Setting Brainstorming Sheet, version 1.1 !

Setting Brainstorming

New version of the Setting Brainstorming Sheet. As per by Paul_T´s suggestion, I changed it to include an event generator instead of the Gods, as most of the times even the presence of these in the setting doesn’t particularly affect things in a short term. Events instead do put things in motion, bring characters into conflict and can be connected to make a bigger picture, which may in turn include or not gods or all other sort of things that will fit better player’s tastes and interests.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. by Paulo Rivas López, so you’re free to use, fix and remix to your heart’s content -even for commercial purposes- as long as you mention me in the credits. Thanks and have fun!


Setting Brainstorming Sheet!

Setting Brainstorming Sheet

This aid is meant to help the players and the Narrator to build the setting of the game together as well as getting to the same page in respect to some of each others expectations. It’s basically a cheat-sheet for the Cooperative Worldbuilding Tool you can find here.

It includes a new trick too: to handle Fronts (that stands for all kind of plot-relevant organisations such as a guild of thieves, a kingdom, a company, a ship, etc) you just roll 6d6 and list those numbers as the Front stats, or place the dice over the hexagons in any order you want. This can help the narrator get a mental image of the state of the Front and their current agenda. If their offensive power is low, it means they probably just lost some members in an ambush or failed assault and next they will be recruiting new ones or promoting others to this position. High offensive power will mean they are probably ready to make an assault on their opponents, specially if their economy is low.

Too low internal order means the head of the organisation is probably about to change or that the new direction is having problems to consolidate their position. Any movement they try while on low information is due to fail or at least be more difficult than anticipated. Education here stands more for how much educated is the average member of the front, meaning if they are just fanatical puppets or accomplished masters of their craft. And so on, taking a look and comparing values should be enough to spark some ideas in your mind for next session’s prep.

Also, the current plan in each Front agenda will have several steps from preparation to execution and dealing with the aftermath. Which means these plans could be stalled or stopped. Only thing you need to know by now is in which stage they may be, so you can come up with a proper state of their affairs.

At the end of an arch or after an important event it would make sense for one or more of this values to go higher or lower, or even be re-rolled. On top of that players might want to spend XP to help foster those changes. I listed 10xp using my own game as a basis, but this value can be changed to make sense for your game.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. by Paulo Rivas López, so you’re free to use, fix and remix to your heart’s content -even for commercial purposes- as long as you mention me in the credits. Thanks and have fun!

Cooperative Worldbuilding Tool

This is a minimalistic hack of Burning Wheel‘s concept, Microscope and Fiasco. You better go get these games, they are incredibly inspirational and fun!
Burning Wheel StoreMicroscope websiteBully Pulpit Games

I may have used stuff from somewhere else but can’t remember from where. I hope you find this hack being distinct enough from it’s sources to justify it’s existence. I believe you’re the GM usually, so consider this first:

-If you want/like to keep the common knowledge of the setting secret from the players, or if they don’t like to know any stuff in advance, don’t use this tool.

-If you like to have full creative control on your prepared material / dislike what your players usually come up with for stories / can’t take the challenge of building over their ideas, don’t use this tool.

-If your players are uncomfortable creating things, use this tool with caution, help them relax and tell them that you will only use the result if it’s good. Nothing has to be set in stone.

Then why would you like to use it?

-This tool generates the world known by the PCs and the history they have heard of. You can always introduce small bits of information that may make the players see things under a different light or even reveal a shocking hidden truth about it all.

-The content it generates isn’t too detailed, you can take the final form and tweak it, fill the gaps, etc. As long as players recognize their work, it should be okay.

-Creators invest emotionally in their creations. Once you’re done with this tool you will find that everyone on the table will be actually concerned about the world, an effect you only can get with your own material if you have managed to introduce NPCs and the world in a way that makes them matter for the players. That’s something hard to achieve for most GMs. When players do care about the world there’s a higher probability they won’t go murderhobo and kill everything on sight for loot and XP.

-Even if you don’t believe me on that, you’d have to admit that having everyone help to create the world beats explaining them over and over all about it, something that players usually don’t care about and forget the next session.

-Let’s say your players have a better memory than mine, or even than you; well, then at least you will have to admit that this is a fun way to make a good part of the prep. This gets you playing from the start of the session and you can also use it to explain the game basics before assembling characters. It could also help players choose what to play.


Okey, then let’s start the procedure. the questions must be answered by everyone, not only the GM but the players too.
1 – Setting’s palette: this is a list of anything you would like to see on the game. You can also decide here if there are anything you want to veto from the game. Keep this at hand to use it for the next steps, you will know when. Also, always introduce here one or two words to define the mood of the setting: gritty, post-apocaliptic, gonzo, epic, pacific, fairyland, etc.

2 – Species: Is everyone human in this world, are there elves, orcs, etc? Every player can name one and even make up their own, as long as the game system supports it. Don’t bother yet to detail where they live or what racial abilities they have, just name them.

3 – Religion: Does anyone want to include gods into the game? If you don’t, go straight to 3. If someone does and you all agree, each player who wants to can create a single god by assigning it a Domain, a concept this god incarnates (life, death, justice, chaos, order, etc). If anyone has an idea about how people worships the god and where, write it down too. What about the way the god rewards its followers or punishes their enemies? write that down too. Finally, each player rolls a dice to see which god has more followers, thus defining the power and importance of the god. A low roll means it’s a minor cult, perhaps starting or fading, or even a secret one. A high roll means it’s an established religion approved and supported by rulers, with important resources. Discuss the interpretation of the roll with the GM until you all reach an agreement.

4 – Draw the kingdom’s map. No, don’t map the world, just the kingdom or area the PCs are right now. If they want to travel, you can use this step and the next ones again as many times as you want to create the world, but do it as you explore it and not in advance. It’s just too much info that the player’s won’t be needing right now. You can designate any player to draw the map, that player only needs to draw the frontiers of the kingdom and determine if it’s an island, a continent or part of one, if it has shores or not, etc. Then the player to the right will add one place of importance. It can be a city, town, mountain, forest, lake, cave, volcano, etc, etc.

5 – Technology: Decide the max level of technology in the kingdom, and if it’s either magical or scientific or whatever. You can refer to historical periods to help you, like the bronze age, medieval, renaissance, etc. Roll a die to determine in which state it is right now. 1 means it’s lost, almost mythical and long forgotten, though you can still find functional devices here and there. The highest number will mean that new technology is developed all the time here and it’s widely distributed.

6 – Economics and Population: choose the main economic activity in the kingdom and roll 1d6 to find out how good is the kingdom faring. Take note of that roll and roll another d6. This time write that many amount of zeros to the right of the number you wrote: that’s the current population of the kingdom. Are you having 10 people in the kingdom now? It’s okay, that means a recent disaster has decimated the kingdom and you mission will probably be about finding survivors/getting out of there/found out what happened

7 – Dangers and hopes: try to think now as if you were inhabitants of this kingdom. What or who do you fear the most? Is it a monster, a big bad evil guy, an invasion, a catastrophe? What’s your best hope against it? Here you can create any sort of NPCs, items, creatures and more that you want to see in this kingdom.

8 – The mystery: this one is totally optional, if your kingdom still sounds like a boring place up to this point, adding one mystery should do the trick. All you need here is a question that you will left open for the players to find out during the game. Like, what are the strange noises we keep hearing on the other side of the mountain each thursday night?

9 – What do the adventurers do as a group? Are they explorers, bounty hunters, mercs? do they belong to an institution or group? A common group objective helps a lot to put a clear goal in front of the players and give the GM a great starting point. Players can still pursue the personal agenda of their PCs as long as they remember why are their characters in the group.

10 – The adventure: Up to this point you may have plenty of adventure ideas, places to go, things to do, a situation to face, etc. Sometimes however you might still be unsure which way to go. I have a couple of tricks more for this particular part:

A) Roll 2d6 over the map. One will mark the start of the adventure, the other will mark the final destination. You can either choose the nearest points of interest marked by the players or make up a new “less interesting” place to frame the starting or ending point of the adventure. The number on each dice will indicate how dangerous is that place. So the adventure can be about going from a dangerous place to a somewhat safe one or vice versa. Throw in whatever you have determined about the setting and voilá! there’s your adventure. What if both numbers are high? Then the adventurers might be escaping from something and then taking the fight into the villain’s den. If both numbers are low then it’s most probably an escort mission, and they will find the biggest danger on the route.

B) Place the PCs on a tavern, inn or any public place you can think of and let them come up with the rumours they hear on the place. I usually ask my group of players why do their PCs hear that calls their attention. I usually present them with a few resourceFull cards for inspiration so they can choose from a limited amount of words/images and turn it into a rumour. You can then either let players choose the one they find the most interesting or try to connect those and then turn it into a proper plot hook, with the benefit that players would already be interested in following it!

11 – History: You can establish the outlines of the kingdom’s history along with the players (at least the one their PCs know) with this trick. Every player will create and briefly incarnate an important NPC in the setting, the leader or prominent member of a faction. They will get 1d6 of one resource suggested by the player or listed on the setting’s palette. You can use the deck again to give the PC an objective or let the player come up with one herself.

Additionally here’s a modum operandi list, geared to make these NPC clash and/or ally, to guarantee things will go badly despite anyone’s best efforts. Distribute randomly among the players, preferably without repeating them:

-I’ll make a truce or treaty no matter the cost.
-I’m here to help, but my people comes first.
-We’re all together in this and extremism won’t get us anywhere.
-Distract and calm them, while I betray them to reap benefits.
-I’ll support the most powerful as long as I get benefits from it.
-Knowledge should come first.
-Someone here must be an spy or plotting against me.
-Whatever I do I want EVERYONE to know it was me. Except if it goes badly, of course.
-Things are either black or white.
-Nothing is truth, everything is permitted.
-For the Empire! (or replace this with your favourite fanatical line)
-I’m looking for trustful allies. I’ll reward that trust and destroy those who betray me.
-I admire and support people with guts… but I’m no idiot.

Next, each player narrates one thing they did to get what they wanted, to shape the kingdom after their ideal or convenience, and roll the die to see how it went. If the action is against another player, that player can state their reaction and make an opposition roll. Or, if it’s a collaboration, she can re-roll the die if she wants. If it isn’t against another player, then 5-6 means it went perfectly without wasting time or resources, maybe even making additional problems for one opponent. 2-4 means it took them more resources than planned (reduce your current resources by one). The first time anyone rolls a one, they have to roll 2d6 on this wonderful Generic Plot Twists Table by Christopher Allen, or Fiasco’s Tilt table if you’ve got the book. I’d reccomend you to go around taking turns around the table, maybe once to three times or until you’re satisfied.

And that’s it! As with any other trick or random table that you could use once the session has started, this stuff may require some impro skills, fast thinking or plain stalling the PCs with logistic troubles and simple obstacles until you come up with a good idea to show to the players. I’d recommend you to read Play Unsafe, get used to not have control of the game all the time, learn to follow your players wherever they go and listen to their ideas.

By the way, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. by Paulo Rivas López, so you’re free to use, fix and remix to your heart’s content -even for commercial purposes- as long as you mention me in the credits. Thanks and have fun!

Augmented Reality RPGs

I still haven’t seen anything exactly like what I would describe in this post, so I’m kinda making a prediction here. The technology already exists so I consider it’s just a matter of time until it’s applied in this way; perhaps one or two years. I wonder how far or close I could get with this prediction, so I’ll leave it here just to be able to say “I told you so!” when it happens. I already posted this on a facebook RPG community

and at the Story-Games Forum

So I don’t know if it got enough exposure at the time, perhaps not. So, It probably won’t be like I gave anyone the idea to come up with this, but that they came up with it themselves. So, this bet is to see how fast people connect the dots in the same way that I do.

I’ve just been hit by a lot of ideas that are making my head explode in confuse excitement with the possibilities.

At my work my boss asked my team to develop a prototye game with Augmented Reality technology. We knew nothing of the subject so I went investigating. Here’s an idea of what I’m talking about if you are unfamiliar with the subject.

We made something akin to Drakerz game mentioned in the link abowe, though extremely simplified. In fact, it’s not a TCG but just a silly tower shooting skulls at you, that you can shoot down or evade by side-stepping on the real world (your smartphone is registering a marker placed in the real world after all, so you can also move your phone to evade the atacks)

Simple as the game was I was surprised at how fast the programmers here got things done. I’m no expert at the field but I understood that they used Unity and Vuforia; I was just in charge of making the visuals of the interface and the marker.

Cut to a class I gave on saturday on writing comics. I was helping a kid write his story, which was about a group of teenagers playing an AR game that included geo-location features. Basically, they use glasses and earphones that warn them of the proximity of virtual creatures that they hunt and fight, traversing the real world. We talked about what I was doing at work and I also recommended him several different animes on the subject (there was other material but I couldn’t recall it at the moment)

But at some point it hit me that this could perfectly mix with larp/roleplaying. Enter a game store where players can talk the clerk to exchange virtual goods or get quests in character. Wanna get some interests from local authorities? how about players getting in-game rewards for quests related to community service? How about player-created content? You could also give quests to other players in character, team together to defeat enemies, turn parts of public spaces into dungeons, have them change according to time of the day or the presence of other players, etc etc.

Vuforia doesn’t even need QR markers, it seems that an image with hign contrast is enough so if there’s anything like that already on the public space (like a memorial plaque) you don’t need to add nothing intrusive, just give the players clear instructions about what to use or even let them figure out by themselves.

And so on, my mind couldn’t stop so I had to tell someone and post it somewhere. Hope this helps me calm down or better, inspire someone to try something alike.



Recently the engineers at my work were working on an app that used the smartphone camera to register a marker on top of the head of a person (they tried a with a funny cardborad hat) and overimpose a 3d image of the head of a character. Again, nothing new, but the implications still keep blowing my head.


An idea for a mechanic for social interaction

Ever hated how one good/bad bluff roll can ruin what could have been a nice roleplaying scene? Tired of having your players always try violence first instead of diplomatics, or plain roll-playing for it? Were, here’s an idea for a mechanic to make social interaction more interesting. I’ll update it if I get to improve it further:

-use different dice  to represent the different mental stats of a character. Save d20 for Confidence and distribute the rest at will. Different PCs and NPCs will have these dice allocated differently. Numbers on those dice will change according to the situation and may not start at their highest number. Dice can remain hidden until they decrease to 1, which will mean the character changes their attitude in one way or the other. Player will have to roll his bluff skill in order to hide each one of these dice, while a roll for the empathy/spot skill may reveal one of these dice. Bluff and empathy/spot may be re-rolled once per turn to try and hide/reveal the dice again.

Also, a player may show one or more of them in purpose when trying to be openly honest or just say which value they “look like” on a successful bluff vs empathy roll. Either way, their opponent doesn’t have to believe them.

-Those stats would be:
1) Patience. Wisdom dependant, though starting number can be modified by situation. This will decrease as the conversation goes on, may be re-rolled to get a new random number if the situation changes or if the focus of the conversation/goal changes. When it reaches 1, character loses it’s temper, but their reaction will depend on the character, situation and other stats. However, the reaction will be related to either flee or fight, though not always in a physical sense.

2) Satisfaction. Increase if the character is well fed, had a good rest or has engaged in a satisfying leisure activity, etc. Otherwise, decrease it. When it reaches 1 character will be in a state of desperate need, though it can be either related or not to the matter discussed. Will react to that need inmediatly anyway, and definitely make an action, probably interrupting the conversation unless it’s about getting whatever they need. Also, recude it if character fails to resist temptation to fall pray of a specific need. If it’s at top value, the character will be happy, won’t feel like needing something at that moment and will be more inclined to share resources, concede a point, and be more considerate in general.

3) Confidence. Always use a d20 for this one, since it works both as bonus to hit and AC. This one will be situational-dependant and closely related to the character background. A Fighter would feel more confident on a battlefield and quite uncomfortable on the court, while for a Bard, it would be the opposite. Is also affected by group support or opposition, and a sudden turn of events may make the player re-roll it. When it reaches 1 the Player replaces it for a d6 to indicate fear (negative confidence). Fear can still remain hidden, though, with a good bluff roll. However, going into fear inhabilitates the use of the Intimidate skill, which will be replaced by Bluff rolls. (like the character is trying to act brave even when all her confidence is gone)

4) Trust. Dependant on the relationship between characters. Might get re-rolled if some information arises to put one of the characters in a different light. Decreases when the character realizes it’s being lied or manipulated into doing something, or there’s a chance that this will happen in the future. Increases with actions or other real proof of concern from the other person about their actual well being or of their beloved.

Each boon granted or concession given by a character will reduce one of these stats according to the situation. If I’m giving my +5 longsword to an adventurer I’ll probably loose a bit of confidence, satisfaction or trust, depending on who I’m giving it to and what I’m left with.

Other skills affect these dice. Intimidate may affect Confidence, as well as Manipulation or Persuasion. Rolls of these skills may reduce confidence by the difference in results when successful or increase it by one when failed. Each failed roll reduces the character patience by one.

Oh, also, never forget to add the character’s emotions over this, specially for NPCs, it will bring a lot of life to it and make avery social encounter quite different. Either use Tenra-Bansho’s emotional matrix or my deck if you don’t already have anything similar.


Some call them game advice, instincts, having a nice group of players, experience, part of the social contract, etc. The thing is that playing RPGs all boils down to this: Ritual phrases and even gestual language that helps players get in the same page with the fictional space and situations they create, that helps them build inmersion and negotiate arguments faster.

However almost no designer includes these in their rules and most of the time every player either learns them watching experienced players use them, by reading tons of actual plays, examples and other advice, or learns the hard way: by building their own set of techniques from another sources.

It isn’t at the end a task too hard, since most of these techniques derive from the ones we use in real life for comunicating with others. The simplicity of these techniques is such that once used once, every player considers them their second nature and designers forget that not everybody knows them, thus perpetuating the shroud of mistery that revolves around roleplaying.

So, as a previous step for making a comic to explain these techniques to future roleplayers and GMs, I’ll be making a list of the most used ones, if not all I’ve ever used or heard about. So here they are:


Scene Framing*: the GM describes a place and it’s circumstances to set a base for the fictional space and situation. Information given by the scene framer can either be useful, unfocused, color or red herrings, but not unclear nor insufficient to judge and interpretate it into a fictional space.

Embrace the Fiction. Remember to add on your description (as a GM) and acting (as a player) all the color you can, to enhance the appropiate feeling for the genre you’re playing.

“What do you do?*” is the cue that the GM uses to indicate the end of the initial description and to ask for feedback. Usually, players should refrain from interrupting the GM until this question is asked. Some GMs may use a pause and/or a hand gesture to signal this.

“Can I do X?” It’s common for a player who is learning the rules to ask whether the rules allow them to do what they want. In RPGs where player options depend on the fiction, players may similarly need to check with the GM or the group on whether the fiction (actually, those players’ judgment of it) allows them to do what they want.

Make questions about the fiction: Any player can ask for more information about the fiction, though any further information will consider only the point of view of his/her character and limited to all the ways it can perceive the world (sight, smell, any other skills the character can use, etc). Also, the GM can ask players questions to futher feed the fiction.

Experiment!: Another way to test the limits of the fiction is to try it ingame. How far can this weapon fire? How does this magic item exactly works? Let’s push some buttons and see what happens!

Establishing Rules & Fiction Facts: This usually comes in hand with the previous three techniques. After the questions have been answered either about mechanics or the fictional world, this sets a precedent for future situations. The next time this comes up, the answer should be (more or less) the same.

Keep making things happen* either as a player and more important, as a GM, you shouldn’t allow the question and discussion over the fiction go on forever. Make monsters attack if players are still planning their moves after ten minutes, interrupt them, call one apart or send notes to a player whose character isn’t involved in the discussion. Of course, make sure all players are on the same page on the fiction before doing that.

“I look for…” this one is used when the character focuses on an specific aspect of the fictional space to get an specific information/feedback from it. It counts as a pasive interaction with the fictional space. It’s also a sign that the player may have a plan for an specific input (and a cue for the GM/other players to pay attention and care about this input, and go with it if possible/plausible)

Conflict*: passive or active interactions with the setting may trigger a problem whose outcome is uncertain and may affect furter development of the fiction. GM may declare the need for executing the conflict resolution procedure to determine the outcome or go straight to describe the outcome if this seems unneccesary for a lack of impact in the further development of the fiction.

I try to do X this is the cue used for direct interaction of the PC with the setting, as a response to and/or to be followed by more information, a change of the situation and/or a conflict.

“Describe that in detail” this can either be used by the GM or any player to make the GM or any player add more detailed information and/or color to the fiction.

“If you do X, Y will/might happen”* GMs may wish to warn a player about the definite or possible results of an action they are pondering or initiating. A mix of this and the next technique is Setting Stakes, where both players and the GM make an agreement of what is at risk and what can be obtained in this challenge.

“Are you doing X? That might not be quite so easy…” Any player in posession of any knowledge that has escaped the scene framer’s attention should state it; not for the sake of ruining other’s players input but to make the scene more dramatic. (another one stolen from Archipielago)

Acting: Many players go beyond their voice in portraying their character. Snarling, staring hard, pounding a fist on the table, jumping out of a chair — these can all add color and vividness to the imagined events. This kind of player input is more inmmersive and helps a lot to give color to the fiction.

Demonstrating: If your game uses the specifics of character action as a causal factor, players may want to pantomime such specifics in addition to describing them verbally.

“My character does X intraction with Y character” this is also a valid way for players to give their input, though one that isn’t too inmersive. However it’s more meant to let the players distance from the emotions in the fiction that may make them feel uncomfortable.

I use my (skill or item) to try to do X if the player is familiar with the system and the GM usual techniques and their rythm, it will be usual for him/her to shorten the procedure and go straight to apply the game’s conflict resolution mechanic, as long as the GM/other players validate their application in view of the current fictional situation.

“I assume…” players may suggest the presence or absence of specific fictional content based in pre-established fictional cases or application of the setting’s logic. The GM/player responsible for scene framing may confirm or deny these assumptions when applicable to their creative agenda.

“So what is your character doing?” Anyone can ask this of a player who has gone a while without taking any game actions.

Accept other players Input. Build on it. Giving value to others players creative input and rolling with it greatly improves the group’s confidence and flow of the game as players feel more and more safe abouth sharing their thoughts and open themselves more to other’s players input.

Provide Input: don’t wait for other’s to fill the gaps in the fiction. If you’ve got an idea for color or are afraid something may happen in the fiction, don’t be afraid to drop it. Somebody else wil probably catch it, go with it and make the fiction more interesting. Common phrases used here are “You know what would be cool?”, “Here’s one thing you could try” (more Archipielago)

Ask for Input: if you’re suddenly without ideas, feel free to ask other players or the GM, If you’re the GM, you can use “What do you think?” (see below) or ask the players what their characters would like to do next.

Do the Obvious Can’t think of anything? Relax, do whatever sounds reasonable and you’ll remain in character, move the story along and perhaps, even surprise everybody in the table who were thinking on a totally different approach.

Reincorporate. Take people, objects or events from a previous scene and find ways to introduce them into a new scene that’s about something else. This can help tie disparate threads together and/or add richness to what’s already established.

Introduce fallout. A type of reincorporation, but focused on results of previous events rather than the events themselves. Same benefits as reincorporation, plus an option for adding/revealing consequence to player deeds.

Escalate. Raise the stakes and/or the costs of challenges to the player characters. Good for building toward dramatic climax, and for finding points of no return or of change for characters.

Take a breather. Follow an intense scene with one that you expect to be more mellow.

Show the players something unknown to the characters. Most movies and TV shows do this. It can serve the same purpose in RPGs — introducing distant elements which will impact the characters remotely or later. This can add suspense, clarity, or simply be convenient.

Tighten the web. Take any agents you’ve established but not thrown directly at the player characters… and throw them directly at the player characters. A way of building toward “wrapping up” a fictional arc.

*These are traditionally GM-only techniques, however some games also allow players license to use them when they hold complete or partial responsability for introducing setting, risks, stakes or consequences.

GM-only Techniques

Ask questions about the characters’ hopes, fears, theories and experiences. Asking the players about what their characters want, or have done, or feel threatened by, allows them to help you invent needed setting and situation details. If you ask them for theories on a mystery, they can even help you invent a plot or back-story!

Use open ended questions: these are useful not only on character creation but also through the game; the idea is to put the players on a spot and let them make their way out with their own imagination, but keeping all the consequences implicit in their answers for future use.

Address your GMing to the characters (not the players). This can help remind players to get in character, and remind everyone who’s playing whom.

When you have permission/responsibility to do something bad to the characters, here are some options that introduce risk, drama, and/or obstacles: separate them, capture someone, announce bad news, take their stuff, make them buy, activate their stuff’s downside, tempt them, and employ an established threat (the bomb goes off, the monster attacks, etc.). “Them” and “stuff”, beyond the obvious, can also include valued NPCs.

To introduce horror: use the principles above as much as you can, use a more lethal final boss but keep it out of reach until the end. Let players run and hide, but don’t give them any chance to beat it. Never show it: let players imagine what it could be, based on fragmented information and the slight traces of it’s presence along the session. Don’t be afraid to describe irrational scenes. Never explain them. The less control the PCs have of the situation, the better mood you’ll get for the game.

Lie to the characters, be honest with the players. There are all sorts of fun reasons to mislead the player characters, but don’t let this seep into your interactions as people! No one likes playing a game when they are misled about how the game works.

Script a revelation: Concoct an important secret, work toward getting the players invested in it, and pick just the right moment to confront them with a shocking surprise, an answer to their questions, or both. If you can do this without infringing upon the agency the players want/expect, the Big Reveal can be an exciting and memorable moment for author and audience alike.

Make your NPCs real. Identify their motives and what makes them tick, and play them based on that. This helps create believable and memorable NPCs, and can help inspire you for what to do with them.

Take a break. Better to pause too soon and come back refreshed than to tax people’s creative and social energy until they burn out!

Pause before the climax. This often means “pause before the die roll”. If there’s a need to cut between separate characters in separate scenes, cutting at the dramatic peak will ensure that everyone remembers where the scene left off and is invested in picking it back up. (Think timing of commercials in TV shows.)

Manage Spotlight: The attention of the GM focuses the attention of the group. When scenes drag, it’s often the GM that moves the group along. More outspoken players will probably steal the spotlight, that’s ok, but it’s the GM’s work to give the spotlight back to the less active players and have everybody do something in the story. (thanks Levi)

Manage Pacing: from slow-mo descriptions to scenes framed ten or more years after the last one, you can make the story move to better fit the game flow. Players can also help you hamdle this through their suggestions, listen to them.

Opposite techniques are also appropriate In different circumstances “Discard your prep”, “Address your GMing to the players”, “Ad-lib your NPCs to meet the needs of the moment”, “Tell characters about their experiences”, “Decide a roll isn’t needed”, “Keep playing while the playing’s good”, and “Find a good stopping point” all have their uses too.

“Yes, but…” This technique is meant to approve an specific player input and build a complication to the fictional situation with it. It can also be integrated on dice interpretation.

“No, but…” This technique is meant to negate the influence of a specific player input to the fiction, yet adding some hope for resolution. It can also be integrated on dice interpretation.

Techniques for Narrative Management

Act structure: This is when a game is divided into distinct acts, parts, chapters, episodes or otherwise called parts with a designated start and stop. In some games the whole game is one act, thus making it a one act structure. Other games have more acts, that are defined by a start and an end, with an act brake between the acts. Usually the drama of a game is focused on different themes in different acts, or just an accelerating drama with a climax and a resolution in the last act following a classic formula dramatic arc.

In Media Res This means the story begins to be played from the middle or near the conclusion, and at some point the players do a flashback scene.

Black Box (or calling players aside): Also known as meta room, a black box is a room where players may go during the game to play scenes that don’t fit into the here-and-now of the game or whose development must remain a secret to other players. Room may or may not include controlled lights and/or sound effects and might also be used for playing/dancing a symbolic version of something that is meant to be happening in-game, such as two characters fighting or having sex.

Flashback means framing an scene that shows past events on the fiction’s timeline. The main constraint is that it must present the same elements that will be there in a future scene to keep coherence with the future.

Flashforward means framing a scene that shows a possible future on the timeline of the fiction. This scene can be something to play towards, or to show possible futures of a character or relationship. It can also be used to reflect on what is happening at the moment.

Monologue can be used by a player partly or completely outside of the fiction’s space and time. This can either interrupt all other play or go on alongside. The monologue is a tool to give other players insight into the speaking characters story and create game openings between them. It has the added benefit of making the speaking player feel like a main protagonist and give them closure to their own story.

Dream Scene A dream sequences or imaginary scenes are possible as they play out in the heads of a character. This is a kind of cut scene where the director or players can explore the minds of the character, just like a monologue, without these things actually happening.

Epilogue Either narrated by th GM as a monologue or with the intervention of the rest of the players, it’s a scene meant to end the story explaining what really happened, summarizing the main events of the story, the consequences in the setting and/or what happened to the main characters of the story thereafter. This could also be the moment for adjudicating experience points for some systems. In larps this is part of a more complicated technique called Aftercare, which includes a set of procedures to help players cool down, process what happened in the fiction, and more.

Parallel Scenes: Two different scenes with different characters can take place in the story at the same time. Having this in mind, action on one can be interrupted to play what happens at the other and then back. Also, both scenes can be played simultaneously if the conditions allow it (players divide in two or more groups in different rooms or keep their voices low enough to not interrupt or distract the other groups)

Focus Scene: This technique has the GM or player interrupting all parallel scenes to unify the action again. It’s often an Scene Framing that reincorporates all or most characters back, sometimes recounting whatever happened at the different parallel scenes. The usual way to apply this is by starting suddenly to talk loud enough and look at everyone with an open arms gesture until all players pay attention, then lower your arms and continue in normal voice.

Playing to lose is a technique or concept used by a player to create better drama by not trying to win, letting their character lose. It is used in a collaborative play style rather than a competitive play style, and is a clear anti-gameism statement from Dramatists as outlined in the article The three way model from As Larp Grows Up.

And… scene can be used to end a scene and change to another, and doubles as a technique for safe interactions, to cut the fiction when some of its content becomes uncomfortable for any player.

Soundtrack: while it isn’t anything new to play RPGs with background music, it can certainly improve the whole experience to make the theme playing fit the mood of the scene, or in some games, use the theme playing randomly as an inspiration to switch the mood of the scene.

For your Eyes Only Whenever the GM wants to exchange information with one or more players but not the whole group, as a means to create suspicion between the PCs, passing notes back and forth works as a good signal that something is happening behind the players. Works amazingly to capture all player’s attention, even if the notes are meaningless. Players can also use this between themselves or give the notes to the GM when they are trying to do something behind someone’s back.

Safe in-character interaction techniques

Ars Ordo: In Ars Ordo, social status is tested through masculine staring contests, which escalate until one party gives up. The challenge starts with casual everyday eye contact: In most cases, one party yields quietly early on by lowering her gaze before the contest gathers more witnesses. If neither contestant looks down, the contest escalates. The contestants move towards each other, starting to draw an audience. The contest then escalates into growling, snarling and trying to look as big as possible. As the whole tribe is watching at this point, the social investment on the contest is much larger than in the beginning. If the contest still remains unsettled, the witnesses start to take sides, shaking the entire hierarchy of the tribe.

The beauty of Ars Ordo is in that one party invariably yields, and the losing side of the contest feels the loss very personally: After all, this kind of a masculine contest is always also a nondiegetic contest between players.

Ars Amandi is a Nordic mechanic for simulating romance or sex in the game. The full mechanic permits players to touch permitted zones (arms, shoulders, sternum, upper back, and neck below the ears) using permitted boydparts (hands, arms, neck) It’s a method for doing things in a game in a way that makes the character experience them fully, enabling play and really going for the energy without the player ending up in messy situations.

Phallus is a technique that uses a gender-free prop to initiate and represent intimate scenes.

Feather Play uses color-coded feathers (could be other objects) as a cue to initiate different kinds of interaction that have their own mechanics, so every player knows what to expect and prepare better for the next scene.

The Liquor on the Table: By this technique you put a bottle (or more) of liquor on the table to signal the players that their characters are getting more drunk, whether or not they are drinking real alcohol, and it’s time to take out the last of the conflicts and intrigues that have been building up throughout the game.
For games with a planned dramaturgical curve where the setting is a social scene that includes alcohol, this gives the players a hint that the game is nearing it’s end and it’s time to bring out the last of the juice. Other things than liquor can of course be used, the main function is for the players to know when to intensify their play.

Character creation / setting creation techniques

Ball of Yarn: this is a game prep technique to help players generate relationships between their characters.

The players sit in a circle. One of them holds the end of a thread from a ball of yarn. The player who holds the ball throws it to another person in the circle, while making a statement about the relationship between the two. Examples: “I am usually very happy when you enter the room” or “we had an argument at the fishing trip last summer, but have since been the best of friends.” The player who receives the ball grabs onto the thread, while passing along the ball and defining a relationship with a different player. On a variant, the player who receives the ball throws it back defining the relationship from their character’s side, adding to what the other player said. By watching the growing web of yarn, participants become aware of who already has plenty of relationships and who need more. The exercise ends when everyone has sufficients relationships, usually two or three per player.

Ask questions about the characters’ hopes, fears, theories and experiences.
Asking the players about what their characters want, or have done, or feel threatened by, allows them to help you invent needed setting and situation details. If you ask them for theories on a mystery, they can even help you invent a plot or back-story!

Fate: used primarily in LARPs this technique gives a different instruction to each player that they should be able to achieve easily, with the challenge being more about achieving it in an interesting an meaningful way. Different player’s fates may be connected, providing each player doesn’t know about other’s fate. On TTRPGs this could also take the form of different principles, guides, motivations, objectives, end-game or victory conditions, alignment or in-game foreshadowing.

Masks: another powerful tool from LARPs, the use of masks to represent that a player has turned into a character is actually as old as humankind itself. Doubles as a character creation technique and a technique for safe interaction in the way that it liberates the player from a lot of social constrains regarding their own identity. Masks can be given any shape, color, predominant emotion, can be taken off, broken, carved, burned, etc and all of these actions will have powerful meaning by itself.

Person Within: You can use a pre-existant character from any fiction or the personality of a real person you know as a base for creating a character, and use their mood, preferences and ideology to fill in any blanks or situations encountered in the game.

Shadows: A technique where a player has a shadow, a person that follows the player around and can interact on an in-game-, and/or meta-level with the player. This shadow can for instance portray a players conscience or voices in the players head (and as such the shadow does not exist to other players), or could be something semi-real like a posessing spirit or guardian angel (and then the shadow may or may not exist for other players).


“Wait! Before that, …” This addresses the following problem: Someone at the table may advance the flow of fictional time before someone else is ready. Examples: the GM frames a new scene before a player is done with the previous one; one player narrates two long actions before another player gets a chance to narrate one short one. To address this, a player may speak up on their own behalf, or on someone else’s behalf.

Throw a Veil: when fiction goes into a situation that makes players feel uncomfortable, they can always ask to not play it in detail, have the GM advance the time and frame the next scene. In larps the equivalent is between Kutt (cut), a safeword to completely halt the game on emergencies, and Brems (slow down) a signal from one or more players that the situation has gone too uncomfortable for them, to indicate the rest of the players to go easier on physical interactions, or change the subject of the current scene.

Check-in this is a code word used ingame to assess or gaugue another players state; essentially if the player is OK and want to continue playing. Used primarily in situations where you are unsure if the person actually want to continue a difficult scene but, for whatever reason, can’t convey this. Unless you get a yes in response to the check-in, you are supposed to Cut and talk the situation through.

Rewinding the scene: when too many inconsistences arise in the fiction (because of scene framer mistakes at describing the fiction or sharing information crucial for player’s decision), the player in charge for scene framing or the rest of the players can ask for going back to a previous point of the story and play again from there, usually not more than one scene back. If there’s consensus, it gets done. Note that this should only be used in extreme cases since it totally breakes inmersion.

“What happened with X character?” As a player, feel free to ask the GM for news of the destiny of any PC or NPC that hasn’t been mentioned in the fiction lately. Either if your character can access that information inmediatly or not, the GM will probably thank you for the reminder and include that later.

What do you think? As a GM/player in charge of scene framing, you can throw questions from other players right back at them, hear their opinion and use their feedback to fuel the fiction further. (Yep, this is Witch Mountain)

Cede a decision to a die roll. During a moment when you need to declare what happens, but are not comfortable doing so, you can instead declare some possibilities and roll (or have someone else roll) to choose between them. Reasons for discomfort include social awkwardness, creative stall-out, indecision, and more.

Sharing/investing authority When a player shies away from involving their character in the story, the GM or other player can try this technique to bring that player out of their shell. Basically, the GM or player concedes the PC of the shy player some sort of authority over a temporal aspect of the fiction. This makes the rest of the players look up/root out for this character and stand off in the fiction. Well done, this small token of social recognition helps the player loosen up and play with confidence. Poorly executed may be taken as condescending, so use carefully.

Shifting the focus: if a player gets a case of stage fright, shift the scene focus to another player, NPC or other enement in the fiction; you can always come back to that player later and give some assistance if needed, but sticking with him/her and stalling the game for this won’t make them feel better about it.

Repair the Illusion: either if the GM’s input breakes the inmersion (like when forcing players into a specific course of action, a.k.a. negative railroading, etc.) or if one or more of the players breakes the inmersion (by introducing elements that won’t fit the fiction or engaging in a rules related dispute, etc.) that person or the rest of players at the table can help repair the damage, by reinterpretating whatever was said in a more plausible way. Repairing the illusion will always have priority over who was right, though talking about the issue outside the game and make proper ammends later in the game isn’t out of question.

Adapt, my entry for the Game Chef 2013

Adapt is a funny game about facing strange situations and keeping on with your life. Players will be the residents of a huge complex isolated from the world, that is still healing from the last enviromental catastrophy we provoked- But there’s good news! Today your faithful LittleBro, the computer that oversees the complex has put in operation the new Evolutionary Elevators (E2) to help you all evolve into something that can endure the outer conditions. Now all you have to do is make it through the day as usual… except that it won’t be the usual at all.

If you’ve got any questions about the game feel free to ask me about it at or look for warriormonk around the Story-Games forums

Here’s the Alpha Version!


Latest version of the ResourceFULL Deck!

Here you have a more detailed scheme of the card parts and an idea of how it works. Sorry, it’s still in spanish and being tested. I’m also creating a whole game to take advantage of the deck, so wish me luck!

Mission Generator for 3:16

If you haven’t ever played Gregor’s Hutton excellent game 3:16 Carnage amongst the stars this is a good moment to start. It was released on 2008 but it has become a classic among indie games. As soon as I readed the game it vas love at first sight, and I was reading and commenting every post at the Forge about it. There, a guy by the nick Aapov came up with a cool idea for a mission generator that I helped a to complete. And now so many many years later, thanks to Bastian Dornauf (A.K.A. CoveredInFish at the SG forums) you can finally enjoy for free the PDF version.

Of course, id doesn’t only works for 3:16 but for any game where the players characters are cannonfodder courageous soldiers. Enjoy!

3-16-briefing tables v4

Framing scenes with the deck

Though the tested procedure (the one explained in the previous post) is functional, I’m trying to make a procedure that helps build more complex scenes and situations. So far I’ve got this one:

1) We determine the Place drawing 2 cards for descriptors and one for element. That could get us for example: empty, inaccesible, nature. So I went up for “The trail ends in a deep part of the jungle, where trees and bushes grow too thick for us to keep going. We may need to find some other way to cross this part of the jungle.” – Notice that I’m not stating any inmediate danger or challenge yet, not because of the “empty” card, but to prepare the scene better.

2) Then all players take a round stating “observations” This means they select one skill from their characters, roll Fudge dice, and add one element to the scene according to the roll and skill selected. A “+” means their character spots something that could be useful, related with the skill they choosed. A “-” means they just found out one clue of something dangerous in the place, again, only related to the chosen skill. Still, since they spot it they can actually avoid it. And for each empty face they get to add1 to the CR of the next challenge, but what’s the challenge about is defined in the next step.

3) Draw 3 more cards. The red letters on the first one indicate what’s the danger here: a monster, an object (either there or brought by the PCs) an NPC or the place itself. The other two help to describe it. You can instead use the same descriptors you got on the first set of cards, to keep the challenge on the same theme with the place created.

4) If the challenge is an NPC (or a group of them) one more card is drawn to set an emotion for these characters, if needed. Of course, there are more emotions than angry or hate among the deck, so the problem isn’t always a fight; the group might find a tribe mourning one of their own so now the challenge may become a social one.

5) Players can always add elements of their own background into the scene when they add their observations: their nemesis could be involved in this situation, one of their relatives could be in danger, etc, etc.

This procedure helps players get a bit more in character. A fighter sees things as a fighter, hence he will notice things based on his experience, like which things in the place he can use to his advantage when fighting. A rogue will notice good places to hide or possible traps. A wizard could notice if the place is cursed, etc. You can also rely on a roll to spot and make a table to list what kind of things players can incorporate to the fiction according to the roll.

Of course, it’s usually the work of the GM to come up with these things, but isn’t it better to have more that one head adding details to the fiction in an organized way? The philosophy behind this is that also the GM plays to find out what happens. The players get nothing but good things into the scene? Let them rest there and prepare for the next scene. Or just drop the next challenge on them! They got nothing but bad omens? Surprise them by letting the night pass peacefully… and drop the challenge on them the next morning! Even with this procedures there’s nothing the players can give for granted.

Got better ideas? Don’t hesitate to send them up, when I have a good bunch of them I’ll compile them on another PDF. Best luck with your games!