[This Is Pulp] The structure of the rulebook

edited December 2012 in Game Design Help
imageI've done some research on how to write. I know how I will address the reader that will explain the game, what I should name the other participants and I know how I want to write in a non-gender specific way.

What I want to achieve is to explain how to present the game for the players. The game is so easy to learn so only after playing it once, another player can take the role as the GM and start playing with the other participants.

What I also want to achieve is to plant some basic ideas into the reader's mind:
- The game is all about being creative.
- It's a game that is a collaboration between all participants. No person is more important than another.
- You should acknowledge the others by praising what they do.
- You should inspire the others.
- You should create an creative environment where everyone is feeling free to contribute.
( - To answer Eero in an earlier thread: I want the game to use non-gender pronounce because it would be weird in a game that plant ideas, to plant ideas that's assigning different gender to different roles.)

I don't want to shove this up in my reader's face, but instead sneak it in and to make it an understanding. I will do this by introducing structures and exercises that the reader should use to present the game for the other players. In these structures, I will repeat the basic ideas of the game over and over again by either repeating them in text or by insinuating them.

I'm aiming for a rulebook that is at most four pages long. I've been looking at boardgames and how they explain the structures of the game. I don't know if this is a realistic goal, but I don't want to exceed this goal. I would preferably have two pages rather than four. I have this goal because I want a person to buy my game, bring it to some friends, open the package and start playing after an half hour of reading. Just like a boardgame.

NEXT UP: the headlines.

If anyone wonders what I want out from this thread, I just want to tell that I just want my thoughts out in the air so I can organize them. I will probably write most part of the rulebook in this thread.


  • edited December 2012

    To reconsider

    Write in structures and exercises.
    • Don't talk about techniques. Show it in a structure.
    • Don't talk about how to think. Show it in a structure.
    • Make the whole text an easy structure to follow. You should be able to play it while you read it.
    • Write first for yourself, then for your reader.
    • Repeat the most important parts. "Yes, and", "Yes, but" and "Ask questions".
    • Give pointers, not examples.
    === Structure of Play ===
    This Is Pulp
    present the genre by giving examples. name drop movies.
    A game of adventurous storytelling
    write a summary of the game. how to play it: pulp heroes, three acts, overcoming dangerous situations.
    everybody describes what happens. clumsy heroes. superheroes without the powers. being creative. cheer for each other.
    What you need to do to before you play the game. Hand out dice, paper clips, place to bowls on the table etc.


    give all the others five dice and one paperclip each.
    put two small bowls on the table.
    pick a map.
    places, rumours, events, people.
    it's totally fine to add to someone else's creation.

    when someone draws something on the map the others may:
    - give more information. they must start the sentence with "Yes, and".
    - create some sort of issue. they must start the sentence with "Yes, but".
    - ask leading questions about what the person just drew to clarify.

    add two things each on the map.
    when you all are done, put the map in the middle of the table. It's important that you can read the map.
    Draw characters
    draw three, pick one.
    just need to read the character's tagline and look at the picture.
    present them. name and tagline.


    three acts and scenes.
    Exercise: create the first scene
    the point of this exercise is to go through how you all should communicate.

    - roll where they are.
    - ask one player to describe something on that place.
    - you must then say "Yes, and" to add something to what that player just described. If you get stuck, ask for help.
    - ask another player to describe something else about that place.
    - you must then say "Yes, but" to restrict what the player just described. If you get stuck, ask for help.
    - tell the others that everybody are allowed to use "yes, and", "yes, but" and to ask questions, no matter who just described.
    Create a scene
    repeat acts and scenes. mention scene tokens. will get 4 scene tokens + 1 act token for each act.

    create trouble in the scene.
    tell them where they are. In the first scene, they are at the location that you rolled.
    - ask the players what the danger is.
    - take something from the P.R.E.P. map and present it as a danger.
    - take something the player just said, and add "Yes, but".
    - throw the characters out from something.

    add any number of scene tokens. If it's the first scene, add as many scene tokens as players.

    the scene ends when the players act through their characters.
    the danger can't be solved until the scene ends.
    the danger must not be solved if the scene ends.
    End a scene
    players' moves.
    - if it's the first scene. describe how a move works. (hurt, demolish, delay)
    - the player declares the name of the move.
    - the player declares what the character wants to achieve.
    - the player may use any dice to perhaps remove any side effects. Successful dice are put in your bowl. The rest are put in the players bowl.
    - the player describes how the character achieves it's goal by using it's move. If no dice is used, all three side effects must be included.
    - each time a move is used, that player takes a scene token.
    - the players with the most tokens can't act.
    - when the designated scene tokens are gone, create a new scene.
    - the act token can't be used until the last scene in the act.
    - if the act token is taken by a player, end the act.
    can't die. written out of the act.
    Ending an act
    the player who took the act token may do a longer description of how the act ends.
    the players wounds are restored.
    the players may share the dice left in their bowl.
    any character written out of the act returns.
    take five new tokens (four scene tokens + one act token).
    if there are not act tokens left, go to epilogue.
    Your moves
    messing with the scene or with the characters.
    when all act tokens are gone.
    - everybody can contribute to the story.
    - name the adventure. write the name on the map.

    NEXT UP: starting to write the paragraphs.
  • edited December 2012
    imageI will make notes like this in italics.

    I've been reconsidering if I should have different kind of icons beside a paragraph. The icons could mean that the reader should take special note on how the text is written so he or she can read it out loud to the the players, that it's a part of the text that will be repeated a lot because it's important, or if the paragraph is something that only the reader need to think of. But now when I think of it, it's really a dumb idea.


    Imagine yourself flicking the the channels on the TV, when you discover a movie about a two-fisted tale. We are now going to create the elements that will appear in that movie. Decide as a group of which map that you're going to use. Take a pen and draw either a person, event or a place on the map. Write 1-3 words about it beside the drawing, and then tell the others a rumour about the place. When you're finished, hand the pen over to the person to your left. It's now that person's turn to draw, write something short about it and finally tell a rumour. The P.R.E.P. - Persons, Rumours, Events and Places - will together create what you need to play this game. While drawing the map, you are also allowed to do the following things:
    • Add something to another one's drawing during your turn. "I want to add something to the golden Zeppelin. It's owned by the rich, but cruel big game hunter John Stephenson." Note that what you add must be a person, place or an event.
    • Create an issue about another player's drawing during your turn. "That Inca pyramid ... has disappeared. A prophecy tells that it will reappear somehow." Remember that you still need to draw it on the map.
    • Ask questions, either if you're curious about someone else's rumour, to clarify someone's drawing or if anyone has a hard time adding something to the map. If the last thing happens, never give examples. Instead, ask questions that will help your friend. What kind of questions can give inspiration? How did you come up with a drawing yourself? Is it something that the players hasn't understood, like why we are adding things to the map? Is it clear what kind of things to add? Can you ask a leading question about a person, a place or the map itself?
    • Demand help from the others. They will help you by asking questions.
    • Praise each other. If you think an idea is cool, say it.
    After drawing two things each on the map, you're done with the P.R.E.P.

    I almost gave examples of questions (Never give examples!), when I instead should ask questions on how to ask questions. :)
    Choose characters
    Tell the others to randomly select three characters each and pick one of them. They just need to read the name, the short description under the name and look at the picture. When they all have chosen one character each, tell them to read the notes beside the picture and the two moves that are described under the notes. You don't get to draw a character, because your role in this game is going to be slightly different. What your role is and how the character's move works are something that we're going to explain later.
  • edited December 2012
    imageI will try to write one headline per day so the text finally will be written. It's more important at this stage to get it written than have it written in a good way.


    The game consist of three acts in which you will play out several scenes. The game is all about being creative and collaborate, by taking each others ideas and give it a spin.
    Create the first scene
    It's time to learn about your role in the game. One of your duties is to create scenes which is basically to tell where the the characters are in the world.
    1. Roll on the Table of Locations on your [what ever I will call that sheet] and read the result out loud. "You are in a tomb."
    2. Ask one of the players make up an object that should be in that location.
    3. Add something to the player's answer. You must start the sentence with "and". "...and that sarcophagi has some inscriptions on the lid."
    4. Ask another player to make up another object on the location.
    5. Create an issue that has something to do with the player's answer. You must start your sentence with "but". "...but in the mirror you can see something move!"
    Tell everybody what this exercise was about: that you can ask questions, add something to another person's description with "and" or create issues with "but". Point out that you're not the only one allowed to do this. One player may for example add something to another player's description as well. Keep the descriptions short! "You're in a tomb" or "You find a sarcophagi" is enough. By keeping the descriptions short, you all allow other players to either add or create issues with what you've come up with, even if it's just a location. This is how you collaborate.

    Finally, let the players introduce their characters to each other. The name and the description under the name will do just fine. When they are done, ask them how they know each other and what they are doing at the location. Their answer has to include something on the map. This creates the goal of the game; something the characters strives for. It may be freeing hostages from the big game hunter John Stephenson or to find the vanished Inca pyramid.

    I should give the goal more weight, because it's the goal of the characters that will make the adventure happen. I will perhaps give that last paragraph a headline.
  • I wish I had something to add Rickard, other than to say I find this fascinating and am following along closely.
  • I wish I had something to add Rickard, other than to say I find this fascinating and am following along closely.
    I appreciate comments like this, because it it creates a drive for me. It's like I said before: "praise each other. If you think an idea is cool, say it." :) It's a guideline that I tend to follow on fora as well. Appreciation is a really strong reward.
  • edited December 2012
    imageWeekend. Soon Christmas. Melting snow. Friend's children who are sick. So much to do. :)
    Create a scene
    This Is Pulp is played in three acts with a number of scenes in each act. Each scene starts with you telling the others a location where the characters are. In the first scene, you roll the location, but for the rest of the game you create a scene in one of four ways.
    • Continue the last scene, by making up a new trouble.
    • Start the scene with how they travel to the next location.
    • Pick a new location from the P.R.E.P. map. It doesn't matter if they jump around a lot. They may be under water in one scene and in the next in a volcano.
    • Ask the players where the new scene takes place.
    After telling the location, you should also create a trouble by including who or what else is in the scene and how it puts the characters in danger. The danger is created in one of the following ways:
    • By using something from the P.R.E.P. map. A location can have either an activity or an occupant that puts the characters in danger. How would a place like a volcano cause trouble for the characters?.
    • Take something the player just said, and add "Yes, but" to create an issue.
    • Throw the characters out of something.
    • Ask the others what the danger is.
    Each act gives you four scene tokens (the red ones) and one act token (white). Whenever you present the trouble, throw any number of the five tokens on the map to show how long the scene is, starting with the red ones. If it's the first scene, add as many scene tokens as the number of characters. The danger can't be solved until the scene ends, but the scene can end before the danger is solved. A scene goes towards it's end when the others act through their characters.

    I really need to rewrite this whole part to improve the flow. I wonder if it's confusing when I switch between "trouble" and "danger" for the same thing. The last paragraph is a build-up for the next headline - "End a scene".
  • edited February 2013
    imageI probably could add this whole text on Google Drive if anyone wants to correct the text, but it wont be of any use, because I'm probably going to rewrite and add stuff anyway when I get feedback from playtesters.
    End a scene
    A scene ends when all the tokens on the map are removed. The players can remove them by using one of the two moves on the character's sheet. If the players haven't read the moves yet, give them time to read them through.

    [an example of a move, with curly brackets from each item on the list, showing that the first side effect wounds a character, the second one delays the character, and the last item on the list destroys something in the scene.]

    When a move is used, the players takes a step towards ending the scene. The player using the move must describe what the character wants to achieve, and must also include in the description all three side effects the comes with each move. The three side effects are: a character gets wounded, the character taking the move gets delayed, something gets destroyed in the scene. The last side effect is something that the players can use for their advantage: if they are in a dog fight or wants to blow up a wall, the result is pretty obvious. If the player chooses to wound anyone, it must be one of the characters. The player must describe where the character is and how it's wounded.

    Each player got five dice each which may be rolled before the move is described. The player using a move can use any number of dice from from it's own pot. All dice are rolled at the same time, and the player may leave out one side effect for each die that shows 3-6. The successful dice are put into your bowl, and the rest are put in the players' bowl. They will get them back later.
      Example: A player choose to roll three dice and they show 2, 3 and 6. The player can ignore two of the three side effects when describing the character's action. The die that showed 2 is put into the players' bowl and the two successful dice are put into your bowl.
    These last two paragraphs was hard to write, because I want to write genderless.

    After the description, the player is allowed to take a token from the map, and the next person may use a move. If no players act, put anyone with the lowest amount of tokens into trouble. The players can't use any moves if they got more scene tokens than any other player, so everybody has to act before the same player can go again. When the scene tokens are gone, create a new scene.

    The white act token can't be use until the very last scene in the act, and it can't be taken while on the map if there are any scene tokens left. Whenever a player takes the act token, all can chip in to narrate how it ends, but the player taking the token goes first. The act then ends, and a new act starts with five new tokens (four red and one white).

    I'm not really satisfied with how this whole headline turned out. It jumps to much from one thing to another. I will probably do a check list of everything. I wonder if I can tell the reader to do something in a certain way without having to fall back on lists.
    When the characters gets wounds, the player assigning the wound must describe where the character is and how the character gets wounded. The number of wounds the character can take depends on the number of characters: if there are only two, they got four wounds each. Three characters got three wounds, and four players got two wounds each.

    The wounds are best marked by paper clips on the character sheet, and every time a character get a wound, the player moves the paper clip one step to the right. If any character gets to the circle that says "lost", you have say "Yes, and" after the player's description, and tell everybody how the character get lost from the rest of the group, either by getting kidnapped, by falling down into something, getting trapped, getting stuck and pulled away, being taken by the river or whatever you can think of. A character who's lost may not return until the next act, and can't receive any more wounds.

    I'm reconsidering making a list of how the character can get lost.
  • I must have missedit earlier: What does PREP stand for?
  • Persons, Rumours, Events, Places.

    Good that you ask. I will make it more clear in the P.R.E.P. headline.
  • edited December 2012
    Ending an act
    When the player has taken the act token, the act is over. The person who took the act token gets to narrate how it ends with help of everybody around.
    • The characters' wound levels are restored back to it's original value.
    • The players get to share the dice in the players' bowl. The dice in your bowl are yours to keep.
    • In the following acts, the players may wound themselves before they roll the dice. If they do, they must take as many dice from the players' bowl so that they get five. They must also describe after the roll how they get wounded.
    • All players give back the scene tokens to you. Act tokens are kept by the player until the end of the game.
    • Take four red tokens and one white.
    • Begin the next act, by creating a scene.
    • If any characters are lost, they are either back in the group before the scene starts, or are trapped by something in the next scene. You can also decide that the player can show up at any moment.
    Act tokens work in the same way as scene tokens. They can only be taken by the players with the lowest amount of act tokens. When you're in the third and final act when the act token is taken, start the epilogue.
  • edited December 2012
    imageYour moves
    Every time the others rolls dice, the successful ones are put into your bowl. They will only return to the players' bowl when you activate your moves on your [whatever-I-should-call-the-sheet]. One move affects the characters and the other affects the scene by adding blue scene tokens. Declare out loud which move you use, take any number of dice from your bowl and roll them. Any die that shows 1 or 2 let you pick one effect out of the four. You may put all successful dice on one effect or spread them out. Be sure to describe what each effect does, and remember, if you ever get stuck: ask the others for help. Put all used dice, successful as unsuccessful, into the players bowl.

    You are only allowed to use your moves after a player has acted in a scene or if there is at least one token left in the scene. You're also not allowed to take two moves in a row. If you add blue scene tokens to the scene, they must be taken before the players can take any red ones. Both blue and red tokens are returned to you when an act ends.

    When a player takes the third and last white act token, the game is near it's end. Ask if anyone has an idea of how it should end, and let everybody give a short suggestion. It's then up to the player who took the last token to describe how it ends with help of both the moves and the suggestions given by the others. Like always when an act ends, everybody may chip in to give details of the events.

    After the adventure is complete, it's time to give the adventure a title. It's common to start the title with a name, as in the examples that you've read in the first pages, but it's not necessary. Discuss what the most outstanding event was or what the story was built around, and let everybody give suggestions of a title. Come to an agreement of which was the best title and write it on P.R.E.P. map.

    Congratulations! You've just finished a game of This Is Pulp.

    The credits starts rolling.

    I noticed that I got more "chatty" towards the last headlines. Will probably need to rewrite most of the parts.
  • edited December 2012
    imageI will probably follow up with one more post (summary + character sheet), but this is the last part that need to be written. Funny enough, it's the beginning of the manual. Have been flipping through my board games and taken inspiration from how those rulebooks has been structures.
    This Is Pulp
    Dangerous jungles, unforgiving deserts, long lost Inca pyramids, Nazi soldiers, people that vanished, immortal men, never found islands, fierce volcanoes, expeditions, ape kings, secret valleys, sandstorms, gigantic robots, dinosaurs, pygmies, old awaken spirits, typhoons, cannibals, emperors reborn, Zeppelins, clockwork driven gadgets and everything you can find in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Rocketeer, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Tintin, King Kong, The Mummy, and King Solomon's Mines.

    This is Pulp is about two-fisted daredevils in an alternative 1930s.

    I saved more than half the P.R.E.P. maps so I just wrote chosen parts from previous sessions. :)
    A game of adventurous storytelling
    We're going to play out an action adventure story, just as the ones that you can see on the big screen. The other players are going to play one character each in an expedition, and we will watch how they trip over things, wound themselves and destroy things along the way to the end. The game is played out in three acts, and every act consist of several scenes. You are going to create trouble in every scene, and it's up to the players how the trouble is solved. It's going to be creative, fun and a lot of action.

    I wonder if I tell something about the "storytelling" part or if I will just let the reader slide into that.
    Give each player, except for yourself, five dice and a paper clip each. Find a pen and two bowls and put them so everybody can reach them. Put the twelve character sheets in a stack face down. Order the eleven tokens in colours (red, white and blue) in front of you.

    I did a crude layout, and the whole manual is almost 2,5 pages long. Perfect! I reached my goal and then some.
  • edited December 2012
    imageGeorge Miller, Jr. - one of the twelve available characters in the game.

    I will have the following lists on a sheet that I will call "Structures of Play".
    • Give each player five dice and a paper clip each.
    • Find a pen and two bowls.
    • Order the character sheets in a stack facedown.
    • Put the scene and act tokens in front of you.


    • Add something to another one's drawing.
    • Ask questions.
    • Demand help from the others.
    • Praise each other.
    Choose characters
    Tell the others to randomly select three characters each and pick one of them. They just need to read the name, the short description under the name and look at the picture.
    Create the first scene
    • Roll locations
    • Let a player come up with an object.
    • Add with "and".
    • Let another come up with a second object.
    • Create an issue with "but".
    • Tell what this exercise was about.
    • All players can do this.
    • Introduce the characters.
    • How do they know each other?
    • What is their goal? Use the map.
    End a scene
    A trouble can't be solved until the act is finished. An act can finish without the trouble being solved. To solve a trouble the player must:
    • Declare a goal.
    • Declare what what move to use.
    • Declare how many dice to roll.
    • Describe how the character reaches the goal.
    • Put successful dice into your bowl.
    • Put the rest of the dice into the players' bowl.
    • Take a token.
    Getting lost
    • Getting separated.
    • Getting kidnapped.
    • Falling down into something.
    • Getting trapped.
    • Getting stuck
    • Being pulled away
    • Ask the player
    Ending an act
    • Narrate the end. Everybody can help
    • Wound levels are restored.
    • Empty the players' bowl.
    • May wound themselves.
    • Give back scene tokens.
    • Take four scene tokens and one act token.
    • Begin the next act.
    • Lost characters returns.
    • If no act tokens, begin epilogue.
    • Give suggestion of how it ends.
    • The player taking the token describes the end.
    • Give the adventure a title.
    == I will probably have these two on a separate sheet for the GM ==
    Create a scene
    • Continue the last scene
    • Let them travel.
    • Pick a new location from the P.R.E.P. map.
    • Ask the players.
    Create trouble
    Each act gives you four scene tokens (the red ones) and one act token (white).
    • Use the P.R.E.P. map.
    • Create an issue with "but".
    • Throw the characters out of something.
    • Ask the others.
  • This is a very intriguing idea. How is the playtesting going?
  • edited February 2013
    I playtested it 21 times last year, both home and on different conventions and gatherings. I've played it with both gamers and non-gamers (went to a anime convention, for example) and it turned out really well 90 % of the times. I usually create games through playtesting, where the group is developing the game while playing it.

    I'm going to start looking for people for blind playtesting soon, so I can see how the text above is interpreted by others and to straighten out any question marks.
  • edited March 2013
    I'm in the first rewrite where I've done minor changes in each paragraph, and doing some notes about instructional pictures that will hopefully enhance the understanding for the reader. The text is designed in mind so that the reader can play the game while reading it for the players. I also made two sheets for the person who will have to explain the rules for the players. Assistant Sheet is for the person who know how to play the game. Structure of Play is a list to follow when playing the game, if you already read through the game once. I got inspired by the serial spine thread, because my game is written from that perspective.

    Here are the two sheets for the curious one. Don't mind the language. I will fix that later.

    The pictures for the archetypes are in the final stage, so I will hopefully look for playtesters soon. :)
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