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Behind the scenes: The making of a tabletop RPG

By Kevin Zhang Dec. 8, 2021

Kenneth Yang Art

From fantasy worlds featuring magical swordsmen, to survival-based post-apocalyptic landscapes, the possibilities of settings and plots for tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) are endless. Behind every fictional character and environment, game producers must venture through their own “quest” to visualize their imaginations into physically playable mediums.

TTRPGs are a game genre where players determine their character's actions through speech; the resulting outcomes, which depend on game rules, shape the game’s ending. TTRPGs are split into subcategories: some utilize cards to progress the story, while others use only dice and conversations between players. Those with pre-written stories are more structured; others serve as a blank canvas, allowing players to create their own adventure. The most well-known player-made RPG is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), where one person, called the Dungeon Master (DM), guides other players through their own story. Contrary to other TTRPGs where there are still loose guidelines, D&D has no limits to what actions the player can take, only bounded by their imaginations.

“I started playing D&D sophomore year because my friend was into it. It seemed fun, and although I was inexperienced, it became a good way to wind down and take breaks from work. At first, we based our campaign off of others’ premade stories; then, we transitioned into taking inspiration from a childhood book series to create a fully custom storyline,” Senior Amber Haiwen said.

[Game] producers must venture through their own “quest” to visualize their imaginations into physically playable mediums

Plotting out an RPG from scratch requires several key elements: a proper storyline, interactive gameplay devices and a continuously expanding world as the backdrop. Creators must consider the many actions players can take, and how the game reacts to those actions. In correspondence with the flexibility in-game, TTRPG designers must decide how to have players subconsciously steer their characters through mechanically-represented character arcs. As such, working in a group can make the development process easier. According to Brandon Rollins, a TTRPG creator who has had multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns, the game market recently became more difficult to break through because more games are now available to the public. Given RPGs’ multilayered nature, having multiple people collaborate on the same project could expedite its production.

To start the RPG-finalizing process, many creators load cheaper, incomplete sketches of their game onto sites such as Indie Press Revolution and DRIVETHRURPG in hopes of drawing public appeal. With enough attention and support, they will then have the funds and motivation to continue improving their games. Daniel D. Fox, a game developer with 16 years of experience in digital advertising, states that TTRPG developers can gain traction by posting on social media or online forums. Once a creator has an audience willing to try the game, a beta test can be released to supporters, who can then use word-of-mouth to spread their reviews.

With the outbreak of COVID and social distancing, TTRPGs—normally an in-person activity—were not playable in their original ways, giving rise to online websites such as Roll20, which digitally emulates a tabletop-like screen for “distance-playing” via sidebar and cursor options. Thanks to this, the tabletop community was able to continue its activities. Polygon reports that although the sales of individual retailers decreased, online websites observed boosted popularity, benefiting from the pandemic.

“Over the pandemic, the number of sessions I had dropped, as it was not as easy for me to get together with others considering health risks. For the few sessions I did have, I used Roll20, an online platform for RPGs for holding sessions,” Senior Aaron Shih said.

Even amidst the upsurge of electronic video games, TTRPGs have defended their spot in the entertainment industry, providing a platform for freeform creativity and social engagement. Imitating these games’ open-ended scenarios, the industry was able to adapt to COVID’s spontaneous outbreak. TTRPG’s future is yet to be determined, subject only to the limits of imagination.


About the Contributors

Kevin Zhang

Staff Writer

Kevin Zhang is a junior at Leland High School. He is indeed clinically sane, although his actions might occasionally suggest otherwise. In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, blood rituals, reading, and watching the sunset.

Kenneth Yang


Kenneth Yang is a junior at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys tae kwon do, dancing, and sleeping.

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