Building an RPG with Unity 2018 - Second Edition

3.8 (4 reviews total)
By Vahé Karamian
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About this book

In a role-playing game (RPG), users control a character, usually in the game's imaginary universe. Unity has become a top choice for developers looking to create these kinds of immersive RPGs.

Building an RPG with Unity 2018, based on building some of the most common RPG features, teaches you tips, tricks, and techniques that can be applied to your own game.

To start with, the book guides you through the fundamentals of role-playing games. You will learn the necessary aspects of building an RPG, such as structuring the game environment, customizing characters, controlling the camera, and designing other attributes such as inventory and weapons. You will also explore designing game levels by adding more features. Once you have understood the bigger picture, you will understand how to tackle the obstacles of networking in Unity and implement multiplayer mode for your RPG games.

By the end of the book, you will be able to build upon the core RPG framework elements to create your own immersive games.

Publication date:
July 2018


Chapter 1. What is an RPG?

Before we get started, it would be best to get a brief history of the genre and understand some of the key elements you will need to consider throughout the design of your RPG.

Here is an overview of what we will be covering in this chapter:

  • A brief history of the genre
  • Characteristics of an RPG
  • Story and setting
  • Exploration and quests
  • Inventory systems
  • Character development
  • Experience and leveling
  • Combat systems
  • User interaction and graphics
  • Existing or upcoming RPGs
  • Patterns in RPGs

You might have just started one of your most challenging tasks thus far.


A brief history of the genre

What is an RPG? In short, it is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting, in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Each player determines the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions taken to succeed or fail according to the rules of the game.

There are three varieties of RPGs, as follows:

  • Tabletop
  • Live action
  • Computer RPG (cRPG)

Tabletop and pen-and-paper (PnP) RPGs are conducted through discussions in a small social gathering. There is usually a Game Master (GM) who describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes. This is the format in which RPGs were first popularized, namely through Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

Live Action Role Playing (LARP) is played more like improvisational theatre. Participants act out their character's actions instead of describing them, and the real environment is used to represent the imaginary setting of the game world. Some LARPs use rock-paper-scissors or a comparison of attributes to resolve symbolically, while other LARPs use physical combat with simulated arms. A movie can be considered a simple LARP; the difference being that in a movie, all actions are scripted, and the players do not have much decision-making to do, whereas in a LARP, the characters can change the outcome of their actions based on their decisions.

cRPGs are tabletop RPGs that have been translated into an electronic format. Early cRPGs influenced all types of electronic gaming, as well as spanning the role-playing video game genre. In short, a cRPG is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of the main character while immersed in a well-defined world.

This book will concentrate on the design and development of a cRPG.


NOTE: Going forward, when we mention RPG in the book, we are referring to cRPG.

Computer role-playing games take their root from tabletop versions of the genre. Many of the same terminologies, settings, and game mechanics have been carried over from the original tabletop games. Some of these similarities include story-telling and narrative elements, where, throughout the story, the player character will continuously develop their skills and abilities to meet the objective of the game.


Characteristics of an RPG

Role-playing video games typically rely on a highly developed story and setting, which is divided into a number of quests or levels. Players typically control one or more characters by issuing commands, which are then performed by the player character based on their defined abilities and attributes. Throughout the game, these attributes increase or decrease, and set the personality of the character.

An RPG usually also has a complex and dynamic interaction mechanism, defined and developed between the player character and the world within which they are immersed. This includes interaction with the world environment, as well as other non-character players defined within the world. Due to these factors, there is usually more time allocated to designing and developing the codebase that deals with the behavior and artificial-intelligence (AI) handling such events throughout the game.

The key elements of an RPG are as follows:

  • Story and setting
  • Exploration and quests
  • Items and inventory
  • Character actions and abilities
  • Experience and levels
  • Combat
  • Interface and graphics

Story and setting

The premise of most role-playing games tasks the player with saving the world, or whichever level of society is threatened. There are often twists and turns as the story progresses, such as the surprise appearance of estranged relatives, or enemies who become friends or vice versa. The game world tends to be set in a historical, fantasy, or science fiction universe, which allows players to do things they cannot do in real life, and helps players suspend their disbelief about the rapid character growth.

As stated previously, RPGs are heavily invested in story-telling. This is one of the main key entertainment factors of the genre. Due to this fact, when you are developing your RPG, you will need to pay close attention to how you develop your story and the characters that are within your story. This, in turn, translates into the kind of environments and settings you will have for your game, and characters within the game.

Traditionally, RPGs progress the plot based on decisions that the player character makes during gameplay. This puts a great deal of pressure on the game designer, who needs to be able to integrate such forks in the gameplay with the main storyline of the game. This also raises the issue of how to program the game to take into consideration of all the different paths within the story.

To make the game more interesting and attractive, the game designer can introduce special triggers within the story to make it more interesting or challenging. This is usually done by introducing new characters and/or areas to discover within an existing level. The following is a simplified description of the storyline and the setting we will be building for our cRPG.

A glimpse of a cRPG story

Once upon a time, there was a great kingdom ruled by the great King Zazar. The ruler of the kingdom was a generous lord to his subjects. The kingdom under the rule of Zazar was peaceful and prosperous; however, over time, internal family rivalry and struggle caused cracks in the strong bond that kept the kingdom intact.

Due to mysterious events, the great king decided to move his family away from the kingdom and trust his son to one of the wise elders that he trusted. The kingdom was never the same. Until now! Expanding on our story, in the second edition, we will implement more gameplay, as well as the introduction of quests.

Exploration and quests

The whole idea behind an RPG is the ability of the player to have the freedom to explore the world in which they have been immersed. The more well defined the world is, the more interesting it will be for the player to explore and in return retain their curiosity and engagement throughout the gameplay.

This is achieved by the narrative of the story developed for the RPG. Players will be specifically given the opportunity to walk around the world and explore their surroundings in order to meet their objectives.

In an open-world RPG, the player is free to roam in the world event after they have met their objective, set by the storyline. In such cases, the player can still explore any area which is no longer needed for the continuation of the quest, but they can spend time exploring the area and maybe meet some other non-player characters that they hadn't previously met while completing their mission. But generally speaking, this is not done by the player; once they meet their objective, they are eager to move on to the next quest. Hence, the question is, how much time and effort do the game designers and developers apply to a region after the main objective has been met? The answer would be not much.

Historically, the player follows a linear sequence of quests in order to realize their goals and objectives within the game. To make the game more engaging, the developer can introduce mini-quests within the main plot of the game at that particular location, to give the player the ability to explore and gain more skills and/or abilities. Since these are not part of the main storyline, they can be triggered anytime a player enters a specific area.

For instance, assume the player has completed the main objective of the level and is ready to move on to the next objective. Now, imagine that we have created an open-world environment where the user can revisit the world anytime they choose. If the player decides to go back and explore a certain area of the world they just completed, and they happen to trigger the event to launch this mini-quest, wouldn't that be a great surprise for the player? Keep in mind that these mini-quests should not affect the main storyline, but they can be used to enhance the player experience. These types of decisions are important when you are developing your game. If they choose not to take on the challenge, you should not penalize them, except if you want to be really mean.

Quests may involve defeating one or many enemies, rescuing a non-player character, item-fetch quests, or location puzzles, such as mysteriously locked doors.

A glimpse at our exploration and quests

Our game will have a total of four quests. Each quest will have unique objectives that the player will need to complete. The design and development of each quest will be discussed throughout the book as we progress.

Here is a list of the levels we will be designing:

  • Awakening
  • The village
  • Broken forest - the horizon
  • The kingdom

The game will start by immersing the player in the environment, where our hero will be given the basic training he will need to complete his mission.

Inventory system

One of the main functions and features of an RPG is the inventory system. Throughout the game, the user will come across a vast amount of collectible items that can be used for different purposes within the game to help them progress through the journey. Therefore, RPGs needs to provide a mechanism to help the player store, retrieve, and organize the content relevant to their journey. Take a look at the following screenshot:


As the player progresses throughout their journey in an RPG, they interact with the world they are immersed in. The storyline of the game usually forces the player to interact with the surrounding world and other non-player characters. These interactions are usually in the form of some sort of an exchange. Whether this exchange is done through narration, to provide the player with a better sense of the quest, or real exchange, in terms of items, is up to the game designers and developers.

The game needs a way to keep track of all the interactions between the player character and everything and everyone else. One system that is used to keep track of these interactions is the inventory system.

During the gameplay, players usually start off as a very simple character and part of the gameplay is to elevate their character by exploring the world and collecting items that will help them increase their skills and abilities.

For instance, a player might start their journey with very basic clothes. Throughout the quest, they will either interact with a non-character player, such as a merchant who will provide them with a better set of clothes, and/or some sort of a weapon to get them started. These items will be stored and managed by the inventory system, an example of which is shown in the following screenshot:

Items will be stored and managed by the inventory system

The simplicity or complexity of the inventory system will be defined by the complexity of the game and the complexity of the characters within the game. In our game, we will be designing and developing a generic inventory system that can be applied to many different types of items.

Here are some of the items that are usually collected in a game:

  • Weapons
  • Armor
  • Clothing
  • Special objects

Some of the items are collected or discovered by world exploration, and some of the items are specifically traded throughout the game. If you are setting up a trade system in a game, then you will need to provide the mechanics for the trade. A trade usually takes place while interacting with a non-player character, usually a merchant, and it will use a special window to enable the interaction of the trade to take place.

There is usually a cost associated with any trade. In general, there is a cost associated with everything the player does within the game, and the cost usually either increases the player character's ability and/or experience or decreases it. This can get pretty complex if you dig deeply into it.

The main point to keep in mind is that everything that the player will need to collect and/or manage will be done through the inventory system. Hence, this is one of the most critical features that you will need to put effort into as a game designer and developer.

One other element that can be used to enhance the gameplay for the player, and push them to strategize their quest, is limiting the amount of items they can carry in their inventory.

For instance, in real life, a warrior will have limited ability to carry different types of weapons. Let's assume that in the real world, a warrior can carry a maximum of five different types of weapon at any given time. Now, in the game world, there might be 20 different types of weapon. Do you allow the player to carry all 20 different types when they discover them? Or are you going to limit the quantity to five?

These are the small things that make the gameplay more interesting when planned out properly. There is more to an inventory system, and we will take a look at it in more detail in later chapters.

Character attributes and actions

As with any other part of RPG development, character attributes and actions are highly defined by the storyline of the game. These actions, are performed indirectly within the game when the player commands the character to perform a specific task.

For instance, in a given RPG there will be at least a couple of character classes. The following are some sample class types:

  • Barbarians
  • Orcs
  • Magicians / Wizards
  • Zombies
  • Humans

Each character class might even have subclasses of its own, with its own uniquely defined attributes. Again, this will be tightly coupled to your storyline for your RPG.

For instance, we will have the player-character, who is technically the hero of our story and of the game. The hero is usually of a certain character class; let's assume the hero is part of the Human class.

The Human class or race, then, will have some specific characteristics that will be inherited by the player character, or any other non-player character of the same type or class.


Note: The character class and race usually determine the abilities of a character within the game, which then define the types of actions the character can perform.

The strength of a character within the game is defined by the character class it belongs to and the type of actions it can perform. The performance of a character is defined by the value of the attributes defined within the character's class and race.

For instance, if we take two different character classes and compare them side-by-side, such as a human and an orc, the orc will have far superior strength and brute force than the human. However, the human may have higher intelligence and problem-solving skills, which will out-rate the strength of the Orc if applied properly. Take a look at the following screenshot:

This is another key area where the RPG designer will have to spend a lot of time defining and specifying the specifications for the design and development of the characters within the game. The sky is the limit when it comes to designing and defining your characters, but there are some key attributes that you will need to consider for any RPG.



Most RPGs allow the player to modify their characters before the game starts, or even during game play. By default, every character class will have some default attributes, and the player is allowed to adjust the values based on some modifier. The basic fundamental features allowed for modification are the sex, class, or race of a character.

It all comes down to the budget and resources that are available to you during the production of the game. In some games, you can also introduce ethical attributes into the characteristics of the character. For instance, if you allow the ability to kill or rob innocent bystanders within the game, then the player will become less liked by the friendly non-player characters, and they may not be as friendly or helpful as needed to complete your quest. In other words, you will live by the consequences of your actions!

As a final takeaway, character classes define your character attributes and hence define your character's strengths and weaknesses. These physical attributes can be simplified into the following: dexterity and strength, which determine the performance of a character during battle!

Experience and leveling

To engage the player and to get them hooked on the game, game designer use mechanics to enhance the performance of the player-character. The progress is what is termed leveling or experience in RPGs.

Leveling and experience are a key element of any role-playing game. A good leveling or experience tree will be defined for any RPG. This allows the player to develop their avatar through game play and become functionally more powerful by gaining more skills, points, and other resources necessary to complete their quest.

The ability to acquire new weapons, armor, clothing, and/or any other game play item defined in the world, the player will need to meet some specific thresholds within the game. These thresholds can be a combination of the player's acquired experience points, financial gains, and/or combat experience. There is no right or wrong when it comes to designing any of these hierarchies and/or systems. You will need to see which one works for your specific needs and how to best apply them. Take a look at the following screenshot:

In RPGs, the progress of the character player is measured by counting some defined attributes specified by the game designer. Usually, the advancements are defined by the player completing a certain task to get experience points, and slowly, the tasks and the points rewards are increased throughout the game. The player then can use the experience points to enhance his or her avatar within the game.

Again, this is highly integrated with the story line, character classes, and/or race the player has selected. Some common ways to acquire points are by killing enemies, combating non-player characters of no importance, and performing quests that have been defined within the game.

Just like in real-life, the more you play and apply your skills, the more experienced you become. The accumulation of your experience will then allow you to acquire better weapons and/or armor to strengthen your attack or defense for the next quest. Some games might give the player 100+ points and allow the player to distribute the points across the available character attributes for their avatar. Sometimes, the game automatically applies all of the experience to a specific area, such as strength.

Gaining experience will also allow the user to unlock more features and skills to be acquired by the player during game play. This is a great way to monetize your games. In reality, most free games use this principle. They provide the basics of the world and the character for free, and they monetize the game through what are called in-game purchases, to increase either resources and/or character performance.

How is this implemented? Just like the inventory system, we need a way to keep track of the progress of the player's skills. This is usually done through a skill tree. Learning or acquiring a particular skill in the tree will unlock more powerful skills and give the player the ability to utilize the skills in the game.

Combat system

Time for battle! This is the moment every player looks forward to during their journey to kill the boss, the bad guy, or the evil warlord! Every RPG has some type of combat or battle component built into the game play. This is when the player gets to use all of their acquired skills and experience to destroy the opponent or be destroyed by the opponent, depending on how the day goes.

Historically, there were three basic types of RPG combat system. What type of combat system you choose to implement for your game will have a big impact on the game play, as well as the implementation of the game.

The three types of combat system are as follows:

  • Traditional turn-based system
  • Real-time combat
  • Real-time with pause

Historically, role-playing games used to implement turn-based combat systems. This type of combat system is as follows: only one character could act at a given time. During this time, all the other characters had to remain still. In other words, they could not take any action. This type of combat system is designed to put more emphasis on rewarding strategic planning.

The next type is the real-time with pause combat system. This type of combat system is also strictly turn-based, but with a catch. If the player waits more than a certain period of time to make a move or issue a command, the game will automatically pass on the command to the other player. This will allow the other player, that is, the enemy, to take a turn and attack the player.

In this book, we will be using a real-time combat system. Real-time combat imports features from action games and creates a hybrid action RPG game genre. Action RPG combat systems combine the RPG mechanics of role-playing with the direct, reflex-oriented, arcade-style, real-time combat systems of action games, instead of the more traditional battle systems of RPGs.


Shigeru Miyamoto is best known as the creator of many of Nintendo's most beloved characters and franchises, including Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, and many others. He was also the chief designer of Nintendo's Touch! Generation console series, which includes the Nintendo DS, Wii, and 3DS.

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User interaction and graphics

The question arises, how do we present our game world to the player? What kind of user interface are we going to provide for our game? What kind of view are we going to allow for our game? Are we going to design our world to be viewed as a top-down camera view? Are we going to create an isometric view of the world? Or are we going to create a first-person or a third-person perspective of our world?

Answering these questions is crucial, as when you are designing your game assets you will need to understand how they will be viewed in the game world. For instance, when designing your characters and/or 3D models for the game, if you know that you will be using an isometric view, then you will approach your modeling differently than, for instance, when you are designing for a first-person or third-person camera.

In our game, we will be using a third-person camera view for the presentation of our world.

The next question would be how to provide critical information to the player in a simple and meaningful fashion. Role-playing games require the player to manage a large amount of information and frequently make use of windowed interfaces to arrange the data for the player. This is usually designed and implemented through a Heads-Up Display (HUD). Take a look at the following screenshot:

HUD is frequently used to simultaneously display several pieces of information, including the main character's health, items, and indication of game progression. You can think of the HUD as the access point for all the information the user will be required to have access to and interact with during game play.

The design of the HUD is crucial for RPG games. Typically, there are a few key data elements that you would like to continuously communicate with the player throughout the game play, which are as follows:

  • Health
  • Energy
  • Stamina
  • Active weapon
  • Active shield
  • Special items
  • Number of lives
  • Access to main menu
  • Access to inventory
  • Access to skills

Once again, the design of your HUD is derived by the type of game you are designing, as well as the type of information that will need to be available to the player during game play. Take a look at the following screenshot:

Since most RPGs collect and store large amounts of data for the player character, it is very important to create an easy-to-use, yet clean HUD.

A very important thing to remember when designing a HUD is that it should never overpower the screen or become a distraction. It usually takes a few stabs to come up with a great HUD design for your game, from initial artistic concepts, to the actual implementation and testing by gamers to get some feedback before finalizing the design and internal workings.

At the end of the day, the HUD is supposed to simplify the game play for the player, and not make it more confusing. Today, many games are moving away from traditional HUDs, leaning more towards cinematic or extremely simplistic experiences during the game play. This enables the game designer to immerse the player into the world and not to distract them with a constant, static HUD.

Making a HUD that will fit into the game play and style of your game is basic. While an element-rich HUD might be extraordinary for a few games, an oversimplified HUD can be similarly successful, or more so. Everything relies upon the player encounter you need. So when you're prepared to make the heads-up display for your next game, ensure you're outlining the HUD to upgrade the player's involvement, and never over-burden the player with data.


Existing or upcoming RPG games

This section of the book will take a look at some of the existing or upcoming RPGs on the market. The main idea behind this section is to provide you with a point of reference to multiple RPGs, as well as the game design implemented. It is also a good idea to research existing or upcoming games to get ideas for your own!

MU Legend

This is the sequel to a popular Korean MMORPG game. MU2 is a title that has been produced and published by Webzen Inc. The game is set on the mythical mainland of Mu which, as indicated by the hypothesis of James Churchward, was occupied by the antiquated human progress of Naacal.

Players expect the parts of saints looking for fortune, undertakings, and a few beasts to chase in this amazing domain. Game play in MU2 centers around powerful battle taking after regular hack-and-slice mechanics. Take a look at the following screenshot:

MU Legend

The game tells the story of a war between the god of light, Rugard, and the god of destruction known as Sekneum that raged for many years. It finished with the thrashing of the latter at the hand of Akneria, the Supreme Creator, yet the peace did not last long, and Sekneum acquired a human body and came back to the mortal world. In any case, the Great Mage Kundun saw through the fallen god's ruse and imprisoned him inside his own body. In any case, at last, he crumpled under Sekneum's strength and emerged as Dark Lord, expediting the world towards its end. This is where the players enter the world, going with the last sage, Icarus, as Devias Knights in a last endeavor to spare Mu from fast-approaching annihilation.

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Titan Siege

An allowed to-play MMORPG dream game including smaller-scale exchanges. The phenomenal setting of Titan Siege combines elements taken from Norse, Greek, and Egyptian folklore. The players take the parts of legends, who safeguard humankind from Titan groups taking up arms against each other. The journey begins with the character creation—the player can pick the sex, appearance, and battle details of his hero.

The game play expands on open-world investigation, finishing journeys allocated by NPCs, battling experienced adversaries, and building up the fundamental hero's aptitudes—this in the run of the mill MMORPG way. Throughout the game, the players acquire new things, such as captivated parchments, and bits of protective clothing, which help their characters during a fight. Travel through the immense areas can be accelerated by acquiring a steed. The two pets and inviting players can help us in fights. Players can likewise provoke us to a duel—the champ gets the hardware of the fallen legend. Take a look at the following screenshot:

The story in Titan Siege is set in a fantastical world, where elements of Norse, Greek, and Egyptian legends mix together to make a one-of-a-kind setting. The domain has turned into a combat zone, on which two groups of Titans take up arms against each other. Humankind chose to take matters in their own hands and proclaimed a war themselves, with the objective to put an end to the disarray caused by the Titans' war. Human armed forces are driven by saints—who are controlled by the players.

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Citadel: Forged with Fire

A multiplayer dream RPG created and distributed by Blue Isle. The generation is implied exclusively for online play and is sandbox in nature, giving players a chance to pick their own particular profession ways.

The players play the part of magical adepts and utilize their spell-learning to investigate a fantastical domain that is loaded with threats and privileged insights, traveling, building fortresses and attack vehicles, and challenging other individuals. Gamers can locate their own homes which are counterparts of organizations and sets up their principles. At that point, we can battle against comparable gatherings for impact, an area, and fortunes close by our confidants. The game-play mechanics are controlled by the material science motor, so the various accessible spells sensibly affect the articles in the earth. The game is more enjoyable due to the likelihood of flying. Take a look at the following screenshot: 

The activity is set in a fantastical domain known as Ignus and gives the players a chance to accept the part of arcane expressions adepts who set out looking for undertakings and magnificence. The diversion happens on a guide with a region of 36 square kilometers. It incorporates fields, thick timberlands, mountains, swamps, solidified tundra, and old demolishes that shroud significant fortunes and great curios.

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Cyberpunk 2077

A sci-fi RPG title in the style of a table-top Cyberpunk game. This game was produced by the CD Projekt RED studio. The story takes you to the year 2077, including in fact progressed, though defiled universe without bounds. The game is set in Night City, a place well known to devotees of the Cyberpunk universe, where dismal interests and insider facts flourish.

While investigating the game's open world, you take in the complex, multi-string story through various exchanges, which regularly force you to make difficult decisions. The classes and character movement framework, battle show, and additionally many in-game expansions were motivated of the first pretending framework. The visual side of the game is based on an upgraded form of Red Engine. Take a look at the following screenshot:

Cyberpunk 2077 highlights an intense and develop approach towards the theme, drawing motivation from preparations, for example, Blade Runner. The title itself transports us to the year 2077 and presents us with a dream without bounds world, horrid and loaded with interest; the move of the title makes put in the famous Night City, which the fanatics of the Cyberpunk framework will as of now be acquainted with. Curiously, the CD Projekt RED studio has chosen to fabricate the amusement around the open world game play demonstrate, which enables the players to unreservedly investigate the world and finish side missions at whatever point they want. You can find more information at




Patterns in RPG

Just like any other technical project that might have patterns defined, an RPG can also utilize similar patterns that have been documented by Whitson John Kirk III in his book titled Design Patterns for Successful Role-Playing Games.


Note: Whitson was inspired by the book Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. His objective was to see if any special patterns existed in existing RPGs, and he approached this by examining specific patterns in successful games in the genre to detect and identify them.

In this section, we will be looking at some of the design patterns that have been identified, and that can be utilized for your own games.

Anytime you start a new project, regardless of what type, you need to have some clear idea of what exactly it is that you are trying to accomplish. This is even truer for designing a game. Since designing a game has many different components to it, you will need to identify what your game is going to be about. Some questions to start the thinking process are as follows:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What mood are you trying to evoke?
  • What do the characters do?
  • What do the player or players, in a multiplayer environment, do?
  • What kind of activities do you want to reward and what kinds of reward do you want to provide?
  • What age group does your game targets?
  • Is your game going to have sequences?
  • Will the game and the story extend with supplemental assets?

These are all important questions that will affect the design of your game. As you read this chapter and the book in general, keep a pen and paper handy so that you can write down all ideas that flash into your mind. This way, you can keep track of all your thoughts, and if you need to expand on them you can do so at a later time.




Every discipline has its own terminology. The following is a list of terminology that is used in RPG games. It is a good idea to take a moment and study them, to expand your vocabulary or to refresh your memory:

  • Attribute: A gauge that is a common characteristic, a commonality.
  • Character: A person in a game portrayed by a player, including, possibly, the Game Master.
  • Characteristics: An aspect of a character. A character's name, height, age, beauty, and strength are some possible characteristics.
  • Common Characteristics: Characteristics common to all characters of a given type in a game. A character's name, height, age, beauty, and strength are frequently common characteristics.
  • Conflict: Contention between characters, players, and/or game forces, especially contention that shapes the game's plot. This includes oppositions between two or more players concerning what facts should be introduced into a game world.
  • Contest: A conflict that is resolved through mechanical means.
  • Derived Attributes: An attribute whose value is determined by a formula. Typically, the formula uses other attribute values to generate a number.
  • Drama: an outcome-based purely on story consideration. Outcomes in a drama are exclusively determined by what would be most entertaining for the participants.
  • Flaw: a selected characteristic that is specifically not also a gauge. A character either has a flaw or he does not. Flaws are structurally very similar to gifts. But, flaws are generally considered detrimental to a character rather than beneficial.
  • Fortune: An outcome that is at least partly based on random factors. This may include rolling dice, drawing cards, or some other random value generator.
  • Game Master: Traditionally, a player assigned responsibilities to manage the game flow. With computer RPGs, the Game Master (GM) is the glue that holds everything together.
  • Gauge: A graduated value generally associated with a name. Commonly the graduated values are numeric values.


  • Gift: A selected characteristic that is specifically not a gauge. A character either has a gift or not. In general, gifts are considered beneficial to a character's well-being.
  • Karma: An outcome based on non-random value comparison. A karma-based contest directly compares two values to determine an outcome.
  • Non-Player Character (NPC): Any character portrayed by the Game Master as part of the role.
  • Optional Characteristics: A characteristic that is not common to all characters of a given type.
  • Player: Any person participating in a role-playing game.
  • Player Character (PC): a character portrayed by any player while not assuming the role of a Game Master.
  • Primary Attribute: An attribute whose value is set directly by a player rather than being derived by a formula from other attributes. Commonly, primary attributes are used in formulas to determine the values of Derived Attributes, but their own values are not determined by formulas. Typically, they are generated by random numbers or set by spending some resources.
  • Rank: The specific value of a gauge skill, handicap, or ranked trait. Also used as an adjective in place of gauge when describing such skills and traits.
  • Ranked Trait: A trait that is also a gauge.
  • Selected Characteristic: A characteristic selected from a pre-defined list of choices.
  • Shared Gauge: A gauge that is shared by many characters.
  • Skill: A selected characteristic that is also a gauge and is generally considered beneficial to a character.
  • Trait: A characteristic made up by a player without drawing it from a pre-defined list of choices.

To get a better understanding about the relationships between the attributes and characteristics, we have put together a visual help explain it:

Contest tree

The intent of a contest tree is to provide a mechanical means to create rising tension within a game. This is also known as Escalating Conflict.

Contest trees are high-level conflict resolution systems made up of many levels of contests arranged in a hierarchical fashion. The way they work is that lower-level contests feed into the higher-level contests and hence affect the outcome of the higher-level contests.

In other words, the higher-level contest could be to kill the big boss, but before you get to the big boss, there could be other mini battles that you will have to complete, and the outcome of the mini-battles will drive the outcome of the big battle. A simple example would be the amount of experience points you have gained before reaching the main boss.

Since the higher-level contests are somehow related to the lower-level contests, players do pay attention to the outcome of the lower-level contests; therefore, tensions arise concerning the eventual success or failure of a higher-level contest as a lower-level contest succeeds or fails.



It is best to use a contest tree when you want to create a sense of rising tension in your game. This can be achieved by applying different mechanics as the player progresses through the levels. Creating suspense in a cRPG is very simple, as you have a lot of control over the way levels and game play are designed. Since we have the ability to create our 3D worlds as we like, it would be easy to incorporate suspense into the game.

A few key points for creating tension in your game are as follows:

  • The hero and enemy should be evenly matched.
  • The hero and enemy should both periodically fail in their attempts, providing they are worthy adversaries.
  • The hero and enemy's successes and failures are never so great that all hope of success of attaining the high-level goals is eliminated from either side.
  • A highlight concerning contest trees is that it can only resolve high-level conflicts dealing with the mechanical inputs by the system. That is, if Damage and Remaining Hit Points are the only gauges used as an input into a conflict resolution, then the mechanics can only resolve issues dealing with Damage and Hit Points. To design a flexible contest tree, you will need to consider both the inputs as well as the outputs.

Last Man Standing

The Last Man Standing conflict system provides a generalized contest tree to resolve which side attains victory in battle.

The Last Man Standing is also one of the most traditional forms of generalized contest trees. The basic idea behind the pattern is to identify who the winner is by the simple fact of who manages to destroy the opponent. He who does is the winner. This is also one of the simplest ways to implement a contest tree.

It is used when there is a strong emphasis on tactical combat. Keep in mind that you are not obliged to use one pattern or the other. You can very well combine several patterns together, and you should, to make it more interesting. For instance, if your game has a great emphasis on combat, but you want to also introduce some negotiation into the conflict resolution, you can very much do so. Again, it all depends on you and your game design.

Something to keep in mind: if the only way to resolve a high-level contest is through battle, then players will focus their efforts on being the best they possibly can at winning battles. In other words, if a game only provides a single tool to resolve disputes, then you can be assured that players will become very adept and focused at using that tool.


Negotiated Contest

A Negotiated Contest provides a mechanical means to resolve disputes where the set of inputs and possible outcomes is negotiated by the player and non-player characters specifically for the conflict.

Designing and developing a Negotiated Contest mechanism is pretty complex. In order for the pattern to work properly, you will need to consider all of the inputs and outputs of the negotiations. The challenge of developing such a system is not so much the actual technical implementation, but the database that you will have to create and retain, based on the available selection by the player and the outcome of each input.

The implementation of the mechanics can be as simple as a few options and outcomes, and as complex as a variety of options and their eventual outcomes down the line. The important point is that you will have to introduce a negotiation mechanism after a conflict has been introduced, but before any action has been taken! The outcome is obviously what a win/lose concerns with, based on the negotiation before the conflict.


Note: The Negotiated Contest pattern requires that players be allowed to negotiate the effects of success and failure before the conflict is mechanically resolved.

Use the Negotiates Contest pattern when your design goals include one of more of the following:

  • A desire to unambiguously decide whether the outcome of a contest means a player wins or loses his stated goals, rather than whether or not his character succeeds in performing discrete actions
  • A need to scale the resolution of contests to levels of granularity different than that of individual actions
  • A willingness to allow players a great deal of narrative freedom in describing the results of contests, both good and bad

For computer role-playing games, the negotiated contest will have some restrictions, as we cannot afford to create an AI system to be open-ended. But we can design a simpler means to provide the player a sense of some control on the negotiations, as part of the game play.



Negotiation can be a great mechanics for exchanging information, and good with non-player characters in your role-playing game. There are three parts to a Negotiation pattern, as follows:

  • Initiation: This is the phase at which a character action is introduced into the game world
  • Execution: This is the phase in which the success or failure of a character action is determined
  • Effect: This is the phase in which the results of a character's actions are determined.

Here are some questions to consider when designing a Negotiation system:

  • What does the winner get?
  • What does the loser get?
  • How do we know who's the winner and who's the loser?
  • What do we need to establish before resolution begins, and how?


In this chapter, we covered in great detail what a role-playing game is. We briefly covered some of the historical aspects of the genre and looked at the different varieties of RPG. We discussed the key elements for designing a role-playing game and provided some examples to demonstrate.

We looked into the characteristics of an RPG and discussed how to plan for your game, such as story and setting, exploration and quests within your game, different types of inventory systems, character development, user interaction, and some combat system patterns. We also covered some basic terminology that is used in RPGs.

By the end of the chapter, you should have a clear idea of what you will need to prepare for and the kind of effort it will take for making a role-playing game.

In the next chapter, we will start planning the design and development of our RPG.

About the Author

  • Vahé Karamian

    Vahé Karamian is a software consultant and author based in Los Angeles, CA.

    He is the founder of Noorcon Inc., a software consulting firm in Burbank, CA, providing services in the field of augmented reality and virtual reality used in the entertainment, architecture, medical, and manufacturing industries.

    He has lectured in state and private universities on topics including Introduction to Computer Science, Data Structures and Algorithms, Operating Systems, and Game Design and Development.

    Browse publications by this author

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Das Buch ist sehr gut geschrieben und illustriert. Es ist ein exzellenter Einstieg in die Spieleprogrammierung mit Unity. Ich kann es nur empfehlen.
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