Having just - as in, one week ago - self-published my own game system, Flame of Edrith online (on lulu), I can confirm what Moonhunter has been saying: it is a lot of work. And bear in mind that I've just done the easy part - I haven't done anything to do with publicity, marketing, distribution, and so on (I also am likely to have sales numbering in the single digits: however, it does allow me to buy a nicely printed copy for myself). When I decided to do this, I had a detailed and comprehensive system which I and others had been successfully playing with. It nevertheless took well over 100 hours of work to turn it in to the kind of thing that was fit for other people to use and work with. For anyone thinking of doing the same, here's a checklist with all the major things I needed to do:
Everything must be explained and made clear so that a stranger who is reading the manual will understand and be able to use it. You can't just use some weird convention "because you and your friends no how to interpret those tables; it's easy when you know how."
Consistency in everything - not just the rules but in naming conventions, punctuation, etc. Is a spell "Raise the Dead" in one place and "Raise Dead" elsewhere? Are your skill names written "Carpentry", carpentry, "carpentry" or Carpentry? If you already have full consistency I take my hat off to you - it not it will take a lot of work.
Do you have rules for how far you can jump? How about flying, horse-riding, climbing, poisons, stealth? Admittedly, some game-systems allow more room for GM improvisation and have less specifics - but if some parts of a system are explained to this level of detail, all parts of it should. In other words, don't have detailed rules for climbing but not for jumping!
4) Fully integrated
Do you have any "cool spells" you invented that are high powered, expensive and that no-one has ever used? Meanwhile are "normal spells" (e.g. Fireball) detailed with exact descriptions of their effect? If so, either get rid of the "cool spells" or else put them on the same level as detail as the others.
Is your magic system really stand-alone without you there to explain exactly how it works? Things to think of include of are how long to spells last, how far away can they be cast, how many people can they be cast on, what area to they affect, etc. You may not be using a spell-based system, but these issues will still need to be addressed in some way or another.
6) Breach of copyright issues
Have you taken, for example, a spell that you really liked from a fantasy series? Well, if you're making your work publish, you're going to need to either get rid of that spell or else change its name and effect sufficiently that it's no longer recognisable.
7) Game balance
After having made all these changes, is the game still balanced? Check.
Four of my friends spent 20+ hours each proof-reading and I spent quite a while myself as well. There were a huge number of errors, typos and even the odd unfinished sentence (and my English spelling and grammar are fairly good). Given that each person found a lot of errors no-one else found, I'm sure there are still some left in there.
A small job, but it takes time. You need to make sure you have consistency in title sizes and fonts, that you're not starting a section on one page while the heading is on the page before and so on.
For anyone still thinking of doing all this, I can assure you that there is a huge sense of satisfaction when you've finished, even if only one or two people who you've never met actually read it.
Also, providing you're not interested in making it big and breaking in to the real games industry (which, as Moonhunter has said, is much much harder), lulu (link below) is a very good website. It was set up by the guy who invented the Red Hat version of Linux and allows you to publish things (you must do all the formatting); people can then purchase either a pdf or a real book - lulu handles all the security and money side of it. Even if no-one other than you (and people in your gaming group) buy a printed copy it doesn't matter because it is free: they just take 20% of your royalties every time you sell something. If you're more serious, it could always be combined with a personal website or other advertising - I think some people do use it that way. And, if you are hoping to make it big one day, getting your system in to a form where its fit to be made public is at least one big step on the way.
An excellent article Manfred and one that I enjoyed reading. It is also particularly relevant (and useful) to me as I'm currently in the middle of a long campaign based around the slow outbreak of war, much as you have described: I'm currently nearing the end of phase 2 (some areas are still in phase 2, but a couple of countries have entered phase 3). I'll see what I can add to it, though you seem to have covered an awful lot (including plenty of things I had not thought of), so what I'll concentrate on is where the characters fit in to it.
1) Stand alone adventures.
The build up to war (and war itself) is always an excellent place to fit in a stand alone adventure. There are all sorts of plots you can use that don't require epic campaigns or too many hours of play time. Assassination of a key figure is always a favourite, as is a diplomatic mission: plenty of role-playing on the surface with opportunities for the more stealthy members of the party to creep around after dark locating and/or stealing state secrets.
Other possibilities could be to place the adventurers in charge of a minor keep to defend it, or alternatively to be hired by the enemy to scout a path through the dangerous hills and come up behind. Adventurers make good commandos or spies. How about saying they are cut off from their unit and must retreat through hostile territory?
However, this is really a side issue: the main possibilities highlighted by an article of the scope of the one Manfred wrote are setting a large campaign through the build up to war and the war itself.
2) A campaign
There are several possibilities here.
1) What level are the characters in phase 1? You have two choices: Beginning or mid-level. I'm just going to assume they start at beginning level I'm sure you can adapt it for starting at mid-level. The main difference is that if they start at mid-level then by the end they'll be the generals (or equivalently powerful) who'll be concluding it.
2) How long do you want it to last? A small campaign (i.e. an episode in the players'lives) or a long campaign (i.e. the backdrop of war and its build up will probably be all you'll do with these characters).
A small campaign works well for a minor skirmish: maybe a small fight between two minor kingdoms/nobles. For this you essentially get everything that Manfred said in miniature, compressed in both scale and in time. This is perhaps best for mid-level characters (in my opinion) as they're the right kind of level to take part in it. It's an excellent way to, as Manfred said, maybe get them to put down some roots and get some kind of status.
Now let's finally get on to talking about a large war (though not a special one), potentially involving several countries, and that, when you consider all three phases, is going to probably include all of the PCs' careers. A quick side note here: what is a war? Minor skirmishing and border raids might take place all the time and thus not be the start of a war.
The characters won't even be aware of it, at least at first. This is a good time for them to find out about your world and what is going on. Bear in mind what Manfred said though about the mood of a country altering, put in tiny things like this: maybe the jokes are all about people from a certain neighbouring country, maybe they just hear that the army is a good place to find work. Ideally I'd say that what you're looking for here is nothing that the players will notice at the time, but enough that when they're in stage 2 they will look back and think, â€œOh yes, you were giving us clues but I never noticed them." The adventures they're having will be typical low level adventures.
Here there are lots of possibilities and not just the ones directly related to the war. The players should gradually realise that war is coming, never tell them. Perhaps the first inkling they have is when they accept a contract from a merchant to guard his wagons. When they cross the border they are searched and in the neighbouring country they are treated with suspicion by the town guard. The shortage of military goods is a good thing to make real here, just keep raising the price by 3-4% per month and don't say why.
At this level they are experienced enough to be travelling a bit. Try to get them to visit most of the countries that are going to be involved in the war without making it obvious (my group like to travel around a lot so it's easy: you might have to work harder with some). The king could hire them for a diplomatic mission that at first doesn't seem to have anything to do with war, maybe it is, maybe it is not: it could be to a friendly country that he wants to bolster ties with. Again, this is something the players might not realise till later.
You can give players a mix of war-related and non-war-related missions, the point is that all of them should be against the backdrop of the war. One unusual one I gave recently was that they had to design and build their own 25 man fort (not to keep: it was a contract): they had a budget, material prices and labour costs and had to deal with problems such as suppliers being annoying, keeping the local lord happy, fighting off the occasional bandit who was trying to attack the workforce, the workforce playing up, etc. Later you can either make them attack it or defend it, depending on your whim and on which side they find themselves.
The war itself. There are several things to deal with here and the first of them also applies to stage 2. This is a key question: How much will be scripted and how much do you want the players to be able to alter? If you hire the PCs to assassinate a key enemy general and they bungle it (but come out alive), is this acceptable to your plot? If not, then that's fine, but don't set them the mission: what you don't do is say, "It was OK that you failed because fortunately the day afterwards the General got thrown from his horse and broke his neck." That just doesn't wash. Players tend to have a mind of their own and want to go off to do random things, make sure you give them enough incentive not to do the things that you don't them to do and always make sure you don't give them to much opportunity to totally mess up the plot (e.g. two princes are fighting for the kingdom. The PCs are working for one prince. Quite early on he sends the PCs on a diplomacy mission to the other: the prince receives them alone. They kill him. Whoops, there goes your campaign. I did this quite a few years ago and ended up using GMs fiat (â€œYou're not allowed to kill him") but that is being a bad GM (a very bad one in fact!). Especially for something like this where all you need to do is add a few guards (which he would realistically have). My point is though that there are less obvious blunders of this nature which you always have to watch out for.
The other main decision is what do you abstract? If my players are conscripted in to the regular army then I abstract all that. I have various tables dealing with injuries, money, promotions, etc.: the players join, I roll the dice and tell them what they did (and unfold a couple of months of world events) and then they write essentially a small "character background" for this period. We then skip to the 15 mins before they get told about the dangerous scouting mission they're going to be sent on (or whatever). You might want to do the army life more fully; that's up to you; similarly, some people might want to abstract large battles and some might notâ€š the point is that you're playing a game, so do the bits that you and your players find fun and abstract the rest.
Anyway, here your players will (probably) be heavily involved in the war. What happens afterwards will probably greatly affect anything that happens later: they may be wanted in one nation and be minor nobles in another for example. In short, the happenings they have been involved in will certainly have formed the major basis for their medium/high level character. Go to Comment
Quite nice - a new twist on the "forbidden forest". The reason for it is well explained and there is something quite spooky about intelligent beautiful poisonous dragonflies being the reincarnation of intelligent beings.
Interesting point regarding returning them to their original forms: what if some didn't want to? You could then have a split society with the peace-loving and pastoral Vryne guarded by their kin, the poisonous dragonflies. Go to Comment
There lives in the oceans a huge fish known as the serra, which has huge wings. It can reach up to 30ft in length, with a wingspan stretching to 80ft. The serra's greatest delight is to race against ships: when it sees a ship in full sail upon the sea it will launch itself out of the water, beating its wings strongly and keeping pace with the ship. The wily beast will frequently spread its wings upwind of a ship, attempting to cut off its wind. Though its speed will frequently give it initial success, after several miles it will flag, lacking the stamina to continue, and landing again in the ocean, will sink back in to the briny deeps.
The serra is like the things of this world, while the ship is the image of the just man, who sails unharmed and without shipwreck through the storms and tempests of this world. The serra, unable to keep up, represents those men who at the beginning set their hand to good works but cannot continue with them. They are overwhelmed by vice and sin, which drag them into the depths like the waves of the sea.
"He that endureth to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22). Go to Comment
The hydrus, or idrus, is a noble reptilian beast that can reach up to 10ft long and inhabits the rivers and swamps of hot areas. It should on no account be confused with the hydra, a beast of a quite different nature. The hydrus is the deadly enemy of the crocodile and the wyvern, against which it imploys subtle and intelligent tactics.
If a crocodile or wyvern should be unfortunate enough to be sleeping with its mouth open, the hydrus, coating itself with slippery mud, will slip in to the open mouth. This will prompt the crocodile or wyvern in to an involuntary swallow. Once inside the hydrus will exert all its strength and burst out of the stomach, killing its swallower but itself emerging unscathed.
The hydrus' bite is also to be feared, for it produces great swellings which will persist and cause sickness. These can be lethal: the only cure is to coat the swellings in cattle dung which will cause them to subside.
The crocodiles represent death and hell, whilst the hydrus represents Our Lord Jesus Christ who, taking on human flesh died and, like the hydrus entering of its own free will the crocodile, descended in to the bowels of hell. Once there, He burst out, rising from the dead and dealing a deadly blow to death itself and freeing all those unjustly detained.
"Oh death, I will be thy plagues; Oh grave, I will be thy destruction." (Hosea 13:14) Go to Comment
The charadrius is a small, entirely white river bird, found in the court of kings. The dung from its gut is a cure for weak eyes. If a person is sick then, if the man's illness is mortal, the charadrius will turn away its head as soon as it sees him: all will know that that man will die. However, if the man will recover, the bird will look at him and, taking all the sickness on to itself, will fly up to the sun, burn off the sickness, scatter it in the air and cure the sick man.
The charadrius symbolises Christ the Redeemer. Like the charadrius, Christ is wholly white and without sin. When Jesus came to us, he turned his face from the Jews because of their unbelief and turned instead unto the Gentiles, lifting their burdens and redeeming them from sin, bringing them new life.
"Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." (Isaiah 53:4). Go to Comment
The offspring of a lion and a hyena, the leucrota is known for its swiftness and hunts in packs. It is as big as an ass, has the hindquarters of a stag, the chest and legs of a lion, the head of a horse and cloven hooves. Its head is disfigured by a wide mouth that stretches ear to ear; in this mouth are found not teeth, but horizontal strips of sharp bone. From its mouth comes a continuous sound that uncannily resembles the chattering of human speech, though no words of meaning can be made out.
The leucrota symbolises the false prophets who, though they may speak at great length, will say naught of truth or of substance; their false babble serves only to deceive the ignorant and to lead the righteous astray.
"Be wary of false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them." (Matthew 7:15) Go to Comment
The pelican is a white waterbird that lives by the banks of the great rivers. It has a large, distinctive bill and in this it catches fish, which it can store in its bill to take home to feed its young. The pelican is devoted towards its young; towards them it shows exceeding love. However, as the young grow older, they strike their parents in the face. The parent pelicans strike back and kill them; however, they are then filled with remorse and, after grieving for three days, the mother will peck open her own breast and bleed over her young, pouring her blood over them and bringing them back to life.
The pelican is a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ who created all things; He made us from nothing. But we rebelled against God, just as the pelican's young do against their parents, and so were condemned to death and hell. Christ, by his death on the cross, poured out his blood for us; through this we were redeemed from death and granted eternal life.
"I have begotten sons and raised them up, but they have despised me." (Isaiah) Go to Comment
Therarn(Note that this one doesn't really exist; hence the non-Christian symbolism)
The therarn is a large hawk with ruddy-brown feathers, a golden breast and a plume of sacarlet upon its head. Though a deadly hunter, it is entirely blind, when hunting it relies purely on its sense of hearing and vision. In the wild, it will attack any beast, regardless of size and will frequently but beasts much larger than it to flight. When tamed by a human, the hawkmaster must train it carefully to only attack suitable prey; however, without constant care it will break free and attack its holder and others. The therarn can fly higher than any other bird.
The therarn is the symbol of justice, the highest authority upon this world. True justice, as guided by the natural law of Andur, Lord of Order, is blind and will punish any who cross it, mighty or meak, rich or poor. Even when fettered and corrupted by humans to serve their own ends, justice still serves a higher law and will do all it can to slip out of their control, reward the innocent and punish the guilty.
"True justice is blind; all are equal before her gaze. The best of men's laws are still subject to a greater Law." (Book of Andur, Jaeland 18:6) Go to Comment
The mole is a creature condemned to perpetual darkness. It is bling and has no eyes; always it burrows beneath the earth, digging and overturning it, gnawing at the roots. Never does it sleep; always it digs, blind and senseless; condemned to darkness.
The mole is the image of the pagan idols who are blind, dead and dumb, and also of their worshippers who wander in the eternal darkness of ignorance and folly. The mole is also the symbol of heretics who lack the light of true knowledge and devote themselves to earthly deeds. Like the eyeless mole which digs in the earth, heaping up soil and eating the roots of crops, they serve the desires of the flesh and succumb to the lure of pleasure, all the while trying, in every way possible, to gnaw at the roots of all that is good.
"In that day a man shall cast his idols to the moles and to the bats." (Isaiah 2:20). Go to Comment
The scitalis is a large, carnivorous reptile. It is elegantly patterned with beautiful iridescent markings; so impressive are these that all who observe it slow down, fascinated, to observe it. Whilst they stare in wonder, the scitalis, lazy, slow and full of sloth as it is, will come up to them and devour them where they stand. The scitalis is full of internal heat; so hot is its body that its irridescent markings glow, adding to their beauty; even in the cruel frosts of winter the scitalis will expose its body to the open air.
Possessed of no virtue itself, the scitalis is like the sins and licentious pleasures of this world who, through their pleasing outward appearance and attractions, ensnare the weak-willed in to sin. Such people do not progress spiritually and, just as the scitalis devours its helpless foe, those in the sway of sin will be devoured by death, losing their eternal life. Just as the scitalis is warm, as if heated by internal fire, so are the sins of this world fueled by the fires of hell, placed their by the devil to snare the righteous.
"For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) Go to Comment
It's true - they (mostly) represent Jesus or the devil, but then the person writing it was most likely a monk. In the Middle Ages, religion was an incredibly powerful and important force in people's day to day lives and, depending on your world, it could be the same there (though not necessarily). It would be quite easy to adapt either these creatures (or similar ones) so that they respresented things from a dominant fantasy religion - note the therarn, which represents justice. Go to Comment
Have a large room that elevates either up or down when triggering a trap. The floor can bring the players to new levels, where a mighty beast roams, or the floor flattens the players into the ceiling or drop into a pit of lava.