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Article - 'Pen and Paper Games Part 1' by Kydo

An item about Game Design posted on Oct 7, 2004


Remember the good old pen and paper games? This article will help you make them and understand them (if you thought Dungeons and Dragons was too complex)


Have you ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons? Many call it the God, and Mother of all RPGs (Role Playing Games). Before you make a Pen and Paper game, you must first learn just what it is. An RPG is really just pretend, with rules. One of the players says what is going on (DM=Dungeon Master), while the other players (PC=Personal Character) use the rules to do things. I prefer games where the DM is confined by rules, as well, to keep the game more fair. Now that we know what an RPG is, we can make a Pen and Paper game!

The Character Sheet
This is where the PC has it's control over the game. The character sheet has a number of statistics, which the PCs use to do things. For instance, the DM says that there is a table in the imaginary room. The PC decides to lift the table. The DM says that it has 20 weight points (explained later) the PC can not lift it, because the statistic related to lifting things is too low. Let's go over the basics of character sheet development.

Name- Almost all character sheets have this. This is the name of your character, in the game.

Age- This is also your character's information. This helps the DM understand how characters in the game would react to this character.

Gender- Is your character a boy, or a girl?

Race- Many P&P games have more than just one Race. A Race is your species. For instance, is your character an Elf, Harpy, Dwarf, Gnome, Human, etc? Usually the DM decides what Races are being used. Some DMs even make up their own Races. In same games, the Race changes your statistics, and the mechanics of the character sheet.

Class- This is basically the job of your character. It mainly determines what spells, and abilities you character can learn, later on. In some games, this will also alter statistics, and mechanics. I, personally, don't like this system.

Now, those are the basic statistics, that almost every P&P game in the world has. Feel free to disregard any of them, or even change the names of them, or how some of them work. Next, I shall teach you about meters. Character sheets work on a basis of points. The character sheet is covered in names, with numbers next to them. The names are the types of points, and the numbers are how many of that type of point your character has. I'll list off some of the more conventional, and non-conventional meters I've seen, and how they work.

HP- Health/Hit Points. This is how much damage your character can receive, before dying. Most games have a maximum amount of HP you can have.

MP- Mana/Magic Points. Most games that use magic, and spells, use MP. Some games use a mana pool, which will be explained, later, in the Complexities section. Most games also have the maximum MP thing, as well.

LVL- Oh boy, here’s what deterred me from Dungeons and Dragons! Your level determines how high your statistics are, and just what sorts of enemies you will meet. Basically, when you level up, the DM adds onto some of your statistics, increasing them permanently.

EXP- Here’s the counterpart to the LVL statistic. EXP stands for experience. It has a maximum setting, as well. When you kill something, you gain EXP, which the DM delivers. When you have maximum EXP, you level up, meaning you gain one LVL point. The DM then decides how many points your statistics increase by. You then lose all of your current EXP, and the maximum number is increased by the DM. Some DMs make their own rules as to how to increase statistics, and the maximum EXP, like me.

Gold- How much money your character has. this is also known as $, money, Krupels, etc. Some people make up their own name for it.

STR- Strength. This is the most basic of all statistics. Basically, if something has more weight points than your strength, you can't lift it.

SPD- Speed. Another basic statistic. This is how fast your character moves. If something has more speed points than your character, it moves faster than your character.

DEF- Defense. When your character gets hurt, it receives this much less damage. I don't like this statistic, because the only way this would be possible, would be if the Race had a carapace.

DEX- Dexterity. This is how good your character is at doing things, like backflips, rolls, etc. It's kind of hard to make this statistic work, without the dice random variablisation. (explained, later.)

CHR- Charm (Some people say Charisma). This is how charming your character is. I don't like this statistic, because everybody has different likes, and dislikes. For instance, a Goth likes different things, than... say... the president of the US.

SWM- Swim. This statistic is rarely used, but I like it, because swimming is such an odd action, and is hard to do, without this statistic, in a P&P game. Most people don't like this statistic, for some reason.

AIM- This is... aim. Yup, this is how good your character can shoot stuff! Some people don't like this statistic, either.

STE- This would be stealth. It’s another rarely used statistic. It’s how quiet you are.

BAL- I used to have this, it's called Ballance. It's really hard to impliment, and even harder to explain.

RES- This is resistance. It's how strong you are, when it comes to being infected with poison, or being controlled by a psychic.

Those are the basic meters. Feel free to make up your own, in fact, feel encouraged to! The best thing about making a P&P game, is that you can make up how it works, all on your own! There's infinite things you can do! Once, I even saw a game, with a Humanity meter, and when it hit 0, you became a Demon, and when you woke up, your Humanity meter would be full again, and the DM would have made something happen, because of you! When choosing statistics, try and think of what the focus of the game would be. You probably won't want MP, in a futuristic setting, or SWM, in a desert world. If there is no purpose for a statistic, don't use it. Now, slots! A slot, is something where any article of a specific type can be put into it. For instance, the following spells slots!

Spell 1-___________ Cost-__ Damage Calculation:
Spell 2-___________ Cost-__ Damage Calculation:
Spell 3-___________ Cost-__ Damage Calculation:
Spell 4-___________ Cost-__ Damage Calculation:

As you can see, in the example, the character can have a maximum of four spells. Slots have meters of their own, which give information on the item in the slot. A slot is just a miniature statistic sheet for a specific piece of the game, which your character uses. Now, let me explain damage calculation. This is just a simple statement, which tells how it damages an opponent. An example would be “Deals 5 damage for every two defense the target has”. In that example, the target is whoever the spell was cast upon. So, if the target had 12 defense, they would receive 60 damage from the spell! A lot of games use this sort of damage calculation system. A cost, is just a meter, which doesn’t change (in most games) which shows how many points, and of what type, are lost, when this spell is cast. Here’s some equipment slots.

Helmet-__________ Sol-__ Defense Calculation:
Armor-__________ Sol-__ Defense Calculation:
Boots-__________ Sol-__ Defense Calculation:
Accessory-__________ Sol-__ Defense Calculation:

You may be wondering just what equipment is. Well, to fully understand equipment, take a look at the Inventory section. To explain briefly, equipment is a type of item. They can be attached to equipment slots, to change how the character sheet works. My version of equipment has a statistic known as SOL. Sol stands for Solidity. My system is, damage goes to the armor, and the Sol of the armor decreases, instead of your HP. Then my version has a Defense calculation, which is similar to the Damage Calculation. Here’s a basic defense calculation: For every damage dealt by a spell to this armor, gain 2 MP. I prefer this system. The more common way of doing this, however, is having just the equipment slots, and then how the equipment adds or subtracts from your character sheet, like this: Iron Helmet +5DEF +2AIM –6SPD. The original way, was that each piece if equipment had a specific type, and you could only equip so many of each type. To show that a piece of equipment was equipped, a capitol “E” was written next to it, in the inventory. Now, about the inventory. The inventory is a list of items that your character is currently toting around with itself. The DM decides where you find what weapons. I, however, have made it possible to build your own items, through learning abilities, such as Wood Craft, or Smithing. ALL Items, equipped or not, are written in this list.