Watering My Seeds With Tears

True confession: I hate writing seeds. Seeds, playsets, setting templates — whatever you call them, I hate it.

I really do. Not because I hate making fiction (I love making fiction) but because, as a game designer, it feels wrong to be making *your* fiction for you. I want the people at the table to create stuff, not me. Those are the kind of games I make.

But seeds can be a godsend. They can help a group shift out of neutral and agree on a concept more quickly, so everyone can get to the fun of playing. That’s valuable. And on a totally different front, even if someone never actually uses seeds, just reading them can inspire you. You see the wide range of possibilities and it makes you excited to bring the book to the table and play.

The first edition of Kingdom included a bunch of seeds, and let me tell you, they were chock full of material. There was a big explanation of the concept and there were lists of examples for evvvverything. Each averaged over two pages of dense text.

For the new edition, I have completely rethought that approach. As I picked apart the seeds for K2, I narrowed my focus down to providing exactly those two functions I described above — inspiring play by showing the range of possibilities, and helping players agree and get started — but at the same time *removing* all the extra stuff that supplanted player creativity.

Less Is More: Three Choices, Threats & Crossroads

When I was rewriting Union I hit on a “three variations” model, which I liked a lot and I’ve adopted for K2. Each seed has a core concept, but you’re then presented with three different versions of that idea to choose from. If we’re using the Winterhook’s School for Wayward Wizards seed, is our Kingdom a prestigious school for gifted young magicians, a hideaway where wizards can learn to control their errant powers, or an actual prison for sorcerers deemed too dangerous to roam free?

Presenting three alternate takes on a Kingdom lets me (the designer) demonstrate the potential of the premise very quickly. Even though players are only picking one, just hearing the other two starts the wheels turning.

In the original edition of Kingdom, I also did the obvious thing and provide lists of prompts for basically everything. Way too much stuff. Thinking about it more carefully, I decided there were really only two things that needed solid guidance: Threats and Crossroads. If you make good Threats and Crossroads, that will drive your game and everything else will flow naturally.

The net result is tight, one-page seeds that are easy to use to get your game started without a lot of mucking around.

And not only that, but once I hammered out this new approach and recipe, writing seeds became fun again, because it no longer felt like I was usurping the players’ creativity. Win-win!

    Ben Robbins | January 21st, 2021 | , , | show 3 comments