Simple steps for making a simple RPG

I've talked with a lot of people over the years who have asked me about tips to making RPGs... their first RPG specifically. Some people have big plans, but I say start small. Don't make Elder Scrolls, Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy with an epic plotline and 13 characters. Start small. Make 1 town, 1 dungeon, 5 weapons, 5 armors and 5 items. That's the basis, but now for some real steps on how to get from nothing to having your very first game.

I will cover the maps like this dungeon > town > interiors > world map. The world map comes LAST because that is the easiest to change if you need to. The dungeon comes first because that's easiest and you will want your townspeople to talk about the town.

Start with the dungeon. Better yet come up with a style... cave, mine, dungeon, castle, tower, mansion, tomb and so on. Then twist it with a theme... Undead, overgrown, water, ice, fire, or anything else you can think of.

Your first dungeon should be 3 40x40 maps. You can auto generate your maps... BUT don't stop there. That's just lazy. What you do then is use water tiles or pit tiles or lava tiles to cut through your maps. Then add details like cracks in the walls, stelagtites, rocks, skeletons, dirt on the floor, torches on the wall. Then make staircases to connect them all.

Making a 3 floor dungeon will make the fans enjoy it. Make branching paths if not multiple ways to get to the end. Like a choice left or right... Instead of left is a dead end. Do not make the dead ends very long and if you do give a treasure. What treasure? I might get to that later.

Players love choice and exploration. Give them choice and exploration, but do not waste their time by having a dead end after 15 minutes.

Sure you can make a one dimensional straight forward dungeon... but I'm not going to let you. Come up with some concepts. Use AT LEAST ONE CONCEPT. Switches to open doors or disable traps, push rocks, combination locks, jumping, sliding, swimming, shrinking, putting something in place, moving something, using a boomerang or hook shot or anything else you can think of. It is your game. Do not over complicate it. This is just your first dungeon.

You can cheat as a game developer. Cheating is falsely extending the time of your game through boring means. DON'T CHEAT. EVER. Put exit crystals or teleporters so that when people get to the end they do not have to back track. Or put an exit crystal or teleport in front of the boss so they can grind easier without death.

We probably shouldn't think about that until the end... but in terms of monsters you want 4 types. These 4 types have been discussed in other articles... Very quickly here they are.
- The tank >> One is a match for your party of 4. They hit hard and can take pain.
- The support >> These damage everyone in the party.
- The blocker >> They can heal and buff their party and or hinder yours.
- The annoyance >> Something USED SPARINGLY to annoy the player but give them a big reward. Like a metal slime or a gold thief.

This makes for at least 4 kinds of enemies in an area, in fact NEVER HAVE LESS THAN 6 ENEMIES. Variety is a good thing. You don't want the player to get bored, this is a game after all. Its made for fun.

If you do random encounter battles. Space them about 20 paces apart. Even though Dragon Quest had them every 2 steps this is not a selling point for most people. In fact why have random encounters when you can have NPCs pacing around that attack you when you bump into them?

Dumbassery is when you have a party of enemies that put you to sleep BUT NEVER KILL YOU! What it all comes down to is someone has to win before 5 minutes of the player's life is wasted. Someone needs that killer instinct. Slimes don't need a killer instinct.... so instead make them run after X amount of turns. Most battles should be easy... but not button mashers. If a battle goes past X amount of turns, have someone buff up and then use that skill they just buffed. It puts tension of the battle to finish it quicker.

Let's talk about what everyone knows... fire beats ice. That's an old RPG concept, but come up with different strategies. Like bows work well against birds. Grenades work well against blockers. Mute works well against supporters. Make everything have a weakness... but the player should experiment with it. Such as giving candy to rhinos makes them go to sleep when a sleep spell fails on them.

Every good boss should take a lot of damage, but every great boss should incorporate dungeon concepts. Like if there was a switch puzzle in your dungeon, you might want to have switches between fighting the boss monster. Like bait the boss into floor spikes that are activated by a switch. If you have any other clever way to deal with a boss, go for it. In the battle itself, people should use their mind to beat the boss and not just with a silly weakness.

Back to the maps... A town is pretty simple, don't over think it. DO NOT MAKE A GIANT TOWN. Know what I mean by giant town? I mean do not make your outdoor buildings into skyscrapers that are only 2 floors tall like a building that is 20x40 squares tall. That doesn't look good and it is crazy to think you need to run all over the place to do simple things.

Make a border of your town, a wall, a gate, a fence, a stream. Everything you have should fit into a 40x30 map. You don't need a 100x100 super town. This is your first town. The entire point of a town is to get in and get out with some additional diversion, but never forget to get in and out.

Once you have the border, add building exteriors. Houses should usually be 1 square high and 4 squares wide or 2 squares high and 4 squares wide. Also remember consistency. 2 squares high = one floor for every building or 1 square high = one floor for every building. Please don't have some buildings that are 2 squares high for 1 floor and 1 square high for 1 floor.

Variety. Use different types of looks for buildings. Like a church can be brick with a blue roof. A common house can have a red roof and an armory can be made of bricks. Try not to make it look like a rainbow though. Just accentuate certain buildings mean certain things.

Let's talk about what you need in your town. Like I mentioned before a town is to get stuff. Get in, buy and get out. These are the interiors that you NEED. In fact you don't need any interiors, you could access a door and have the shopkeeper talk to you while you're still on the town map.
- Armor Shop
- Weapon Shop
- Item Shop
- Magic Shop
- Extra place

Town interiors should not be rooms should not be the entire screen. It looks cheap and simple if all of your maps look like rooms from Zelda. Close up the rooms so its not so open or vacant. It makes it easier to fill up the space. In fact most houses and shops don't need to be more than 10x5. They can if you want.

That extra place mentioned can be some quest givers house. Maybe a guild hall, a bakery, a commoner's home, your home or the mayor's house.

We will get to weapons, armor and items later... Once the mapping is done!

They know something I swear they do! The reason why you make your dungeon first is so you know what the townspeople should talk about. They talk about the dungeons, the monsters, the concepts, and mechanics. The townspeople know everything! Not everything should be so clear cut and blunt though. Like someone knows the boss likes cinnamon... or was it sugar? Use sugar on the boss and the boss might gain energy or something. They should inform the player or make the player laugh. Either way there should be a purpose for everyone. Maybe even give some back story about the town and the situation they're in.

Yep this is what everyone is dying to do. That grand world map. In fact I think people like making this the most. Anyway, you do it last. Like the pros who make Mario games have said always make the world map last, because you know what the level (dungeon) and you can adjust the look accordingly instead of painting yourself into a corner and having to match your world map.

The world map should offer a grand sense of exploration while still having boundaries. In other words open spaces where people must wonder what's over here? What's over there? Meanwhile, the villagers in town tell you where to go... or not.

Give the player choice. Don't force them into a class unless its 1 member of your party has a forced class. People love to customize EVERYTHING. Having multiple classes allows for multiple play throughs too. So warrior, thief, mage... and whatever else you want. Just make sure to give them the choice.

Let them name their characters, but give them default names. People love naming their character. Fudgy or Tots or KittyMewMew. So let them do what they want, but for those who are serious or devoid of imagination, give them default names.

Because you will have class variety, there need to be weapon and armor variety. Not too much. A minimum of 5 armors and 5 weapons. No more than 10 though. That's overkill and I know about overkill. Give them choices, but not overwhelming choices. Its like saying go explore a town of 25,000 people you've never heard of. Tough to do. Instead if I said go explore an office building you've never heard of. That would be easier.

Everything should have different attributes. Big attackers should use two hands. Balance your weapons and armors.

Items are a fun one for non magic users, but better yet, items should be for fun to enhance the experience and make the player feel special. There should be at least one item for fun that makes battles a little more interesting. Like a stone that makes everyone fall asleep. You can even make a MUST HAVE ITEM required to defeat the boss. In fact you probably should use that Zelda method. Where item X will damage the boss 20% more than anyone's attack would. It is your game though...

Please battle test your enemies. A LOT. Several times. Tweak things. Put pressure for someone to win the battle. Make it dangerous for battles to go too long. A big complaint about some Dungeon Quest games were simple battles that can last 15 minutes. Battles that are worth the same price as battles that last 1 minute.

Through facing the foes over and over, you can balance your gold and experience. Like how many slimes does it take you to get to level 2? How many skeletons do you need to kill in order to buy the copper sword. Don't make your game a grind... because those who want to grind will and those who don't... will lose interest in your game.

People love to do what they want... which includes interacting with things. Cows go moo... flowers smell good. Treasure chests go creek. Sometimes bees hide in flowers, other times people are randomly where they were not before. If you can swim in a pond that will add an element of fun. Interactivity is fun. It gives you a chance to be creative and add some spice to your game.

As you've probably noticed... its all about choice. People want to do what they want to do. They choose one path over another. They choose their class, they choose their equipment and so on. But this is something different...

You can experiment with branching stories... I'm not talking about something that is obviously right or wrong. Grey areas like... A girl likes the main character, so you can either get her something good, something bad or just nothing at all. If you get her something good she will heal you for free. If you give her something bad... then someone else heals you for free. Kind of gaining that person's favor instead of hers. If you do nothing... then later on someone else will heal you when that story "closes."

This will give more interactivity and let the player feel that they are in control of it all and they will love it. Maybe even get a golden harp from defeating the boss... well 3 people want that harp. If you give the harp to the mayor he will give you 5,000 gold. Give it to a thief he will give you 5,000 experience, give it to someone else and he will give you a spell that you otherwise wouldn't be able to get. Choice my friends.

Incorporating everything will make a great game if you're willing to put in the time and its always worth it to make something quality. Making 1 town and 1 dungeon will give people a taste of what your ability is.

Once you make your first game then you can add to it by making 5 towns, 5 dungeons 1 castle and extra armors, weapons and items. This is literally the same model that Final Fantasy 1 and most RPGs use. A small quest that opens up to a world.

Hopefully I've helped. Whew that was long!


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I know this is stupid but... I just love how it is "Steps for making your first role playing game game". Two games!
Yep. That's bad on my part. I went back and changed it. Thanks for noticing.
Hmmm there's a little 3 next to the addthis button. Does that mean 3 people plugged it?
I like this article a lot and I agree with a lot of things written there bro....
Thanks Bandito. I'm glad someone read it and liked it. :-)
Great article! For the "random encounter", I used the following formula:
If random number < (1-(steps since last battle)^(-0.25), have a battle (usually returns about 20).
Thanks for the tut ShortStar! I loved EpiQuest and it's good to see that you are willing to teach others too ;)
Wow I totally forgot I even wrote this. I just re-read it again and it made me laugh a few times. Thanks for liking Epiquest. I have zero time anymore and I think I'm best just helping people.
I'm now making a game based on your short article about how to do your first RPG. I've named it "A Little Quest", and have mapped my first dungeon, 3 levels of an abandoned mine called "Littletown Mine" or something.

The twist I put on it is that there are 5 chests on each level, each of which require keys to open. The keys are found by wandering around until an exclamation point appears above your head, which indicates that you are able to pick up a key lying on the floor. The exclamation mark goes off when you are 1 space away from any key.

Each of the 15 chests (5 per level, 3 levels) contains a dubloon, and at the 3rd level, there is a lake. You need to give 10 dubloons to the "spirit of the west", and it will teach you how to swim. Then you can swim over to the altar on the island in the middle, and voila! Quest complete, teleport out of dungeon.

Playtesting reveals that this mechanic is very addicting, and I actually found myself having fun in the game searching every nook and cranny for my own keys (I forgot where I put them xD). Can't wait to implement items and battles, etc. later on!

In short, thanks ShortStar, and I will be releasing a game probably this month based on your tutorial.
Depending on the RPG maker you are using just have the emoticon popup each time you walk on the floor.

It does sound interesting. Especially since you don't need all 15 coins :-) The flooded / lake basement sounds like a randomly generated idea :-)

I'd love to playtest it before you release it. That way no one crushes with with a poor review of a first time game maker.

Glad someone found it useful. My other tutorial on how Zelda 2 should be a game template did not go over well.
Due thanks! I have had rpgmaker 2003 for well over a year yet I am still a noob at making games and maps. The project I am working on is my most ambitious one I have been working yet. And this will help with the first town of my game I have been havin trouble with...
This is a wonderful guide :) Very good tip for making a first game, and the advice also carries over for future projects. I'm diggin' it :D
This is good, Im reading the article the third time now.

All newbies should read it. Especially the part about not going over-ambitious (limit the number of items, monsters, floors, dungeons, LIMIT EVERYTHING)
I like the guide. :) I used this on my "practice" game that I use to learn. I have another game though that I am probably going to release. Sadly I think I may be too ambitious. I made a lot of choices that cause many things. :P Though it might be good if I study a lot, practice and ask for help. :)
I've read this article a few times too over the years. I forget that I wrote it. I'm also happy it doesn't embarrass me to go back and read it. Sometimes I read or play old things that I've done before and think wow that's bad.
Thanks for this article, Will use it for my first RPG.
Thank you very much for this article! I've been reading a lot of "first game" tutorials and tips, and still couldn't get myself to actually start properly working on a project: my concepts were still way too ambitious, not matter how I tried to simplify them. Dividing the whole process into clear steps helps a great deal to keep things manageable, and I will use your guide as template for my first project.

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