After a conversation with a friend today, I realised that I should write down the RPG rules system I use for the audio-RPG Flotsam and a couple of other games.

Over the years I’ve used fewer and fewer rules in my games, as we prefer not to get in the way of the story. So I go minimalist.

Flotsam Rules

The game system is deliberately very, very light — no complicated rules at all. If we hit a challenge, you roll a D10. If it’s equal to or higher than the number I give you, you’ve succeeded at that challenge. If it’s…

Here’s One Simple Trick That Might Surprise You. Or something like that. An easy thing to do, but absolutely invaluable to me when I’m writing:

Read your words out loud. If you stumble, rewrite them.

I use this all the time, and it makes a huge difference to my work!

What follows are a few thoughts as to why it’s helpful, whether you’re writing dialogue to be spoken, or writing prose to be read.

Twisted Tongues

Sentences aren’t just a series of cleverly-constructed word-choices. Sentences are a stream of underlying vocal sounds. It matters terribly which sounds are next to one another…

We open on a forest. In that forest is a person. They are wearing rough, homespun clothing. They have pointy ears.

Therefore magic exists.

At least, in the mind of your viewer. Magic exists, so do dragons, there are probably goblins, people hit each other with swords, they ride around on horses and spend time in inns quaffing ale.

This is fantasy, and all the tropes that come with fantasy. With that one small design choice — a pointy ear — you have described the world to your viewer. They have made lots of assumptions as a result.

But what…

I’ve written before about how we use something called moment-based design. The idea is that you have a set of things that you want to happen, moments that you feel are critical to your story or to your game. And you lay them out as sticky notes— these days we tend to do it virtually using Miro.

We have a set process for this, working as a group to start laying these moments out in a structure. The patterns in that structure start to become obvious, once everyone on the team has an in-depth knowledge of what each moment actually…

I wanted to set down some thoughts about story theme as we at Talespinners use it in computer games, because it’s been coming up in conversations with our mentees. I wanted to talk about why finding a theme early is practically useful and can be a positive influence on the game as a whole.

Theme in narrative is a nebulous concept. It’s defined in different ways depending on who you listen to, but here we’re using it to mean ‘what is this story about’?

Any questions?

While it’s perfectly possible to have themes that are short phrases — such as ‘betrayal’ or…

A one-page tabletop RPG

I had a bit of time this weekend, so put together a one-page tabletop RPG in which you are a cadet in the King’s Musketeers, as a sort of companion piece to our larp All for One.

It’s mostly an exercise in trying to make mechanics feel fast, loose, and a bit like gambling.

You can download it for free over here.

All for One. Courtesy of Tom Garnett

Lightweight collaborative character creation for larp

This is a method for generating larp characters that we’ve developed at Crooked House over a couple of decades to address issues we were having with our own events and in attending others. I go into the reasons for some of these design decisions in this article. It supports a range of different event styles — we’ve used variants of this system for All for One and Wing and a Prayer, and earlier iterations of systems that led to this in Captain Dick Britton and the Voice of the Seraph and God Rest Ye Merry. This article was written for…

God Rest Ye Merry — in-game photo

It’s common to conflate immersion with realism, certainly in larp. To think that players aren’t fully immersed in an experience if there’s something which will break the reality of it.

In larp, this often materialises as having to make sure props are convincing and authentic, or you ruin the player’s experience. In TV, it’s avoiding things like Daenerys and that coffee cup, or the Fonz jumping the shark. In a realistic movie, someone might start yelling about ‘plot holes’ if something explodes when it has no right to, or someone survives a fall out of a 30-story building.

I’ve been…

“Cut!” From All for One. Photo by Tom Garnett.

Throwing out realism so we can have more fun

Cinedrama is a larp playstyle. It’s a cinematic way of thinking about larp that we first came up with for the Crooked House event Captain Dick Britton and the Voice of the Seraph back in 2005, in which Heroes have a capital H. We also used it on All for One, our Three Musketeers event.

Getting emotional in the crucible of a wartime simulation

Spoiler Alert: This post is about the larp / simulation Wing and a Prayer by Allied Games. It first ran in September 2018, and I’ll be talking about aspects of the writing process for that version of the event. I’ll spoil a handful of game surprises as a result. The event will re-run in September 2019, so if you’re planning to play that, it’s better to avoid this for now and come back afterwards!

The Ops Room at Stow Maries — Photo courtesy of Tom Garnett

A Woman’s Place Is In The War

Wing and a Prayer is an event which centres around the work of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (or WAAF) during World War 2. The game…

Ian Thomas

Ian is a narrative designer and writer of games, films, larp, and books. He is Narrative Director at Ubisoft Stockholm. He is co-founder of Talespinners.

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