RPG Design - Chapter 1: Inspiration

Before I start and write something, I needed to stop myself and think first about what I'm going to do. I had no idea on how to tackle this big project and in the past, if I didn't had at least a clear picture on what I wanted to achieve, it ended up in a desaster (or at least it never completed).

I set out to find some resources to get me started (and focused) on RPG design and I came across a more or less step-by-step instruction on the Free RPG Blog. This at least gave me some pointers on what I had to think about.

The process helped me very much to bring down the details and already see some shortcomings and flaws in my initial ideas. So it is a good (and fun) excercise I would suggest to everybody that tries to write their own RPG.

The Idea

At the beginning is the idea. I had one already back in my mind for a long time, so I took this opportunity to flesh it out.

I loved watching Warehouse 13, The Librarian its sequels and own TV series, Indiana Jones (all 3 movies) and I even read some of the adventures of the young Indiana Jones books.

Other inspiration from recent time certainly came from Video Games such as Control which itself drew heavy inspiration from the SCP Foundation.

I liked the chase of finding artefacts with mysterious powers that are linked to events in history or people. The Thrill. The Hunt. The Excitement. Coming from "classic" RPGs like Dungeon and Dragons, it is hitting that Murderhobo nerve in me. Chasing after the next big magic item.

In the middle of the idea I put this agency: Artefact Detainment Agency or A.D.A. for short. An organisation that tries to find these artefacts and lock them up. So far, so standard I guess.

Inspired by Ironsworn I also wanted to create an RPG that is primary focused for solo play.

Expanding the Idea

I had the basic idea, so now I had to expand on it, to make it unique and hopefully fun to play. I chosse the following four core themes to expand upon the initial idea:

  • Investigation
  • Artefacts
  • Agency
  • and Underdogs

For each of the themes I had then to find some components that support the theme (+) and some that were detrimental to it (-).


A core theme should be of course the investigation. Artefacts don't just fall into the laps of the agency. They are hidden throughout the world and only show themselves when it is probably already too late. So it is always a chase to get to the artefact because something bad is happening.

The component thus became:

  • (+) Finding Weakness
  • (+) Mystery
  • (-) Chaos
  • (-) Hidden Opposition

Apart from finding the artefact in the first place, the agency also had to find its weakness(es). Only with that they could figure out how to successfully detain it. The investigation is shrouded in mystery. The effects of the artefact change the world and its rules around it. In these conditions the agency has then to find the source of these effects (which is the artefact - but they don't know what form it took).

Hindering the investigation is just plain Chaos. When nothing is like it should be, anything can (and will) happen. So the agency constantly has to re-adjust their plans and approach to accomodate for that. And if that is not enough, there might be others trying to get to the artefact for their own gains (or they don't want to give it up and do everything in their powers to hinder the agency on acquiring it).


So and what is the agency chasing after: Artefacts. So its quite natural to take that as its next theme. To flesh it out, I choose the following components:

  • (+) Supernatural Powers
  • (+) Helpful Gadgets
  • (-) Downside
  • (-) Dangerous in the wrong hands

As said before, the artefacts have an effect on the world and people around it, that is maybe considered supernatural. They can bend physics and laws of nature at a whim. This might have devastating effects (such as quite literaly ripping the earth apart). They can also be helpful so that it can be used by the agency itself. Imagine a torch that never extinguishes. Quite handy.

Stealing from Warehouse 13, all artefacts should have a downside. Some of them are harmless (or funny), some of them happen instantly, some of them build up over time (for example, getting more and more paranoid). Power at a cost is always an interesting concept which can lead to interesting conflicts that need to be resolved. Of course such powers could be devastating in the wrong hands and could even mean the end of humankind.


I now covered the what and the how, lets get to The Who: the Agency itself.

  • (+) Clandestine
  • (+) Protect the Public
  • (-) Underfunded
  • (-) Bureaucracy

I imagine the agency being a huge organisation, not just operated by 5-6 individuals that go on and fight against all evil. Its a big corporation that has "normal" jobs and the actual purpose of the agency is even maybe elusive to those that work in the agency. There might be analysts, which is a plain old boring desk job, that have to look through newspapers and such and flag suspicious entries but to what end they might not know. Think a bit like the TVA from Loki. A huge organisation but its true purpose is a bit elusive.

So the agency works in secret, with a handful of field agents with different abilities that then check out these suspicious news report and try to find the artefact. All in the name of the public of course (although the way they work is sometimes not so safe for the general public).

To counteract this a bit, the agency is just a vast bureaucratic machine. If you want to get a new pencil you have to fill out three different requisition forms. Anything and everything leaves a papertrail and agents spend more time to fill out paperwork than in the actual field. Since they are working in secret (even mostly from the government) they have a hard time on acquiring material and help (again paperwork). So most of the equipment they have is quite old (a bit steampunky), not always works and has other unknown side-effects.


Lastly I want to focus on the poor agents that have to go out and actually do their jobs.

  • (+) Small Teams (1-2)
  • (+) Act in shadows
  • (-) Unsupported
  • (-) Insuremountable Odds

In order to not stir suspicion agents are sent in small teams to investigate. This should work well to be played solitaire, since you don't have to control and think about a whole party of adventurers. Since the teams are small they can also act in secret, go into places without raising alarms and so forth.

Unfortunately the agents don't have any special privileges or authority. They are basically just normal people (in the eyes of the public anyway). So some information might be just out of their reach and they have to find another way. It also means, that the agency will deny that they are working for them (or what the agency is in the first place). So if they get caught, they're on their own.

Trial by Questioning

Next up is to test the idea against some basic questioning. Imagine that you tell somebody about this RPG you are desiging and these might be some of the questions they might ask you. In this instance, these are the questions I have to answer.

What will the player(s) do?

The players will go on investigations to find and detain mysterious artefacts. Small teams of agents have to not only fight against opposition that want these artefacts for themselves, but also the bureaucratic machinery that is the agency that employs them.

What is fun about it?

It is a race against time and people. Each of these artefact has different effects and downsides that can affect the agents in different ways and leads to the agents needing to improvise and change their plans constantly to keep up.

Why am I designing it?

As mentioned before, I enjoyed Warehouse 13, The Librarian, Indiana Jones and the like. The thrill of the adventure and exploration of these various artefacts intrigued me.

Who will play it?

Hopefully everybody. But in the first place it is designed to be played alone (or with some friends) that, like me, enjoyed these shows and want to go on a hunt for artefacts.

What do I want to do with it?

In the first place I want to create my own RPG. I wanted to do this for a long time, so now is as good as any time. I'm not planning to go fully commercial on it. It will be published probably online.

Are you going to publish it in print-on-demand?

Maybe. If there is a demand for it. If I go for it, I want to have some professional layouter to make it pretty, though.

Is it suitable for Campaigns or One-Shots?

It is probably more leaning to an episodic style of play (Artefact-of-the-Week kind of). It shouldn't be too hard though to think about some overarching plot if need be.

What is its closest rival and how is it different?

Monster of the Week shares some similarities of the core ideas and themes. Although it is more about hunting monsters, the inspirations are not so different. There are also some RPGs that are directly influenced by Warehouse 13, such as Warehouse 23 and Bureau 13. But these are kind of harder to acquire nowadays.

The focus of my RPG lies in Artefacts not only monsters (although monsters can be artefacts - like Big Foot). And its primary focus is to be played alone or without a game master in a small group.

Style of the Game

In this section I go into some detail on what the overall style in different categories the game should be. I score them between 1 and 10. For every category there are two terms and the score tells to which score I lean more to.


Players cooperate ( 4 ) Players compete

Shared resources ( 6 ) Individual resources

This was a bit hard to set. Since this is a solo focused game, there isn't much player interaction in the first place. There might be multiple agents in the field and they are trying to cooperate as much as possible. But there might be some struggle in between them, but this should come from the conflicts and results of rolls and should not be encouraged by the agents themselves.

Resources are shared amongst the agents somewhat. If they are close they can exchange equipment and such or they have multiples of the same items. But it is their individual gear. And they should make sure to not loose it (or extensive paperwork awaits them).


Rules for Everything ( 7 ) General Rules

No dice ( 5 ) Lots of dice

Easy to die ( 5 ) Hard to kill

This should be a general rules light game. Since the player is character and GM at the same time he shouldn't be bogged down by complicated rules and interaction and should be able to focus on the story first and foremost.

There are some amount of dice, but not a bucket load of it. I'm thinking of small dice pools, so it should be quick and easy to determine outcomes of rolls.

The agency has enough "volounteers" to send on missions, but it is always a lot of paperwork if someone should die on the job. They're in the first place normal human beings so the agents should take neccessary care when going out. But they don't wear plot-armor all the time.

Character Creation

Random (quick) ( 5 ) Point buy (slower)

Choose from a list ( 3 ) Players make it up

Rapidly changing characters ( 6 ) Static characters (no advancements)

I'm thinking of a quick character creation with the help of playbooks - essentially archetypes or classes, where you can choose from different options from lists. There is some freedom when it comes to putting in points to certain attributes or skills.

Characters should advance slowly. They are human after all. Some "bigger" advancement come in form of artefacts that they can bring in with their missions.


Grids + Miniatures ( 8 ) Theater of the Mind

Precision, Measurements ( 8 ) Purely Descriptive

This should be a fiction first game. So most of it will be theater of the mind. No battlemap, no miniatures. Just the imagination. It shouldn't come to a fight in the first place, but if it does it should be quick and without much overhead of taking turns and complicated AI mechanisms.


Personal Quest ( 9 ) World changing consequences

Humorous ( 5 ) Serious

Realistic ( 7 ) Cinematic

Like Warehouse 13 this should be more of a light-hearted game. There might be some humorous elements in it (especially when it comes to artefacts - some of them might have funny downsides). But there is always the fate of the world in the balance.


I had the most fun in this part. To come up with some snazzy one-liners and buzzwords. The goal is to come up with short concise sentences that evoke an interest in the game (or at least start a conversation to find out more).

5-Word Pitch

Artefacts: Gotta Catch Them All!

Elevator Pitch

The world is full of hidden artefacts with unimaginable powers. An agency tries to detain them before they fall into the wrong hands. All the while fighting against its own bureaucracy.

Marketing Blurb

Endless Wonders. Endless Possibilities. Endless Bureaucracy. Can you find artefacts before they destroy everything?


If you've read so far, congratulations and thanks. What is left for me is to back everything into a first concept I can go back and reference and check if my design is correlating on what I intended to do or if my initial thoughts and ideas are completely wrong.

Download Concept