Looking for good examples


I’m looking for some input on, or rather fishing for good examples of, an idea that I’m fairly sure isn’t that novel.

Through the years I’ve mostly played the kinds of RPGs and settings where the GM has all the knowledge and the gamers learn of the world through play. This is all fair and dandy, but recently I’ve played Apocalypse World and Dungeon World and have found that player input in world building increases player investment by a crazy amount. Which incidentally equals more fun at the table for everyone. The downside is that you have to discuss a lot and mediate so that nobody highjacks the show or the extroverts decide everything, which takes time.

When the players get to join in the creation the game manages to press some of the buttons of everyone involved, making them want to play. Otherwise you might have to go hunting for players that get excited over the setting, as if finding players in the first place weren’t hard enough. The plus side for this is that everybody around the table get a level idea of where they are and what goes.

But now I’m looking into making a one-off scenario and am trying to find a balance. A set world takes time off of starting up and gets the players into the game quicker. Also, for a one-off a set scenario isn’t that strange. But I want to retain player investment.

The idea I have is to somehow combine these in the following way (or something like it):

a) The plot is fixed: The players take on the role of warriors of good/evil/grey that are sent on a mission to retrieve a relic of power from the forces of evil/good/beige i.e. players must buy-in to the fact that it’s a fantasy epic - the story of an epic trek across dangerous lands.
b) The GM has a clear time frame for the game. The Swedish standard for one-offs is four hours. Meaning I something like: Character creation and story creation 45 min / Setting off on the journey 45 min / First dangerous land 45 min / 15 min break / Second dangerous land 30 min / Third dangerous land 30 min /Apocalyptic final 30 min (-ish).
c) Players make their characters from lists à la Apocalypse World (makes for quick character creation + the lists help shape the fiction).
d) Dependent on some factor of the character creation this yields an initiative order for deciding exactly what dangerous lands the warriors will cross. Again chosen from lists, AW/Fiasco-style (Homeland, 3 dangerous lands and place of final showdown).

Basically, a crossbreed of free player creation and a done and dusted setting and plot. It seems to me that this might have been done before so that’s where I’m asking for help to find good examples or maybe cautionary words.

For example I recall a game where there was this awesome map that you rolled out as the story progressed but I can’t for my life remember what it was called, but I don’t know how much player creation was involved.

Any input is appreciated.


  • It doesn’t check all of the boxes, but Follow by Ben Robbins is pretty good for (a) and (b), and probably would support (c) and (d) but you’d have to generate the lists on your own.

    I’m wondering if the map game you’re referencing might be Fall of Magic?
  • The Mountain Witch may seem a little obvious, but it's a pretty good example of almost everything you suggested -- all the players create characters freely, but they all have relevant issues to the central quest, and everybody knows they're climbing the mountain to get to the Witch and things will get worse the higher they get.

    The Mountain Witch is also the game that taught me, and probably a lot of game designers, the power of getting player input -- in fact they used to call that the "Mountain Witch trick" on the Forge.

    One of the tricks that suggests is to make sure that all possible generated characters will strongly fit the setting -- let them pick stuff to their heart's content but make sure it all fits, and especially make sure they all bring a strong drive to the story. Otherwise you risk the players defaulting to generic D&D quest mode.
  • "On mighty thews" thematic maps rock your d).
  • The "unroll the map as you go" game is almost certainly Fall of Magic.

    I've experimented a lot with hybrid approaches between a full-on GM-led game and a totally open, collaborative game. I love the results that gives, generally speaking. Here's an example

  • The downside is that you have to discuss a lot and mediate so that nobody highjacks the show or the extroverts decide everything, which takes time.
    I suggest using this particular set of techniques to the greatest effect actually requires not to discuss a lot! When not acting as the only or main content author, the GM is free to focus their energy on being an effective creative process moderator instead - an MC. It's their main job to ask everybody questions - so to also pry answers from less proactive players - and to seamlessly integrate those answers with no long-winded discussion, so the game doesn't devolve into a brainstorming session.
  • Maybe I'm off base since I'm new to this and have only read a few modules, but the Protocol system might work for one-offs. It has more than 60 modules that are settings and starting points - one I'm looking forward to playing is "Home", which gives you the basic setting that you're a few survivors trying to get home after being on the losing side of a (medieval fantasy-type) war. The players set up what the war was about and what side they were on. They encounter villages that are for or against their side, or avoid them altogether. Lots of other settings, like superheroes, sci-fi, horror, etc. So you start with a pre-made setting and goal, and improv from there using prompt tables in the modules to provide setting-appropriate suggestions.
  • edited April 2018
    Are you looking for examples of specific games that do this, or are you looking for ways to work something like this into a game system that doesn't do this naturally?
    For example I recall a game where there was this awesome map that you rolled out as the story progressed but I can’t for my life remember what it was called, but I don’t know how much player creation was involved.
    That is definitely Fall of Magic by Ross Cowman. It is a GMless game (so equal narrative input from all players), and there is a set directive (you are a group of adventurers guiding the Magus to Umbra) and you have a set path with prompts along the way, but it's super open-ended and rules-lite. The map is really evocative, and the imagery tends to paint it as a fantasy setting, but I know someone who literally re-skins it to be sci-fi, or post-apocalypse, or cyberpunk, or whatever. There's no definition as to who/what the Magus is. I have played games where the Magus was an old woman, a seed pod, and a hat. The characters are also likewise very open-ended: you pick a "role" but the roles are purposefully evocative, but vague.
  • edited April 2018
    Dirty Dungeon by John Wick.

    The French Donjon.


    I see what you do here. You try to remove the prep time by removing the adventure, characters, and adding short structure of play. I've done that with my upcoming game This is Pulp. It takes about 70 minutes to play, starting from explaining the rules. The adventure is created as a short prep by filling in stuff on a map, the game master then uses that to create situations for the pregen characters that the players chooses.

    I recently game mastered Fornsaga on the Swedish gaming convention GothCon. There were no adventure to start with, and we created a farm and characters with drives in 1.5 hours and the played for another three hours. The players come up with questions about their characters or their characters' agendas, that are then answered during the session. But it doesn't fulfill your point a).

    If you remove the game master, however, you can remove your point a), and if you're mind not set on dungeon crawling, then there are lots of different games to play. InSpectres takes about 45 minutes when I play on conventions (OK, it has a game master). The film noir game Nerver av stål (Nerves of Steel) takes about 3-4 hours, and comes with pregens but no prepared story. Again, questions are created that should be answered.
  • edited April 2018
    Removed as someone had already posted the suggestion I was making.
  • Awesome, thanks for all the smart and insightful answers! You've certainly given me food for thought. I think it was a case of me not really thinking through my question before writing it down.

    I now realize that what I was asking for was ways to make a compelling replayable one-off scenario, i.e. where the setting is changed by the player input rather than the story. And I was mostly thinking of dressing rather than framework, that is on the level of the players choosing if it's the evil mole people or the callous minotaurs whose lands we first will traverse in the fantasy epic.

    I guess I was thinking that it would be easier to introduce a one-off with a compelling setting instead of just getting people to the table by introducing a fun storygame. But your tips have given me a lot of interesting games to try out before I even have to bother revisiting the idea of making a new one-off.

    Off the bat Follow and This is Pulp seem very interseting, as well as the Mountain Witch which always seem to crop up in discussions on these forums.

    However, thanks to the talk of Fall of Magic, I've become interested in map play. Do you have any good examples of games that use maps as an integral part of gameplay? I seem to remember that A quiet year uses a map. Or am I totally wrong?
  • So, I feel like pre-planning the story arc and having PCs contribute to world building are counter-productive to each other. I could be wrong, but I feel like there will have to be a certain amount of mental contortions to make it work.

    I have run games at cons that included character creation, so that part is not impossible depending on the system.

    One thing you can look at is Game Creation in Fate Core. It has the players, including the GM, take turns making locations, threats, opportunities and aspects. I use it in almost every FATE game and it is fantastic.

    Good luck!
  • Ganakagok! Comes with a basic premise, but the group designs all the world/situation particulars... by making a map! Make characters by drawing cards. Works well as a one-shot (though with 5+ players can be a challenge to finish in 4 hrs).
  • Ganakagok! seems awesome, I will definitely have to try that one out.

    On another note I guess I'll have to go back into the think tank and try to order my thoughts a bit better.
  • Map-drawing is used to good effect in Abnormal Things by @Orion Canning - a one-shot game where the actual plot is tropey and in a way largely pre-determined (though you can win or lose the final confrontation), but the details of characters and setting are up for defining and are what really matters!

    A form of map-drawing - though there's at least as much relationship map as actual topographical map to it - is also central to Okult by @Wilhelm Person, a wonderful game which I consider the bigger brother to Abnormal Things in a lot of ways.

    Another game where drawing a map is the centerpiece, meant as a one-shot, is Eden by Marc Hobbs.
  • Also, there exists a grungy-looking, existentialist indie-rock-themed hack/reskin of Fall of Magic called Fall of Electricity after Ross Cowman's own band. It's by @jackson_tegu
  • For Fall of Magic reskins, I'll recommend Autumn of the Ancients (whenever it comes out (Kickstarting now or soon?)). It's FoM traversing a galaxy.
  • edited April 2018
    @Ironjens , I've been working on something similar over the years and got this

    It's a guided procedure for brainstorming a setting with the players that takes half an hour tops and produces a seed for a one-shot quest if you link it with character goals. It's system agnostic. Lots of people here gave me wonderful ideas to keep things brief and straight to the point. You can make a couple fronts, a map and outline a situation, yet things are hazy enough so players get on the same page but the GM can fill the blanks and twist things as he wants. All this info is stated as what the people and the PCs know, but not all of it may be true or accurate, so it's up to the players to find out.

    You can totally fit a fixed goal for players over this too. Hope it helps.
  • Ah, this thread is filled with awesome tips and ideas on what to to check out. Unfortunately I'm saddled with a wonderful combination of impatience and focus. Meaning I sat down and made up a game without actually checking out any of the sources provided, trying to get my bits together and never taking stock of what I was actually doing. And then I did a test run with unsuspecting victims at a con.

    I think I made an awesome setting, but as it turned out, some awesomely crappy rules. Wallowing in my defeat I chose to not do anything with it then, but now the idea of making something out of it comes niggling again.

    The game is meant to be a one-off-scenario, GM-led, with quick character creation and player co-creation of the world, and a pre-set tragedy: The characters will set out on a quest that they will most likely fail.

    On the plus side, the character creation worked just as intended: The players were dealt cards and then had to assign a tarot to depict their characters. This is basically like rolling random stats and abiding by the rolls. Some players hate it, some players love it. Why I have it is because the cards and the tarot was supposed to also be the main world building and conflict resolution tool, creating a tactile link to the world depicted in play. Realistically I could have just gone the route of choosing from lists.

    The game is played on a tactile world map, meaning the quest takes place on a classic, western-centric fantasy map. The trip starts in fantasy-Iberia, working it’s way up through fantasy-France, the fantasy-Alps and finally ending on a fantasy-Island roughly somewhere in fantasy-Austria. The players only know that their quest will take them to the island and that there will be as many encounters on the way there as there are players. These encounters are placed by the players in the initial world-building phase, by each player choosing a place on the map and laying a face down card there. These encounters, will then be revealed on the way, with each player having a turn at describing what the encounter entails. The quest end simply consisted of player number of cards in a pile deatailing the boss battle. This mechanic worked reasonably well but broke down towards the end. But that was not due to something wrong with the setup, but rather the complete failure of the resolution system.

    The resolution system was to be a simple card-game in the form of standard trick taking. My basic idea was that since the tarot of character creation displayed the characters’ strengths and weaknesses, these cards should form the starting hand of each character. A hand of five cards that would gradually be depleted, making each encounter more difficult, and rarely increased. That would mean not everybody would survive until the end of the quest and that they might fail, just on the cusp of finishing. Hence the tragedy.

    As is wont when you sit tinkering in your own hobbit hole this finely grafted rules system to enforce tragedy broke like a rusted old bike sat on by an elephant when exposed to real players. They quickly broke the system, but added ad-hoc solutions that allowed us to progress. Nonetheless, halfway through we all realized that there was no incentive to actually meet any challenges brought on by the encounters, since they ideally wanted to be the one with the most cards at the end to be the one that fulfilled the quest. Also, all the cardgaming got in the way of roleplaying.

    In the end it felt like the first third while there still was questions regarding the system was the best, then it was just filler and disappointment.

    So, obviously I need to do something about the part that broke down. I am again looking for ideas, does anybody know of an rpg that uses ordinary cards for resolution? I’m not dead set on keeping them for more than character- and world creation, but it adds a nice sense of completion, both aesthetically and tactile.

    Even better, does anyone know of a good way to enforce tragedy through play that encourages players mechanically to aim for doom in a satisfying and meaningful way?

    This is seen in the light of making sacrificing non-refilling resources something the players want to do.

    (My way ran counter to fun play, which sucked. I guess I'll try to actually bite the bullet and check out The Mountain Witch which always crops up as an answer to this question and all the others...)

  • I have yet to play it, but it sounds like you’re describing something similar to Questlandia. It’s GM-less, but it uses playing cards and dice to allow players to collaboratively create the game’s setting and characters, has a map-making component, and is designed to create a story of high fantasy tragedy and collapse in a single session. The game’s structure is enforced through a series of specific scene types that are supposed to be played. You might look at that for inspiration?

    The creators also have a podcast documenting their process as they design a sequel, called Design Doc, where they break down a lot of the decisions they made when designing the first game. Could also be useful for you.
  • edited September 2018
    A simple card drawing resolution system can be found in Leviathan Manifesto. But I suspect it was scavenged from some original game. Designing with cards was a fad at one time. :P
    Just joking. There's a pleasure in hiding, stroking, revealing and lying cards.
  • Ah, super cool, thanks for the tips!
  • Hey, I just realized who you are! I didn't quite get it when you posted in the Nerver av stål thread. Hey, Jens! Hope you're well.

    I remember this game. As I recall, there were some gamey issues with the resolution system, but for me the main thing was that all the trick-taking and whatnot made us play it like a card game and skip the roleplaying bits. I feel like the setups to many of the scenes were great (god, I hate that little gnoll king SO MUCH), but once the scenes got going, it was all mechanics, with roleplaying taking a distinct back seat.

    One game that uses card resolution in an interesting way is With Great Power …. I believe it's coming out in a second edition with vastly changed rules, but I'm talking about the first. My memory is a bit hazy since it's probably a decade since I played it, but I remember the cards being linked to your background, making you sacrifice things you hold dear in order to get more cards. So the old "How much are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want" schtick. This means there's no one optimal way to play, since it's up to you to value what winning and sacrifice means.

    I liked the trek thing, and especially when we got to lands from where our characters came. I'd like to play up the angle of "This is where I once lived, before I became a servant of the Dark Queen. I'm coming home, but now as an enemy of my own people." That'd play up the tragedy bits.

    Otherwise, the classic tragedy game is Polaris, a game where you have to win a conflict to even be allowed to die, since dying is pretty much the happiest possible ending (the other happy ending is the end of the world).

    Another hot tip is Durance, for the "players create the world together" thing. It's got an amazing planet and colony creation system that's totes worth checking out. Also Den yttersta domen has been going in this direction (as yet unreleased and amazeballs Swedish game), partly, I believe, inspired by my Utpost. In Utpost (I'm guessing we've played it at LinCon? Can't remember), the GM-like role asks questions of one player at a time (not asking the entire group is important to keep strong players from taking over and for keeping the time it takes down), like "What's the social jargon like?" or "What do people eat?" to flesh out the setting. In DYD, it's more given from the book, so for a specific place where you set the campaign, there are specific questions given, like "How do the people see the presence of the Watcher's Guard?". You could do something similar with questions like "How come nobody has even been able to conquer this land?" or "What vile tradition makes this people hated by all its neighbors?".
  • Ah, yes, my dorky username. It stems from when Iron Maiden offered free email services at their website and jens@ironmaiden.com was already taken...

    Cool ideas. I will try to check out With Great Power, becuase what you describe is something I would like to examine in the game.

    This idea: "This is where I once lived, before I became a servant of the Dark Queen. I'm coming home, but now as an enemy of my own people." is pure gold, I will have to try to get it in somehow.

    Polaris I've never heard of, but seems like it would be hard to get to gel with the idea that my scenario just might have a survivor. But I'll try to see if I can get my hands on it.

    We played a dark and despairing game of Durance like two years ago. I loved the world building, but I felt we never really got the game off the ground. It felt like the rules didn't force us players into the same mindset and shared world, or maybe we just were too many players around the table. Some went for blood opera, some went for slapstick, one went for intrigue and the story mostly just fizzled. For me it all just left a sense of disappointment. I might misremember but I think you or some other veteran was on hand and still we didn't get it. It might be attributed to the fact that my friend (not Emil, another one) always plays to win, even in Fiasco, which isn't always conducive to good story telling and the fat that I think we started after midnight and finished way too late.

    (Den Yttersta Domen sounds like a classic forum legend; "It's the best game ever, it's just not released but it has these awesome rules and setting". A bit like Partisan? I'm jesting.)
  • edited September 2018
    (Den Yttersta Domen sounds like a classic forum legend; "It's the best game ever, it's just not released but it has these awesome rules and setting". A bit like Partisan? I'm jesting.)
    Well, it has been played on GothCon and other conventions for the last ... eight(?) years. :)
  • Ah, I guess I'm just out of the loop...
  • edited October 2018
    Ah, I guess I'm just out of the loop...
    Joel doesn't come to LinCon and you don't come to GothCon, so it's no wonder you haven't played it. But fear not! Joel has said that he won't run a scenario next year at GothCon, so I've taken it upon myself to write and run one, and I will of course bring it to LinCon, too, so you'll have a chance to play it there.

    Also, I think Joel is more or less done with the writing, so now it's just a question of layout and illustrations and publishing. So any year now it'll probably be out. :)
  • Den Yttersta Domen is so good I went to Gothcon 5 years straight just to play it.
  • I'm intrigued!
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