Burn Everything Gaming

RPGs and more

Game Design: Start With Nothing, End With Awesome


Previously, Joshua had talked about starting a game in a Dark Room. The basic premise is you start with literally nothing and everyone creates a story from that. I (Taylor) wanted to work with that idea and come up with my own version and give you all the tools you need to make a good story. As with his example, I will be using the Fate Core system but this could just as easily be used with FAE.


We will start with the normal stuff:

  • Fate Dice
    • If you don’t have any you can convert regular d6
  • Character Sheet
    • Regular Fate Core Character Sheet
    • I used a modified version you can find Here (I really like Social Stress)
  • Pencils
  • Pieces of paper for notes and Aspects
  • Storytelling attitude

Now that you have your normal supplies, we will start with the unique items for this game:

  • GM Sheet
    • Very simple sheet that tells you when and how to run things for this 1 shot.
  • Skill List
    • As with most Fate Games, each game can have its own unique skill list. I tried to make this one as open as possible because you don’t know what direction the story is going to go.
    • Players can use this to fill in their skills as they go.
  • Stunt Sheet
    • As with the Skill list, you want to leave this open.
    • You can also make your own version, this is just for example.
    • By the end of the game everyone should have 3 of these skills.
    • Before the game you want to cut the Stunt sheet (picture below) so you can easily give them to players



From this point you should follow the GM Sheet. The first step is to give all your players just 1 Fate point. They will be using this to create something about this Dark Room. Remind the players that they are not characters yet. This is just to create the room.

This exercise has many purposes. The first is it gives them an idea of how Fate Points can be used to create things in the world. For new players it helps them understand how much power a Fate Point has. When they request to make something you can decide if that is okay, or if they get more or less.

Example: Timmy wants to use his Fate point to create a “Breeze” in the room. The GM, and other players could think he could get more for the Fate point and say he could a breeze AND something flying around. This sets the power level for the Fate point in this game so, further into the story, they have an idea of the kind of things they can create. Susan could say “I want to create lots of boxes and an open door”. Everyone could discuss and decide that lots of boxes will work great, but having an open door would be too much.

The second purpose of this exercise is to put Aspects on the scene. These can be used later to show players how Aspects work.

Once everyone has created something about the scene, we move to Step 2. In this step you will hand out blank character sheets. You will then ask them “How is your Character detained in this room”. This will be a discussion heavy part of the game. Let each player discuss the reasons they think they are being detained.

Going through this discussion you are trying to get 3 Aspects: High Concept, Trouble, and 1 additional Aspect. As each player is creating these Aspects for their character give them 1 Fate point for each one they create until every player has 3 Aspects and 3 Fate points.

This part of the exercise will also help build the world your characters inhabit.

Note: During this time, you want to bounce around from player to player so each one has a chance to work out things about their character. Players are of course encouraged to work together to come up with these things. If they decide that their characters know each other

Example: John says “I am looking for someone”. This means he won’t leave this room until he finds the person or information he is looking for, this is what is detaining him. “Why are you looking for this person?” someone could ask. John thinks about things already created for the room and remembers that Susan made “lots of boxes” as an Aspect for the scene. “I used to work for the mob and I am looking for information on a kid I am trying to protect. I am thinking there is some information about him in some of these boxes.”

With that information from John we already learn a lot. We can come up with the High Concept of “Ex Mob Goon”. We learn that while he used to work for the mob, instead of getting far away he is putting his neck out to help some kid. This is definitely something worth a Trouble Aspect of “soft spot for kids” or something about helping kids. We also know that since nothing in the room is physically detaining him there, but he won’t leave until he finds the information he wants, that he is probably of the tenacious type. We could come up with an additional Aspect of “Won’t let it go” or something of the sort. With just that little bit of information we have 3 Aspects about a character and where his story starts. We also learn something about the world we just created. We have learned that in this world there is a mob. Does that mean we are playing a 1940s game? Not exactly. Another player could decide they are a wizard and it would still work. No one ever said wizards and mobs didn’t exist in the same world. Just remember to be fluid with the players and what they create.


1st Scene

In this first scene you want to do a few things:

  • Have characters interact with each other.
    • This is a good time for them to work out their histories, either joined or individual, and for them to get a good feeling for their character.
  • Have characters find ways to interact with the room.
    • This is a good chance for them to get a feeling for how their character reacts in different situations.
  • Make ways for the characters to work together.
    • This could be a history with each other, either known to the PCs or not.
    • This could be an unknown enemy that has brought them together for reasons they do not know yet.
    • Key thing is work with the players and get a good feel for what kind of story they want to tell.
  • Try to have every character have at least 1 stunt by the end of the first scene.
    • Whenever one of the things happens on the left side of the “Stunt sheet” happens, tear off that particular stunt and give that to a player. They will place it on their character sheet so it looks like this.


Ending of Scene 1

Once you feel like the players are a little comfortable with their characters and have a decent idea for what kind of story and setting they are in, you want to get them out of the room. This is best done by invoking one of the previously created scene aspects to get them out.

Example: Jim, the GM, thinks it is time to get this story going. Knowing one of his characters is an ex-mob guy trying to stay below the radar, he decides to invoke the scene aspect of “Something flying in the room” to make it drones with camera’s. This promotes the player characters to get out of the warehouse so they aren’t spotted by whoever is controlling the drones.

Beyond Scene 1

At this point, the story can go lots of ways. It will be the GM’s job to guide them. It is best to keep dropping hints and pushing for a shared goal, while keeping the story believable in whatever setting you and the players have created. This is their world, let them have some fun but keep working towards them being able to resolve their characters issues in dramatic fashion.

If anyone uses these tools we would love to hear how your story turned out. Enjoy!

Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

4 thoughts on “Game Design: Start With Nothing, End With Awesome

  1. Pingback: Thube Time pt.1 | Burn Everything Gaming

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