small-press publisher. Good distribution is not easy nor for the faint of heart.

Anyway, most RPGs are bought by GMs, as they're usually who pick which game their group will play, spend time and effort preparing for it and run it. Players usually won't buy as much or have enough social oomph to do that.

As a DM I like:

  • good indexes
  • rules that are easy to explain
  • rules that capture well the genre lots of "precooked" things to put in adventures - archetypes of npcs, places, goods, plots, etc
  • players' handouts
  • either A5/digest sized or pre-punched paper (like Moldway D&D, the Monster Manual, Advanced Squad Leader)
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 For writing for a niche. There are hundreds of free fantasy RPGs that are bland shadows of much better games. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:13

Size is definitely an issue with me. I have too much going on in my life, and too much trouble getting games together to sit through a heavy tome of rules that I will probably not ever play.

Of the short or rules lite games that I could read, I will read those that I know people interested in playing them or that they seem like such new ideas that certainly I should be able to find people who want to try them.


I can't speak for everyone but I enjoy games that have a simpler ruleset so I can focus more on the role playing aspect rather than being mired down in rules and details for every action. Personally I'd sacrifice a bit of the "realistic" feel of a game in order to speed things along and get to more entertainment.

I'm also a big fan of tools to help design and make gaming scenarios. I've created a few D&D tools that generate random encounters or random dungeons to throw in as side quests off of a main story line (read: I didn't have time to prepare a FORMAL adventure so I threw something together last minute).


These days, I want a rules-lite system that's flexible and keeps the rules subservient to the imagination.


First and foremost, inspiration. A game has to have something about it that fires my imagination. That single factor alone is why Rifts, for all it's flaws, still commands considerable attention and effort to fix it from me on a regular basis.

Two of the things you list: high quality art work and interesting premise provide this. The latter much more. I was sold on Unknown Armies, Tribe 8, and Mage: The Ascension by that. In fact, the first and last on that list weren't even published when they were "I must have it" in my mind based on premise.

Not to mention how ugly OD&D was, but it sparked enough imaginations that we're here.

So, what you need first is something to light a fire in my mind. The rest is just window dressing.


High quality artwork isn't as important to me as consitent artwork. Obviously I'd want it not to be bad, but simple and abstract is perfectly fine. I'd go for comic book line drawings, maybe like Cerebus over stuff created in blender, or attempts at more detail that fail.

If it's free, I wouldn't really care about the publisher. Even paid it isn't that big of a deal. More options than just Lulu would be really nice though.

Good reviews certainly help, especially ones that highlight something interesting and unique about the game. The latter bit is probably the most important. There's a ton of systems out there, so the game would need something that isn't offered elsewhere.

Showing up at the FLGS is nice, but certainly not necessary.

Interesting premise will vary from person to person, but certainly I'd only play something that interests me.

I have a strong preference for trade paperback sized books over full sized ones, and it seems to be a direction that a lot of game designers are taking.


The ratio of background to rules has to be low -- The more background the better. The quality (writing, historical research, generic research, etc...) of said background is very important as well.

Edit after comment. Rules that are meshed within the world (a la Earthdawn or Eclipse Phase) are fine and do enhance the world. However, I am still not going to use them so it distract me -- this is a personal preference. Rules that are just rules/tables/lists are just useless to me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Further to that, the rules and the background need to be clearly separated. When I'm looking for a particular rule in a hurry I don't want to have to sift through large chunks of background text to find the rules buried in them. \$\endgroup\$ – Colonel Sponsz Sep 26 '11 at 11:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ratio of background : rules to me means that there is lots of background for each rule. Splitting hairs, I know. I agree that background is very important as it is quite often the only thing that makes the system distinct. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:15

The only two things I consider:

1) Do I want to play this (not read it or own it, but play it), and

2) Can I find people to play it with.

I don't listen to reviews or let anyone make decisions on my behalf.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What makes you want to play it? \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Oct 28 '11 at 10:10

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