Is This A Story Game Or A World Game?
Before we can craft the pitch for your game we need to know if this is a Story game or a World game. A story game is a game that is based around telling a story. It has a specific beginning and desired end point. A world game on the other hand is more about exploring the world. Stories are told in both games, but it is where the focus lies that we're concerned with.
For videogame RPG fans many Bioware games (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Jade Empire, etc) are Story games. You have freedom to play your character (within the confines of a videogame) but there is an event based story going on. Bethesda's games (Skyrim, Fallout) are more world games. Sure, there are stories going on, but the focus of the game is to explore and immerse yourself in the world.
Obviously a table top RPG has more freedom than both, but it is a matter of where you are going to be putting the big effort. Do you want a game focused around a big bad/event and when that is resolved the game is more or less over? Or do you want a game focused on exploration, world building, and being a giant sandbox for your players? Neither is wrong, but both play differently.
Some games come with pre-established worlds. This is a good thing for us. If I tell you that I want to run an L5R game - and you play L5R or have played it or just know about it - then you already have a good idea of some of the basics. For example, you know that I am running a game focused on Eastern fantasy in a medieval setting with magic, a strict caste setting, and where what you say is just as likely to get you killed as when you draw your sword.
Other worlds carry their own ideas for things that likely are to happen. A "Dresden Files" game is likely to have elements of the Fae, magic, and vampires involved in some fashion. A Forgotten Realms game means you are going in a firmly set D&D-esque setting with established characters, cities, and stories that are different from if we are playing in the world of Dragonlance.
One thing to keep in mind is that pre-existing worlds from RPGs often have systems that people will assume you are using. This is fine if that is your intention, but something you want to point out if you intend to deviate from or if there are multiple systems that do the game.
Do You Have A Premise In Mind?
The last question to ask yourself is do you already have a premise in mind? A premise tells you what the story (in this case, the PCs) is about rather than what the story is. For example "Teddybears that defend their owner while they sleep" is a premise. "John must fight harder than any Teddy before him when the Boogieman determines his owner is the key to a world of never ending nightmares" is a story (technically it's a hook, but you get the idea.)
Some other examples of premises for games:
- L5R Scorpion Clan Black Ops team
- Standard group of tomb raiding adventurers
- A fighter squadron in the Rebellion during the Galactic Civil War
- A group of Star Fleet cadets who end up flying a prototype star ship
Get the idea? Awesome, because...
We're Ready To Make The Pitch
The pitch you give to your players is basically those three things put together and given to them. If it is a story game it can also help to figure out about how long you think it will take to get through the story. World games, on the other hand, tend to be a lot more open ended for when and where they will end. The other thing to keep in mind is that if you have a system you want to use for the game in mind for sure already (and many of you will) then you want to mention that as well.
Put together, your pitch will comprise of:
- What system you intend to use
- What world the game will take place in
- The premise for the game
- If it is open ended or story based
I put the last point at the bottom because in some cases you won't need it. With this, some example pitches would look like:
- A Robotech RPG game where the PCs are Veritech pilots defending Mars from a race of aliens that are following in the Invid's wake.
- A Pathfinder game set in a custom Fantasy world where the PCs are adventurers who explore the ancient tombs of a lost civilization
- An L5R game told in generations of characters focused on how a particular city changes and develops across several time periods.
Note that with each one the pitch is just a sentence. We don't need to give away the whole story of what is going on. Also, in these I'm hinting at if there is a story or a more open ended game in mind. The Robotech game is likely a set story because if the game is about defending Mars from this race, then decisions will need to be made when Mars is no longer in danger. Meanwhile the Pathfinder game is open ended but could lead into a story or not depending on the situation. Finally, the L5R game could be either an indefinite game that kept going and going, or one that had a set number of runs through the city before the game was deemed over.
Also note that as the pitches become more open so to does the idea of what the PCs are. The Robotech game is very strict in its premise. the PCs are veritech pilots. That is a very specific role in a Robotech game. The Pathfinder game only has a mild restriction in that the PCs are adventurers (something Pathfinder assumes anyhow.) The L5R game doesn't even mention what the PCs are aside from residents of a city.
In all three cases though there is a definite idea of what the game is going to be about, what system the game will use, and what the GM intends to focus on (a war, tomb raiding, and a city.) You can give more information if you want, but when it comes to this kind of thing, less can be a lot more.