I. Dear Reader,
This week, I want to talk about a very specific, tricky kind of fun: building out a campaign world in Session Zero. If you’ve ever played a game where you had to do this, you probably know what I mean. It’s a tonne of fun to just seed the setting with all these interesting things. You come up with factions or locations or just problems that the characters are going to find themselves in the middle of. And it just gets you super excited to play.
(Sometimes you don’t want to leave that part. Because when you start playing, it can feel like a bit of a letdown. You had a setting with all this potential and now that you’re actually playing, that potential feels reduced. Everything turns into “ordinary” detail. Or you’re just not sure if you can pay off the set up. I’m not sure there’s a fix for that. I’m not even sure if it’s a problem.)
This came up because of our session zero for Girl by Moonlight using the old beta playtest. The game has a campaign playset where you choose answers from a picklist and then build on them to flesh out your game’s premise. Here’s an example:
This is a really fun process. Even though you’re picking from a list, the end result feels really unique and special. You feel creative and cool and smarter than usual. And this is a very conscious design choice. The designer wants it to feel that way. I know it’s standard practice for Belonging outside Belonging games to do things like but I’d love for games to tap into this kind of fun!
And hey, if you’re that kind of GM, you could make something like this for your next campaign - even if the game doesn’t normally come with stuff like this. I know I’d love that as a player!
II. Listen of the Week
On the Smart Party podcast, there’s a nice episode where they look at various RPGs and how they handle investigations and mysteries. It’s a solid overview though I have very different tastes from the hosts.
III. Links of the Week
Yochai Gal, designer of Cairn, writes about donating RPGs to little free libraries.
A nice essay about games, art, and Thousand Year Old Vampire - inspired by its companion: “I put it down, because I felt angry. I felt robbed. Cheated. I’ve been lied to, I said to myself. This is a fucking con. What the fuck is this?
I went online, to Kickstarter, to see how Tim had sold this thing. What had he said about it, back in February, when I’d been so excited to order it?
It’s not a game, he’d said. It’s not a journal or writing book, he’d said. You probably shouldn’t order it.”
Bid Bad Con is online this year and there’s some interesting panels including one about RPGSEA and the space it fosters.
On Cannibal Halfling Gaming, a damning review of the Fallout RPG.
It’s all about historical boardgames but the Zenobia Award finalists sound really interesting.
IV. Small Ads
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Hello, dear readers. This newsletter is written by me, Thomas Manuel. I’m half-man, half-beast, half-journalist, half-game designer.
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