DIY Gaming – Get yourself together and make something cool


“This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band!” These iconic words, attached to a simple line drawing showed a movement, expertly boiled down to a pure essence and transmitted as a fucking good rallying cry. It appeared in the late 70’s, and contrary to the complications and excess of the contemporary music scene, this call to action was something different. Punk rock was about energy over experience, about creation over refinement and most importantly about doing over planning. After multiple obituaries, flirtations with mainstream audiences and co-opting by everyone from high fashion to low end retail, the vital energy of punk and the DIY movement still offers up lessons far above thrashing out chords in a shitty venue that smells of puke and alcohol. Life lessons that go beyond what you think of as the purview of punk rock. This music, this scene, this way of thinking influences those who partook, even sometimes for a short period, and changes their worldview for life. Punk and hardcore has the power to change people, and I find myself applying the lessons I learned on an almost daily basis.

Today’s lesson is about DIY (do it yourself) gaming. Now this isn’t about hobby projects done with power tools or scraps of construction materials. Plenty of more qualified folks will tell you how to make a gaming table or spray paint cool shit, this isn’t that kind of DIY. This is about capturing the spirit of making things new and applying it to how you game. This is about creativity and a “fuck it, I can do this myself” attitude that can both motivate you, and smash traditional views on gaming material that allows you to play what and how you want. The idea is about taking what is great about a punk scene, the closeness, energy, constant evolution and adaptability, and bringing that thinking into your gaming, whether it is Warhammer, some other miniatures game, RPG’s or whatever. This way of thinking exposes games for what they generally are, a tool kit. It empowers you to chop, change and expand whatever you’re playing possibly leading to the gaming equivalent of “forming a band.”


So why should you care? Maybe you shouldn’t. If you’re the type of person who has every want and need for gaming met by published products, then that is awesome for you. There is no judgement here, seriously. There is an incredible wealth of material out there encompassing the hard work of creative people from all over the world. Not only do we have a better variety of good stuff out there now than ever, primarily due to the global community of the internet, digital distribution, Kickstarter and the rising acceptance of gaming, there is also decent access to the entire modern history of gaming. Want to play Warhammer Fantasy from 1987? Do it. Want a go at rules for battling with toy soldiers on the floor written by HG Wells? Quick internet search will turn those up. Love a social RPG with vampires but also love the middle ages? Plenty of published source material for that game. We live in an age of plenty when it comes to nerdy dice games, so why complain? Simple answer, because we want something different, something that is ours.

This article isn’t for the satisfied. Instead it is for the people who want something unique. It’s for the people with a burning fire of creativity lodged painfully in their chest that makes them need more. It’s for the folks that have that little bug in their brain that constantly analyzes and expands the world around them into fantastical realms of myth and adventure. It is about unlocking another creative outlet in your life that allows you to connect in a deeper way with your games. Not happy with what is out there? Change it. Games getting stale? Do new shit. Know what you want? Go out and make it. Build what you want to play, either through evolution, destruction or creation. Modify to get a game perfect or just burn it all down and start again.


Sure there are shelves and shelves of professionally produced, expertly proofread (sometimes) materials made by real professionals. With this rich ecosystem of gaming products, how does your work fit in? Again I look at punk as an inspiration. Just because great bands (and a lot of shitty bands) exist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make noise in your garage. Those glossy games made by ‘professionals’ are really just other folks, like you, except they’ve put more time and effort into it and produced something. You can produce something too, you just have to fucking do it. Make it dirty and energetic and full of beautiful mistakes. Make it local and immediate and responsive. This is about exercising your creativity because gaming at its core is a creative passion. Painting miniatures, designing armies, creating worlds and characters for RPG’s or even just imagining the elemental chaos of a battle between mages in Magic the Gathering all are expressions of your natural human creative nature. Nurture and express that shit!

So how do you do that exactly? First you need the right people. I know it is one of the terrible truths of most pen & paper or tabletop games, you actually need other people to play. I also know a rich and immersive mental world can exist solo, and you might want to document that. But at that point, were you are writing immersive text with no goal of sharing it in a gaming context, you’re probably writing a novel, and you should do that instead. Gaming is a social hobby, even if so many of us are blatantly anti-social, so you’ll just have to deal with that in some way. If you’re building your own shit, you’ll need the right kind of people. You need a supportive crew. The type of people who will want to try something new for the fun of it, warts and all. Think critically about who amongst your group reacts well to change or can deal with ambiguity without being a giant tool. These are the right types you’ll need to lean on for support. If there are the right kind of people, that means there are also the wrong type. Overly competitive asshole players? Swerve that lot. Obsessive rule arguers? Good for proof reading finished product but fucking terrible at gaming with. They need to be able to accept “this is how it works” as a temporary answer because, having made it up yourself, you know how it should work. People you’ve never met? Good for fully formed and tested ideas but bad for the raw stuff. Again the music analogy comes seeping in. Think about who you’d want at a 1st house show or a band practice? Really think about it though, as the right people are critical to any creative endeavor. This isn’t meant to put the fear into you, it’s more about knowing the right time to open up to a larger/more foreign environment. But seriously, overly competitive asshole players…there is never a right time.


Next you’ll actually need to decide what you’re creating. My advice, start small and grow into it. Many a grand idea was abandoned due to size and complexity. It is much easier to start by standing on the backs of those that came before, completing small projects and using that to fuel your fire for bigger things. It’s how many of our favorite games today started out, some simple evolution of what they were playing or doing already. Wargames? Try starting with a new army theme and some small custom rules that go with it. Maybe a new vehicle or formation. Create a scenario or short linked campaign. Scenarios are a great place to start for wargames tinkering as they can involve all the essential game design elements, allowing you to futz about with anything you want, but are also a self-contained quarantine for your ideas which puts other player’s minds at ease. No thoughts of “breaking the game” or “ruining the meta” as the game is just this battle, and the meta is not affected. Scenarios can contain narrative elements, new rules, environments, win conditions, force organizations and even units or characters. Using special scenario rules you can craft a lot of elements of a game session while still keeping the core and familiar game engine under the hood running everything somewhat smoothly. It is a great way to tailor games to your (and your opponents/groups) liking without having to blow everything up and start from scratch.

What about RPG’s? By nature these tend to be more free flowing and encouraging of content created by players and DM’s but there are still great ways to start small. Creating encounters, adventures, and larger narrative arcs are all great ways to let your creative side loose. Also look at tweaks and changes to classes, races etc… to fit into a theme or character. Start small and be mindful of breaking things and then just adjust as necessary. You can also take whole systems and fuck about with them to fit you and your people. Say you love a game mechanically but hate the setting? Pull the mechanics out wholesale and slot it into a new setting. Love D&D 5th but want it set in the Old West? Just start mapping existing rules, classes, etc… to the setting and see if it makes sense. Clerics become traveling priests. Paladins could be noble lawmen. Rogues are gamblers and cattle rustlers. Monks become David Carradine. Crossbows become rifles with short bows taking the place of pistols. Something isn’t right? Modify it. Spots that are weird, change them as you see them to what just makes it work. Easy way to build essentially a new game without all the heavy lifting at the beginning.


From here you can tackle more and more complex ideas with a firmer footing in the challenges you’ll face and how to get things done. Want to fight 40k vs. Fantasy? This is essentially just taking the scenario writing you’ve done and adding another more complicated layer. Want to start making your own RPG, supplements or wargames? You’ve practiced the necessary skills through unit/vehicle/character creation, balancing, building on existing game mechanics and creative writing on those smaller projects. And most importantly, you’ve finished those other projects (no matter how small) which will gives you valuable insight and motivation in pushing through the larger items on your wish list. Start with a demo or a 7” before you decide to tackle the multipart post-apocalyptic noir punk concept album.

After speaking so much about what you should get the fuck up and do, it’s imperative we discuss the don’ts as well. This boils down basically to “don’t be a dick.” Don’t take advantage of rules you wrote yourself to fuck over other players. Don’t build super units and use them against unwitting opponents. Actually, don’t build super units at all. Start with a deliberately low on the power curve creation and willing tinker friendly players. Use the ‘buff, buff, nerf’ method, where you start underpowered and creep it towards the right spot with minor tweaks nerfing it back down when it appears to have gone too far. Also try and do things as simply as possible. Use existing rules and paradigms from the system to solve for what you need if you can. Always be mindful of how you can express what you want in the cleanest way possible. Take a hard look at your motivations for something. Are these new racial characteristics necessary for your story? Are you just trying to gain a powerful combination without any drawbacks? Don’t be a dick. If you’re scenario is unbalanced (or might be) then don’t take the side with advantages. Actually, try not playing in the scenario at all. Just setup a scenario and have other folks run through your hard work. This is a great way to test it and allows you to sit back and GM the game making sure it all runs smoothly. Look at old White Dwarf magazines with Jervis just running people through his cool ideas watching over the whole process like a boss. Well done that guy. Make sure the folks playing with you know in advance there will be new shit coming. People rightly aren’t always down with “I made this up, surprise” but a little advance notice and some understanding goes a long way. Balance things as best you can but be ready to be flexible as things come up.


Finally, continue to learn and adapt. It is doubtful your first stabs at this will be amazing just as it is doubtful your shitty high school metalcore breakdowns were actually good music. What matters is you did something, and if you keep doing it you’ll get even better. Look at the early days of D&D or Games Workshop, it was just creative people churning out what consumed their mind. That energy is what you can tap into. Move fast, feed your passion and make cool stuff. Recapture some of that joy you had as a child where playing games, even though you knew fuck all about the rules and made them up, was a joyous experience.


Inspiration – Some other folks making cool shit themselves


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About Brinton Williams

Currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brinton spends far more time painting & waffling on about miniatures on the internet than actually gaming. Plays (or more likely played) just about anything including Warhammer Fantasy, 40k, RPG’s, weird indie games and historical miniatures. Doesn’t mosh as hard as he used to but can occasionally be found scowling at bands from the old people section of a show. Is deathly afraid of horses, played in multiple laser tag national championships and has appeared on San Diego local news doing the weather. One item from the last sentence is a lie.

7 thoughts on “DIY Gaming – Get yourself together and make something cool

  1. Wicked awesome article.

    My husband and I have been tinkering with a homebrew RPG system loosely based on Cyberpunk that we have been stripping down in order to use it for any theme. So far we have used it for supernatural, zombie, post apocalyptic, action hero and fantasy skins.

    There is something really satisfying about your own system. It also gives you the opportunity to shut down rules lawyers, power gamers, and cannon fanatics because that’s just how the game plays.

    • Awesome to here about your Cyberpunk inspired creation. Its easy once you have a core game engine to convert it to other settings etc… (at least that is what I’ve found in miniature games) as you’ve already discovered.

  2. Bang on mate, homebrewing adds so much freedom to gaming. Its true rulesets are basicly someone elses toolbox and its loads of fun to tinker with them and mash stuff together. I also recomend always using a gm to run games and add stuff on the fly!. Im currently writing my own system for a fantasy system and i am finding it as much fun as playing games!

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