In December 2021, Long Tail Games launched a jam to collect submissions for our upcoming project.
The challenge? Create an entire tabletop roleplaying game that fits on a single A5 piece of paper (okay, sure, they could use both sides of the page).
The result? Tiny Tome, a book of 50 single-page RPGs from dozens of different creators, funding on Kickstarter for the remainder of March.
We received 113 entries from a bunch of brilliant game designers… although actually, is ‘game designer’ the correct term? It’s too small.
They are game designers – but also graphic designers, illustrators, editors, proofreaders, creative writers, researchers, online marketers, and anything else their creation needs.
In working on this project, I quickly realized there’s a wealth of knowledge among the contributors. So I asked around, trying to capture a bit of that knowledge.
What tips or resources would they give to anyone trying to make their own single-page RPG?
- Think about your non-RPG hobby. Think about the tool that fits the mood you enjoy in this hobby. Use this one and this one only to make a short TTRPG focused on your thematic. E.g. use a ouija board for a medium-meeting game; use a wood block tower for a horrific exploration game about collapsing buildings/dungeons; use mandalas for a game on Hindu rituals; etc.
- Accessibility is important! Here is a step-by-step guide to turning your text file into a simple and functional ebook in less than an hour (no particular knowledge required)/
- Is it the first game you’re writing? Use an existing and simple game such as 5-min-e (solo, 5 minutes, writing game). Here is the template.
- Keep It Simple, Sweety: think about the style of play or setting genre you want to create, then write your ideas on the go, then delete, delete, delete, and make it work with the simplest rules you can find.
- Start small and simple, for example by hacking John Harper’s “Lasers & Feelings” or Grant Howitt’s “Honey Heist”. You can even mix and match two hacks that already exist!
- Also check out “You Have Two Stats” by Thor and Litza Bronwyn, a guide to making such one-page games with lots of examples.
- When you make the layout for your game, sort your text into thematic chunks (e.g. what you need, making characters, rolling dice/other game mechanics, worldbuilding tables, GM information) and make sure your readers can easily find the information they need. Use clear subheaders to help with this!
- When choosing fonts, consider both the vibe of your game (which the fonts should match) and the readability of the font (the body text should be easy to read; headlines can be more decorative). If possible, make a print-out of your game to see if the text is actually readable at the font size you chose.
- When choosing colors or layering text over images, use a contrast checker on your text and background to make sure your game can be read comfortably by everyone. I like the TPGi Color Contrast Analyser you can download for free and use anywhere on your screen.
- Check out How to make cool TTRPG pamphlets.
- Check out the RPG Design Zine.
- Check out Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for Non-Editors.
- Check out Lyric Game Generator 2020.
- Check out The Big List of Indie Tabletop RPG Marketing Wisdom.
- Check out How to make your RPG/story game more healing/therapeutic.
- Check out The Itch Game Page Image Guide & Templates.
- Embrace the size limit, don’t fight it. Resist the temptation to shrink your font to microscopic sizes to squeeze more text in. You can always cut more than you think, and forcing yourself to work within a confined space means you really get to see what the important, irreplaceable core of your game is.
- Read as many types of RPGs as you can. Long ones, short ones, single-player, multiplayer, all of it. This will help you see what you like and don’t like about what’s out there.
- Try not to focus too much on detailed world-building. In my opinion, the best one-page RPGs allow space for the players and GM to fill in the gaps and make the game world their own.
- Try not to make the mechanics overly complex. Most one-page RPGs are played as one-shots and should be easy for the players to pick up at the table.
- Use whatever tools you prefer and are easy for you. Write it in a notebook, on your phone, or on your desktop. Design it in imaging/layout software, word-processing/office software, or draw it on a piece of paper. The most important thing is that your process works for you.
- If you are tackling difficult subjects, consult with others. Make sure to approach things with care and sincerity.
- Just start. Start today. Finish this article and open an empty google doc.
- Be sure to try different layouts. A mini zine, a brochure, and a two-column page all have unique ways to control the flow of information!
- Write all your text in a word processor document before doing layouts. You will thank yourself later. It also makes it much easier to create an accessible .txt file!
- Try not to go below 9pt fonts: 10-12 are best for print, and websites generally start at 16px for online readability
- Playtest your game mechanics thoroughly, playing every role if you can’t find others to help you. But also consider finding a helpful group of online designers who might be able to help with playtesting and feedback. We are legion!
- Your time and creativity have value! Consider charging even a nominal sum for your game, in addition to providing Community Copies (on itch.io at least; idk about other outlets) for those in need.
- Brain dump then trim the fat – Once you get inspired to make something, get all of your ideas down, go wild with it, don’t even try to make it work yet just get the ideas down. Once you’re happy that your brain is empty take a look at what you’ve got, figure out what exactly the game is meant to be, then start trimming away anything that doesn’t drive you towards that goal.
- I like one-page games that have an interesting or fun thematic premise, and which also include one or two simple rules that lean heavily into that premise.
- One-page games that focus on creating a sharply focused story arc are often easier to create: escape the spaceship, get to the tallest tower in the castle, explore the cabin in the woods…
- Instead of thinking about a game in which you can create a full movie, pick a scene and focus on creating a game to facilitate that scene.
- People running a one-page game are likely to be familiar with RPGs already – lean into that knowledge when thinking about what to include or not include on your one-page…
- Here is a collection of resources about making and printing games.
- Try Old Book Illustrations for finding public domain art and ornamental designs. Small pieces of art help to frame the content areas and improve readability!
- Canva has been a staple of mine for making games look good. It’s relatively easy to use with a ton of sources.
- Don’t make it perfect. Game design, much like writing or singing or any other skill, takes time to get better at. We all have to start somewhere, so give yourself permission to let your first few games be just okay. The more you make them, the better they’ll get, and you can always update older ones as you learn more and more.
- If you’re just starting out and have a big project in mind, save it. Every smaller game you make in the meantime is great practice, and you learn a lot from the process each time.
- Start small. Most of my games are 1-3 pages because it’s easier to start, easier to finish, and you get that dopamine rush from completing a cool thing you can share with others instead of having to slog away at it for a long time.
- If you find a system or theme you really enjoy in another game, just look for the Creative Common License, or CC BY on a game. It means it’s 100% hackable, just be sure to give the original creator credit where credit’s due. There are also complete SRDs, or System Reference Documents, on Itch.io so other creators can more easily hack a game. When in doubt, just ask the creator. I was honored as ever when someone hacked 5 Second Rule for the first time. I felt like I had reached a milestone.
- Combine the most efficient ideas from systems you love.
- Give the characters a want and obstacles. And voila! You have a story.
- Combine your ideas into nested tables to maximize story potential and save space! For example, player rolls 4d20. 1) Problem: “The party is ambushed by a…” 2) Group: “..street gang of..” 3) Adjective: “..cyborg..” 4) Noun: “..dinosaurs!”
- Precision is key! Long-form games have space to define the tone, themes, and motifs. Single-page games do not have that luxury. Everything on the page needs to convey the theme.
- Find the process that helps you create! Some people write out their design on a word doc and then edit it down to fit onto a page. I prefer writing on the layout so I can have a visual cue of how much space I have left. It’s about what works best for you!
- You will most likely have to edit out sections/simplify your game. Don’t try to force 10 pages of mechanics into one page. It will just be sloppy.
- Check out Pixabay for free images, but do something interesting with them especially if using them promotionally, so it doesn’t look just like something else.
- You might be surprised how much you can do with layout with just Word or Pages (if you don’t want to figure out a whole new program).
- Krita is a free illustration program that will do a lot of what you need and has some cool brushes built-in.
- Lots of public domain art can be found on Free SVG, Rawpixel, and Unsplash. For custom-generated stuff, try watabou’s itch.io page.
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