I’m a huge fan of Top Gear. I’ve watched every episode. Numerous times. It plays in the background while I work almost constantly. The long trips are especially entertaining for me. Vietnam. Myanmar. Botswana. Bolivia. The North Pole. All amazing.

I just watched (again) the Africa episode about searching for the source of the Nile. It is really good. You can probably find it on youtube or hulu.

48245887_bbcbus[Spoiler] At the very end, there’s this quasi-magical moment where James May puts his finger into a spring that they claim is the source of the Nile. For an anthropologist, this is awe-inspiring. For one, they claim the source of the Nile is in Tanzania, not far from Kenya, which we know is the true cradle of humanity… where hominids first started.

So? What’s the point, mr. game designer?

Take a moment to imagine what you’re role is as a game master. You’re officially ‘a god’ of sorts. You know the truth behind the metaphysics, sorcery, languages, histories, and peoples of your game worlds. (Assuming you’re not running someone else’s game world) You were there when the game world took life. You know who the first people were to step onto your world. You were there for it.

Imagine what that was like.

That first hominid stepping down from the trees to sip from the aquifer that would feed the largest, most important river int he world.

Now imagine it as a game master. Writing the stories of the first beings to step foot onto the world, drinking in the experiences that would shape the myths and realities of that world.

Don’t just write that Thor smashed the ice giants with a hammer forged by a fat-fitted dwarf. Imagine it. Retell. Examine it through a new lens. What was Thor really fighting against? And for? Why did he pick up that ROCK and smash open the head of some ugly person? Were they fighting over a woman? Food? Land? A spot of water?

How did that myth grow to be a hammer? And an ice giant? How did the history of your world change to accommodate that myth? And why was it constantly rewritten?

Imagine you are that god who steps into the well-springs and brings life to these worlds through organic means. Not just dwarves hate smelly orcs, but through the histories of two people rooted in a past YOU created.

Then imagine that every myth we live with today was born the same way. Do that and maybe you’ll understand just a little why I find that moment so magical. A man walks until a trickling stream in Tanzania, puts his finger into a spring, and touches a past he cannot possibly understand.
That’s myth.

The Why

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Gaming

A personal diatribe. Please indulge me.

I’ve been working since i was 15 years old. I’ve always worked. I started paying rent at the age of 17. I once owned a house, but that’s an old story.

When I entered the gaming industry, it was a fluke. I’d always done real, honest work. Lifting boxes. Sales. Customer service. Whatever. I’d never taken on a creative job before. And while I was creative, I never thought i’d do work in that manner. Call it a self-confidence thing. I don’t know.

Since 1997, i’ve been working in gaming. That’s nearly 20 years. People generally have a perception about themselves that they are hard workers. And lazy people generally don’t like to be called out on it, because they tend to believe and/or convince themselves that they work hard.

I could tell 100s of stories of seeing this in the industry, but I won’t.

In 20 years, I’ve taken maybe 6 real vacations. I’ve never been one of those people who could afford one, or thought I could take them time off.

Side note. I wrote/managed the world’s largest dungeon (840 pages, 1 million words), including doing the layout and typography for the book in 11 months. I even broke my hand half-way through the process and was down for six weeks.

And I still finished with a week to spare before my deadline.

I’m not bragging here. Just setting up a story. Bear with me.

In 2005, I thought I’d left the gaming industry for good. I went and got a job doing something else, because the stress of doing what I loved was making me not love it anymore. You’ve probably read some of my stories about the past, dealing with a particular company. Let’s try to forget that and move on.

In late 2007, I foolishly returned and by mid 2010 I was gone again. This time, however, I immediately started working on stuff I loved for myself. I started writing, planning, etc. I was in a funk for a long time, though. I really didn’t want to work. Which was weird for me. It has never happened before. I didn’t analyze it then, because I was stuck in it. Angry. Resentful. Exhausted. Resentful. Er. You get the point.

Then I finished King for a Day — probably the best thing I’ve ever written. In my opinion. My energy was back. I was working again. And I felt like I was really in love with it. By the end of 2014, I’d produced over 100 products, plus over a dozen for other companies. Not to mention graphics and so on.

But the end of 2014 was weird for me. I could feel my energy being sapped again. I knew what it was, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it or deal with it. It just didn’t feel like something I wanted to address. But something was dragging me down, the way the crap of 2005 was dragging me down.

I took two weeks off at the beginning of the year, but they really weren’t a break. I didn’t do anything with the time and in fact, I was angrier AFTERWARDS.

Work has been slow going during these first six weeks of 2015.

But something happened this weekend. I had an epiphany about all of it. And today, my energy is through the roof.

For starters, I realized I’ve probably spent thousands of hours making games, but I never really know if anyone is spending thousands of hours enjoying the games I make. I also never really took time to slow down and rest. I’ve literally allowed my health to suffer over the years, making game after game after game.

And i”m not a success story, so even with over 200 products to my name, I’m still not well-known or rich.

This past weekend, I attended a local game convention (150 people, so more like a gathering) in which I played non-stop for 3 days. I played Orleans three times, Dominare four times, Dice Crawl over a dozen times, Diamonds, Shadow Throne, Tragedy Looper. The list goes on. I cam home exhausted, but energized. I came up with ideas for making Dominare better. I got excited about the upcoming 100 A.D. that I’m making with Souljar games. I fixed a rules problem in Dice Crawl. When I got home I immediately made 105 new characters for Dominare (which only I will ever see). I made a prettier deck of cards for Diamonds (because I can). I cranked out some notes for future games and I started working on a new roleplaying game that hacks Apocalypse World.

It’s nearly 6pm on Monday and I’m still typing away with a fervor about what’s to come.

I can’t say I’ve married my personal life and game design as well as I would have hoped, but I light went off today.

Sometimes, it’s okay to take a break.

Thanks for following.

Game on.

The Death of Macro Storytelling

Posted: January 24, 2015 in Gaming

art by drew bakerart by drew baker

Disclaimer. I write a lot of games that are small picture stories, because they have to be completed in three hours (though there are protocol games that address large scale problems). The majority of what I’m writing here is about traditional gaming and how the inspiration we receive from other media (tv, etc.) impacts our ideas negatively. Or at least, not in a constructive manner.

George Carlin once said there are two kinds of stories, big picture and little picture. Little picture stories are 99% of what we know and read. A protagonist or group of protagonists facing a specific problem with measurable and tangible cause/effect. ‘Bob’s family is murdered and bob wants revenge.’ ‘Sally loses her job and spirals out of control.’ ‘The black company is hired to kill a dragon.’

Big picture stories are more difficult to explain, as they do many things. The Game of Thrones series or anything by Tom Clancy might be identified as big picture or macro storytelling. Characters pitted against larger than life forces with events that can impact nations, if not the world.

In micro storytelling, characters drive the plot. They are not victims of the events (once the plot is established).

But in macro storytelling, the environment is a real concern. Other people, forces of nature, dragons, and similar obstacles all work against the protagonist(s). Macro storytelling, which could be named environmental storytelling, addresses issues of nations, armies, dozens upon dozens of character and contingencies, plot struggles, and the like.

(I’ve never watch the airbender series. Apparently it is both of these styles!?!?)

Modern, micro storytelling is about personal drama, small picture problems. Anything on CW is a perfect example of this. Small picture problems and issues are at the forefront of these kinds of shows. Pettiness, relationship squabbles, and situations we as readers/viewers can easily empathize with dominate the landscape.

So. Where does roleplaying fall into all of this?

If you’re a traditional gamer, you most likely enjoy playing a single character who can affect change in the world. This means more than just fighting monsters, but saving entire villages, towns, duchies, and (eventually at 20th level) kingdoms. If you’re lucky. Using D&D as an example, the Forgotten Realms is a gameworld ripe with opportunity for this kind of gameplay.

And this is essentially MACRO storytelling.

But. The PCs don’t see it that way. And the gamemaster is probably drawing a lot more inspiration from micro stories and less from macro stories.

Essentially, the wants are at odds with the needs and the inspiration to create either wants or needs is crippling any attempt to write truly macro stories.

Allow me a short segue to explain.

Breaking Bad?

The last great show on television to thread the needle between micro and macro storytelling was Breaking Bad. When the story of Walter White started, the events were small. The stakes were small. The characters faced a few obstacles and those were all tangible. A single street corner fight comes to mind as micro, though with macro repercussions. As the story progressed, so did the stakes. The tone of the story grew to match the character’s reach. Walter had 20 guys killed in 20 different prisons within 10 minutes of one another in a single move. That’s big picture stuff.

(Btw. If you ask me the last two episodes aren’t very good, but that’s a longer post.)

So. Breaking Bad might be the best tool for us to understand how to write campaigns for gaming. Stories that start small and grow into epics have a more profound effect, than stories where characters are already bearing the weight of the heavens on them.

Japanese Roleplaying Games

The biggest offense to storytelling is the tired Japanese roleplaying game. Every single story is identical in structure. The village of a ‘chosen one’ is attacked. He or she must gather some friends and go from village to village solving tiny ‘FedEx’ missions over and over again, fighting ever stronger monsters, and buying ever stronger weapons. There are no choices. The path is linear. The characters take on tiny event after tiny event, only to face a demon the size of the moon in the final scene of the game.


Tonally and thematically, this makes no sense. If this is what video games are becoming, I’m glad I don’t make any.


I love the movie, Dredd. It is a perfect example of how to take a Macro IP and turn it into a single micro story. In fact, there’s a great line that reveals just how macro the environment is should the franchise grow.

“Judges are losing the war for the city.”

This line is normally unnecessary in a movie like this. The judges won’t be tackling the crime of the entire city. They are going to kill/arrest a lot of people, but they aren’t going to make a dent in a city where “Twelve serious crimes reported every minute. Seventeen thousand per day. We can respond to around six percent.” So, the quote about losing the fight for the city implies that there’s a city worth fighting for.

A city we might see again.

To put it into fantasy game terms, imagine you are fighting a single street gang in the alleyways of Waterdeep. Defeating them won’t make the city safer, but acknowledging that they are 1 of 100 gangs that make Waterdeep unsafe, the PCs can grow the story from micro to macro. The tone of the story might change, but the themes of it could remain the same.

And there’s the magic word again. Theme.

I intend to address theme soon in a post all its own. For now, just know that as a gamemaster, your games will always be stronger if you keep your themes tidy.


Marco storytelling is going away because of the changes in our culture and the demand for more personal stories. Multiple characters facing internal and external conflict. Etc. This is neither a good or a bad thing. But it does mean if we want roleplaying games to have big strong campaigns, we need to learn to use tools that aren’t readily available. There are much more stories in our wheelhouses that reflect micro stories. And if we turn to them for guidance, we’re going to run the same course of stories we always do. “All of a sudden the ground trembles and there’s a massive demon facing you. What do you do?”

jim is on the radio… woa-o?

Posted: January 21, 2015 in Gaming

I spend an hour yapping about me and gaming on an Ithaca radio station.

Oh yes.


Cookie Jar

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Gaming

115517Years ago, I was writing George’s Children and my first playtest with Mark Nau (and others) resulted in a few of us staring at a stack of chips. We were done playing and trying to find a way to make the tokens vital to gameplay. I eventually did, but in the process of doing this, the idea of a finger-pointing game to me. And I immediately realized I was writing rules to a game akin to “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” but with a murder mystery/criminal bent.

And a little risk/reward thrown in.

The rules are simple, covering a page. And I’ve always enjoyed it with the right people. But. To this day, I have no idea if anyone has played this game outside my group. But it requires a fistful of dice. And it’s free on drive thru.


The Alphabet Soup Series

Posted: January 9, 2015 in Gaming

131221Some time last year, I started uploading cheap GM Advice PDFs for the Alphabet Soup series. The first one, the letter A, was free. Following that, the pdfs included topics as well as lexicon jargon advice for gamemasters, though mostly focused on fantasy gaming. The Letter Series is only up to letter C (though letter D is coming soon). These actually take a long time to write and research, so I can’t upload them as fast as I would like.

Sample entries include:

Aillen Trechenn
(also Trechend) A three-headed monster. It comes from Irish myth and emerges on Samhain from its cave at Cruachan bringing destruction. Interpretations differ. Some believe the monster breathed fire. Others say is was a bird with three heads. It might also be a three-headed vulture that leads and army of goblins. All great gaming fare, nonetheless.

Any person entitled to bear heraldic arms, such as a knight’s squire.

Headless men with their eyes and mouth in their chests.

Bribery is a complicated system of paying above and beyond for a service one expects for free. In fantasy roleplaying games it is often a die roll or some extrapolated concept that removes that occupants from the activity. As you can imagine, the author thinks bribes should be more complicated than that.

Bribes are not only expected by members of feudal society, not paying them could have deleterious results. Someone waiting for his mail is expected to bribe the courier for his package. Without a bribe, the package may get lost, or even stolen. Anyone wanting entry to the city must bribe the guard or be marked. The list goes on.

In some cultures, the person receiving a bribe is punished more than the person giving the bribe. Tipping the writer of this pdf will not result in punishment.

A parcel of land measured by a cord.

Curtal Friar
A friar serving (as an attendant) at a monastery court gate.

Each PDF comes with pages of these entries, expanding your vocabulary of history and myth.

134369The complimentary series is a series of clean, easy-to-read, 1d100 charts for a variety of topics that rest outside the standard 1d100 charts. There’s orc habits, guilds, pickpocketings, warning sings, and magic rings. And I know what you’re thinking. How can magic rings be ‘outside the standard 1d100 charts?’ Well. Here’s a short sample of rings from the chart:

  • Knotted, iron Viking band increases confidence, for better or worse
  • Pair of lion-headed signet rings that grant telepathic communication to the wearers, but can never be turned off
  • Dragonfly ring grants power to speak with one type of animal, while making another hate the wearer

You can read up on all eight PDFs on drive thru RPG.


Post World Games 2014 Year End Report

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Gaming

11518597-funny-goat-sketch-symbol-of-2015-new-yearNothing like waiting until the last minute. Right?

Okay. Let’s get this started.

First off, I’d like to start with all the thank yous. Thank you to everyone big and small who helped this year. Even if you only bought one pdf, hearing the stories of what people are doing with my games is so much fun. Regardless of the sales/profit/business jargon side of things, the reason I do this is that I get to create games.

And I never get tired of creating games.

The Protocol game series is proof of these. There are now 40 games in the series. 40. That’s a lot of choices.

Before it’s over there will be 60 of these things. I have no idea if I have anymore in me after that, but I’d love to cap it at 100 Protocol games. How cool would that be?

But, I digress.

Those of you who were around for the 2013 year end report may have noticed that only about half of my plans came true. That said, I released 75 products in 2014 vs. 40 in 2013. So. I’m not exactly sad about what I was able to do.

However, it is true that I’m a little behind on work for those of you still waiting for GMZero and Toolcards 2.

There is a schedule/plan to get these games done. No fear. I might be late, but I will never cheat anyone.

2014 also saw the development of projects with Souljar Games, my other game company with Alyssa, Jack, and Ross. We are already started development on our next two board games, as well as two expansions for Cairn. For those of you not involved with what we’ve done so far, you can check out souljargames.com

So? What’s next?

The big plan for 2015 is the Dramatic Game Engine, a new roleplaying game system that I intend to release at least five games with, though not all this year. The first has already been announced — Bastille Day. You can read more about that elsewhere on this page or the internets.

bdlAdditional games using this system involve a scifi game, a game set in the an alternative 1960s America, and a dark fantasy game. I’m keeping the last one under wraps for now.


I also have a three game series of ‘society builder’ rpgs coming. They’ve been ready for development for sometime now, it’s just a matter of inventing more hours in the day. The first of the three is called Fairview and it’s set in a post-apocalyptic 1950s America. All three games play the same, but the styles are very different.

But that’s not all.

I still have three more games ready to go: NM156, 151 Minutes, and The Last 12 Hours. I think they need new names, though.

NM156 should be ready in the first quarter, while the other two need more writing. NM156 is an homage to Logan’s Run. 151 Minutes is a hostage stand off game with a gamemaster pitted against the players and the Last 12 Hours is a GMZero game in the style of Pulp Fiction or the Last Seduction.

Damn. I feel like I’m just spitting out information.

I’ve been awake for 22 Hours. So. Forgive me.

Finally, I’d like to announce the first Double Door Prize of 2015. I’d like to honor the amazing two-player game, Longhorn by Blue Orange. This game is everything I like about two-player games. Innovative, fast, tons of replay value, and a thorough understanding of its own design engine. Let’s not forget the gorgeous art as well. And for $20, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better. It even comes with 45 wooden cows.

Now. I just need to decide which prize icon to send them.

10626324_732841553478879_4860624810857695372_o 10860851_732841586812209_713463098204610858_oWell. I think that’s about it for the 2014 year end report. I’d like to give a final shout out to a few key people who made the year easier. Ruth Phillips, Karen Rucker, Tobie Abad, Timothy Hidalgo, Anthony Moro, Leslie Gilbert, Mike Leader, Rob Adams, and of course Diana Stoll, my rock star.

Have a great new year. I’m taking the first week of 2015 off, so I’ll be gone until the 8th.

Double Door Prize

Posted: December 29, 2014 in Gaming

PrintThis is going to sound strange, because game companies don’t do what I’m about to do. But I don’t usually do what is ‘normal.’

And I certainly don’t care what other game companies do.

Starting in 2015, I will begin offering an award to games that ‘rock my world.’ But I won’t be giving them out in specific categories and I won’t be awarding the prize out at regular intervals. In fact, the Double Door Prize will go to a game that particularly grabs my attention at the moment it does so.

Of course. There will be honorable mentions from the past, such as History of the World and Montsegur: 1244. But I could list games like that all day long.

The fact is, I want to honor games ‘moving forward.’ And since I have no qualms pointing people to games that are good, even if I didn’t make them, I think the Double Door Prize is an interesting step in more hobby ‘synergy.’

Gah. Did I just type the word ‘synergy?’

The Official Statement

The Double Door Prize is awarded to any product in the tabletop gaming milieu that evokes exceptional ideas, execution, and design. Products that inspire and advance the hobby in interesting directions — as judged by jim pinto — are awarded the Double Door Prize.

Why the Name?

Tobie Abad brought it to my attention that ‘pinto’ means ‘door’ in Filipino. Instantly, my mind thought Door Prize and the convergence of ideas happened. Of course, calling it Door Prize isn’t thematic to the adventure hobby, but a DOUBLE DOOR sure is. The logo just sort of happened.

Read the new here. Don’t wait until the end, spread the word now. Also, tell people they can get a single game for $1.


There’s no reason not to get involved at that level.


Cards Against Your Face

Posted: December 9, 2014 in Gaming

Just in time for the holidays, I’ve created and released three unofficial expansions to a famous, horrible, offensive, ‘you know what it is’ card game. The cards are print versions, not those ridiculous paper PDF things. Gross.

Each deck has a theme and includes 75 cards (55 white and 20 non-white cards) on premium paper.

cardsagainstcivilityCards Against Civility is themed around ‘those people’ who don’t seem to have manners and fit in with the rest of us. You know who you are. Audi Drivers top the list.



cardsagainsthumilityCards Against Humility is themed around events and people that/who embarrass us. Grandma kissing you in front of your friends would be an example, though it didn’t make the final cut, though watching porn with grandma in the room did.




cardsagainststupidityFinally, my favorite of the series is Cards Against Stupidity. This is just the kind of stuff that drives me nuts (and probably you, too). Seriously annoying and stupid things and people. My favorite from the deck is probably people who shave off their eyebrows and draw them back in with a sharpie pen. If you’re going to get one, get this one.