Friday, November 13, 2009

Designing the Ultimate Treehouse

Creating characters for RPGs is a lot of fun, but sometimes I think PCs should be allowed to create something bigger than themselves. The original RPG example is the player of a high-level PC sketching out the plans to their castle and detailing their minions, but there are other possibilities. Here are a few of them, off the top of my head:
  • Designing your own custom spaceship in Traveller.
  • Imperator and Chancel creation in Nobilis.
  • The point-build superspy agency rules in Ninjas & Superspies.
  • Giant robot creation in Mekton Zeta.
  • Superhero base creation in the Marvel Super Hero advanced rules.
I know I can't be the only one here who as a kid sketched out imaginary treehouse designs or super-secret headquarters. Letting the players design the above stuff satisfies this juvenile impulse while also giving the players a feeling of ownership and investment in a larger piece of the campaign world. And if you can get the players to design some of these items as a group, then suddenly they all have something in common beyond all being lone wolf psychos with hair triggers.


  1. That's one of the reasons why I love Mutants & Masterminds so much - you can use the rules to create vehicles, secret bases, giant robots, spaceships, hordes of minions or anything else you can imagine :D

  2. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Yes, building things for games and in games is fun. I have always had a soft spot for construction systems, be they battlemechs, castles or starships.

  3. And this is why I like Battletech, especially with my new favorite computer design program, Solaris Skunkworks. I know I have tons of custom designs that are intended to suit my play style or a specific conversion I just "had" to do.

  4. In my old "Red Nazareth" space-opera campaign, we were playing with one of those huge-scale g'jillions-of-inhabited worlds type settings, so every player was invited to create their entire homeworld, writing up cultural oddities, mapping and statting out the planet, and so on. They took to it like ducks to something ducks like very much, and the results really enriched the game.

    (The Red Nazareth campaign is why Uresia includes a drive-by reference to players creating their own obscure little home kingdoms if they decide they're from one of the many unlabeled islands).

  5. Most of my players just don't have the motivation or inclination. I have one though, a graphic artist by education and wow! Just Wow! When I let loose the reins in a 2E Campaign and gave him a kingdom he ran with it. Castle and city maps/floorplans, heraldry...the works!!!

  6. One of my favourite bits from the Conspiracy X rpg was the party resources bit. You'd design your characters, then you'd pool your resource points and then use those to set up your secret base, and all the equipment you'd "borrowed" from your day jobs. It was more fun than the game as a whole.

  7. Playing House: an essential element of a properly constructed RPG.

    (It was always castles and monasteries for me)

    @KelvinGreen: Didn't the last Gamma World work in a similar way? I understand there were a whole array of sweet infrastructural lewts (which included fields of lost knowledge) that were only of use to a settled community, not a group of wandering hobos.

  8. Just for completeness:

    - Covenant construction for Ars Magica.
    - Pendragon Domains
    - Realms for Song of Fire and Ice
    - D&D rules cyclopedia strongholds and dominions

  9. How could I forget Pendragon's manors system? We have so much fun with the landholdings part of the game that I think there'd be considerable dissent if someone suggested we do that bit by email and use the sessions to get on with the plot!

    Chris, could be, I don't know. Alas, Gamma World is one of the big gaps in my gaming history, although I hope to give Mutant Future a go sometime soon.

  10. Now thanks to this post and greywulf I've got to check out Mutants & Masterminds...

    I always thought having a base had a role in Gamma World campaigns (at least in my mind) be it through befriending/impressing some tribe or Alliance or through cleaning out and stocking some sweet installation - not, I must add, that my games ever got that far...

  11. I want to design my own skyrealm on Jorune (with a dock for my Jaspian crystal schooner, of course ;).

  12. "Superhero base creation in Marvel Super Heroes".

    Marvel Super Heroes?!?

    Not Champions or Mutants & Masterminds? I'm with Greywulf, a good point based supers game has creation and construction opportunities out the ying-yang.

    Too bad we don't have Make Your Kingdom in the U.S. This cool Japanese tabletop RPG includes resource managing your own nation as you play the duel roles of adventurers and important members of the country (the king, queen, court, etc.).