Making up a tabletop RPG

One day I wanted to keep the kids (6 and 8) busy, I suggested we play a game, I made up the rules and we used playing cards as the source of randomness. Thus was born PlayingCards-RPG.

Growing up in a town in Italy in the ’80s, I never got the chance to play tabletop RPGs. There might have been people who played them, but I was an introverted kid, a nerd without a like-minded community, so I never got the chance.

This means I don’t actually know how tabletop RPGs work. I have skimmed a couple rulebooks, and D&D’s rulebook clarified that roleplaying is about storytelling and make-believe.

Those, I know.

Character building

Kids are naturally apt at making up characters (more than their parents), so they can easily invent a character. But they are also bad at having them balanced.

Some popular RPGs have emphasis on character stats or classes, attributes such as strength, dexterity, agility, intelligence etc.. and all those are properly codified. But you don’t need that.

In PlCRPG there are 3 stats: Health, and Two Others. The others are Strength/Attack/Defence/Whatever and Intelligence/Dexterity/Agility/Magic/Whatever.

The goal is not to be realistic, is to have something where you, as the adult master can just balance them out. Examples we played:

  • Black Skull, the tiny alien with laser eyes: low Health, very high Attack, low defense, can fly.
  • Vanilla, the Elven Mom: average Health, average Intelligence, average Health, has an invisibility cloak.
  • Blooddrop, the saber-toothed mouse: low Health, low Strength, high Speed, starts owning some potions.
  • Almei, the werewolf cub with fractal fangs: average Health, average Strength (it’s a cub), low Intelligence, attack-only bonus.
  • Luna, the forest girl: average Health, low Strength, average Intelligence, but talks to animals and travels with a pet rabbit.
  • Grunt, half-orc: average Health, high Strength, low Intelligence.
  • Fire Spirit: low Health

Can I do something?

I think these are called checks in D&D. You should use a variety of dice with different probabilities but we just had playing cards. Most Italian playing cards use the latin 4 suits (Clubs, Swords, Coins and Cups, these are pretty well suited thematically!) and have 10 cards each. You can use the French or German ones (or tarots, or UNO cards or whatever) sticking with the 1-10 cards, and re-use the others as characters or equipment.

The system is simple: average stats means you use 1-10 cards. High stats mean you use 6-10, low stats use 1-5, buffs through objects or spells change the set of cards.

Some examples:

  • The party wants to break a door: that requires a 5, the kid player pulls a card, and if it’s above that they manage to break it.
    • the Half-Orc has 6-10 for Strength, will always succeed
    • the Elven Mom has 1-10 so she’ll succeed half the time
      • the Saber-toothed mouse has 1-5 so it just can’t do it (but could lockpick it)
  • The party is in a room looking for a book: I think this is a bit harder so I decide it requires a score >6
  • Elven mom has a 40% chance to pass
    • …but she found a spell that makes light, so instead of using cards 1-10 she’ll use 3-10
    • Werewolf cub is dumb, so even with the light he can’t do it

Fights and stuff

Fighting happens card-on-card: you attack with what you draw, defend with what you draw, subtract the difference from remaining health. Each player attacks in turn, the master makes up the order . To deal with extreme disparity, a “best” draw still does something.

For example Half-Orc fight a fire spirit:

  • Half-Orc has High Strength (cards 6-10), random Fire Spirit is tiny (cards 1-5). Half-Orc draws a 8, fire spirit draws a 4, takes 4 damage.
  • Fire Spirit attacks the Half-Orc, draws a 5: it could never damage the other which will always get a draw >6, but to make this mildly interesting a 5 (best draw) sets the other on fire, so they lose 1 health every round.

Experience, levels and such stuff

I did not bother with this. The kids will pick new characters the next game, and if they want to keep the same and “get better” I’ll just let them find some equipment.

Exploration, maps and such

I just draw on a bit of paper, I pre-planned dungeons but sometimes I just add stuff as we go on. My kids can’t be bothered to count steps and such, so I just have them move from one place to another instantaneously, it works well enough.


This is not a lot of rules. It’s barely more than not having rules, but the point is to get creative while spending time with your family, which we all enjoyed. There will be plenty of time to play with big rulesets when they grow up (and then there won’t be, as they’ll think playing with Dad is lame).

But do let me know if you have your own made up game, I’d be happy to play that too 🙂