Game Design

Troy’s Crock Pot: Summertime World Building

Gnome Stew - 28 May 2018 - 12:01am

World building for your campaign — whether it is for an ongoing series of adventures or just a few ideas percolating in your noggin — is always a fun exercise. Imagine a world different than ours and consider all the roleplaying possibilities.

Is this going to be a game set in a fanciful, magic-filled ancient world? Is this going to be the far-flung future where tech, blasters and intrigue rule? Is it going to be earth, but viewed with a squinty eye, with a series of alternate events that have shifted history somewhat?

Or maybe it is something else — a new game you’ve purchased that you want to apply to a landscape filled with mystery and unknown lands ripe for exploration?

For many of us, the stumbling block is “the map.” Every fantasy world needs a map, right? Drawing one to your satisfaction, however, might be an iffy proposition.

If you are looking for some options, consider these:

In bookstores now

So the current — that is June 2018 issue — of National Geographic has this double-page spread of “Future Earth.” Basically, a map of what the continents will look like once they’ve drifted back together again sometime 200 million years from now.

The map shows the next supercontinent, Pangaea Proxima. Looks like a great place to set adventures. (New Zealand appears relatively unchanged, however, which is good news for hobbits, I suppose.)

Some of it is pretty cool. I’m particularly taken with the projection that my former home in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina — swampy lowlands of note — will boast the highest point on earth once the North American and African plates collide creating the newest mountain range. And the Atlantic Ocean will become a big lake.

If you are into real estate speculation with a particularly long view, I’d start buying up parts of Antarctica.

Now, keep in mind, it might not be the most pleasant landscape. Earth’s climate gets wonky whenever the continents drift together, essentially creating a single world-ocean. In fact, looking at this map, almost the entire world will be in the equatorial zone. Hot, sticky jungles and fierce deserts. Find some fresh water and settle in as best you can.

Setting all that aside, though, this map is ready to be carved up into feudal kingdoms, or if you are of a sci-fi bent, one-world government districts. And if your players are truly adventurous, you might consider exploring the area that isn’t on this map — that big blue ocean. I wonder what big fishes are out there?

Give ’em the boot

This trick is an oldy, but a goody. Turn that atlas page on it is side. Abracadabra, alakazam, it’s a continent-sized “world” map worthy of setting your fantasy world.

I’m particularly fond of the boot of Italy and Sicily as a playground for world building. The north coast of Africa can serve as the exploration touchstone of your “new world” across that narrow sea while the length of Italy can be your “old world.” Just change the scale and set the equator somewhere and you are good to go. Just remember, that’s a continent-sized landmass you’re staring at, not one of the great nations of Europe.

The beauty of this is you’ve got mountains, rivers and coastlines perfectly and sensibly arranged, leaving you with the fun part of making up nations, histories and adventuring locales. And because there is an ocean, you’ve got pirates. Every setting needs pirates. (Well, maybe not every setting, but most of them …)

Beware the barbarian invaders of the north islands (Corsica and Sardinia), I’m sure they are a proud, fierce people with swift boats who love to raid the mainland. Or maybe the twin islands are a land of dwarves and elves being exploited by the mainland? Or maybe giants and dragons live there and they generally eat any visitors? It’s up to you.

The other bonus of using a map like this? Place names. Maybe not all of them, and not in the exact location as their real world counterpart. But if you’re at a loss for finding a suitable name for a point on your map, well, you can do worse than the range of names on this map. In the four corners you’ve got Hammamet, Epipal, Levice and Copyright Rand McNally and Co., Surely, at least one of those is serviceable. And, there’s a ton more in between.

Ice, ice baby

I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest a map by Martin Vargic (JaySimons on, a Slovak artist who does jaw-dropping cartography.

My recommendation? The World – Ice Age, a global map showing expanded coastlines from about 14,000 BCE. For my money, it’s worth it to see northern Europe, the British Isles connected by Doggerland to the mainland, and the hop-skip-and-jump from Iceland, Greenland and North America.

Run this without mile-high glaciers (or do, if adventures beyond “The Wall” are your thing) and this has all sorts of amazing potential. New kingdoms, new ambitions, new religions. Maybe the Nordic sagas are the predominant faith? Or the beliefs of the North American eastern tribes? So many possibilities, so many adventures.

Another great locale on this map? The Sahara dotted by fertile lands and fresh-water lakes. Imagine the possibilities of such a landscape as the hub of African peoples, cultures from so many rich traditions and ages mingling and co-existing.

Other “new lands” your players will be eager to explore? How about the land bridges? There are lands connecting Australia to southeast Asia, Russia to Alaska and Japan to the Korean peninsula. And though there are gaps, the Caribbean Islands are much closer to Florida, Yucatan peninsula, Cuba and the Bahamas, which have beefier coastlines.

The beauty of maps like these for exploration games is that “things aren’t as they ‘should’ be” — but close enough to our present reality to be recognizable and still contain a sense of mystery.

And a map like this works for any type of game — not just one set in an ice age. A world of the near-future or even far-future works equally well, especially if you form new nations and new superpowers from what the map provides. Queensland, using the area around “Lake Carpentaria” as a base, could be the world’s new superpower. You never know.

Credits: “Future Earth,” National Geographic magazine, June 6, 2018 issue. “Italy,” Reader’s Digest Wide World Atlas, fourth printing, July 1984. The World-Ice Age, JaySimons, and


Categories: Game Theory & Design

Fuzzy Thinking: Favorite Magic Items

RPGNet - 28 May 2018 - 12:00am
Fuzzy beer accessories.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Review Roundup

Tabletop Gaming News - 26 May 2018 - 11:00am
Weeeekeeeeeeeend! Woo! Time to get out there and get some gaming in. What kind of gaming? Doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re out there having fun. But if you’re really stuck for a game idea, perhaps these reviews can help. Today we’ve got: Darwin’s Choice, Star Wars: Rebellion, Majesty: For the Realm, Time Barons, […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Renegade Game Studio Announces Clank! In! Space! Apocalypse!

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 2:00pm
A couple weeks ago at the Game Day up at the Library near here, I got to watch a game of Clank! In! Space!. I actually really liked the game. It’s a deck builder. It’s a board game. It’s a deck builder AND a board game! I have been thinking of getting a copy for […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Space 1889: Thunders of Venus Now Available From Modiphius

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 1:00pm
The solar system in Space 1889 is much more alive than our actual one. Not to say that there aren’t fantastic and wondrous things out there, but it’s not like there’s civilizations all over (ok, maybe there could be, but it’s pretty highly unlikely). Also, so far, we can’t just hop in a rocket and […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Don’t Let It Die Board Game Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 12:00pm
It’s hard to think just how important fire was to early man. We take it for granted now, with heat and light sources basically everywhere we look, but before we knew to rub two sticks together, we had to rely on fire created through other natural means and just keep it going. That’s your goal […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Steam's Spring Cleaning event takes aim at overflowing backlogs

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 25 May 2018 - 11:07am

Valve has kicked off a Spring Cleaning event that encourages players to spend some time with the less played or forgotten games in their Steam Library. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Friday Snippets

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 11:00am
Fridaaaaaaaaay! 3-day weekend Fridaaaaaaaaay! There’s few Fridays better during the year than a 3-day weekend Friday. I mean, I know what I’ve got planned. A friend and I are going out to an LGS tonight to pick up some Guild Ball stuff. Tomorrow, I’ll put it all together, and Sunday, we’re gonna BBQ and play […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dog Might Games is Hiring an Operations Assistant

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 10:00am
While you may think that Dog Might Games only does gaming stuff, they’re also a world-leader in bio-medical research. In the OR, their doctors work tirelessly, and they’re looking for a new Operations Assistant to… *gets handed a note* Oh, it has come to my attention that Dog Might does not actually perform medical experiments […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Helheim Unbound RPG Book Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 9:00am
Helheim Unbound is a new RPG system that’s up on Kickstarter. Though it may look like it’s just for Viking-era games, the rules are flexible enough to let you play in any setting you want. The system is designed so the GM and players work together to tell the story that they really want to […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Sprawlopolis City-Building Game Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 8:00am
Driving around town, I’m sure most of us feel that the city planners had no idea what the hell they were doing. Why put that road there? What’s with that shopping mall at that spot? That seems like a terrible place to put a fountain! Show them that you’re better at it with Sprawlopolis, the […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

May Releases For Infinity Available Now

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 7:00am
We’re just a couple days from the end of May. I don’t know about you, but this month seems like it’s gone on forever. But Corvus Belli is here to reward us for making it to the finish line (well, soon there, anyway) with their latest releases for Infinity. You can pick them up now […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Everything Is Authored - by Gregory Pellechi Blogs - 25 May 2018 - 6:48am
Procedural generation is great at short scenes. But it takes a storyteller to create a compelling narrative that runs throughout an entire game. And it's stories we remember - not graphics, mechanics or systems.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

New Rebel Releases Available For Star Wars: Legion

Tabletop Gaming News - 25 May 2018 - 6:00am
The Galactic Empire looks to crush all in its grasp. Fighting against it is a rag-tag band of Rebels. But even rag-tag bands have their heroic leaders, even along with their nameless dozens fighting for the cause. In this release for Star Wars: Legion, the Rebels get both. In terms of heroic leaders, they get […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Resisting The Shiny

Gnome Stew - 25 May 2018 - 5:00am

We live in blessed times. There are almost endless games we can partake in, but we certainly are not gifted with endless time. When you factor in actually getting a group together by finding a host, coordinating schedules, arranging a GM, and, ultimately, settling on a game to play, it’s a daunting prospect to be able to sit down and enjoy an RPG. Once you throw in personal tastes for games, finding that “just right” game gets even more difficult.

 I’m pretty sure I’m at well over 300 books/PDFs that I’ve purchased over the years that I’ve never brought to the table. 

I know I suffer from the “Oooh, Shiny Syndrome” (OSS from here on out). Others out there do as well, including some folks in one of my RPG groups. Looking around the shelves in my office, I have at least half a dozen games sitting there (*cough* collecting dust *cough*) that I’ve never played. Scanning my collection of purchased PDFs, that number easily grows to thirty (probably more). That’s just core books. This isn’t counting adventures, modules, world books, books of new races/classes/equipment/etc., and other splat books. I’m pretty sure I’m at well over 300 books/PDFs that I’ve purchased over the years that I’ve never brought to the table.

Sure, I’ve read the material. Sometimes I give them a quick skim. Sometimes it’s a more industrious read through. Even though I may have not pulled the raw material into a game session, I’m certain that some nuggets of golden RPG goodness have lodged in my brain and influenced how I’ve run a game or played a character.

Despite having all of this material readily at my fingertips, I’d love to be able to engross myself (either as player or GM) into a wonderful, multi-year campaign with huge character arcs, story events, changes to the world, and fantastic adventures. This typically means one game, one system, (hopefully) one character, and a single world that is the core of the adventure. Because of this, I have to avoid OSS. I also have to get my fellow gamers to avoid OSS. With a new core book hitting the shelf (virtual or physical at the FLGS) pretty much every week, this is increasingly difficult.

OSS can be a great thing because of the never ending exposure to new ideas, new concepts, new themes, and mind-bending play styles. These are all wonderful, but given the scratch that I currently need to itch (a long-term game), I need to squash OSS in myself and others.

There are several causes of OSS, so let’s talk about those and how to reduce the chances of OSS ruining a perfectly good campaign or series of sessions. Usually, when a group (or GM) rapidly flops between systems, it’s because they’re searching for something that’ll make them happy. Unfortunately, these quick changes mean they haven’t found the “just right thing” yet, and this can lead to players becoming disgruntled at having to learn (or even run out and buy) a new system twice a month. Let’s talk about how to keep people happy, shall we?

Game Master Burnout  To help the GM avoid burnout, I recommend setting things up from the start with a co-GM. 

When a GM hits the brakes on a campaign, setting, or game system, this can lead to a new system being whipped out and OSS rears its ugly head. This isn’t usually because the game system runs poorly (though that’s a valid reason), but because the GM has burned out, run out of pertinent ideas, or just needs a mental break. That’s completely fair. To help the GM avoid burnout, I recommend setting things up from the start with a co-GM. I have a full article on how to approach this.

If running a campaign with a co-GM isn’t in the books, then let the GM know that it’s perfectly acceptable to “take a week off” from the usual RPG and someone else can run a one-shot (preferably using the same system to avoid triggering OSS). It’s also okay to whip out some of those rarely-played board games we all seem to collect and love, but hardly play. Because most board games don’t do “campaign style” gaming, this can be a great distraction and a break for the GM to allow them to refill their well of creative energies.

Player Burnout

Just like with GMs, the players can burnout on their character. Perhaps they’re tired of being the archer in the back, or are tired of being the “healing vending machine” or just want to do something different. When the players get disgruntled with the game and it’s not because of an adversarial GM or other issue, then they could just be bored with their characters. There are a few options to shaking things up.

 This piece of advice is a bit risky, but changing up the characters’ equipment can be done to shift the power levels around. 

Allowing some, if not all, of the players to roll up side-arc characters that are still related to the main story arc is a good change of pace. There can even be some prep work done here by the whole group where they have lower level (or even higher level) characters sitting in the wings, ready to be played, for when it’s time for their story to trigger. If you do this, I’d advise that the “main group” and “alt group” have strong ties to one another.

This piece of advice is a bit risky, but changing up the characters’ equipment can be done to shift the power levels around. This can be done via a carefully placed artifact or two, but I’ve also seen it expertly done where a major item within the group goes missing, is stolen, somehow falls into the hands of the arch enemy, etc.. This cranks up the motivation for the players as a group to fetch (or quest to replace) the item and return the status quo. I’ve also dropped the especially nasty Mordenkainen’s Disjunction (also called Mage’ Disjunction in non-WotC material) on higher level groups to effectively scramble their equipment and power level. This could have easily backfired with upset players, but instead, they went on a rage-fueled rampage against the sorry fellow that dropped the spell on them. Fresh motivations for the characters can lead to renewed interest by the players.

Co-Build the World  I actually call this “session negative one” because the act of creating the world should come before “session zero” where the players’ characters are created. 

If you get the players invested in the world from the get go, this can help keep their interest levels high. Same thing with the GM. Instead of whipping out Faerun, Krynn, Athas, Golarian, or any other number of existing worlds, create a world (or part of a world) in an interactive session between the GM and players. With ideas sprinkled in by everyone involved, they come to care about the world and NPCs and locations because they helped create them.

I actually call this “session negative one” because the act of creating the world should come before “session zero” where the players’ characters are created. In Session -1, the GM comes to the table with some ideas and guidelines for the creation and then it becomes like a typical Hollywood writers’ room where every idea is at least considered and discussed before addition or rejection. This is a powerful session, but it can take quite some time. I highly recommend setting aside 5-6 hours (with a few breaks in there) for creating the rough sketch of the world.

If you need some pointers on world building, I have this article, and Matt has a great collaborative world building article.

Identifying the Itch and Using the Right Scratch

As I mentioned above, sometimes OSS can come as a result of having an itch to scratch, but you don’t quite know what it is. This can lead to jumping between systems while looking for the one that tries to scratch that itch. Fortunately, a little introspection and drilling down into what you want can help prevent OSS. Here’s an example:

The GM in my weekly group wanted something “epic,” so he picked Traveller. He pictured epic space battles, running fights with blasters, and other fantastic space opera goodness. Unfortunately, our characters (through the randomness of character generation) didn’t quite land enough cash or ship-shares to get to do any of that. There were also a few missteps here and there that led to a “blah” type game which led to the campaign that lasted a single session.

Up next, he drilled down a little bit and found that what he really wanted was to tell some heroic stories, preferably in the high fantasy genre. I proposed my home brew fantasy RPG with some tweaks to up the magic content. Ultimately, that was turned down because, at its heart, my fantasy RPG is a bit more crunchy than the player was comfortable with. That’s a fair assessment.

He, in turn, proposed we play Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea because he felt that would give us the feel we wanted from the game. The result? I don’t know yet. Our session zero for the game is (in theory) happening tomorrow night as this article is being published. We’ll see how it goes.

Total Party Kill  Before a TPK runs headlong into another case of OSS, make sure it’s the system that caused the event, not something else. 

Need I say more? Sometimes a GM, situation, crazy dice, poor decisions, or a deadly system can lead to a total party kill. This is a bummer. Probably one of the biggest bummers unless the TPK was truly epic in scale. This can lead to the players (and sometimes the GM) becoming disgruntled with the system. Perhaps their dislike of the system is completely valid because the game system is too lethal. I’ve seen that. Most experienced gamers have.

Before a TPK runs headlong into another case of OSS, make sure it’s the system that caused the event, not something else. Perhaps some “mock battles” should be run to test the waters on if the game mechanics truly are that dangerous. If this is the case, and it doesn’t jive with the group’s style of gaming, then perhaps it’s time for a new system.

How Do You Avoid OSS?

Now that I’ve rambled on for about 1600 words, I’d love to know how you identify OSS and how you avoid it. Alternately, do you avoid it at all? Does your group embrace OSS to get a taste of different gaming from different systems? That’s perfectly fair. I’m interested to know what folks do with (or about) OSS out there. Let us Gnomes know!

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Designing Highly Replayable Stealth Levels for Payday 2 - by Jason Mojica Blogs - 25 May 2018 - 1:00am
This post is about how we built highly replayable stealth levels for Payday 2 and the ways we utilized randomization to keep things fresh each playthrough.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Vikingr RPG Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 3:00pm
Gamers can’t get enough of the vikings. Those Scandinavian raiders to the British isles and shores of continental Europe are just fascinating for us. Many wish to insert themselves into that time, put on their helms, and head into battle with axe in hand. Vikingr, a new d6 RPG up on Kickstarter now, lets you […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Runewild RPG Adventure Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 2:00pm
We all know of my love of extra resources for GMs when it comes to games. Even if an adventure, in total, doesn’t work for your group, you can probably find some stuff useful for it. Well, The Runewild adventure looks to make all of itself useful by being not so linear, but more sandbox, […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Steamforged Previews Ikaros and Rundaas For Falconer’s Guild

Tabletop Gaming News - 24 May 2018 - 1:00pm
The Falconer’s Guild is the next of the Minor Guilds to hit the pitch in Guild Ball. As one would expect, they’re the Minor Guild for the Hunter’s Guild. We’ve seen just about everyone, but there had been two left. In this final preview, we get a look at them. Say hello to Ikaros and […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Mixer rolls out MixPlay, a tool for creating interactive stream overlays

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 24 May 2018 - 12:42pm

Microsoft has rolled out a series of updates for its streaming service Mixer as part of the platform's birthday celebrations, one of which allows developers to build interactive stream overlays. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design


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