Game Design – Part 1: The Muse

My name’s Bo Luellen, and I’m the co-author of the upcoming Pathfinder Setting source book:  The Keswick Player’s Handbook along with Johnny McLain.  We are the co founders of Pick Up the Fork Media LLC.

If you think figuring out what PC you want to play is hard, step into the Game Master’s chair.  The role of a GM is to present a balanced game which will challenge the players, give a intriguing story line and set up a beginning and an end.  I personally follow the Three Act Structure found in movie making.  I also try to incorporate Chekov’s Gun and a Deus Ex Machina to really enhance the danger element and the sense of high adventure.  I’ve provided links to these concepts, and I’ll going into details about how I integrate them into a gaming experience that leaves the players feeling like they are a part of The Game of Thrones instead of an episodic serial.

Refreshing the Well of Inspiration

I’ve been putting together regular games since 1996.  Finding new and interesting story lines is like nailing jello to the wall.  If you do not find new plot lines to follow, it turns into the Southpark episode where everything  they try has a “Simpson’s Did It!” reply.


When the mental well goes dry I pick up my backpack, find a park or a trail head, and I hike.  As I walk through the forest I try to imagine what it would be like for a character who had a week long journey in the woods to reach a town.  I let me mind wonder about the particulars of the journey.  Why are they traveling?  What quest were they answering?

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As a writing and brain storming exercise lets follow the line of thought as I hiked today at the Turkey Mountain in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

As the heroes travel, I considered how they would eat and drink.  You can’t carry enough water and food.  You have to hunt for supplies.  This means you would need to hire a competent guide with game hunting experience.  What if that hunter wasn’t some pub crawler just waiting around for someone to hire them?  What if he was a logger who was recently laid off.  His family is depending on him/her for a livelihood.  Now lets say that logging company that fired him has also hired you to travel to this distant town to pick up some mercenaries that will scare some farmers off their wooded land.  This would give the evil logging corporation a foot hold on cheap land.  So now the PC’s are traveling with the laid off logger, hearing his sad story on the way to the town.  During the journey the ex-logger helps the PC’s fend off some random encounters, ingratiating himself to them.  By the time the PC’s arrive at the town, they are fulling on the loggers side, and must figure out how to turn the tables on the evil logging corporation!

All this from one walk in the woods.


Imagination isn’t sparked by the on switch of a gaming console.  It is ignited through new experiences, adversity and private mediation.  Try turning the radio off in the car as you go for a drive, walk around your block or sit on your back porch and watch some squirrels scurry around your neighborhood.  Modules are great to buy, and there are a lot of fantastic adventures ready for purchase.  Don’t forget that the adventures your group talks about the most are the ones that came from the mind of your Game Master!

Up Next:  Game Design – Part 2:  Story Structure


For more information:
Keswick Players Handbook on Facebook
Bo Luelen on Facebook
More on the upcoming writings of Bo Luellen