Exploring 'Explorers!'

edited November 2011 in Story Games
Yesterday my story gaming group played 'Explorers!' for the second time. Explorers! is a game by Stephen Bretall from the 5 minute game design challenge. I've put the rules at the bottom of this post if you're not familiar with them.

I think we've reached the point where the problems with the game are becoming more obvious and the killer app (the map) is no longer novel enough to sustain it. However, Explorers! is still my default pick-up-and-play game, so I want to tweak it. I’m interested in changes to the rules but also changes to our play style.

I’ve discussed parts of the game and the problems I’ve had with them. I suspect most people haven’t played Explorers! but most of the problems I’m raising are quite common in story gaming and so I think you’ll be able to contribute regardless.


Mapmaking took up a big chunk of time - half an hour or maybe a bit more. Both times we played, we only got through one map.

A simple solution would be to put a time limit on mapmaking – fifteen minutes or perhaps even less. I think that’s long enough for enough places to be drawn (for those of you who haven’t played, you probably want at least a place per person).

The Mapper from last game said that since he’d run the game last time, he’d not draw a map this time. That seemed (and seems) fair enough to me, but it meant that for half an hour one person wasn’t engaged. Also, since we only have time to play one map, the rest are unused.

One possible solution is to pass the maps clockwise every (say) five minutes, so you end up contributing to a few maps. That would also familiarise people with the other maps, so when play begins they have an idea of what they want to do and where they want to go.

I think the only problem with that would be a question of ownership – who has narrative control over a place on the map?

Character Creation

A new player struggled to come up with a character, while the experienced players were finished. I suggested before that mapping might include coming up with a list of names; that might have helped.

Perhaps the game could be expanded to have a list of possible motivations as well. Roll 1d6 for a deadly sin and then a further 1d6 for the details of your desire, perhaps.

It doesn’t specify this in the rules, but I think the players should tell the Mapper what their characters are looking for.


I required all details of the world to be revealed through play, which worked well.

We ran into a few problems with narrative authority. One character mentioned his hatred of ‘TVs’, which was completely outside my expectations for the setting. I actually enjoyed making the setting steampunk rather than saying ‘No’, but I would have preferred some structure for negotiating that clash.

Another time, a player claimed essentially unlimited cash for her character. I said she could get as much as she wanted back in her home, but here she was running low on funds.

I was often at a loss for what ‘something unexpected’ to throw at people. Perhaps a list of those could also be prepared during mapping?

I wasn’t sure whether the ‘while traveling’ roll should be saved for traveling between locations on the map, or also from one place within a location to another. I feel it should be preserved for trips that can be drawn with a dotted line along the map.


Because you’re dependent on a 6 result on the ‘when you reach a destination’ roll, the Mapper doesn’t have a lot of control over when the game ends. That was difficult for me to manage, because we wanted to go to bed and we certainly weren’t going to pick up the game next week. I’d love suggestions for how to wrap it up without the players feeling as if they’d been wandering around with no purpose. Some rules for a climactic clash that could come in at any time?

It’s also not clear what should happen when one character finds what he or she is looking for but the others don’t. Do they roll up a new character? Quit the game? Wander around, now content? Find a new goal?

Posted By: whiteknifeExplorers! (The RPG)

One player draws a map. Be sure to pack it full of stuff like mountains and forests and ancient ruins and cities all that good stuff.
Other players are explorers! They're looking for something, but don't tell anyone what yet. Describe your character, but you don't have stats.

The mapper determines a starting point. Then players choose where to go.

While traveling, roll a d6:
1: Something goes terribly wrong! The mapper determines what and the characters deal with it!
2-3: Something unexpected is run into! An unmapped location, an odd traveller, a freak storm. Not something just bad or good, but something unique.
4-5: Travel goes fine. The destination is reached without much fuss.
6: Travel is faster than expected, or maybe you run into some nice people or find some cool stuff.

For individual actions, GM sets difficulty, and players roll a d6, plus a bonus for each beneficial thing they can think of.
Posted By: whiteknifeExplorers! (The RPG)
Supplement One: What you're looking for

Whenever you reach a destination, roll a d6:
1: The location is hostile, and those here don't want you to find what you're looking for (or maybe they want it for themselves!)
2-3: The location is quirky, with interesting inhabitants and an odd structure. You won't find what you're looking for here, but you'll find something else.
4-5: The location is roughly what you expected. What you're looking for isn't here, but there might be clues to it, if you look hard enough or ask the right people
6: This is the place! What you're looking for is actually here! If multiple characters are exploring together, each rolls off to determine whose thing is here. On a tie, its multiple people's. The thing is always guarded, and if you fail to get the thing (for the guards are always challenging and call for sacrifice...) then it moves to a new place, most likely pretty far away.

Extra rules:
Especially long journeys require two "going places" rolls. Big locations get two "reach a destination rolls"
What counts as a thing? Weather conditions, a helpful item, a character trait, helping someone in need. Only one of each type per roll.
Difficulties: 4: pretty easy, 6: hard, 8: very hard 10: basically impossible


  • Hey, glad to hear your comments! Lets see if I can let you know my opinions on the stuff you mentioned:

    -Passing the maps sounds like a good idea. I always like to go for the solution that keeps everyone engaged, personally, so I wouldn't want someone sitting out.

    -As for narrative authority issues, the few times I've played it hasn't been much of an issue, because in my group we usually always play games with a GM and I am that GM, so even when we play games without an explicit GM my opinion tends to get deferred to. That said, I always try to incorporate stuff from players if they want. If this is an issue, I'd say the best bet would either be to set up one person as the arbiter of what's ok, or for a more communal approach, take a page from WUSHU and allow players to veto things they feel are out-of-place. However, given that the game is about exploring and there isn't as defined a genre, perhaps two people for a veto would be a good policy if you went that route. I'm not really sure, I haven't played very many games with such rules, but it's a thought.

    -'Something Unexpected' is one of the big parts of the game for me personally. I agree that it can be challenging at times to come up with something, but I enjoy such challenges. That said, I usually either write up a small list of things ahead of time (players coming up with things during mapping is a great idea) or I use a random online generator. I'm a huge fan of Seventh Sanctum personally, especially the monster and place generators. (Incidentally, such a generator is also a huge boon when it comes to names).

    -When I wrote the 'while traveling' roll, I intended it to be for travels between places on the map, and only for within a location when that location was especially huge, but I imagine it would probably work even if you used it for within a smaller location. After all, you can pack quite a lot into a small space if you want to.

    As for character creation, I think that motivations are definitely the way to go. I actually figured this might be a problem and came up with a list for when I played. I agree that after having played, letting people know what you're looking for is definitely the better practice than keeping them to yourselves.

    Yeah, the game ending is a bit tricky. When I played we all just agreed to stop after a certain point. As for one person finding their goal when the others haven't found theirs yet, my original idea was that they would either pick a new goal or make a new character, their choice.

    The game could definitely do well with some nice big lists of stuff to roll on for when you get stuck, that's for sure.

    Anyways, I have worked on the game more since those first 5 minute drafts. Explorers! Advanced Edition is a much more traditional RPG approach to it that I've been working on (that's something of a personal file, so it doesn't have the best layout, but it gets the point across). If you like that, I've got some reference sheets: Character Sheet, Conflict Reference Sheet, and a Magic Reference Sheet.

    That version is a rather large departure from the above, but if you skip to the last couple pages you'll find my "advanced rules" that build on the initial 5 minute game. That said, I do find a lot of coolness is just in that first 5 minute version!

    Hope that helps, anyways.
  • Man, shit like this is where story-games warms my heart. Someone all writing a game in a post and someone else all playing it and talking about it. As indie as it gets.
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