A fantasy heartbreaker is a tabletop roleplaying game that is clearly a labor of love, but not nearly as radical or innovative as its creators think it is. Quite often, it’s nothing more than a rewrite of an existing game, with some tweaks. A rule they don’t like is changed or replaced, their favorite house rules are incorporated, or they add one new thing and think that qualifies it as an entirely different game. It’s a heartbreaker not because the game is necessarily bad, but because a lot of effort went into something that ultimately provides very little payoff for either the creators or the players and readers.
I have code named the roleplay game system I’m working on The Fantasy Heartbreaker Project. The journal I keep for it is called The Fantasy Heartbreaker Journal. At the top of the very first page, I have written in large black-and-gold letters BEWARE THE FANTASY HEARTBREAKER. One of my key design principles is to avoid the pitfalls of those who have come before me.
The layout of this journal is different from others that I use. It’s not a bullet journal-like daily planner, but it’s not entirely freeform either. I have an index page, which looks more like an actual index than a table of contents. I have headings for topics, and below each heading are page numbers. Depending upon how much space I think I’ll need for each heading, I’ve given them 10 or 20 pages. So Topic A starts on page 1, Topic B starts on page 11, Topic C Starts on page 31, and so on.
If I run out of space for a topic, I’ll start a new section on the first unclaimed page, block off another 10 or 20 pages, and update the index. Topic A might then ultimate have 1, 121, 161 listed in the index.
The topics, for the curious, are Magna Carta (design principles, what I want to accomplish, what I want to avoid), Meta (legal stuff, layout ideas, business and marketing concerns), Worldbuilding (anything setting-related), Characters (creation, options, play advice), Gamemaster (management and administrative tips), Story (putting together adventures and campaigns), and Rules (how things work).
Starting at the back of the book, and moving forward, is a list of other games and reference books that I’m “idea mining”. Each gets a four-letter code, so as I’m making notes in other sections I can keep track of where the idea came from. For example, the 3rd edition D&D Players Handbook might be PHB3. When I take a note, I’ll put that code and the page number. Then I can properly attribute things later if needed, utilize Open Gaming Content and Creative Commons licensed material if I decide to, and make sure I’m not accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work by accidentally putting a quote into the end product rather than rephrasing and making it my own.
The intention isn’t to steal, but to find inspiration. It’s more like “oh yeah, players will probably want to know how to do this in my system” or “I like how they do that, I can do something similar”. As with the fantasy heartbreaker warning, it might also be a “See this? Don’t do this.” sort of notation. I’m looking for best practices in terms of concise verbiage as well. It’s about seeing what some games do well, and others do poorly, so I can make my own work better.