[Minis+] Maps, Bonds and Schemes

edited April 2018 in Make Stuff!
Hi folks,

Inspired by the current Shadow War Armageddon thread and the story-miniatures game In a Grail Epoch, I've been thinking about taking advantage of the physicality and personality of miniatures in a story game.

There's a few different facets I'd like to explore (Maps, Bonds and Schemes, actually), but here's something to kick off discussion: a city- and character-creation tool based on In a Grail Epoch.

Lay down some butchers' paper.

Gathering miniatures
As a group, get together a collection of miniatures numbering at least three per player (you will place three each, so a larger collection gives you more choice on what to place).

Any time is a good time to talk about tone and content, but now is an especially good time: e.g., "I notice there's a few drow in this set. I want us to avoid making a race evil, especially one with dark skin".

A good collection will have some miniatures that are quite similar (same species or profession or something else in common) and others that are quite different. Each miniature should be able to have a personality and be able to move between locations: a tree-person that cannot move or a car that has no brain is not appropriate.

Placement occurs in three rounds, with each player having one turn in each round. Each turn follows the same structure:

1. If it's Round 2, the player draws a Bond between two miniatures (more on this later). If it's Round 3, the player draws a Bond between two miniatures, and then another Bond between two other miniatures.
2. The player selects a miniature and places it somewhere on the butchers' paper.
3. The player grabs an index card and secretly writes the name of the character associated with the miniature. They also EITHER write the location that that character is most often found in (marking them as a Non-Player Character, or NPC) OR they write their own name below the character's name (marking them as a Player Character, or PC). A player can only write their own name on ONE character's index card, and they must write their name on ONE character's card.
4. The index card is then placed face down next to the miniature.
5. Play then passes to the player to their left.

Drawing a Bond between two miniatures simply involves drawing a line between them IN PENCIL. By the end of the third Round, make sure that every miniature is connected to at least one other miniature. Do not draw multiple Bonds between the same characters.

Flip over all index cards.

Firstly, note all the Player Characters. Write "Bonds" on their card, and then write down every character that they have a Bond with.

Take PCs off the map.

Then lift up each NPC's index card in turn and write down on the empty space on the butchers' paper below:

1. The name of the NPC
2. The name of the location

Draw a little image of the location if you like. Then trace over with marker any NPC-NPC Bonds, while erasing any NPC-PC Bonds (because these are already recorded on the PC's index cards).

Finally, for each PC pick an NPC that they have a Bond with. Draw a little picture of a house on that NPC's location, and write the PC's name next to it. That indicates that the PC can usually be found in that location.

Tada! You have a map of a city, the NPCs associated with each location, the connections between locations and the relationships between characters!

Although NPCs and PCs are associate with certain locations, they can - and should - be moved around in play as they pursue various Schemes. That's the next part of this structure that I'd like to develop.


I played a rough version of this with myself last night, and I was satisfied with the results. I chose too-eclectic a mix of miniatures, so the city is confused and not as interesting as it could be. But I think you can see the kind of interesting relationships and pieces that could emerge.



And with the miniatures in situ (obviously you'd use a much larger piece of paper if you were doing this for real):



  • Hello,
    If you add colour or symbols you can represent (usually social) links regardless of spatial location.
  • edited April 2018
    Where do the terrain toys come into this game ?

    I mean, I like what I see so far, but I want to use little buildings and trees and such too.

    For that matter, I also want to use the minis that aren't main characters in this drama.

    When and where does that stuff fit in.

    Also, why the secrecy in declaring something a PC vs. NPC? I missed that point.
  • edited April 2018
    Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I'll put together the Schemes section this evening and post it.
    If you add colour or symbols you can represent (usually social) links regardless of spatial location.
    Great suggestion! Each PC could be assigned a colour, and then you could place a coloured box on each NPC that they had a relationship with. That would help with marking changes in their relationships too, which is a part of the upcoming Schemes section ;)
    Where do the terrain toys come into this game ?

    I mean, I like what I see so far, but I want to use little buildings and trees and such too.

    For that matter, I also want to use the minis that aren't main characters in this drama.

    When and where does that stuff fit in.
    You've inspired me to make some changes to the Schemes section to account for scenery and guest characters. The new guest character rules actually make this use the same miniatures-component connection that's found in the rest of the game.

    Bit characters I think make the most sense as scenery, which doesn't necessarily mean that they're irrelevant.
    Also, why the secrecy in declaring something a PC vs. NPC? I missed that point.
    The secrecy in PC/NPC during map creation is basically just because I wanted naming of characters and locations to be secret. And I wanted that secret because I didn't want players second-guessing themselves.

    For example, people might draw different connections if they knew that a particular miniature was named "Caspar, Ex-Duke of Eastcote" than if it's named "Viloch the Vampire Prince", but I actually want the players to draw lines based on what they imagine the miniature might represent, rather than thinking, e.g., "Oh, he's a vampire ... do I draw the line between him and the zombie, or is that too obvious?"

    Or players might change what names and locations they give, either to avoid overlap ("Bob's already put down a noble household - maybe I should choose something else") or to avoid seeming contradictions ("Lin's established that there's an elf-led police force in this town, so I better not create orc-led auxiliaries").

    Similarly, I don't want the other players to necessarily be thinking "Oh, Snig's a PC ... but he doesn't have many connections. Should I draw one between him and that ogre?"
  • I think of bit characters as scenery as well.

    Occasionally dangerous scenery, but scenery nonetheless.
  • So you want conflicts and surprises from revealing the names. The cost would be inconsistencies : that's a light hearted genre aspect.
  • Schemes

    Developing a Scheme

    A player upon contemplating their PC will realise that there is something that their PC wants to achieve.

    Write this on an index card. This is a Goal, and the start of a Scheme. You can have as many as you like, but the more you have the less you'll be able to focus on any one. Goals must be associated with that player's PC, but not necessarily directly or in a way that's obvious at the beginning of the Scheme.

    Pass the index card to another player. On the back, that player writes a Consequence, then passes it back to the scheming player. Only the writing player and the scheming player know what the Consequence is.

    Draw a circle with 12 segments. Schemes start at noon (no segments filled in) and end at midnight (12 segments filled in).

    At this point, the Scheme sits in front of its player, as a "nascent Scheme" that has no game effect.

    During a gap in play, a player can select a nascent Scheme's index card and place it on a location along with a new miniature from the general collection (that Scheme's "guest character"). Name the character, and write that name on the index card. This kicks off the first Scene for that Scheme, which is now an "active Scheme".

    After this, you can pursue further Scenes for your active Schemes during gaps in play.

    Scheme Scenes

    When a Scene begins (whether or not it's that Scheme's first Scene), you must assemble the Scene:

    * Grab some scenery suitable for the location - at first from the general pile, but over time some scenery will become permanently associated with particular locations
    * Grab any characters that were already in that location
    * If you like, grab one character not in that location that could conceivably be present
    * If you like, grab miniatures from the collection to represent bit characters in the background ... these will effectively be treated like scenery

    Then, via freeform roleplaying ("Doll Play"), players act out a Scene. Players control their PCs, if any, and other players divide up the NPCs (including the guest character) between them.

    Your objective should be to lead the Scene to its Peak, which is where the Scheme has its best chance to be advanced - but at some personal risk.

    When any player believes that the Peak has been reached, they pick up the dice and pass them to whichever player owns the current Scheme.

    The Peak

    If the scheming player's PC has a Bond with one or more characters present, they roll three dice. Otherwise, they roll two.

    They then distribute the results of the rolls between two or three Outcomes, with no more than one die per Outcome:

    * Scheme: The scheme is advanced by the value of the die assigned to this outcome (i.e. fill in one to six segments)
    * Danger: If 3 or 4 is assigned to this outcome, the personal risk is realised in some minor way. If 1 or 2 is assigned to this outcome, the personal risk is realised in a major way.
    * Bond: If the player rolled three dice, they must assign a die to this outcome. Otherwise, they cannot assign a die to this outcome. On a 5 or 6, the Bond remains strong. Do nothing. On a 3 or 4, the Bond is Tapped. Mark it as such - it can't be used in the future for a while. On a 1 or 2, the Bond is Jeopardised. Mark it as such. Fixing this Bond must be the Goal or Consequence of a future Scheme.

    Play out the Outcomes based on the results. When you wrap up the Scene, decide if some scenery/bit characters should be placed on the location on the map instead of returning to the collective pool, if they have become associated with that location.

    Note: A Tapped Bond is untapped after the two characters share a subsequent scene.

    Note: Whatever occurs in the Scene before the Peak, the consequences cannot be fixed until the Outcomes are realised. It's okay to backtrack a bit in the narration to achieve this, as well.
    For example, Cassius wants to take control of House Black. His grandfather, the current lord, is holding his 110th birthday party. At one point during the Scene, Cassius finds himself next to his grandfather and a statue that was already established in the fiction as being precariously balanced.

    Grinning, a player picks up the dice and hands them to Cassius' player.

    It might be that Cassius pushes the statue onto his grandfather - or it may fall of its own accord.

    It might be that the statue crushes the grandfather, or it might be that Cassius saves his grandfather.

    It might be that onlookers blame Cassius, regardless of his guilt.

    The results of the dice - and how they are assigned - will determine this; it must not be decided prior to the roll.
    Concluding a Scheme

    When a Scheme fills two criteria, it is concluded: the Goal and the Consequence occur.

    The two criteria are:

    1. All 12 segments are filled in
    2. Blood has been shed

    This just means that at some point, instead of having a Scene, you play a skirmish battle game. If the scheming player wins, they count as rolling 6s for Scheme, Danger and Bond. If the other player wins, the scheming player counts as rolling 1s for Scheme, Danger and Bond.

    Players not involved in the skirmish adjudicate and choose which skirmish game will be played and with what teams and scenario. A relatively quick one is the logical choice, but these skirmishes are still important.

    I imagine this will be controversial. For me, it's a bit like Chekov's gun: if there are miniatures, they should be used in a wargame at some point. Others will ditch this rule with no harm done.
  • What would be a Consequence to Cassius's goal ?
  • "I imagine this will be controversial. For me, it's a bit like Chekov's gun: if there are miniatures, they should be used in a wargame at some point. Others will ditch this rule with no harm done. "

    Heh, my struggle has always been to convince folks that the use of minis need not mean All Battle, All The Time.

    I swear sometimes that dirty hippy gamers are more susceptible to this sort of thinking than actual war gamers.
  • What would be a Consequence to Cassius's goal ?
    Good question. As I reflect on it, I think a better term would be "Twist". The idea is it's something that'll make the scheming player wince, but also laugh.

    So for example, Goal: "Take control of House Black", Twist: "House Black is deep in debt"

    It's still worth taking control of House Black - or, if it isn't, Cassius' player is free to not pursue the Scheme. But the Twist moderates the victory, making it bittersweet and creating further tensions.

    And since the Twist becomes public when the Scheme is completed, but is known to two players beforehand, those players can allude to it in play but other players will get a surprise when it's revealed.

    The two don't have to be so closely related.

    For example, Goal: "Get access to the Library's hidden vaults", Twist: "The Demon Prince Balthazaar is imprisoned in those vaults"

  • Chocolate surprise, sort of. Couldn't there be a set of consequences to pick from, trying to reduce consequences at the expense of diminishing the odds of achieving the goal (a la Apocalypse World). I suggest this because it increases player choice (and strategy).
  • Hey Sanglorian:

    Are you ready to do an example write up of play ( not necessarily Actual Play, but just how you imagine this is supposed to work).

    I understand roughly what you're going for, but I personally learn better from examples.

    I mean, the whole thing, together.

    Also, on a total side note, I tend to think more in terms of
    Main Characters
    Supporting Characters
    Minor Characters

    It's a little bit different look at the stuff, but that's because I don't necessarily love character monogamy ( and I'm not sure even how possible it is when you have only a handful of players, but a fair number of characters, and fairly evenly distributed GM Type Duties).

    Going from the top of the list down, you have more individual permanent ownership and development to less of each as you travel downward.

    Main characters are the most like PCs, supporting characters the most like important/recurring NPCs ( in your terms, NPCs with lots of bonds to PCs, I think), Minor characters have less of either, and, well, extras are largely scenery ( again potentially dangerous scenery. I mean, those Vikings may not have names or development, but they still can threaten characters by sheer presence and numbers, even if we don't think of them as dramatically, individually important. After all, Olaf can't burn the village down all by himself without great effort. Having a nameless horde certainly helps with that sort of thing.
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