Grimdark RPG Project Inspirations 1: The Strategy Itch

I recently rebooted the Negative HP Podcast to focus primarily on RPG design with the ultimate goal of publishing my own RPG. It has been a dream of mine since I was a boy playing D&D with my friends until 4 am in the morning to publish my own RPG. With resources like DriveThurRPG and Kickstarter, it has become a more tangible reality than it used to be. With that in mind, I started working on my dream project, a tabletop RPG that blends elements of my favorite board games, video games, and tabletop experiences into one. But what are my inspirations? Some might be obscure or show my age quite a bit, but these are the games that shaped my imagination from the early 90s until today.


I spent a lot of time renting video games when I was a kid. So much so, that I often branched into unknown territories out of interest in box art. Some of my favorite games to play were strategy games, specifically those made by KOEI and their Historical Simulation series. Chief among these were Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition, which took place in feudal China and Japan respectively.

What appealed to me about these games was the focus on the ruler’s decisions and how it shaped their destinies. If you were a ruthless asshole, you would make lots of enemies and others would team up against you. If you were a pacifist just sitting in the corner, you could build up your power and eventually wipe out whoever attacked you. You could send spies, train armies, spend time with your family, assassinate other rulers, focus on economy and harvest, or whatever you’d like.

That is one of my goals with the Grimdark RPG Project. The idea is that your character is a House Leader, the top dog in your family. You make decisions that affect your entire family, not just yourself. You have to deal with the sins of the previous heads of your House and also mold the future generations with your Presumptive Heir. Being that you’re the House Leader, you rarely dirty your hands yourself. You send followers or other loyal members of your family to do so. But if you take them for granted or treat them like shit, they’ll turn on you. Survival, betrayal, loyalty, paranoia, these are all themes I’d like to explore with this game.

But where does the adventuring and dungeon crawling come in, you might ask? Maybe you don’t want to sit on your happy ass and just give directions all day. Well, I’m going for a macro, micro approach. The macro element of the game is dealing with bigger decisions of your House: where will we get food, should we trade with these weirdo cannibals, should we raid a weaker House while they’re struggling, these kind of things.

The micro element is that you get to role-play the minor members of the House if you so choose. In rare cases, you can even handle some objectives directly, but as an older, respected leader, you might want to let the healthier, robust, erm…expendable members of your House deal with that. This means if you’re role-playing your 2nd cousin and he dies, then you can still continue the game. If he lives, however, he might serve a more valuable role in your House and gain abilities he didn’t have before.

The way that Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition dealt with both the daily management of a kingdom and the survival of their people always intrigued me. But it was also interesting to see minor officers and family members rise up the ranks and become essential assets. I hope that this Grimdark RPG Project brings to life some of the aspects I loved about these games by allowing players to take on the roles of not only the leaders of Houses, but also to watch as others grow in power and influence.

That’s all for now. I’ll continue this series with more inspirations soon!