What steps does writing a RPG go though?

I'm talking work break down structure. and what happen.

For example in software, a workflow might be:

  • Development is divided into a series of releases
  • Each release has a number of features,
  • Each features is:

    1. Developed
    2. Reviewed
    3. Tested
  • When all features are done, then a milestone often occurs,

    • like a showcase to the clients,
    • or a update being shipped.

I imagine some kind of work flow like: Development being broken up in to 4 stages

  1. Big picture
    • get a general idea of what the RPG is about and how it will work.
    • sketch out roughly most important systems like how skill checks work etc
  2. Development,
    1. Writing
      • write out mechanics
      • write out fluff
    2. Reviewing
      • getting someone else to check the content is good
  3. Polish
    • write out examples
    • Editing
    • play testing
    • contracting for Art
  4. Layout

But this is just speculation. How does a RPG design team work in the real world?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not interested enough to answer, but Paizo Publishing is very open about their process and I've listened to a bunch of podcasts of PaizoCon/Gen Con seminars where they go into their process in this kind of depth. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


Software development paradigms give the false impression that there is a science to production of creative works.

There isn't. Every author will tell you that their method works, and every one will be different. Every RPG designer has an opinion on what works best—for them. Even software developers differ on how best to tackle a project, hence why there are so many different project management philosophies out there and a new one every year.

All these opinions amount to one thing: what worked for someone. When it becomes a widely-adopted method, that's just because they spread the word and people tried it. And undoubtedly, there is value in agile or waterfall or whatever the latest fashion is—but just as the latest and greatest method replaced another that was also billed as the latest and greatest, the current fad will get replaced by something purportedly better and people will flock to it, to see if maybe this one actually solves all their problems. That just goes to show: there is no method yet discovered that actually works for everyone.

Every creator has to try and try until they find the one method that works best for them. Especially in RPG design, such a young and small field that it is, there is no established, proven, start-to-finish workflow, no silver bullet. "The" workflow for RPG design doesn't exist, not in a singular, accepted only-one sense. You've got a method outlined—try it. See if it works. Where it doesn't, adjust it and iterate. Kinda like designing RPG rules themselves.


First, a fair warning, I have never commercially published an RPG, but I have written a few, for my own enjoyment and I have done a fair bit of play-testing with a (now defunct) RPG publisher. But this is approximately the process as I recall from observation in the mid-to-late 80s. It probably still works.

Stage "idea":

  • Refine conceptual things (setting and the like)

Stage "gamify":

  • Write or adapt a rules engine
  • Play-test
  • Iterate this stage until sufficiently non-sad

Stage "polish":

  • Work on the thematic text
  • Copy-edit
  • Play-test (wider pool, ideally widening every iteration, to get fresh perspective)
  • Iterate this stage until sufficiently non-sad.
  • If obvious issues turn up, go back to "gamify"

Stage "edit":

  • Go through the rules with one (or more) copy editors and the line editor(s).

There are steps that I ave elided (illustrations, cover design, PR, ...)


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