The Heartbreaker RPG

Tabletop gaming is a multifaceted hobby. There aren’t many things you can do that combine a social activity with creativity and the introspective tinkering found in so many games. There is something charming and magical to be found in the experience for any that go looking for it. I’m not here to espouse the wonders of a round table, good friends, and a few dice though. No, I want to focus on the tinkering.

I don’t think there are many gamers that haven’t sat down and built a custom monster for D&D, agonized over the perfect character sheet, or planned out every point of a custom Warhammer army. It’s a natural part of being gamer. A few gamers even go so far as to build their own RPG system. That’s what you call a Heartbreaker RPG.

It’s called that because anybody can see the love that goes into the game. With just a glance you can see every ounce of sweat that is behind the meticulously crafted races, exhaustive lists of powers, or pages of dice roll charts. These games are labors of love, and are usually beloved by the small group that plays them.

They’re also called that because they aren’t really very good. They’ve got problems all over the place. Balance issues, unwieldy rules, poor writing (glass houses, throwing stones, etc.), and all manner of other things. Despite all these problems the authors love them because they made them. The truth of it is though, once you’ve finished and you look back at it you know it isn’t good. Just the act of writing your first game is enough to teach you all the things that are wrong with it. It’s like your first of anything, whether it’s your first novel, painting, or flash game. That’s why it’s a heartbreaker.

You might be wondering why I bring up the Heartbreaker RPG. My reason is this: I want you (yes you, gentle reader) to make your own. I want you to sit down and write your own RPG, complete with rules and examples. Sit down and solve all the the problems that bug you. Create the perfect set of balanced rules, craft a gloriously dynamic setting, and define the best way to balance role play with game. It doesn’t have to be long. Just 5 to 10 pages will be enough.

I can hear your harrumphs from here. Yes, all the way in the *past*. I hear you, you want to know why. It’s easy. Making your own game is part of our gaming heritage. We all argue endlessly about what’s best, so make what you think is best. You’ll have a good time and you’ll come away from it with a better understanding of how the hobby we love works. You will also have your own game, but who cares about that?

Don’t limit yourself to just RPGs though. Just because I’m talking about them here doesn’t mean they’re the only heartbreakers around. Make your own card game, war game, or even board game. Our hobby is built around people just like you coming up with things to play when they are supposed to be working or studying.

Show your game off. Post it on one the sites linked below. Force your friends to try it out. Convince your cat that it’s a level 34 and 1/2 Soul Ripper (it won’t take much). The important thing is to give it a shot. This is the initiation test to gamerhood that nobody ever told you about, but you always knew was there.

Maybe you will come up with the next great game. You could be Internet famous! It probably won’t be with your first game though. Get it out of the way. Go on, break your heart.

Here are some resources:

[Tags]RPG, Homebrew, Tabletop, Role Playing[/Tags]

6 thoughts on “The Heartbreaker RPG

Add yours

  1. The definition of “heartbreaker RPG” that gets cited most often (like it or not, Ron Edwards’ definition from the Forge Glossary) specifically mentions having one and only one design referent, and only moving one step (at most) forward from it. So, redesigning D&D rather than designing a new game from the ground up and really understanding all the design problems.


  2. To pad out your list of links, there’s also Story Games (, and it’s sister forum, Praxis (which is dedicated to game design).

    I see misuba has basically said what I was going to say: The real problem with Heartbreakers is that they’re generally made in response to perceived problems in a specific system (such as D&D). Unfortunately, the people who write these things often have experience with only that one system. So, for example, if they’re unsatisfied with the restrictions the classes in basic D&D place on them, they create a game with twice the number of classes, rather than a game with more open-ended character creation. The real heartbreak is that the games tend not to actually solve any problems they set out to solve.


  3. Thanks for the comments guys. I know what Ron’s definition of a Heartbreaker is, but rather than discuss and define something he has already done a perfect job of, I wanted to use it to encourage people to make their own games.

    I think it’s natural for our first game to be a response to whatever we play most. I also think that making that game, no matter how derivative or ill-conceived is a fun and rewarding step. Like anything, it’s more important just to start.


  4. People should make games, of course, furiously and with abandon. Just don’t bloody well publish it if it’s a heartbreaker. (Or publish it in a way that won’t break your heart.)


  5. The most important things in this i think is:

    ? Don’t base it to much on an exosting game. This will make it less fun to create youdon’t get anywhere near as much out of it.

    ?HAVE FUN!!!! 🙂 It’s not a chore, its a hobby.

    I could go on about designing RPG’s,TCG’s and all the other types of games I myself have designed, but i’ll leave that to you because I can’t be bothered.

    “God must like stupid people, he made so many of them?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: