About three weeks ago, I posed a simple design challenge to the scene writ large:
- Pick a genre, setting, or time period
- Write one or two paragraphs on context
- Produce one page of random tables
- Give advice on tropes and how to use them
Using these guidelines, I surmised that one could create a fully-actionable setting for use at the table, and with the advice and assumptions baked in, little to no abstracted rules would be necessary to actually conduct play. The setting begets the way things work. You agree in good faith to navigate the world as it suggests it can be navigated. Instant sandbox, minimal work.
Well, I was greeted with TWENTY full responses to this challenge, so without further adieu, enjoy!
LET'S MAKE A FORT! by Bashoo2000
You’re a kid. You need a fort so you and your gang can hang and have fun. No Adults Allowed!
My favorite bit: "d6 potential enemies... ALL 8TH GRADERS." This cracks me up. Also accurate. This setting conception is exceedingly cheeky while nailing the theme and stakes of school kids.
BARROWMERE by ShutteredRoom
An archipelago becoming a peninsula, the Barrowmere is a soggy environment thick with mounds and tombs - and the old stories of the Barrow Downs Companies suggests they are brimming with undiscovered treasure, occult secrets and bizarre beasts of ill-rumour.
My favorite bit: "Burst Abyssal Leviathan - over acres; swarming with scavengers; stomach like a collapsed circus tent."
ANIMORPHS ULTRALITE by Tír na nÓg
A spaceship lands in the middle of the site, it's pilot, a bright blue Psionic Centaur, comes out mortally wounded and explains to you that he is a general of his people and that your planet is now on the front lines of an interstellar war. His people's enemy, the parasitic Brain Slugs, have found humanity to be an excellent host species and are infiltrating all levels of human society. He bestows upon you his peoples greatest technology, the Morphing Cube and promptly keels over, dead. Good luck!
My favorite bit: Blending perfectly the surreal horror of Animorphs' plot with the wholesome everyday of Animorphs' protagonists.
ICEBOUND HORROR by TinHeadNed
You’re at the end of the Empire, you’ve been here for a year already in an unexpected ice floe. In the summer it’s cool; out of the permanent sunshine. The winter is freezing, and varies between pitch-dark and dim. Your ship was well-provisioned, you thought, but you’ve been away from clear-water to fish in, and land with birds or animals to hunt, for a long time.
My favorite bit: "d6 what does the nightwatch report? They’re gone," Hmm, haunting!
THE WASTELAND OF TENEBRIS by Grimórios & Dados Editora (repping some Brazilian FKR)
It was a normal day, but then the Dark Meteor came, and with it the darkness and the cursed creatures from the Sideral Space. We thought that it would be easily solved by the government or the army, but it was years ago, and now the world is just a shell, a dark and dry shell.. Militias and factions emerged, also the beasts of the Dark Meteor and the fight for survival.
My favorite bit: The "Dust" from the meteor is semi-sentient, corrupting, and intoxicating.
DARK EMPIRES by D3B4G
February 1815 Napoleon escapes exile on the island of Elba. Within three weeks he rallies the French army to his eagle banners. Europe is at war again… Meanwhile in the quiet woods and darkened streets a few special individuals work for and against the tide of the Ogres advance. These provocateurs use guile, magic and murder to ply their trade. They are the tip of the stiletto. A secret weapon wielded in the shadows to win a war of gunpowder and steel.
My favorite bit: Not unlike Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this take on Napoleonic Europe subverts expectations in a subtle way with the upside-down nature of covert magic in overt circumstances.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Norbert Matausch
…in this game, you play children in a fairy tale world. Describe how old you are, what thing you can do pretty well (for a kid), and three details about your looks. Now, take a blank piece of paper. It’s going to be our map. Then, going around the table, tell the other players something about your village. Where is it located? How many people live there? Then, draw the element you just told us about on the map. Now, go around the table and tell us about your resources. Drinking water? Food? Draw it on the map. Then, decide one or two resources that your village has plenty of. Automatically, the rest of the resources become scarce.
My favorite bit: "You are not allowed to use direct violence (fighting, harmful magic) against the Baddies." In our era where every other word could be construed as "violence," we have a game here where actual, honest violence is barred.
PAW NOIR by Wizard Lizard
Overriding a nearby overwatch drone, switch to UV mode, blood washed away by the rain. Infrareds and a rewind shows a rhino beating the shit out of a dog. German sheperd. Same breed the dame mentioned had been following her since her husband’s death. And her husband’s, the rhino, they never found the body. There are no coincidences in this job. Tap-tap-tap on his shoulder. He turns and gets a glance at a polar bear before lights go out.
My favorite bit: Featuring the best "how to make the game work" synopsis across these entries -
Step 1. Watch Chinatown, Fallen Angels and Blade Runner, for Noir and Cyberpunk.
Step 2. Watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit and read Blacksad for Cartoon Animals.
Step 3. Run a Film Noir with rat detectives, rhino bruisers and fox femmes fatales.
DISSONANT COURAGE by Yori
Enter this gothic horror tale where brave adventurers leave the relative comfort of Barovia Village to explore abandoned monasteries, haunted villages, isolated ruins, temples where black rituals are practiced and, of course, the cold dungeons of Ravenloft Castle.
My favorite bit: Excellent examples of letting setting tropes define the game, even down to the character class abilities and how they're actualized within the game world.
MEGA-CITY ONE: SHADOWS by Metwiff
MC-1 Shadows is a series. The players decide if their PCs are the protagonists or only sidekicks to a Big Fish down in the shadows, like Ma-Ma, Chief ‘The Beef‘ Pepper, Zak ‘ZicZak‘ Borowski, Queen Nevada or Judge Vamos A. Matar. Play short, but crunchy episodes. Be cool. Be tough. A PC’s death is okay if player and GM consider it cool for the plot.
My favorite bit: The wealthier you begin, the more hooks you accrue. For each hook, create one problem in the PC’s background story. Hooks may range from ex-lover seeking revenge to all cyberware is shitty C-ware, Yakuza bounty on PC’s head or searched by a Judge.
NOISY VALLEY by ShutteredRoom
Noisy Valley is an out-of-the way, apparently unremarkable little town no one ever seems to have heard of until you hear of it yourself, but there it is and there it has always been. The current town is the New Town, with the Old Town having been depopulated, dilapidated, destroyed or even disappeared. This part of the country has long been associated with anomalous light forms (earthlights, corpse candles/will-o-wisps, lights-in-the-sky), out-of-place/apparitional animals & humanoids, freak weather events, and--crucially--mysterious sounds (hummadruz, piping, EVP, skyquakes, unidentified radio/TV transmissions, localised tinnitus/aural hallucinations). It's a lot worse than you think...
My favorite bit: The tropes list is incredible. "Puzzles/hazards based around corruption of beloved childhood stories/series," as one example," moves the Silent Hill setting into nuanced angles.
FORKLIFT JOCKEYS by Sigve Solvaag
You work in the warehouse. You have a forklift, and day in and day out, you haul pallets, finish orders, deliver the goods. Recently, a film crew has shown up. You all signed contracts. Your workplace is now also the site of a reality show. It’s never easy for you. Many things can happen. Deadlines, overtime, trouble at home, hostilities with co-workers. The film crew is egging this on too--they want drama.
My favorite bit: Never have I been so compelled by mundane subject material turned into something riveting as I was when I first saw the warehouse droptables.
COLLABORATIVE BIOPUNK by Wendi and CosmicOrrery
Ever so long ago the old world of metal and machinery faded away into this landscape of growing, thriving, modifying mechanorganic beings. Picture abandoned skyscrapers covered in organ-vines, cities built in the shells of long-dead Leviathans, seemingly bottomless caverns made of pulsing flesh. Biotech gone wild.
My favorite bit: If you want to reject metaphysics with a fleshy sledgehammer, this is your one-stop shop. I'm especially partial to "feisty meat wizards [and] lonesome spider shepherds."
MONSIEUR PROPRIETAIRE by Nakade
At the heart of the bustling, ever-moving city lies the small, humble establishment known as the coffee-house. Behind the thin wooden doors no libation except coffee is served, yet the conversations are no less heated than in the rowdiest of alehouses. For here, at the crossroads of history, a furious interchange of ideas is afoot, the brightest minds of the age gathering in these places of recreation and philosophic discussion alike to plot the future courses of nations and empires.
My favorite bit: Another example of the mundane made wondrous (without having to change the premise!), the raw gossip, politicking, and even dueling assumptions about this generator are gold.
OPENING CRAWL GENERATOR by P0rthos
Now in just 6 rolls of the dice you can generate 46,656 different opening crawls for your science fiction/fantasy game. Generally a 1 is the worst outcome, and a 6 is the best. If you choose the same number through all the options you get a pretty consistent story, or mix it up with some random rolls!
My favorite bit: Every good space opera needs an opening crawl, and I've amused myself making over a dozen of these and daydreaming how they'd look in play.
GHOST TOWN SLOW CRAWL by Justin Hamilton
Ghost Town Slow Crawl is weird cause its less a genre but kind of a feeling of a few genres. Its inspiration is small town gothic Americana, things that border on or maybe turn the dial up on magical realism, Welcome to Nightvale or maybe even Addams Family. Games like Kentucky Route Zero and Night in the Woods. American Elsewhere, Gravity Falls, David Lynch, some of the “New Weird” fiction. Wovenhand and Nick Cave. Time period is “modern”, but most likely at least a decade past, if not more. Basically anything kinda eerie without being outright horrific, sorta dark but not overly grim, full of black humor without forgoing earnestness.
My favorite bit: "What lies beneath the town?" "A massive storm, the townsfolk whisper about – personifying it as a beast."
HADLEYVILLE by Madinkbeard
On the frontier, what starts as a single tent at an important resource can become a booming town. Relationships are important to keep order and provide services. But the needs and passions of the townsfolk mean not everyone will get along or work together, and external threats can arrive any day to put individuals or the settlement as a whole at risk. The rule of law is whatever the people decide it is and often just whatever the strongest or richest say it is, but if the law deteriorates too much chaos will reign and the whole settlement will become just another ghost town, a spot on a map that once was.
My favorite bit: There is more detail crammed into these few pages of random tables than I've seen elsewhere. You want a rich setting crammed with hooks? Roll on these tables.
DREAMS OF ELECTRIC SHEEP by Joseph S
In the dystopian future, civilization has been collected in giant megacities to escape the ecologically exhausted and dying earth. City streets have moved vertically where the poor and homeless live in the "basement" of the city, while those who can afford it stay higher up. Animals are all but extinct. Food is a mesh of soy, lichen and moss. But at the highest elevations, are the advanced robotics corporations. They started with "animoids", the artificial animals. And then robotic laborers for the earth's harsh environments and off-world colonies. But they continued to evolve their designs to the point of creating robotics which were indistinguishable from humans.
My favorite bit: Not only is this a slam-dunk on Blade Runner, but the 11d6 story node hook generator at the end is novel and deeply interesting. The initial character table is also very evocative.
THE DUELLISTS by Gen2K
It is 1800 and the Napoleonic wars are in full swing. As dashing cavalry soldiers in the French army, it will define the course of your life for many years yet. That and one other small matter: Your intense and bitter rivalry with a fellow French officer...
My favorite bit: This setup assumes anything from a wartime montage to a long-form continental campaign, but all that really matters is the spitting vitriol and pride of two individuals through it all. Magnificent.
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER ULTRALITE by Dreaming Dragonslayer
(okay, so this one wasn't an entry for this challenge, but was whipped up shortly after I released Galaxy Far Away and modeled on it, just as that same game prompted this overall challenge... anyway, enjoy!)
My favorite bit: This document is almost exclusively tables (big plus, in my opinion) and as such, from start to finish they are jam-packed with implied setting. If the aim is to live in a setting and treat it as authoritative to play, look no further than to this layout.