I’ve been working on creating a simple “one-shot” style pen-and-paper role playing system built around Sanderson’s fantasy series Mistborn. The intent is to use it to run an adventure (or two) in that system and world and then file it away.
Making an RPG has some interesting game design constraints to it. The focus is in three major areas: character creation, the use of variance (usually a dice system), and the quality the makes this system unique/different from others (e.g. why use this instead of an established system).
Character creation is actually the piece of RPG design that I’ve found to share the most in common with digital game design. A lot of immersive experiences in the digital space use customization of avatar, or job/skillset choice, or in-game moral decisions that affect character. In an RPG, you are just making sure those choices are meaningful and that they are up-front. The selection of “classes” and of quirks/advantages/disadvantages is very important to get right so that the players (and eventually the GM) have enough options to tailor their experience within the world you have created.
Variance is another matter. This is the aspect of RPG design most similar to board games, where the level of variance needs to be matched to the audience – too much and your players will feel like their character choices weren’t relevant enough, and too little and they won’t have as fun a time because there aren’t enough swingy moments.
I’ll save “making the RPG system unique” for another post, since I’ll want to refer to this Mistborn system I am in the process of making.