In April 2003, Philip Reed, a graphic designer and independent game writer posted the following on the Forge, a forum devoted to the design of indie RPGs:
For years I've considered creating a 24 hour comic.
But maybe it would be more fun to create a 24 hour RPG. A 24 page RPG completed in 24 hours. Any others out there think this would be fun? Maybe we could stage a weekend when several of us do this at once and then share the results at the end of the weekend.
Other members of the Forge liked the idea. Reed organized a quasi-contest (without victors or prizes), and they set to writing games. Due to schedule constraints, not all of them were able to begin at the same time, or even on the same day; but after the smoke had cleared, ten quick independent RPGs were posted, all made within 24 hours of starting.
Some of the authors went on to refine and polish their submissions; Reed's own vs. Monsters was due to print "soon" in early July 2004, and has spawned a few side projects of its own for him.
Also in July 2004, Reed opened the second 24-hour RPG contest. With the help of other Forge members, especially Andy Kitkowski, he finalized a set of rules for the completion of a 24-hour game.
The new rules abandoned the concept of a set date at which the games must be designed; instead, they allowed for an author to write his game at any date, as long as the 24-hour rule was kept. However, for a few weeks at a given time, the so-called 'Grand Act' was to be held, during which many people, especially denizens of the Forge, would be recruited.
Aside from the 24-hour rule, other constraints included that each game was to be a one-person project (though they allowed for clip art); no pre-planning was to be done, though earlier ideas and system components could be used; an ideal length (which none of the first-year games managed to meet) was set at 24 pages; and to be considered, the final product had to be shared. Adobe's PDF was named as the preferred format.
The Grand Act was scheduled for July 16-August 2. Currently, there are nine entries for 2004. All of them are available for free at www.24hourrpg.com. The games there are not necessarily playable -- working on the same thing for 24 straight hours can do strange things to one's mind. Some of the authors are already updating and polishing their work.
I participated in the Grand Act this year (keeping the details of my game out, as this is intended to be a more-or-less factual writeup and not an ad), and found it a difficult but rewarding experience. I completed my project in some 19 or 20 hours. I didn't just sit in the same place for all 19 hours, though -- I took food breaks at random, and as night drew on, a much longer time out to preserve my sanity. Finally, as dawn broke outside my window, I uploaded the completed game to the 24-hour RPG mailinglist and went to sleep. I was exhausted for the next couple of days, but consider that well worth it.
It's not a perfect game -- through others' critiques and playtesting it with friends on IRC, I've found numerous errors, some of them crippling -- but I still like it, and once I've fixed everything and reworked it to make a finished product, I plan to rerelease it.
The Forge: www.indie-rpgs.com
24Hour RPG: www.24hourrpg.com