Quick to Learn and Quick to Play: The 200 Word RPG

Have you ever found yourself with a group of friends and just half an hour, looking to scratch a role playing itch? If so, I would highly suggest checking out a 200 Word RPG.

200 Word RPG is a competition ran by David Schirduan that began in 2015. From his website, David says, “This small tabletop game design challenge encourages everyone to make a complete role-playing game. It’s hard to work on a game, and much harder to finish one. This is an opportunity for participants to brainstorm, write, edit, playtest, and polish a game idea from start to finish.”

Despite the limitations given to designers in the competition, there are some clever and exciting role playing games that are designed every year! Past games in the competition have included mechanics focusing on a burning match, melting ice – and of course, rolling dice.

I have found the 200 Word RPG to be refreshing both as a designer and a player. As a designer, trying to fit a clear, compact, yet robust play experience into such a restricted method of communication is quite a challenge. Yet through that challenge come a lot of creative solutions to game problems – as you’ll see further in this article.

The Competition

The 200 Word RPG is not just a thought exercise – since 2015, it has been a full design competition! Each year, hundreds of RPGs are submitted to the competition (2018 saw 756 submissions, by my count). After the submission deadline, a panel of judges select three winners each year.

The beauty of this contest comes in the wide range of ideas and play-styles that have been submitted by the designers. In just 200 words, themes have ranged from heavy metal spell slinging rockers, to Victorian authors, to sexual discovery. There are also a shocking amount of games that ask you to burn things! But the contest isn’t just about theme (or burning things)! It’s also about creating simple yet elegant mechanics, with a focus on creativity.

In the list below, previous winners have been linked and given a brief description – have fun checking them out!

2015 Winners

All Fall Down

The OG in match burning, All Fall Down takes place in an apocalyptic setting. Matches, burned or unburned, represent your chances at surviving the dangerous new world in scene-based play.

Escape Pod One

Escape Pod One is all about getting yourself into an escape pod before the (kitchen) timer runs out! This game brings in board game mechanics for a social experience.


The only submission that I’ve seen where the rules presentation match the theme, LOVEINT is all about deception, surveillance, and…sex?

2016 Winners

The College Animalia

A College Animalia is very interesting take on a setting that feels like Chernobyl meets Narnia. There’s not a whiff of mechanics here, but a lot of theme in just 200 words.

The First Steps

If you play The First Steps, you’ll never need to hear the words, “You’re all sitting at a bar…” again! In First Steps, you create the reasons why the characters from that campaign you are about to start actually get together!

Foam Dart RPG

Have you ever wanted to shoot something in an RPG? In Foam Dart RPG, you can resolve your actions by, well, shooting a foam dart!

*As a quick note, 2016 was the only year that included a category of “RPG Supplements.” While I think there are a lot of good resources here, I didn’t include them in the write-up because the category was discontinued.

2017 Winners


MECHANICAL ORYX creates the most complex 200 word mechanical system I’ve seen yet. Try it out, and don’t run out of fuel!


In Memories, you share the memories of your long life during a conversation over a table. Then you get to engage in burning (and more burning) paper, as your memories fade away.

Route Clearance

It’s 2017 – Welcome to the United States Army. By using a regular deck of cards, Route Clearance lets you experience all that might be experienced in a modern war zone as you clear the route from Kabul to Kandahar.

2018 Winners


Probably my favorite theme, #WinterIntoSpring enjoys an alternative future post-revolution fashion theme! Using fashion magazines, you create  your own fashions, and see what drama rises on the vlogosphere!

Dear Elizabeth…

This is my favorite game entry out of all of them! In Dear Elizabeth, you write notes to one other player – who you don’t see – about specific topics. It’s immersive, Victorian, and has a solo mode!


Sidewalkia! strays dangerously close to the sphere of Improv Everywhere, but has a lot of fun doing it. You are a sidewalk nation, and as the public interacts with your nation, you experience different events!

Plans For 2019

According to David Schirduan, there have been a few changes in 2019 to the 200 Word RPG Competition. They have been joined by new organizer Jacqueline Byrk. They are currently looking for judges. The contest has moved to an October deadline. And, perhaps most importantly, the competition is focusing on inclusion.

I know I’m excited to participate this year! I have a few ideas outlined, and one idea with a brief write-up already! This wouldn’t be my first entry either! In 2016, I entered the competition for the first time.

With Free RPG Day just around the corner, I wanted to make my previous entry available to everyone – for free!

While my original entry can be found on the 200 Word RPG Challenge website, I have since cleaned it up (kept it at 200 words), added art, and published it in a spooky, 1 page pdf.

If you are interested in exploring a haunted house with your friends, and trying to survive without getting too spooked, check out House of Haunts through my mailing list here!

Also, I would love to hear your favorites! Share your favorite 200 Word RPG in the comments below, or connect with me on twitter. I love talking about games, and would love to chat more with you!

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