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Instant Game is copyright © 2007 by Animalball Partners. All rights reserved. Users may print and copy this document for
personal use only.
The Instant Game document was created entirely with Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. All graphics used herein are
either clipart used under the MS Office terms of usage or else are believed by the document’s publishers to be within the
public domain in the United States.
Authors: Animalball Partners
Supplemental writing: Cazmonster, DMDarcs, Eliahad, FlameBlade,
Jeff Hauze, Konsaki, Thorn, Threadbare
Editing Assistance: FlameBlade, Nicephorus, Thorn, Todd Zircher
Playtesters: Brasky, Cazmonster, Eliahad, FlameBlade, Kai, Mike,
Pdyx, Reika, Roblogic, Serious Paul, Silverwolf, Tahlvin, & Thorn.
And special Thanks to Caz Granberg for having the brass ones to run a
“Random Zombie Game.”
A note on cultural bias
Instant Game is intended as a tool with which to build whole worlds and stories on very short notice. As such, it relies heavily on specific genre conventions,
cultural archetypes, and a pool of “common knowledge” that we hope gives all of our players a common frame of reference to start from. In order to pack in
all the information we want, we often take rather glib shortcuts in our descriptions, trusting that the gentle reader will divine our intent from context, and we
certainly don’t sacrifice conciseness and expediency for the sake of political correctness.
For example, in the example of the glossary entry for “Ocean going ships,” we describe them from a specifically Western and European viewpoint in the
context of when double-masted caravels came into use. We fully recognize that other cultures also traversed oceanic distances in more primitive craft.
However, to explain such a concept within the confines of a glossary entry would entail far more effort than we, the lazy partners at Animalball, are willing
to invest. So just take everything with a grain of salt. And enjoy.
Table of Contents
Sample Game: The Rail
Instant Game Barebones
The Instant Tables (Tables)
The Instant Tables (Descriptions)
Using the Instant Tables
The Cold Start
The Instant Challenge
Not-So-Instant Game
Theme Games
Instant Gaming
Instant Characters
Character Creation
On-the-fly Development
Other Traits
Game Balance & Power Levels 22
Action Resolution
Declare Action
Assign modifier
Roll Dice
Interpret Results
Action Sequences
Opposed Actions
Status, Fatigue, and Injury
Combat & Injury
Situational Rolls
Instant Karma
Appendix I: Instant Glossary
Appendix II: Sample Settings
Belching Black Smoke
Her Majesty’s Cleaners
Rockefeller Fortress
Blood & Iron
Fantasy Depopulated Earth
Dust to Dust
Machine & Myth
Prison Planet Earth
Prehistoric Mutants
The Flight of Angels
Clan Baravel
Titans of Pangea
14th Century London Plague
What is Instant Game? Instant Game is a tool for creating and playing new RPG settings on the spot. With the Instant
Game charts and our flexible Instant Game rules set, you can roll up a completely original setting and plot, create and
develop characters “on the fly,” and be ready to roleplay in just a matter of minutes. We know that seems incredible on its
surface, but it is also a wonderfully real possibility. Instant Game is painless, as well as being some of the most exciting and
challenging gaming you’ll find.
How does it work? The steps to creating an Instant Game are simple:
1) The Gamemaster (GM) rolls on the Instant Charts provided to get Instant Setting rolls and Instant Plot rolls.
2) The GM (usually with help from the other players) then puts the Instant Setting elements together to create a coherent
3) The GM assembles the Instant Plot elements into a workable storyline.
4) The GM explains the setting and any needed character guidelines to the players.
5) The players create Instant Characters based on our simple character creation rules.
6) Then play.
We’re not kidding about this. Get your gaming group together with no preparation whatsoever ahead of time. Throw some
dice, consult our Instant Tables, and in 30 minutes or so, you can have a complete and novel roleplaying setting ready to roll,
with a plot and characters and everything. It’s surprisingly a lot simpler than you think.
But what is an RPG? For the most part, Instant Game assumes that most of its players will be persons who have at least
some roleplaying experience. As such, much of the text assumes that participants already have a working knowledge of basic
gaming conventions and terminology. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. For those who may be new to the industry…
a very brief primer:
On his website,, John H. Kim characterizes roleplaying games by the “My Character Wouldn’t Do That”
In many games you have a character which is really a token without personality. For example, in the
boardgame Clue™ your token is a suspect in a murder mystery. In a video game, your token might be a
fighter pilot.
In my opinion, the difference between a token and a role-played character is this: Hypothetically, a person
watching the game looks over your shoulder and suggests a move, and your reply is "No, my character
wouldn't do that." If this happens, or is capable of happening, then at some level you are playing a roleplaying game. This simple distinction puts a world of difference between RPGs and other games.
And that’s just it: while Instant Game does have rules and guidelines for how to run the game and settle disputes, the heart of
it is the players assuming the roles of characters and acting within the game/story as they feel their characters would act. It’s
like a childhood game of Let’s Pretend, but with codified rules so that every altercation doesn’t have to end with, BANG—I
got you!... No you didn’t!... Did too! You’re dead now!... Am not! It just grazed me!... etc.
How roleplaying works: In Instant Game, one player assumes the role of gamemaster or GM, while all the rest are players
who take on the role of a single character within the game (a “player character” or PC). It’s up to the GM to act as guide,
narrator, and referee. While everyone at the table helps put the story together, the GM is the final arbiter of what is or isn’t a
part of a particular world or setting. The GM narrates the setting and describes the actions of all characters not controlled by
other players (these “non-player characters are also referred to as NPCs.)
Working together, the GM and players use the Instant Tables on pages 6-10 to create a world in which to set the story. Then
the GM uses the tables to further create a basic storyline or plot while the players each create a character for them to play
within this world. As gameplay progresses, the GM will describe the setting and what is going on. The players will each
describe how their own character acts within the story, and the GM provides the responses of the environment and NPCs.
Whenever conflict arises, it may be required to roll dice and follow the action resolution rules on pages 23-25.
Using the dice: Instant game uses two types of dice, six-sided (d6) and ten-sided (d10). The six-sided dice are always thrown
three at a time (3d6) and then added to get a total result ranging from 3 to 18. Most 3d6 rolls will also include some sort of
modifier, such as -5, +1, or +6. Simply apply the modifier to the 3d6 result. This can result in a negative number.
You must have two ten-sided dice, and they must be unique so that it is easy to tell one from the other—usually just using
two different colors is sufficient for this. The ten-sided dice are used in pairs to generate results from 1 to 100. The first die
represents the tens digit, and the second die the ones. Thus, if you roll a 7 and a 4, the result is “74.” A result of double zero
equals “100.”
Sample Game: The Rail
No bull, I just took out my randomizer and rolled up a new Instant Game to use with the introduction. These are the rolls
exactly as they came out, followed by my development process for those rolls over about 30 minutes of work:
Opposition: Spies
Plot Action: Steal (Religious) Alliance
Plot Action: Discover (Alien) Soldier
Setting/Tone: Lost Civilization/Gothic
Things: Special Ops, Mass Transit
Tech Level: Galactic Empires
Place: Orphanage
Enter our players: They are an elite team of Rail Service
Special Investigators. They are now riding the Rail,
carrying the first Olivan-inbound request in four
centuries. Their status is encrypted, so if there really is
anyone planetside at Olivan, they will have no idea
anyone is coming.
I was good with Gothic Lost Civilization, but then I get
SpecOps and Mass Transit? OK, I have no idea how to
work those in. And the optional tech level and place don’t
help at all. I decide it's a mess and I go to reset the
randomizer... WAIT! At the last second, before I can push
F9, something in the back of my head says, "I think this
can work." I've learned to listen to that voice, so I'm
patient with it:
What they will find is an abandoned Rail station, but with
signs that someone has been there. Some investigation
will lead them to a frenetic and intense priest who has
been traveling to the station every few days to renew the
outbound request. She claims she has been working for
years to reactivate the station to help take the orphans in
her care away from this primitive and battle-torn planet.
She has no idea how people came to Olivan, but can relate
legends of an angry God smiting Olivan centuries ago, the
chosen people who hid underground for 1,000 days and
nights being the only survivors. Olivan now is a primitive
place of subsistence living ruled by local warlords.
A massive, automated subway-like system that spans the
stars and makes regular stops at subway stations on
various planets to carry cargo and passengers of all sorts.
Now a world that was thought to be abandoned
reconnects to the system and...
…and what? The orphanage. I thought that was a
throwaway, but maybe whatever civilization has survived
there is brutal or twisted, and someone is trying to save
the orphans by putting them on the train out. That's overly
dramatic, but I think it's starting to come together.
There are two ways to handle this from here. If you want
to play it straight, the above plot can be taken at face
value. The orphans are in immediate danger. The players
can call for backup, but it will take almost a week to get
here. In the meantime, the players with their limited (but
advanced) equipment must travel into the midst of a
primitive war zone to find and free the orphans. Local
warlords will try to kill, kidnap, blackmail or otherwise
terrorize them in their efforts.
Imagine a civilization that spans 10,000 stars. A galactic
empire of enormous proportions. And connecting all of
these worlds is The Rail. Gargantuan railships travel
automated routes throughout the Empire. They punch
through hyperspace at trans-light speeds, and at each stop,
they drop shuttles to the Rail stations planetside, swap
cargo and passengers, and then they're off again to the
next stop. In a sprawling and rigid galaxy-spanning
bureaucracy, the Imperial Rail Service is one of the most
rigid and dogmatic among them.
Option two leads the players to believe that this is what
they are doing, but the truth is much scarier. Four
centuries ago, the planet was discovered by an unknown
and sinister alien race. Rather than adapting planets for
their own use, these aliens live parasitically by adopting
hosts already suited to the world. Human physiology was
completely new to them, and the transition period was far
longer than usual. The human hosts fell to a primitive
state and lost most of their civilization. It has taken the
aliens this long to finally fully master their human bodies
and minds, and they are tentatively trying to test the Rail
so they can meet other humans and find a way off Olivan
to see what the rest of humanity is like, and if invasion
and domination is viable. Unfortunately for them, not all
of their number on Olivan is in agreement, and their
primitive human natures have led them to base warfare
amongst themselves.
The planet Olivan has been long considered abandoned.
Rail service discontinued 400 years ago, and investigation
showed it to be a ghost planet. Utterly empty. Or so we
thought. Without warning or explanation, Olivan's Rail
station has been reactivated. The Rail has been making
regular stops at Olivan to fill requests for refugee
outbound travel. However, there is never anyone or
anything boarding at the Olivan stops, and somehow the
refugee request is always renewed. The most likely
explanation is a system glitch, but the Service cannot
simply deactivate a station with refugee requests without
The plot is already starting to write itself, but I’ll make
the plot rolls anyway:
GM should describe the world for them and give general
guidelines regarding the types of characters that are
acceptable. Then the players put together characters.
Instant Game Barebones
The rest of this book gives details and in-depth discussion
on how to use and play Instant Game. But the core ideas
of IG are relatively simple. So if you are in a hurry to get
a game going and are already familiar with the basic
concepts of roleplaying games, here’s everything you
really need to know to get a new Instant Game off the
Characters are defined by Traits and Flaws. Traits are
positive, helpful things about your character. Traits come
in three levels: Basic, Advanced, and Exceptional. A trait
can be anything that describes your character, including
(but not limited to):
Skills: learned talents that may be improved with
practice—swordsmanship, chemistry, first aid, surfing,
driving, painting, electronics repair.
Basic skills – familiarity and/or minor training.
Advanced skills – considerable training/competency.
Exceptional skills – at the top of one’s field.
What you need: Pen and paper and some dice. Rolling
on the Instant Tables takes a d% (d100 or a couple d10’s),
and game play requires three six sided dice. You need one
person to be designated as the Gamemaster (GM), and
then one or more people to be players.
Attributes: innate physical or mental qualities of your
character—strength, agility, willpower, presence, beauty,
mechanical aptitude, wisdom.
Basic attributes – above average.
Advanced attributes – far above the norm; notable.
Exceptional attributes – near the peak of ability.
Instant Setting: The GM rolls on the Instant Tables to
develop a setting. A typical set of rolls would be:
Setting—1 roll
Tone—1 roll
Things—2 rolls
This gives you the general outline of the elements of your
world: Pulp dystopia with movie monsters and street
gangs, OR Moralistic Neverland/childworld with
wilderness and demons, OR Campy military installation
with undead and secret societies.
Powers: gifts or abilities beyond the power of normal
humans—psychic abilities, superpowers, magical gifts,
Basic powers – latent, unfocused, or otherwise weak
Advanced powers – powers that are moderately
consistent, powerful, or controllable.
Exceptional powers – extremely potent powers that
are not only strong, but also fairly reliable in the
player’s hands.
If you need added detail, roll on the Descriptor table to
help modify the Things: illusory demons instead of just
demons, OR noble undead in place of plain undead.
Optional setting rolls—if the rolls aren’t specific enough,
make rolls on the Places, Population, and/or Tech tables
to flesh it out some.
Possessions: any item or equipment that a character may
own—weapons, communications gear, vehicles, pets, real
Basic possessions – mundane yet useful equipment
(standard weapons and gear).
Advanced possessions – more powerful and/or rare
Exceptional possessions – extremely specialized,
effective, and/or useful items.
The GM can ask for help from the players in interpreting
these rolls or can work alone. In about ten or fifteen
minutes, there should be a fairly coherent picture of what
the setting looks like.
Instant Plot: The GM rolls on the Instant Tables to
develop a plot. A typical set of rolls would be:
Opposition—1 roll, followed by rolls for
Action + Thing
Action + Other Thing
Adding Descriptor rolls to the Things is very helpful, but
not required.
Others: anything positive that doesn’t fit neatly into the
above categories—contacts, wealth, group affiliation,
Exact definition of what constitutes Basic, Advanced, and
Exceptional traits will depend heavily on the exact nature
of the setting. It will be up to the GM and the players to
agree on what’s fair for any given game.
The Opposition roll will tell you who’s behind it all. The
Action/Thing rolls give an idea of what the players have
to do or to deal with: guard wedding, OR fight natural
disaster, OR kidnap werewolf. These can be goals for the
players to accomplish, or actions of the Opposition that
the players need to thwart.
Flaws are any aspect a character that might provide a
significant limitation or hindrance during the game. Flaws
do not come in different levels like traits, but a flaw is any
negative aspect of a character that significantly impacts
Instant Characters: At this point, the GM has a fair idea
of what’s going on. If the players don’t know already, the
player may choose to burn instant karma to influence a
dice roll. BEFORE the roll is made, the player declares
the intent to use karma, and then may add one die to the
roll for each point spent. After the roll, only the three best
(or worst) dice are kept.
them during game play. All characters must have at least
one flaw.
Characters start with 5 Basic traits, 3 Advanced traits, and
1 Exceptional trait, as well as 1 Flaw.
In addition to the required flaw, a starting character may
also take one extra flaw at character creation which earns
him 1 additional Basic trait, or two extra flaws in
exchange for either 2 Basic traits or 1 Advanced trait.
Depending on the world or the particular character, the
GM may decide that more or less than the standard
number of traits is appropriate. For example, when
playing a mystery in 15th century plague-ravaged
London, the GM reduced the traits to 4, 2, and 1 to reflect
the impoverished nature of the peasant characters. For
super powered time-travel pirates, the GM might increase
the number of traits to 6/4/2 to allow a more diverse and
flamboyant array of character abilities.
On-the-fly Development—In addition to the starting
traits, each character also gets 1 Advanced Trait and 2
Basic Traits that may be used only after play has started.
These “on-the-fly” traits may be assigned as the player
sees fit. However, the player must provide a logical
justification for the existence of the trait. Exceptional
traits may NOT be added “on-the-fly.”
Barebones Summary
Instant Gaming:
Action Resolution—Anytime a character wants to
accomplish anything in which the outcome is not already
a certainty, use the following steps:
1) Player declares action
2) SM calls out a modifier (based on the individual, their
skill, conditions, etc)
3) Player rolls 3d6, applying the modifier to the outcome
4) SM (with players) interprets results. High is good.
Low is bad.
Instant Story: The GM rolls on the Instant Tables to
develop a plot. A typical set of rolls would be:
Opposition—1 roll
Action + Thing
Action + Other Thing
Instant Setting: The GM rolls on the Instant Tables to
develop a setting. A typical set of rolls would be:
Setting—1 roll
Tone—1 roll
Things—2 rolls
Adding Descriptor rolls to the Things is very helpful, but
not required.
Instant Characters:
5 Basic traits
3 Advanced traits
1 Exceptional trait
1 Flaw
After the player announces their action, the GM calls out
a modifier based on everything she knows about the
character and the situation. A bonus of +1 or +2 indicates
that the character has a fair chance at success. Bonuses of
+3 or more indicate relatively high chance of success.
Modifiers of 0 to -2 indicate a moderately difficult task,
and penalties larger than that mean the chance of success
is slim.
Extra Flaws = 1 extra Advanced or 2 extra Basic traits
1 Advanced trait
2 Basic traits
Once the dice are rolled, apply the modifier and the result
indicates success or failure. 10-11 is the average or “break
point” for a 3d6 roll. Anything above that is considered a
success. Anything below it is failure. The more extreme
the results, the more extreme the success or failure. A roll
exactly at 10 or 11 means only partial success. Exact
interpretations are left to the GM and players.
Action Resolution:
1) Player declares action
2) SM calls out a modifier (based on the individual, their
skill, conditions, etc)
3) Player rolls 3d6, applying the modifier to the outcome
4) SM (with players) interprets results. High is good.
Low is bad.
Instant Karma—During game play, each character has 3
points of instant karma. At any point during the game, a
Instant Tables
Alien Occupied Earth
All Supers World
Alternate History
Ancient Egypt
Ape World
Arabian Nights
Artificial World
Barbarian Europe
Bizarro World
Boston, 1770s
Camping Out
City Under Siege
Classical (Greek/Roman/Peloponnesian)
Cloud City
Cold War
Correctional System
Dawn of civilization
Depopulated Earth
Desert Planet
Dying World
Early Space Exploration
Elizabethan England
Fallen Civilization
First Alien Contact
French Revolution
Frozen Wasteland
Future Earth
Galactic Empires
Golden Age of Comics
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Industrial Revolution
Isolated Space Probe
Jungle World
Lost Civilization
Mechanized Planet
Military Installation
Modern Day Las Vegas
Modern-Day Amusement Park
Modern-Day Milwaukee
Mystical Orient
Near Future
Near Future World Government HQ
Orwellian Future
Pre-European Americas
Psychic Near-Future
Realm of the Gods
Remote Future
School of Magic
Sea Adventures
Snowed-In Town
Space Colony
Stone Age
Suburban Retail Center
Sword & Sorcery
Tiny People
Traveling Circus
Tree-top Civilization
Tropical Paradise
Viking explorers
Virtual Reality
Wild West
Wildlife Preserve
Your Place
Even more?
Other Things
Advanced Intelligence
Movie Monsters
Martial Arts
Alternate History
Mysterious Energy
Mindless Horde
Anthropomorphic Objects
Neutral Ground
Artificial Intelligence
Business Office
Atomic Monster
10 Big Business
10 Child
Natural Disaster
11 Blood
Organized Crime
11 Confinement
12 Bogeyman
12 Cover Up
13 Castle
Political Intrigue
13 Crash Site
14 Church
14 Disguise
15 Computers
15 Docks
16 Conspiracy
16 Door
17 Correctional System
Psychic Ability
17 Dreams
18 Dam
Realm of the Gods
18 Duel
Political Group
19 Demon
19 Elected Official
20 Deity
Royal Bloodline
20 Election
21 Disaster
21 Elvis
22 Disease
22 Faith
23 Dragons
Secret Society
23 Farm
Red Herring
24 Dungeon
Serial Killer
24 Festival
Religious Fanatics
25 Elves
25 Fight
26 Empire
26 Gambling
27 Epic Heroes
Special Ops
27 Government Agents
28 Espionage
28 Government Office
29 Exploration
29 Grave
30 Fairy
Street Gangs
30 Grudge
31 Fire
31 Guard
32 Frontier
32 Guide
Security Forces
33 Furry
The Supernatural
33 Heir
34 Gang Warfare
34 Heist
35 Garbage
35 Hired Muscle
Sporting Event
36 Genetic Engineering
Time Travel
36 Honor
37 Ghost Town
37 Horseman
38 Giant
Troubled Youth
38 Hostage
39 Heaven & Hell
Ultimate Weapon
39 Hunt
40 High Magic
40 Illness
41 Hotel
Underground Pariahs
41 Intrigue
42 Immortals
Unusual Phenomena
42 Invention
Town Square
43 Insanity
43 Island
44 Invaders/Outsiders
Virtual Reality
44 Janitor
45 Limbo
45 Kingpin
46 Lost Tribe
46 Lair
47 Low Magic
47 Launch
Untimely Death
48 Mass Transit
Wild Animals
48 Law Enforcement
49 Mecha
49 Lawyer
50 Military
100 World Domination
50 Leader
Tech (Optional)
Big Business
Charismatic Leader
Alien Supertech
Common Criminal
Artificial Intelligence
Crazed Loner
Desperate Citizen
Domesticated Animals
Cover Up
Divine Creation
Early Space Exploration
Evil Mastermind
Force of Nature
Fossil Fuels
Government Agents
Hired Muscle
FTL Travel
Galactic Empires
Genetic Engineering
High Magic
Law Enforcement
Industrial Revolution
Machines Gone Mad
Information Age
Lighter Than Air Travel
Mindless Horde
Lost Technology
Misguided Hero
Low Magic
Movie Monsters
Mythical Legend
Near Future
Organized Crime
No Tech
Political Group
Nuclear Power
Ocean Going Ships
Religious Fanatics
Security Forces
Printing Press
Serial Killer
Psychic Abilities
Societal Pressure/Custom
Street Gang/Gang Member
Rube Goldberg
The System
Scientific Method
Ticking Time Bomb
Solar Energy
Tragic Villain
Space Colonies
Steam Power
Troubled Youth
Stone Age
Underground Pariahs
Time Travel
Wild Animals
Virtual Reality
Amusement Park
Magic Shop
Military Installation
Neutral Ground
News Office
Business Office
Camping Out
Parking Lot
Port/Transport Hub
Charitable Shelter
Public Forum
Refuse Dump
Control Room
Correctional System
Crash Site
Government Office
Suburban Retail Center
Town Square
Law Enforcement Office
Wildlife Preserve
Locked Out
Law Enforcement Officer
Anthropomorphic Object
Artificial Intelligence
Local Legend
Bar Fly
Bounty Hunter
Private Investigator
Common Criminal
Concerned Parent
Conspiracy Theorist
Red Shirt
Crazed Loner
Religious Fanatics
Desperate Citizen
Devil's Advocate
Eccentric Millionaire
Elected Official
Security Forces
Devil's Advocate
Serial Killer
Government Agent
Hired Muscle
Idiot Savant
Troubled Youth
Village Idiot
The Instant Tables
Another optional table. This table provides a list of
random locations that can usually be applied to almost
any setting. The authors most often use this table to
determine where the players start their adventure. Sure
we’re on a desert planet, but where exactly? It’s a big
place. The Place table tells you they’re in a Morgue or on
a Mountain or possibly just On the Road.
There are 11 different Instant Tables. They can be applied
and combined in a variety of ways to provide inspiration
for your games. While everything in Instant Game is
optional, some of these are more optional than others.
The settings provide the core of your world. Some are just
whole genres, like Cyberpunk, World War II, or Wild
West. Many however are common tropes that are seen
often in gaming and fiction—things like Desert Planet,
Ape World, and Dystopia.
Where does this road lead? Check the Place table. Where
have the knights hidden the sacred scrolls? Place table.
Even though a setting all by itself may seem terribly
cliché, remember that no Instant roll is intended to stand
on its own. Post-Apocalyptic may immediately suggest
The Road Warrior or some other similar stereotypical
post-nuclear setting. But when you combine it with other
rolls, it becomes something original.
The tone of the game indicates the general play style.
Orwellian Future seems to indicate a pretty specific game
setting. If you got Despair for a tone, you’d probably be
on pretty familiar ground. But how different would that
game be if it were a Heroic Orwellian Future, or Campy
Orwellian Future, or Horror Orwellian Future?
This is an optional table, and probably the least used of
the Instant Tables. After the first set of core rolls, the
population level is most often already implied. However,
if you need a general idea of how many people will be in
the area, give the Population table a roll.
Any Thing or Place can be modified with a descriptor.
These are optional, but extremely handy and informative.
We recommend liberal use of descriptors. A fairy is one
thing, but a Battle-Scarred Fairy and a Malignant Fairy
both evoke very very different images.
This can mean how many people are in a country. Or it
could apply to just a single city or space station or other
location. Context will tell you how to apply the roll.
This table is very straightforward. The Opposition is the
primary person, group, or force that will be working
against the players in this game.
Things & Other Things
The Thing tables are just that: lists of random things.
A list of possible actions to be taken. These are usually
coupled with a Thing (so it’s not just Deliver, but Deliver
Research or Deliver Student. These Action+Thing
combos can be things the protagonists need to do, things
the opposition wants to do, or things that have happened
requiring the players to take action.
Tech is optional, only to be used when something needs
clarification. The table is a list of technologies or
technological levels, and it can be used in two ways. First
it can simply identify a particular technology. More often
though, the Tech table is used to identify the technology
level of a society. For example, a setting of Forest may
require a little more explanation. A roll on the Tech table
will tell you how advanced our forest dwellers are. The
technology rolled will usually indicate the pinnacle of that
A list of possible people/occupations to be used whenever
a random person needs to enter the story.
Like Descriptors. Personalities are coupled with People
rolls to provide more information about them.
Rolling twice for Tech and then combining the results for
a single culture usually produces very interesting results.
The Cold Start
Using the Instant Tables
This is the default method of using the Instant Tables as
briefly outlined in the Barebones Rules above: Players
and GM come together with no prior preparation and roll
on the Instant Tables to create a game from scratch.
The Instant Tables are meant first and foremost as an
instrument of inspiration for GMs and players. Items that
seem impossible together at first tend to make the most
fascinating games. Prepare yourself to utilize common
genre elements in very unusual ways and try out several
practice rolls as a group to get a feel for how it works.
Instant Setting: First, make several rolls on the Instant
Tables to generate the outlines of your setting. These
starting rolls are: 1 Setting, 1 Tone, and 2 Things. This
gives you the core of the setting:
For any roll, even if you think its meaning and
implications are obvious, take a look at its entry in the
Instant Glossary (Appendix I). Sometimes seeing
someone else’s take on an item will inspire you in new
A heroic adventure in modern-day Milwaukee featuring
movie monsters and a church.
A B-Movie war setting with artificial intelligence on the
But sometimes, despite your best efforts (and ours), you
just aren’t inspired. That’s okay. If you haven’t already,
open up some or all of the development to your players.
You’ll be surprised at the directions they take things. Or if
nothing’s working, make some extra rolls at random and
pick and choose from everything on the table. If worst
comes to worst, just pitch it all and start from scratch.
We’re not proud.
A mythic forest setting involving genetic engineering and
Once again, these are rolls made just now for purposes of
writing this section. All three sample cores above are
immediately evocative in their own right. Looking at
these, one can easily imagine church emissaries battling
werewolves in modern-day Milwaukee, or a gritty overthe-top space war battling our own renegade computers at
the edge of the solar system. That’s your core. And if just
three or four rolls is enough to set you on your path, then
by all means, put the dice away and get going on fleshing
out your game.
On the other side of that coin, what happens when you
have too many ideas, or you’re inspired to take the world
in a direction not indicated on the tables? Well, then
we’ve done our job well in that case. If you’re putting
together the world from your first set of rolls and it
immediately suggests an amazing plot, then go with it.
Don’t ruin a brilliant idea with extra dice.
But what if you look at your core rolls, and it still seems a
little vague? Or maybe you like the core, but you’re not
quite sure what direction to take it in? Then you make
some supplemental rolls. Any Thing roll can be modified
by a descriptor. Additionally, there are tables for Place,
Population Level and Tech to help you work out exactly
where and when things take place.
Looking at the forest setting above, this could go in so
many ways. My instinct is a floating city/habitat in space
containing a genetically engineered fairy tale forest full of
unicorns and satyrs and wood nymphs, but it still feels
like it doesn’t have quite enough context. So I roll on
some of the optional setting tables. First I’ll add a
descriptor to get angry genetic engineering. Unusual, but
it gives me a darker feel for this created forest world…
one of trolls and witches and other dark creations.
Additionally, I try Place and Tech Level, and I get that we
start at a dam, and the general tech level of the people
here is “Scientific Method”—a people in the Age of
Reason who maybe are figuring out that their world is not
necessarily natural or logical.
The whole point of Instant Game is that a group of friends
can get together for an awesome evening of gaming
without any prior preparation at all. Whether or not you
use all of our tables or every roll of the dice is irrelevant.
The important thing is that everyone comes to the table a
blank slate and in 30 minutes or so a playable game world
rises from the gathered potential.
Remember: Only roll as much as you need. Don’t go
mucking up perfectly good inspiration because you
thought these rules told you to roll more dice.
There are many ways to let the Instant Tables inspire
you—these are just a few.
The GM is encouraged to have the players help with the
development of the Setting section. It has the advantages
of often producing more interesting results, and also of
creating a greater investment in the setting for everyone
involved, making it more likely to be a world that
everyone will enjoy. On the downside, collaborative
efforts tend to take longer, and some GMs prefer to keep
aspects of the game setting secret and mysterious to be
revealed during the game.
The Instant Challenge
With the Instant Challenge, the GM makes all of the
“suggested” instant setting and plot rolls, but now, is
required to use as many of them as possible in the given
order, without rerolling or reordering the rolls. It can be
hard at times, but offers some of the most interesting
The “Challenge” rolls are as follows:
Instant Plot: Once the basic setting has been established,
the GM turns to the plot. Again, if the creation of the
setting has already suggested a decent storyline, then
don’t bother rolling anything here. If you already have
your inspiration, then save the dice for another time.
Instant Setting
Thing + Descriptor
Thing + Descriptor
However, in most cases, you’ll want a few rolls to guide
you. First, start with a roll on the Opposition table. This
tells you who or what is behind it all. Literally, it is what
the players will be facing as they try to resolve the
problems posed by the plot.
Instant Plot
Action + Descriptor + Thing
Action + Descriptor + Other Thing
Descriptor + Other Thing
Personality + Person
Personality + Person
Next, make two rolls of Action+Thing. These can be
Action+Thing or Action+Other Thing. The authors
recommend one of each. This will give you short plot
phrases like destroy farm, alert heir, or murder lost tribe.
These can either be actions that the opposition is trying to
accomplish or actions the players will need to accomplish
to be successful. Let the context drive your decisions on
how to apply these plot phrases.
Then create a world from the Instant Setting rolls and a
story from the Instant Plot rolls, and then find a way to fit
the extras into the mix. All rolls should be used, no matter
how awkward they may seem at first blush. That’s how
we got Easter Island-head mechas and drunken-monkey
style fighting Ben Franklin and the Cherokee zombie
shaman on the high plains.
As always, if you need a little more detail, you can add
adjectives from the Descriptor table to get results like
destroy infested farm or alert bizarre heir. Feel free to
mix up your actions, descriptors, and things if they make
more sense in a different order.
Not-So-Instant Game
The intent of Instant Game is to create a new game out of
thin air with no prior preparation. But sometimes, prior
preparation can be a boon. If the GM has time available,
there’s nothing wrong with making the rolls in advance
and allowing more time to research and design the setting
and story.
Extras: Finally, to flesh out any setting/story, feel free to
sprinkle in extra rolls to cover the bald patches. Extra
Things or People can be added in to fill out the details.
This can be any amount of time. Our playtesting usually
involved 30 minutes of setup using either the Cold Start
of the Instant Challenge detailed previously. But once,
when the GM got cold feet, we decided to have him roll
up the setting ahead of time, and he had about 8 hours to
mull over the rolls and do some research. This is where
we got a time-traveling thief stealing Excalibur from
plague-ravaged 14th century London.
With hours of lead time, the GM was able to do Internet
research on medieval London and the effects of the
plague. He found general death rates and dangerous
professions, some details on daily life, and even the name
of the Lord Mayor for authenticity.
Granted, the original intent of Instant Game was as a time
saver, a way to cut out a lot of the prep-work normally
associated with RPGs. But if a GM has the time, Instant
Game can become just a tool in the process of creating
settings and campaigns. An industrious GM doesn’t have
to be limited to the 30 minute setup. If he wants to spend
days ahead of time developing maps and history and a
cast of thousands, then certainly more power to him.
not need the setting stuff, but the Instant Plot can be
applied to any game setting.
Imagine that we’re playing our favorite fantasy RPG, and
we’re all out of pre-packaged modules. A few quick rolls
on the Instant Plot table gives us “invaders/outsiders
trying to assassinate a miniature giant while the players
must guard a teacher.” Obviously, the invading goblins
are trying to eliminate the newly found “Chosen One”
who prophesy says will lead the Five Nations to victory.
The Chosen One happens to be a child of the barbarian
Valley Giants. It’s up to the players to escort the wizened
high priest of the Sun Temple to Giant Valley. If they can
get the priest safely to the giant child before the goblins
arrive, he may be able to help the child unlock his true
nature and save us all.
Theme Games
The first iteration of Instant Game was a “Random
Zombie Game.” It was Halloween, and the GM knew he
wanted to run a zombie game. Working from the theory
that any setting can be improved by the addition of
zombies, we set about creating some tables to randomly
generate a setting in which to inject some zombies.
But that same set of plot rolls could have worked just as
well within a space opera or a game of high-seas
adventure or in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The key is
inspiration. Any part of Instant Game that can help you in
any of your gaming endeavors makes us happy.
In that same spirit, a group or GM can pick any starting
theme. We know we want to play a campy B-movie style,
so we start with that and then roll on the tables to fill in
the details. Or perhaps one player has always wanted a
game with dinosaurs. Or maybe your group wants to
celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stephen King’s IT by
playing a game of horror that features clowns. In each
case, make your Instant Table rolls as normal but with the
pre-determined elements already taken as given.
In this way, the Instant Tables can be used any time you
get stuck for an idea in any game. Perhaps you’re using a
published adventure and the players choose to go off the
beaten path to look for clues in a remote hamlet. There’s
nothing in the adventure to cover this, and you need a half
dozen or so residents to populate a local tavern. Crank out
a few rolls on People and Personalities, and you can have
the basics within seconds.
With Other Games
Similar to developing around a theme, the Instant Game
tables can be applied to existing games as well. You may
Instant Gaming
Exceptional Strength or Exceptional Swordsmanship. For
a starship captain, it could be Exceptional Leadership.
Now that you have a setting and plot, you just need some
rules so you can whip up some characters and get right to
playing. What follows are the Instant Gaming rules, but
there’s nothing saying you have to use these rules. The
Instant Gaming rules are designed to be very open and
loose and flexible to allow for many different settings and
abilities. Its character creation is meant to be as quick and
simple as the Instant Setting and Instant Plot from the last
The Advanced and Basic traits help to further define and
round out the character. These can be virtually anything,
from supporting skills or abilities to equipment, animal
companions or important contacts.
Each character must also take one flaw—a quirk or
limitation that helps define the character and remind us
that no one’s perfect. In addition to the required flaw, a
starting character may also take one extra flaw at
character creation which earns him 1 additional Basic
trait, or two extra flaws in exchange for either 2 Basic
traits or 1 Advanced trait. At the GM’s discretion, the
character could potentially take enough flaws for a second
Exceptional trait, but the flaws would have to be
significant and the extra trait justified within the character
concept. Buying an extra Exceptional trait with flaws
should be very rare. Instant Characters are meant to be
created quickly, and spending that much time on finagling
prices kills the Instant spirit.
The heart of Instant Game is the setting and plot tables. It
is a tool for inspiration. We applaud efforts to apply our
Instant design tools to other systems. There are many
good universal game systems out there. The Instant
Gaming rules provided below are derived from our own
Stories System, and we feel they are especially well suited
to the broad range of possibilities allowed by the Instant
Tables. But with only a little effort, one could just as well
adapt d20, GURPS, Fudge, Risus, or any of dozens of
others to run the stories and settings generated by the
Instant Characters
At this point, the GM has a fair idea of what’s going on. If
the players don’t know already, the GM should describe
the world for them and give general guidelines regarding
the types of characters that are acceptable. Then the
players put together those characters.
Initially all characters are a blank slate. They are
considered to be average at everything by default, and any
differences are noted as either traits or flaws. Traits are
positive, helpful things about your character. Flaws are
any things that may hinder your character.
Character Creation
The character creation guidelines are actually extremely
Characters start with 1 Exceptional trait,
3 Advanced traits, and 5 Basic traits, as
well as 1 Flaw.
Depending on the world or the particular character, the
GM may decide that more or less than the standard
number of traits is appropriate. For example, when
playing a mystery in 15th century plague-ravaged
London, the GM reduced the traits to 4, 2, and 1 to reflect
the impoverished nature of the peasant characters. For
super powered time-travel pirates, the GM might increase
the number of traits to 6/4/2 to allow a more diverse and
flamboyant array of character abilities.
Refer to the following sections on Traits and Flaws for
exact definitions, but this is all there is. After the setting
has been established and the GM provides any guidelines
for character creation, the players then select the traits and
flaws that define their characters.
The 1 Exceptional Trait will typically be the defining
aspect of the character—the thing they are best at or most
known for. For a barbarian warrior, this might be
On-the-fly Development
In addition to the starting traits, each character also gets 1
Advanced Trait and 2 Basic Traits that may be used only
Traits & Bonuses
after play has started. These “on-the-fly” traits may be
assigned as the player sees fit. However, the player must
provide a logical justification for the existence of the trait.
Exceptional traits may NOT be added on-the-fly.
In addition to providing description of your character, traits
also provide advantages within game play by adding
bonuses to the character’s dice rolls. The suggested
bonuses listed here under “Traits” are most appropriate
when the trait in question is directly applicable to the task
at hand. For example, if you are trying to maneuver a
shuttle pod out of the ruins of the abandoned space station
before it explodes, and you have a trait called Advanced
Piloting, then the +4 bonus to your skill roll is completely
Because of the rapid nature of world and character
creation in Instant Game, the additional on-the-fly traits
are intended to help fill in gaps in the character that
wouldn’t have been missed if the player had had more
time to study the world and/or develop her character.
On the other hand, when the trait isn’t directly applicable,
but might be helpful anyway, then the bonus will be much
less—typically only a +1, but occasionally as high as +2 if
the situation warrants it. When you are trying to calm down
the frightened griffon who is still chained to the floor in the
burning temple, you may not have trait for Calm Griffon or
Magical Beast Handling, but you do have Exceptional
Empathy. Empathy will certainly help you with the
panicking beast, so this might provide you with a +1 or +2.
For example, Goltharra is a civilian advisor to the Martian
Imperial Navy. She travels in important and influential
circles, and has traits for negotiations, basic combat skills,
and her own private shuttle (among other things). After
the game has started, the players are summoned to a
formal dinner with the Europan royal family. Goltharra’s
player realizes that her character naturally would have had
some sort of protocol/etiquette skill that would help her
here, but she never thought of it during character creation.
After a quick conference with the GM, she adds Basic
Etiquette to her sheet as an on-the-fly trait.
This is a very subjective process and the possibilities are
as wide ranging as the conceivable diversity of traits and
stories. The GM is the final arbiter, but players should help
with what traits apply best, because no one knows the
character better.
A trait is any aspect of a character which is helpful or
positive. If it’s something about the character that is likely
to provide bonuses to die rolls (see Action Resolution,
next section), then it is a trait. Traits come in three levels:
Basic, Advanced, and Exceptional. Any specific trait that
is not mentioned on the character sheet is considered to be
What is “average”? As with so many things in Instant
Game, the exact meaning of this depends on context.
“Average” is whatever is typical for the setting. This is
highly variable. If the setting is medieval France, then the
average person will likely have a working knowledge of
medieval agriculture and the Christian religion and a fair
tolerance for mead, but would have no idea how to drive a
car (if the opportunity were to arise). In a game set in the
modern day, the average person would likely have
enough working knowledge to operate a car if needed, but
would drop quickly if they had to match the French
peasants drink for drink.
Ben Muhammed – sample character
from Firewire (page 92)
Ben Muhammed is young (only 19) but has always had an
affinity for computers and their magic. He is passionate and
loyal, and is a valuable crew member of Lady Liberty.
Exc: Netepethy – Ben’s specialty is communication. He can
detect other active magicians and communicate directly
with them over incredible ranges. Most dangerously, he
can also read the thoughts and actions of other ‘Net-active
Adv: Laptop—his prized possession.
Adv: Magical tracking—Ben can locate and track virtually
anything through his laptop. Magically active things are
even easier to find.
Adv: Recall—Ben has an incredible visual memory. Not
photographic, but pretty amazing.
Basic: Sailing
Basic: Physically Fit
Basic: Sailor gear
Basic: Persuasion (usually through the use of bumbling
charm and puppy-dog eyes)
Basic: Firearms
Flaw: Impetuous—Ben will nearly always act before thinking.
He is guided by his passions.
So if physique (for example) is not mentioned on the
character sheet, then the character is assumed to by of
average strength and health for their culture—not
outstanding, but not deficient either.
Any area in which a character is above average will be
listed as a trait.
Basic traits mark the character as being slightly above
average and will generally provide a +1 or +2 bonus when
they can be applied to a situation or roll.
Advanced traits are well above average and typically
provide a +3 or +4 bonus.
Exceptional traits are the top end of the scale, singular
and uniquely effective. Exceptional traits can provide up
to a +5 or +6 bonus in situations to which they apply.
Skills Table
Alien Culture
Animal Calls
Animal Care
Animal Training
Arcane Lore
Avoid Traps
Basket Making
Bladed Weapons
Boost Morale
Breaking & Entering
Commune with Spirits
Computer Build/Repair
Computer Programming
Computer Use
Courtly Ways
Culinary Arts
Current Events
Detect Lies
Drug Knowledge
Escape Artist
First Aid
Fortune Telling
Game Playing
Ghost Tracking
Law Enforcement
Library Skills
Listening deeply
Locate Traps
Magic Lore
Move Quietly
Musical Instruments
Nature Lore
Pick Locks
Sleight of Hand
Spell Casting
Starship Repair
Tall Tales
Witty Insults
Zero-G Maneuvering
The full list of potential skills is far too vast to list here,
and available skills will vary from setting to setting, but a
representative sample is shown in the Skills Table above.
The list is clearly not complete, as it makes no mention of
Moneylending, Cheerleading, or Kung Fu, but it gives a
fair idea of what sorts of things can be available.
A trait can be virtually anything positive that describes
your character, including (but not limited to) skills,
attributes, powers, and possessions.
Not all traits will provide bonuses to dice rolls. Things
like Exceptional Strength will grant bonuses when lifting
or throwing or performing other feats of strength.
Advanced Astronomy will provide a boost when trying to
identify the strange dual star system we’re approaching.
However, something like the power of Flight, while it
doesn’t directly influence dice rolls, is still an Advanced
or Exceptional trait (based on the nature of the setting),
because it grants the character a very useful ability—
namely, the ability to fly.
Untrained Skill Use: If a character doesn’t have a skill
listed on her character sheet, then she is considered
untrained in that area. This doesn’t necessarily mean the
character is incompetent in the field or unable to perform
the skill. It just means the character has no actual training
in the area. A person untrained in firearms can still pick
up and fire a pistol, just possibly not well. On the other
hand, a character untrained in brain surgery is not going
to be able to remove the tumor from your frontal lobe,
even with an instruction manual and state-of-the-art tools.
Skills are learned talents that may be improved with
practice—swordsmanship, chemistry, first aid, surfing,
driving, painting, electronics repair, griffon handling, etc.
Basic Skills: This implies a familiarity with the skill at
hand and/or some minor training in the area. Alternately,
in the absence of formal training, a basic skill level may
imply that the character simply has a knack for the task.
Super Traits (Optional Rule)
So what happens when Exceptional just doesn’t seem
like enough? Enter the Super Trait. Super Traits won’t
be appropriate for most Instant Games, but for games
with superheroes, epic magical artifacts, high-powered
magic, giant mecha-armor suits, etc, there’s definitely
a place for traits that can kick the crap out of
The exact level of competence implied by “basic” will
depend on the skill area. Sure anyone can pick up a
football and throw it, but someone with Basic Football
skill will be able to throw farther and hit the mark more
often. And to return to the brain surgery example,
someone with Basic Brain Surgery may still lose the
patient on the table (maybe), but he will at least know the
procedure and can at least attempt the process.
Super Traits are things that are more powerful than
Exceptional. How many are allowed will depend on the
world. In a fantasy tale of epic world-saving knights
and wizards, a GM may decide that 5 Basic, 4
Advanced, 2 Exceptional, and 1 Super trait will be
enough to create appropriate characters. A world
focusing on superheroes though might allow each
character 2 or 3 Super traits to reflect the characters’
major powers, and 2 or 3 Exceptional traits for their
minor ones.
Advanced Skills: This indicates a considerable level of
training and/or experience in the skill in question.
Characters are considered competent in all advanced
skills, and will usually be considered an expert in the area.
A Super trait can be literal super powers—super
strength, mental blasts, flame projection—or can be
technology or magic implements mimicking those
same abilities.
Exceptional Skills: Anyone with an Exceptional rating in
a chosen skill will be near the top of that field.
Attributes are innate physical or mental qualities of your
Additionally, in games with one or more Super traits for
each character, the GM may consider allowing one
Exceptional trait to be added “On the fly” (see On-thefly Development, page 16).
Angeline Black – sample character
from Her Majesty’s Cleaners (page 89)
Angie comes from a long line of blacksmiths. Her father,
Angus, tried to teach her the trade, but the lure of steam
and gears kept her from mastering the art.
Exc: A mechanic's mechanic
Adv: Diamond in the rough, Angie cleans up real good
Adv: Manrikigusari - she's a demon with a length of chain
in her hands
Adv: Steamwerks, one of the best design & repair shops
in the city
Basic: Hidden strength, years of working metal and gears
has made Angeline stronger than she appears.
Basic: Blacksmithing
Basic: Mechanic's gear - leather apron & gloves, with
many tools of the trade (wrenches, hammers, calipers,
goggles, etc.)
Basic: Speaks French fluenty
Basic: Contacts, engineers and mechanics
Basic: Steam vehicles and automations - Angie is always
working on some wondrous, if tragically flawed, gizmo
or construct.
Flaw: Tomboy, her mannish clothes and usual layer of
grime, rust, and soot hides the true beauty underneath.
Her unladylike manners makes it difficult for her to blend
in with high society.
Flaw: Amorous cad, one of the few people to see past her
tomboy ways is Lord Chadwick Brighton. He's a love
struck fool with more wealth and power than he
deserves. Angeline wants nothing to do with Chad. But,
no one says no to Lord Brighton.
character. Sometimes (but not always) attributes can be
improved through training and practice, but they are not
typically things that need to be learned like skills do.
Like skills, the list of possible attributes is nearly
limitless, but a list of common/representative attributes
would include: agility, aim, appearance, beauty,
constitution, damage capacity, drive, ego, empathy,
endurance, health, intuition, magical aptitude, mechanical
aptitude, memory, power, presence, psi-strength, psyche,
quickness, reasoning, sanity, speed, spirituality, strength,
willpower, wisdom, wit.
Note though, that many attributes overlap. Your character
may not have anything noted for Agility, but she does
have Coordination. It’s a judgment call, but most tasks
that Agility might apply to would probably get a similar
boost from a well-developed Coordination attribute.
Since attributes are usually fairly broad and can apply to
many situations, they typically provide smaller bonuses to
dice rolls than skills.
Average Attributes: If a particular attribute is not noted
on a character sheet, then the character is considered to be
average or unremarkable in that area. If there’s nothing on
your sheet about Magical Aptitude, then you are no more
capable in using magic than the average person. If your
game is set on a Lunar colony in 2138, then “average”
magical aptitude is likely “none at all.” On the other hand,
in a game of elves and fantasy, the “average” character
Ick – sample character
from 14th Century
London (page 95)
A street rat
Exc: Danger Sense—
always alert to what is
going on around him.
Adv: Generate
Adv: Scrounging up
Adv: Hiding
Basic: Begging
Basic: Running
Basic: Voice-throwing
Basic: Reciting prayers
Basic: Knots
Flaw: Unclean
gifts, cyberware, as well as physiological differences from
“normal” humans. What matters here is what the power
can actually do, and not so much the source of the power.
For example, if I have the ability to move objects from a
distance without touching them, that could be psychic
telekinesis, or it could be wizardly magic, or maybe I’m
in touch with the Force, or I have implanted sub-dermal
tractor ray generators, or I can command air spirits. The
exact nature and origins of the powers will make a huge
difference in how they are played within the game, but all
have a similar cost in terms of character creation.
Sgt Tonada – sample character
from The Rail (page 4)
Rail Service NCO
Exc: Ranged weaponry (expert
Adv: Endurance (carry huge
loads for days, sustain
vigorous activity for hours)
Adv: Hand to Hand combat
Adv: Advanced marine gear
Basic: Field Medic
Basic: Spotter – painting with
laser, assessing coordinates,
calling in strikes
Basic: Communication Ops
Basic: Drop Trooper (attacking
from orbit to planet, vacc suit,
small spacecraft ops)
Basic: Gardening (ex-farmer)
Flaw: Paranoid/Trigger Happy
In most Instant Games, Powers of any sort are only
allowable if the GM has determined that they are part of
the chosen setting. Instant Game is designed with a very
loose character creation system to allow creation of nearly
any character. But just because all things are possible,
does not mean that all things are allowed.
And remember that whether a given power is Basic,
Advanced, or Exceptional is extremely dependent on the
setting. Armored skin could be an Advanced power in a
cyberpunk setting where the implanted armor is rare and
expensive. But in a post-apocalyptic world that’s heavy in
mutations, maybe armored skin is extremely common and
only warrants a Basic rating.
might have magical potential that is simply unformed and
Basic attributes: A character with a Basic attribute is
noticeably above average, but certainly not outstanding.
Someone with a Basic endurance attribute will have a
little more staying power than most. A Basic IQ attribute
indicates a solid B student (maybe A’s if she applies
Game balance is not a huge factor in Instant Game, but
when it becomes a problem, it is generally Powers that
throw things out of joint. See the Game Balance & Power
Levels section on page 22 for more on this.
Basic Powers: These are latent, unfocused, or otherwise
weak powers. Basic powers can be as simple as infrared
Basic attributes don’t often provide bonuses to dice rolls,
but may give a +1 if they are particularly applicable.
Corbin 'Iron' Wright – sample character
from Her Majesty’s Cleaners (page 89)
Corbin may not be the largest brawler you've ever met, but
he can take a beating and dish one out. He's a dark haired
Caucasian with green eyes. His good looks are marred by
a nose that’s been broken several times, but he's managed
to keep all of his teeth. Corbin's a bulldog of a man at 5'10"
with 210 pounds of muscle to back it up.
Exc: Tough as nails, "Is that the best you've got?"
Adv: Expert brawler
Adv: Kick boxing
Adv: Bodyguard
Basic: Handsome in a rugged kind of way.
Basic: Bodyguard gear - a nice suit, handcuffs, dark
spectacles (round wire-rim sunglasses)
Basic: Bounty hunter
Basic: Contacts, city lowlife
Basic: Contacts, street fighters
Flaw: Reputation, Corbin's rough life as a street fighter is
past, but the gunslinger curse still follows him. Young
punks will call him out looking to beat a legend. More
refined gentlemen and ladies are equally repulsed and
intrigued by this man of action and danger.
Advanced attributes: These are attributes that are well
above the norm. People possessing them will be noted for
these attributes. Examples would include the physical
attributes (strength, speed, coordination) of professional
athletes, or the reasoning attribute of a professional
Advanced attributes typically provide a +1 bonus to tasks
they can be applied to.
Exceptional attributes: This is a quality that is near the
peak of human ability. If Advanced attributes represent
pro athletes and mathematicians, then Exceptional would
encompass Olympic gold medalists and Nobel prize
Exceptional attributes always provide at least a +1 bonus,
and occasionally as high as +2 in they are especially
Powers represent gifts or abilities beyond the power of
normal humans—psychic abilities, superpowers, magical
vision or a character who has
claws. Possibly the character has a
latent psychic ability that only
manifests itself as troubled dreams
and vague impressions.
Alternately, a Basic power could
be more powerful, but it is not in
the character’s control or it only
works under very limited
circumstances. For example, a
sorceress who can send short
telepathic messages over long
distances, but only after an hourlong ritual to help focus her
Advanced Powers: These then
would be powers that are
moderately consistent, powerful,
or controllable—or at least moreso
than the basic powers. An
advanced power could be
something like bullet resistant
natural armor (maybe from a
thickened armor-like skin or from
implanted cybersteel armor plates
beneath the skin).
Exceptional Powers: Now we
move into the range of extremely
potent powers that are not only
strong, but also fairly reliable in
the player’s hands. The power of
flight? Telepathy? Superpowers?
The sky’s really the limit here,
assuming that the setting allows
for such abilities.
For convenience, Instant Game
characters are assumed to have
most basic possessions that would
be common to a person of their
culture and station. Most
characters will automatically have
clothing and a place to live, and
the accoutrements that come with
being whoever they happen to be.
What this doesn’t include is the
useful tools of their profession.
The general guideline is that
anything that might provide a
bonus to a roll will require using a
Basic Possessions: However, to
make it easier, use of a single
Basic Possession trait will allow
the character to have most of the
Freya Highwind – sample character
from Dust to Dust (page 92)
Freya learned to handle boats on her father’s
knee. She is the best pilot/captain in town, in
spite of her occasional bad luck. After the recent
attack, the elders asked her to lead the rescue.
Exc: Boating; “If it’s in the water, I can move it.”
Adv: Fishing
Adv: Swimming
Adv: Seamanship
Basic: Flirting; “You can’t be surrounded by guys
and not practice.”
Basic: Knots
Basic: Cooking
Basic: Fishing gear – Pole and net
Basic: Tall Tales; “I swear, the fish was this big!”
Flaw: Bad Luck; “I’m good at what I do… Really!
Things, well, just go wrong sometimes…”
Ramonat Oa – sample character
from The Rail (page 4)
Rail Service field investigator
Exc: See Inside Souls – not psychic, but he can
perceive lies and knows what drives people.
Adv: Linguistics – knows a variety of written
and spoken languages
Adv: Sharp Eye
Adv: Bargaining/Negotiation
Basic: Shoot First – attacking quickly if things
look like trouble
Basic: Drive Fast
Basic: Not Getting Shot – evasion action, using
cover, knowing when to run
Basic: Escape Artist
Basic: Play Harmonica
Flaw: Shy loner, does poorly with opposite sex
Thota Memnon – sample character
from Sideworld (page 88)
Courtly Wizard
Exc: Side Singer – Once designed custom
retreats in Sideworld. Can quickly create large
and detailed objects/areas/beings within
Adv: Secret Knowledge – long contact with
those in power gives her the inside scoop.
Adv: Ghost affinity – Sideworld spirits respond
positively to Thota
Adv : Worlds within Worlds – can seal off areas
of Sideworld against intrusion
Basic: Court Etiquette
Basic: Seduction
Basic: Disguise makeup and costumes
Basic: Stealth
Basic: Library researcher
Flaw: Unathletic, not very active, low endurance
common tools and weapons of their
profession. A bounty hunter will
have a couple basic weapons,
handcuffs, probably a mount or
vehicle depending on the setting, etc.
And these will be very ordinary
examples of their type. A wizard will
have a small magical library, magical
spell components, possibly a pet cat,
and some base of operations
appropriate to the time period—
maybe a third floor walk-up or a
small tower keep. The assumed or
default possessions will never be of
outstanding quality, power or utility.
A second (or third) Basic trait can be
used for other relatively common but
useful possessions that the character
might want that maybe aren’t
standard for their profession or
station. So a police officer uses a
Basic trait for Basic Possessions and
gets a nightstick, handcuffs, a badge,
radio, and a pistol (cops make out
like bandits on the Basic
Possessions). But now he’d like
some hunting/camping gear as well.
This will require using more traits.
It’s up to the GM and players to
figure out how much camping gear
come with the use of a single trait.
Advanced Possessions: Essentially,
this is for more powerful or more
useful items than would come with a
Basic trait. The cop or bounty hunter
above may want a more powerful
gun—a shotgun or hunting rifle. This
would require an Advanced trait. A
nicer, faster vehicle or mount. A
home with greater amenities and
security. Whereas the Basic trait
might buy simple camping gear (a
tent, fishing pole, flashlight, etc.), an
Advanced trait would merit a
moderately well-stocked RV.
Exceptional Possessions: These are
extremely specialized, effective,
and/or useful items. This is where
you get the magic flail of undeadslaying, or the interplanetary sport
cruiser, or the rod of lightning. This
is another area that is extremely
easily abused. GMs and players will
have to work together to ensure that
characters develop the way the
players want but are still in line with
the expectations of the setting and the power level of the
other characters. It’s up to everyone to ensure that all
characters will be able to participate together in the same
some villains will readily take advantage of the knight’s
inability to strike an unarmed foe or his drive to save
innocent bystanders even if it means letting the bad guys
get away.
Other Traits
Anything positive that doesn’t fit neatly into the above
categories—contacts, wealth, group affiliation,
reputation—can qualify as a trait.
Some sample flaws include: Absent-minded; Addiction of
any sort; Ambitious; Cannot lose an argument; Can't turn
away a person in need; Code of Honor; Compulsive
behavior; Cowardly; Easily distracted; Enemy;
Fanatically loyal (to a patron, country, organization, etc.);
Foolishly brave; Greedy; Gullible; Has anger
management problems; Incompetence in a specific skill
area; Intolerant; Lazy; Massive debt; Mental illness;
Obese; Obsessive; Overconfident; Overly generous;
Pacifism; Painfully shy; Phobia; Physically weak; Poor;
Progammed with Asimov's Laws of Robotics; Prone to
battle rage; Racist; Slow learner; Stubborn; Thin skinned;
Unlucky; Vain; Wanted by the law; Zealous behavior.
As a general rule, for any unusual trait, compare its utility
to that of traits in other categories to help decide if the
new trait should be Basic, Advanced, or Exceptional.
Flaws are any aspect a character that might provide a
significant limitation or hindrance during the game. Flaws
do not come in different levels like traits, but a flaw is any
negative aspect of a character that significantly impacts
them during game play. All characters must have at least
one flaw.
Once again, the key is that a flaw must be some sort of
hindrance to the character in accomplishing his goals.
How much of a hindrance is for the players and GM to
decide. There’s a fine line between quirky personality
traits that provide humor and/or annoyance, and a true
flaw that actually holds the character or her teammates
back. For example “Lazy” could just be a quirk that
provides roleplaying cues for a player. However, if Lazy
is taken as an actual flaw, then it will come into play quite
often, and if done right will likely torque off the
character’s teammates on a regular basis.
Game Balance & Power Levels
We move into very fuzzy territory when we start using
high-level powers, and it is up to the players and the GM
to work out balanced characters that can operate well
within the Instant World that’s been created. Many things
are possible, but they have to be appropriate to the setting.
The character who spends his Exceptional trait on getting
the Exceptional Strength attribute and can bench press
400 pounds may feel a bit cheated sitting next to the
character with Exceptional Power: Telekinesis who can
move two-ton trucks and boulders with merely the force
of her will.
Note that qualities that may seem noble can certainly
qualify as a flaw if they significantly limit the character’s
actions. Pacifism may seem noble to some, but it severely
limits a character, especially in action oriented games. A
knight’s code of honor may seem similarly noble, but
Instant Game’s character creation is centered around
creating quick-and-dirty characters that are well-rounded
and playable. Game balance and making sure that all the
characters are “equal” is not really a factor, but as noted
above, there are some limits on what players will feel is
fair, and certainly these rules are loose enough that
players can abuse them with only a little effort, if the GM
and other players allow them to do so.
Jave – sample character
for Firewire (page 92)
A privateer under contract to Lord Crowl
Exc: Move non-living items from the Internet to the real
world and vice-versa. This is a very lengthy but extremely
powerful ability that usually leaves Jave drained.
Adv: 2D sword – nearly invisible, insanely sharp. One of
the first items he made real
Adv: Agile
Adv: Talented Liar
Basic: Travel Light – all he needs is his travel pack
Basic: charm software
Basic: Archery
Basic: History Knowledge
Basic: good memory
Flaw: Wanted – his Exceptional Power would make a
valuable tool – must keep it secret.
Therefore, it is up to the group to have some agreement
on what is and is not appropriate for any given world. If
the setting is a war-torn near-future world featuring
virtual reality, and one of the players uses his Exceptional
attribute to be “The One” (like Neo in The Matrix), then
we would hope that at least one other person at the table
would raise an objection. Being “The One” is not out of
the realm of possibility, but it is extreme, and everyone
involved has to be okay with that. Otherwise, the player in
question needs to develop a character more in line with
everyone else’s conception of the game.
I stand back to back with Wart, and fend off the goblins
with my spear. I don’t care if I hurt them, so long as I can
keep them at bay until we edge our way over to the boat.
Action Resolution
As with most roleplaying games, the story can often
unfold for long stretches without having to pull out dice
or charts. But eventually, the players will want to try or
do something where the consequences are uncertain or not
immediately obvious.
I flash a little cleavage and pout while I talk to him. I’m
hoping to keep his focus on me while the other girls slip
through the trapdoor.
I want to charge the first guard and knock him into his
buddy. If that works, I’ll use my momentum in the low
gravity to vault over them, using their heads and
shoulders for leverage if I need to. I want to hit the
ground rolling and try to squeeze under that airlock door
before it shuts.
Anytime a character wants to accomplish anything in
which the outcome is not already a certainty, make an
Action Roll:
1) Player declares action
2) GM calls out a modifier (based on the individual,
their skill, conditions, etc)
2a) Player may ask for clarification of modifier,
or may dispute, or remind GM of other
factors (this will mostly be rare, but is
included for fairness)
3) Player rolls dice (3d6), applying the modifier to
the outcome
4) GM (with players) interprets results. High is
good. Low is bad. The average, or “break point”
(10-11) is iffy.
Some of these are better than others. The best ones
include both action and intent; and the more detail the
better. Extra detail not only makes for a better story, but
also improves communication and ensures that the players
and GM share a common vision of the story as it unfolds.
Bottom line for players: the more precise you can be
about what you are doing and why, the more likely you
are to achieve the desired results.
Assign modifier
Once a player has declared an action, the GM will assign
a modifier that represents how difficult the GM thinks it
Modifiers Table
+8 (or more) [so easy you shouldn’t bother rolling]
+6 to +7 This should be really easy
+4 to +5 Relatively simple task
+2 to +3 Routine task
Mildly difficult (around a 50/50 chance
-1 to +1
of success)
Hard (expect failure, but you might get
-2 to -3
Long shot (maybe with luck and a good
-4 to -5
tailwind... )
-6 to -7 Roll and pray
-8 (or more) [so hard you shouldn’t bother rolling]
Declare Action
For the player, this is the most vital step in the Action
Roll process. Declaring an action should involve not only
a description of what the character will be doing, but also
an idea of what he hopes to accomplish.
will be for the character to succeed.
Based on the player’s description of the action, the
character’s capabilities, and the GM’s knowledge of the
situation, the GM comes up with a modifier that describes
that particular character’s chances of succeeding at that
particular task. Table 2 provides rough guidelines for
Some examples of declared actions:
I hit him with my sword.
I try a computer search for any information on the
Martian Resistance.
So wait a minute, I hear you saying, what about my
Exceptional rating in Robot Repair? What’s the point of
stats for this if the GM just makes judgment calls on
everything? Well, that’s the point. Rather than coming up
with a system that is either crushingly complex or else
just a rough approximation of reality (or both), Instant
I brace myself against the wall and take careful aim with
the dart rifle. I’m aiming for the gap of exposed skin
between his suit and helmet. I’ll fire as soon as I get an
mention additional factors that the GM may have
forgotten. These discussions should be brief and friendly,
after which the GM will make a final call on the issue.
The GM’s call stands and play moves on. If there are still
further issues or perceived unfairness, then these should
be addressed outside of the normal play session.
Game allows the GM and players together to evaluate the
chances and go for it. After all, who knows the characters
better? And your Exceptional Robot Repair? Well, that’s
part of your character’s description. It lets the GM know
that you are a world-class roboticist, and therefore, under
typical circumstances, you’re going to get a hefty bonus
on any rolls related to robot repair.
Also note that in this sort of system, the player's
description of the action is extremely important. If you
can be particularly creative, it might increase your
modifier. Just standing around hack’n’slash style saying
"hit with sword... repeat" doesn't count for much—it
makes you predictable and lowers your modifier.
Roll Dice
Instant Game uses 3 standard six-sided dice (abbreviated
to 3d6). A roll for action resolution involves rolling all
three dice, adding them together and then applying the
Discussion/Dispute of modifiers: Typically, in a good
Interpret Results
gaming group that communicates well, this won’t happen
The guiding principle behind interpretation can be
often, and when it does, it can be quickly and amicably
summed up as: High… good. Low… bad. Very simply,
resolved. Normally, once a player declares action, the
high numbers mean good things happen for the character,
GM can shout out a number, the player rolls, and the
and low numbers mean
results are decided. It is
bad things happen. The
all intended to move
Results Table
higher or lower the
very quickly.
actual numbers, the
Roll Result General Result Description
But sometimes, GM’s
18 (or more) Critical optional – open to interpretation
results. The Results
and players don’t see
table (Table 3) provides
eye to eye. GM’s make
general guidelines for
mistakes—maybe they
16-17 Great Success – ideal; better than you expected
interpreting the rolls.
forget something, or
The general idea is that
14-15 Success
misunderstanding about
a roll of 10-11 is
average—right on the
character can do. Many
12-13 Minimal Success – by the skin of your teeth
cusp between success
times, GM’s base their
and failure. Anything
decisions on factors that
10-11 Push/Partial Success
the players may not be
success. Anything lower
aware of, so while a
indicates failure.
particular call may seem
8-9 Near Miss – oh so close
unusual to the players,
The exact nature of
there is actually more to
those results is up the
6-7 Failure
it than meets the eye.
GM and players (which
is why we call it
In any of these cases, it
4-5 Miserable Failure – you make things even worse
“interpretation.”) Some
is perfectly acceptable
examples of typical
for a player to question
3 (or less) Critical optional – open to interpretation
call or
interpretation of their
others are quite usable (and usually harsher than anything
the GM would have done). Things like, “My gun
jammed.” or “I trip over my own feet and wind up with a
mouthful of dirt.” or “Great, I wind up hitting the cement
post, and now I can’t pull my sword out.” Players should
be encouraged to take a hand in incorporating the dice
rolls into the storyline.
associated dice rolls would be:
Kord: I brace myself against the wall and take careful
aim with the dart rifle. I’m aiming for the gap of exposed
skin between his suit and helmet. I’ll fire as soon as I get
an opening.
GM: (thinking that Kord’s a good shot—advanced skill:
marksmanship—with plenty of time to brace and aim, but
the distance is great and the target small) Plus zero… no
Kord: (rolls dice) 14! Sweet!
GM: A perfect hit. Your hands remain steady, and you are
able to duck back down quickly before he can even turn to
look. Through the gap in the wall, you see him waver and
slowly sink to the floor as the drug takes hold of him.
Critical Results: At the very top and bottom ends of the
chart are critical results. These are very extreme results
that are entirely optional, depending on the style of game
you are playing. Typically, Miserable Failure and Great
Success are more than enough to cover most situations,
but at the GM’s discretion, even more extreme rolls may
result in even more extreme consequences—things, good
or bad, that are the stuff of legend. But again, that is up to
the GM. For many games, it becomes unrealistic to allow
such extremes and breaks the spirit of the game.
Misty: I flash a little cleavage and pout while I talk to
him. I’m hoping to keep his focus on me while the other
girls slip through the trapdoor.
GM: (factoring in Misty’s considerable charms, balanced
against the guard’s fear of messing up on the job) +2.
Misty: (rolls a 9) Ack. 11. Only halfway.
GM: Yeah, the rent-a-cop is obviously interested in your
little display, but he acts like he hears something, “Did
you hear that?” he asks.
[At this point, if Misty acts fast and rolls well, maybe she
can still distract him, but with her Partial Success result,
the guard is going to turn around and spot the rest of the
team at any moment.]
As an optional rule, the GM can decide to only allow
Critical results when the dice show a natural 3 or 18
before modifiers are applied.
Sarra: I try a computer search for any information on the
Martian Resistance.
GM: (knowing that the Resistance is actively hiding, and
Sarra’s computer skill is only about average) –3.
Sarra: -3? Seriously? I had experience in
communications in the Royal Guard.
GM: Trust me. –3.
Sarra: (rolls an 8) Oh no… a 5. Does the computer
GM: Nope. But you come up empty. There are references
and historical data available, but nothing you guys didn’t
already know.
[Secretly though, the GM notes that Sarra’s clumsy
search triggered an alarm, and now the Resistance knows
that Sarra’s team is searching for them and will be on
high alert.]
Action Sequences
Most roleplaying games divide time into rounds or
segments or turns, and every character has a certain
number of allowable actions in those timeframes. Instant
Game is not so regimented. Instead, action sequences in
Instant Game are divided into story elements. That is,
action moves from decision point to decision point, and a
story element can be as short as a second or two or as
long as many minutes or hours.
For example, if the action in question is a knockdown,
drag-out bar brawl, then each story element may be quite
short. As each combatant tries new attacks or moves to
new locations, the scene shifts, and the combatants
constantly make new decisions and new rolls for each
And while the GM has the final word on all results, the
stories often turn out better when the players help
interpret results as well. Often, the players don’t have
enough information to explain everything, but it’s not
unusual for a player to come up with something the GM
would never have thought of. This is especially true when
bad things happen to players.
On the other hand, if the action is a yacht race, then each
story element could last for hours. Once the ships are
under sail, the characters roll to determine their
performance, and then it could be quite a while before
conditions change and someone decides to try a new tack,
as it were.
For really bad rolls, it is typical for players to throw out
possible disastrous results, sometimes just for humor, but
For that matter, even a fast paced piece of action may be
summed up in just a couple of rolls, especially if it is not
central to the plot or if it would slow down the main story
to dwell on it too long. In the bar brawl example, if
fighting is not really a central focus of the game in
question, then the player and GM could sum up the brawl
with a single roll. If the player rolls well, then the group
can give a few sentences to sum up the dramatic and
action-packed scrap, ending with the player’s character
coming out on top. A poor roll may indicate that the
player’s character had lost and is now in the clutches of
the evil desperadoes.
GM: The two goons carry hand stunners which they wave
threateningly as they try to block you from leaving. (The
GM decides that their main objective is to prevent Josh
from leaving. They will try physical restraint and will
resort to stunners if he resists.)
Josh: I want to charge the first guard and knock him into
his buddy. If that works, I’ll use my momentum in the low
gravity to vault over them, using their heads and
shoulders for leverage if I need to. I want to hit the
ground rolling and try to squeeze under that airlock door
before it shuts.
GM: (Josh is a decent brawler, and a low-gravity veteran,
but he is also unarmed and outnumbered) -2 for you Josh,
and the guards will roll at +3.
In the end, it is up to the GM and players to decide how
much time and detail to invest in each scene.
Order of Actions: There is no particular “turn order” in
Instant Game. Characters take actions as it makes sense
for them to do so. If the zombie is lurching wildly towards
Kelly, then she has about five seconds to take some sort
of action before it gets her. The GM can make the call on
exactly how much can be squeezed into those five
seconds. And of course, as she acts, then her undead
opponent has the opportunity to notice and change tactics
as well.
Josh rolls an amazing 16, for a result of 14—Success! But
the GM rolls for the guards, achieving a final total of
16—Great Success. Thus, Josh has done a good job, but
the guards are even better.
GM: Wow. At first it looks like you might get away with it.
You easily push down that first goon and go flipping
gracefully through the air. You hit the ground rolling, and
you are almost to the door, but then the second guard
manages to catch his balance and tags you with the
stunner. Before you lose consciousness, the last thing you
see is the door slamming shut in front of your face.
If it ever becomes vital to know exactly whose action
comes first, and the answer is not obvious from context,
then have the competing characters each roll once (the
GM can assign modifiers, if warranted), and the action
with the best result would occur first.
Alternately, opposed actions can be handled with a single
roll by the player character. In this case, the GM simply
factors the quality of the opposition into the player’s
modifier. This is especially effective and appropriate
when the opposition consists of characters minor to the
story. When the opposition is a major NPC, or especially
when it is another player, then it is recommended that
both parties get to roll and then compare results, as
detailed above.
Status, Fatigue, and Injury
The status of characters within a story changes on a
regular basis. Characters get tired or wounded. They get
drunk or drugged. They get distracted and emotional. As
with everything else in Instant Game, these changes in
status should be based on the context and the
interpretation of dice rolls. If someone has been pushing
themselves very hard for a long time, the GM may declare
that the character is fatigued, and then that will factor into
future actions until the character can rest. Alternately, the
GM may allow the player a roll to see how affected he is
by the exertion and how well his character deals with it.
Opposed Actions
This is one of the trickiest portions of Instant Game—how
to handle opposed actions. That is, when one character is
seeking a specific goal, and another is simultaneously
working at cross-purposes, how is that handled?
There are a couple of approaches available. The first, and
most common, is simply to let both opposing characters
make rolls, and then compare them to interpret the results.
If both of them fail, then likely nothing happens. If one
fails and the other succeeds, then interpretation is fairly
easy. If both succeed, then the one with the higher result
probably comes out ahead, although that might be
mitigated if the opponent’s roll was pretty close. For
Combat & Injury
In Instant Game, wounds and injuries are simply
described in real terms, and it is up to the GM to decide
how much they affect performance and/or at what point a
person’s injuries become debilitating.
As a general guideline, when someone uses a weapon, the
results of their action roll will give a good idea of how
severe the injury is (see Table 4: Wounds). These rough
results are then modified up or down depending on the
size/power of the weapon and the protections available to
the defender.
Damage Modifiers—When you hit someone in combat,
the amount of damage you do is based on your Action
Roll modified up or down by damage modifiers.
Damage modifiers are any factors that may affect the
level of injury that occurs. Most weapons will have a
standard damage modifier assigned to them based on their
lethality. Some examples are:
-2 Unarmed attack
+0 Martial arts or brass knuckles
+1 Knife or billy club
+2 Shortsword, large club, hatchet, light bow
+3 Broadsword, spear, light pistol
+4 Greatsword, polearms
+5 Medium firearms
These numbers can range up through +7 or more for
military grade weapons though +9 for powerful magics or
+15 for a Martian death ray. These are just general
+0 not effective against this type of attack
+2 has a little effect against this type of attack
+4 provides moderate protection against this type of
+6 provides great protection for this type of attack
+8 is nearly impervious to this type of attack
The damage modifier for muscle powered weapons can be
increased by high strength. Typically this will be +1 or +2
for very strong characters (or conversely a negative
damage modifier could be applied for particularly weak
Similarly, if the defender has some sort of cover or
protection or armor, this will result in damage factors that
reduce the amount of damage done. The guidelines for
defensive damage modifiers are:
So these values can vary depending on the nature of the
attack or other injuring effect. For example, a Kevlar
bulletproof vest may provide a damage modifier of -5
versus firearms, but only a -2 modifier against most other
Injury Table
Action Roll +
Damage Modifiers
9 or less
Level of Injury
Suggested Game Effects
No Injury
No game effect
Negligible: Nick/Scratch/Bruise
-1 to the character’s next 1 or 2
Minor Injury: largely superficial; painful and distracting, but not
life threatening
-1 or -2 to most actions
Moderate Injury: hampers action significantly; will require first
aid/medical attention
-3 or -4 to most actions
Severe Injury: Incapacitating and may become Critical if
-5 to -6 IF action is allowed
Critical Injury: Requires immediate attention; clearly lifethreatening if not immediately deadly
No significant action allowed
types of attack. Exact values for each type of protection
will have to be worked out between the player and GM.
Injury Levels—After all damage modifiers have been
applied to the dice roll, look up the resulting value on the
Injury table to determine the actual results.
Note that the most severe possible result is a Critical
Injury. Depending on the nature of the story and the
situation, Critical Injury can certainly be interpreted as
instant death, particularly if the roll is exceedingly high.
But in most situations, dramatic necessity dictates that
most main characters don’t die instantly. Sometimes a
Critical Injury means the character is effectively out of
the game, but can still be saved. Sometimes it means that
they will die, but they still have enough time for some
final words or one last desperate action before they
succumb. As always, context will determine how the GM
and players interpret a Critical Injury result.
If a character receives an injury of any level and there are
no remaining injury boxes of any level, the character
typically dies. However, death doesn’t have to be
immediate, as noted under Critical Injuries on the Injury
Applying Wounds—Each character sheet should have
an Injury Track that looks like this:
Healing—Any injuries above Negligible will require
time to heal. With rest and proper care, most Minor
injuries can be erased after 2 or 3 days. Moderate injuries
can be marked down to Minor after a week or so. Severe
and Critical injuries will take even longer, as the GM
decides. Without proper rest and care, injuries may take
even longer to heal, or under adverse conditions, may
even get worse. Instant Games are not intended to be
extended campaigns over time, but if a particular game
does stretch out to weeks or months of game time, the
GM and players will have to work together to determine
what is appropriate here, rolling dice if needed to
determine the course of the healing process.
Injury Track
If you receive a Minor injury, check off a box under
Minor. If you receive a Major injury, check off a box
under Major, etc. If there are no boxes remaining under
that category, then move to the right and check the first
open box in any higher injury category. For example, if
you have already received two Minor Injuries, and you
take a third, move up and check off Moderate instead, in
which case, you suffer all the ill effects normally
associated with a Moderate injury. If there were also no
Moderate boxes available, you would have instead moved
to Severe. Note that there are no boxes for Negligible
injuries, because they are exactly that. They may sting
and cause minor distractions, but typically, a character
can suffer many nicks and scratches without lasting ill
Cinematic Combat Option: For some Instant Games, a
very cinematic style of combat and injury is appropriate.
In such games, PC’s and important NPC’s get injured
normally, as above, with detailed descriptions and
consequences. Typically these important (or named)
characters can withstand quite a bit and still struggle on.
Lesser characters, on the other hand, do not fare so well.
These unnamed characters—minions, goons, plot
devices—can usually take just one wound (of any level)
and still keep going. If they get hit again, or if they take a
severe hit right away, then they are out—either
incapacitated or dead, depending on the nature of the
game. All of the exact results will vary according to the
characters and genre.
Situational Rolls
When in doubt, roll some dice. Situational rolls aren’t
necessarily based on the actions or skills of a particular
character. Instead, these rolls determine what happens in
the story when there are random factors involved and
things could go in many directions.
Again, let the context and the dice rolls drive your
imagination. Let the players participate in interpreting the
As with any roll in Instant Game, high is good for the
players and low is bad. The GM may apply modifiers to
situational rolls. Anyone present may make the actual roll.
For example, the team enters a train car, and the GM
needs to know if one or more of the terrorists is in the car
at the moment. She calls for a situational roll. Anyone on
the team can roll, with high results being good and low
results being bad. Possible results might be:
Instant Karma
Instant Karma points are a meta-game tool that allows
players to fudge the story in their favor. Each starting
character has three Instant Karma points available, and
the GM may hand out more as rewards.
Not only is the car empty, but the players
discover a walkie-talkie that lets them
eavesdrop on some of the terrorists’
communication (if anyone in the group speaks
There are no terrorists in this car, and the
passengers about are either oblivious to the
players or supportive of them.
There’s a terrorist or two in here!… but their
guard is down. If the players act fast, maybe
they can neutralize the situation before an alarm
is sounded.
The car contains terrorists who sound an alarm
and immediately act against the players.
Players may use up an Instant Karma point at any point in
the game to turn circumstances to their favor. All uses of
karma points are subject to GM approval, but usually,
there should be no problem with most uses. Examples of
things that can be accomplished with Instant Karma
6 or less Oh, they’re there all right. And what’s more,
there’s a lot of them. And they’ve got the drop
on the players… big time.
Provide an automatic +/-5 to any roll if the
player announces BEFORE the roll is made that
karma will be used..
Alter any roll by +/-2 after the fact.
Convert any injury to Negligible by announcing
that it wasn’t as bad as it first seemed (if applied
Create a favorable circumstance—for example,
“It sure would be nice if there were a fire
extinguisher in the stairwell.”
Other uses as determined by player creativity.
Afterlife [Place, Thing] The afterlife, if you believe in
that sort of thing, is where we all go when we die. Certain
religions and mythologies divide it into several different
locations, (or hundreds if you've ever played a certain
campaign setting by an unnamed corporation) often by the
kind of life the person led while they were alive. The most
stereotyped of the two are heaven and hell. Heaven,
complete with feathery wings and harps, is where the
'good' people go to spend their days singing on cloud tops.
The 'bad' people get hell, inferno and about a dozen and a
half fiery demons playing in an accordion band.
Appendix I: Instant
Abandoned [Descriptor] You can look all you want—
there's nobody here. Something that is abandoned was
once used, owned or loved, but now is all but forgotten.
Action/Adventure [Tone] The action/adventure tone is
the same tone used in about 90% of the summer
blockbuster movies that are released every year. Normally
there are clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and an
objective which is not horribly complicated. What the
tone does have is a lot of excitement: fights, explosions,
players stranded on suspension bridges four hundred feet
in the air, car chases, big guns, and tough talk. Using the
action/adventure tone, players and adversaries can
sometimes accomplish what may seem impossible (racing
into a bus sinking into the water to retrieve the nuclear
launch codes from the secret service agent's severed
wrist), but those amazing and exciting moments are what
define the tone.
Agent [Person] Generally speaking, an agent is anyone
who acts on behalf, and with the authority of, another.
More specifically, an agent sometimes refers to a spy or
operative for a government agency, normally in
intelligence, but could also refer to a business agent who
represents clients in financial and professional matters.
Agriculture [Tech] Typically the beginning of true
civilization. Once a culture figures out how to plant and
harvest, they can give up their wandering ways and begin
forming permanent settlements and expanding them. The
rise of agriculture not only goes with the development of
villages and towns, but also with written language,
domestication of animals and regular trade. Quite a step
for a primitive people.
Actor [Person] "All the world is a stage, and all the men
and women merely players." —William Shakespeare
Alchemy [Tech] Stemming from the ultimate search for a
material that could transform base metals into gold,
alchemy has branched out into a wide host of
applications. At its center, alchemy is the study and
application of alchemical reagents to other materials.
Explosives, caustics, fuels, and poison are just some of
the amazing products of alchemy. The technology of
alchemy presents a way to introduce more technical
concepts, like vehicles and firearms into a largely
fantastic setting.
The actor is anyone playing a role or part. This could be
an actor in the traditional sense—an individual paid to
perform on entertainment shows or stage—or something
far more sinister—an assassin who has killed the princess
and now morphed into her visage and assumed her place.
Advanced Intelligence [Thing] Where do you find
something smarter than mankind? The list is long: our
own sentient computers who have finally turned on us; an
alien race sent to keep us from spreading; our own
descendants traveled back in time; dolphins who have
finally broken their centuries of silent observation;
transdimensional beings of pure energy; dragons
slumbering for centuries at the center of the earth.
Unfortunately, compassion for humanity doesn’t always
go along with brains. With them being smarter than us, it
sure would suck if they didn’t like us.
Advisor [Person] Counsel; consulate; confidante;
buttinski. Someone who gives advice to others—either
informally (the wise neighbor), formally (the presidential
advisor, or the wise man on top of the mountain).
Affectionate [Personality] Maybe it's cute, maybe it's
creepy, but affectionate people can't keep their hands to
themselves, and they sure as heck can't call anyone by
their given name. Play it benign, like dear Aunt Edna who
can't resist ruffling your hair every time she sees you, or
creepy, like that English teacher who couldn't talk to
anyone without putting a hand on their shoulder.
fallen into the wrong hands. Thus a single person or group
can be using it to dominate or surpass all around them. It
could be only bits and pieces of alien tech. It's either old
or wrecked or otherwise inoperable, but scientists are
slowly teasing out its secrets and are creating (or hope to
soon create) wondrous inventions based on this new
knowledge. Or it could just flat out be alien technology
that humans have purchased or otherwise acquired from
alien forces. Like Native Americans with the white man's
guns—we may not have the resources or knowledge to
create voidships of our own, but we can certainly apply
them with devastating effect if you give us a few.
Alert [Action] An alarm or notification of some sort. Or
the act of initiating such an alarm.
Alien [Thing, Descriptor] Creatures not of this world. The
human race is in contact with some extraterrestrial
intelligence. It could be big-eyed grays abducting us for
research or extradimensional intelligent shades of blue
who are intrigued by our prime-time programming.
Maybe it's just radio contact with a distant race, or
humans could be part of a Galactic Alliance of hundreds
of alien species.
All Supers World [Setting] Sometimes being special
doesn't mean being different. In the All Supers World,
everyone is special—and we don't mean in a "school for
gifted youngsters" way, we mean EVERYONE. Your
grocery store bagger may be able to telekinetically move
objects with his mind, but that's no great shakes in the All
Supers World and he is still only qualified to bag
groceries. Law normally predominates in an All Supers
World, with the most powerful Mega Heroes flaunting
their stuff to keep the rest of the riff raff in line. While not
required, many times in the All Supers World, everyone is
in costume but no one really knows why.
Alien Occupied Earth [Setting] It finally happened: we
made first contact, and we were no match for the
invaders. The aliens may be tentacled things from outer
space, super-beings from an alternate dimension, or
goblin-hordes swarming into our world through the newly
opened Demon Gate. But no matter who they are, they are
now our masters.
The players are typically humans/Earthlings seeking to
free themselves from the yolk of oppression. Maybe the
aliens are cruel masters who have openly enslaved
mankind and ravenously devoured our weak and young.
Or maybe they are more insidious and approached us as
friends and mentors—only slowly revealing their sinister
Alliance [Thing] One group of people decides to team up
with another group of people, to varying degrees of
Alien Supertech [Tech] The natives have discovered
something from beyond this world, and with any luck
they'll figure out how to put it to good use. Alien
Supertech can be or do just about anything. Maybe it's a
doomsday weapon, the remnants of a starship or a device
that transports you to another dimension. Whatever it is, it
does (or can potentially do) amazing things that mere
humans can't even dream of at this point.
Aloof [Personality] Disconnected by choice, acting aloof
is often a defense, protecting some hidden hurt or want.
This person wants you to know that they are avoiding a
connection or emotional reaction from you.
Alternate History [Setting, Thing] Quick: pick any major
event in the history of mankind. Now imagine that it went
completely differently. Now envision what today's world
would look like as a result. *BUZZ* Time's up... how did
you do?
There's many ways to apply alien supertech to a setting. It
could be a single device or small set of devices that have
the DMV to shame.
It seems daunting, but the down and dirty way to do this
is to choose any major war or political conflict in history
and imagine that the other side won:
WWII. 1999: Nazi Europe prepares for the 21st century.
Angry [Descriptor, Personality] Just plain old pissed off,
and wanting to do something about it. Just try not to take
it out on the others.
Civil War. 1904: The Confederate States of America ally
with Mexico against the Union for the disputed Southwest
Animal [Thing] The characters come across a liger. Or is
it a stray dog? Seriously, just come up with an animal (or
animals) that will make the story more interesting.
The Cold War. 1989: As the west struggles with the 2nd
great depression, the USSR tears down the Berlin wall to
celebrate a united Communist Germany.
Anthropomorphic Objects [Person, Thing] ...aka: It
lives! Take any object and let it walk and talk, and you've
got anthropomorphic objects. It can be a magic mirror or
enchanted furniture or a demon-possessed car. It might
look like an ordinary object that can simply move about
on its own, but sometimes, it will come complete with a
human-like face and/or limbs to help it communicate and
get about. Sometimes, they'll be friendly and act like
people, and other times, they'll be sinister and haunt the
living with inscrutable motives.
But with a little more thought, there's an infinite number
of possibilities. More recent history is easier, because it
means fewer changes to consider, but if a brave GM
wants to explore a world-spanning Greek Empire under
an Alexander who lived to a ripe old age, then who are we
to stop them?
Ambitious [Personality] Ambition implies a drive to
succeed or improve, often (but not always) at the expense
of others.
Apathetic [Personality] Eh, I honestly don’t care one way
or another. Look it up yourself.
Ape World [Setting] Ape World is just like any other
world, except that it's populated by apes that talk, walk,
and act exactly like humans in the same setting. If from a
world where humans once predominated, the apes really
have a deep seated hatred for the humans. They see
humans as an uncivilized lot that raped the environment
and forced their ape ancestors into confinement or death.
Amusement Park [Place] (See Modern Day Amusement
Anachronistic [Descriptor] Out of place in time. If you're
lucky, you're the "way ahead of your time" type. More
than likely though, you're the poor unfrozen caveman.
Applied to objects, anachronism is anything anomalous
for the time period. Whether it got there through time
travel, magic, prophesy or alien intervention is irrelevant.
The point is that it doesn’t belong here.
Ape World can exist in any other setting, just replace the
predominant race with apes. As an experiment, role again
on the settings table and make that an ape world. 1770s
Boston is now 1770s Ape World Boston. Orwellian
Future is now Ape World Orwellian Future.
Ancient [Descriptor] Old. Really old. Typically full of
secrets and mystery as well, but that's not required.
Appealing [Descriptor] Attractive and desirable. Just
plain likeable.
Ancient Egypt [Setting] This one's a little unfair, because
it covers such a huge broad span of time, from the earliest
dynasties in 3000 BC, through the more famous
Tutankhamen, Nefertiti and assorted Setis, right up to the
Greek born Ptolemy and his descendants—many more
Ptolemies and the infamous
Cleopatra. While the
picture is of the great
pyramids and sphinxes
amidst the barren sandy
desert, remember that the
lifeblood of the Egyptian
Kingdoms was the cities,
farms and communities
that flourished along the
mighty Nile. Pharaonic
Egypt was a culture of
complex social and
political interactions tied to
a system of overregulation
and bureaucracy that puts
Arabian Nights [Setting] If a gamemaster wanted, they
could certainly play the traditional/mystical Arabian
Nights everyone is familiar with from Ali Baba and
Aladdin: flying carpets, chaotic marketplaces, genies,
flashy sorcery and monkeys on chains.
For more of a challenge, however, this
same setting can be played a bit...
grittier. For instance, the marketplace
isn't chaotic, it's just bustling with goods
that have arrived from all over the world.
With the crossroads of merchant routes,
this setting becomes a rich setting for
black marketeers, global intrigue and
ancient magicks that well from the belly
of the lands themselves.
Arcade [Place] The arcade is the place
for mindless entertainment. The people
who frequent the arcade can be of a
Aristocrats don't just exist in 17th Century Europe, either.
An aristocrat is simply an ingrained part of the power
structure, the elite. In present day, aristocrats go to
expensive prep schools which prepare them to go to
expensive colleges which prepare them for whatever sixfigure career they're headed for straight out of college.
variety of backgrounds: some are people who have
worked hard all day and are looking for a fun activity to
reward themselves Some are troubled souls who live at
the arcade to distract themselves from their stress Many
are young people who are simply bored and find the
arcade a great social setting with their peers. In modern
times, the arcade is full of stand alone video games and
pinball machines. In the future, the arcade is station after
station of cubicles for consumers to jack in and
experience games virtually. In more primitive times, the
arcade was a strip of different games of varying levels of
luck and skill such as the ring toss, frog flipping and
chicken races.
Arkship [Setting] A massive space-faring habitat
intended to bear colonists to a new home. Arkships are
large and usually have some sort of self-sustaining habitat
that allows it to travel centuries or millennia without
refueling or reprovisioning. The inhabitants live and die
aboard the arkship, with many generations passing during
the long voyage. If the ship is particularly self-sufficient
and self-maintaining, the inhabitants will often lose the
knowledge of how to maintain it themselves. Sometime,
ark residents aren't even aware that they are on a space
vessel at all. It is recommended that a roll or two on the
Tech table be used to determine the overall tech level of
the inhabitants' daily life.
Archaic/Biblical [Setting] Pick a chapter. Old Testament
or new, it doesn't matter. Just try not to pick one with all
the begatting going on—even though it sounds exciting in
principle, in practical terms it makes for boring game
From the context of technology, the biblical setting is
pretty primitive. Animal husbandry? Check. Domestic
crops? Check. Ironwork? Check. Anything beyond simple
machines? Not so fast. The society is mainly agrarian
with over ninety percent of the population in subsistence
agriculture. Death rates are high and lifespans are low.
Many twists are possible as well. What if something goes
wrong and the players now have to search for the lost
wisdom of the ancients to repair their world? What if they
finally reach their destination, and it's already inhabited?
Or while they were coasting between the stars, humans
invented a warp drive and got there ahead of them,
leaving the ark and its people an anachronistic relic.
What makes an archaic/biblical setting different from a
simple Iron Age campaign? Divine intervention. In
civilization's more "formative" years, the gods (or God if
you choose) would directly interfere with the activities of
the mortals. In this setting, however, the gods are not
merely immortal humans who act, speak and experience
emotions (like the Greek pantheon of gods). Rather, they
are unquestioned, omniscient deities that rarely interact
with the mortal world, and when they do, it has earth
shattering ramifications. If God has to stop being God to
send a message to the rest of us, it is either really
important (i.e., burning bush type-message) or really
devastating (i.e., plague, flood, apocalypse). Either way,
everyone pays attention.
Armory [Place, Thing] It's a stockpile of weapons.
Probably very dangerous. Hopefully guarded. For
whatever time period, the word armory generally implies
personal weaponry and combat gear of some sort, but its
range and effectiveness will vary greatly.
Arrogant [Personality] Not just better than everyone else,
but also really smug about it. It's the smug part that gets
on people's nerves.
Artifact [Opposition, Thing] The heart of the opposition
boils down to a single item: maybe a mad computer, a
cursed ring of power, an automated security system that
works too well. Whatever it is, this item is causing the
trouble, attacking people or possessing them or otherwise
making them crazy.
Argumentative [Personality] I did this one already in
another section. No, I really did. Are you calling me a
liar? Just go look. Jerk.
Artificial Intelligence [Person, Tech, Thing] AI.
Machines that think and open pod bay doors. "Intelligent"
machines that are so complex that their responses cannot
be easily distinguished from human responses. There are
two distinct flavors of AI: Simulated AI which in the
stories always seems human, but turns out to simply be
hyper-advanced programs which ultimately stumble over
some obscure situation that only a "real" human can cope
with. The other type is the true AI, which really is, for all
intents and purposes, equivalent to the human brain, and
usually far surpassing it. Some of the most interesting
tales are those in which the main characters have no
agreement on which type of AI they actually have.
Aristocrat [Person] You are a man of class. (Probably a
man, if you're rolling with the traditional patriarchal
power structure. Nothing to say you can't be a society
dame, debutante, or damsel, though, or play in a setting
with women on top).
Good breeding, powerful connections, the appearance of
'merit' or 'honor'—these are generally marks of the
aristocrat. Perhaps you hold that you and your fellow
aristocrats are most fit to run government, being wisest
and most noble, superior to the tyranny of a man or a
mass of rabble.
your game (role again on the settings table for inspiration,
if necessary) but is about to fall into the sea for one reason
or other—normally due to divine intervention, but alien
invasion or magical influences are also appropriate.
Artificial World [Setting] The artificial world may look
nothing like the real world. On the other hand, the
artificial world may be exactly like the real world in all
things except one- it was manufactured. That is the only
requirement for an artificial world. It could be a virtual
replica of the real world used to simulate disasters or
other natural phenomena. On a more modest scale, it
could be a self-enclosed structure with limited inputs and
stimulation to check the psychological effects on certain
subjects. It could be an entire Museum Planet built to
replicate the earth as it existed at distinct points in the past
(e.g., circa 300 BC). In a more obvious scheme,
everything in the artificial world could look exactly like
the real world, but be made of shaped foam and durable
plastic—with wildlife being animatronic replicas of actual
Atomic Monster [Thing] You know what really sucked
about nuclear radiation in the 1950s? It turned normal
animals into giant monsters with an affinity for destroying
Asian metropolitan areas. Take any normal insect or
reptile and make it 250 feet tall. If necessary let it breath
fire or give it weird, destructive sonic powers. Make sure
that it hates civilization and does everything it can to
destroy it. Most importantly, and we can't stress this
enough, normal bullets and airplane artillery can't hurt it
(but don't be afraid to have the government try).
Typically the atomic monster goes on a rampage of
mindless destruction and can only be stopped with an
overwhelming and powerful force which is at least as
powerful as the nuclear explosion that created it in the
first place. Sometimes the atomic monster has grown
protective of its hometown and defends it from outside
forces. On rare and spectacular occasions, an atomic
monster will rampage and coincidently come across
another rampaging atomic monster. Get ready to rumble.
Artisan [Person] The artisan is a skilled manual worker—
a craftsperson in the best sense of the word. Artisans of
earlier days were backbone of the economy: carpenters,
barrel-makers, blacksmiths, glass blowers. In worlds that
have seen the development of an industrialized economy,
the artisans are still around, but they are more truly artists
and specialists, no longer creating necessities, but rather
high quality luxury items.
Attentive [Personality] These people seem to notice the
smallest details, and won't let you forget them.
Artsy [Descriptor, Personality] Creative, imaginative and
expressive. The artsy person has a flair for dramatic and
creative ideas, and insists on displaying it. Couples well
with the ‘fartsy’ descriptor.
Auction [Place] Depending on the forum, anything can be
sold at an auction to this highest bidder. In a traditional
auction, items for sale are displayed in advance for
inspection and then the potential bidders gather in a room
to bid on the products. Online auctions take this same
principle to the virtual world, however bidders don't get to
inspect the goods in advance. Caveat emptor. Anything
can be auctioned: vehicles, puppies, kidneys, planets,
crops, antiques and toast which purportedly carries the
image of the Virgin Mary.
Assassinate [Action] to
intentionally kill for a
higher purpose—maybe for
political gain or power, or
maybe just for money.
Athlete/Athletic [Person,
Personality] Someone who
is healthy and in shape.
While the athletic person is
sometimes muscular, they
could also just be welltoned. Most importantly,
though, the athletic
personality understands the
importance of being
healthy and works hard to
maintain it.
Auditorium [Place, Thing] This is a place of spectacle,
where the locals gather for big events. In the ancient
world, it could be anything from the rough wooden stages
outside the cities for early Greek plays or it could be the
grandeur of the Roman Coliseum. Modern day examples
range from the elementary school cafeteria/gymnasium
for school concerts up to the 100,000 seat domed sports
Author [Person] A person who writes for a living. It
could be a modern horror novelist, an Elizabethan
playwright or a 26th century vid-scripter, but they all
make up stories for a living.
Atlantis [Setting] The undiscovered underwater kingdom.
Atlantis can be anything you want: modern, eccentric,
ruinous, magical or violent. It can be a large underwater
empire, or a small, discrete town. The only rule with
Atlantis is: it either is an underwater city, or soon will be.
There are two ways to play Atlantis: pre and post sinking.
In the post sinking variety, make the city however you
want as long as it is underwater (which usually means it is
largely unknown to surface dwellers). In the pre-sinking
variety, Atlantis can be like any other city appropriate to
Automobiles [Tech] A society with automobiles
(powered by an internal combustion engine or the
magic/psychic/steampunk equivalent) greatly increases
the amount of land it can occupy, cultivate and defend.
Automobiles expand the functional travel ability of a
society a hundred fold. This results in greater trade
capabilities and the evolution of dependent cities
hundreds of miles from each other.
through hell and back, but is probably still usable for its
intended purpose, but maybe just barely so.
Awesome [Descriptor] In the old days, it meant of great
number or magnitude. Now it means 'totally tubular,' or
'really, really ridiculously cool’.
Beach [Place] It's fun in the sun down at the old
beachside resort! Who doesn't love the feel of sand
gritting between your toes, the fresh salty spray from the
waves lapping up on shore, or the coarse cry of the gulls
echoing across the wind? Oh wait, I know who doesn't
like that: the players investigating the Order of N'goth
who have turned day into perpetual night and the waters
red with blood. The beach isn't always a cheap and
enjoyable form of recreation.
Awkward [Descriptor] Anyone between the ages of
thirteen to seventeen. Or, if outside that range, someone
or something appearing out of place, unsure, or clumsy
and off-balance.
Balanced [Descriptor] Well rounded. On equal footing.
Bank/Banker [Place, Person] The bank is the place
where they keep the money. Usually it involves a vault,
guards and tellers, but it could be much less or more
sophisticated, depending on the setting. For some games,
maybe this is more of a treasury, or for the very clever, it
could be a data bank or a bank of heavy artillery... or even
the West Bank.
The banker is the person who controls the money in the
bank. Need a loan? Want to open an account? Need to
threaten someone to get that vault open? Talk to a banker.
Beautiful [Descriptor, Personality] Beauty is in the eye of
the beholder. Think of the most attractive person you
know or have seen and you have the best definition we
can think of.
Bar Fly [Person] The bar fly is a drunk with a roof over
her head. The bar fly is typically a sotting alcoholic, who
spends all day, every day planted on a barstool and
sucking back free peanuts along with the cheapest alcohol
they can get. The bar fly's primary skills seem to be
recognizing suspects and staying just level enough to
never get tossed out.
Belligerent [Personality] Mean, disrespectful and
downright rowdy.
Big Business [Opposition, Thing] The evil corporations
are behind everything... as usual. Greed is good. It's all
about money and power, and the players are caught in the
middle of it. Depending on the setting, this could be a
merchant's guild, or a modern globe-spanning megacorp.
The players however, will only see lackeys and hired guns
at first, and finding out who is financing all the trouble
can be an adventure in itself.
Barbarian Europe [Setting] While the Greeks and
Romans were flourishing and enjoying the marvels of
indoor plumbing, they referred to the rest of Europe as
barbarians. From around 1500 BC until the fall of the
Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity through
Europe in the 5th century, barbarians ruled. From the
Celtic kingdoms of the British Isles to the Vikings of
Scandinavia to the Huns of the Russian steppes,
"barbarians" were an extremely dynamic and varied
group. Technically, barbarians continued to control many
parts of Europe even up until the 11th century.
Bizarre [Descriptor] Mind-jarringly odd. Really just too
odd to be explained normally.
Bathhouse [Place] The bathhouse is... uh... a public
facility... that, uh... people use for... for... bathing. It is not
unheard of that some of the consumers of the bathhouse
may have other interests... than just... uh... bathing.
Bizzaro World [Setting] This am confusing. In a bizzaro
world, everything is backwards, and things tend to be the
opposite of how they are supposed to be. Suddenly you
find yourself in a world where Pope Hefner I leads a
crusade for the new morality and the WWF belt finally
goes to the new heavyweight champion Bill "Ballcrusher"
Gates. The words "post office" are synonymous with
timely efficiency and reserved level-headed employees,
and it seems like Arbor Day shopping seems to start
earlier and earlier every year, even beginning to
overshadow the grand festivities of Black History Month.
Battle-Scarred [Descriptor, Personality] Conflict touches
those who have experienced it first hand. Physically it
leaves pits and marks. Mentally it can do far worse. With
respect to an object, it describes something that has been
A bizzaro world is best if it comes into conflict with the
real world. Either the players find themselves trapped in a
bizzaro version of their own home, or else bizzaro
versions of themselves are spilling into the "real" world
Barracks [Place] A place where soldiers live. Usually
this means low ranking soldiers and lots of shared
amenities. Spartan in its amenities, the barracks are
designed to be practical and utilitarian. With lots of
bunks. Lots and lots of bunks.
them. To include the Bogeyman in a setting could be to
actually make one of these mythical creatures real, or at
least give the impression that it might be real. But it's also
possible to simply introduce the tale of the bogeyman—
the myth of the beast—as part of the plot.
and causing havoc. The simplest version of a bizzaro
world is "Evil Opposite." In Evil Opposite, the characters
run into—you guessed it—their own evil opposites,
usually easily identified by their sporty van dykes.
Blackmail [Action, Thing] If you want your secrets to be
kept secret, then you need to pay the price. Blackmailing
is more than just trying to extract money from a senator
with pictures of him having an elicit sexual encounter
with someone other than her husband. Some of the most
sinister blackmail plots are complicated, beautiful
schemes which involve setting up someone in a situation
in which they have no choice but do pay your price—
which can be monetary, political, or requiring violent
Bordello [Place] It is a house of ill-repute. A brothel. A
cathouse. A den of vice. It doesn't matter what day or age,
the world's oldest profession will always find a home.
Boston, 1770’s [Setting] Welcome to the birth of
America. Don't fool yourself, however, into thinking that
this is the land of unbounded dreams and ample
opportunity. Indoor plumbing? Working sewer system?
Think again. Even in New England it was hot and dirty,
and people still dumped their waste in the open streets—
not ideal conditions for a population that liked to wear
powdered wigs.
Blood [Thing] Every living thing has blood. Its color can
vary from red to green to clear, and may not even be
recognized for what it is when it's discovered. Often times
found in trace amounts at a crime scene, blood can be
used to identify an individual who matches the specimen
discovered (by blood type, DNA, presence of alien
microbes, etc.). For some creatures it is more crucial to
discover the blood in copious amounts, preferably still
flowing through the veins of a potential victim. For some
reason, blood is often the necessary ingredient to open
portals to occult planes—like olive oil, the more virgin
the specimen, the better.
B-movie [Tone] Wouldn't life be simpler if everything
was easy to identify as white and black; good vs. evil?
Where heroes were normally military officers and women
wore uncomfortable-looking bras. Welcome to the world
of B-movie productions.
In this play style, everyone plays a well-defined role.
There is some unspeakable evil that, if left unchecked will
destroy the world: werewolves, vampires, zombies, giant
ants, giant dinosaurs, giant spiders, giant blobs, or giant
moths (see a trend?). The good guys are out for one
thing—to stop the bad guys, and want to do so for no
reason better than because it is The Right Thing To Do.
Good guys like to posture heroically and say ominoussounding things like "If it reaches the plutonium refinery,
it may just... destroy... the world!" Bad guys say things
like "Rrrowhrrrr!" and then destroy buildings or terrorize
damsels in distress. DON'T forget the damsels in
distress—they are crucial.
Boastful [Personality] This is the best entry in the entire
book. Period.
Politics were in the air, and the forefathers of the United
States were plotting and scheming their independence
from the British who were largely occupying most of the
colonies. Most importantly, Johnny Tremain was
rebelling against his future as a silversmith and
unwittingly became a hero of the American Revolution.
Use the high politics and American sabotage of the
British as the primary focus of your game, or simply have
it as the backdrop to a similarly engaging plot.
Bogeyman [Thing] Did you check under the bed? In the
closet? Did you leave the hall light on? The bogeyman is
the ultimate childhood fear, and every culture ancient or
modern, human or alien has tales of the bogeymen that
are told to frighten small children. The names and forms
may vary wildly, but they all serve the same purpose: to
scare naughty children into doing what their parents tell
Bounty Hunter [Person] "Wanted: Dead or Alive".
Sweet sounds to the bounty hunter's ear. Good, bad, just
misunderstood - the bounty hunter doesn't care. She goes
out, finds the person in question, and bring them back.
Simple as that. Or is it? We all know about the Honor Is
Everything bounty hunters, but that's just a narrative
cliché. What about the bumbling bounty hunters? Or the
bounty hunters who would rather be running a confidence
game, if only they could find one? And the quarry doesn't
have to be human, either. Those guys on the American
frontier who got paid for every wolf pelt they brought in?
Bounty hunters.
modified insects implanted with listening devices? There's
no way that could have dire and/or unforeseen
consequences. Is there?
Build [Action] In one context, this can refer to the players
actually having to build a physical structure: a shelter for
innocents in the path of a meteor; a bridge to cross the
Salantha River; an unholy weapon to fend off the angelic
In another context, it can call for the players to build a
relationship—an alliance, a friendship, trust, or
Brains [Thing] Either kept in a jar or good with ketchup,
one can never go wrong with a good dose of crenellated
gray matter. Of course, brains could also refer to
intelligence or people who possess it.
Bully [Person] You know this type. No seriously, you'd
have to have been raised by wolves to have never
encountered a bully. You weren't raised by wolves, right?
So why are you even looking up "Bully" in the Instant
Brainwash [Action] It's not enough to get people to do
and say what you want, you've got to make them believe
it. Usually involves mental and physical torture of some
sort. The desperate and downtrodden make easy marks,
but anyone can be broken if you know how. Popular
pastime among cults and dictatorial regimes.
Hey! Don't go read some other entry, punk. I asked you a
question, didn't I? I want to know why you are looking up
"Bully" in the Instant Glossary if you weren't raised by
wolves. And no—I won't drop the question. I'll drop you
in a heartbeat if you don't answer me. You want a piece of
me? You email me the time and place, tough guy.
[email protected] - you don't scare me, buttwipe.
Bridge [Place] A raised structure that spans a gap,
normally over water. What makes a bridge exciting in
game play is the element of danger it adds: action or
combat taking place hundreds of feet in the air; one slip
and someone falls to their doom.
Burrow [Place, Thing] When the badgers are the sizes of
VW vans, you might think twice before exploring their
earthen homes. Burrows are created by digging animals,
such as badgers or ants. Often they are simply a long
tunnel with a hollowed out space at the end. Sometimes,
and ants are an example, they can be sprawling labyrinths
with dead ends and cross-tunnels galore.
Business Office [Place, Thing] Simply put, a building
that houses a business. Normally, a business office refers
to a non-service-sector business (no restaurants or barber
shops here). Exteriors are often bland and non-descript,
and a hierarchy has evolved over the possession of
parking spots (or hitching post, depending on your
setting). The interiors are similarly drab, with people
crowded into "working spaces" which are uncomfortably
small. Paper abounds.
Bright [Descriptor] Intelligent, gifted, or gives off light.
In theory, someone or something could be all three.
Bronze [Tech] The Bronze Age was the first era in which
civilizations began utilizing metal to make toolsincluding weapons and domestic tools for food
preparation. With the development of more durable,
sharper tools, technology in other fields became more
advanced as well. For example, larger more complicated
boats and water vessels were created. Shelters were much
Calm [Personality] Placid and serene. Just like Bob Ross
and his ‘happy little trees’ from the painting show on
Camping Out [Place, Setting] Maybe it's a military camp
of Greek Hoplites waiting to overrun Persia at sunrise,
four hunting buddies from the city on a canoe trip through
West Virginia, or even a handful of teenage counselors
sneaking a few beers after the younger campers have gone
to bed. The important part is that the players are sleeping
under the stars, cooking their food over an open fire, and
occasionally jumping at those things that go bump in the
The Bronze Age is also typically associated with a
civilization’s first use of rudimentary farming techniquesincluding plowing of fields for domestic crops, usually
basic grains. This also led to more advanced techniques
for domesticating animals such as oxen or sheep.
Bugs [Thing] Listening devices or insects? How do you
choose when they're both so cool? How about genetically
Carpenter [Person] The carpenter works a special kind of
magic, turning wood into items both useful and functional
- cups, cabinets, canoes, cottages. And also items that
don't begin with the letter "c".
Camping out has the players roughing it in the wilderness,
far from whatever it is they would normally call
Campy [Tone] Three words: over the top. The key to a
campy campaign is to exaggerate and emphasize the
obviously silly or contradictory elements of the setting
and story and play everything with your tongue planted
firmly in your cheek.
Casanova [Person] Typically a lover... not a fighter. A
Casanova is a compulsive womanizer or seductress, with
the art of romance and love always foremost in their
mind. However, unlike the more crass satyr or
nymphomaniac, for the Casanova, the romance portion of
the equation is just as important (if not more so) than the
physical expressions of love.
As opposed to a farce or outright comedy, players in a
camp game typically don't openly acknowledge the humor
of the situation. Instead, they play as if their characters
take this ironic setting as deadly serious.
Castle [Place, Thing] Standing above the surrounding
countryside, the castle dominates everything around it.
Heavy stones and exacting construction strengthen its
towering walls. Castles are home to powerful forces, such
as emperors, dragons, giants, knightly orders, and
merchant princes. Laid under siege, they are the final
defense against invaders.
Cannonfodder [Person, Thing] Cannonfodder are the
grunts—the people on the front lines who are placed in
harm's way to protect those behind them. Typically,
cannonfodder are unskilled and expendable.
The term comes literally from the battlefield, where the
conscripted, unskilled commoners were sent to the front
to bear the brunt of enemy fire. In other settings,
cannonfodder could be employees positioned to absorb
the first round of layoffs in a corporate merger. Or the
jungle guides who are always the first one into the bush...
and into the crocodile's maw.
For many hundreds of years, castles were the ultimate
weapon. Nearly impregnable, the forces they protected
could control the countryside for many miles. Ancient,
they stood watch over the people and grew to hold many
Cautious [Personality] A risk-averse individual who tries
to account and prepare for any unforeseen dangers or
It story terms, cannonfodder are most often little more
than a name and position. And if you don't even bother to
learn their name, then the sting when they die is even
easier to ignore.
Cave [Place] A natural underground cavern. Normally
infested with bugs and vermin. Caves are a great location
to introduce creepy opposition, either mundane bats or
sonar-emitting cannibal humanoids. They’re also
notorious locations for people to hide valuable treasures.
Bring a flashlight, however, because once you go past the
mouth of the cave, there’s likely to be no natural source of
Caretaker [Person] Very literally, someone responsible
for the care of something or someone else. It could be
people, in a nurturing/healing sort of capacity; animals
maybe, or even a piece of property. Nurses are caretakers,
as are zookeepers. More exotic examples would be
dryads, desperately guarding their small copse of trees, or
highly evolved aliens charged with protecting mankind
from itself.
Celebrate [Action] Every culture goes to great lengths to
celebrate. In certain indigenous tribes in south Asia, it is
an important annual tradition to have surrounding families
gather and feast for several days to show the gods that
they have created a plush world that does not require
constant toil. The Amish often celebrate, albeit in a muted
fashion, events such as weddings and births. The Ancient
Order of S'goth Ramsei hold a quintacentennial
Carnival [Place] A poor man's circus. Carnivals provide
mindless amusement which is affordable for everyone.
Attractions include thrill rides which are still mobile
enough to be broken down and transported on a regular
basis; freak show and oddity exhibits; and games of
chance rigged heavily in favor of the house.
celebration that involves the entire order feasting on the
souls of their enemies' children—it's kind of a metaphor.
preservation. They constantly strive to reflect their ideals,
and failure is unacceptable.
These, of course, are grand-scale celebrations. Don't
forget that a celebration can be as simple as an end-zone
dance after catching the game winning touchdown.
Church [Place, Thing] Any place devoted to worship,
enlightenment, and/or spiritual betterment, be it Shinto
shrines, Islamic mosques, or Catholic convents.
Charismatic Leader [Opposition] It's the cult of
personality. Or maybe just a cult. It can be in a wilderness
bunker or as part of a larger organization or government,
but a single charismatic leader, typically with ideas that
seem more than slightly crazy to the objective eye, has
gathered a close cadre of fanatics, always with the goal of
expanding the leader's circle of power and influence.
City Under Siege [Setting] "Animals flee this burning
hell of a city. The hardest stones do not last for long. Only
men endure," taken from a letter written by a soldier in
the Siege of Stalingrad, one of the fiercest and most
horrific sieges fought in human history.
The City Under Siege throws into sharp relief the horrors
sentient beings can inflict on one another. Play takes place
among the shattered remains of city blocks. Everyone is
armed, angry, and trying to survive at any cost. Small
arms fire stutters through the night, punctuated by
massive explosions from artillery, tanks or home made
Charitable Shelter [Place] The charitable shelter is the
place where the unwanted go to get out of the cold
(literally or metaphorically). This can include youth
hostels, homeless shelters, halfway houses or
rehabilitation facilities. These aren't always the safest
place on the block, and the proprietors are universally
reviled by the surrounding homes and businesses.
There is no food, nor water, nor safety. Only orders from
on high that look a lot like suicide and the urge to kill
those who have turned one's home into a ruin.
Charming [Descriptor, Personality] Alluring, pleasing,
delightful. Often associated with physical beauty and
Chaste [Personality] Pure, innocent and untainted. The
chaste person is untouched by the ‘unclean’ elements of
vulgar society.
Chauvinistic [Personality] You hear the word
"chauvinist", you automatically think "male chauvinist
pig", don't you? It's okay, we do too. Thing is, there's a
reason there's a whole phrase involved there - a
"chauvinist" isn't necessarily someone who's antifeminism. A chauvinist is someone with an unshakeable
belief in the natural superiority of a particular group, of
which the chauvinist is a part. Which group? That's the
beauty - it's up to you. Carnivores, magic-users, Pacific
Islanders... or maybe carnivorous magic-using Pacific
Islanders. Try not to be too hard on all the inferior types
you'll most certainly wind up dealing with along the way,
Classical (Greek/Roman/Peloponnesian) [Setting] In
the western world (albeit ignorantly so) the Classical era
is considered the origination of "cultured" society. Citystates and nations developed and the birth of democracy
was witnessed in Athens. On the backs of a large
population of slaves and indentured servants, an
aristocratic culture evolved which focused (among other
things) on mathematics, philosophy, science and
Child [Person, Thing] A youth of any sort. While they
may be precocious or surprisingly mature in some areas,
children always have areas
(typically social, among
others) where they are
clearly underdeveloped
compared to adults.
Feats of engineering such as extended aqueducts, massive
structures and paved roads developed. Religion became
quite secular as the population gradually distanced itself
from the long-historied tales of their gods and creators.
For the privileged, which was an ever growing lot, life
became more about recreation and less about the grueling
task of daily survival. Of course, all good things come to
an end and with the greed and excess of the Roman
empire, so did the Classical era.
Chivalrous [Personality]
The chivalrous person lives
by a code of honor that
pervades all their actions.
Oftentimes, ideals such as
loyalty, truth and honor are
more important than self39
Cold War [Setting] East vs. West- and we're not talking
about rival rap labels here. The Cold War spanned from
the end of WWII until the early nineties when the Berlin
wall came down. The Cold War is defined by the war of
opposing ideologies: capitalist running dogs vs. commie
pinkos. While the political philosophies of the two sides
were greatly different, their strategies for winning the
Cold War were surprisingly similar: military build up;
nuclear deterrence; extensive espionage networks;
complex alliances and misinformation.
Classy [Descriptor] You have a sense of style. You know
the difference between champagne and sparkling wine,
you never wear white after labor day and you always hold
the door for the ladies. That’s class, baby… and it’s
something you can’t buy.
Clean [Action, Descriptor] Something's gotten dirty and
it's up to you to make it right.
We've got stacks of drug money here and we need to
channel it through legitimate sources.
Certainly a Cold War game can take place in the
appropriate time period (60s-90s) in any global location
(East Germany, Siberia, Nicaragua). But it can also exist
in a variety of other settings, from alternate futures (where
the commies win and invade mainland US) to Cthulu (the
old ones awaken in the time of nuclear standoffs).
Our entire network has been compromised—it'll take our
cyber-programmers days, if not longer, to remove all
traces of the virus attack.
Hercules, have you seen where I keep my horses?
Clear [Action, Descriptor] Well said. To see through.
Collect [Action, Person] Collecting has a couple different
flavors. In the first, they have it, and your job is to go
collect it. And if you're not the one who has earned it, you
normally have to deliver it to them. Collecting can be as
mundane collecting a debt from a deadbeat, as
complicated as collecting a vow of allegiance from the
Council of Dukes or as serious as having to collect the
souls of unrepentant rebellion leaders.
Clergy [Person] Any person ordained for religious
service. One usually thinks of the priesthood of larger
mainstream religions, but any religious personage could
fill this role.
The clergy are typically seen as caring and
compassionate, purveyors of wisdom, enlightenment and
spiritual guidance. But depending on the setting, clergy
can also be righteously vengeful, or withdrawn and
introspective, or even worldly and sophisticated—doing
their faith's service in the context of the larger world.
Or you could be the other sort of collector—the ones who
amass specific items simply for the joy of having them all
together in one place. Collectors of this type get strange
satisfaction from maintaining collections of odd, but hard
to obtain, objects. Often the collectors need to complete a
certain collection is obsessive—the collector will offer
outrageous sums of money for objects that seem
worthless. Collections include: stamps, rare swords,
porcelain dolls, trading cards and alien internal organs
(normally pickled in jars).
Clever [Personality] Witty. Bright. Ingenious. The clever
person usually sees through any gambit and can figure
out, or even create, all the angles to any scheme or plot.
Cloud City [Setting] The Cloud City has always been
heralded in legend and lore as the floating kingdom that
escaped the bounds of earth. High above the ground,
Cloud City is nestled in the magical clouds that keep it
aloft. The weather is always immaculate and the sun
beams brightly during the day. But Cloud City is also a
marvel of engineering. The clouds don't support mere
mortals, so one wrong step and a person will fall miles to
their death on the rocks below. If the world is not
magical, Cloud City can float on negative-gravity
generators which can also move it at impressive speeds
around the globe. Given the vulnerable nature of Cloud
City, it is normally very well armed and defended.
Common Criminal [Opposition, Person] Also known as
a thug or a punk, the common criminal is a minor ruffian,
committing minor crimes to get by. A stereotypical
common criminal would be short on wits and morals, but
long on muscle and brutality. As such, they are not
sophisticated, not good at covering their tracks, and tend
to get caught a lot.
Cold [Descriptor] There are unusual people who are
emotionally detached from everyone around them, even
their family, spouses and children. These cold
personalities are normally quiet, introspective and calm.
They detest expressions of feelings such as love, anger,
joy or sorrow.
Of low temperature or with a cruel disposition.
setting or genre, a game played in a tone of conspiracy
must have two elements: (1) A powerful force which
could be anywhere, and the players can't tell where; and
(2) it's out to get them.
The common criminal's transgression of choice can be
almost anything: breaking and entering, mugging,
Computers [Tech, Thing] Whether or not we want to
admit it, computers have revolutionized the world. In a
tiny box (or phone, or goggles) we have invented a
machine that can process information at immeasurably
fast speeds. We often discuss the "information age" but it
is better thought of as the "computer age" because the
revolution of instant access to any information is solely
due to the computer. And I'm just talking about the
Commodore 64.
Conspiracy Theorist [Person] The clearest path is
always through the mud. The conspiracy theorist knows
the truth behind everything, and the more convoluted it is,
the better. To the conspiracy theorist, there is a sinister
motive behind everything, and there's always a monolithic
overarching agency behind it to cover it all up. The really
talented conspiricist will always manage to tie them all
together, so that everything is linked if you just know how
to interpret it.
While computers can be powerful, the movies have taught
us this: if you accidentally spill a beverage on one, it will
either turn evil or it will teach you to open your heart to
an undiscovered love (normally your attractive neighbor
who wouldn't have looked twice at a geeky person like
Typically, the conspiracy theorist is considered a modern
invention, and by extension, the ever-increasing
complexity of future worlds makes the conspiracy theorist
a natural fit. But it is easy to imagine this mentality in
virtually any setting—for example, a viking raider who is
convinced that a cabal of vampires secretly controls trade
routes and introduces plagues to villages that hinder them.
Concerned Parent [Person] A concerned parent always
gets involved, and no one can stop them. Obviously it
involves their child, and the situation is grave enough that
they are concerned. Otherwise they wouldn't be here,
right? Who's going to tell the concerned parent to shut up
and go back home? So just acknowledge the fact that
you're going to have to deal with them, and be prepared
for the unexpected. Concerned parents aren't the most
rational nut in the bucket.
Whether or not there is any validity to these theories is up
to the GM.
Contemporary [Setting, Tech] Modern day Earth, pretty
much as you see it today. Oh sure, there may be all sorts
of weirdness bubbling beneath the surface: superpowers,
aliens, killer robots, witches, but to an outside observer,
the world ain't that much different than the one we know.
Confident [Personality] Forthright, assertive and sure in
their abilities. Confident people know they are right and
extremely decisive. Unfortunately, they often are blind to
when they are wrong and refuse to acknowledge mistakes.
I'll wait here while you go look out the window. Sigh.
Okay, what did you see? Uh huh. Okay. Great! That's
your setting.
In all seriousness, the modern setting could be anywhere
on the planet in the past twenty years. Thus, your modern
setting could be:
Confinement [Thing] Sometimes complete isolation is a
worse fate than death. People have always had reasons to
confine others: punishment for breaking the law;
maladjusted psychopath; political purges. Confinement,
however, does not necessarily mean being locked away in
prison (although it certainly includes that). People can be
confined to interdimensional voids that cannot be escaped
until the teleportal is reopened. Or trapped in a fire sphere
by the Lord Hellion Badranian for tampering with occult
relics. Or placed into a coma by a doctor to keep from
talking to the police about the murder that was witnessed.
On the streets of Calcutta: A densely packed population
with rich and unique aspects of culture. A complex
challenge may be having to navigate from one shop to
another through the winding roads of the market place.
Jackson, Mississippi: The traditions of the Old South
collide with an economy moving into the next
millennium. Poverty and power coexist in an odd
juxtaposition of two different worlds.
Conspiracy [Opposition, Thing, Tone] "I have to take the
pills to keep me from sleeping. When I sleep is the only
chance they have to read my thoughts."
The Underworld of Moscow: When chaos took over after
the fall of communism, the underworld was waiting
hungrily to fill the void of authority. While connected
families still control many aspects of society, the
government struggles to display its hollow authority and
Okay, that's a little extreme. But the theme of the
Conspiracy tone is that the players are questioning
everything. The government may have cameras hidden in
the corners of every house. The necrotic wizard may be
following the players with his invisible hand, waiting for
the opportunity to poison their food with his decayed
flesh. The aliens have taken on human form and now the
humans can't tell who is friend and who is foe. Despite the
Control Room [Place] The nerve center. In modern and
future settings, this is often the central monitoring and
computer center. A place where the people in charge can
see and control everything. In more primitive settings, the
Cruel [Descriptor, Personality] Sadistic, though not
necessarily violent. They steal candy from babies.
control center can be the shaman's hut, where the magicks
speak and do her bidding. More traditionally, the control
room can even be the hidden room in the King's dungeon
where the three fates keep watch over the cauldron.
Curious [Descriptor, Personality] Either actual
inquisitiveness in a person, or else being strange enough
to provoke such curiosity in others.
Convince [Action] There are powers that rule the world.
Powers led by men and women that have all too common
wants or dreams. You need only find out what those
wants may be and you have the chance to rule for
Cybertech/Cyberpunk [Setting, Tech] "The sky above
the port was the color of television turned to a dead
channel..." Neuromancer
Correctional System [Place, Setting, Thing] Jail, prison,
reform school, the darkest bowels of the deepest dungeon,
a forced labor camp, "re-education" facilities, or high
school detention. This is where the law has sent you to
pay for your transgressions... real or imagined.
Mankind has forged an alliance with technology like
never before. He has welcomed it into his body, his mind,
and some say, his very soul. But can a soul made of
silicon and steel still be human? The Cyber Revolution
technology level frames that question and many more.
Cover Up [Action, Thing] I don't know how the hell this
happened, but between you and I, no one is ever going to
find out about it.
The following tenets are core to this technology level:
direct neural interface, cybernetic limbs, automated on
demand production, simulated sensation, simulated
memories, robots with human or animal levels of agility,
artificially intelligent systems and a fully interconnected
information environment (usually accessed through
simstim or DNI).
The cover up is the perfect plot twist: it necessarily
assumes something unpleasant happened that needs its
history rewritten. Typically murders are covered up. But
many different situations can call for a cover up: an affair;
theft; an accident; a disappearance (or inversely an
Cynical [Personality] A pessimist. The cynical
personality always sees the glass as half empty, and has a
great tact for finding the negative in everything.
Crash Site [Place, Thing] The crash site can refer to any
place or thing that results from a large destructive impact.
That impact can be caused by two trains crashing into
each other, a meteor striking the moon and cracking it
into pieces, or an alien spaceship crash landing in the
Dam [Place, Thing] The dam was one of the first marvels
of engineering ever undertaken by civilization. When man
wanted to efficiently work the land and produce plentiful
harvests, he quickly realized that diverting water for that
purpose was AWESOME. Thus, the dam was born.
Through the years, the dam has grown in size and
technology so that they hold back millions of gallons of
water and generate power for entire cities. But whether
your dam is in medieval Europe or futuristic Colorado, if
that sucker bursts you are in for a hell of a headache.
Maybe that's why they seem to attract evildoers?
Crater [Place] Generally there are two kinds of craters:
old ones and new ones. Most folks are more wary of the
new craters, wondering what the hell just crashed and
why did it leave such a huge dent in the planet? But the
ones to really keep an eye on are the old ones which are
normally remote and have had centuries to breed their
alien lifeforms and evolve their invasive technology.
Crazed Loner [Opposition, Person] A serial killer
maybe, or a self-styled vigilante, the crazed loner is an
irrational individual with a terrible mission. And even if
excessive bloodshed is not an integral part of that mission,
the crazed loner has no qualms about making it so if
needed. The crazed loner can be a simple madman on a
killing spree without rhyme or reason or could imagine
themselves an avenger or savior with a mission of
But what if you're playing a stone age campaign which
hasn't developed dams or primitive water engineering
technology? Never fear! Dire beavers have been making
them since the beginning of time. And they get really
upset when you mess with them.
Crossroads [Place] The intersection of two paths. Taken
literally, the crossroads can be a major intersection of two
roads, interstellar travelways or transportation tubes.
More abstractly, the crossroads can refer to the
intersection of the paths of two or more powerful entities,
normally leaving a wake in their path.
Darkworld [Setting] You stand perfectly still. Your
pupils dilate and your ears strain for any indication of
movement. Then one of your hands silently wanders in
front of you, slowly at first, just so you can find any type
of landmark and orient yourself. But you are effectively
the god of war and a phoenix.
blind. Essentially you are a sitting duck for the sightless
grimlock running full speed at you with chef's knife.
Deliver [Action] Take something to somewhere. While
this seems relatively simple, problems arrive when
someone else doesn't want the something delivered or
when the something to be delivered doesn't want to go to
the somewhere that the players are taking it.
Darkworld is exactly that—dark. There is little or no
light. If the darkworld is an elaborate underground
cavernous structure, the only light is the rare illumination
that weakly glows from phosphorescent moss. A
darkworld planet is so far from any solar body, that the
only light is from star shine and heated through an
internal mass, which may be further obscured by
atmospheric phenomenon. The inhabitants of darkworlds
have adapted to their surroundings, but visitors better
bring a torch or a flashlight- or they're a sitting duck.
Demon [Opposition, Thing,
Person] Yes, creatures from
the fiery pit, usually with
horns and pitchforks and a
wreath of flames about them.
But if you're lucky, they're the
kind that are only in your
Dawn of civilization [Setting] The dawn of civilization is
primitive. The inhabitants are just figuring out how to
manipulate their environment to utilize crude tools and
forage for edible plant life. Fire, the most important tool,
is a precious commodity. Life is normally dangerous and
short, and normally focused on reproducing and finding
enough food to survive. However, the dawn of civilization
could also just be beginning to discover the taps of
magical powers to further enhance their survival. Occult
forces could be overseeing the entire civilization in a
garden-of-Eden puppet show.
Depopulated Earth [Setting]
Welcome to the brave new world. For whatever reason,
the players begin this session on an Earth with nearly no
people. Whether by nuclear destruction, biblical
apocalypse, meteor impact or widespread disease; nearly
the entire human (or humanoid) population of the planet
is gone.
In this setting the players are one of only a handful of
people that are alive. Normally the eradication is recent—
for example an alien purge of intelligent life. Other times
the eradication is long since passed, but the characters
have only recently discovered it—as when the players
were caught in a temporal bind, and have only now
escaped to discover tidal floods have killed everyone. In
this setting the players may not know what caused the
mass extinction of people, but in another variant may be
more aware than they care—as when they emerge from a
bomb shelter after a nuclear war.
Dead [Descriptor] Poke it with a stick. I dare you.
Deadly [Descriptor] No, seriously, read the instructions
Deceitful [Personality] Trickiesss thisss one. Yesss.
Disshonest to poor me. Liar! Liar!
Defend [Action] Something or someone of great value
must be kept safe. Be on your guard, and know that
someone out there wants whatever it might be as much as
you do.
Desert Planet [Setting] There is no water. Here, only the
strongest and most cunning have a chance to survive.
Desert Worlds are home to mad prophets, ruthless tribes
and many creatures turned alien and strange by the
endless quest for life-sustaining water. The sun-scorched
anvil tempers men, it makes them harder, stronger than
they would otherwise be.
Defensive [Personality] I am not and I hate that you think
I am. I'm just trying to write a good entry here, no need to
get in my face. It's not too wordy, is it?
Defiant [Personality] Resistant of authority- whether it be
a government, a parent or the Rule of Law itself.
Life continues, even in spite of itself.
Suffering is part of existence; it sharpens
everything into simple decisions. Live or
die, fight or run. All else is ephemeral and
in the end, useless.
Deity [Opposition, Thing] The Lord
works in mysterious ways. When it comes
down to it, all gods work in mysterious
(and sometimes arbitrary) ways. The gods
often have esoteric goals they wish to
achieve which result in obstacles or
tribulations for the players. To this end,
players can be sent on a quest by one god
only to have their journey interrupted by
another. Maybe a deity has decided to end
civilization on the Civil Realms to expand
their underworld domain. This opposition
could even manifest in the form of a halfcrazed demigod who was spawned from
Despair [Tone] From the outset, it's clear
that all is hopeless. The odds are
overwhelming, and more than likely, quite
The players are likely tragic heroes. Maybe
making one final quest against long odds,
or shouldering onward on their dark
mission sheerly out of duty or principle or
tornado, tidal wave, hurricane, mudslide, meteor strike,
earthquake, floods, or even insect infestation.
maybe (sadly) just for lack of another purpose.
While such a game should truly only end in misery and
pain and probably considerable player-character death,
there is always the remote chance that they will pull it out
in the end, against all odds. Probably not... but it's
wonderful to let the players have that final glimpse of
hope just before the true end.
A good natural disaster can actually be central to the plot
("Evacuate the village before the dam gives way!") or can
simply serve as a random complication in the middle of
the mission ("Oh great! What are the chances we'd get
softball sized hail?"). Either way, as long as the players
think the gods are punishing them, you know you've
implemented the disaster appropriately.
Desperate Citizen [Opposition, Person] This is a difficult
villain, both in terms of introducing the desperate citizen
to the game and in dealing with her as a player. This is a
person at the end of her rope. She has taken everything
life has dished out and now feels that she has no other
choice... no other salvation... except this desperate long
shot that threatens the players or others. An otherwise
good person turned to crime to provide for their family, or
a desperate mother taking hostages to help save her own
Discover [Action] Secrets are found everywhere and
anywhere, as long as you know where to look. Whether
it's the government's secret ego project, a film noir's
private eye or Lewis and Clark explore Mars, discovering
something new —or perhaps very, very old —is what
makes the world go 'round.
Disease [Opposition, Thing] Throughout history, diseases
have periodically ravaged populations, sometimes to the
point of near extinction for some cultures. The plague
killed off nearly a quarter of Europe's population, the
Native Americans were decimated by European diseases,
and rage infected monkeys nearly caused the eradication
of all the British.
Destroy [Action] Maim, kill... well you get the idea.
Objects are powerful, both in actual energy/magic and in
significance. An object of actual power would be the
Broach of the Gates, which contains the essence of a
demonic jinni who is tortured in the nine hells and
projects its ability on the wearer to transport to any place
in the material worlds at will. An example of an object of
powerful significance would be the shroud of Saint
Augustus, which is a normal piece of cloth which has
been held as the holiest relic by the New Christonians for
4,000 years.
Typically, as an opposition, diseases are normally quickspreading and lethal. However, long incubation times
before the onset of symptoms can complicate the player's
efforts to track the source and path of a disease. Diseases
don't always have to be fatal—a zombie disease can
convert the infected to zombies; an alien spore could put
people into comas while alien embryos feed off the bodies
and develop into full warriors; a sentient virus could
infect people and take over their physical and cognitive
Got that? Now destroy both and see what effect it has.
Detached [Personality] Psychologically apart from the
situation at hand. Broken, halting behavior.
Deviant [Descriptor, Personality] Deviance, often
associated with behavior, describes something that is
amoral—or at the very least of questionable moral
turpitude. Something deviant is thought of as being
perverse and/or depraved.
Disguise [Action, Thing] Appearances can be deceiving.
The players need to disguise their appearance to infiltrate
a highly guarded location. Or maybe they have to hunt
down a shapeshifter that can look like any of the victims
it's killed. Or maybe they need to disguise an elephant
with magic to make it look like a cockatoo and smuggle it
over the Mexican border.
Not following the norms laid out by society.
Devil's Advocate [Person, Personality] In the Catholic
tradition, a Devil's Advocate was appointed to argue the
case against a candidate for saint-hood. They would look
for whatever skeletons were hidden in their closet and
display them for all to see. If this wasn't enough to deny
the candidates piety and holiness, then the candidate
became a saint.
Distracted [Personality] Not able to f...oooh, shiny!
Ditzy [Personality] A ditzy person appears vapid and
unintelligent to an extreme degree. However, ditzy people
are sometimes quite intelligent and use their ditzy facade
so their enemies will underestimate them.
Divine Creation [Opposition] A divine creation is any
creature, force or object created by a god. Most often,
gods create champions to do their bidding: Odin may send
the soul of his mightiest Nordic warrior to do his bidding;
the long-dead Martian god Tonglan may have created an
intelligent ash hound to exterminate human invaders on
his planet which still carries out its dead master's wishes;
Satan might create a cursed scepter that emanates
In the vernacular, it means a contrary person, or one who
looks for the worst possible scenario, even if they don’t
think its occurrence is likely.
Disaster [Thing] Nothing puts the kibosh on a good
adventure like a natural disaster. They are always grand in
scale and fantastic in the devastation that they reap. What
kind of natural disaster do you need? Pick one: fire,
have fun with this. If you want cute, fluffy miniature
dragons with butterfly wings, that's up to you.
depravity to all within view of it. A divine creation wields
unearthly power because the source of its power is in the
very god or gods that created it.
Dreams [Thing] We don't only dream when we're asleep.
People dream while not paying attention to a boring
conversation; while listening to music in their car; while
sitting on the subway. It is a state of predominant
Docks [Place, Thing] This is where stuff gets loaded for
transport. Typically on ships, but it could be a loading
dock anywhere. For some reason the docks are always
dark and misty and surrounded by warehouses full of
illicit materials.
Dreamworld [Setting] Buckle your seatbelt and make
sure that the giant fish that's driving the bus (and has the
voice of Fidel Castro) is ready to roll, because
dreamworld is weird. There is no single description that
sums up dreamworld because it is constantly in a state of
flux. The laws of physics don't apply (or sometimes they
do, but only temporarily), objects can randomly appear,
disappear, or partially appear as one thing, but upon close
inspection actually be revealed to be a different distant
Domesticated Animals [Tech] The first domesticated
animals were dogs. Why dogs? Because they're smart and
you can use them to help domesticate the other animals.
Keeping track of sheep, cattle, goats, chickens, lemmings
or other livestock can be difficult, and the assistance of a
dog can be invaluable. As a technology level,
domesticated animals is still very primitive, but still an
effective way to ensure a steady food supply. As an
alternative to the traditional agrarian stereotype of animal
husbandry, certain societies could simply domesticate
vicious hunters to track down and find food for it. Or
maybe only large beasts of burden (huge mammoths or
yaks)are domesticated to carry entire villages on their
backs across an inhospitable landscape.
Door [Thing] It's a door (portal, hatchway, gate...).
Maybe the players should open it...
Doppelganger [Opposition] He looks like you and
sounds like you. Even your mother thinks he's you. But
he's not. He's a doppelganger that has assumed your
There is only one law to dreamworld- everything has
relevance. You may think the Cuban fish is just an out of
place oddity, but in actuality it is one of the player's
visage of his father as an eccentric authority figure, and
the bus represents the player's lack of control. No one said
this was going to be easy.
Doppelgangers are villains that carry out their evil work
through the guise of another, normally to detract attention
from themselves. The source of the ability to transform
themselves can be magical (a gypsy's hex), biological
(shapeshifter), psychic (she's making everyone think they
see you) or technological (best... mask... ever).
Driver [Person] Every good heist, sabotage scheme,
kidnapping, invasion, or daily commute needs a driver.
She won't do your dirty work, but she'll make sure she
does her part to get you in and out as fast as possible.
Whether she's a hired car, a technology-improved rigger
or a jack-of-all-trades that has mastered every vehicle, the
driver is crucial for a clean entry and a quick getaway.
Dormitory [Place] A very small housing unit for students
or soldiers, normally with a shared bathroom and kitchen.
One structure can house dozens of separate rooms.
Dragons [Thing] Dragons
come in many forms, but
they are always lizard-like
beasts of unusual power.
Typically gigantic intelligent
flying beasts, they can be
scaly with bat wings, multicolored feathered beasts, or
sleek, serpentine Chinese
dragons. They are often
portrayed as wise, ancient,
and aloof atop a massive
hoard of gold and trinkets.
Terrorizing villages and
eating maidens is often part and parcel of the dragon gig.
But we all know what dragons are like, so feel free to
Dubious [Descriptor] Doubtful; of questionable
character; fraught with uncertainty. Or any positive
assertion of fact made by a politician or lawyer.
Duel [Action, Thing] Dueling is the gentleman's method
of settling matters of honor. While normally only two
people participate, duels can consist of three or more, or
even teams of individuals. There are normally strict rules
as to the methods, weapons and timing of a duel—
normally to be agreed to by the parties in advance. The
duel continues, in accordance with the rules that govern it,
until only one participant remains.
Dumb [Descriptor, Personality] Not very bright OR
unable or unwilling to speak. We've got a lot of words
Eccentric Millionaire [Person] The eccentric millionaire
can either be benevolent or malicious. The eccentric
millionaire spends his money in strange, but relatively
harmless ways (sponsoring the local Ugly Pageant or
making their wiener dog the sole beneficiary of a large,
powerful trust). The non-benevolent, eccentric millionaire
uses his money for more malicious ends, like touring kids
through his chocolate factory knowing that many will
succumb to painful demises giving into their childish
that can mean the first, so we find the second far more
interesting. Take your pick.
Dungeon [Place, Setting, Thing] As you are dragged into
the dungeon, the dried blood on the stonework screams
your fate to you in silent horror. One of two fates awaits
you. If you are lucky, you'll be tortured slowly and
painfully until Death shows mercy on you. If you are
unlucky, you'll be locked in a lightless room for the rest of
your existence, only to have maggoty stew shoved
through the door once a day to keep you alive. If allowed
to live, your sanity will quickly drain from your head as
you resort to conversing with dead relatives and slime
mold. In either situation, the horror of the dungeons will
claim your soul one way or the other.
Efficient [Descriptor] Not wasteful. When referring to an
object, efficiency describes its economic use of a resource
(normally fuel or kinetic motion). When referring to a
person, it describes someone who is direct, to the point,
and quick to finish tasks in the least amount of time
Dying World [Setting] The dying world used to be a
world of an advanced civilization. Whether it was
premised on magic, technology, or divine intervention,
the dying world was the height of civilization. But not
anymore. Something happened to topple it all: infertility;
apathy; disease; natural disaster; or the afore-mentioned
divine intervention. Whatever happened, it destroyed
something key in the civilization and it has slowly
withered and deteriorated until it is only a pale shadow of
its former stature. The technology doesn't function like it
should. The spirits no longer respond to the old rituals.
And there are hardly any people left. They are a dying
The efficient are able to find the shortest, least taxing
route from point A to point B. Point A could be, 'untied
shoes' or 'planning world domination.' Point B, on the
other hand could be, 'double knotted,' or, 'His supreme
high muckaluck.'
Egomaniacal [Personality] Someone who absolutely
cannot see anything from someone else's viewpoint. In
other words, it's all about them. The egomaniacal person
either can't, or won't, think of anything other than
themselves. This is more than just being selfish. It borders
on being obsessive about being the single most important
thing in the universe.
Dystopia [Setting] Originally, there was to be a second
entry for "Utopia," but the truth is that there is no
difference. Every proclaimed utopia has some fatal flaw
or dark secret that is either hidden from the populace or
that they are all too scared to point out.
Elder [Person] Wise in the ways of her people, the Elder
is living history and knowledge. She is respected for her
age and experience; often acting as part of a leading body.
Elders can be anyone who has built up wisdom and
influence over the years, like an older councilman, a
wizened druid or an ancient alien traveler.
The hallmark of any dystopian society is the loud cries
from its leaders (and often from its citizenry too) that they
have finally achieved the perfect society. But that
"perfection" always comes at a price. Have the citizens
given up all privacy? Their freedom of speech and
thought? Maybe it is only utopia for the middle and upper
classes and the whole thing is supported by slave labor
and oppressed lower classes. And maybe—just maybe—
Soylent Green is people.
Often consulted for advice or knowledge, the Elder is one
of the oldest, most experienced people in the community.
Sometimes they are community leaders. Sometimes they
are reclusive types who live in the scary house down the
block but know spooky town secrets from decades past.
Sometimes they are simply crotchety know-it-alls that
don't listen to what anyone else has to say, but get upset
when someone doesn't listen to every word they say.
Eager [Personality] Can we go now? Can we? Can we?
How about now? Now? Maybe now? Now? I want to
go...NOW! Now?
Elected Official [Person, Thing] Though not necessarily
a politician, an elected official has been given a leadership
position through the vote of the people. This does not
mean they are qualified, or even the people's. Corruption
and bribes can always 'sway' decisions, and the official
might know more than one nefarious group.
Early Space Exploration [Setting, Tech] This is a
civilization that has just figured out how to take the first
baby steps off their home planet. Putting things into orbit
is the first step, and then after that is getting people into
orbit, and finally making the first move beyond the home
planet... likely to the moon (if the planet has one).
Depending on the world, this is probably a result of realworld style rocketry, but there could be other ways of
getting off a planet.
Election [Thing] We all took a vote while you were in the
bathroom, and it was unanimous: it's your turn to go feed
the werewolf.
For the less stout of heart, if you don't want to have to
resurrect the King (or teach him to travel through time or
have the aliens return him from cold storage) for your
game, this entry can be anything Elvis related. Maybe
you've stumbled into a convention of Elvis impersonators.
Maybe you must undertake a quest to Graceland. Maybe a
thousand years from now, Zen monks have formed a TaiChi style meditative practice around Elvis's music and his
signature moves.
Elections usually entail some sort of position that multiple
people are vying for, but any sort of vote can fall into this
situation: beauty pageant, homecoming king, president of
the galaxy.
Electricity [Tech] The discovery of electricity can come
long before a society finds a way to mass produce it and
fully utilize it. Electricity as a technology in Instant Game
refers to a society that has moved into the mass
production phase. Maybe electricity isn't piped directly
into every home, but it reaches the major facilities and
can be used for a host of purposes. An interesting twist is
a society that has put electricity to major use, but its only
source is from batteries.
Personally, I say you go with the man himself.
Empire [Thing] There are two types of empires, the
traditional and abstract. The traditional empire is what the
Ottomans are known for: a imperialistic entity ruling a
large number of territories and nations. The abstract
version refers to anyone with an extensive enterprise in an
industry: Reginald Stathord's media empire or the
Deustchbanc's financial empire.
Electronics [Tech] Electronics is a technology of gizmos
that run off of wires and circuits, and maybe even a
vacuum tube or two. Electronics leads to advanced
communication and computing devices and even selfregulating devices—like thermostats and elevators that
don't require human operators.
Enduring [Descriptor] Long lasting. When describing an
object, it often refers to something that avoided
destruction despite great devastation (e.g., a family bible
that survived a fire that consumed everything else). When
describing a person, it refers to someone who has
survived great hardships (e.g., disease, personal tragedy,
physical pain or disability). Sometimes enduring refers to
a situation or set of circumstances (e.g., the dynasty of
alien Visigoths endured despite the wild nature of the
Elegant [Descriptor] Stunningly beautiful, either in
adornments or in simplicity.
Elizabethan England [Setting] England circa 1558-1603:
the reign of Elizabeth I. Also known as the English
Renaissance. During this period such influential historical
figures arose such as Shakespeare and Sir Francis Drake.
The theater and arts flourished and even the common
working stiff could pay a pittance to see a performance at
the Globe. For the privileged, high collars, puffy pants
and dainty shoes ruled (and we're just talking for the men
here- women were in the high-necked dresses and
corsets). The Elizabethan period also saw the rise of
England as a political and military power: defeating the
Spanish armada in 1588 and beginning its forays into
colonization at the end of the century.
Epic/Epic Heroes [Descriptor, Thing, Tone] Every step
and every act you take creates ripples which effect the
tides of the world. The gods watch you breathlessly, each
hoping that your choices sway the fates in their turn.
Playing in the Epic tone means one thing: the fate of the
world rests in the hands of the players. It is not what you
would call light fare. The Epic style is characterized by
very serious play, grand actions and consequences, and
drama of the utmost importance.
Elves [Thing] Tall and noble Tolkien-esque uber-men...
or curly shoe-wearing, tree-dwelling cookie bakers? The
choice is in your hands. Reclusive protectors from deep in
the forest of Ardeth-Bey or rosy cheeked minions from
Santa's Workshop? Do we need to go on? Pick the elves
you like and stick them into your
story. It can be an entire race with a
mission or a solitary puck sent to
stir trouble. Just pick an elf and go
with it.
You are the one (or ones as the case may be). Chosen by
destiny, a slave to an unknown fate, you can't escape the
one role you were born into: to
save the world. Epic heroes fight
against the destructive forces
which are trying to bring about the
end of civilization. And if the
heroes fail, the world will end
because (of course) no one else
could fulfill their destiny.
Elvis [Thing] That's right... the
King of Rock and Roll. Greased
pompadour, rhinestone studded
jumpsuit, the trademark sneer—this
is the whole package, baby. I don't
know how he got into your game
and I don't care. The point is that
he's here now, and you can't just
ignore that.
In a fantasy setting, the players
could be the champions of gods
set to stave off the undead
menace. In a modern/occult
setting, the players could be the
only survivors of the long-dead
cult which is capable of sealing
the opening gate to hell. In a futuristic setting, the players
could be secret rebels chosen to topple the oppressive and
authoritarian mechanical regime which suffocates modern
Faith [Thing] Belief in a higher power, often a God or
philosophy. In many games, Faith stands at the core of
supernatural powers. Faith can also be the larger group of
like-minded believers in a particular God or Religion.
Escape [Action] To free oneself from her confines. As
simple as getting untied from a bank robbery, to as
complicated as returning from the seventh level of hell
into a corporeal body without an occupying soul.
Fallen Civilization [Setting] There's a certain sadness to
Fallen Civilization settings, as the people struggle to get
by and occasionally grasp at the signs of former grandeur
that are all around them.
Espionage [Thing] The art of spying or using spies to
covertly obtain information. Can apply as easily to
government espionage practices of spying on other
nations, as to business espionage practices of trying to
obtain confidential business secrets or practices.
The great kingdom of the elves was overrun by goblins,
and now the once-great elves live in the ruins of their
magnificent tree cities. Their daily lives are occupied
simply with avoiding capture at the hands of roaming
goblin patrols, but a few heroes seek talismans of nowlost elfin magics that may one day overthrow the
Evasive [Personality] With respect to physical
characteristics, evasive describes something that is elusive
or hard to capture or catch up with. With respect to
people, however, an elusive personality is one that is
defensive, maybe overly so.
Or in space... the classic scenario is a lost colony ship that
crash lands, and the survivors must make their way in a
primitive world. Or maybe the destruction of Earth has
left all of it's colonies stranded, unable to maintain the
massive supply ships that once traveled between worlds.
Evil Mastermind [Opposition] The power of incredible
intelligence can be bent into extraordinary power. But
when that power is wielded for evil, its destruction can
have global implications.
The heart of a fallen civilization is that despite its overall
"primitive" nature, there are still odd remnants of past
glory and hope that ancient technologies or magics can be
recovered or revived.
Expert [Person] Someone who excels in a particular
subject or specialized skill.
Family [Opposition] Blood may be thicker than water,
but it can be just as easily spilled. When a group's
opposition is Family, that means that the enemy is related
to one of them, or their benefactor that sent them on the
adventure. While it may be known from the beginning
that the opposition is Family (You are hired by President
Giggs to find his brother, who has been impersonating
him for personal gain, and assassinate him—the problem
is that the entire Eastern Seaboard actually thinks the
brother is the president), often it is only revealed, if at all,
at the climax of the mission (You mean it was my evil
twin all along?).
Explore/Exploration [Action, Thing] The act of
systematically searching and documenting something,
normally a geographic location.
The world is a strange and wondrous place, with more
mysteries than anyone can guess. Lost civilizations lay
choked in jungles. Gods' throne-temples dream beneath
the sands of ages. Atlantis, Shangri-La and the Golden
City of El Dorado wait for those bold enough to claim
them. And more, the mass of human knowledge expands
only so far - who knows what fantasies could become
reality with drive and dedication.
Famous [Descriptor, Personality] Everyone knows your
name. That’s right… just like Norm.
Extravagant [Descriptor, Personality] Luxurious to a
fault. An item that is extravagant is normally expensive
and adorned with expensive objects. An extravagant
person is someone who spends freely and generously on
(often unnecessary) luxuries.
Fantasy [Descriptor, Tone] The world is changing. *long
pause for dramatic effect* I can feel it in the air. *another,
equally long pause for dramatic effect* I can feel it in the
earth—Alright, so Tolkien may have 'started' this genre,
but we don't have to sell everything out to him. Do we?
Fairy [Thing] Or "faerie" if you're pretentious. It's the
little people. Usually with wings. Often flighty and
mischievous. Fairies can be living embodiments of nature,
mysterious creatures of myth, or just tiny winged dudes
who punch a clock like anyone else.
Fantasy is a mixture of slightly abnormal elements that
combine to create an extraordinary whole. While often
these elements are described as magical, such as wizards
or dragons, they do not have to be. The paranormal could
just as easily fall into this category. They simply must be
unexplained by our current knowledge of the laws of the
Fairies are most effective when injected into a setting
where most people don't believe in them. Thus the players
not only have to deal with whatever mayhem they may
cause, but also with the mere fact of their existence.
Farm/Farmer [Person, Place, Setting, Thing] Crops.
Livestock. Isolation. A giant barn. Dirt. These are the
hallmarks of the farm, where self-sufficient families
struggle to survive off of what they can cultivate from the
resources around them. It is not an easy existence, but it is
the only one available to most people.
Fire [Action, Thing] Anything having to do with heat and
flame, whether it be campfire, volcano, or 1871 Chicago.
The Hindenburg, Smoky the Bear, or the dimension of
Elemental Flame.
Firm [Descriptor] Solid to the touch. Able to withstand
pressure without breaking. A law office.
First Alien Contact [Setting] They've landed and, quite
naturally, they'd like to be taken to your leader. This can
go so many ways that it's hard to even sum them up—you
might do well to combine this with another Settings roll.
In the modern world alone, it could be a friendly alien
stranded on our planet whose only hope is an 11-year-old
with a Speak'n'Spell. It could be hovering mother ships
with demands for our surrender. Clandestine alien
operatives here to harvest our aluminum to save their
planet. A derelict alien ark-ship on a collision course with
the earth. So many to choose from.
The farm is not limited solely to American Gothic-style
Ma and Pa NPCs. In the future, the farms are selfcontained biospheres run by the megacorps who have
monopolized the world's supply of food. In 1920s
America, abandoned farms often served as safe houses for
"connected" people who needed to keep a low profile. In
ancient times, the entire village worked to maintain the
communal farm, offering their bounty as sacrifices to
keep in favor of the gods which controlled the weather
and their fates.
Now combine this with other time periods or settings, and
the possibilities are endless.
Fixer [Person] Well connected and in the know, the
Fixer's life is all about business. Getting the goods,
whether they be merchandise, information or people, to
those on the buy, is their life's blood. A Fixer could be a
street dealer, a spice merchant, an entertainment lawyer or
anything similar. Savvy, smart and ruthless are all good
descriptors for one of these people.
And lest we forget, there are salmon farms and mink
farms and conceivably organ farms where comatose
headless clones are fed IV nutrients, waiting for the day
their organs are needed.
Flexible [Descriptor, Personality] In a physical sense, this
refers to the ability of someone to contort their body. In a
personality context, it refers to someone who is willing to
compromise in order to keep the peace.
Fateful [Descriptor] Something that holds vital
importance to future events.
Flight [Tech] The impossible dream. Mankind has finally
found the ability to literally reach for the sky. This can
encompass fantasy technologies such as Leonardo's
corkscrew helicopters or Ikarus's follies. Or it can include
early gliding and lighter-than-air ventures, but typically
flight as a technology indicates powered heavier than air
craft... airplanes. In the real world, airplanes also imply a
sophisticated level of mechanical engineering, and some
type of powered engine and the ability to process fuel for
Feared [Descriptor] Whether by actual deed or simply by
rumor and misunderstanding, people are scared at the
mere mention of the name.
Festival [Place, Setting, Thing] Turn out the revelers and
strike up the drum. Play the horn and dance the night
away. The Festival springs into being around feast days,
around plenty. People are freed from their regular tasks.
Food and drink abound, given with thanks by those who
celebrate the day.
Force of Nature [Opposition] A wise man once advised
that there were some activities men should not engage in
when they were facing into the wind. In Instant Game, a
force of nature is normally more formidable than that.
When the opposition is Force of Nature, the players find
themselves working against some type of natural disaster:
forest fire, avalanche, etc. Sometimes the natural disaster
is not quite natural, like in the case of softball-sized blood
Festivals fill the major areas of any community with
revelers, decorations and happy confusion. In modern
settings, a festival is likely to crop up around a musical
act or other entertainment, increasing the size of the
original event. Large grounds are often left purposefully
empty in order to accommodate them.
Fight [Action, Thing] Whether with fists, knives, guns or
intercontinental ballistic missile, sometimes you just have
to fight. Roll up your sleeves and get ready for a brawl.
Forceful [Descriptor] Powerful, often to the point of
being overwhelming.
class empowering itself during an age of enlightenment,
France in 1789 was at a crossroads that ended with the
overthrow of the monarchy. But the governance void of
the French revolution saw such diverse governments as
republics and empires. Governance by the people was
taken over by would-be emperors. The key phrase is
chaos: mobs storm the Bastille looking for arms and
instead kill the governor; other mobs storm Versailles and
demand self-governance from King Louise; political
purges see many lined up and systematically executed by
the Guillotine for public display. Simply put: chaos.
Forest [Place, Setting] You may not notice it for all the
trees. A forest is typically a thick and extensive wild
growth of trees, but depending on the setting, any place
with lots of natural vegetation could qualify.
Fortunate [Descriptor] Lucky. A fortunate person is one
who, despite the odds, succeeds.
Fossil Fuels [Tech] The use of coal and oil for fuel. In the
real world, the mass consumption of fossil fuels began
with the industrial revolution and the mass production of
cars and electricity. But there were earlier uses as well—
lamps and trains and coal-fired furnaces.
Frontier [Place, Setting, Thing] The vanguard of human
expansion. The players are explorers in a brave new
world. Early homo-sapiens pushing northward against the
Neanderthals after the ice recedes... pioneers of the
American west... Federated starcraft boldly going where
no one has gone before. If it's not on our charts, then we
want to be the first to be there.
Foundry [Place] A place where metal, on a large scale, is
poured and shaped. More than just a blacksmith's shop, a
foundry normally involves large containers of molten
metal being poured into large molds.
Frankentech [Tech] Frankentech is a fantasy technology,
much like steampunk, that allows seemingly more
advanced/modern technology to be introduced into a more
gothic post-renaissance setting.
Frozen Wasteland [Setting] Grab a blanket because
you're going to need it. The frozen wasteland is an
unforgiving terrain blanketed with snow, ice, or simply
frozen ground. Without thermal protection, any normal
living creature could freeze to death in mere minutes. But
if the players come prepared, they may survive.
Inhabitants can build underground or insulated lairs to
survive the extreme temperatures. For forays into the cold
wasteland, bundles of clothing must cover every inch of
exposed skin. Frostbite is common. Losing one's
extremities is unpleasant, but not unusual for someone
who gets lost in the blinding whitestorm of the frozen
wasteland. For game purposes, this setting can constitute
the makeup of the entire world (which would likely mean
there are more prevalent accommodating structures and
technologies by indigenous peoples), or be an
inhospitable environment the population tends to avoid
due to the harshness of the surroundings.
FTL Travel [Tech] FTL stands for Faster Than Light. A
society that can travel faster than light (300,000
kilometers per second or so), has the primary tool for
making interstellar travel a commonplace occurrence.
FTL travel is the key that unlocks the stars. Without FTL,
a space faring society is effectively limited to exploring
its own solar system. Trips to other stars would take
centuries under even the most ideal conditions. But with
FTL propulsion, there can be true galactic nations, with
regular commerce and diplomacy... and even war.
Frankentech is well represented in some of the earlier
science-fiction literature, such as Frankenstein, from
which it takes its name. Logic and real science aren't
always on the closest terms with Frankentech, as it is
based on the primitive understanding of science of the
18th and 19th centuries. It is a science of humours and
chemicals and delicate clockwork mechanics. Chemistry
(closer to alchemy, really), radiation, electricity, and
magnetism are powerful forces in Frankentech, and it
produces such things as Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, Nemo's
submarine and Well's time machine. Unlike other fantasy
technologies (magitech and steampunk), Frankentech is
dark and gothic in nature, and the wonders of science are
nearly always balanced by its very dangerous and
destructive side.
The exact mechanism is left to the imagination, but there
are two major forms of FTL travel: the first involves
simply moving in a conventional manner through space,
just really really fast. The second involves taking
"shortcuts" by entering hyperspace or limbo or a
wormhole, and after traveling some distance in that otherspace, returning to normal space near one's destination.
Either method can be just as fast or effective as the other,
but they have slightly different implications.
French Revolution [Setting] It would be a dramatic
oversimplification to say that the uncompassionate
excesses of the French monarchs caused the French
revolution, but it couldn't have helped. With a working
mechanized planet. Governance is an open question- total
democracy, representative government or possibly a
totalitarian oppressive regime.
FTL travel as a technology implies a fairly advanced
society—one that has achieved spaceflight at least, and
along with it, considerable knowledge of chemistry,
physics, radio communication, etc. Although, an
interesting scenario would be a slightly less advanced
society that has just barely (or even not quite) achieved
space, but somehow stumbled upon the secret of FTL
travel to other worlds.
Galactic Empires [Setting, Tech] Faster than light travel
has allowed civilizations to cross the stars and discover
other inhabitable planets. The quest for new resources and
land has given rise to colonies and conquests of the most
advanced societies. Often, however, different cultures
don't always agree on the best way to cohabitate in the
universe and this can lead to conflict. The galactic
empires setting is the standard space opera with various
alien and human factions trading, negotiating and often
fighting with each other for dominance in the universe.
Funky [Descriptor] Groovy and countercultural. You can
dance to it, but watch out for the munchies afterwards,
Alternately: a little overripe and quite possibly smelly.
Furry [Thing] Anthropomorphic animals should say it
all, but in case that means nothing to you, here's how to
play Furry: everyone's an animal. And we don't mean the
players are really wild and looking to par-tay. Each
character is an intelligent, capable animal.
Gambler [Person, Thing] Odds are you know someone
who fits this category. Even money says you probably
know several, but aren't aware of it because they are
known for their strong poker faces. Are they laying
money on the weekend's races? Always in financial dire
straights because they lost a "sure thing" during the
basketball tournament? Spending weekends alone in
Vegas and not talking about the shows or hookers?
Bingo—that's the sure sign of a gambler.
Gang Warfare [Thing] You’ve seen this before: Sharks
vs. Jets; Crips vs. Bloods; Earthlings vs. Venusians;
Templars vs. Jesuits. Gang warfare occurs when two rival
gangs (formal or informal groups of hooligans who skirt
the law) decide to take their animosity for each other to
the streets- often to the detriment of all the innocent
bystanders. In the case of Humans versus Venus
Dwellers, this means the innocent bystanders include the
Garbage [Thing] Just because someone else threw it out
doesn't mean it isn't valuable.
Generous [Personality] Someone who gives more to
others to than themselves, normally in a financial or
material manner.
Even though some people play Furry characters as actual
animals (think the "Rats of NIHM" or "Watership
Down"), this style of play is pretty difficult for your
standard gamer. Instead, most gamers play Furry
characters that act, talk, move and behave just like
humans. The only difference is that they're some kind of
animal: fox, rabbit, bear, squirrel, etc. For some reason
there seems to be a fetish with woodland-type critters—
like the ones that inexplicably sing to Snow White.
Genetic Engineering [Tech, Thing] Uh-oh... someone's
been playing God again. And for good or ill, the being
before you has been enhanced (or crippled, or wholly
created) by modern science.
It can be the heroes themselves who are the engineered
beings, or it can be their friends or foes or those ravening
mutants over there. The engineered can be virtually
anything, good, bad or indifferent. But the important thing
is that it gives the GM and/or players a license to break a
few boundaries and go out on a limb.
Future Earth [Setting] This is the far future and it means
you need to rethink exactly what that means for
technology and society, but the Far Future Earth assumes
everything has advanced through science and technology.
Lifespans of humans has likely been greatly extended if
not unlimited which raises questions about reproduction
and family planning. Local transportation is instantaneous
(teleportation or near-light speed travel) as is the transfer
of information. Natural resources are likely to have been
depleted, and if appropriate, Earth may be a mostly
Genius [Person] Someone with unparalleled intelligence.
Sometimes recognized for their intellect, geniuses are
often shunned by their peers who can't (or won't)
Grave/Graveyard [Descriptor, Place, Thing] Somber.
These severe fellows always seem to know how to knock
humorists down a peg or two.
Ghost Town [Thing] Empty, but not abandoned, the
Ghost Town is a common concept in every era. For
reasons unknown (or soon to be discovered) the entire
population of a town, village or metropolis has
disappeared. Sometimes it is the inevitable circumstance
of time, such as in the case of the proto-type old west
Ghost Town. Other times it is a cataclysmic event that
leads to it, such as when a fast spreading disease
devastates a populace. The clues to how it developed are
found in the spirits and souls of those who cannot give up
the town.
Also, a place where the
dead are buried. Elaborate
headstones are not
necessary, but are often
present. Aside from the
traditional graveyard, this
category also can include
mass burial sites,
traditional Native
American burial mounds
and the pet cemetery.
Giant [Thing, Descriptor] Very large in height or girth,
and usually both. Giant can describe something huge, or
as a noun, describes a person of enormous proportion.
Gloomy [Descriptor, Personality] Despondent and
hopeless. Can refer to either an individual or a situation.
More than that though, gloomy brings an ominous air to
things, coloring everything around it in dark tones.
Greedy [Personality] Hoarders of wealth, the greedy seek
everything and anything they can get their hands on.
Then, after they've amassed more than enough, they get
some more.
Glorious [Descriptor] Something of great beauty or
splendor. Anything with an air or presence of
Grimm’s Fairy Tales [Setting] Once upon a time, there
were two brothers who committed to paper gruesome
tales of murdered children who refused their parent's
orders. They told tales of animals populating the lands of
man, normally punishing and terminating the lives of the
wicked or unwitting. Magic and fairies abound in this
world, and they are often used to enact cruel revenge.
Golden Age of Comics [Setting] The 1940s and 50s were
the golden age for comic books and began with the
introduction of superheroes. It is marked by its primary
colors and its clear demarcation of good and evil.
Superheroes were the good guys and did good deeds for
the sake of doing good. Evil guys were evil and bent on
dominating the world. In the end the good guys always
won. World War II and the rise of fascism was a large
influence on the golden age and encouraged the brightline good vs. evil simplicity of the era.
But over time, parents distilled these stories as they
passed them on to their children. They idealized them so
that in the end no one was hurt, but everyone learned a
valuable lesson. Most importantly, despite the trials and
tribulations they may have endured, the principle
characters always lived happily ever after.
You choose which style you think best.
Gothic [Tone] Whoever you think you might be, you will
be forgotten in a generation, two at the most. No person
of common standing has any real meaning in a Gothic
toned game. Powers and tradition have incredibly
influence - grinding everything beneath them. It is a bleak
place, where hopelessness and fear dominate.
Grudge [Thing] These hurt feelings go way back, and
somebody has to pay. A grudge makes a great motivator
and/or plot hook for both heroes and villains.
Hidden cults, ancient mysteries and shadowy powers
should control the game, or be at their center. The players
will be hard pressed to find their way among them.
Changing anything about the world should be nearly
Guard/Guarded [Action, Descriptor, Person, Thing] A
guard is anyone who watches over or protects something.
Sometimes the guard is of great importance, such as when
he is protecting the life of the emperor's baby. Other times
the guard is a minimum wage earner protecting the mall
from skateboarders.
Government Agents [Opposition, Thing, Person] It's the
man. And even though everyone fears the intelligence
operatives, are you any better off if it's the IRS?
It can also be the act of guarding, or the insular nature of
the person who keeps their feelings and motives closely
protected from others.
Government Office [Place, Thing] It's the place where
government does business. This leaves a lot of room for
creativity. It can be a mayor's office or the king's treasury
or the Martian Imperial Office of Paranormal
Investigation. It can be a veritable fortress of secrets and
safeguards or a pedestrian plaza where citizens come to
find aid and lodge complaints.
Guide/Guiding [Action, Descriptor, Person, Thing] As a
person or thing, a guide is anything that leads or guides
people to their destination. They can be as rugged as the
native swamp guide on a hoverboat, as pristine as the
museum tour-guide android with encyclopedic knowledge
of the presidential library, or ghostly like the incorporeal
animal totem that spiritually guides people in their vision
softest bedding. Cozy flannel PJs and a big bowl of
Grandma Olma's goulash can be just as desirable as
pricier enticements.
quest. A guide could also include something as simple as
a water-seeking divining rod taken from a willow tree or a
modern GPS system. As an action, it refers to anyone or
anything actually performing the above-described duties.
Heir [Person, Thing] The rightful claimant to something.
Whether through ties of blood or a careful selection, the
heir takes on whatever his predecessor passes down to
him, be it fabulous wealth, a family curse, or a calling to
fight crime.
Harmonious [Descriptor] Two or more things that
compliment and/or blend together seamlessly.
Hasty [Personality] Someone who is quick to act, often
without thinking of the consequences first.
Heist [Thing] Robbery? Burglary? These are small crimes
for small minds. A true heist is a thing of beauty with
covert action and complex timetables. At its best, a good
heist goes completely unnoticed until you've made your
way safely to Rio.
Headquarters [Place] The headquarters is an actual
building or structure that is being used to as an
organization's (or sometimes an individual's) base of
operations. It's where all the planning and critical thinking
take place. Normally well defended.
Heroic [Tone] The line between good and evil is clear,
and those on the side of good are duty-bound to dispatch
evil as quickly as possible. The heroes are larger than life,
and their abilities are never in serious doubt. They wade
through minions and henchmen with practiced ease until
the clever trap or final villain that finally poses a true
challenge. And it's not just superheroes, chivalrous
goblin-slaying elves and force-sword wielding space
knights that fit this mold. It can also be the two-fisted
hero police detective, the Arabian sorcerer prince, or the
vigilante rebels of an oppressive police state.
Healer [Person] The healer is skilled in the arts of... (wait
for it)... Healing! But depending on your setting, this can
mean very different things. In a primitive setting, a healer
can be a shaman or witchdoctor. In a medieval setting, a
healer can be a bleeder who applies leeches. In a modern
setting a healer can be anything from a doctor, midwife,
or EMT, to a ritualistic magical adept learned in the skills
of mystical healing, or a psychic surgeon.
Healthy [Descriptor, Personality] Fit as a fiddle and
unlikely to change any time soon.
When used as a descriptor,
heroic implies all of the
qualities above—larger than
life figures with a clear sense of
right and wrong and a strong
compulsion to be clearly in the
camp of "right."
Hearty [Descriptor] Endowed with
significant stamina and courage.
Hearty's more than just a soup.
Heaven & Hell [Thing] Ancient
philosophers thought that the Earth
was the center point of the universe
around which all other heavenly
bodies revolved. They were right, but
not in the way they thought. In this
world, Earth is the battleground in
the divine battle between good and
evil. The opposing forces can be
presented in several forms: angels vs.
demons, new gods vs. old gods,
unborn vs. dead souls. Sometimes the
world's inhabitants are the object of
the fighting factions' war—as in a
battle for human souls. Sometimes
the goal is Earth itself, and the
inhabitants are just inconvenient
obstacles—people who get in the
way of one sides efforts to eradicate
the other.
Hide [Action] They're after
you. No, they're after what
you're carrying. No, they want
to capture who you're with.
Regardless, they have superior
strength, firepower, the works.
if they find you, it's all over.
Escape capture, or keep your
possessions and your comrades
High Magic [Tech, Thing]
This is the obvious kind of
magic—the spell-casting,
wizardly type of magic. A
society with magic may or may
not be advanced in other ways,
but high magic involves
complex magical methods and research and typically
requires a society that can support schools for learning
magic. In most worlds that utilize high magic, only a
select few have the capability of using it, and even those
with raw talent still require extensive training to properly
harness their abilities. While most high magic worlds are
Hedonistic [Personality] Silk,
cashmere, buttery soft leather, rare delicacies, fine
wines... these are what the hedonist is all about. But don't
get confused - money isn't required to keep hedonists
happy, though it does help. It's all about physical
enjoyment - the tastiest food, the comfiest clothing, the
not also technologically advanced in other ways, they
certainly can be. There's nothing in the rules against rebel
starfighter pilots who can also hurl fireballs.
Although normally characterized by supernatural
monsters (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.), the
horror tone can be used in any genre. Demonic hordes
could hunt down characters in a far-future mechanized
world just as well as enlightened, renaissance Europe.
Similarly, an immortal killer could be on a rampage in a
primitive society, or in a fantasy high magic realm.
Hip [Descriptor] Hip doesn’t mean trendy. Hip people are
ahead of the trends… quite often, they set the trends.
Cool, avant-garde—the hipster is always looking for
something more than the opiate that satisfies the masses.
Horseman [Person, Thing] Surprisingly, this person is
good with horses. They are knowledgeable of riding,
handling, training and breaking horses. A horseman is
also normally educated (formally or through experience)
in the care and treatment of horses: how to stable, feed,
medicate, etcetera.
Hired Muscle [Opposition, Thing, Person] Hired muscle
is anyone paid for physical protection or violence. The
category includes mercenaries, bodyguards, bouncers and
robotic assassins.
Historian/Historical [Descriptor, Person, Setting] The
stereotype of the historian renders him or her as one of
two things: (1) a frail bookworm with an encyclopedic
knowledge acquired after decades committed to
passionate study; or (2) a computer program/artificially
intelligent robot. But a historian is anyone who makes,
finds, researches, or keeps records for posterity.
Alternately, this could also refer to Equan-Ra, lord of the
The historic setting takes place in our own recorded
history. Real world events have happened, or are
happening, or will be happening. Except now there's the
added element of the PCs trying to dip their own hand in
the well, and probably muddying the water on top of it.
WWII might never happen, or maybe Lennon doesn't get
Historic settings often pride themselves on the details of
the time they choose. Don't worry about it too much
though; this is Instant Game, where details come fast and
cheap. Sometimes a well placed lava lamp is enough.
Hi-Tech [Descriptor] Something that uses the cutting
edge of available technology. It usually leaves the
beholder saying, "Whoa."
Hospital [Place] A place of healing and recuperation. A
hospital can operate through technology, personal care or
magic. The end result is always to heal the sick and
Home [Place] The place you live; somewhere to call your
own; where everybody knows your name.
It's about chest high and a little to the left.
Hostage [Person, Thing] The lives of innocents are being
used to gain leverage. Do the players care? Are they the
ones that took the hostages? Are they hostages
themselves? The magic of hostages is that they create an
automatic and unavoidable plot hook: from the get-go,
you know someone is in danger, and there’s likely a
rescue attempt being mounted.
Honest [Personality] "If you tell the truth you don't have
to remember anything." Mark Twain. The honest person
doesn't lie. Normally this is because they were raised with
a sense of morality and ethics, but often because they are
under the influence of truth serum or their programming
won't allow them to.
Honor [Thing] Can you uphold your principles in the
face of adversity? Will you allow your family's name to
be sullied? Have you no honor, sir?
Hotel [Place, Thing] A hotel is a public accommodation
where, for a price, strangers can have shelter for at least
one night. Examples of the different types of hotels
Horror [Tone] Sheer, unbridled terror. That is the single,
overwhelming factor in the atmosphere of the horror tone.
No matter how powerful they are, no matter what
futuristic or fantasy-styled genre it is set in, the players
should always be fearful for their lives.
-The five rooms attached to the back of the Gryphon's
Tavern. There are no windows and the only furniture is
two hammocks hung in opposite corners of a six by six
room. But the door has a reinforced bar and a strong lock.
Good enough for most wanderers.
millstones, or it can be massive hydroelectric dams that
provide power for whole cities.
-The once luxurious Grand Spanner Hotel and Casino has
over 300 rooms, four meeting halls, a presidential suite,
two restaurants, an Olympic sized pool, and a ballroom
that had to booked two years in advance for weddings.
After the plague killed off 98% of the population,
however, it has fallen into disrepair and is now home to
morlock squatters who cannibalize any strangers who
dare to cross into the grand foyer.
Hyper [Personality] Someone who is very excitable
and/or high-strung. Or every child that ever sat behind me
on an airplane between the ages of three and seven.
Hypochondriac [Personality] The hypochondriac is
obsessively phobic about his health. Often imagining that
the most benign symptoms are indications of a fatal
disease, the hypochondriac is constantly looking for the
affirmation of their illness from others: "My left eye has
had an intermittent mucousy discharge for the past week.
Normally I'd think nothing of it, but combined with the
tinnitus I've been experiencing in my left ear, I can only
draw the conclusion that it's a tumor." The hypochondriac
is resigned to the concept of an early death.
-In a chaotic cyberpunk future, the Corner 4000 is a hotel
that takes up an entire city block. Contained inside are
4000 secure sleeping pods which rent for 7 euros per
night. The pods are indestructible. But for 1000 euros,
you can bribe the owner into giving you the unique
combination to someone's "room".
Idiot Savant [Person] Incredibly gifted in a single
endeavor, such as mathematics, music, philosophy or
religion, this person sadly lacks many of the functioning
skills they would require to function as an average
member of their society. They can be seen as mad
prophets, visionaries onto worlds the rest of us can barely
imagine, or as simpletons with a single ability that makes
them invaluable.
Hovel [Place] A hovel is a dirty, dilapidated structure that
someone has adopted as their shelter. A hovel is usually
intended as a permanent structure, albeit a fragile one.
One good brawl, however, and the whole thing will topple
like a house of cards.
Humble [Personality] The opposite of boastful. Someone
who plays down their accomplishments and is reluctant to
take credit for good deeds.
Ignorant [Personality] Other than the obvious image of
ignorant as someone who is just plain stupid or
undereducated, this could also refer more specifically to
an individual who is simply oblivious or unaware of a
certain situation or life in general.
Humiliate [Action] Besting your opponent is not enough
for you. No, you need to make them realize the shame of
their loss. Not only do they need to recognize the sheer
embarrassment and humiliation at having lost, but you'll
make sure to inform their parents, spouses, children and
household pets.
Ill/Illness [Personality, Thing] Someone is sick. Wouldn’t
it totally suck if it was highly contagious?
Illusory [Descriptor] Objects in the rear-view mirror may,
or may not, be closer than they appear. Things are not
always as they seem. This is the stuff holograms are made
And then you'll wait several months—just long enough
for them to think nobody remembers the beating you laid
on them. Then you'll follow them to the mall, and when
they least expect it you'll dump a slushee on their heads
from the second floor overhang. And then you'll laugh...
Oh how you'll laugh! Because it's really that funny.
Imaginative [Personality] Flights of fantasy and lingering
daydreams are as important as hard work and rote
memorization. Being imaginative can lead to leaps of
realization, new inventions, or just hours and hours of
wasted time.
Humorous [Personality] Hopefully people are laughing
with you. That’s the good kind of humorous: you think
you’re funny, and other people agree. The sad versions of
humorous are when other people don’t find you as funny
as you do—or worse, when you don’t see why they all
keep laughing at you.
Immortals [Opposition, Person, Thing] Immortals can be
gods, aliens, androids or even just people with the ability
to live forever. Sometimes being an immortal simply
means the person doesn't age, but can die by other means
(violence, disease, etcetera). Some immortals cannot die
no matter what—as is the case of the incorporeal Ghost
Man, who is intangible and never ages. Finally other
immortals, such as certain pantheons of gods, die only to
reawaken in the underworld from which they can
inevitably escape given enough time and prowess.
Hunt/Hunter [Action, Person, Thing] Track something
down and obtain it. Think Tommy Lee Jones as a US
Marshal in The Fugitive, or Harrison Ford as Indiana
Jones chasing after lost artifacts. Or, if you like the darker
side of things, The Most Dangerous Game.
Hydro-power [Tech] This is any technology that
harnesses the power of water. It can be simple water
wheels that use the motion of the local creek to turn heavy
Impatient [Personality] Anyone who can't wait to get to
the end of this description.
Infestation/Infested [Descriptor, Opposition] Remember
when all those gerbil-like creatures took over the star ship
and kept multiplying at an exponential rate, almost
destroying the ship and crew? That was an awesome
Impulsive [Personality] "It seemed like a good idea at the
time" is the oft-spoken phrase of the impulsive person.
These people never stop to think things through when
they have some going off half-cocked to do. Half a story
is all the impulsive person needs to choose and start a
plan of action. Often, this gets them into a lot of trouble.
But don't forget - a broken clock is right twice a day.
An infestation is any swarm of creatures, bugs or other
living things that essentially destroy or hinder (or annoy)
everything in their path. Normally the individual
components of the infestation are fragile and easily
eliminated in isolation, but when they swarm in the
millions or billions it can destroy civilizations. For
instance, in post-apocalyptic New Mexico, cockroaches
infested the tourist town of Taos and killed every living
thing within ten miles—plants, humans, wooden
structures, etc. Swarms of locusts can destroy every ounce
of valuable crops a society depends on. An infestation of
metal-ingesting termites can doom an interstellar space
Inappropriate [Descriptor] What separates the
inappropriate person from the rude or obnoxious one is
often a matter of awareness. Not only does the
inappropriate person fail to recognize that perhaps
Thanksgiving dinner is not the right time to ask her sister
about the results to her STD test, but she will also attempt
to insert formality where it doesn't belong. Asked out to
the movies, she will answer the door wearing a floorlength gown and opera gloves. Interviewing for a job
cleaning kennels for the local veterinarian, he'll wear a
three-piece suit and carry a briefcase, being sure to give
his interviewer his card before he leaves.
Infiltrate [Action] Sneak or bluff your way into a
complex, organization or nation. Intrigue, stealth and
research all come together to pull off a successful
Typically the inappropriate person's intentions are good.
They just have no clue how to blend into their world.
Which means this isn't limited to modern Earth settings your futuristic space-faring character will salute people
who rank below him, your historic London gas light
character will announce she's discovered horse manure on
her shoe and proceed to clean it off with whatever's
handy... even though she's having tea with the local
aristocracy at the time.
Informant [Person] Someone who provides information.
In the common conception of the word, an informant is
often providing information against another person or
organization, and usually surreptitiously.
Information Age [Tech] The information age describes
the rise of computers as a vehicle for the instantaneous
exchange of immeasurable volumes of information. What
marked the very beginning of the information age was the
invention of the telegraph. For the first time, information
could be moved with technology faster than it could be
moved physically. At its peak, people could access nearly
any bit of public information they needed as long as they
knew the proper ways to search for it. With the
development of the information age came the
development of disinformation technology—intentionally
creating false information to deceive people searching for
something else.
Independent [Personality] Self-sufficient. Someone who
does not rely on others for support, either physically,
financially or emotionally.
Informative [Descriptor] Someone or something that
provides useful/needed information.
Industrial Revolution [Setting, Tech] The Industrial
Revolution occurred approximately between 1750 and
1850 and served as the major technological and societal
change of the era. The hallmark of the industrial
revolution was the evolution of prevalent economies from
intensive, inefficient manual labor to industry dominated
by machine manufacturing. The industrial revolution
began in England with the development of steam power.
Machine tools and all-metal manufacturing led to the
development of more large scale, industrial
manufacturing. Industrialization gave rise to factories and
massive pollution, which in turn gave rise to oppressive
working conditions and deleterious health complications.
Innocent [Personality] Uncorrupted by evil, sin or vice. A
quality often seen in young children or child-like adults.
Insane/Insanity [Thing, Personality] Don't believe
everything you see, because if you do, you might just lose
your mind. The insane can be demented in any of a
variety of ways. Sometimes, there is a method to the
madness, but then y’know… sometimes there’s not.
Insecure [Personality] The insecure person is never
confident in their own decisions or circumstances. They
constantly second guess themselves and waste
innumerable hours playing "what if", much to the chagrin
of their friends and family.
Invention [Thing] Something completely new and, in
order to make it relevant to the game, also revolutionary.
Sure, your invention could be a GPS golf ball locator, but
the story works much better if it’s a mind-reading
machine, or a cheap renewable energy source, or a semiautomatic chicken generator. Feel free to be inventive.
Inspiring [Descriptor] Something that gives
encouragement or exalting emotion to others. Rouses
others to prepare for a daunting or intimidating situation.
Institution/Institutionalized [Place, Setting] Whether it's
jail or a fat farm, an insane asylum or the walled prisoncity of New York, the whole point is that you can't get
Iron [Tech] Specifically, this is the Iron Age. Depending
on the part of the world you are looking at, the historical
Iron Age covers an extremely broad period from 1000BC
and earlier up until the end of the Roman era in Europe
and as late as the 14th century in Asia. This is a time of
hard work and toil for almost everyone in society. Put
simply, this is the time when people discover the
techniques to smelt and forge iron implements, which are
harder and more durable than their bronze or stone
counterparts. Iron plowshares give rise to larger areas of
cultivation. Tribes or nations with iron weapons dominate
those using bronze or stone - leading to larger kingdoms.
Iron tools are hard enough to reliably cut stone. This is the
time of Stonehenge, the Celtic Hills and round castles.
Intelligent [Personality] Smart. Educated. It usually
means a person has great mental horsepower. It doesn't
mean they know how to use it.
Intimidate [Action] To use one's presence, reputation or
stature to coerce another into a course of action. Although
this is normally thought of as someone using their size to
intimidate others, a skinny but powerful computer mogul
can be just as intimidating under the right circumstances.
Intrigue [Thing, Tone] This can be a game of social and
sexual politics in the royal court or financial and legal
maneuvering in the corporate boardrooms. No matter
where you find yourself, just remember that you can trust
no one, because there's always one more plot twist just
around the corner.
Feel free to use any of the technology presented here in
your game: Swords, iron-tipped weapons, chain mail,
aqueducts, small castles, horse riding, catapults, megaliths
(that's Stonehenge).
Also connected to this concept is the mythological Iron
Age. According to writers such as Ovid, living in the
actual historical Iron Age, the Iron Age marked the rise of
nationality, exploration, expansionism, warfare and greed.
Ovid apparently didn’t think much of his own culture.
Sure, everyone's smiling to your face, but if you can't see
their hands, it's probably because they're hiding a knife
(or an eviction notice, or photos of you in a very
compromising position). Everyone has an angle, and
they're all looking out for number one.
Island [Place, Thing] Surrounded by water, an island is a
small area of land which is typically isolated from the
mainland. Islands can be veritable paradises with food
falling from the trees, water bubbling from springs and
fey-folk bringing you whiskey sours while you lounge on
the beach. All islands become prisons, however, when
you have no way off of the island to return to civilization.
Introverted [Personality] Turned inward. The introverted
person is quiet and prefers working alone. Maybe they are
socially awkward, but maybe they just don’t care for other
Invaders/Outsiders [Opposition, Thing] Exactly what it
sounds like. Someone from somewhere else, be it Huns or
aliens or commie mutants, is attempting to invade and
take over. Most likely, they come in the form of an
invading army, but they could also be finding more
insidious ways to infiltrate our ranks.
Yes, we are aware that technically an island can be as big
as Madagascar or even Australia, but really… where’s the
fun in that?
Isolated Space Probe [Setting] Floating silent in the
depths of space is the isolated space probe. Months if not
years from civilization, every object on the space probe is
purposeful. There is only enough air, food and water to
last until the next resupply stop. Air and waste is recycled
and reused as much as possible. If intended for research,
labs and tools are compact and normally multipurposed.
The problem with the isolated space probe is that when
something goes wrong (the air generator fails or the viral
rays from a stray comet cause mutations), the only people
capable of fixing it are the probe's inhabitants. Other help
will not arrive until it is too late.
Janitor [Person, Thing] No matter what happens,
somebody has to clean it up. Janitors and caretakers have
pinnacle of an intricate criminal organization who
exercises meticulous control over her numerous minions.
the lonely work of maintenance after the day is done.
They clean, sweep, and repair the buildings in their
charge. These solitary types are often a great source of
hearsay and other information, as no one sees them, even
when they are about their tasks and they are the few in
many buildings late into the night.
Lair [Place, Thing] The dwelling of beasts. Many beasts
call lairs homes: dragons, a horde of intelligent lemmings,
Rosanne Barr. A lair is normally a fairly safe base of
operation for a beast or beasts to venture out and pillage
the surrounding lands. The only sure way to clear a lair is
either to send in some heroes with superior weapons, or
just smoke them out. When in doubt... smoke them out.
Judge [Person] Someone imbued with authority to rule
over the fate of others. Often, a judge is an authority
figure vested with responsibility by a government to rule
in civil and criminal disputes. However, a judge could
simply be a local guy picked by the Shriners to determine
the winner of the pie-eating contest.
Landmark [Place] Any easily recognizable feature of the
landscape. Think of it like this, a landmark is anything
you would use in giving directions to make sure the
traveler knows where they are: a clock tower; a large
river; the deli at the corner of Fourth and Main.
Judgmental [Personality] Someone who is inclined to
form moral or personal opinions of others even in the
absence of full information.
Launch [Action, Thing] Once upon a time, there was a
face that could launch a thousand ships. Mayors like to
snip ribbons with ceremonial keys. Things have to start
somewhere, with ceremony or without, and it's the
beginnings that most opposition tries to stop.
Jungle World [Setting] The strongest shall rule forever—
even though the strongest king may fall every day. Trees
compete with each other, stretching to reach the sun's
energy. They choke out lesser competitors and cloak the
ground level in steamy twilight. Ancient temples and
cities sleep beneath the banyans, keeping their secrets.
Law Enforcement/Law Enforcement Office(r) [Person,
Place, Opposition, Thing] Cheese it! The cops! Right or
wrong, the players have run afoul of the law. Maybe it's a
misunderstanding, maybe it's crooked cops, maybe they
really did it... but it's doubtful that the police are asking
questions first.
Massive serpents, gibbering apes, lethal cats and mighty
elephants thrive in the jungle, ideally suited to the stifling
heat. The creatures, along with endless swarms of bloodsucking bugs, are constant threats to the few people who
live here. Human existence is a difficult one, plagued by
disease, and hunted by fiendish creatures in the night.
If that’s not your bag, then maybe the players are the law.
Either way, law enforcement in any form is exactly what
it sounds like—those charged with upholding the law.
The magic of a jungle world though is the layers. As a
megascale globe-spanning rainforest, the jungle world has
true vertical depth. From the sun-kissed canopy, to the
understory among the leaves, all the way down to the
pitch black swamp layers among the roots. Each layer
comes complete with its own thrills and horrors.
Lawyer [Person, Thing] Scoundrels, each and every one.
Some say that the Rule of Law was originally conceived
by the world's first lawyer to ensure that he would always
have a job. Lawyers are the people that explain and
interpret "the rules." In the modern world, they are
attorneys or barristers who represent people in and out of
court on all types of legal matters. In ancient times the
lawyers were scribes who kept record of the codes and
laws which were prescribed (sometimes arbitrarily) by the
royalty or emperors who ruled. In a future setting, the
lawyers are programs encoded to sort through the massive
amounts of information that governs the conduct of the
living and keeps things "in order." In any genre, however,
there is one universal trait that applies to lawyers: no one
likes them.
Junkyard [Place] Any location that is used to store and
resell junk. Abundant items include scrap metal, vehicle
parts, broken appliances or self-contained nuclear power
Juvenile [Personality] Some people are immature because
they just never grew up and insist on acting like they are
in junior high school even when they are in their fifties.
Other people are immature because they just never grew
up—literally only eight or nine years old. Juvenile people
are impulsive, emotional and tend to get bored easily after
several minutes of the same activity. Often they have a
penchant for fart jokes.
Lazy [Personality] The lazy person simply has no
motivation to do anything that doesn't seem fun at the
moment. While a lazy person normally avoids physical
labor, their avoidance may also extend to anything
requiring critical thought or getting off the couch.
Kidnap [Action] To seize and detain unlawfully and
usually for ransom. In other words, go haul away
someone against their will.
Leader [Person, Thing] This is the person who is
supposedly in charge. Sometimes, it is also the person
who is actually in charge. But not always. Leaders can be
Kingpin [Opposition, Thing, Person] Whether male or
female, the kingpin is the Man. The kingpin is the
formal or informal, but the leader is who everyone will
look to when they need a decision made.
their response based upon what they feel is mechanically
correct. No gut reaction here.
Legendary [Descriptor] Larger than life, and famous for
it. Everyone knows the legendary figure. They may or
may not believe those tales of legend, but they know
London [Setting] London: a city beset with plague. The
Lord Mayor struggles to maintain order as the King has
retreated to his country estates and half the population of
the city lies dead.
Liberate [Action] To free someone or something from
their confines. Can include a single imprisoned person, a
stolen artifact or an entire population of oppressed people.
London: home of
Shakespeare and the Globe
Theatre. Puritan and
Libertine sensibilities clash
in Elizabethan England.
Library [Place] A repository of books or other recorded
information. Card catalogs are optional.
London: capital city of the
world's largest empire.
Victorian England is rapidly
industrializing, giving rise to
a new leisure class.
Lighter Than Air Travel [Tech] Lighter than air travel
allows a civilization to use flight through use of lighter
than air craft—blimps, balloons and zeppelins, typically.
Such technology never took full hold in our own history,
because zeppelins were superseded by airplanes, but there
is a distinct feel to a world of balloon travel, more akin to
airborne ocean liners than what we think of with modern
air travel.
London: birthplace of the
Beatles and punk rock.
Despite its lost glory and
swelling underclass, London is still a bustling metropolis.
Limbo [Place, Setting, Thing] This either refers to the
cold gray nothingness between hell and purgatory, a
metaphorical state of uncertainty or stasis for a project, or
the popular Caribbean pastime of walking under an
increasingly lower bar. All three will add an interesting
twist to your game.
London: home of the free. Last bastion of European
democracy under King William V. With the aid of it's
Commonwealth nations, Fortress Britain holds against the
communist forces that have swept the rest of Europe.
London: underwater jewel. One of only eleven Earth
cities to be domed and fortified against the rising oceans
of a warming planet.
Local Legend [Person] There are two types of local
legends: one the non-locals know about and ones they
don't. The first type is any moderately famous person who
hails from a medium-populated town or smaller. They
may not be a "legend" anywhere else, but in their home
town you'd think they gave birth to the savior. Think
about how legendary David Copperfield is in his
hometown of Metuchen, New Jersey.
London: space station. Interplanetary residence of
Elizabeth VI and seat of New Britain's government since
terrestrial England became uninhabitable in the 28th
Lose [Action] Your task is not, as is often the case, to
win. Your task is to lose, and perhaps make it look like
someone else was responsible. Or maybe you're in a
sports contest and you have to throw the fight. Maybe
you’re seeking to lose your pursuers. Possibly, you have
something dangerous and you need to see that it gets lost
and stays lost. Don't scoff. Sometimes losing is harder
than you think.
The second type doesn't even have to be from the town, or
famous at all. They just accomplished something really
amazing that the locals will always remember. This could
include the mysterious hero that showed up one day and
eradicated the unholy harpy menace, or John Appleton
who was the only person to eat an entire seven pound
hamburger with all the fixings at the local diner.
Lost Civilization [Setting] The lost civilization is the
culture that time forgot. A lost civilization is always
isolated and self-sufficient, which explains why it
remained unaffected while the rest of the world continued
to evolve along a different path. A typical example from
literature would be the isolated island civilization that
lives with stone age technology in 21st century earth. But
the lost civilization does not necessarily mean more
primitive. Without the distraction of technology, a lost
civilization may have discovered the well of our innate
magical abilities and developed with an entirely different
technology. If a gamemaster is going to use the lost
Locked Out [Place] Wherever you are, you have by now
realized that you can’t get in. Hopefully, you just locked
your keys in your car, and you can resolve this with a coat
hanger. More likely though it’s a criminal mastermind
who has sealed all exits to the bank so that he can rifle
through the safe deposit boxes at his leisure. Even if you
have him surrounded, he has an escape tunnel ready and a
bomb on the roof to distract you.
Logical [Personality] The logical will decide on actions
based on all of the information present and will choose
but unlikely. Escape, if possible at all, is probably
hazardous to the point of madness.
civilization setting, she may want to roll twice on the
technology table: once for the predominant culture and
once for the lost civilization's technology.
Part one of any lost/stranded setting is simply figuring out
how to survive in this new environment. Locating food,
water, and shelter can be entire adventures unto
themselves. Technology is always limited to whatever the
castaways have brought with them or recovered from their
own wreck or can construct from native materials. But
after the survival drama has played itself out, the
lost/stranded setting offers lots of possibilities for other
plot twists. Inter-group conflict is a common theme, as the
castaways argue over leadership and resources and the
best way to get out of here. But also there can be other
hazards already present, or outside forces who seek harm
to the group (and maybe are even responsible for the
accident that brought them here).
While this entry focuses largely on the stereotypical
desert island type scene, don't feel limited by that. One
could just as easily fall through a hole into a deep
underworld full of surprises, or get caught in a science
experiment gone wrong and wind up in an alternate world
that's either primitive or empty, or even get picked up by a
tornado and deposited in some bizarre landscape that
requires the players perform some sort of quest to earn
their way home.
Lost Technology [Tech] The power of the ancients has
been rediscovered. This is a technology that existed long
ago, but obviously was somehow lost and only recently
has been found again. Usually, lost technology is capable
of wonders that were thought no longer possible. It could
be hyper-advanced Atlantean hovercraft and laser rifles
uncovered by steampunk explorers at the turn of the
century, or the wonders of ancient Greek culture
uncovered by 13th century monks. Maybe the world was
originally colonized by travelers from space who went
native and forgot their roots. Now centuries later, they
stumble across the original spacecraft and base camps of
their early ancestors.
Low Magic [Tech,
Thing] Wizards and
sorcerers are fine
for what they’re
worth, but they
only represent one
aspect of the world
of magic. Outside
the ritualistic
schools of magic
with their tomes of
spells and their
volumes of
procedures, there is
a different kind of
"natural" magic: the
low magic. Low
magic is the innate,
rudimentary magic
that lies within all of us. But only the most powerful
amongst us can conquer it and manipulate it in its rarest
form. From the beginning of time, these shamans have
been revered by civilizations both primitive and
developed. Low magic wielders are often healers who use
their skills to aid people. Others channel it for evil, more
menacing purposes, such as to make doll-like replicas of
your enemies upon which to inflict plagues.
If you need help, make two more rolls on the Tech table.
Assume that the more primitive of the two results is the
overall level of society, and the other is the level of the
lost technology.
Lost Tribe [Thing] The people who have been separated
from the bulk of civilization for generations, and only
now have they been re-discovered. Usually, they have
some special powers or valuable secret that makes them
extra-exploitable to the less savory elements of our world.
The lost tribe can by lost pygmies in the rainforest canopy
who hold the secret to immortality, or shipwrecked sailors
of centuries past living in communion with intelligent
dinosaurs in a bizarre Antarctic oasis of eternal spring, or
23rd century colonists lost in space and only recently
returned with the secrets of alien technology.
Lost/Stranded [Place, Setting] This is Lord of the Flies
and Robinson Crusoe. It can be one person or a small
group, but they've gotten into a situation which has cut
them off completely from society. It's usually the result of
a wreck (boat, plane, spacecraft), that leaves the survivors
unable to contact society in any way. Rescue is possible,
Machines Gone Mad [Opposition] It's an old story:
Mankind's hubris has finally come back to bite him in the
ass, as his own creations threaten to destroy him. From
Mansion [Place] A mansion is where the very rich live,
and they make sure everyone can appreciate their wealth
from their abode. Essentially, it's a really big house
which, when originally built, was very expensive. It's
characterized by opulent features and expensive
furnishings. However, mansions are very expensive to
maintain and often fall into disrepair. When this happens,
they always seem to either become haunted or occupied
by Ms. Haversham. Either way it's creepy.
reanimated corpses to enchanted broomsticks to possessed
semi-tractor trailers to artificial intelligences, this story
can be reborn in any age and in many forms. The unifying
theme is that man has brought this crisis on himself either
by overstepping his bounds and playing God or by
allowing himself to become lazy with an over-reliance on
technology. Or both.
Macrotech [Tech] The use of animals—usually
genetically modified animals—to perform the functions of
various machines. It can be in very obvious ways, as a
replacement for vehicles or robots, such as a giant
dinosaur-like creature controlled by his telepath-pilot and
used to haul people and items around like a truck, or
oversized spiders that obey simple commands and fetch
and haul household items. Or they could be more subtle
items, like psychically sensitive silkworms that crawl
across your body and weave new clothes on the spot to
match your mood and occasion.
Marketplace [Place, Thing] The true heart of any
community beats in its marketplace. Spice markets,
shipping houses, stock exchanges, and areas like them
bring money, information and a grand variety of people
together. Nearly anything in the world can be acquired in
one marketplace or another. You need only find the
correct one, and then meet the vendor's price. Caveat
Emptor always.
Mars [Setting] The Red Planet. Some say that it is made
entirely of crackers and was originally intended to be
enjoyed with slices of moon. Others say that it is infested
with ominous Martians plotting to enslave the human
race. Another theory is that Mars was the original home
planet for humans, who only evacuated to earth after a
Martian apocalypse. Finally, the Romans named Mars
after the God of War, and some to this day still contend
that the influence of the Red Planet leads to violence and
death on a grand scale.
Magic Shop [Place] Practicing the magical arts isn't
always as easy as it looks. People think it's more like
Samantha (just twitch your nose) than like Shakespeare
(cauldron, eye of newt, etc.). The reality is that practicing
magic usually comes with a price. You can't bend the will
of reality without offering something back—normally
weird roots or the body parts of crawly things. And when
you need a virgin turtle shell or midnight harvested
mandrake root, the magic shop is the only place to find it
without roughing it and finding it yourself. And believe
me, these things don't come cheap. But the magic shop is
so much more than just a reagents supply store. For a
pretty penny you can also get yourself magical items,
weapons or armor! There's something for everyone at the
magic shop. All sales are final and returns must be within
10 days and are for shop credit only.
Or maybe it’s just the fourth planet from the sun, a little
smaller than earth, very cold, wispy atmosphere, lots of
red rock and dust and… and who knows?
Martial Arts [Thing] A style of weaponless combat/selfdefense. There are many varieties of martial arts, each
with their own particular brand of practice (Karate,
Drunken Monkey, Judo, Rex Kwon Do, etc.) Not to be
confused with Marital Arts, which tends to be less
disciplined and predictable.
Magical/Magician [Descriptor, Person] Anything imbued
with a magical aura or magical abilities, or persons who
can manipulate such energies. In more mundane worlds,
though, the magician is merely a showman, creating
convincing illusions and dazzling with mirrors and sleight
of hand.
Mask [Thing] Normally, it's a disguise worn on one's
face. However, people can also mask their auras, alien
odor or evil disposition.
Magitech [Tech] This is fairly broad, but magitech is any
technology that is powered by magic rather than by more
conventional sciences and physics. Flamethrowers?
Bonded fire spirits. Airplanes? Carriages motivated
through the sky by physical mages. Video cameras?
Seeing stones. Firearms? Wands of stone throwing. Any
complicated technology can be simulated through the use
of magic. However, although they function similarly, the
feel is quite different, and magitech devices usually
require a magically capable person to either operate them
or to empower them. On top of that, magic can be quite
draining to the magicians, exacting a serious physical toll
in exchange for sharing their talents.
Mason [Person] You are a man of stonework. You could
have helped erect Stonehenge, Mesa Verde, or Notre
Dame. Where there is construction, there is demand for a
mason. Masonry is a common trade among tramps and
other men that work only when they have to.
Alternately, this could refer to Freemasonry. In this case,
you are privy to secret handshakes and connections and
knowledge of the sacred geometry. Not to mention a
group of people who wonder just what you're up to.
Whether you're up to something is up to you and the GM:
the Masons could be as innocuous as the Elks Club if you
want. But you know which option is the most fun.
Malignant [Descriptor] Something that is lifethreatening, dangerous, or virulent.
Mass Transit [Thing] All densely populated areas have a
problem trying to get all the people to all their different
locations. Mass Transport includes: subways, trains, roc
shuttle, hover buses, or even moving tubes. Obviously,
most forms of mass transportation are vulnerable to
attack—it is hard to secure a device that moves numerous
members of the public simultaneously. However, the
"hubs" for mass transit devices are similarly vulnerable:
the train station, the airport, the central tube station.
Anyone looking to cause major havoc would only have to
look at one of these locations.
Islanders defending their villages with mana-powered
Easter Island statues. They were cool.
Mature [Descriptor] A polite way of saying "old." But it
doesn't have to be that. Mature also refers to the dignity,
wisdom, and grace that comes with age. One can be
mature without being old.
Mechanic [Person, Thing] Whenever something breaks
and you don't have the first clue how to fix it, you can rest
assured that there is someone out there who will take
advantage of your ignorance and fix it for an exorbitant
price. These are mechanics. They can't be your life coach,
your personal trainer or your NA mentor, but they can fix
your gas dryer when the idle belt breaks (for the tidy sum
of $120).
Maze [Place] A labyrinth. Any construct of winding,
interconnected pathways. A maze can be a series of
underground caves, a dungeon, or a path carved into
garden hedges or a corn field.
Mecha [Thing] An oversized humanoid(ish) mobile
construct with a person or two inside to run it.
Simply put, mechanics fix all things mechanical—cars,
microwaves, sewing machines, you name it.
Mechanized Planet [Setting] Either in the far future or
the distant past, technology became so advanced that
nearly all natural specimens of life became extinct. In the
modern world, we still rely on natural resources for nearly
everything: petroleum for gasoline and oil; wood for
construction; animals and plants for sustenance.
In a populated mechanized world, there is none of this.
Fuel is created through subatomic particle manipulation.
Metals, plastics and other artificial materials are used to
create everything from office buildings to clothing to
landscapes. Even food is created by artificial means to
provide molecular sustenance which, even though dressed
up to look like a chicken, is just another flavored item to
come from the vat. Even the atmosphere is maintained
through precise controls. The only living thing on the
planet are the people (humans, aliens or angels) that
reside on the planet.
Ultimately, even the people are ultimately optional.
A "rusted" planet, however, is a formerly mechanized
planet that is no longer used and fallen into disrepair.
Where the world was once covered in metal and
synthetics, the natural world has started to reemerge in the
chinks and cracks of the system. The automated machines
on the rusted planet usually do not work, or if they do,
they do not perform as intended. Sustaining life on a
rusted planet is difficult if not impossible.
The classic mecha is a giant-sized suit of power-armor,
like a robotic walking tank, but don't limit yourself to
tradition. In a fantasy setting, mechas can be humongous
suits of magical plate armor or headless animated statues
with dwarven riders. Or in a more alien future world,
mechas could be genetically-engineered behemoths with
human "pilots" symbiotically attached.
Medieval [Setting, Descriptor] Swords, chivalry and
fiefdoms. Medieval describes an era generally in Western
Europe during the middle ages. The primary form of
governance was kingdoms and fiefdoms where the vast
majority of people worked for and under the protection of
Example: The authors once rolled "mecha" in
combination with "sea adventure" and "pre-European
Americas," and used it to create primitive Pacific
independently, but as a single entity. This can range from
a raging mob of villagers to a "hive mind" group of insect
aliens. Our favorite, of course, is brain-eating zombies.
Any game is automatically improved by the addition of
some level of nobility. Agriculture and animal husbandry
were widespread, and technology was only as advanced
as simple machines. Medicine was rudimentary and often
more dangerous than it was helpful. While life for knights
and nobility was generally privileged and comfortable,
life for normal people was difficult and laborious.
Miniature [Descriptor] Tiny. Small. Piquant.
Mercenaries [Opposition, Thing, Person] Some people
will do anything for money. Mercenaries take this to the
logical extreme and specialize in using deadly force... for
a price.
Mischievous [Personality] Someone that is irritating,
troublesome or teasing. More maliciously, it can refer to
someone who likes to start trouble or cause damage in an
indirect way. A pot-stirrer.
Mercurial [Descriptor] Someone or something that is
volatile or quick to change their temperament.
Microworld [Setting] The microworld boils down to
really tiny people in the normal-sized world. Sometimes,
it’s just “Honey, I’ve shrunk something!” and we see the
trials and the comedy of people trying to survive their
own neighborhood when they’re only an eighth of an inch
tall. If you’re lucky, you might find some microworld
inhabitants already there once you’ve got yourself shrunk.
Normally microworld inhabitants have created their
microworld cities, but on the side of something normal.
For example, the million-strong civilization of Freelaird
which is fully contained on the tail of a dog. Normal
people can then enter the microworld, such as when the
party shrinks to microscopic size to enter a friend's
bloodstream to battle an intelligent virus.
Military/Military Installation [Descriptor, Opposition,
Place, Setting, Thing] Somebody has an army, and they're
willing to unleash it on you. I wonder what they want…
Military can be any organized armed force, or the
equipment, personnel and accoutrements associated with
armed combat (or armed combat readiness).
Misdirecting [Descriptor] It points you the wrong way. It
seems helpful now, but you’re going to feel foolish later.
Misguided Hero [Opposition] The misguided hero thinks
she's serving the forces of justice and goodness, but
doesn't realize the havoc and mayhem she's creating.
Misguided heroes are great villains, because they truly
believe they are doing good, but end up doing evil for the
noblest of reasons.
The Military Installation is broad enough to include:
missile silos, underground bunkers, cavalry stables, a
fortified government space station, or an isolated island
used to test biological warfare. Unless abandoned (which
isn't unusual given the violent nature of these places), the
military installation is ruled under the authoritarian
auspices of the military- usually a mid-level bureaucratic
officer who revels in his or her power. Military
installations are normally very spartan and utilitarian,
there are no unnecessary supplies or materials, only what
is needed for the current operation. One thing that is
plentiful at military installations is weaponry... and lots of
it. If you aren't a member of the military, getting access to
a military installation is tricky. Unless of course you've
been judged a "significant military threat", then you can
easily gain access, but just to the confines of the military
jail cell.
Mob [Opposition, Thing] They might be carrying torches
and pitchforks, or it might be baseball bats and rope.
Either way, there's an awful lot of them and they seem
rather angry.
Mobile [Descriptor] Able to move freely and easily.
Modern Day Las Vegas [Setting] Welcome to the plastic
world of vanity and greed. Las Vegas is where people go
to forget their mundane existences and feel important for
a few days (or at least until their credit card gets
Pick your vice: Gamblers have the flashy casinos;
Perverts have the hookers who crawl on every corner;
Addicts have the drugs that run through the streets like
rainwater; and Bluehairs have the off-Broadway run of
Cats. Pick your poison, there's something for everyone in
Mimic [Action] A copy-cat. One who poses as another, or
something that intentionally appears to be something else.
Mindless Horde [Opposition, Thing] A mindless horde is
any large group of creatures who do not act
home of gods. Others regard it as an aromatic wheel of
cheese orbiting our planet. Some categorize it as a lifeless
meteorite without an atmosphere which tidally locked to
the Earth (these people are called science nerds). Its
influence, however, is crucial to our environment, pulling
the tides in and out and keeping the balance with our
And don’t believe the hype. No matter what it is… it’s not
staying in Vegas.
Modern-Day Amusement Park [Setting] Come one,
come all to the greatest place on Earth (or any planet
which values commercial-sponsored, large-scale
recreation). An amusement park is exactly as you
remember it: large rides, overpriced concessions, games
of “skill” with worthless prizes, and musical reviews with
questionable dancing.
The moon doesn't necessarily have to refer to the Earth's
moon. Any natural satellite that orbits another planet is
considered a moon. Some of Jupiter's moons have their
own atmospheres and conditions which could have
harbored life at one point. Recent data gathered from the
myriad of probes NASA has send to Saturn indicates that
its moons evidence extensive tunneling, possibly by mole
men intent on dominating the third planet from the sun (or
as they refer to it, the "Elemental Plane of Turquoise").
But an amusement park does not have to be a roller
coaster haven. Depending on the game, it can encompass
a turn of the century carnival, a high-magic series of
enchanted rides, or a futuristic virtual reality with thrilling
and dangerous experiences.
Modern-Day Milwaukee [Setting] Located in
Southeastern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan,
the greater Milwaukee area is home to about 1.5 million
people. Originally inhabited by various Native American
tribes (including the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and
Winnebago), Milwaukee is thought to have gotten its
name from the Indian word Millioke which means "the
good land", or "gathering place by the water."
Morgue [Place] The way station for dead folks before
being sent to their final rest. A modern morgue is
stereotypically all surgically sterile and cold, with
refrigerated steel cabinets. A nineteenth century morgue
could be considerably less antiseptic. In ancient times, it
might be the proverbial slab on which the body undergoes
various mummification and/or burial rituals. In the future,
maybe it's glass-fronted cryogenic chambers where the
dead are flash-frozen and Scotch-Guarded™.
Milwaukee is a strong blue-collar town—nearly a fourth
of its population is employed in the manufacturing sector.
Milwaukee is/was the hometown of such diverse people
as Spencer Tracey, Jeffrey Dahmer and Rollergirl from
Boogie Nights.
Mountain [Place] A mountain of paperwork? An
overblown situation derived from a molehill? Cute, but
no. We're talking about a literal giant pile of rock and
earth (or possibly ice or rubble or caramel fudge,
depending on the world). The defining factor is its sheer
size. A mountain should be overwhelmingly big,
regardless of what it's made of or what the players will
find there.
Monkeys [Thing] Think
our closest evolutionary
relative isn't that
important? Ponder these
factual tidbits:
Movie Monsters [Opposition, Thing]
"Even a man who is pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a Wolf
When the wolfsbane blooms
And the moon is clear and bright."
In the race to get to space,
monkeys actually orbited
the Earth first and beat the
humans by several years.
Monkeys are worshiped
around the world in their
purest form—wearing a fez
and crashing cymbals
"It's alive! It's ALIVE!
Monsters have been part of human society forever.
Ancient stories of people who could rise from the grave,
feast on our flesh and blood or transform into animals
became modern when they hit the silver screen.
Monkeys are capable of destroying human civilization at
will... by infecting us with contagious rage!
It's important to note that these are movie monsters. Your
average player is probably going to know a few things
about how to defeat them. These creatures may be
powerful and frightening, but in the end, the monster
always loses.
Bottom line: monkeys are cool. And yes, we know the
difference between apes and monkeys, but for purposes of
Instant Game, feel free to lump them all together. Use this
roll to add any sort of non-human primate to your world.
C’mon… haven’t you always wanted a monkey?
Murder [Action, Thing] Someone dies by the hand of
another. This can be a murder to investigate, a murder to
Moon [Place, Setting] On Earth, the moon has long held
the fascination of generations. Some refer to it as the
thwart, or (if your players don’t mind being morally
ambiguous) a murder to commit.
effects are almost always very unusual and more than a
little frightening.
Music/Musician [Person, Thing] Tunes, melodies,
symphonies, rock operas. It can be
instrumental or vocal or something
entirely other, but the rhythm IS
going to get you. In game terms,
music can be introduced as the
sound itself—maybe from a
mysterious source. Or possibly it's
about a recording or sheet music
or a musical instrument.
Mystery [Thing, Tone] Mystery is not always magnifying
glasses, dubious butlers and English accents. It can exist
in any genre or time setting. As long as the players are
trying to discover the clues that will solve some unknown
circumstance (a "mystery" if you will), then you're on the
right track.
In a future setting, players could be hired to track and
recover renegade clones. In a prehistoric setting,
tribesmen could be on a quest to discover what angered
the elk spirits which laid a plague on their hunts. If
appropriate, the players could be turn of the century
sleuths, deducing the identity of a recent murderer- just
don't set it on a train.
The musician, then, is anyone who
creates said tunes.
Mutants/Mutations [Opposition, Thing] A staple of
science fiction and fantasy for decades, mutants come,
literally, in all shapes and sizes. The upshot is that
something has acted upon a living creature or creatures so
that they (or their offspring) are somehow different from
the norm—either in appearance or in abilities or both. The
"something" can be radiation or magic or chemicals or
genetic drift, but the end result is usually beings with
amazing powers. Sometimes, these mutants will band
together to form a super group that battles injustice and
prejudice, but other times, they are just mindless superstrong freaks who live in the sewers and prey upon the
surface dwellers. In some settings, especially postapocalyptic ones, radiation and/or genetic weirdness are
so prevalent that nearly everyone is a mutant.
The key to a good mystery setting in all of these cases is
the uncertainty. You can certainly construct a Holmesian
mystery of clever criminals and a trail of obscure clues.
Or it can be a more straightforward drama of tracking an
unknown foe. But it can also be as simple as baffling and
unexplained phenomena. The important thing is that the
players don't have enough information to know the true
story until a good 2/3 or more of the way into the
adventure, but they should always feel they are moving
consistently towards some kind of explanation or answer.
Mystical Orient [Setting] The Mystical Orient setting
necessarily implies the generalizations and stereotypes
that westerners originally attributed to the Eastern lands
when the two worlds began to explore each other. But that
doesn't make it any less cool. The Mystical Orient setting
involves old magics wielded through wizened sorcerers,
dramatic politics between warring factions, flightless
dragons who sleep far beneath the ground, gods and
ancient champions walking the earth as mortals and epic
struggles that balance the fate of the planet in the hands of
few important individuals.
Typically the Mystical Orient takes place in mainland
China or in Japan several hundred years ago. But that
shouldn't stop you from using the same principles in a
modern setting or a different geographic location (if
you’ve never seen Big Trouble in Little China, you need
to put this game on hold while you go watch it).
Mysterious Energy [Thing] Glowing lights on the
evening horizon—what could be causing them? The alien
spacecraft has been discovered after 7,000 years in the
ice, and the engines still have power—where is it coming
from? People around town are becoming suddenly and
violently nauseous, and the children report seeing strange
visions—what could link these two events?
Mythic [Tone] Of legendary reputation and proportions.
You cannot simply be told about it. When it comes to the
mythic, seeing is believing… and sometimes even that
seems to fall short.
Mythical Legend [Opposition] A person or creature or
event of legend arises to cause mayhem or confusion of
one sort or another. It is supposed that the majority of the
populace still views this thing as merely legend and will
be understandably upset and perplexed to find their
mythology coming to life around them. Maybe sleeping
gods have awoken to pronounce judgment over the world
All you need now is a learned expert to report on a
"mysterious energy." It's source is probably unknown, and
it's certainly "like nothing I've ever seen before." It's
they long ago left. Maybe dragons and giants and goblin
have stepped out of fairy tale to terrorize the locals. Or
perhaps the larger-than-life heroes of legend have
somehow been made real: Gilgamesh, Achilles, Paul
Bunyan, Batman. Lastly, maybe it's some nearly forgotten
prophesied event that finally begins to materialize:
Ragnorok, the birth of the Chosen One, a plague of
intimidation or other similar means. This could be in
regards to a multitude of things, such as trade deals,
hostages, or even what toppings to get on the pizza.
Nanotech [Tech, Thing] Nanotechnology, literally, is just
science on a very small scale. In game terms, it implies a
technology that has mastered using microscopic nanomachines (usually self-replicating) for various purposes.
In fiction, these purposes have ranged from mind control
to rapid large scale construction from base materials to
the perfection of maintenance-free human hygiene to
facilitating connections between man and machine to
replicating the effects of telepathy and other psychic
powers. With some imagination, nanotech can be used as
a weapon or a tool to justify all sorts of seemingly
magical effects.
Neutral Ground [Place, Thing] While the war has caused
the dead to fall faster than they can be counted, there is no
blood shed on neutral ground. Neutral ground is the one
place where everyone agrees there will be no violence.
Nervous [Personality] Twitchy and uncomfortable. Even
if they're not nervous about anything in particular, players
can be sidetracked for ages by a guy with shifty eyes and
an involuntary tic.
Sometimes the respect for neutral ground develops due to
supernatural circumstances, as with churches for the
undead hunters and their prey. On other occasions, the
neutral ground develops out of alliances or treaties, such
as the Olympic Park or the summit of demon-lords at their
annual conference in Las Vegas. Neutral ground can also
develop out of necessity, as in the case of the isolated
space-traders outpost where all ships must stop and refuel.
Natural Disaster [Thing] The characters are sidetracked
by an Act of God. This can be anything from a torrential
rainstorm to a comet strike.
Neutrality [Thing] Someone refuses to take a side. This
can be very frustrating, but can also lead naturally to
neutral ground (see previous entry).
Near Future [Setting, Tech] It's just enough like modern
Earth to be thoroughly recognizable and familiar, but just
enough in the future to justify the addition of whatever
little whizmogig the GM wants to thrown in. In most
near-future settings, the differences from modern Earth
are largely cosmetic or just slight advances of current
trends, except for one or two major advances or changes
that provide a unique twist or further the plot. A nearfuture world where cheap fusion power has greatly
increased the world's standard of living but has also
completely upset the political power balance. One where
surgically augmented hackers can plug their brains
directly into their computers. Or a bleak future where
damage to the environment now keeps humankind from
ever traveling unprotected out of doors.
Neverland/Childworld [Setting] Like Peter Pan's
Neverland, this is a world of child's fantasy. Also like
Neverland, this doesn't mean it has to be a happy land of
pink bunnies and fluffy clouds. While it embodies a
child's most wondrous fantasies, it can also house their
fears and anxieties. Like Neverland or Pinocchio's
Pleasure Island, it can be an idealized and generalized
land of hedonistic fun for any child lucky (or unlucky)
enough to stumble into it. Or alternately, it could be a
much more specific dreamscape rising from the mind or
imagination of a single child. In a darker turn on the
theme, the childworld could be the magical realm from
which the bogeymen of childhood arise. In this setting,
there could still be some bright spots and helpful entities,
but on average, the things one would find in such a world
would tend to be much more disturbing.
Near Future World Government Headquarters
[Setting] In the very near future, for one reason or
another, we will be subjected to a world government. Not
the United Nations, but an actual government that
controls and determines the laws that affect every human
on the planet. Maybe it developed through peaceful
means, or maybe the communist proletariat actually
succeeded in the cold war and dominated the rest of us.
But the world government is housed in a single building
where diplomats from around the world gather to lobby
for their particular interests. This setting leads itself to
either a game of political intrigue if the players are
actually involved in the politics of the world government;
or a game of great suspense if there is a violent threat
unfolding amongst our world leaders.
Negotiate [Action] To attempt to form an agreement
between multiple parties through talk, compromise,
Ninjas [Person, Thing] Extensively trained and loyal past
the point of death, Ninjas are the secret enforcers of
Japanese power. Whether they be empowered by skills,
mystical forces, mutation, or cybertechnology, ninjas are
fearsome and unsettling opponents.
Newborn [Thing] An infant child (animal, beast, alien).
Infinite in it's potential, yet almost impossibly vulnerable.
Newly-Restored [Descriptor] Something that had become
tattered, worn or shabby that recently has been restored to
its previous grandeur. Can apply to an object, building,
person, memory, digital recording, etc, etc.
No Tech [Tech] Have you ever seen that documentary on
chimpanzees which show them selecting just the right
reed to jam in to a termite bed to fish out a yummy snack?
This is about the right level of technology. No mortar and
pestle. No stone arrow tips. No metalwork. No
agriculture. No fences. No mind-reading devices.
News Office [Place] This is where news is compiled,
reported, and sometimes created. The news office is a
busy place with underpaid employees scurrying around
trying to beat unrealistic deadlines. However, when the
news office is primarily used for telecasts or broadcasts,
the environment is much less chaotic and far more
exacting and controlled—at least, in front of the cameras.
No expense is spared to make sure that the distinguished,
attractive news reader appeals exactly as intended to the
chosen demographic.
Here's what you get: hunting and gathering. If you really
want to press it, you can have sharpened sticks. Want
fire? Better go find a tree hit by lightening.
The point is that there is no technology. This doesn't mean
that the players don't have knowledge of technology, but
for one reason or another (time travel to the far past or
future; nuclear apocalypse; extra-dimensional travel) they
are in a world of no technology.
Nightclub/Rave [Place, Thing] Swirling lights, thumping
sounds and the overwhelming skin to skin sense of
partying flesh surround you. Raves are nightclubs gone
rogue - hidden, illicit things where the young and
adventurous have more than ample opportunity to meet
the predatory and lascivious. Nightclubs are great places
for meetings, crimes, and dancing your cares away.
Noble [Descriptor, Person, Thing] Grand or majestic in
appearance or character. When applied to a person, can
either mean someone of the royal bloodline, or someone
of high moral character (but normally not both).
Note [Thing] Someone discovers a note. Reading it
reveals a clue. What to do?
Nuclear Power [Tech] Society has unlocked some of the
secrets of the atom. The two major applications of nuclear
power (so far) would be as a weapon or as a source of
power. Either way, it implies an advanced knowledge of
physics. As a weapon, it typically marks a society's first
realization that it is capable of utterly destroying itself,
and comes with the ability to level entire cities or nations
at a stroke. As a source of power, it is really quite
effective and clean... as long as you can ignore those toxic
waste products and the occasional meltdown.
Oasis [Place] The bright spot amid the wasteland. Sweet
sweet respite. Palm trees by a refreshing pool in the
middle of the desert. Heated convenience store on a
deserted stretch of frigid Canadian freeway. A fully
provisioned docking station halfway between Pluto's orbit
and Alpha Centauri.
Obnoxious [Personality] Annoying to the point of grating
on your last nerve. Not just tactless and crude, but almost
willfully so.
Fore raves, the buildings are usually in more run down
areas of the city - raves are quasi-legal as it is. Large
structures, like underground garages, warehouses or
abandoned factories, are ideal sites for a rave. The scene
includes security heavies, dealers, hustlers and rising stars
in addition to the decked out throng of young folks. It's
loud, bright and smells of sweat and alcohol.
Obsessive-Compulsive [Personality] Pathologically
superstitious. Serious control issues. Anal retentive plus
five. It's not just the checking and the double-checking
and the triple checking... it's the rituals. The seemingly
purposeless activities that MUST be performed to bring
any action to completion.
Punishment for any infraction is severe: beatings, mental
cleansing, eradication. The Authority's oppression fosters
discontent in the few free-thinkers who realize the
injustice—but sometimes even your thoughts aren't safe
from the Authority.
Occult [Thing, Descriptor] Demons. Magic. Candles and
Pentagrams. The occult is not so much defined as a single
entity, but rather defined by the cultures that fear it.
Whatever the case, the occult typically deals with
unexplained phenomenon. Ghost and UFO sightings
could both be attributed to the occult, as well as heavy
metal that uses lyrics about the devil himself. Modern
wiccans often find themselves cast into this group, as does
anything related to Cthulu and the elder gods.
Outpost [Place, Setting] A station in a remote location. A
small settlement on the frontier. Whether as part of a
defense force, exploration team, or research project, the
key defining factor of the outpost is its remoteness from
the bulk of civilization. Communication tends to be
unreliable, and backup is always at least a few days (or
weeks) away. It is differentiated from a colony in that
persons stationed at an outpost never expect such
placement to be permanent. The outpost serves a purpose
for the larger culture and is not intended to be
autonomous or self-sufficient.
Ocean Going Ships [Tech] Developed in Europe in the
15th century, the caravel was the first true ocean going
ship. It had two or three masts and was typically small
and maneuverable, but it afforded Europeans (especially
the Spanish and Portuguese) the ability to actually sail
across whole oceans without having to hug the coastlines.
The opportunities for trade and exploration helped
reshape the globe in their day.
Some outpost examples: a fort housing French Foreign
Legion troops in Angola. A 15 person science station in
Antarctica. A watchtower on a far away stretch of the
Great Wall of China. An off-shore oil rig, miles out to
sea. The Oort Cloud Observation Platform with a
sustainable interior habitat and a permanent crew of 400,
orbiting 23 light-hours from the sun. The International
Marianas Dome, a giant collaborative effort to create a
habitable science station on the floor of the Atlantic
Ocean. A group of battered Christian Crusaders holding a
single lonely fortress outside of Muslim controlled
Organized [Personality] It's not that hard—it's just a
matter of having a system and keeping a list. If you
remember to always put things in their proper place and
check off items as you get that done, you'll always know
where you are and what's left.
Organized Crime [Opposition, Thing] Somehow, the
mob is involved, and they don't like people getting in their
way. Organized crime includes mobsters, street gangs,
prostitution and smuggling rings, a string of car thieves
connected to a single chop shop, roving reiver tribes
plying local villages for protection money, and even
corrupt political entities that systematically fleece their
Parable/Moralistic [Tone] Whether it's Little Red Riding
Hood venturing through the Dark Woods, or Lusty
campers cavorting at Crystal Lake, the players end up in a
tale of right vs. wrong; moral vs. immoral. This tone of
game play gives rise as much to the urban legends of
modern time as to the world of the Grimm brothers.
Orphanage [Place]
It's a hard knock life,
but kids gotta go
somewhere when their
parents aren't around
to take care of them.
Depending on the
setting, it can be a
giant place housing
hundreds of orphans,
or it could be a small
modern group home or
foster home. Either
way, it's full of kids
with no parents.
This style is presented with bright lines and stark
contrasts—there is always an obvious "right" decision
compared with the similarly patent "wrong" decision.
Innocents that take the solitary walk into the shadowy
unknown (be it the shortcut through the woods or the dark
alley behind the counselors' quarters) are usually beset by
the vicious evils of the world. But if they are virgins they
normally survive.
Paranoid [Personality] The constant conviction that
someone is out to get you. The paranoid see shades of
meaning behind every gesture and sinister intent in every
coincidence. This is far more than just general negativity
and pessimism... it's not just that bad things keep
happening, but that someone is making them happen.
They are malicious, and they are specifically targeting
Orwellian Future [Setting] Don't look directly into the
cameras. Everyone knows they're being watched, but the
Authority considers it an act of subterfuge to
acknowledge this fact by staring directly into cameras.
The Orwellian Future setting is a near-future world
marked by an oppressive regime which is nearly always
overly-militaristic. It monitors all its citizens' actions with
an unblinking eye that records even the slightest
infraction of laws that often seem arbitrary and cruel.
life and death. Poisons are the subtle tool of the assassin,
the revolutionary, and the deranged killer. Even the
environment can become poisonous, through evil or
Some people are paranoid with good reason. Sometimes,
they really are out to get you. Much more fun is to give
the players reason to think that the paranoia is justified,
only to later expose it all as the product of fevered
Political Group [Opposition, Thing] It's all about
power—gaining it and maintaining it. Maybe the ruling
party is trying to quash its opposition. Maybe another
party is attempting to create scandal and resentment to
catapult itself into power. Maybe it's simply a small
marginal group looking to stir up trouble and attract
attention. Depending on the exact setting, these
machinations could consist of open attack and violence in
the streets or could be far more subtle and backroom
cloak and dagger.
Park [Place, Thing] Usually envisioned as a pastoral
setting nestled among the streets and shops of the bustling
city. This is land set aside for public use, usually for
recreation or ornamentation. Sure, there's industrial parks
and commercial parks and amusement parks—heck,
there's even ballparks. But usually, regardless of location,
this is land, no matter how small, full of greenery and
intended for public use.
Parking Lot [Place] The place where vehicles get
together when their drivers are busy elsewhere. Once
upon a day, this could have been a stable or dock, but
typically, be it packed dirt or gravel or asphalt, it's a place
to leave your car while you run inside.
Political Intrigue [Thing] Assuming you can tell the
good guys from the bad guys, you can't just go beat up
your enemies, because you'll wind up dead or in jail. It's
time for guile and savvy. You must sway parties to your
side without offending or alienating other allies. Political
intrigue is very tricky to set up and to play, but is well
worth it.
Passive-Aggressive [Personality] Do you know why it's
hard to identify a passive-aggressive personality? Because
you almost never catch them spitting in your coffee.
Pollution/Polluted [Descriptor, Thing] Dirty. Ill-kept.
Trashed. Fouled. Pollution can be anything unwanted that
fouls the otherwise pristine condition of something.
The passive-aggressive person avoids conflict and will
say whatever is necessary to avoid it. But they bottle up
their rage and uncork it in covert ways. The passiveaggressive personality can be just as mean and
manipulative and vindictive as any other, but everything
they do comes coated with a thick veneer of plausible
deniability. They tell you its okay to invite your friends
over, but they use that tone of voice that says otherwise.
Popular [Personality] Well-liked by a majority of the
Port/Transport Hub [Place] Grand Central Station. The
docks, a harbor, seaport, naval yard. Bus station, airport,
train station, subway station. Skyport, spacehub, docking
bays. It's the place for commercial vehicles to come
together for shared facilities or passenger convenience or
regulatory necessity.
People [Thing] The characters encounter some people.
Maybe they should talk to them.
Philosopher [Person] A thinker and wisdom seeker.
Philosophers are either seeking the answers to life's
fundamental questions, or in some cases, they have found
an answer that works for them, and they strive to live by
the tenets of their own philosophy. In all ages,
philosophers tend to be respected teachers, and the very
best of them are labeled as trouble.
Post-Apocalyptic [Setting, Tech] Step 1: Destroy
civilization and 90+% of the world's population.
Step 2: Try to survive.
It doesn't matter how the world blew itself up: nuclear
war, plague, global flooding, comet impact; all that
matters is that it's all gone now, and for the survivors, the
problems are always the same:
Pirate [Person, Thing] The pirates of legend were
swarthy characters who sailed the high seas plundering
unwary trading boats and sending the crew to a watery
death. But not all pirates are disgusting, peg-legged, eyepatched, parrot-wearing louts. The gentlemen pirate
prides himself on his manners and genteel nature (while
he politely steals your booty). Female pirates are often
more ruthless and blood-thirsty than their male
counterparts. Most importantly, pirates are not limited to
sea-faring vessels—all these same attributes apply to
futuristic pirates and their outlaw spaceships.
Someone's got to try to put a semblance of civilization
back together while at the same time fighting to the death
for scarce resources and fending off vicious brigands and
power-mad dictator wannabes. Oh yeah, and there's
usually mutants.
Powers [Thing] Someone has powers and abilities
beyond those of mere mortals. Mutations? Superpowers?
Alien technology? Magic? Gifts of the gods? That part's
up to you. All I know is that these people can do some
truly amazing things.
Poison [Action, Thing] The bane of ancient heroes, starcrossed lovers and bumbling English professors, poison is
a constant reminder of mortality and the slim line between
of the last millennium.) Coming during the European
Renaissance, the printing press did as much to fuel the
Renaissance as anything else. Scientific and cultural ideas
could be easily shared. Printing in the vernacular (or
common language) became common. Literacy rose as the
printed word came more cheaply to the masses.
Prayer [Thing] Never underestimate the force of divine
intervention—it can be earth shattering. But we all know
that deities are busy creatures with very full calendars. So
how's a deity to know when they are needed? By the
power of prayer.
As an overall technology level, the printing press also
coincides well with the rise of firearms and the first true
ocean going ships.
Prisoner [Person, Thing] Held against her will. Maybe a
princess from a tall tower, or a scientist forced to create
the ultimate weapon because his family is hostage. A
genie in a bottle? A lowly tech-writer shackled in his
cubicle? No matter who they are, prisoners tend to be
quite grateful if you free them.
Private Investigator [Person] This can be anyone who
searches out information for a price. Specifically, the
modern idea of the private dick arose after the American
Civil War with the Pinkerton Agency which specialized in
tracking down criminals for large companies. When that
function slowly fell more and more to local police forces
and the FBI, private eyes became relegated to locating
missing persons and digging up blackmail material. From
fiction and media, there are all sorts of sleuths and crime
solvers, both paid and unpaid, who stumble across (and
solve) murders on an almost weekly basis. Nowadays, any
group of teenagers with a talking dog think they can go
out there and solve mysteries.
In a traditional fantasy setting, priests get their divine
powers through ritualistic prayer. In nearly any genre,
reports abound of miracles occurring after fervent prayers
are issued by the devout. The prayers are not always to
benevolent gods, either. Chanting the prayers of the dead
civilization of Sontralia, will also awaken the Ancient
Ones who seek to reap hell on the awakened lands.
Prophet/Prophesy/Prophetic [Thing, Descriptor,
Person] The oracles have spoken to foretell the future. Or
maybe the players find a fortune cookie.
Portentous. Ominous. Some people are able to see
visions, read tea leaves, or are just plain intuitive.
Regardless, the prophetic have this way of knowing
what's about to happen and letting others know about it.
Precise [Descriptor] Exact. Perfectly accurate.
Prostitute [Person, Thing] Pure as New York snow, with
Bette Davis eyes, streetwalkers have been part of our
culture forever. Illicit rendezvous and anonymous
satisfaction are what they offer. Often victimized by real
criminals, the police and their pimps, prostitutes have few
securities on the mean streets late at night.
Pre-European Americas [Setting] Nomadic buffalo
hunting tribes of the Great Plains. Sturdy, cold-adapted
Inuits. Coastal fishing villages. The great empires of
Central and South America—Aztec, Maya, Inca. Pacific
Islanders. Amazonian rainforest dwellers.
Before the arrival of the white man, the Americas were a
rich and diverse place. Common elements will be
animistic spiritual beliefs and near stone-age
technology—very little in the way of refined metals, no
wheel, limited formal agriculture, and few domesticated
animals. However, in spite of that, some amazing
achievements in architecture and sciences can sometimes
be found.
But not every culture criminalizes prostitution. In some
places and times, they have been respected, well
educated, and very well paid consorts.
Psychic Powers/Psychic Near Future [Setting, Thing,
Tech] Telekinesis, telepathy, ESP, pyrokinesis,
clairvoyance... Any ability to affect the world with only
the power of the mind. Heck, you can even commune
with the dead, and we'll still count you as psychic.
Printing Press [Tech] When it comes to technology,
there are few things that fundamentally altered the
landscape of human activity as drastically as the printing
press. (Time magazine named it #1 of the top 100 events
When used as a Setting, the default is Psychic NearFuture. That title gives you everything you need to know:
it's just a little bit in the future, and for some reason, there
are true psychic powers. Traditionally a psychic nearfuture setting will be dark and grim, but there's no reason
to be bound by that. Psychics are often feared and hunted,
but this could just as easily be an Earth in which
technology has unlocked the psychic potential in
everyone (or at least in those with the cash to pay for it).
Realm of the Gods [Setting, Thing] The world of mortals
is only a shadowed veil of reality. The true reality is
something far more incredible and barely within the
bounds of human perception. The Realm of the Gods is
where the Powers that Be hold the fates of mortals in their
godly hands, but often do not care about the
consequences their decisions carry in our world.
Public Forum [Place] From the Greek Forum from which
this entry gets its name to town hall meetings and modern
electronic bulletin boards, the public forum is a place for
people of all types to share and discuss ideas and topics
relevant to their lives and their community.
The Realm of the Gods, in the literal sense, can be exactly
that: a separate tangible location where the gods live
(Asgard, Mount Olympus, etc.). However, it can also
represent a more abstract world. In a far-future setting,
our "reality" is only a matrix on a super mainframe, and
the bleak mechanized "real" world is actually where the
AI who controls us reside. In a dark, occult setting, the
realm of the gods can refer to the unfathomable chaos of
the Forgotten Ones who bleed into our world in a
seemingly random fashion.
Pulp [Tone] Two fisted heroes and cliffhanger endings.
The pulp world is one of a simpler morality with a clear
line between good and evil. Actions and emotions run
high, and there's no problem too delicate to be solved by a
bone-crunching fist fight. Often associated with the early
20th century, the settings tend toward exotic locales—
Egypt, India, darkest Africa—and the villains are most
often of the devious and plotting sort.
Reasonable [Personality] A reasonable person is fair and
thoughtful, willing to listen to others and open to change
if it is needed.
Rebels [Opposition, Thing, Person] Not everyone is
happy with the established powers. Rebels are the strongminded people who are brave enough to band together
and fight against the status quo.
Pundit [Person] When you break it down, really this is
just someone who offers an opinion on a topic. Typically,
they speak as if they have some measure of expertise or
authority on the subject, and hopefully they really do.
Political commentators, movie reviewers, and art critics
all qualify as pundits in modern society, but whatever the
age, anyone offering expert opinion can be your pundit.
Recluse [Person] Anyone
who has withdrawn from
the world and lives largely
in seclusion. You don't
have to be eccentric for
this kind of life, but it
certainly helps. In addition
to eccentric millionaires,
mentally disturbed
homeless people and
hermits, there are also
some religious orders and
survivalist fanatics that can
technically be considered
recluse communities.
Purchase [Action] To acquire through barter or payment.
This does not mean that you always have to pay cold hard
cash, but more often than not, some form of currency will
be involved.
Quick [Descriptor] Fast; brief.
Quixotic [Personality] Eccentric and unusual. Often
accompanied by Sancho Panza.
Realistic [Tone] Don't get carried away with this one. As
a tone, "realistic" refers to how people act and react in the
setting, and doesn't have to refer to the setting itself. With
some of the other tones, like epic or heroic or
swashbuckling, it is expected that characters will perform
amazing feats and get away with it—suffer extreme
punishment and shoulder on. Not so with realistic. In a
realistic setting, people who get shot tend to howl in pain
a lot and then slowly bleed to death. We'd like to think we
could just grit our teeth and get over it, but that's not
realistic. And no matter how cool it would be or how well
you roll, there's no way you're going to swing out on that
rope and land on top of a moving train. If you don't fall
off and get run over, you'll probably break your leg
anyway. Find some other way.
Recognizable [Descriptor] Familiar. You'd know them, or
it, if you saw them on the street.
Recover [Action] Something has been lost, stolen or
otherwise taken away from it's rightful (and sometimes
unrightful) owner and it's your job to get it back. Indiana
Jones is a prime example of a recovery operation, hunting
down priceless artifacts from times long past for buyers in
the present.
Harder to work into a plot is the sense of recovering from
some sort of disaster or hardship.
Red Herring [Thing] A diversion, a smoke screen, a
curveball. Usually leads you down a false path on a fool's
errand. Always the precursor to the wild goose chase.
You really will shoot your eye out.
alien/fantastical creatures with abilities and technology
unfathomable by modern man. Don't be shy about adding
in just about anything, as it can all be justified in some
We'd warn the players to avoid the red herring, but it's
impossible. The well designed red herring always sucks
them in. At least for a while.
Red Shirt [Person] The color doesn't really matter, but
this guy’s not destined to last long. It's his job to find
whatever evil, twisted thing is out there and then be
destroyed by it in some horrible fashion. It's in the
Renaissance [Setting, Tech] Literally—rediscovery. The
European Renaissance was actually several movements of
scientific, artistic and cultural advancement from the
1300's to about 1700. While everyday life was still
primitive and squalid by modern standards, in their own
day, they felt themselves to be the pinnacle of human
Refuse Dump [Place] Unlike a junkyard, this is a place
for true garbage—stuff that no one ever expects anyone
else to ever want again. Trips to the refuse dump almost
always involve disposing of something that you never
want anyone to find again—or else looking for something
accidentally discarded or intentionally hidden so that no
one could ever find it again. Either way, looking for
something in the refuse dump is usually tedious and
difficult, and almost always very messy and smelly.
Reject [Action] To reject, to shun, to turn away. Starcrossed lovers of the world unite, our lovers have spurned
us yet again. Writers fear the publisher's return letter.
Made men fear...well...another mortal coil. Rejection is
hard, but sometimes it has to happen, and sometimes you
might be the one to dish it out.
Relative [Person] Someone related to you—or at least
related to someone we've met so far. Child? Grampy?
Meddlesome Aunt Edna? Could be anyone. The idea is
that the relative is related to someone already relevant to
the story.
Relentless [Personality] Driven. This one just never gives
up. And they'll get vicious about it. Seriously, know when
to say when.
Religious [Descriptor] This could be someone who is
seriously spiritual and involved in their faith, or it could
be someone who carries only the outward trappings of
faith, but have otherwise lost their way, spiritually
The leading minds of the Renaissance finally
rediscovered many ancient texts that had been lost during
the dark ages, and applied them to the real world using the
scientific method. This was the age of Columbus and
Magellan. Machiavelli, Shakespeare, DaVinci.
Religious Fanatics [Opposition, Person, Thing] Fired by
an unquenchable zeal for their God, the Religious
Fanatics will stop at nothing. Suicide bombs, torturous
inquisitions, mass murders, even complete cultural
annihilation are not beyond them. Twisted and debased by
hatred, it seems the only sacrament they understand
anymore is that of pain, seasoned with blood.
The Renaissance is a wonderful setting for political and
social intrigue, as well as swashbuckling heroics.
Repairman [Person] Mr. (or Miss) Fixit. This could be a
general handyman, or someone as specialized as a stasis
field technician.
They’re not all of a violent bent though. A religious
fanatic can just as easily be one who is compelled to
preach and protest and proselytize at every opportunity.
The dedication and fervor is the important part.
Reputable [Descriptor] Trusted. On the up and up.
Known to be reliable.
Remote Future [Setting] This is a galaxy far far away.
Remote future implies human beings, but in a time and
place that has forgotten its origins on Earth. Otherwise, it
can be as wild as any fantasy setting, with bizarre
Rescue [Action] You can't get any more classic than this.
Someone or something is in a serious pickle, and they're
gonna need saving. It's usually a matter of breaking in
Rigid [Descriptor] Literally or metaphorically hard and
unyielding. Rigidity implies strength and consistency, but
also a tendency to break dramatically under enough stress.
somewhere and bodily removing the poor victim to
safety, but if you want to get more metaphysical, there’s
always the possibility of having to save them from
Ritualistic [Descriptor] The ritualistic often seems
extravagant or unnecessary, but ritual also lends
emotional depth and meaning. But there is a time and a
place for everything, and when the commonplace
becomes ritualistic, things start looking creepy.
Research [Action, Thing] We need information, and we
need it right away. Search ancient tomes or relational
databases for your answers. Talk to folks in the know.
Don't be afraid to go digging, you only have so long to get
this research done... before the opposition does.
River [Place] Stream, creek, river. It's where the water
flows. Some can flow underground, or in rapids and
waterfalls, or even just to the sea. If those aren't exciting
enough for you, I once heard of a guy with a river of
As a thing, research is the compiled end result of the
above work. If your research is important in any way,
then you can be sure there’s a danger of it falling into “the
wrong hands.”
Road [Place, Thing] It's the journey not the destination.
In other words, even though the players think their
campaign starts when they get to the Beholden Palace of
Tanaram, the mission really centers on the ambush and
pursuit of the Unsleeping Guardians of Tanaram that have
been sent to decimate them. On the other hand, a road
adventure doesn't have to be epic and fatalistic, it can
simply be a series of random encounters (the "how bad
can one night get" syndrome).
Resilient [Descriptor] Undaunted in the face of great
difficulty. Able to press on through pain and suffering and
still keep a stiff upper lip.
Resort/Spa [Place, Setting] Any culture with any sort of
wealthy or leisure class will also have lovely getaway
destinations designed for relaxing and rejuvenation. This
can be ancient Greek temples built around hot springs or
modern spas with mud baths and facial masks and those
little cucumber slices on your eyelids.
Robot/Automaton [Person, Tech, Thing] Artificial
constructs that can do the work of people, usually created
as servants. We hear robot and we think immediately of
metal men with monotone voices, but in a world of magic,
a "robot" could be an animated broom that performs
household chores or in the far future it could be advanced
androids that are nearly indistinguishable from humans.
Thinking outside the box, a completely engineered animal
that is programmed on a genetic level to respond to
various commands would also fall under this heading of
Resourceful [Personality] Creative and capable. At it's
extreme, resourcefulness allows a person to MacGyver
through any situation, but a resourceful person could also
be one with enough money to simply buy their way out of
Restaurant [Place, Thing] This can be any place where
one can purchase and eat a prepared meal. In days gone
by, the only places to purchase prepared food was at the
pub or at ye olde inne, but nowadays, it can be delivery
services, hot dog stands, fast food, rotating five-star
eateries atop 30 story towers.
Romance [Thing, Tone] Love is in the air. Perchance the
players must reunite separated lovers. Perchance one of
the lovers is instead in love with a player?
Restless [Personality] Dissatisfied with the here and now.
Ready to move on. Full of wanderlust. The restless spirit
is happier with the journey than with the destination.
Rooftop [Place] This is a great place to take a story.
Rooftops in any setting are a great place to lay out and
relax and (usually) watch the stars. But they're even better
if you've got a fight going, because they tend to be
uneven, with unusual projections and features, and they
come with the constant danger of falling to certain injury
or death. How cool is that?
Restroom [Place] Designated toilet facilities. As simple
as an outhouse or port-a-john or even just a hole dug in
the woods, or as posh as those ladies rooms with couches
and mirrored walls and attendants waiting to be tipped.
Revenge [Thing] Revenge is the easiest motive to relate
to, even though the most illogical to the objective viewer.
Someone motivated by revenge seeks to punish or hurt
someone, or rarely something (like a government,
corporation or network), to correct a perceived past
injustice. In other words, they just want to get back at
them, at any cost.
Rough [Descriptor] Unfinished. Not polished. Crude or
Royal Bloodline [Thing] They may not be next in line to
the throne, but they're related. Hopefully the line of
succession isn't in peril.
Rich [Personality] Some are shallow enough to only see
material wealth in this word, but those willing to look
deeper see texture and nuance and a fullness that makes it
that much more rewarding.
Rube Goldberg [Tech] A Rube Goldberg device is any
item that performs a seemingly simple task in an
incredibly complex or roundabout way. In America, this
of stuff, only in the selling of it. They don't even have to
own the products they sell, they are only middlemen.
notion was embodied in the fantastical cartoon inventions
of Rube Goldberg. This is a fantasy technology with no
real world counterpart, but it could be represented by any
overly complicated technology. Perhaps a society in
which flaws in a device are not corrected by fixing the
device itself, but rather by adding something else to it.
Alternately, the characters could find themselves in a
society so overwrought with regulation and bureaucracy,
that every piece of technology carries sixteen extra
attachments required for safety, warnings, regulation and
tracking purposes, or simply to protect endangered
industries. Or in a more mundane world, maybe the
“cutting edge” of technology always revolves around
these eccentric inventors and their bizarre, yet oddly
effective devices.
No matter what they are really like when they are off the
job, a saleman who is “on” (at least a good one) is
friendly, charming, exuberant, and at least a little
Savage [Descriptor] Bestial and primitive. Certainly not
meant for "civilized" people.
Scare [Action] Frighten. If you can convince everyone
that the old amusement park is haunted, then eventually
the owners will be forced to sell, and you can claim the
land and its hidden treasure. Hopefully, there are no
meddling kids around to ruin everything.
Rude [Personality] Unpleasant and without manners or
tact. Of course, you could have figured that out yourself if
you weren't so lazy.
School [Place, Thing] The funny thing about schools is
that even though they can be populated by many different
types of people and age ranges, they are still
predominated by an atmosphere of conformity and
Important Rules. It doesn't matter if you are talking about
a grammar school, a prison G.E.D. class, defensive
driving courses or demonic assimilation programs: if you
don't follow The Rules, you are subject to discipline or
expulsion. Another universal characteristic is that the
administration of the school is almost always strict and
unwilling to be flexible with The Rules. More often than
not there are nuns involved.
Ruins [Place, Thing] The remnants of something that was
once grand. There's always enough still standing to be full
of danger and little hidey-holes, but not enough to ever
make it functional again. And when it comes to ruins,
ancient is always more fun.
School of Magic [Setting] While it would be appropriate,
the School of Magic setting doesn't have to be preadolescents dealing with an enemy who can't be named.
Instead, maybe a futuristic world has rediscovered the
magicks of the old-world and developed an institute to
research and rediscover the old ways. Another alternative
could have the players infiltrating a secret Nazi campus
dedicated to practicing the occult to further the aims of
the axis powers. Perhaps the players are undergoing the
rites of passage for which their coven has long prepared
them. Or for a more familiar setting, you could just have
the players be 'tweeners trying to learn magic while
struggling with puberty.
Sacrificial [Descriptor] Intended from the beginning to be
lost, destroyed or forsaken.
Sadistic [Personality] This is where we cross the border
into evil. The sadistic person takes pleasure from the pain
of others, and most specifically from causing pain in
Safehouse [Place] The getaway destination away from
prying eyes. When the heat is on, lay low at a safehouse.
Sure, it's not much on amenities, but at least they won't
find you here. And it doesn't have to be Johnny Law
you're fleeing. Safehouses are also great for hiding from
the mob or slave hunters or angry ex-husbands.
Scientific Method [Tech] The scientific method of
inquiry is the cornerstone of most legitimate modern
scientific endeavors. The general process is observation
and development of a hypothesis that explains the
observed facts. Then predictions are drawn from the
hypothesis and these predictions are tested
experimentally, thus leading to more accurate hypotheses.
This process developed over centuries and was codified as
early at the 1300's, but it was not until the end of the
European Renaissance in 18th century that it became
widely accepted and standardized.
Sailor [Person] This is anyone who makes a living plying
the seven seas (or possibly the sea of space). Could be a
Norse longboatman or a pirate or a member of the United
States Navy or even an apprentice astrogator in the
Merchants Guild Seventh Interplanetary Fleet.
As a technology, the scientific method allows for greater
and faster advancement of scientific thought without
having to be hampered as much by superstition and
muddied logic. Not that those things are eliminated from a
Salesman [Person] A salesman (or salesperson, if you
prefer) is anyone whose occupation is to sell stuff to
others. They are not involved in the actual manufacturing
culture, but rather that scientific minds are more aware of
them and better able to manage them. Introduction of the
scientific method into any "primitive" culture allows them
to advance quickly—the Greeks were close, but imagine
what they could have accomplished if they had had a
rigorous process for actually testing their theories.
they're all of the above. We can't know, because it's a
Security Forces [Opposition, Thing, Person] Hired
badges, rent-a-cops, somebody's private army. Security
Forces as primary opposition implies someone behind the
scenes paying the bills, but this boss's interest in and
involvement with the players only arises because they
have crossed paths with security (if even then).
Sci-Fi [Descriptor, Thing] Science fiction. Science fiction
is any aspect of a setting based on projected or speculative
advances in technology. Any fictional technology not
currently available in the real world is generally
considered science fiction.
Seduce [Action] People always want something. Whether
they want, sex, safety, power or just companionship, the
want is always there. Use those wants and your own
natural talents to bind them to you. Sway their hearts and
compel their desires for what you have to offer. But
remember, seduction can be a two way street.
Scribe [Person] Someone who transcribes other people's
words for a living. This could literally be the only person
of letters in a 13th century village, or a court
transcriptionist for a military tribunal.
Sea Adventures [Setting] Adventure on the high seas!
Pirates! Sea monsters! Privateers! Storms! Vengeful
gods? Life on the seas is dangerous but rewarding, and
there's no telling what could go wrong on any given day.
Just ask Odysseus. Sea adventures are most fun in a world
that is still at least partly unexplored and/or a little wild
around the edges. The sea adventure setting also typically
involves actually traveling from place to place in a ship of
some sort, but even that's not required.
Sensitive [Personality] The good reading of sensitive
involves caring and empathy and understanding. The bad
reading delves into words like brittle, emotional and
touchy. Consider them both and decide which one makes
this character more interesting.
Homer's epics, viking explorers, Captain Nemo, Red
October, the Kon Tiki, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria,
the Dawn Treader, Captain Hook, the Bounty, the
Bermuda Triangle, the search for Atlantis, Sinbad. There's
no shortage of excellent examples for this one.
Serial Killer [Opposition, Person, Thing] This one's
pretty simple: some twisted individual has gone over the
edge and is killing people one by one at regular intervals.
There may be no obvious pattern or connection to their
victims, or they may have very obvious deliberate targets.
As an opposition, they may expand their crimes to cover
their tracks when the authorities start getting close to
them. The important thing to remember though is that the
serial killer is usually quite insane, and while they may
seem rational and intelligent, their motivations will
probably seem quite alien.
Serious [Personality] Grave and without humor. Or better
yet, grave and with a sense of humor, but you can never
tell when they’re joking, because the expression never
Servant [Person] This largely overlooked functionary
fulfills many of the needed roles in a large organization.
Alternatively, they are involved in the work that provides
luxury to the powerful. Maids, runners, bank tellers,
cooks, janitors, butlers, pages, and the like are just some
examples of servants. These people are largely invisible
to those in power, and lead quietly desperate lives. Often
times, they are ideal contacts for those who need to get
close to the Powers that Be.
Secret [Thing, Descriptor] Supposedly no one else knows
about it... but you know how secrets are.
Secret Society [Thing] Maybe they're out to control the
world, or maybe they're just constructs of bored frat boys,
or maybe they're the only outlet of expression and unity
for a people under an oppressive regime. Hell, maybe
Sewer [Place] A drainage system for carrying waste.
Usually involves flowing water and is often underground.
or magically supported towers full of all sorts of
fantastical beings.
Shiny [Descriptor] Reflective, often causing joy in the
observer when associated with money or jewelry.
Slave [Person] Someone who is bound in servitude. It can
be orphaned children sold to factories or forced to beg in
the streets, or captured warriors forced to work in the
fields or fight in the arena for entertainment. Even if you
call them indentured servants or tenant farmers and
explain the impossible conditions under which they can
work off their debt, they are still slaves.
Ship [Place, Thing] A large vessel for traveling through
water, air, or space. Planes don't typically count as ships,
but zeppelins do.
Sleep [Thing] Blissful oblivion. Everyone needs to sleep
and, perchance, to dream.
Sloppy [Descriptor, Personality] Messy, disorganized,
and unkempt. Careless.
Smith [Person] Any person who takes raw metals and
turns them into functional or aesthetic items is a smith.
The smith can work in precious metals, iron or steel, and
can create anything from wagon wheels and axles to
swords and other weapons to fine jewelry and serving
Shopkeep [Person] A shopkeep is like a salesman (see
"Salesman" above) who actually owns the products or
services that she sells. Most importantly, a shopkeeper
operates from a fixed location (or "shop"), be it a store in
the mall, a stall in the marketplace, or a hut/home in the
village where she sells baked goods. Shopkeepers have
extensive interactions with the local population, and are
useful sources of information for visitors or newcomers.
Snobby [Personality] Arrogant, but more often in a
material sense. It doesn't have to be, but it often implies a
sense of superiority born of wealth.
Shrewd [Personality] Shrewd implies wise and careful,
but in a crafty and devious sort of way. Shrewd is not
necessarily dishonest, but it also isn't terribly concerned
about ethical.
Snowed-In Town [Setting] Whether it's an ancient
Viking village locked in by the winter snows, or an
outpost on Charon that gets cut off from the city when the
falling frozen methane knocks out roads and radio, the
key is isolation. If the roads were open, help could be here
in 10 minutes, but until this weather passes, there's
nothing we can do. Hopefully the larders are well stocked,
but you can't prepare for everything.
Shy [Personality] Reserved, distrustful, timid. The
wallflower. The person who has an idea but is too nervous
to speak up with it.
Silent [Descriptor] Not just quiet—although it can be that
too—but silent can also be secretive and insidious,
creeping amongst us without raising alarm... until it's too
No matter what the snowed-in situation though, imagine
how it would suck to be stuck in one of those places with
a group of criminals. Or zombies.
Skyscraper [Setting] A big ol' building. A dozen stories
high? Two dozen? Three? Seven? The bigger, the better.
When used as a setting, the intent is to keep the entire
story within the walls of the building—from the
maintenance facilities and parking garage in the 3B subbasement to the coffee shop and newsstand and clothing
stores on street level up through the 50th floor offices,
80th floor condos, the penthouse, and the 50 extra feet of
radio tower mounted on the roof. With corridors, closets,
balconies, new construction, sealed areas, service
tunnels—there's more than enough to fill up any
Societal Pressure/Custom [Opposition] With friends like
these, who needs enemies? The societal pressure
opposition is both complex and simple. On the one hand,
it is a complex blend of cultural norms and practices
which illogically dictate that certain acts are prohibited or
required. The social underpinnings that lead to these
practices can be deep rooted in history and culture.
On the other hand, it can be slightly simpler—you are
either shunned or hunted for doing something; or shunned
or hunted for not doing something. For instance, the postmagical elven civilization ran into famines and
widespread starvation because their population lived for
centuries. Thus, they instituted the practice that all
citizens must be killed at the age of 200 when they are
still young adults. Another example is the alien/human
hybrid species in the Southeastern United States that
adopted the alien practice of disconnecting the cognitive
Modern skyscrapers only arose in the 20th century with
the development of new construction materials and
techniques, but you can also use futuristic multi-acre
arcologies—giant buildings intended to enclose entire
town-sized communities. Delving into alternate pasts, you
could also imagine an age in which the Egyptian
pyramids were actually occupied and riddled with rooms,
Note that any plotline involving societal pressure as
opposition requires more explanation than usual.
motivational speakers make fortunes demanding huge
speaking fees to "motivate" employees of large
corporations. In future settings, artificially intelligent
programs will debate and lecture with masses of people
electronically during virtual lectures.
Solar Energy [Tech] The ability to convert sunlight to
usable energy. Sure, plants have been doing it for millions
of years; it's about time humans got in on the act. There
are primitive versions of this, using sunlight for heating or
distilling or other effects, but true solar power allows the
user to gather sunlight and use it to produce electricity.
Special Ops [Thing] The Green Berets, the navy seals,
the SWAT team. These are the elite of the elite of any
fighting or law enforcement force, and their jobs are
usually (though not always) covert and secretive. A
special ops agent is not something you want to face alone
in a dark alley.
Soldier [Person, Thing] A soldier is an individual serving
in a militia or organized military force. A soldier can
volunteer for the service or be conscripted, and can either
be employed for their services or doing it for free out of
coercion or obligation. Soldiers sometimes serve under
organized governments and others serve their ideals in an
underground rebellion. They are normally at least
marginally more skilled, if not more, than the average
person at combat and use of the prevalent weaponry.
Spiritual [Descriptor, Personality] "I tell you now that
God will provide, you just have to have faith. Like the
Good Book says." A Spiritual person truly believes in
powers they can not see. They are buoyed up by their
spiritualism and seek to share it with those around them.
Space [Place, Thing] It's one thing when she tells you she
needs her space, and maybe that's what this roll refers to,
but more likely it is talking about outer space: the void.
Beyond the atmosphere of any planet is the vacuum of
space. Maybe it's included in your game as an abstract
vision or goal, or maybe your characters are actually
there. If it's the latter, then hopefully they have suits and
ships and space stations and can avoid the messiness of
Sporting Event [Thing] Any competitive sport in action.
Sports have been around for thousands of years and show
no signs of going away. No matter where you are or what
the stress, people find a way to unwind with a game of
ball (or whatever). It can be as formal and structured as
Olympic competitions or can be a simple pick-up game
between friends.
functions of females when they became fertile, effectively
making them comatose breeding stock.
Spontaneous [Personality] Acting on impulse and
without planning. Spontaneous people rarely consult their
Space Colony [Setting, Tech] Why is it that the brave
new world is always fraught with peril? The colony is
usually on a planet or moon in some distant system, but
occasionally it's in a wandering space station or ship.
Resources are usually scarce and contacts with the
homeworld are few and far between.
In addition to potentially lethal native flora and fauna,
there is always the threat of space pirates or internal
political strife. Most interesting though is the typical mix
of high and low technology one finds in a colony. They
have access to trans-light-speed spacecraft, tricorder level
medical diagnostics, and laser rifles, and yet because of
scarce resources, you'll also find them using pack animals
for transport over the surface and of course they've had to
fall back to hand-woven textiles since the synthesizer
broke down four harvests ago.
Sportsman [Person] Could be amateur or pro, but sport is
the center of his life. Depending on the setting, it could be
an Olympic swimmer, a pro bowler, the champion jouster
of the realm, or simply the village's fastest foot racer.
Spy [Action, Opposition, Person, Thing] Get information
through indirect means. The players can't just bustle in
and demand answers, but rather take the more covert path
of concealed observation to find out what is going on.
Speaker [Person] Because people dearly love to hear
themselves speak, society has had speakers since the
development of spoken language. In primitive
civilizations, before the advent of written recordation,
speakers were the bards and poets responsible for
maintaining the oral history and traditions of the
community. At the height of ancient philosophical
culture, Chinese and Greek orators would lecture to the
public as their sole occupation. In a modern setting,
Stadium [Place] A large arena, usually open, for sporting
events or other entertainments. Most have cheap seats and
luxury boxes, and when in use will have concessions and
merchandise of all sorts.
axes from sharpening certain stones to a fine edge; and
the more advanced cultures have developed bows and
arrows. On the domestic front, the stone age civilization
has developed stone bowls and grinders, flint for making
fire, tools for tanning hides, ability to make cord and the
knowledge of how to tie it for various purposes. These
cultures may have also developed weaving knowledge
and the ability of using certain plants and herbs for
medicinal purposes.
Stage [Place] As opposed to being at the theatre, this is
actually being on the stage. Stage means to be in the
production of a play or movie or other visual
entertainment. It could be the actors of an actual stage
play or the production team of a television show.
Steady [Descriptor] Consistent. Reliable. Unshaken.
Steal [Action] Just walk right through the door. You want
it, and someone else has it. You're best off if they don't
see you coming, but you can do things the hard way if
you prefer.
Store [Place, Thing] An establishment for buying goods.
Street Gang/Gang Member [Opposition, Thing] Gangbangers, ruffians, highwaymen. The opposition consists
of a small band of mostly amateur criminals. They may be
primitive in their methods, but they typically have a fierce
loyalty to one another, and a surprising amount of backup
they can call in on short notice.
Steam Power [Tech] It would seem to be a very simple
concept: boiling water produces steam which is used to
power mechanical devices. The ancient Greeks had a toy
model of a working steam engine, but apparently it took
2,000 years to find a practical application for it. There
were limited industrial uses for steam power through the
1700's, but wasn't until the steamships of the 1800's that
steam power really took off, and eventually helped fuel
the Industrial Revolution.
Strong [Descriptor] Physically or mentally powerful.
Able to stand up to increased pressure.
Stronghold [Place, Thing] Fortified walls and high
security. Whether you want in or want out... you're in for
a fight.
Steampunk [Setting, Thing, Tech] Similar to steam
power, steampunk is actually a fantasy/sci-fi concept of
an alternate universe where later inventions and concepts
appeared in the Victorian Era, but powered by 19th
century technologies. So there might be jet engines or
submarines or complex computational devices, but rather
than combustion engines and electronics, they'd be
composed of steam powered pieces, clockwork mechanics
and difference engines. Steampunk often plays off the
romance and stiff proper stereotypes of the Victorian Era,
while at the same time introducing more irreverent "punk"
attitudes on independence and authority.
Stubborn [Personality] Thick-headed. Resistant to
Student [Person, Thing] The student's business is
learning. From the pilot in training at the spacefleet
academy to the apprentice blacksmith, students are
typically young and usually naive and impressionable...
and maybe even idealistic.
Subtle [Descriptor] Something that you maybe don’t
notice at first. It’s the subliminal text hidden in between
the frames of the film, or the odd shape that is reminiscent
of… something. That which is subtle doesn’t club you
over the head—it waits for you to notice.
Stiff [Descriptor] Inflexible or uncomfortable in a given
situation. Rigid.
Stone Age [Setting, Tech] This is the most primitive of
actual technology. Civilization has just begun the
rudimentary process of realizing that it can manipulate its
surroundings to achieve its most important goals: hunting,
cooking, and building shelter.
Suburb [Place, Thing] The suburbs: where the middle
class go to feel better about themselves. A world of
minivans, strip malls, cosmetic dentistry and "No
Skateboarding" signs in the parking lot.
Suburbs, however, are not limited to modern settings. A
suburb can exist in nearly any time and genre, as long as
it consists of a mainly residential area filled with people
who most often work, play, and do business in the “big
city.” In a fantasy setting, this could be an underground
lair of dwarves, connected to port town. In a future
setting, it could consist of the Midmang-sector, where
midlevel bureaucrats make sure they fly the proper flags
on the proper holidays so as not to violate their residential
Any sort of mechanical devices are still undiscovered, but
the population has figured out how to make tools out of
carving and preparing rock, wood and plant materials.
Thus, for weapons they have developed: spears with stone
heads and "throwers" to project them; stone knives and
Suburban Retail Center [Place, Setting] It's a mall.
Maybe it's one of those all-in-one super mega stores, or
maybe even a strip mall, but the heart of this really is the
fully enclosed indoor mall. Maybe there's a couple (or
Survive /Survival [Action, Thing] Isn't it enough to just
get by? You don't need to find lost treasure or defeat the
evil hordes; all you have to do is live for one more day.
Of course sometimes, the only way you're going to live is
by finding the lost treasure... or by defeating the evil
more) big department stores as anchors, but then the
inside is filled with every flavor of trendy clothing store,
novelty stores, bookstores, luxury stores, the sunglass
shack, two expensive jewelry stores right across the hall
from each other, the music store, and anything else that
strikes your fancy. The only survival necessity the mall
typically doesn't have is real food. There's water fountains
and soda and candy and the greasy fast food offerings of
the food court. Unless your mall is lucky enough to have
one of those buffet places. But if you don't care about
eating well, you'd never have to leave the mall at all.
Sheer terror can arise when survival becomes your
singular overarching goal. It doesn't matter exactly what
the threat is, all you need to know is that it's going to kill
you at any moment if you don't stay vigilant (or take
immediate action, or do whatever it is that is required to
keep living).
Using the mall as a setting can mean playing employees
and patrons of the mall and dealing with the petty politics
of mall business. Much more fun though is some
horrifying traumatic event that forces everyone to lock the
doors and try to wait out the disaster inside the mall.
Zombie hordes. War. Mutanagenic poison fog. Alien
invasion. Possibly the mall becomes the command center
for American freedom fighters after the Commies
invade—how appropriate.
Suspense [Tone] Suspense isn't just one style, but is a
part of several. Mystery and horror are two of the likely
candidates, but any genre and tone can benefit from a
little bit of the unknown. Leave the players hanging, don't
give them that last juicy bit of gossip until it's too late.
Did they split into two groups? Switch to the other before
that pivotal die roll that lets their character live or die.
Don't tell them that there's something right around the
corner. Let them hear it, smell it...maybe even taste it. The
big, slathering, jaw toothed beast from Gluon Seven that
is known to eat men whole. It's there! It's behind that
door! Or is it a mouse being chased by a cat?
Superfluous [Descriptor] Extra or unnecessary. Without
reason or purpose.
Supernatural [Thing, Descriptor] Any sort of
phenomenon that can’t be explained with “traditional”
science. Ghosts, witches, UFO’s, psychic powers… even
werewolves and other creatures of the night. As a
descriptor it implies some otherworldly quality or a
connection to the supernatural.
Swashbuckling [Tone] Swing from any handy chandelier
with a smile on your face, because when you're
swashbuckling, the more dashing and daring your stunt,
the more likely you are to succeed. The style and flair of
any move you make is far more important than its
Supers [Thing] Shorthand for "people with super
powers." You can be a hero, a villain, or just a person
who wants to be left alone, but the truth is you are
endowed with amazing abilities beyond those of mere
mortals, and trouble will seek you out.
Swashbuckling heroes are handsome and charming, and
even when they're bad, the ladies can't help but love them.
Swindler [Person] "It's good to be shifty in a new land."
—Simon Suggs
You are an imposter. Read one of the other descriptions
on here (like Aristocrat, or Elected Official) and pretend
to be them. The swindler works by assuming a mask of
respectability, gaining the trust ( or "confidence") of the
mark, often by seeming to place trust in them, or by
putting them in a position where a cold rejection would be
embarrassing (acting like an acquaintance who they've
forgotten, etc.)
You play on the insecurities, isolation, and naïveté of the
mark, always keeping him off-balance, never letting him
consider the situation objectively. Often you play upon
the target's vices to spring the swindle.
There are seven decades of comics and books and
television and movies to mine for ideas here, from 4-color
boy scouts from the golden age to angsty vengeance-bent
anti-heroes. The fun comes in dropping supers into a
setting where you wouldn't normally expect them—
Victorian England, the Old West, an asteroid mining
Sword & Sorcery [Setting] The Sword & Sorcery setting
is one of grand adventure, where heroes walk like giants
among common men. They brawl, feast, drink, love and
hate harder than anyone else. Their women are beautiful
beyond compare, and many prove to be canny fighters in
their own right.
Spandex costumes optional.
Technician [Person] The expert for whatever complex
machinery or process you are working with. Computer
technician, x-ray technician, photon matrix technician. If
you've got something horribly complex, hopefully there's
a technician near by who knows how to operate it—and
maybe even repair it in a pinch (if you don't mind waiting
three weeks for new parts).
Villains are despicable creatures, working with fell
demonic things to seize control of the world. They hide in
ancient ruins, or deep within the twisted alleyways of
corrupt cities. Monsters are ancient or alien things, and
their very existence is often enough to send lesser men
into fits of insanity.
Death is a constant companion to the sword & sorcery
hero. Success is rewarded by the finest food, the sweetest
wine and passionate women. Magic is a vast, undeniable
power. It is full of mysteries and horrible fates for those
who trust it.
Teleportation [Tech] The ability to move instantly from
one place to another. As a technology, it implies an
extremely high level of development, incorporated into
interstellar jump drives to carry ships from star to star, or
as transfer portals that shortcut through all the intervening
distance. Teleportation doesn't have to be high tech, but it
usually is.
Sympathetic [Personality] Aware of another's feelings
through mutual (though not simultaneous) experience.
Alternately, someone or something whose plight inspires
sympathy from others.
Territory [Thing] Land, turf, dominion. It's a place that
someone has a claim on. And more often than not, the
word "territory" seems to open it up for dispute and
implies that whoever claims to own it often spends a lot
of time defending that claim.
Tactical [Tone] "Squad B, take that building! Squad A,
flank left! Everybody keep your heads down. The squids
just unlimbered two gahumps and AUGH!"
The System [Opposition] In this case, there is no real
tangible opponent other than faceless bureaucracy. The
players' goals and objectives may be terribly noble, and
everyone they meet will be terribly sympathetic, but... I'm
very sorry but there's nothing we can do for you. The
players will face frustration and apathy at every turn and
likely will have to become lawbreakers themselves to get
around the mindless cogs of the machine:
Tactical games focus on battle. It's often more important
to know how your players are going to execute an ambush
or take an objective than why they were there in the first
place. Game focus is on giving and taking damage,
positioning troops or vehicles and keeping track of
various resources, like ammunition, armor, heat or
Play should incorporate the players into some kind of
military unit, whether its a foot platoon, a starfighter wing
or a mechajock lance.
Hideous aliens are planning to destroy your planet to
make way for an interstellar bypass. Your child will die
without these lifesaving medicines, but they have been
trapped in a Customs warehouse for weeks due to an
international legal dispute. You have the evidence to
bring down the corporation that's been raping the land for
years, but no one will listen anymore and their lawyers
block you at every turn.
Tavern [Place, Thing] Pub. Bar. Drinking establishment.
This is where you buy drinks and meet total strangers who
will go on world-altering quests with you. It's a great
generic place to get hired or to go look for information.
As a last resort, it always makes a great setting for a fight
if you get bored.
When you fight the law, quite often, the law wins.
In some circles, the tavern is the center of town. Everyone
who matters comes down to have a pint and learn what's
going on in town. Trade is done over a hand of cards or a
Theatre/Theatrical [Descriptor, Place, Thing] A public
place where one can watch a story being told. Live plays,
motion picture theatres, and holo-sim halls all qualify.
Thief [Person] Someone who steals. It would be nice if
they could all be the steal-from-the-rich type, but thieves
come in all shapes and sizes and most of them steal from
the vulnerable and keep for themselves. The word itself
may conjure up images of the black-clad crafty cat
burglar, but it also includes everyone from muggers to
embezzlers to con-men. If you want a real challenge,
throw another roll on the Miscellaneous Thing table to
find out what it is your thief actually steals.
Teach/Teacher [Action, Person, Thing] Whether it be the
master swordsman dueling students in the training yards,
or the kindergarten school teacher helping those little
tykes along the way, a good teacher is several things:
They are honest, letting a pupil know when they stray off
course. They are creative, thinking of more than one way
to explain material. They are persevering, keeping at it
until the apprentice understands. Part actor, part scientist
and always trying something new, the best teachers can
get inside most situations and turn them inside out for
other people.
Thorough [Descriptor] Someone who is very detail
oriented and careful.
The stereotype is teaching to youngsters, but any act of
imparting knowledge is teaching.
the buildings. The intensity and work ethic of its
citizenry. The high tech gadgetry. The lights and ads and
mix of pop culture that puts the Vegas strip to shame.
Thug [Person] Just a plain old ruffian. Thugs tend to be
criminals, but not the smart kind. They rely on brute
force, intimidation and direct action rather than any sort
of subtlety or strategy. Thugs are most effective with
some sort of evil mastermind behind them.
Ticking Time Bomb [Opposition] A horrendous disaster
is just waiting to happen. Maybe you know exactly when
zero hour will come... maybe you don't. Either way,
someone needs to stop it before the unthinkable happens.
The ticking time bomb may have been intentionally set—
terrorist action or desperate protesters or a ship's selfdestruct mechanism. Or it could simply be an accident—
an automated defense system, or an ancient buried evil
that was never meant to be uncovered.
Whether it is a literal bomb or some other destructive
event, the defining nature of it is its mindless inevitability.
Events have already been set in motion, and it will take
extraordinarily heroic measures to alter fate's course.
Tokyo has the stylized glitz and glam of any modern
cultural Mecca, coupled with one of the seamiest
underbellies out there—all of it growing from a still very
old world, conservative cultural base. And it's near-future,
so be sure to add in a few nifty whizmogigs to keep
everyone on their toes: cyber-implanted PDAs,
electrically animated body art, the occasional luxury
flying car for the uber-wealthy. No matter what your other
rolls, Tokyo has something to offer any style of
Time Travel [Tech, Thing] "...and that's how I became
my own great-grandfather."
Time travel is a great gimmick and a sci-fi staple. Its uses
are virtually limitless. For the braver GM’s out there, you
can time travel close to home and have the players
jumping back and forth over themselves, reliving the
same events from different angles and changing their own
pasts and futures every time they take a time jaunt.
A little easier on the logic-balance though are all sorts of
more limited uses of time travel: a single trip to the past to
right that which is wrong; visitors from the past or future
who must be returned to their own time before time is
horribly fractured; time police chasing criminals through
time. However it is used, the unifying theme is usually an
attempt to "correct" time or to stop cataclysmic events.
Tongue-Tied [Personality] A true Spoonerist, this one
seems incapable of expressing herself succinctly. She's
always at a loss for words and spends time stammering
around everything in her search for the best way to say
Tough [Descriptor, Personality] Hardy and resilient and
unlikely to take any guff from the likes of you.
Tiny People [Setting] No, not little people. We're not
talking about the land of Munchkins and Oompaloompas.
We're talking TINY people—miniscule. This is the realm
of Lilliputians or Smurfs. An extra roll or two can give
you an idea of what sort of world the tiny people live in,
whether it's medieval faerie folk or tiny aliens invading
earth in their mini star cruisers.
Tower [Place] Technically, any structure that is
significantly taller than it is wide can count as a tower.
The classic wizard's keep may come to mind, or even 20th
century skyscrapers. But there's also radio towers and
control towers and Eiffel towers, lighthouses and
monuments. Towers offers strategic positioning due to
typically limited access points, a great view, and a very
scary place to fall from.
There's several angles to play this from, but it works best
when there is some sort of interaction or conflict between
the large and the small. The players can be tiny people
themselves, either working their way through a giant
world or suffering the intrusion of big people into their
own realm. Or alternately, the players can be normal
people who have stumbled Gulliver-like into the world of
the tiny.
Town Square [Place, Thing] The town square is not
defined solely by its location (usually at the center of
town), but also by its function, which is as a central
gathering place for residents where they can demonstrate
or celebrate or share ideas or trade goods. The town
square is typically an outdoor gathering place, but don't be
limited by that. In some towns, the local civic auditorium
or courthouse may be the closest you get.
Tokyo/Near-Future [Setting] Take everything you know
about Japan and crank it up about three notches. The
bustling beehive of a city with a perpetual logjam of
traffic on the serpentine ramps and roads that wind among
Trade [Action, Thing] Maybe simple barter in the local
market, but could also apply to prisoner exchanges or a
swap of knowledge or favors. If you can buy it, you can
also trade for it.
abuse if that serves the story. Besides, clowns are just
Tragic Villain [Opposition] Even though he's got issues,
he's going to make your life hell. Cursed, diseased,
enslaved, possibly dying, the Tragic Villain has a score to
settle with the heroes.
Treasure [Thing] Everyone likes getting treasure. And
sometimes it has something valuable in it. As always,
don’t get suckered into stereotypes on what does or does
not constitute “treasure.” Remember, one man’s
Traitor [Opposition, Thing] The enemy is in your midst.
The traitor can be motivated by many things: revenge,
hatred, power, corruption. But usually it is simply for
monetary gain. In the rare instance, however, the traitor
could be a coerced participant—such as when the traitor
only sabotages a mission because another villain has
kidnapped her husband and will kill him if she doesn't
Treaty [Thing] We have an agreement, and we've gone so
far as to seal the deal in writing. Legally bound. So what
do you do when one side fails to hold up their end?
When the opposition is a traitor, the gamemaster is
presented with one of two options: (1) the traitor is a nonplayer character; or (2) one of the players is the traitor.
Obviously, it is easier to make an NPC a traitor, and the
secret won't be revealed until the GM chooses to do so.
However, the greatest effect comes from when a player
has successfully fooled his compatriots and reveals that he
has undermined the entire campaign. The risk of the latter
is that an inexperienced player will turn a dramatic
situation into a cheesy one, or will simply reveal their
disloyalty on accident. GMs should use great discretion.
Tree-top Civilization [Setting] What's not to get about
this one? It's a whole community built at the tops of the
trees. You'd think the primary requirement for this would
be a measure of grace and maybe some prehensile toes to
help keep people (especially the kids) from plunging to
their death all the time, but it seems that that's not so. This
can be a primitive tribe of teddy bears on some far-off
moon, or statuesque elves who have placed themselves
above the travails of the world, or a high-tech enlightened
community that's found a way to live in happy harmony in
the rain-forest canopy. The only real commonality seems
to be a love and respect for nature.
Travel [Action, Thing] This should be simple enough, get
from one place to another. But who knows what obstacles
will be present along the way? There could be fierce
storms, high mountains, and angry tribes of monkey
demons to be overcome. Journeys are often about the way
there, not the destination. In this case, that's doubly true.
Traveling Circus [Setting] Perfect for running away and
joining. Clowns and jugglers and acrobats. Elephants and
lions and bears. Three rings of family fun under the big
top. Maybe your circus is coupled with a few of the rides
and games associated with the traveling carnival (see
Carnival), but the circus is really all about the
performances. It's about getting sick on cotton candy,
popcorn and overpriced hot dogs while watching scantily
clad women swing and twirl on the trapeze.
Tricky [Descriptor] Crafty and clever. Willing to deceive
others to achieve their goals.
Tropical Paradise [Setting] There is no true paradise (see
Dystopia), but this refers to a place, typically remote from
civilization—often on an island, where there is sun and
sea year round, food can be had by simply picking it off
the vine, fresh water is in constant supply, and the sea
easily yields up an abundant harvest. For human beings,
it's a very comfortable life. If it came with an Internet
connection, there'd never be reason to leave.
This envisions a modern 20th century circus, but circuses
have been around for centuries, and in one form or
another will continue to be so. The only difference is how
much the technology can enhance the thrills (inverted
motorcycles racing in a steel cage!) and how much people
complain about the animal cruelty.
The storylines for a tropical paradise invariably revolve
around intrusions into paradise. The players may be
outsiders who are shipwrecked in paradise—maybe it's
inhabited already, maybe it's devoid of humans and
waiting for the city slickers to figure out how to survive.
Alternately, the players could be island natives or some
type of concerned outsider (researcher, explorer,
philanthropist) seeking to protect the paradise from
As a setting, players can be circus employees themselves,
patrons, or someone sent to investigate or disrupt the
circus operations. It's a great locale for drama, because
beneath the constant family friendly smiles of their
performances, the employees are low-paid struggling
working stiffs like any other. And their transient nature
can enhance the elements of sleaze and corruption and
radiation and storms and poisons that human carelessness
has wrought on the planet's surface. But it can be simpler
than all of this too. Potentially, an underground setting
can simply be a team exploring abandoned mines or
tombs in search of lost treasure and dealing with the traps
laid by the previous owners.
exploitation by a greedy outside world. The opposition
could be 16th century Portuguese sailors landing on a
Pacific island or 30th century casinos seeking to place
resorts on the water world of New Bimini.
Troubled Youth [Opposition, Person, Thing] The pangs
of youth: you're all alone; the weight of the world's
problems are on your shoulders; and most importantly- no
one understands you.
Underground Pariahs [Opposition, Thing] Deep in the
recesses of every civilization's underworld, the outcasts of
society survive. In some worlds it's the molemen. In
others it's the morlocks. Scarier yet, you could discover
the CHUDs (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground
Dwellers—if you don't know, don't ask).
Sometimes the troubled youth are the players.
Misunderstood juvies trying to protect their neighborhood
from the alien invasion. Pubescent teens trying to deal
with their developing super powers. The Golden Children
chosen by an ancient Asian monastery to lead the world
into an enlightened age.
Sometimes peaceable and sometimes overwhelmingly
violent, underground pariahs always share the same
general characteristics no matter what the genre or setting:
(1) they live underground; (2) they are grotesque in
physical appearance, thus incompatible with the
superficial surface dwellers; (3) even though banished
from civilized society, the underground pariahs have
banded together to cobble their own makeshift society;
and (4) their minds have been warped by the harsh and
unforgiving conditions they have been forced to endure.
Sometimes the troubled youth are the antagonists. Ghostchildren with no eyes haunting an abandoned hotel.
Undead gang members hunting humans for bloodsport.
Frost giant preteens who are terrorizing the local dwarven
Ultimate Weapon [Thing] Exactly what it says: a
weapon beyond anything we've previously seen; a
weapon whose destructive capacity can barely be
imagined. Fortunately for those who fear it, most ultimate
weapons never get beyond the planning or construction
phase before the plot unfolds around it.
Undertaker [Person] Someone has to prepare the bodies
for their final rest. You can use the stereotypical blackclad, somber and gaunt mortician lurking ghoul-like as he
waits for the bodies. Or you can have a more realistic
undertaker who is friendly and professional and knows
how to comfort the grieving while guilting them into the
fancy coffin.
Undead [Opposition, Thing] Yeah, we know there's
already entries for zombies and vampires, but we just
can't get enough of restless dead risen from their eternal
Underwater [Place, Setting] The tone of any underwater
setting relies heavily on whether or not the players can
breathe underwater. Otherwise, limited air supply is an
omnipresent factor in every activity. Whether it's scuba
divers exploring ancient wrecks, sailors on a German uboat, or commuters trapped in the horrific collapse of the
Chunnel, everybody's got to breathe.
You can go with the classics: brain-eating zombies,
blood-sucking vampires, flesh-eating ghouls. But any
returned spirit will do. It can be ghosts or wendigo or
returned souls who possess the living to wreak havoc.
Underground [Place, Setting] Underground, as in
literally "below the surface," or underground as in
"hidden from the authorities." Personally, we prefer the
former. If you want your underground railroad or
whatever, you can have it, but we prefer the subterranean
tunnels. This can be anything under the surface—
aqueducts or sewers, subway tunnels, fallout shelters,
caves, catacombs, sub-basements, storm cellars.
If air isn't a factor, though, then things lighten up
considerably. Mermen emissaries from a sunken
Atlantis—genetically engineered colonists in the icy
oceans beneath Europa's crust. The possibilities are
endless, but always there is an alien otherworldliness to
submarine settings.
Ungrateful [Personality] What? I'm supposed to thank
you for doing your job? Hey, it's not that I'm not
appreciative, but after everything I've been through, I
think you owe me at least that much.
As a setting, this usually implies entire communities that
have developed underground, such as morlocks taking up
residence in the old sewer system, or sub-cities where
either towns and streets have been elevated above the old
city or where linked tunnels and sub-basements have
slowly expanded to form entire communities below the
city. It could even be tunnels deep in the earth where the
mole people live, entire magic-fueled civilizations of dark
dwarves and elves tunneling deep under the earth and
building whole cities in the sunless dark, or a planet
where humans have sealed themselves beneath the
Untimely Death [Thing] Didn't see that coming.
Unusual Phenomena [Thing] This can be almost
anything, from unexplained low moanings in the garden
to apparitions appearing at the watchtower to items
strangely being moved around the room when no one's
looking. Unexplained phenomena should be exactly that:
always to his face), but is often viewed with kindness or
maybe pity by others. He's not capable of fully supporting
himself, but usually lives off of generous family or the
charity of others. Village idiot is an antiquated term, but
the village idiot figure can be found in any setting.
weird things that happen and no one can quite figure out
why or how. Depending on the setting, there may well be
a perfectly logical explanation behind it all... but what if
there isn't?
Vagrant [Person] A bum, a bag-lady, a homeless
wanderer. No steady employment and no permanent
address, the vagrant lives off of odd-jobs and the kindness
of strangers. When that doesn't suffice, maybe they
survive by stealing what they need and victimizing the
weaker vagrants.
Virtual Reality [Setting, Thing, Tech] Two ways to go
with this one: either the whole world is merely a
simulacrum of some sort, and the players are unaware of
the larger world around them, or else the players are
people in the "real world" who spend most of their time
living and interacting in some sort of simulated world.
Vampire [Thing] Nosferatu. Vlad the Impaler. Angel.
Vampires always add a distinctive and recognizable
flavor to a game. Everyone is familiar with the myths and
legends surrounding vampires, and they can easily be
incorporated into a game. The GM can make them the
traditional, evil seducers looking to feed on the blood of
innocents. Or maybe it's more appropriate to have
reformed, tortured souls seeking to correct the evils
they've committed over the centuries of their undead
existence. Better yet is the brainless, nearly unintelligent
creatures of the night who brutishly tear down victims in
an effort to satiate their eternal hunger.
In either case, the stereotypical virtual reality setup with
VR helmets and/or datajacks plugged into your brain is
probably the most efficient way to handle this, but you
can also have worlds created and maintained by magic or
by a shared dreamspace or simply that the whole universe
is a giant experimental thought construct motivated by
extra-dimensional beings.
Virtuous [Descriptor, Personality] A goody-goody.
Someone or something that possesses the "good" qualities
of life.
Volcano [Place] Manmade or natural, active or dormant...
it's a volcano, and volcano's are great dramatic locations
for just about anything. And no matter how long the
locals say it's been dormant, you just know that thing's
ready to blow as soon as it's most inconvenient for the
Vehicle [Place, Thing] Any object or item used to move
someone from one place to another. A vehicle can be
anything from a car to a flying carpet to a burrowing
robot with room for seven. They can contain extremely
advanced technology (such as the car that talks, shoots
missiles and teaches you to sing German pop songs), or
quite simple (as with a railroad handcar).
Vulgar [Personality] With an offensive stench and a
capacity to belch the alphabet, a vulgar person will
demand attention simply by who they are. Boorish and
unrefined, they revel the simple things, like triple
pepperoni pizzas, cheap beer, and monster truck rallies.
Viking explorers [Setting] Jorgumundar waits
somewhere over the horizon, and the Norns hold the
threads of our lives in one hand with sharp shears in the
other. It is the wild freedom of wave and wind and the
promise of valorous combat and gleaming treasure that
makes this life worthwhile.
This setting is rife with bold warriors,
terrible monsters (like sea serpents and
Beowulf's Grendel) and magic-wielding
giants. A sharp sword and a bold heart are
the best defense against such things. In the
end, death comes to even the greatest of
kings and heroes.
War [Setting, Thing] Good god.
What's it good for anyway? A
war arises whenever one
organized faction of people (or
demons, or artificially intelligent
robots) decide to systematically
commit violence against another
organized faction of people (or
dwarves, or temporal anomalies).
A war can be as large as the
population of one planet trying to
decimate the population of
another planet. It can also be as
small as the Johnson family
trying to burn down the house of
the Smith family.
Village Idiot [Person] In PC terms, a
person with a mental disability who is
typically well-known and well-tolerated
about town. The village idiot may be
mocked and scorned by some (although not
If you wish to be clever, you can
interpret this as a price war or a
cold war or a war of words, but
c'mon... you know it's supposed
to be about the mass killing.
For centuries, wild Scandinavian pirates
held much of Europe in fear. The Vikings
raided from their fiords aboard dragonheaded longships. Their ferocity and skill at
arms were legendary, often turning the tide
of battle in their favor.
Whiny [Personality] Best served with cheese (perhaps a
nice brie), these folks are the ones who complain bitterly
about whatever situation they happen to be in. Okay,
perhaps bitter is too strong a word, but the whiny ones are
just as likely to sit and watch the situation and kibitz as
they are to do something about it.
Rolling again on this table to decide where the war is
taking place is not a bad idea.
Warehouse [Place, Thing] A building or location
dedicated to the sole purpose of storing stuff. Warehouses
are great places for finding illicit merchandise, and if you
need a dramatic place for a fight or chase, you can't beat a
warehouse—high ceilings with plenty of corners and
shadows, lots of stuff to hide behind, not to mention the
occasional leaky steam pipe to provide cover for an
ambush or big escape.
Wild Animals [Opposition, Thing] Wild animals of all
types can cause trouble: dogs, escaped gorillas, dinosaurs,
werewolves and even humans. The worst part is the
tetanus shot you have to get after you've dealt with them.
Warlord [Opposition] You face a formidable opponent in
the Warlord. Through guile, personal power or skill at
arms, he leads a sizable force of capable soldiers—
anything from a cadre of dozens to an army of thousands.
His reach extends through the land, through military units,
political power and fear. His goals are simple, to remain
in power and expand that power as opportunity presents
Warlords are tyrants who rule through the force of arms
and the discipline of a military structure. They see the
world as a battlefield and treat it as such.
Water [Thing] H2O. The stuff of life. Water keeps a
human's juices flowing, and they can go a week or two
before collapsing from dehydration. It can also be blessed
priests and clerics to create the dreaded H2Oly, the bane
of vampires and undead everywhere. Put enough of it
together in one place, and you’ve got rain, floods, rivers,
lakes, and oceans.
Wild West [Setting] Yee-haw! It's no longer the wild
frontier, but it's still pretty darn lawless. Sure, you've got
the local sheriffs, and if need be, you can call in the
cavalry (if you've got a couple weeks to wait for it), but
most of the time, justice is what you can make for
yourself. There's no shortage of bad guys—robber barons
and cattle rustlers and train robbers, and every town's got
a church, a general store, a sheriff's office, and a roughand-tumble saloon where there's gambling-a-plenty,
women of questionable morals hanging over the upstairs
railing, and guys getting thrown out the front window
whenever a fight breaks out.
Wealthy [Descriptor] Someone whose basement is filled
with sacks of money with dollar signs on them.
Wedding [Thing] A celebration of marriage, usually
accompanied by cake.
Werewolf [Thing] The children of the moon rise tonight.
By day they are boring, mundane sheep. Just like any
other jerk going about their boring, mundane jobs like
everyone else. Or maybe they're just in sheep's clothing.
The wild west is full of frontier homesteads, cowboys on
the dusty trail, and Indians being squeezed off their lands
by the white devil. Throw in some runaway trains and
fantastic chases and you got a great action/adventure tale.
Add in mysterious shamans and ghost towns, and it works
for horror. Just always remember your ten gallon hat and
trusty revolver.
These are the werewolves of the Romanian legends.
Twice a month they rise with the full moon and the
inhibitions of ordinary man fall away to the wild passion
of the beast. Infused with the power of the night, the wolf
cannot be felled by normal means. Silver is its only bane.
Wilderness [Place, Setting, Thing] The year could be
2704, it could be 1400 BC Doesn't really matter, because
your characters have stumbled into that part of the map
labeled "here there be monsters". They could be following
the trail of a bad guy, trying to retrieve a lost child,
searching for something they saw crash, or taking
direction from a crudely drawn map, an ancient legend or
an eccentric wanderer's diary in the quest for some kind of
Wheel [Tech] The wheel grants mobility and power.
Drawn carts can travel further with heavier loads than
individual horses. Windmills and water wheels harness
the ever-present energy of the world and put it at
Mankind's disposal. What's more, gearing systems (which
are nothing more than wheels with crenellations) open a
whole host of possibilities. Typical technologies available
from the wheel include: animal-drawn vehicles, wind and
water powered mills, and clockwork devices, among
Wildlife Preserve [Place, Setting] It’s a lot like
Wilderness (see the previous entry), but it comes with
helpful people in uniforms who help keep it tidy and
ensure the animals are safe and fed. They also have maps.
Taking place from 1914 to 1918 (although the US didn't
join until 1917), this was a time of ferocious nationalism.
It was also the end of true monarchies in Europe, seeing
the fall of the Ottomans, the Romanovs, and the
Hapsburgs, followed by the rise of Communism and the
Soviet Union.
One can play WWI as soldier on either side of the
conflict, or WWI games can tell the stories of the civilians
who supported the war from behind the line, or even the
innocent bystanders who were affected by the war
ravaging their nations.
WWII [Setting] 1939 to 1945. WWII started with the rise
of Adolf Hitler in the early 1930's, and his continual
acquisition of land for his new Third Reich. In black and
white terms, it was the Axis Powers versus the Allies.
Totalitarian dictatorship versus democracy and freedom.
But the truth is that the moral shadings were much more
subtle. Hitler and Hirohito are condemned for their
concentration camps and genocidal activities, but were
Americans too far behind with their treatment of the
Japanese and their programs of forced sterilization for the
The key here is the word “Preserve.” A wildlife preserve
is generally established to protect or preserve some
natural (or mostly natural) portion of the environment, be
it a protected wetland, an African elephant preserve,
Jurassic Island, or a whole planet set aside for reengineered Earth creatures.
A World War II setting can be used to relive the dramatic
tactical battles of the age (if the GM knew enough about
the period), or more interestingly, it can be the backdrop
for more complex issues of character and drama. There
are the individual raids and missions, the work of the
codemakers and codebreakers, the spies and scouts who
risked their necks behind enemy lines, and the destitute
people just trying to get on with their lives in the wake of
enemy bombing and constant reports of dead brothers and
Win [Action] Succeed at all costs. Whatever the goal is
(eradicating the enemy, racing to a critical location,
convincing the planetary senate of the oncoming alien
menace), the players must achieve it. Failure is not an
Wise [Personality] Practical and reasoned; down to earth.
World Domination [Thing] Someone's always bent on it,
right? Usually it's an evil mastermind with a foolproof
device/plan that will ensure the complete subjugation of
the world's population to her will. Sometimes it's a group
of people who have devised a scheme to take over the
world, either by secret alliances (Masonites/Illuminati) or
overt measures (open warfare or holding the world
hostage with stolen nukes). Other times it is otherworldly
or extra-dimensional creatures planning to invade and
enslave mankind. In all cases, it only takes a small
dedicated group to foil their plans.
WWI [Setting] Fighter aces dog fighting in their prop
planes. Infantry in the trenches fearing the terrible new
scourge of mustard gas and other chemical warfare. Not
to mention the first appearance of primitive armored tanks
on the battlefield and the concept of bombing from the
air. This was the first truly global war—the Great War—
the War to End All Wars. In its day, it was so cataclysmic
that people truly thought that its resolution would bring
about the end of warfare. How naive we were.
One of the most interesting uses of the WWII setting
comes from the British movie, The Bunker (2001), in
which a small group of German soldiers are trapped under
heavy American fire in a front-line impenetrable bunker
that may or may not be haunted. The Americans are never
-The players have been subjected to a powerful
psychotropic drug which, unknown to them, makes them
undertake evil tasks while they sleep.
actually seen, but the characters slowly break down and
conflict with one another due to the pressure and fear.
WWIII [Setting] The final conflict. The global war that
could end all civilization as we know it. When you watch
those movies where the landscape is a shelled out ruin,
and everyone dresses like punk rockers while fighting for
the last scraps of food and fuel... it's World War III that
caused that. Supposedly when the final war breaks out,
the temptation to go nuclear will be too strong to resist,
and we'll leave 99% of the population dead and more than
three quarters of the world forever uninhabitable. Except
of course for the mutants.
-The players in a super world have to fight Bizarro
versions of themselves from an alternate universe.
-The players are being possessed by vicious spirits which
turn them against themselves at crucial times during the
-The players find a rift between dimensions, and they
swap places with their evil alternate dimension
counterparts (easily spotted by their goatees). Players
must first survive in this evil dimension, and then find a
way back, knowing all the while that their evil
counterparts are wreaking havoc on their unsuspecting
home dimension.
But WWIII isn't a post-apocalyptic world—it's the build
up to it. The nukes may or may not actually drop come
the final hour, but that's for the end of the game, if it ever
comes at all. The story here is what brings the world to
that point—it's the fighting and squabbling that escalates
into a global level conflict. It's the hatred and the
inequalities that bring people to a nuclear standoff. Your
players can be the movers and shakers of this conflict,
trying to resolve the squabbles or misunderstandings that
threaten to destroy the world, or they could just be plain
folks in a world gone mad.
Zoo [Place] Any place where living beasts are gathered
and kept for display qualifies as a zoo. This can be
anything from the personal menageries of kings and
sultans of old up to futuristic preserve planets set aside to
house samples of all the people and beasts displaced by
the ever expanding galactic empire.
Xenophobic [Personality] Having an intense dislike or
even hatred of outsiders or foreigners. This applies
equally well to aliens or other non-humans.
Your Place [Setting] The world of your game is all
around you. No seriously, this isn't some kind of new age
metaphor. The setting is whereever you are right now as
you read this description. If you are playing an in-person
game, have everyone look around and explore your house,
building, office, game store or wherever you happen to
be. This is your setting, set in modern time. If you're
playing online or via chat, the GM should use the building
she's currently in and generally describe it to the players.
Yourself [Opposition] Sometimes the enemy is closer
than you think. While you think you see glimpses of your
opponent at every corner, it seems she runs out of view
every time. Your enemy is leaving subtle clues for you in
the most unusual locations—out in the open or through
the thinly veiled messages you see in the paper and mass
media. You've been beaten down and beleaguered and
just when you are on the verge of catching the villain you
realize—you were the enemy all along. Or were you?
This opposition is one of the trickiest to play, but one of
the most rewarding. It can be incorporated in a myriad of
different ways:
-In the future, the players realized that they were going to
do accomplish something potentially catastrophic. So they
have sent agents back in time through dark magics to
obstruct and alter the course of history.
was with this tool that they conquered the world. Now, in
the 12 years since his death, the secret is out, and virtually
any magician can begin shaping and using Sideworld.
Appendix II: Sample Settings
What follows are several sample sets of rolls, and the
worlds that have been created from them. We repeat this a
lot, but again, these examples are all rolls exactly as they
came off the charts, and the write-ups that follow are what
the authors produced off the top of their heads in just 3060 minutes. The point is to demonstrate the sort of
richness and variety that can arise from Instant Game,
even with no prior preparation.
In the real world, magic is very draining and can only be
maintained through a sustained effort of will on the part
of a talented/trained magician. Magical items can be
created, but are always temporary unless they are
periodically re-energized by a mage. In contrast,
Sideworld can be shaped into permanent shapes and
effects, and talented magicians can even create constructs
in Sideworld that will move and react in a lifelike fashion.
Several of these arose from world-designing exercises on
various forums. One person would post a set of rolls to
work with, and then anyone wishing to participate would
create a game world and plot based on those rolls without
first looking to see what anyone else did. The diversity of
results that can be derived from a single set of rolls is
quite striking.
In a process whose exact nature is still unknown, some
formerly living souls have disassociated from their
corporeal forms and become permanent residents of
Sideworld. These ghosts appear to be immortal, but are
completely trapped within Sideworld. Like the living,
some have the ability to manipulate Sideworld. Others do
not. Most of these side spirits have come into their
situation just in the last 20 years, but a few unfortunate
souls stumbled in here long before Cardenion’s wizards
made their first forays into Sideworld. Most of these “lost
souls” of Sideworld have become quite mad over the
decades, and a few have shaped their slices of Sideworld
into nightmare landscapes.
Instant Setting
Setting/Tone: Steampunk/Intrigue
Things: (Dead) Empire, (Informative) Immortals
Tech/Tech Level: High Magic & Virtual Reality
Instant Plot
Opposition: Family
Plot Action: Convince (Glorious) Stronghold
Plot Action: Clear (Subtle) Rebels
It’s a steampunkish level setting with prolific magic.
Under the rule of Cardenion the Conqueror, two
continents were united in one vast empire. Upon
Cardenion’s unexpected death at an early age, his many
governors and would-be successors set about carving out
their own share of the pie. The Cardenion Empire was as
wealthy as it was vast, and many of its peoples have
become rich and complacent. The Machiavellian states
that have resulted now play very dangerous games as
noble and wealthy families vie for power. At the same
time, the fringes of the old empire are once again falling
to the anarch city states of the South and West.
The players are members of or affiliated with the Borgan
family—one of the oldest and most respected on the
western continent. Influential under the Arten Republic,
the Borgans saw the writing on the wall and were among
the first to throw their support behind Cardenion’s
annexation and eventual subjugation of Arten. They were
rewarded with the secrets of Sideworld and magistration
of the Arten region. Now with the empire in ruins, the
Borgans and their cronies dominate the entire peninsula
and virtually every major port on the north shore of the
Meddlesome Sea. They definitely have an eye on
expansion. The Borgans do not form a nation or empire as
such, but they are the power behind the power in every
capital and boardroom in the region. They are currently
plotting on dozens of fronts to marry, purchase, elect or
sue their way into an even larger power base.
One of the greatest achievements of Cardenion’s
empire—and the key to its great success and rapid
expansion—was the discovery/creation of the Sideworld.
It is a place of illusion seemingly parallel to our own. It
seems to initially be a blank limbo state, but with proper
spells or devices, any mind can be linked to Sideworld
where it is free to roam and explore. However, since it is
illusion, one’s body never actually travels anywhere.
Those of power can shape Sideworld to their tastes,
creating whatever illusionary environment they desire.
The minds that enter experience everything within
Sideworld as if it were real. It is used for communication
over vast distances, storing and sharing information in the
form of illusory Sideworld books and documents, and for
entertainment and diversion, Those who can afford it
escape into Sideworld fantasy-scapes. Sideworld was
originally a secret of Cardenion and his advisors, and it
To make a little more sense of things, I reverse the plot
rolls to get Convince Rebels and Clear Stronghold.
A group of rebels have actually taken up arms against the
Borgan supervisors at Sconn Province on the far coast.
Apparently using the help of a local “lost soul”, they have
even barricaded Sideworld access to the area, which
keeps the family from accessing virtual records and
journals of their factories there. The family is torn
between sending enforcers of their own to restore order,
calling in the Regional Free Army (which would mean the
appearance of submitting to regional authority), or simply
recovering what we can and then selling off family assets
in the area to wait until the strife dies down.
Mike’s Black Smoke World
Setting: The year is 1886, and newly constructed factories
belch dark smoke over the blighted port city of
Cronodelphia. On it's thoroughfares, the occasional
steam-powered lorry crawls between the foot traffic and
bristling horses.
The players work for Lady Borgan-Guass, whose late
husband owned 70% of the manufacturing in Sconn. She
is vehemently opposed to the notion of cutting and
running, but she is afraid that any failed action will
destroy her credibility and influence among the family.
Ultimately, it is up to the players, as valuable members of
the family, to make the three day journey to Sconn to
assess the situation. They travel with a small retinue of
guards. It is up to them to clear the family’s factories and
secure them against access. Then they must recover any
Sideworld records and open a clear Sideworld path out of
Sconn so that the records may be removed and
communication to the town restored. Lady BorganGuass’s plan is to lock out the rebels and hold what
rightfully belongs to the family. If they want a strike, let
them have it. The idea is not to engage the rebels
physically, but rather to simply hold them off so they will
be forced to parley.
It is the industrial barons that rule this city now—the city
officials mere lackeys at their beck and call. And in this
cutthroat world, industrial espionage, theft and sabotage
have been raised to an art form.
The wretched denizens of the city shuffle about their daily
grind, unaware that only a few miles away, death is
looming over all of them.
[That's Cronodelphia so far. The Martial Arts aspect will
be incorporated into the characters—assuming that many
of these "industrial spies" are black-ops style ninjas of a
sort (1880's style, baby).]
Plot: The players are various employees of Caulfield Iron
& Metal. Their primary competitor Grant Steelworks has
developed a process for exploiting geothermal energies.
The players must enter the private sanctuary of Holden
Mercury Grant—owner of Grant Steelworks—under the
guise of negotiating a joint venture to block foreign steel
from Cronodelphia's ports (and at the same time, a truce
to hostilities between the two companies).
Behind the scenes, the rebels are actually funded and
motivated by the Lady’s brother-in-law who is hoping to
spur this popular rebellion and then ride in to save the day
“for the family” and become the de facto elected leader of
the province, thus recovering what he feels is rightly his,
while at the same time, resigning his sister-in-law to the
ignonimous fate she so richly deserves.
Their real purpose is to uncover the location of Grant's
new geothermal research stronghold somewhere in the
nearby mountains. Once they find this, they will attempt
to destroy the station. Unbeknownst to them, shutting
down their geothermal dynamos incorrectly will start a
chain reaction resulting in an earthquake that could
destroy half of Cronodelphia.
As a result, the players will meet constant resistance and
confrontation unless they can root out who is behind all of
this and counteract his influence.
Belching Black Smoke
This was an exercise on our own Animalball forums: The name arose because
two of us used the same imagery of factories belching
smoke above the cityscape.
Her Majesty’s Cleaners
Kyle’s Black Smoke World
Her Majesty's Secret Service has taken a dark turn. The
time is 18?? and the world is on the cusp of a new age.
Factories are busily belching out our brave new future.
The dark soot which blankets the skies is seen as the
proud mark of progress. Clean, bright, rural areas are
considered antiquated and backwards—but the deep, dark,
dirty city is where the future lies, and the forces of good
an evil know it as well.
Instant Setting
Time/Tech/Culture: Industrial Revolution
Tone: Gothic
Setting Element: Martial Arts
Setting Element: Espionage
Location: Outpost
Instant Plot
Plot Action: Negotiate
Plot Action: Teach
Plot Item: Natural Disaster
Plot Item: Stronghold
Opposition: Security forces
The players are Industrial Aged "cleaners" working for
Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's unclear if you are
actually employed by the Crown, or the business interests
that keep the Royal family propped up. All you know is
that you are approached, given a situation to clean, and
you do it. The lines between good and evil are blurred—
or more probably—irrelevant. The Crown wants to keep
technology moving ever forward, the Foreign want to
keep it moving forward—in the direction of continental
Europe. The Liberation want to destroy the technological
advancements and keep the people free from the
machinations of technology which enslave them. The
players can take advanced "James Bond" skills. Everyone
is skilled in some deadly form of martial arts. "Powers"
are allowed, as long as they are based in non-electronic
forms of technology—steam and mechanical are perfectly
Blood & Iron
Threadbare’s Black Smoke World
Alright, The year is 1898, and while the sun never sets on
The British Empire, it is certainly late afternoon.
Germany is rapidly ascending. Battleships are being
churned out by both powers at unheard-of rates. Thomas
Edison's discovery of "personal energy," known by the
ancients as chi, has given rise to strange and wondrous
inventions. Towers of blood and iron darken the streets of
the European cities. In the far eastern colonies, Etoneducated mandarins, civil servants, and freelance servants
of "queen and country" seek the wisdom of mountaintop
monasteries and wandering yogis in quests for personal
and national power. For the GM, a quick Internet search
for the British expedition to Tibet(1903) and the Boxer
Rebellion(1900) will reveal a plethora of extra ideas and
The Cleaners are told to travel through the dead of night
and surveil a secluded safe house used by the Liberation.
It is believed that the Liberation is developing countertechnology to sabotage and destroy the technology used in
many mainstream factories and plants. The safe house is
well guarded and heavily manned. The goal is two tiered:
(1) infiltrate and by force take several key members of the
research/leadership team hostage and negotiate their
release in return for the technology being developed; and
(2) whether the first plan succeeds or fails, destroy the
safe house and technology and cover up the entire
incident with a raging forest fire—cleansing all signs that
anything ever transpired.
What the players don't know- It is not the Liberation, but
the Dutch who have this safe house. They have used it
for many months to steal and refine the technology of the
Rockefeller Fortress
Caz’s Black Smoke World
In a smoke-shrouded world of massive factories, huge
armies and little people forced into smaller lives, you and
your companions have chosen to strike a blow for life and
freedom. The human body is the greatest tool that was
ever invented - far stronger than any engine and more
flexible than any device. You and yours command
incredible powers as Disciples of the Body. Humanity
must be free to breathe again, free to choose its own
Plot: The characters are members of an Imperial
expedition to Wulan Mountain, fortified home to a
monastic brotherhood. It is rumored to be the location
where the secrets to the legendary "Seven-Dragon Chi
Strike" are kept. Her Majesty's intelligence service has
found evidence of a Russian expedition to this monastery,
as well. There have been severe rains this spring, and
flooding in the local countryside. Your official purpose is
humanitarian, but unofficially, you are to find and
negotiate with the leader of the order and/or gain the
secrets of the Seven Dragon Strike. The order has not
been traditionally open to outsiders, so be aware.
Remember: The characters don't all have to be British.
They were masters at using local proxies, and people from
India, the true powerhouse of the empire, popped up all
over the colonial domains.
But there are so few of you that open rebellion is beyond
your ken. So instead, you have taken to the secret places:
back rooms in the halls of power, star courts, and hidden
redoubts. There, you use your influence as best you can to
change the minds of those in power. Fight when you
must, teach those who will learn, kill when there is no
other option, but never give up on your fellow human
And the game begins with a group of Disciples in one of
their outposts in Baltimore. They must infiltrate the
fortress-factory of John D. Rockefeller and put a stop to
his evil plans to put the vast majority of citizens into a a
permanent state of work, living in factories.
Terra Infernal
Jeff Hauze’s Black Smoke World
Here we go. I'll give this a shot. I'm stretching the gothic
term to go for the monstrous creation side of Gothic
literature, the espionage term to go more towards secret
societies and early spec-ops style teams, and the martial
the Pacific. Two US ships have recently disappeared near
this island, and the odd ziggurat on the island's surface
seems to hearken back to a series of hieroglyphs found on
the Rosetta Stone. Infiltrate, assess, exterminate if
necessary. Find the missing crewmen, and make this
island disappear back to wherever it came from.
arts term to literally mean all arts of war (as the term
originally meant and still does really).
The Industrial Revolution brought the Age of Reason,
Logic, and Science to humanity, whether humanity
wanted it or not. Unfortunately, humanity forgot about the
other things that lurked in the dark corners of the human
psyche and the forgotten places of Earth's past. In one of
many expeditions to build a new factory to spew forth
smoke, ash, and new and improved machinery, humanity
unleashed something they didn't quite anticipate. The gate
to Hell was opened, and though some unknown hero did
manage to finally close it, the denizens of Hell streamed
out in droves and disappeared through the world to wreak
havoc wherever they could.
Fantasy Depopulated Earth
Instant Setting
Setting: Fantasy/Depopulated Earth
Setting Thing: Computers (polluted)
Setting Thing: Heaven & Hell (virtuous)
(Optional Place: Festival)
(Optional Tech Level: Hydro-power)
(Optional Technology: Ocean Going Ships)
The characters are the members of a number of secret
societies or governmental organizations that have had to
band together to track down these daemons and creatures
of evil. These agents are highly trained in a variety of arts
of war, backed up by the best tools that spiritualism,
mysticism, technology, religion, and pure human
ingenuity can offer. Whether it be a human killer
possessed by some foul fallen angel, a nightstalker
looking for warm blood in cold and dark alleyways and
city streets, a human cult following a daemon lord who
escaped the gates of Hades, or even an agent gone rouge
from the horrors he has witnessed; these agents will do
whatever it takes to track down the remaining escaped
convicts of Hell and return them to where they belong as
well stamping out their influence in this world.
Instant Plot
Opposition: Evil Mastermind
(Opposition?) Action: Kidnap (secret) Wilderness
(Protagonist?) Action: Mimic (artsy) Fight
Caz’s Fantasy Depopulated Earth
We had to retreat to the oceans. The machines took the
world from us. The computers managed to find a way to
take over. It’s not like we made it all that hard on them.
Microchips and miniaturized servos and nanometer scale
engineering bugs were more than they really needed.
In the particular adventure, the characters are sent forth
from two different organizations (one a world-wide
archaelogical/exploration organization with a heavy basis
in the Catholic church and ancient pagan mysticism, the
other a paranormal investigative branch of the Office of
Naval Intelligence of the United States of America) to
track down an island that has mysteriously cropped up in
The war went on for almost twelve years before the last of
the people fled. Some folks in Europe or Russia must
have used nukes at some point – screwed the air up real
good and now it rains all the time. Didn’t help global
warming either – so many places are just gone and
have found that they can manifest themselves through the
holy and unholy energies that still suffuse what is left of
the Internet's former hive mind. Magicians of all stripes
act as their agents (and sometimes pretend to be their
masters), sparring with each other wielding laptops full of
ancient power. Battling on both physical and virtual
drowned. We’ve got ships now – overbuilt catamarans,
gutted liners. There’s towns made out of oil rigs and
container ships. About the only technology that anybody
uses are the sea-dynamos and solar cells. We don’t have
any computers any more, can’t trust them. All the radios
are analog.
Like I said, we retreated to the oceans. No body knows
how many people survived in the end. Occasionally, we
hear rumors about the machines trying to find us with
submarines or tanker ships. Thank God that the navies
were strong enough to sink all the nuke-powered ships. So
it’s us with a whole lot of water and ships that are slowly
aging away. Some folks think they’re going to found a
new society. I don’t know about that.
64 years later...
Grand Lord Crowl has been quiet for some months. After
the violent subjugation of New Bermuda and the Gull
Points he has withdrawn most of his battleships, and seadevil sightings near the Free Coast have been almost nil.
He's up to something.
It turns out that there are reports of the lost city of Atlantis
rising from the sea. It is thought that Atlantis sank after
the last time heaven and hell were able to bring their war
to humanity. Atlantis sacrificed itself to end the war and
send angel and demon alike back to their own realms.
Fear the Skies
Nobody knows how, but there’s air power again. Sleek,
quiet fliers with black and green bull’s-eye markings
strafed the Brothers’ Frontier Tower with nitroglycerin
bombs. They took Sandra, Julia and Wanda, along with
all the fruit and sweetwater they could steal. We’ve got to
find them. We’ve got to get them back.
Crowl seeks to capture Atlantis for himself, believing it to
possess artifacts and technology that will allow him to
rule the whole of the world. The players then are pirate
rebels who need to get to Atlantis ahead of Crowl's
people. Hopefully, they can foil Crowl's plans, and at the
same time, learn the secrets of Atlantis and find the tools
and techniques that allowed Atlantis to fight off the forces
of evil themselves once upon a time.
Mike’s Fantasy Depopulated Earth
Did hellfire begin coursing through our global
information network because some malignancy in the
system found the key to the gates of heaven and hell? Or
was it the angels and demons themselves who found their
way in and then used this pulsing living Internet as the
newest tool in their eternal war? Do the details even
Dust to Dust
Konsaki’s Fantasy Depopulated Earth
The tales that the story-weavers tell and write down in
their giant tombs of knowledge say that a great war or
catastrophe almost destroyed the world over three
hundred years ago. The few rare tombs we can find from
that ancient time say that something called computers
might have caused it, though whatever really happened,
we now live in a drying dying world. The only thing we
can do to survive is live on the coasts of what should be
vast oceans of water, from what the tales say, though you
cant see the other side and no one has ever returned or
arrived from the other side so it might be true.
The collapse and subversion of our whole electronic
world would have been far more devastating if we hadn't
been so distracted by the falling and rising waters. The
skies darkened for 32 days and 32 nights as holy rain fell
from cloudless heights. And pushing against heaven's fall
was hell's own oceans coursing into our own. Water levels
rose frighteningly as hell's seas carried demons and
monsters into our world.
Eventually the torrents subsided and the water stopped
rising, but the landscape of the Earth was forever altered.
The former great continents now divided into massive
islands divided by violent seas. Humanity was decimated,
but the survivors came out of hiding to try to put society
back together. And their greatest tool: the computer.
Without power. Without cables. Without satellites to link
them. Somehow, the computers still worked. And they
still communicated. Those with the talent to work them
and connect them, became the new priesthood, wielding
true power.
People are only able to survive in small towns thanks to
ancient machines we can use to make the seawater usable,
but they break often and we are only barely able to repair
them. Ours had been broken for a week and our water
reserves were running dangerously low, but the gods
showed us favor and we were able to repair it before we
ran out. As the cleaned water flowed back into our
reservoirs, we yelled joyously as we watched them fill
back up to the top.
The night was full of partying in the streets. The sounds
of dance and song reverberated from all the small
buildings. In hindsight, this was probably the only reason
Angels and Demons still cannot physically walk the
Earth—they were long ago barred from that—but they
located in rural areas where they can raise farms. Suburbs
are seen as buffers before you get into the main cities ideal places for treasure hunters to start a career as they
are less risky to explore than the abandoned cities
they were able to sneak up on us, since no one was on the
All around me, the sounds of joy and celebration quickly
turned to screams of terror and pain as they attacked. No
one really got a good look at them in the chaos but I can
remember what I saw like I’m still there. In not but a few
moments, there was what seemed like scores of men in or
made of metal brandishing swords and rods that shot fire.
People panicked and fled the town and on the next day
when we returned, we found our houses ransacked but
everyone feared for the worst when we found out what
they were really after. Our water machine was missing.
Without it, we were doomed in a couple of weeks.
Religion is seen as a stabilizing force, and thus churches
become very important centers in every community.
Christianity, Islam, Judaism - none of these exist in their
true forms. The awakening of Magic forced the most
devout practitioners to somewhat adjust their faiths.
Religion, as it is practiced now, tends to be unique to each
community, and is a combination of traditional Western
religion, often influenced by less traditional religions and
spiritual beliefs (Native American beliefs, neo-paganism,
wicca, shamanism, etc.) Heaven and Hell are not abstract
beliefs - they are actual places that only the Arbitrators
(unknown to Man: the computers in charge of planetary
travel destination) can send Man. Every year a few brave
souls trek into the great abandoned cities, and none have
been known to return. Whether they make it to their goal
is unknown. (Stories of life on Mars, which has been
terraformed into a utopian society, are the basis of
"Heaven", while Venus, in the process of being
terraformed, is seen as "Hell" due to the amount of work
and conditions that the original settlers had worked on.
With the abandonment of Earth, the resources that Earth
had used to help terraform Mars were almost completely
depleted - a fact that was not realized until work had
already started on Venus.)
Our elders talked throughout the day and night. In the
morning they called forth a small group of young people.
They guessed that the people who attacked were the
rumored pirates who lived on a metal thing in the water.
No one knew exactly where it was, but the only chance
the town had was to find it and try to take the water
machine back. With a small sailboat, supplies and a
couple of old weapons; they set off to either save the town
or die out at sea.
Machine & Myth
DMDarc’s Fantasy Depopulated Earth
With the creation of faster-than-light space travel, the
majority of Earth's population abandoned their dying
world in favor of travel to fully terraformed Mars and
Venus (partially). As more and more of humankind left
Earth, those that remained began to become reconnected
to the spiritual forces that had been ignored for so long.
You see, the search for answers to everything made less
things mysterious - and that is where magic and monsters
truly lie. It turns out that those myths, legends, and folk
tales of old were all actually true - mankind's insistence
that they were nothing but fancy beat them into
submission and made them to retreat in hiding. But now,
with large cities quickly becoming ghost towns - the
magic has begun again.
Life has reverted to a much more "uncivilized" state.
There are no operational power plants, oil refineries, or
factories controlled by mankind anymore. Even the fasterthan-light space travel, the means of escaping Earth, are
not under human control. The advent of true artificial
intelligence has caused computers to gain true sentience however, due to bugs in coding, computers no longer
serve humans. At best, computers ignore man. Slaves, test
subjects, cattle, or worse are more common options.
Plot: A rural society, the Rens, (founded on the site of an
old Renaissance festival - members of the community
believe that this was actually the height of man's
civilization and know nothing of the abandoned cities
except myths) has been infiltrated by a servant of the
Ayiyes. This agent was originally sent to investigate the
community and report back to his masters about any
violent attacks were planned against the Ayiyes, who
have become quite paranoid. During the process, he
Mankind has since forgotten most of the technologies it
once new. The Ayiyes ("AIs") are considered a tribe of
mystical beasts that rule the great abandoned cities mythical beasts much like the sasquatch, faeries, and
other beasts that have been reawakened and dwell on
Earth once again. Man tends to live in small communes,
incoming ship and disable it, taking hostages. They will
demand safe passage off of the hellhole Earth.
Unfortunately, the rest of the League of Planets think that
Earth is merely a dead planet and have no idea that it is
being used this way. The powers that be cannot simply let
people out, for fear of discovery. They may attempt a
covert rescue, but may just as easily cut their losses and
leave their crew behind.
discovered a surge of power he had never felt before, and
found that a ley line was present in the woods. Upon
reporting back to his masters, the Ayiyes desired to find a
way to harness this power for their own purposes.
Adventurers will be common townsfolk (blacksmith,
baker, acolyte of the church, etc.). During the weekly
jousting tournament - seen more as entertainment than
holding any actual chivalric meaning - the town will be
attacked by a contingent of the fey, who believe that the
town is responsible for intrusions made on their territory.
It will be the duty of the PC's to not only help in the
defense of their town, but to investigate why they are
being attacked (there should have been no reason for the
Fey to break that treaty) as well as stop the Ayiyes agent
from completely harnessing the power of the ley line.
The players can be one of three parties in this scenario:
the Mecha-powered rebels; the starship crew (who will
also have power suits); or new prisoners on the captured
ship who just happen to be caught in the middle. No
matter who they play, the situation is fairly hopeless,
because it is unlikely that anyone will be allowed off the
planet at this point.
Prison Planet Earth
Prehistoric Mutants
Instant Setting
Setting: Future Earth
Tone: Nihilistic
Setting Thing: Espionage
Setting Thing: Mechas
Location: Prison
Instant Setting
Setting: Prehistory
Tone: Despair
Setting Thing: Mutants
Setting Thing: Heaven and Hell
Location: Beach
Instant Plot
Plot Action: Survive
Plot Action: Cover up
Plot Item: Hostages
Plot Item: Leader
Opposition: Rebels
Instant Plot
Plot Action: Kidnap
Plot Action: Assassinate
Plot Item: Mask
Plot Item: Alliance
Opposition: Military Force
By Common Reckoning, the year is 4235, but no one
knows for sure anymore. The charred remains of Earth
have long been hostile to life, and the other planets of the
League have long since abandoned the Earth—using it
only as a dumping ground for unwanted refuse...
including people.
The Flight of Angels
Mike’s Prehistoric Mutants World
A world before time—stone age technology, limited
domestication of animals, no formal agriculture.
Once the world was green and vibrant, but now each
summer is darker than the last, each winter more bitter.
The men of the villages cast their nets, but return home
each day with less and less. Another winter is arriving,
and stores are very low.
The inhabitants of prison planet Earth eke out a meager
existence in the sealed warrens beneath old Earth's ruined
cities. Death is common, and gangs of humans and
mutants make easy prey of the unprotected. The only ray
of hope is the occasional ship from the outer planets come
to dump off their waste and their miscreants: new fodder
for the masses.
Years ago, before the difficulties began, changeling
children were born to the tribes. These cursed offspring
could appear in any tribe—in any family. Said to be
inhabited by spirits, some of the children had animal traits
or seemed attuned to nature or had exceptional physical
beauty and abilities. (Such characters can be of any
appearance, and they can have abilities beyond normal
humans but not quite in the realm of "superheroes." They
can be exceptionally fast or smart or strong and have
senses beyond human, but no true magic or psionics in the
typical sense. But a GM should be flexible.) The
changelings are rare—maybe 15 or so total being born
each year in all of the known tribes.
But now, something new has come up. Ancient suits of
oversized power armor have been discovered, and a lucky
few have been repaired and put back into operation. They
are leaky and unreliable, but with a mecha-suit, an
Earthling can actually roam across the blasted surface of
the planet... actually intercept one of the dumpships.
And that's just what has happened (or will happen...
depending). The scenario is that a handful of mechasuited Earthlings head up a small rebellion to attack an
world. They could hunt without sight and travel in the
deepest darkness. Others grew more hardy, surviving in
the harsh wastes that had once been angels' graveyards.
And the children born after the tumult had strange and
new abilities. All around, the flesh of Mankind was
changing into a multitude of different forms.
These oldest of the changeling children are finally coming
of age (at 12 or 13, they are officially adults), and they
seem to be of two distinct types—Good and Evil. There
are no better words for it than that. Half seem to be dark
and twisted and bent on destruction and domination,
whereas the others are kindly and protective and turn their
energies to helping their families and tribes.
Humankind rose out of this crucible to stake its claim on
the mortal world. Shackled by suffering and deprivation,
they came together in larger groups, families gave way to
tribes and extended
clans. There was never
enough food nor shelter
for all who survived. Too
many fertile plains had
been shattered, too much
of the forest had been
burned. War became part
of Humanity, with clan
battling against clan for
dominion. And the least
of the creatures from the
Great War were still free
- they sought to use
Humankind to further
their battles.
Ten of the Dark Ones have migrated to the inland tribes
of the deep woods, and there
they have united the disparate
barbarian tribes and organized
an army. They clearly plan to
wage war on all around them.
As a start, their bands of
thugs make raids on the
peaceful coastal villages,
stealing away the newborn
and infant changelings when
they can find them. At the
same time, the eldest of the
Sun Born (good changelings)
have been dying under
mysterious circumstances...
surely the work of the dark
Of the many clans, the
Baravel, the coastal
people strove to establish
order and calm for the
greater good. Many of
them had gained the gift
of amphibility, gills and
lungs together. They had
food and shelter from the
great ocean - at many
times more than they
could use. It is into this
clan that you and your
companions were born.
They look to you, with
your unique abilities, to
stand for the light of
The remaining Sun Born have
agreed to travel from their
disparate villages and discuss
the matter. Something must
be done.
Clan Baravel
Caz’s Prehistoric Mutant
Long before Mankind taught
itself civilization, when
groups were no larger than
several dozen hunter-gatherer
families, there was an age of
untold suffering. Ancestral
Mankind fell victim to the
remnants of Lucifer's assault on Heaven. The celestial
radiance of angelic flesh burning in torment outshone the
sun for days on end - killing many and blinding far more.
The seas shook with the thunder of deific beings locked in
combat, sweeping coastal folk into the icy depths. And
the land grew foul, tortured and corrupted by heaps of
twisted corpses all still charged with divine power. And
the world itself wept bitter tears as it was forced to bind
Satan and his cohort deep within
A great and powerful force has grown up out of the
Mountains of Torment. Demon-bred and strong beyond
compare, the Hunters of Souls dominate many hundreds
of miles of territory, and sacrifice lesser men and women
upon altars forged from the obdurate bones of fallen
angels. This power must be thwarted, before it consumes
every last thing that is good or just. Baravel and Thrawsha
seek to form a greater alliance, one born out of many
pairings of their best sons and daughters.
Mankind suffered. Blinded, starved, poisoned and
drowned by forces far beyond mortality - it changed,
becoming more than it once was. Those who survived the
radiance but lost their eyes gained new insights into the
You of Baravel must travel over great and treacherous
distances to meet with your counterparts, and must do so
hiding your true nature as Humans, lest the Hunters of
send the players out on a suicide mission: infiltrate the
execution of Satan at the Sea of Eternity, kidnap him and
try to bring him back alive—if this can be done, the titans
hope to forge an alliance with Satan's elite troops to help
defend Eden. Just as importantly, the players need to
eliminate the main threat: God—if at all possible, find
him and kill him. Even if they succeed in both these
objectives, the titans cannot survive long on Pangea—but
at least they will have left their mark on the new world.
Souls discover you and wrest you back to their dark and
terrible lairs. It is up to you to save this world.
(Game Notes: The Characters would enjoy a small
handful of useful mutation-type powers that would set
them apart from mankind. Most of these would be
improvements over natural abilites, with a smattering of
psychic talents and the like. Magic would only be
available to a slim selection of Humans, those who had
either fallen in with the demons or somehow been in
contact with the deific hosts. As prehistoric humans, the
players would also be very strong and coordinated in
comparison to modern people, able to traverse many of
the natural hazards without need of gear or supplies. By
and large, the technology would be limited to stone, bone,
wood and leather, but there are a few relics left over from
the Great War. Each of these has a terrible cost, causing
mutation and sickness in mortals that keep them (the least
powerful of items) to instantaneous insanity or
conflagration (average to powerful items).)
Plague-Ravaged 14th Century
Plague-ravaged London was one of our earlier games and
one of our favorites. It was created under an earlier
version of the Instant Game tables and rules, but the spirit
is the same. The GM had several hours lead time, and
thus lots of time to do Internet research for this. He also
was very loose with the rules, discounting and altering
many rolls as inspiration took him.
Titan’s of Pangea
This game is the reason that London is now its own entry
on the Setting table.
Kyle’s Prehistoric Mutants World
Man was created in the image of God, but what in who's
image was he created? Before God created the world in
which we live, he had to conquer it. The gods that came
before him were complacent and naive. The titans thought
they could live in peace in Pangea forever, until the fall of
the angels. First God thought he could fashion a better
life, and rallied the forces of the angelic titans with
rhetoric of hate and division. In the blink of an immortal
eye, he armed His army and began systematically
carrying out his strategy of deicide. The titans,
undisciplined after millenea of complacency, were easy
fodder. But God suffered a major setback when his
frontline General, Satan, doublecrossed him and gave up
major positions and arms to the last bastion of titans.
Now, with angels in control of most of Pangea, the only
enclave of rebellious titans is behind the well-fortified
gates of Eden. But it is only a matter of time before God's
forces overwhelm the titans.
Instant Setting
Time/Tech/Culture: Arthurian England (altered to
medieval England)
Tone: Despair
Setting Elements: Fantastic monsters & 50’s movie
monsters (what are the chances of getting both of those?
But the GM was inspired in a different direction by the
plot, so he abandoned these eventually)
Population: City 50,000 (right perfect for London of the
Instant Plot
Plot Action: Explore (thus the catacombs below)
Plot Item: Ultimate weapon (Excalibur)
Plot Action: Clean (wait for it…)
Plot Item: Honor (restoring—cleaning—the honor of
The Story
A madwoman from the future (2350 to be exact) is
obsessed with restoring the honor and greatness of
England, a fallen and humiliated nation by her day. She is
Ethel “Red” Williams—called Red because of her fiery
red hair. She believes herself to be a direct descendant
(and rightful heir) of the real King Arthur, and further, she
has even come to believe that she is Arthur reincarnated.
She believes that Excalibur was a true artifact of holy
power, and her research has uncovered the resting place
of the great sword. She decided that she can travel 1,000
years into the past and recover the sword. Thus, during
England’s most unstable and vulnerable era, she can use
Excalibur’s might to become the new English Queen and
Savior. And with her advanced knowledge and
Satan has rallied his own elite forces of angels who are
also battling against the angels allied with God. It is
unclear if he is fighting for the titans, or (more likely)
fighting for control of Pangea and to control the heavens
and the earth. In a surprise move, Satan was taken captive
by God and is currently being marched to his execution at
the Sea of Eternity.
The players are the last of the major titans. They control
the forces under their domain. Whether it be nature,
elemental, emotional or sheer power, these titans weild
the power of gods. But with the slaughter of the titans and
the new era of angels, the titans have found their powers
diminished. Create them similar to super-level powers.
The titans know that their era in the world is over, so they
the door until he is called, or the servant who appears
before the master realizes he needs him.
Adv: Pickpocketing - The streets of London were ripe
with people waiting to have their morning walks
marked. It was something to do passing the time before
the next highway robbery.
Adv: Staff (Shovel, whatever) Before he was a
gardener, John was a vagabond pillaging the
trade wagons from London to the outlying towns. At the
outbreak of the plague, his daughter caught the dread
disease and died. He brought her to St. Paul's and
offered her up to the priests there. He offered his own
services as a gardener, trying to atone for his sins as
best he could.
Adv: Insight - He has a tendency to know what people
aren't saying, even if they don't necessarily know it
Basic: Strength - Gardening and Vagabonding, Nature's
Basic: Gardening equipment – trowel, wheelbarrow, and
Basic: Leather Pouch with a couple coins. Remenants of
his old Life.
Basic: Herbalism - While camping under the stars he had
to have remedies and first aid for his illegal activities.
Basic: Gardening - He always had a penchant for roses.
His daughter, was named Rose
Flaw: Oath of Silence
technology (and a body full of nanites), she will change
the entire course of history and rule for centuries in glory.
Ethel is accompanied by four loyal henchmen, and is
chased by government “Time Cops” sent to stop her mad
The players will be citizens of London during the plague
who are caught in the crossfire of this madwoman and the
futuristic government agents sent back in time to foil her.
The Setting
The year is 1350—February, winter. The Pestilence has
consumed the population of England over the last 15
months, and it is estimated that more than half of
London’s 70,000 residents are now dead. Nearly twothirds of the local priesthood is gone, and Pope Clement
VI has been forced to grant remission of sin to all who die
of the plague without benefit of clergy.
Coffin – sample character
Jeffery "Coffin" Sanctimony is a towering figure in the
darkened streets of London. He works his grim trade,
moving bodies and crafting coffins for those few who can
afford them.
Exc: Durability "Coffin" has yet to become ill. He toils
ceaselessly for many hours every day.
Adv: Strength - Stronger than many, Coffin regularly
carries bodies single-handedly. He is also thickly
thewed from many years of carpentry work.
Adv: Carpentry Skills
Adv: "Faith in Aluigi" Aluigi is a saint who died
treating the plague in Italy. Coffin may use the power
to ease the sick or shield himself from the plague.
Basic: Concentration - Many hours spent in prayer have
honed his mind so that he may shut out the confusion
of the mortal world.
Basic: Influence among the Healers - Coffin has been
working ceaselessly with the healers combating the
Basic: Carpentry tools: Coffin has several good tools
including a hatchet, a saw and a heavy mallet.
Basic: Perception
Basic: Street Smarts - Coffin knows his way around
London, and knows what areas are dangerous to travel.
He also has some skill in dealing with the less savory
Flaw: Humorless - Coffin no longer has anything
resembling a sense of humor. He does not laugh, nor
make jokes. Life is work and prayer and little more.
The weather is wet and cold, food is scarce, and bodies
still litter the streets where labor is too short to haul them
Young King Edward III is at a loss to deal with the chaos
that sweeps his nation, but it has provided a temporary
respite from the dozen years of war with France (later to
be known as the 100 Years War), and the King has
abandoned Westminster for his country residence near
London’s mayor Walter Turke, like so many others, has
succumbed to the plague, and it looks to be some time
before a replacement will be selected, but city councilman
Sir Richard de Kislingbury of the Tailors Guild is the
current acting Lord Mayor.
John – sample character
John is a gardener and handyman for the church. He
keeps a pouch tied to his belt, filled with a couple coins
and a small golden crucifix on a chain. The last remenant
of his daughter, Rose, who died long before.
Exc: Essentially Invisible - His time on the grounds, as
well as his old profession, have taught him how to be
present without being noticed. It's not that he's not
there, it's that people have to actively /want/ to know
that he's there. Like the butler who stands right outside
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