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Lee Ely - Rutgers Portfolio

The Indie TTRPG Database

Design example #

User information needs #

The Indie TTRPG Database is a collection of tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) from independent creators and small studios, as well as resources related to the hobby.

Tabletop games take many forms. Many follow the same sort of feeling and structure as well-known games like Dungeons & Dragons[1]— relying on a complex rule system, a game master who guides the story and multiple players, and a focus on “leveling up” a character, often through combat. However, there are also games that may only have a single page of rules, that have no combat, or that are only meant for one player.
The intended users of this collection are both new and experienced TTRPG players. They will be interested in finding new games and related resources (supplements, item generators, reviews or other coverage). In addition to TTRPG players, this collection is also of potential benefit to students and academics or educators who are studying tabletop RPGs or story games.

The users of this collection may be looking for answers to questions like:

They may also be looking for more information about the subject matter of a certain game, in order to gauge if it is of interest or appropriate for themselves or their group.

In order to address the potential needs of novice and experienced TTRPG players, and people who may have an academic interest in the subject, The Indie TTRPG Database aims to provide a selection of high-quality TTRPGs with a thoughtful index that encourages exploration and enables users to find niche content within a niche field.

Subject scope #

This collection is intended to include a variety of TTRPGs across a range of genres and play types, as well as supporting resources.

There are a few qualitative criteria worth mentioning. First, the “indie” descriptor. Indie is a subjective term, but in the case of this collection, it means content that comes from an individual or small group of creators, or work that is not published by large imprints like Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or Fantasy Flight Games.

Second, the idea of supporting resources is currently a bit vague. Definitely included in this category are game supplements (such as new character classes or adventures). Other content, such as reviews or links to independent creators of items like dice or miniatures, could potentially be included. Another addition could be academic articles that relate to TTRPGs or roleplaying games more broadly, as a fair amount of this writing exists but can be hard to find.

Collection scope #

The documentary units in this collection were created by individuals or small teams. Documentary units will be selected for inclusion in this collection by a small team of TTRPG enthusiasts. For this team, the primary importance is experience playing TTRPGs, but these individuals may also be artists, writers, game developers, researchers, or historians with an interest in storytelling and games.

The documentary units in this collection may be digital or physical, though the physical (books, zines) distinction is mainly made to indicate what is available, as the collection itself is entirely digital.

The content in this collection will primarily be from 1999 to present, as (generally speaking) the indie TTRPG scene started taking off in the early 2000s. Updates to the collection will be conducted quarterly, with a summary of items added to the collection published to the updates page.

The documentary units may be from any country of origin, but initially, documentary units will be in English. It should be a priority to expand the curation team to include members who are sufficiently fluent in other languages so that the collection can begin including non-English materials as soon as possible.

While much, if not all, of this content is already available online, most of it is scattered across various e-commerce sites, Etsy or Shopify stores. Larger retailers have various reasons for deciding to stock or discontinue carrying items. Since this collection is not an online marketplace, there is no demand or financial reason to remove content. The Indie TTRPG Database functions as an online museum or library collection, with an emphasis on preserving this work as well as potentially exposing it to new viewers. The focus is on providing value to TTRPG novices (a selection of interesting games and supporting educational resources), while also maintaining a high-quality collection that can be of use to TTRPG enthusiasts and, potentially, academics or other historians.

Collection domain #

For this collection, the sources of the documents would be their creators. Because of this, the team responsible for the collection will need to initiate communication with these creators and request permission to include these assets in the collection. Individual documents will be sourced by a curator or curation team with knowledge of the TTRPG space, and the creators would provide links to content, or digital or physical copies.

Classified/relational arrangement and/or facets #

The index has a classified/relational structure, using an is-a relationship. Headings are faceted, with descriptive facets arraigned hierarchically. For example: Supplies needed > Cards > Standard deck (52 card)

This degree of faceting allows for precise searching and browsing for advanced users, who might have specific needs—a certain genre of science fiction, or a game that has built-in support on the web-based gaming platform Roll20. When shown in context with the surrogate record, these headings and subheadings provide further information about that document.

Top-level categories were chosen based on what would provide the most information to the user, and can be separated into a few rough categories: content, gameplay, and what could loosely be thought of as administrative information.

Content categories describe the story-world of the game—genre and themes. Taking a cue from RPGGeek, the genres are faceted to show a number of subgenres. This allows a user to choose all of the content within a given genre (Science fiction), or to narrow their search to a particular subgenre (Science fiction > Cyberpunk), or to remove specific subgenres they are not interested in by using the Boolean NOT, or unchecking one in Advanced search (all Science fiction except Time travel).

Themes are separate and relate to elements that may feature prominently in a game’s story or play. These often deal with emotionally affecting components of the game (relationships, family, grief, found family, LGBTQIA+ themes, etc.). These terms are useful for finding content of interest, but also serve a dual purpose in acting as content warnings. A user may find a TTRPG of interest, but note that one of the themes is “global pandemic,” and opt not to continue with that choice.

Gameplay categories (gameplay type, supplies needed, system, supported on, game length) deal with the actual items needed to play, the number of players, if the game if an offshoot of/dependent on another game, and other practical concerns.
Administrative categories are information about the format of the content (digital, physical) and copyright or license information.

In addition to these top-level categories, there are categories (Games, Resources, Creators) based on the type of content:

While these are also considered top-level categories, there is a degree of hierarchy in their relationships with each other. Items in the creator category would not exist without a corresponding game or resource. Items in the resource category would not exist without a corresponding game or creator.

An additional top-level category, Collections, is also proposed. This category would be for collections created by site administrators (or potentially, in the future, users). These collections might be things like “One-page adventures,” “Games you can play without dice,” or “Games to play this Pride month.”

Vocabulary management #

This collection uses the index itself as the authority file. In addition, the document title, creator, and description text will be indexed and searchable.

A glossary page provides definitions of terms that may not be familiar to novice TTRPG players, or terms that may be used differently in the scope of this collection than they might be elsewhere. These definitions would also be provided on the category pages of the index. For example, clicking through to “See all systems” from the homepage (p.1, design pages) would take the user to a page listing all the available index terms for systems. At the top of this page, there would be a brief description of what a “system” is in this context.

One proposed feature of this collection is the ability of users to create their own lists of items from the collection. This is currently seen as a way for users to keep track of games, creators, or resources they want to remember or revisit at a later date, but future expansion of this functionality could lend itself to the implementation of public user-created collections and social tagging.

Analysis and indexing methods #

Indexing will be manual. Because of the relatively small size of the collection and the somewhat arbitrary definition of “indie,” this hands-on approach ensures that the items included in the collection are relevant. Index terms will be selected by reviewing similar collections (primarily e-commerce sites that deal specifically with TTRPGs and other games, such as, RPGGeek, and Indie Press Revolution), and close consideration of the needs of potential users. It is important that indexers are familiar with the world of indie TTRPGs.

While the collection will start small, the index will be designed with future expansion in mind, and therefore may contain terms that are attached to few/no items.

Depth of indexing #

One of the aims of this collection is to have a degree of granularity to index terms that other similar collections may lack. However, these index terms are mainly subcategories across a broader range of categories, the collection will have a low to medium depth of indexing.

Syntax for representation of displayed indexes #

Index terms are listed in sentence case, unless title case is appropriate (creator names, game or system names). Search is not case-sensitive.

For subcategories, such as Science fiction > Time travel, most representations of the index will show the category with the subcategories indented underneath. The exception is alphanumeric arraignment, where it would be formatted as:

Alphanumeric arrangement #

Generally, the alphanumeric listing shows index terms ordered by National Information Standards Organization (NISO) standards—spaces, symbols, numbers, and then letters.

There is one exception to standard NISO ordering for numbers. Years (1999, 2020, etc.) are ordered after regular numerical entries. This is in order to keep this index term type grouped together.

Locators and links to documents #

When clicked through, index terms listed throughout the site return a list of all content that is assigned that index term. The title and thumbnail of each item on this list are links, and can be clicked through to the full surrogate record.

Using search, the user is also presented with all content that matches the query, arraigned by relevance based on how closely the search query matches terms associated with the document, with priority given to title matches.

Search interface #

There is a basic search bar at the top of each page, which accepts any free-text input. Using this search bar will search the input across all types of content in the collection. This basic search also accepts standard Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).

The advanced search page can be accessed via the top navigation menu or the link next to the basic search bar. Advanced search provides further instructions on using Boolean operators, including a graphical option to add additional search fields. Below the search fields, there are a number of buttons for additional search filters. These correspond to the categories that various index terms fall into. Clicking on the category button will open a modal window where the user can select additional search filters using multi-select checkboxes.

The advanced search page also includes a “current query” section, which displays the user’s current search as formulated from the free-text search fields and the additional filters.

Searches by creator name will return a list of items related to that creator (games, resources, and collections).

Surrogate records #

The results page for any given search will display a list of records that match those search terms. Each record will be presented with a thumbnail image, the title, creator, an excerpt from the record’s description, and the top index terms associated with that record (p.6, design pages). There is also an option to save that record to a list, which the user can reference later.

The full surrogate record page includes an overview section, with the document’s title, creator, and descriptions, as well as an image gallery where available. The majority, if not all, of the content in this collection is available elsewhere online. While the collection aims to be a stand-alone resource, links to the original items will always be provided. In most cases, this will be a link to a digital store, personal website, or other web-based publication.

Below this is the complete view of all information associated with this document (p.7, design pages).

Inspired by academic databases such as EBSCOHost, the full surrogate record page also includes options to save the record to a list, export the record information, and export a citation for the documentary unit in the surrogate record. The option to export a citation is valuable to students and academics who are referencing TTRPGs in their research (as I have with trying to properly form APA-style citations for TTRPGs and related materials throughout this project and others).

Any index terms listed in this view are presented as links, so a user can click through and view the other items associated with that term.

Metadata scheme #

XML records are presented in Unqualified Dublin Core, to promote interoperability. However, there is room to reevaluate this in the future.

Exemplar Units #

Harper, J. (2017). Blades in the dark. Evil Hat Productions.

One more multiverse. One More Multiverse. (2022). Retrieved March 1, 2022, from

Buscuttil, T. (2020). __LOCKDOWN__ Protocol. Tim Buscuttil.

bearsharktopus. (2022, March 4). Deepest Lore. bearsharktopus.

Sword & Source. (n.d.). Random Generators for Busy Game Masters: Here be taverns. Random generators for busy Game Masters | Here Be Taverns. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Dragon, J., & Ruby Lavin. (n.d.). Possum Creek Games. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Handmade Dice and jewelry. Juice Box. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Premium Ambient Audio. Tabletop Audio. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Walker, A. (Host). (2015-present) Friends at the Table [Audio podcast]. Friends at the Table.

Blackwell, A. (n.d.). BlackwellWriter. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

References #

BoardGameGeek. (n.d.). RPGGeek. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from

Academic databases for colleges and Universities | EBSCO. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2022, from

Download the latest Indie Games. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2022, from

Iacovetta, K. (2021, September 15). Dungeons and dragons: Home. LibGuides. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from

IPR. Indie Press Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2022, from

  1. For more on Dungeons & Dragons, I recommend checking out this Dungeons & Dragons LibGuide: ↩︎