Category Archives: RPG

Persistent Non-Visible Physical Truths – a new play mechanic?

Following on from research I have been doing about the nature of choice in board and card games where winning is not necessarily the aim, i.e. emotional or character based choices, I started thinking about the idea of truths within a world.

Is it possible to have a truth in a game that is both persistent and physically present but is never actually known, would this have any affect on how the game is played?

Let me try to explain

First what would I consider a physical truth. This is something that the components of the game make true. This could be as simple as your are the red, green, or blue player in the game, as you have control of those components. This concept in general is not particularly interesting or insightful, but it can be used in interesting ways.

A TTRPG (tabletop role play game) I played a couple of years ago, Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne, has a mechanic which uses a physical truth. One of the players is the accused witch being taken by the other player characters to Lindisfarne to be tried. At the very beginning of the game the player who is accused of being a witch chooses whether they are guilty or not and places the corresponding card facedown in the middle of the table. That way the act has already been committed before any interactions take place, the truth is mechanically locked in place. In this game the card is revealed at the end.

Where I plan to take the idea one step further is in the physical truth being non-visible. Although we may know that a truth is persistent through the components of the game, none of the players may reveal this truth.

If it is never known, then why does it matter?

This is why the truth must be physical, although no-one sees it, it is inherent in the objects. We could in theory reveal the truth by opening a bag or turning a card face up. By knowing what the potential truths are, but not seeing them, the player is left in a state of limbo.

The simplest example I can think of would work for just about any two player war type game, like chess. If there was one token marked ‘Good’ and another ‘Evil’ and these were given to the players face down before their game began, they would play the game in a strange state of limbo. Are they fighting for good or for evil, is it all a matter of perspective, there is a true answer it is written in the components, but they will never see it.

Just by being there present in the components, in the physicality of the game, is this enough to change the way players play or think about their play.

Is this really meaningful?

I’m not sure if this would really make a difference or not. I feel that it would and with the right subject matter and matching mechanics could have a strong potential impact on the play experience. However, conjecture is not enough, the idea needs to be tested.


Making a game with non-visible physical truths.

In order to start experimenting with the mechanic I designed a two-player 1-page TTRPG focusing on the theme of consciousness called RenedesCorp.

Set in the near future the game has the players embody one of the following a human, a conscious robot or a standard robot (without consciousness). The players do not know which specific role they are, they are not aware if they are conscious or not, they’re not aware if they are human or not. This truth is determined by cards which the players do not see throughout play.

You can view the pdf for RenedesCorp by clicking here


You can view the pdf for RenedesCorp by clicking here

Other examples?

If you are aware of any other examples of this type of mechanic, or if you have ideas of where it could be used please let me know.



Nineworld’s Roleplay Game Jam

Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves

A pack of wolves rest in their den, tired and hungry the winter has been cruel to them. Outside is the wilderness, cruel and relentless but filled with memories of times they have shared. At deaths door they need to have a successful hunt to get through the rest of winter. Nostrils widen, ears twitch and hairs bristle on the back of their necks. The scent of prey is in the air, all or nothing, they make their way out of the den.

Final rules here: Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves


Earlier this month I attended the Nineworld’s (@London_Geekfest) Convention in London. It was a fantastic event filled with really interesting talks and activities, it was also a incredibly friendly and considerate place to be.

At the event, I attended a Roleplay Game Jam which was run by Ben Meredith (@BenRLMeredith) and Tom Hatfield (@WordMercenary). Each participant was given two words/concepts and asked to make a roleplay game in the theme of wilderness.

The two concepts I got to work with were Blizzard and Wild Animals. With the approximately two hours we were given I was quite pleased with what I developed. Here are the original hand written notes.



I’ve only had chance to write up the notes fully, and in doing so I have made a few changes. So instead of the wolves finding their way home, they are adventuring out. I changed the location card variables to follow heart, club, spade, diamond to keep them in keeping with the other two parts. There were a couple of other minor changes and I tried to improve the explanations in the rules to make them clearer. Finally I settled on the title and added a little pre-ramble to set the scene.

If you would like to read the rules in full they are available here: Final Chase of Winter’s Wolves

10 Questions to Consider when Exhibiting Games and Designing Games for Exhibitions

More spaces are showing games for many different reasons. It might be demos for games that are available to purchase, games that are in development or perhaps the game itself was specifically designed to be shown in an exhibition. Whatever the reason there are a few questions that I think we should start asking ourselves about showing games in these spaces. This is not a definitive list but a work in progress, the beginning of a wider conversation we as designers, exhibitors and curators should be having. Games are certainly worthy of a platform and space to be shown, and we can learn a lot from other mediums, art, design, performance and theatre, but there are somethings that games do differently. Therefore we must consider what is special about how people view and experience games and how we can make exhibitions and spaces for games better, for those that attend and those that are showing.

Here are ten questions to start that conversation:

  1. How easy is it for someone else to set-up, are there clear instructions, can you make it automatically load when turned on?

It might be that your game is going to be set-up or looked after by someone else, or you be looking after many different games. Make it as easy as possible to go from a crashed or broken state to ready to play. In the case of games on PCs and Macs put a little extra effort in so the game automatically loads up when you either turn on or reset the system. This will make your life and the life of others a whole lot easier.

  1. Is it simple and clear for a new player to restart the game, do you need a big red reset button?

I’ve seen it happen in a number of places. People play a game for a while and then leave it part way through. If a new player with no experience of the game comes to play at this point they may have missed the ‘tutorial’ or learning experience crucial to the overcoming the next obstacle. In fact people often put down the game when they get stuck, so someone picking up the game at this difficulty spike can stop them getting into the game completely. Your game may well have a menu and a restart option but this may not be clear on its own. Is there a way to have a big reset button so a new player can walk to the system and hit it knowing they’ll go back to the beginning? Something like a MakeyMakey could be used for doing this.

  1. How long does it take to learn to play the game, how long to get a good appreciation of the game?

When exhibiting a game, a player will not necessarily have a long time to play your game. There will hopefully be people waiting behind them to have a go, which will add pressure to them. Is the player going to get a suitable understanding of the games rules or controls and a reasonable impression of the game in the time given? If you are showing part of a larger game choose carefully which part it is you show. If you are creating a game specifically for exhibition take this consideration into account at the design phase.

  1. Does your game implicitly state to allow someone else to have a go, after a certain amount of time, after reaching a fixed point?

Again you are probably hoping that lots of people will want to play your game, but games generally are not designed with systems for allowing new players to enter and old players to leave. Consider changing your game to allow for this. At certain points in the game, controlled by time or achievement add an on screen prompt (or non-digital equivalent) that says, ‘You’ve been playing for a while, can you see someone else who would like to play.’ If there isn’t anyone they can keep playing but if there is someone else can have a go without having to ask.

  1. In multiplayer games, could those who have won be encourage through the game itself to look for someone else who might want a go?

In a similar way, multiplayer games should encourage you to share. After a round, match or turn, specifically consider having the winning player give up their spot. Again this can be an onscreen prompt. I have always disliked the often used ‘winner stays on’ rule for game all this does is give the best player more opportunity to get better rather than allowing less skilled players the opportunity to improve.

  1. Who can see your game being played, should it be private just the current player(s), or should it have an audience?

Depending on the type of game and the subject matter there should be some consideration to who can see the game being played. Should it just be the people playing, perhaps they are being asked personal questions or they need a safe space to fail and get better. Possibly showing someone the game before they play will spoil it for them. On the other hand is the game improved with a audience of spectators encouraging and reacting to the players playing. Either way the space and the way the game is set up should really consider that. You can put a curtain around a game, or hide it in a booth. You can put large screens high so others can see them. You can have secondary screens which show the action to the audience specifically.

  1. Are the controls intuitive and clear, do you need to have all those extra buttons accessible when they’re not going to be used?

The worst thing that can happen when learning to play a game is that there are not any clear instructions for the controls. This leads to bashing buttons and hoping things will happen. This is worse with keyboards as there are so many additional potential buttons to try. A simple way to reduce this complexity is by removing the buttons, or highlighting the buttons that are used with stickers or some other markings. A potentially better way is to make a bespoke controller, which through its design communicates intuitively how to use it.

  1. Can you reduce the potential embarrassment that someone may feel if they are not good, or do not understand how to use your game?

A lot of the time we play games in our own homes or with friends, this is somewhere we likely feel safe to fail and get things wrong, and can slowly learn how to play. Picking up a game in a public space and not being able to play can be embarrassing and frustrating. I am not sure what the best way is to solve this in general as it will very much depend on the exact nature of the game and the player, but it is certainly something to take into consideration. If your game is specifically hard maybe having multiple systems, some with an amount of privacy may eliminate the problem.

  1. Could your game disguise the computer and screen, can you hide the familiar technology in cabinets, tables or other bespoke creations?

It is a big challenge but sometimes it is just a little dull seeing rows of computers lined up showing games. I know it makes life and set-up easier but it lacks a little of the potential magic of games. There is potential, given enough budget, time and effort to make bespoke cabinets and tables to hide the hardware in. Instead of mounting screens on walls, they could be behind cutout windows in false walls, giving a flush neat appearance. Instead of keyboards and standard control pads their could be mounted and bespoke controllers. This I admit is a luxury but I think it would help people focus on the games and design rather than the technology used.

  1. What is the purpose of the game, is it advertising itself or is it something that only exists to be exhibited?

Whether the game you are exhibiting is a short demo of a larger game, a full demo for something you wish to sell or something designed specifically for that exhibition the above notions should be considered and potentially embedded into the game. You can design these elements into the fabric of the game itself or you can add a coat of exhibition veneer to an existing game. To make the games exhibition friendly will definitely require more work but it will give the player an experience greater than something they could achieve at home just downloading a demo.

Dwolma – Feedback and Update

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I got my reviews for Dwolma (original post), my GameChef entry today.

Review 1:

Overall, it’s a very interesting concept…I can see if going in multiple ways: creepy-ish, psychological and/or hypnotizing. I’m not really sure how the tokens works, but I could just be reading that wrong. Are the Ushers taking tokens randomly? Are the ushers taking certain numbers of token to manipulate the outcome? I’m not saying that the token should be changed (at this point) , I’m not really sure if it’s fully explained. Which I think is important because that’s really the deciding point of if the subject is moving forward past obstacles.

Review 2:

I really like this game. The structure is great, and the design of how the Abandoned is fleshed out as the game progresses is fantastic. Some minor flavor things are nice too- I appreciated “willing” players.

I feel that the mechanic of Bēodan needs some fleshing out. An example of play is definitely needed! I’m also confused as to the point of the tokens. What’s the goal of the Ushers? Is it to guide the Abandoned past the obstacle, or prevent them from moving on?

Review 3:

Dwolma is an imaginative game that makes good use of the ingredients.

I particularly like the blindfolding aspect, which adds a unique dimension to the game. The bidding mechanic works well and breaks up the game phases nicely.

I would have liked to see a way for the Abandoned to fail as this would have added a dimension of tension to the game, but overall this is a well done, if surreal, storytelling game.

Review 4:

There is something surreal and mysterious about this game. A solid entry that addresses the criteria of the contest in an interesting way. I’d like to see a bit more competition between the ushers who guide the ‘Abandoned’, or even a way for the ‘Abandoned’ to completely fail rather than simply getting more chances to succeed until they finally get through…which basically destroys the tension of the whole thing.

An extended review for Dwolma by Michael Wenman is available here.

Thanks to this insightful feedback, I’ve made a few tweaks to try and clarify the rules for the game.

The updated version of the rules for Dwolma.

Game Chef 2015 Entry – Dwolma


Game Chef (@game_chef) is an annual Game Design Competition which started running in 2002. Entrants have 9 days to use at least two of four ingredients to create a game around a given theme.

This year the theme was A Different Audience, and the ingredients were abandon, dragonfly, stillness and dream

I was particularly taken with the ingredients abandon and dream and at looking to find a way that different players of the game could be considered different audiences. The answer to this was to have some of the players fight over narrative control for the game, attempting to meet specific moods.

I was also interested with heightening the experience for at least one of the players. I have often found when I play story or role-play games I often close my eyes to imagine in detail my surrounding and what is happening. By forcing one of the players to wear a blindfold and have the other players describing the world to them, that player could potentially have a much richer experience.

Bringing these ideas together after some helpful discussions with Adam (@adtidixon) and Sean (@seanFsmith) I finally settled on the mechanics and theme for the game.

Somewhere between here and there lies the Dwolma, a dream world filled with abandoned souls seeking their escape. Blind to the incomprehensible world around them the Abandoned have little hope. 

A few of the first to be lost in Dwolma have found ways to understand and manipulate the world around them, they are known as Ushers. As the Ushers are cursed to be trapped in Dwolma forever, they seek pleasure in playing with the souls of the newly abandoned.

Ushers will often play Bēodan, a bidding game, and make wagers with each other, attempting to elicit moods from any Abandoned that they find. Appearing to act as guides they will attempt to influence the Abandoned’s mood to create a story to their individual taste, each Usher a different audience to the Abandoned’s misfortune.

The full rules are available as pdf here.

Masked Vigilante: Year One (untested first draft of RPG)

Masked Vigilante: Year One

A narrative role play game where the players each take the role of a character who has witnessed the actions of a masked vigilante.

After a year of the masked vigilante’s actions the group have gathered together to discuss what they have witnessed. Once their discussion ends they will determine if the vigilante is a criminal to be stopped or a boon to a corrupt society. However, one of the members of the group is the vigilante in his everyday guise and one of the members has already made up their mind about this scourge.

Requirements for Play

• Four Players.
• A Standard 52 Deck of Playing Cards.
• Paper and Pencils.
• A couple of hours.

Game Set-up

Select your character

Each player should select, read and complete one character sheet.

  • Journalist
  • Scientist
  • Teacher
  • Entrepreneur
  • Officer of the Law
  • Doctor

Create three decks of cards

  • Narrative Deck: All cards from Ace – 10 in each suit.
  • Hidden Roles Deck: King of Clubs, King of Hearts, any two Jacks.
  • Season Deck: All four Queens

Shuffle the narrative deck and place it where everyone can reach it.

Shuffle the hidden roles deck and give each player a card which they keep secret.

  • King of Clubs – Vigilante: Wants to goes free.
  • King of Hearts – Opposition: Wants the vigilante captured.
  • Either Jack – Citizen: Wins if in majority after vote.

Shuffle the season deck, turn over the top card, this is the starting season. Place the other cards from the season deck in order under it so the corner of each card is visible.

  • Spring – Spades (one point)
  • Summer – Hearts (two curves)
  • Autumn – Clubs (three circles)
  • Winter – Diamonds (four points)

Card Ranking

The suit of the current season is classed as a trump suit which is always higher than other suits. In cases where cards have the same numerical value, their ranking is determined by which season will occur first.


The prologue helps the players set the scene for their story. Each player will add details and help shape the environment in which their characters and the masked vigilante live.

The prologue consists of a single round which has the following steps:

  • Draw Cards
  • Determine the Decade
  • Determine the Location
  • Determine the Vigilante’s Origin
  • Determine the Vigilante’s Name

Draw Cards

Each player should draw five cards from the narrative deck.

Determine each detail in order using the following rules:

Each player plays a card face down in front of them.

All cards are revealed at once, the player with the highest value card gets to determine the next detail in the list. Once a player has determined a detail they no longer reveal their card.

1. Determine the Decade

In which decade, from 1900 to the present, is the game narrative set? Describe a little about that decade to the other players. Each other player may then add a small detail about the decade, going clockwise from the winning player.

2. Determine the Location

Where in the world is the game narrative set? Describe the location in more detail. Each player may then add a small additional detail, going clockwise from the winning player.

3. Determine the Vigilante’s Origin

What started the vigilante on their journey to becoming a vigilante? Describe this in detail. Each player may then add a small addition detail, going clockwise from the winning player.

4. Determine the Vigilante’s Name

What is the name the citizens of the location have given to the vigilante? Describe what the vigilante wears. Each player can add a small additional detail, going clockwise from the winning player.

Year One

The main narrative of the game takes place over a year. This is the first year in which the masked vigilante becomes active. The players should use the seasons to help give their characters’ witness accounts more flavour. Only three seasons are covered in this part of the game, each represented by a single round. Every player will have an opportunity to contribute to the narrative arc of the masked vigilante in each season.

Starting a Round

At the beginning of each round.

  • Change the Season
  • Draw Cards
  • Determine Play Order

Change the season

If this is not the first round take the top card from the season deck and place it at the bottom so that the corner of the card is still visible.

Draw Cards

Each player should draw cards until they have a hand of five cards.

Determine Play Order

Each player should play a single card face down. Reveal all the cards at the same time. The player with the highest card takes their turn last, the player to their left has their turn first. The current season is the trump suit.

Playing a Turn

For each turn the current player should take the following steps.

  • Draw three additional cards
  • Describe an event
  • Answer questions

Draw Three Additional Cards

The current player should draw three additional card from the narrative deck.

Describe an Event

The current player should describe an event involving the masked vigilante as witnessed by their character. The event should involve greater consequences that previous event. The player should also take into consideration the current season when describing the event.

Answer Questions

The other players, starting with the player to the left of the current player, each of the other players should ask the current player a question in one of two forms.

1. Yes/No Question

The questioner should pose a question about the action of the masked vigilante which could be answered simply with yes or no. They should also play one card from their hand face up on the table. If the witness wishes to answer yes they must play a higher card, if they wish to answer no they must play a lower card. The witness should embellish on the event considering the new detail found.

2. Personal Question

Alternatively the questioner can pose a personal question to the witness about how they felt or what they did. Both the questioner and the witness should discard a card.


The epilogue takes place during the final season of the masked vigilante’s first year. Here the players will determine what is the outcome for the vigilante, will he be unmasked and imprisoned or will he be left free to do as he pleases.

The epilogue is a single round with the following steps

  • Change to the Final Season.
  • Attempt to Identify the Vigilante
  • Determine the Fate of the Vigilante
  • Describe an Event with the Vigilante

Change to the Final Season

Take the top card from the season deck and place it at the bottom so that the corner of the card is still visible.

Attempt to Identify the Vigilante

The player with the opposition card (King of Hearts), should reveal themselves to the rest of the group. They should attempt to identify the vigilante amongst the group. The player they select should reveal their hidden role card to determine if the opposition was correct or not.

Determine the Fate of the Vigilante

If the masked vigilante has been identified they should not take part in determining their fate, but they should keep their remaining card for the final part of the game.

Each remaining player should reveal their final card. Total the red suited cards and compare them to the total value of the black suited cards.

If the red value is greater then the vigilante will be found to be boon to society free to act as they please.

If the black value is greater then the vigilante will be captured for disobeying the laws that everyone else has to conform too.

Describe an Event with the Vigilante

Starting with the player with highest value card of the losing red/black total and through the lowest back up the highest of the winning red/black total each player should describe an event.

This event should be one that occurs directly between their character and the vigilante. If the player is the vigilante they can describe an internal monologue or narrate a scene.

Players should lead towards the outcome determined by the cards.

Masked Vigilante: Year One Rules v1.0.pdf

MV:YO Character Sheets v1.0.pdf

Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne at London Indie RPG Meetup Group

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Last night I made my way to the London Indie RPG where six of us decided to give Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne (Pomey Crew Design, @PompeyCrewDesig) a go.

Witch: The Road To Lindisfarne is a GMless role-playing story game for 4-6 players.

In a single evening, players will collaborate to tell the story of the journey to a young woman’s absolution. They will explore the lingering pasts of a cast of characters, their relationships to each other, and decide their ultimate fates.

I heard about this game at an earlier London Indie Meet, and have since been looking for an opportunity to try it out. Since there were six of us, we had the full roster of characters, Elouise (the accused witch) and the troupe of five leading her from London to Lindisfarne, where she is to be burnt alive.

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I chose the character Ham, a greedy, twitchy and cowardly character. Throughout the game I tried to find the answer to my characters three questions.

  • Who is paying you to lead your companions?
  • Who makes you want to be a better person?
  • What offer would it take to betray your companions?

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One of the most interesting things about the game is that the player whose character is Elouise decides whether they are guilty or innocent at the beginning of the game, and a card representing this is placed in the centre of the table, under a larger card marked ‘The Truth’. This card is revealed in the penultimate part of the game, just before we hear what happens to our characters after the event at Lindisfarne.

Over four main Acts, we explored different locations on the route. Tied to each location was a mood guiding the feeling of the company. We, not purposefully, forgot about this aspect in our game, not that it seemed to matter much.

On the way our band dealt with bustling crowds in London, questioned party loyalties in Hangmman’s Wood, and dealt with a scene of a murder near Cliff Top Pass. It was also at Cliff Top Pass, that Ham had his most interesting moments. Whilst the other members were either away dealing with the scene of the murder or asleep around the campfire he spoke to Elouise and revealed that he had contracted the plague, (note: an important part of our story was that Elouise was accused of bringing the plague and one of the character’s sisters had also died from it). He bargained with Elouise to find him a cure, as she had some knowledge of herbs. She agreed but only promised to slow its progress and Ham set her loose in the woods to find the necessary ingredients.

When the alarm was raised at the camp by two of the other characters, they rushed to find the rest of the party at the murder scene. Upon their return to the campsite Elouise and Ham were back in the ‘rightful’ places and Ham concocted a story of kidnappers and bribes, only to line his own pocket further.

After some drama at Lindisfarne, one Knight refusing to carry Elouise to the pire, a squire admitting that it was his fault for the plague as he had renounced god, and Ham revealing he had been healed by Elouise by showing his scars where the boils were, we determined not to burn her. Which when we turned over the card in the centre turned out to be the right thing to do as she was innocent.

Ham returned home with heavy pockets of gold, falsely claimed for compensation for paying of the ‘kidnappers’ but vowed to change his ways after paying of his debts and getting his sister safely back to their homestead. It is here that is was revealed that Elouise was right and that she had only slowed to plague and not cured it, a couple of small boils remained on his back.

I really enjoyed the game we had, I think having a very tight structure for the game worked as there was still plenty of room for players to explore their characters relationships and history. I would be interested to see how the game plays with the same group, and how much variance their really is. However, it is clear that playing this with different groups would get different play experiences. Also its relative ease for setup and play compared to other games makes it great to play at short notice.