Some Small World Ideas

Finally catching up to the Small World craze, here are my Race and Power ideas for critique:

Golems 9

When in Decline, other players may conquer regions your Golems occupy as if they were empty. This still counts as a battle for Orcs, Skeletons etc

This models Golems “shutting down” or breaking when they can’t work any more.  Close to the Power “Vanishing” from SW: Underground.

Priests 6 (15 in tray)

For every region your Priests hold at the start of their turn, you may take an extra Priest from the tray.

It’s like the Skeleton ability but you have to take and hold.  Maybe should be just 5 to start – but it does make you a target.

Unicorns 6

At the end of every other players’ turn while your Unicorns are active, they gain one additional coin if they did not attack or use their Race or Special Effect on your Unicorns.

Unicorns giving you a boon for being peaceful – to them.  A reverse of Peace-Loving.

Centaurs 7

Place the two Charge tokens in any two regions adjacent to regions your Centaurs occupy. Centaurs may charge through that region and attack the next, thus reaching regions they are not adjacent to. At the end of the turn, return the Charge tokens to your hand.

I’ve seen this on the net as Frogmen who can use this constantly, but that seems too powerful, especially since it duplicates the ability of the river-leaping Lizardmen and makes the Quarrelling power way too awesome.

Nimble 5

You may conquer any Swamp and Forest Regions with one less Race token than usual. A minimum of one token is still required.

A simple twist on Mounted, with the other two areas. Haven’t seen this one on the net but seems quite obvious!

Gangs Of 5

When you conquer a region, you require one less Race token for each Region adjacent to the target beyond the first that you occupy. For example if you target a region and you occupy three adjacent regions, you require two fewer tokens. A minimum of one token is still required.

This one IS on the net a lot, called Surrounding, Tactical, Flanking or Overrunning.

Defiant 5

At the end of any players’ turn in which your active Race had tokens returned to your hand, you may Redeploy these tokens as if in your Redeployment phase. You may only place tokens in regions you still own. You may never conquer new regions, gain new tokens fron the tray or use Race or Special powers during this step. If you own no regions at the end of the turn, skip this step.

I’d like there’d to be some way to retreat not into your hand, so you can do the Priestesses trick every turn, in a sense – bottle up on something you really value to stop losing it or block another player from taking it. This may be too weak.

Tax 3

At the end of your turn, gain one coin from each player who controls an active race that you did not attack this turn. Races in Decline never pay tax.

Like Thieving (from SW: Underworld) but you don’t have to be adjacent – but like Peace-Loving you can’t attack. Basically it is a variable Peace-Loving, which gives you +3 if you attack nobody. I also love the idea of having Tax Ogres, say.


Smallville Pantheon, Episode Five

Apologies for not posting this earlier….for the zero people who are following this game. Building towards a climax (ep 6 and 7 will be the two-parter season finale), episode five has another battle between Korak and Ix, but meanwhile Ix’s secrets begin to come out and Korak finds that people like him after all.


Prologue: We see Yeqawah come to visit Skoh. All smiles, but behind her back she carries a dagger…


PANTHEON: Series One, Episode Five: “Scars”

 Catching up with folk, we see the Master of the Pit, Ahenute, tending his fire. In the sky, Teyamaq leaves the moon to come and visit him.

Meanwhile Always, on her ox, finally arrives at the battle camp, hoping to stop Yeqawa from making a terrible mistake.

Korak on his throne finishes his brooding and decides there is only one solution to a brother who tried to kill him with an ixola: fuck his shit up and burn down his forest. He begins to summon his armies.

Smith raises his visor, sees the planning and scoodles off to warn Ankar.

Ix, meanwhile, after throwing the Ixola back in the pit, has gone back to the battle camp to check on Always, following the ox along as a dog. Always reaches the camp and Ix waits outside the tent as she barges in and explains everything to our two love birds – how they were part of an experiment by her and Korak and how Smith ruined everything.

Ix, seeing that everything is completely fine, goes back to his forest to work out how to make things up to Aristeia, and decides the best idea is to build a tree so tall it reaches the sky so she can come and go more easily. He leaves just before Always says something important he really needed to hear, but I forget what exactly.

Smith, meanwhile, knows Ankar can’t talk sense into Ix and wonders if anyone can. Perhaps his ex-wife Lika? He asks her to do so, and she leaves. Then, as a favour to his “buddy”, Smith unlocks Dorabus from his plough. The plan seems to be to turn Dorabus against Ix, perhaps? It’s wheels within wheels.

Meanwhile, Aristeia goes to see Anaheute who tells her he loves her. Aristeia is cranky about Ix and all the fighting, and is kind of angry about Anaheute bugging her about this. But she tells him she will think about it.

Meanwhile, Always is still bleeding from her terrible wounds so she commands her servant to kill her “if the sky is dark” (it would be a signal from Aristeia). When Inikaya tells Aristeia that Korak is marching on Ix, the sky DOES go dark, and Yeqawa sends Always back to the Endless Plain of the Gods. Stab!

Korak marches into the forest and begins burning everything. Ix allows Korak to find him but as usual, has no time for his brother’s silly games (he’s making a tree that will fix everything). Korak demands to be taken seriously, and for Ix to either fight or kneel. Ix tells him to Go Fuck Himself. Korak pulls his axe and Ix reminds him where he is standing. The ground itself opens up and Korak falls down a giant pit.

But before Ix can gloat, Aristeia shows up and tells him to knock it off. Always and Smith are close behind. Ix explains that this marching into the forest thing proves – as Ix said – that Korak wanted only obedience, and would take it however he could. The obvious solution, therefore, was to put Always in charge, since she had the rightful claim but was not nuts. To Ix’s horror, Always rejected the offer, and Smith and Aristeia agreed with her reasoning.

Ix told everyone that they could shove their pantheon and went away to sulk. Always carried bruised Korak back to the palace. Aristeia and Smith have a few moments together. Smith admits he may have been hasty about Korak – he might actually be the Lesser of Two Dicks in the long run. Aristeia asks Smith about mortals loving gods, and Smith says it happens all the time.

Back at the palace, Always tries to sooth Korak but it doesn’t work, he remains bitter. Meanwhile Lika finds Ix and chides him again. Ix is exhausted by this – he’ll take it from the others but not his little sister. He tells her to shut up and she says if he keeps going like this he’ll do something stupid and someone will get hurt, just like with their father. And Ix suddenly realises that LIKA KNOWS HIS SECRET.

Always leaves Korak sleeping but wants to make sure he remembers the important parts of being mortal and their growing affection. She calls forth Kiate, the goddess of Dreams and Memories, a strange child figure, and charges her to make sure Korak remembers what he needs to. (This establishes that in the world below, people see dreams as a place of memories, but not necessarily your own. Plus lots of other juicy stuff about culture.)

Korak does wake up to find Smith watching over him. Smith tells him his opinion of him has changed (challenging Smith’s relationship to Korak) and bucks him up. Aristeia also makes a decision and tells Anehute that if he proves worthy (as Smith did) she can see no impediment to them being together. Climbing up his enormous tree and finding the sky empty, Ix looks for Aristeia, sees her with Anehute and wonders what could possibly be going on. Has everyone abandoned him?

Always prepares herself for something important. Korak sleeps again, and dreams of his bride-to-be, as she wished it. And Smith? Smith is build a harness. A VERY SPECIAL HARNESS, with a very special purpose….


And the stinger…Yeqawa and Skoh make their peace…and then Yeqawa stabs Skoh in the stomach. And Anahute, seeing his love within his grasp, tells Teyamaq that the deal is struck. The plan is in motion.

Five Reasons Guild Wars 2 Has Great World Design

Looking for a new MMO after City of Heroes closed, I’ve ended up playing Guild Wars 2. It’s mechanics are fairly good, having learnt a lot of important lessons of what actually makes MMOs fun for lots of people. But it is also appealing because its world building is very good, and there is much to be learned from that if you’re doing your own world building. Here’s five quick lessons from things GW2 does very well:

#1: Familiar Faces, New Twists

Races and factions need strong hooks, and the truth is the bucket of hooks is very small. It has to be because hooks are big and bold. They need to be because hooks are exactly what they sound like: they exist for people to grab a hold of quickly and easily. So it makes sense to use archetypes and familiar checkpoints, like having a big strong animalistic race that likes fighting. It makes to have a naturey-race that is all pretty and graceful. People have clear things they like in games and they can quickly latch onto things like this and go “this has what I like and feel comfortable with.” This is why it’s usually okay for fantasy games to have elves and dwarfs, or not-elves and pseudo-dwarfs.

But it’s also important to have new things to explore underneath those hooks. For example, in Earthdawn, all the elves went mad as they tortured their own flesh to stave off the madness of the horrors. That gives them a new kick. In Guild Wars, the wood elf types are a) actual plants and b) the youngest of all races, so they lose all of that ancient-and-wise thing elves normally have. But they’re still pretty and nature-attuned, with a strong hook. The ego and magically-better-than-everyone hook is instead given to the adorable little chibi hamster people, the Asura. The Charr, the big tough cat guys are kilrathi-klingons, but unlike most warrior races they don’t shun technology but embrace it. They are in fact the greatest technologists on the planet because that’s what a military industrial complex DOES BEST. The Norns are basically vikings but their gods are more like those of native American tribes, so they’re a bit more than just not-vikings. The humans are the most vanilla, but their twist is their gods have abandoned them and they are almost extinct. No great glorious human empire.

Twists can be poorly done, or not done enough, or destroyed by protesting too much (Talislanta, I’m looking at you, goddammit), but they are vital to put in to keep things interesting.

#2: Culture Matters

The best way to make races feel more than just archetypes or cookie-cutters is to explore culture. That’s where a lot of the twists above come from: for example, by exploring the ideas of a culture built around war, it is easy to see that they might embrace technology. Likewise, the Asura’s tendency for arrogance and technomagical genius has had a profound effect on their societal design and typical worldview. Everything has become a competition, and their government is full of mad cultists pursuing science at any cost, and nobody really cares. The norns have a deep spirituality which, because this is fantasy, is literally true, and colours everything they experience. The Charr were ruled by the magic-using clan among them, but since overthrowing that clan have a distrust of magic and a need to reestablish themselves post-revolution. And all these things effect the stories you get involved in, the characters you make and the choices you face.

Culture isn’t just more realistic, it makes worlds feel more lived in. You know what the man on the street thinks and feels, not just what he wears or what flag he follows. It can give even the most tired cliches depth, and be a great way to reveal the twists you need to keep things fresh. It is also the best and easiest way to inspire and push stories. Culture is what makes humans human, and so we instantly respond to it. It’s why we travel the earth and study other countries and indeed, play other roles. You can never skimp on it, and the more of it you do, the better.

#3: Everyone’s An Egotistical Jerk

As with hooks, it is important that players don’t have to be total bastards. People who want to be the good guy when they play need somewhere to go. But on a cultural and political level, no nation, no organisation, no group and no mindset should be saintly, and all of them should have reasons to disagree with all the others. This is partly because it’s much more realistic (and it makes your cultures more realistic as a result) but also because again, it drives story. Stories are about conflict, and cultures are at their most interesting when they conflict – and in the real world, they always do.  This works on a micro-level, when the elf in the party hates the dwarf, but also on a massive macro-level, where alliances are regularly forged and then dispelled as goals run together, then drift apart.  Even what appear to be classic tales of white and black have these elements: Bespin tries to be a neutral party in the war against the Empire; the drama of Empire Strikes Back comes from Lando making an alliance with one side to further his own goals. Gondor and Rohan are enemies before Sauron turns up and forces them to unite.

In Guild Wars 2, the Charr’s warlike culture forces them to constantly attack the other races. It’s all they know. The norn likewise have a culture built around pride: only those who build great legends go to heaven, so they are driven to prove their superiority. The Humans are fighting for survival, but also have been told by one of their gods that they have a Manifest Destiny to spread across the whole planet. The Asura’s absolute mastery of magic proves they should be running the world and they may have the resources to do it. And the plant-born Sylvari are so young they judge everyone on first impressions, which is usually that they are jerks trying to kill them.

#4: We All Have To Work Together

Sometimes, you can make your factions too disparate and too distrusting. Even if “adventuring types” are the exception, your game can suffer if there are no good reasons for people from these vastly different backgrounds to be thrown together. Vampire: The Requiem made this mistake and the campaign they released with it required a massive amount of justification to explain having one of each clan in the party. You want your cultures to conflict, so you have to squish them together. If everyone is hiding away in Elfhome or the sewers, then conflict won’t happen.

Guild Wars 2 does this nice and simply with geography. When the great dragons returned (see point five) they rearranged the world a lot. The norn were pushed south from their mountain home until they ended up between the Charr and the Humans. The Humans are right next to the Charr, but everything behind them is worse. The Charr need to expand to ensure they don’t become so weak that the magic users of their number come back and crush them, but don’t have enough resources right now to crush the Norns or the Humans, so might actually need allies. And when the Sylvari appeared, they grew like seeds from a newly sprouted World Tree, which bloomed very close to the Asuran Empire. The Sylvari, new to the world, need guidance from the other races, but they also know the most about the Elder Dragons, so everyone really needs their knowledge too if they are going to survive. The Charr need magic support if they are going to hold off their old oppressors, but can’t risk encouraging it in their own ranks. The norns will need to learn more about surviving in the plains now they are out of the mountains. Everyone is holding pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle and they can’t finish it alone. Wired into the setting are thus ways to drive everyone into co-operation so the conflicts above will occur.

#5: There Are Millions of Things That Need Doing, Right Now

Obviously, the biggest thing driving the races towards cooperation, both indirectly (because of land movement) and directly (because otherwise they’ll die) is the return of the Elder Dragons. These enormous jerks lived below the oceans for milennia, and now are back to end the world, like a whole pack of Midgards. That is a problem that really needs to be fixed, teamwork or no teamwork. So there’s a strong driving goal there. But that’s not the only one.

On a smaller scale, every culture has its own crisis, or crises to deal with, many of which we’ve already covered. Away from their ancestral lands, the Norn spirits are restless and angry. The Charr are recovering from a devastating civil war that the losers would love to restart in a second; the Asura are heading towards a civil war as their culture becomes sicker and sicker. And the Humans are trying to survive, which has also, on a micro-level, forced all humans of different cultures together to unite.  There is so much stuff to do it almost makes you despair – but you can’t, because you don’t have time. Which is the other point: these problems are at a crisis point right now, and could easily tip over. If the Charr can’t hold their city from enemies, they’ll fall back into civil war, and if that happens their race could be wiped out by undead, or ghosts or dragons, and without the Charr, the other nations are screwed, because they don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle (see above). So everything matters, and it matters right now. There’s a quote in Warhammer I always remember: “The Empire is always one-dagger thrust away from anarchy”. I keep that in mind whenever writing settings, because it means that every dagger thrust is always the most important thing in the world.

And it absolutely should be, because that way everything the players do feels important, feels charged with meaning and accomplishment and resonance. It also means storytellers never run out of ideas, and there are always things that must be done. You players will never need to look for motivation because it oozes out of every micron of the setting. So there can never be player paralysis either. Don’t get me wrong, if you want you can pursue your own goals, parallel or tangentially: start a business, join a band, run a city, whatever. But if you want or need adventure, plot or conflict, it is low-hanging fruit, fresh on the vine.

You can see what needs doing, you get a sense of how to do it (those missing jigsaw pieces) but also a sense of what prevents that (everyone’s a jerk), which you know about because culture matters, and which is interesting because of the new twists. So you have a goal to reach, a path to walk, obstacles to encounter, character motivation and flavour to describe. Your setting, in short, has written your stories for you. Exactly as it should.