As it is homebrew week here on Critical Hits, I’m going to forego my usual flavour-based rantings in order to share with you my beginners guide to homebrewing. For those of you who are unaware of my RPG portfolio, I’m a mad as a hatter homebrewer. From humble (and undoubtedly parentally annoying) beginnings at the age of eight, I have been building ‘adventure’ games for my family and friends non-stop. My first game system didn’t go down so well as I spent most of my time trying to convince my older brother and parents to spend their weekends sitting at the table to hear me rant on and on about imaginary monsters and villains that they had no concept of. Since then I’ve continued relentlessly in the homebrew department to the point where I am running weekly games for two groups of six players. Below I’m going to share with you some of the basic tips I have picked up over the years.
Fantastic Isn’t Always Funtastic!
This is an easy trap to fall into repeatedly when you start out building homebrew campaigns and RPG systems. Fantastic and clever ideas for rules and campaigns don’t always relate to fun gameplay for your players. Before you devote your time and effort into developing components for your homebrew, run the idea by your players and friends to gauge their excitement for the idea. Then when constructing your homebrew, continue to ask yourself ‘is this fun?’ With the entertainment of your friends and family at the forefront of your creative process it is unlikely that you will end up with a boring or frustrating homebrew.
Complexity Is Thy Enemy
When starting out in the homebrew field, keep things simple for both yourself and the players. Simple rules and mechanics in your system are easy to remember by everyone involved and have less chance of becoming broken or unusable. Simple mechanics also consume less of your valuable time when you are creating them. One of the primary benefits for running a homebrew system should be the ease with which new players can join in on the fun. Unless your name is Chris Perkins or Monte Cook, chances are any new players will be unfamiliar with your system and massive complex rulebooks can be very daunting to newcomers. Three to four rule mechanics should be enough to cover the entire breadth of your gameplay to start off with. Once everyone is comfortable with the system feel free to add more mechanics and complexity if you won’t, just don’t overdo it. A different mechanic for searching, and bartering, and negotiating, and bribing the guards isn’t necessary.
Creating campaign worlds, unique monsters and player races can be a lot of fun, however it is very easy to get caught up in the creation of vast empires or small minute details, causing you to spend way to much time constructing your Homebrew worlds. Don’t be afraid to start of small, a couple of detailed notes for each component of your world should be enough to start playing with. Then as you add details throughout the game or brainstorm during daydreaming sessions, take notes and build upon things as they are needed. Your players don’t need a detailed history that covers every calendar date in history, nor does every city need to have rich characters and culture when you first sit down to play. A benefit of homebrewing is that the world and setting are of your own creation. So whether a detail within the world was crafted over weeks of thought and effort, or is merely an immediate reaction to a player’s in-game question can remain a mystery.
Pride Before The Fall
Homebrew systems are very personal constructs: you spend your time and effort building something for your friends and players to enjoy and when someone gives you feedback, or a player comes up with an idea on how to change something, it can come across as a very personal attack on your beloved homebrew baby. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to anyone starting out in the homebrewing department is this: do not let your pride get in the way of the fun. I’ve seen several homebrew games fail and dissolve very quickly, because the DM or creator is unwilling to change anything or accept genuine and constructive feedback. RPGs should be enjoyed because of the input of everyone involved, not just the DM. If a player has an idea on how to better a rule mechanic, try it and see if it works. If a friend comes up with a great idea on the motives of an NPC, work with them and incorporate it into the system. Other perspectives will see problems you can’t or refuse to. Players love to see their NPC’s and creations flourish within your homebrew setting. Being open to change and outside input can only improve the gaming experience for everyone involved.
One final point concerning jealousy between homebrewers. If someone else uses one of your mechanics or unique monsters, don’t tell them they can’t because you built it, therefore you own it. Encourage them and enjoy the fact that other people enjoy you creation enough to use it in their own games. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
So there you have it, my beginner’s guide to homebrewing. With these simple guides in place you should be entertaining your friends and daydreaming the hours away constructing your next monster race in no time. Don’t forget: happy homebrewers are good homebrewers.