JTippetts has a compelling argument for picking something you like, but sadly many beginners don't start small.
I note that JTippetts' goblin project looks like it is now in year 11. That many years, even at a hobby level, disqualifies it from being a beginner project. Over the course of a decade you can move from beginner to veteran.
Heh, true, in a way. The goblin project is only a couple years along, but before that were several isometric experiments and projects that led to it. I did do a lot of 2D stuff before I ever switched to 3D, so the 3D switch was cosmetic only. Still, though, I have always worked on RPGs. It's why I got into game development, so all these silly progressions and learning paths that people try to pawn off just seem, to me, to be specifically engineered to drive a certain type of person away.
Most beginners aren't looking for a decade-long project.
Not necessarily true, and kind of beside the point. Beginner isn't an all-encompassing designation of common characteristics. And making RPGs doesn't have to be a decade-long affair; you can just as easily make smaller ones. Many of the original RPGs I grew up playing were hardly complex.
"I want to make an MMORPG" is the common refrain in the For Beginners forum. After a brief explanation about what "MMO" means, the next week it becomes "I want to make an Online RPG", then after they post a few times in the online forum and discover it requires work, a few weeks later it becomes "I want to make an offline RPG", then if they bother to follow up, becomes "game programming is stupid. What are good free game makers?" And then a few months after they appeared on the board, they vanish after learning that while playing games is fun and entertaining and a diversion, it is different than making games which requires thought and effort.
On the other hand, this is an excellent filter for those folks who might just be wasting their time chasing something they don't really want to do. Being a game developer isn't a "right" that everyone possesses. The possibility
of it is, sure, but if someone can't stick it out, then they can't stick it out and it's best to find that out as soon as possible. I understand the idea of all these step-by-step progressions that everyone makes. You know, "first make Pong, then make Breakout, then make Tetris, yada, yada, yada." I get it, someone's learned a few things and they want to give a hand up to others. But the good ones, the ones who are really going to make it... well, I doubt they usually do so by sticking to any progression laid out by someone else. Instead, they'll make it by chasing their own dreams and desires with discipline and focus. If they require a roadmap laid out by someone else, then I highly doubt they have the creativity and initiative to really make it happen. You can learn the things you need to learn without ever touching a Pong or Breakout clone, if such games are not your inclination. Following someone else's curriculum just seems counterproductive to me.
My recommendation for beginners is the same as my recommendation for everything: Build the simplest thing that will possibly work. The philosophy has worked well for me for two decades.
+1 This is an excellent philosophy to have.