Make Your Own Tabletop Game - Getting Started

Make Your Own Tabletop Game - Getting Started

We want to encourage you to make your own games. You don't need to write a 100 page epic of a game, and can start with as little as a one or two pages. This multi-part series will walk you through how to go from an idea to a playable game using the free Breathless System by Fari Games.

We will create a game along side you called Substratum, a Scientists-In-Exosuits adventure of traveling to the center of the earth  to close the portal that consumed earth's molten core.

Lets jump in!


Download the SRD. It will also contain templates you can use to get going.

Understand the System

Since we are using the Breathless SRD, lets take a moment to understand some key aspects of what makes a Breathless Game. I believe these four pieces are critical in a Breathless game, and everything else can be removed or changed completely.

Skills: Skills are assigned die ratings (d4 thru d10) and time you use a skill, it reduces the die rating by one. (A d6 becomes a d4 after being used, for instance)

Take a Breath mechanic: A player can recharge their skills by "taking a breath". All skills return to their original die ratings but a new complication is added to the story.

Stress: Stress is the health mechanic. Your character can take 4 stress, then becomes vulnerable. If they fail a dangerous check while vulnerable, they can die or otherwise be removed from the game.

Rolling Tables: Not required, but having several tables that players or the GM can roll on to generate an adventure, items, or other 'thing' in your game is of great help. Rolling tables are a great place to do some world building.

And that's it. Those are really the core 'game' mechanics of Breathless. Skills can be about shooting and looting, or about making latte art and sandwiches.  Stress can be taking damage, or just becoming frustrated with your day. That's up to you. We recommend looking through the SRD and reading it in its entirety. It's short (2 pages), so it won't take too much time.

Come up with a Game Idea.

This can be as simple as one or two sentences. Honestly, the shorter and more concise the better. The idea can be tweaked and added to later. Do you want a game of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, slice of life, exploration? What are your players trying to do?

For example Substratum's idea is: "A portal consumed the core of our planet and while the cracks to the surface are letting them out, we will make our way in. Except instead of soldiers, it is scientists."

Write down your idea, or use one of the sentences below for inspiration. Breathless can be used to create a game played with others, or a solo game people play by themselves.

  1. You're a barista trying to fulfill drink orders before customers get impatient.
  2. Strike out into the unknown reaches of the galaxy, exploring new planets and facing mysterious dangers in your old spaceship.
  3. The dungeon is deep, its riches are great, but only for those brave enough to reach the end.
  4. A planet-killing asteroid is heading our way. You are the group sent to deal with the massive rock and save earth.
  5. A group of friends meeting for the first time in years reconnect at a diner. Each has old, unfinished drama with each-other. Can they mend the past and rekindle their friendships?
  6. You're a group of teenage mystery hunters seeking out strange reports. Most are just people committing crimes, but this mystery is different...
  7. You're a family of otters traveling down river in search of a new home.
  8. You're at a court trial attempting to win against accusations of a ridiculous crime.
  9. Act as the spirits of the woods attempting to drive out the settlers looking to cut down the ancient trees for their homes
  10. You're a taxi driver who just picked up their most interesting fare yet. Can you make it to the end of the day?

Define The Skills

To make sure your idea is viable, lets define the Skills your players will use, in a way, this is deciding what are the important actions your players can take.

  • Is this a game about shooting your way out of problems?
  • Hiding and creating traps to ensnare your enemies?
  • Trying to control your emotions and not panic?
  • Or attempting to make different coffees and deal with customers?

Talk through your idea. Now is a good time to mentally expand your 2 sentence idea to better understand what skills are needed. What are some interesting things the taxi driver needs to do? Or the otters traveling down river? Are there actions that don't make sense in your game? Make sure those aren't there.

Take some time here and work out the different verbs and what they mean to the players. The three verb examples for each Skill gives the players hints as to what they should be using that specific skill for in your game.

In the original design, Breathless was a zombie survival game and had the core skills:

  • Bash: wreck, move, force
  • Dash: run, jump, climb
  • Sneak: hide, skulk, lurk
  • Shoot: track, throw, fire
  • Think: perceive, analyze, repair
  • Sway: Charm, manipulate, intimidate

For Substratum, we're scientists not fighters, so Bash and Shoot need to be replaced. We decided to go with Make and Break - two things scientists do a lot! And because they're wearing exosuits and we wanted to give additional options to dealing with threats, Sneak became Evade. The verbs we give 'hide, shield, obscure' give a hint that maybe the exosuits have a shield, or that somehow they can obscure themselves or objects. Light reflecting technology? Or smoke canisters? That's up to the players.

So our Skills for Substratum are:

  • Make: trap, repair, build
  • Break: pummel, wreck, destroy
  • Dash: run, jump, flee
  • Evade: hide, shield, obscure
  • Think: observe, hypothesize, analyze
  • Sway: charm, manipulate, intimidate

Until Next Time...

We went over the Breathless System and defined what we need to focus on first, you have an idea for your game, and we've wrote out one of the most important aspect the game centers around: Skills. This is a great start!

Next time, we'll talk about how we change and adapt Take a Breath, Stress and write our first Rolling Table!

If you are excited to continue, you can jump into the Fari Discord's #breathless-talk channel or on the Jam Page and join the conversation. The Game Jam runs from June 1st 2022 to July 1st 2022, but you can make a Breathless Game at any time.

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