Large LEGO Worlds and Role Play

ffilz's picture

Over on Story Games and other forums over the years there have been various discussions of use of LEGO in gaming. I ran a bunch of Evil Stevie's Pirate Game (by Steve Jackson of GURPs). Since then, I have been slowly developing a large "Castle" "World". I'm always wondering how these creations might be used in a role playing game. So with that quick intro, here's a re-post from ( and the thread I split off from ):

Here's my latest work in progress (which has now mostly stalled for several years... I did build and display an "elf" building this year):

Oh, here is the most recent public display:

There are some pictures in the folder of other people's creations, but there are a bunch of pictures of my display which is 15' wide, 5' deep (next time I will ask for at least 20' wide, 5' deep...).

On a very related note, I have also run Evil Stevie's Pirate Game, here's a game at Origins:

It's a war game by Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games) that comes pretty close to an RPG. Here's the man himself playing in my game at another convention (he had fun, he mentioned that he rarely got to play, he was usually running the game):

BTW, the mountain with the waterfall and tunnel was originally build for trains:

But trains and pirates can go together:

This picture shows how in the past my display has been linked to others, the dividing line is where the style of grass changes:

This picture is actually from the first show where the mountain was converted from train to castle.

Feel free to browse around the folders and see other iterations.

Sadly I don't have all my pictures posted up, but searching around, here's my wharf scene in the context it was originally built for, a collaborative castle town in 2002 (so you can have an idea, my display didn't just happen over night, it's been built up over the course of almost 20 years (starting in 2000 if you include smaller elements like the ships with wolf head emblems on their custom made sails):

Future plans:

Finish the Wolfpack castle
Expand the "elf" kingdoms
Expand the troll/orc/goblin kingdoms
Complete the interior detailing
Add a new "Asian" section (inspired by the Ninjago City and the old Ninja sets from 2000ish - it will be somewhat higher tech, and I'll have to backdate the Ninjago City to make it less modern).
Find a place to add the Dragon Knights faction
Find a place to add the Bulls faction
Maybe add a middle-eastern themed area

I have enough brick and stuff to probably eventually populate a 30' to 40' run... Going deeper than 5' is tricky because of reach issues.

ffilz's picture

There were some questions about organization, so here's my responses:

Here's at least one coordination thread for the BrickFest 2002 castle walled town:

And here's a planning page with the layout:

I can't find all the planning threads for other displays, though here are a couple:

Oh, and here's the planning thread for 2012 which was the last display where my stuff really merged with others:

During the 2006 planning, there was a program that let one map out your display in terms of 8x8 studs. For the 2012 display, I started representing my stuff in miniature where 1 stud represents an 8x8 area.

This is the standard we started using in 2006:

Most folks no longer follow that standard, but I still like it.

Here are some other standards:

Many of these standards are sort of compatible since a plate height difference is not much of an issue and even a brick height difference works out ok. If the straight lines of elevation difference are distracting, you can easily break them up by putting a few plates (or bricks and slopes if the height difference is a brick) along the edges of the lower elevation modules.

As to general comments on organization, often larger displays are coordinated to join along the base level flat terrain or a large body of water. I could easily work smaller contributions into my display since much of my display is in 8x16, 16x16, 16x32, or 32x32 units (8x8 is hard to do with the standard I use since LEGO never came out with 8x8 base plates, however, I have made some by cutting...). 8x24 and 16x24 base plates also exist and are useful.

These days, base plates are rare, so one might use the 8x8, 8x16, and 16x16 plates (which if butted up against a base plate are just a bit thicker so can look ok).

And in response to questions about mixing people's collections and losing your stuff:

So with the collaborative builds, it's pretty clear where the boundaries are and there are almost no issues. I did lose some rock bits one time because they were out in the water and got cleaned up by another person and accidentally swept into their stuff. Supposedly they mailed them to me, unfortunately they relied on the address labels I had pasted on and not thought to update.

Outside of that, I have had an occasional piece go missing, or wound up with someone else's.

When running Evil Stevie's Pirate Game, we used only my stuff except for "islands" contributed by others. For the most part, these did not have anything that was intended to be removed. In one or two cases, we kept track of it, or when hidden treasure was discovered, we swapped out my treasure and returned the treasure that was in the creation to the creator.

If more mixing of parts may occur during play, some kind of accounting would be appropriate. I haven't worried about this issue so much, so I haven't thought of specific ways to handle it. With the ubiquity of smart phones these days, documenting your contributions with the smart phone camera seems like an easy way to handle it. It will also help in re-assembling things if some disassembly is part of the game (or accidental damage).

ffilz's picture

Gamifying is where I always get stuck. One could use the setup as the scenery for any of a number of skirmish wargames or a Braunstein or even just D&D. Evil Stevies Pirate Game is ultimately just a skirmish war game with sailing rules. One of the things some of us felt after playing ESPG was that the game play didn't really seem to riff on the LEGO that much. Sure, LEGO makes it easy to show the equipment changes your character goes through, on the other hand, it only does so by limiting the equipment list to what is available as LEGO parts (or easily buildable), and it's sort of limited to what the character wears and holds in their hands (unless you have an off board "pack"). For something like D&D, the size of the game world may seem limiting.

With my Castle World representing more than just one village surrounding a castle, one would want some kind of rules abstraction to put more distance between the places, but it can't simply be ruler measurements. You could make various terrain features that are traversed indicate distance. The "sea" is certainly one of those. But do you make a river crossing represent a journey? If so, and you have a river running through something that really looks like a single scene (say a canal city, or a farm with a stream running through it), do you really make it be a journey to go from one part of the scene to another? Now maybe if one was purpose building the "world" for game play, one would place the terrain features so the journey rules work logically with them, but in my case, I'm building from inspiration, and then considering: "wouldn't it be cool to be able to run a game in this world?"

So there's a lot to consider. One thought I have is that considering the number of LEGO sets that are some kind of cart or wagon transporting a treasure chest is that at least for a journey, transporting treasure should require using a cart or wagon.

It also would be interesting to have some kind of "build" rules in the game, and I have had ideas of players building new things at home and bringing them to the next game session, but the collection mixing issues and the number of players who would have enough LEGO to contribute is a barrier. There's also the space consideration. When I was single, I MAYBE could have purchased enough folding tables to set this up in my living room that I didn't really use (but I might still have run out of space, or had to sacrifice the dining room table which I did use). So it would probably have to be a convention game, but it would be cool to have it be a "living campaign" where dedicated players could come to subsequent conventions and continue playing the same character(s).


komradebob's picture

I don't remember whether we discussed it before or not, but are you familiar with the stuff about Raven's Nest? I've only heard about it second hand myself, and what exists still online isn't really much help when trying to find out about it.

So, back in the 80s/90s in Australia, there was a guy who did their game convention circuit with an ever expanding, ever evolving fantasy city layout that he home-built, and named Raven's Nest. So, basically Braunstein type scenarios, right? After some time, he passed away and the physical terrain was apparently lost. Also, the rules were just as much an evolutionary thing as the city of Raven's Nest itself ( I heard it started pretty small, then literally evolved, since over the course of several months between conventions, he had time to build and add or replace earlier models).

But, like a good fantasy setting, he kept adding to the history/mythology over time. The scenarios would be chronological, each building from the last, sometimes separated by decades or longer of in-universe time. So it also became a campaign, but not a consistent group campaign. Yet, apparently, he ended up getting a fair number of return players who also brought in more friends in following conventions. I think probably the characters changed as well, from scenario to scenario, or at least the players did.

That might be an approach you could take too, or in some modified form. I know I've been thinking a whole lot more about similar concepts for the stuff I would like to do and how it might be better for conventions, or at least for party/event type games that occur every now and then, rather than any sort of on-going gaming.

As for some of the movement and distance related stuff, I'm very seriously considering the use of timers for movement between "zones"/"sets/locations/whatevers.

I recently ( like two nights ago) looked at a free miniatures wargame rule that combined timer controlled movement turns with otherwise pretty much semi-freeform movement, and thought hat might have some application for big table, multiplayer games like the kind you're building for.

Finally, for the kinds of minis "movie" games that I've thought about, I also started considering getting really a bit more meta-meta-meta ( meta-cubed?), and trying to figure out ways to essentially have layers challenge me to create a scenario, using my stuff, but their ideas, in some kind of formalized procedure. Something like that might be worth considering too, then pairing it with your ideas about group builds for the layout.

As always, I'm really fascinated with your ideas for this stuff, and can't wait to hear where you take the concepts.

ffilz's picture

One thing that definitely hinders actual game development at this point is that I really don't have a solid venue to actually set up and play. With what our family looks like, me disappearing for a long or extra-long weekend to setup and run something with my Castle World would be out of the question. So really all I can do is occasionally dream about possibilities. Heck, I don't even manage that much build time anymore (it was much easier to disappear for 3-4 hours in the evening two or three times a week before kids, now I get one evening of 2-3 hours a week for Roll20 gaming and two more evenings of 1-2 hours (with a rare maybe up to 3 hours opportunity on one of those evenings).

Tod's picture

I don't know how feasible this is, but have you considered perhaps running it online and using multiple cameras/phones to display different views of the structure? Maybe one overhead and one or two lateral shots.

ffilz's picture

Online could deal with the problem of not being able to set up the whole thing at home (I just set up portions to represent scenes), on the other hand, something is lost by not seeing the whole setup. Online would lose the tactile effect. It might also be tricky to show details that could be relevant without over-highlighting them (that's an advantage of a physical setup, you have the opportunity to make hidden things discoverable by observation rather than having to rely on dice rolls). Of course setting up for photo shoots and packing back away would add a lot of handling time to a possibly already slow play structure (it would horribly slow down live play like Roll20, and could really slow down play by post).

komradebob's picture

Are you familiar with Rangers of Shadow Deep?

It's a minis game, but very playable solo. What's happening in the fan community is that lots of folks are playing the designer made scenarios for it to such a degree that the become a common experience, a bit like The Keep on the Borderlands was for early(ish) D&D players. But, because it's thoroughly modern, people are sharing their particular miniatures/terrain collections online in photos through the game's Facebook page.

And then they're going on to add their own scenarios to the file section, along with other game related stuff like rules variants, re-skins, and useful documents and forms and widgets.

IOW, it's a new way of taking Lonely Fun and sharing it, even while still being a mostly solo activity.

I think it's kinda neat because, like you, I have gaming I'd like to do that's very toy-heavy and that alone creates some sorts of difficulties in schedule organizing and setting up/breaking down, that other sorts of gaming really don't have to regularly deal with.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

@ffilz Frank, a few times I've seen you mention the question about how to create a game that really takes advantage of the minifigures as minifigures rather than just stand-ins for white metal miniatures. I also have this question, but no good answer (yet). Would you me interested in talking about this in a new thread.

ffilz's picture

@komradebob Hmm, that would be an interesting way to do something. Such a thing would still have to be set pieces from my Castle World since I can't set up the entire thing. That would be super cool if I could set it up and keep it set up.

@Hopeless_Wanderer We could just talk here, but if you start another thread I'll follow that one also.

Tod's picture

Sure, LEGO makes it easy to show the equipment changes your character goes through, on the other hand, it only does so by limiting the equipment list to what is available as LEGO parts (or easily buildable), and it's sort of limited to what the character wears and holds in their hands (unless you have an off board "pack").

An off-board "pack" is not a terrible idea. But aside from that, this situation seems to me to call out for the simplest of PC affordances - two hand-held items, one back-mounted item and maybe color-coded armor, using a very simple almost "gamist" system like Melee & Wizard from Steve Jackson's "The Fantasy Trip" (I'm sure someone else can suggest a more recent alternative, but the utter simplicity of the system is appealing in a way that fuses just a little RP into a mini/wargame/boardgame). It could be a high-powered survival scenario: high-powered monsters, high-powered characters, only a handful of weapons and accoutrements, and bits of LEGO body parts blown off by powerful magicks!

komradebob's picture

Hey, can we necro this topic a bit?

I know we were focusing on Lego, but I thought of something that relates kind of generally to this topic, as well as some of the gaming minis stuff that's similar to what I want to do. I'm not sure how much this impacts Lego gaming, since the possibility of re-use/rebuilding is higher with Lego.

"Towns" are central to this type of gaming, so how do we keep things interesting, in terms of plots/adventures, when "town" is central to play?

[ "Town" is in quotes here because it's a stand-in for something closer to "built up area of relative peace where the bulk of the action is going to take place and which, while it may evolve through our hobbyist inclinations through time, is the most frequently used and most stable area of play". Okay, that definition sucked, but run with it. What I'm saying is Downton Abbey, the building, is more of a "town" for purposes of this discussion than the village in that TV series that the Manor is supposedly attached to. Similarly, in a fantasy setting, a castle might be more important, and more developed physically than a surrounding village, thus more of a "town". Or, maybe a dungeon is the "town" if the play is gonna focus on the dungeon inhabitants, and the human "town" is a semi abstracted, much less developed area that only occasionally shows up. In a Star Trek inspired form of play. perhaps the Enterprise is more of a Town than the planet of the week areas. In a DS9 inspired Trek game, the Deep Space 9 station is absolutely more of a town, although perhaps only parts of DS9 are really the Town, while less frequently used areas aren't.]

Anyway, my real point and question is this: When there is the focus on Town ( it's easier and more sensible in many ways to focus on this first, then have smaller less developed "satellite" locales, perhaps temporary ones from session/adventure to session/adventure0, how do you keep the adventures fresh and interesting?

Damn, gotta rush to work. I'm not sure how coherent that was, with limited coffee in my system. When folks respond, I can expand further, and hopefully we can work this around to also help not just me but FFilz also with part of their issues.

DeReel's picture

Maybe you mean "home" ?
I agree that it seems more practical to have a basic set, and to declare places in it or off it for diverse situations. This leaves time for building the new sets beforehand, and only after it is clear the location can't stay simply declared. (I am all for declarative sets, "This is the forest of Arden"-style, I am lazy that way)

komradebob's picture

In the sense of home town, sure. More like, home for the adventures/events.

If I understand what you mean about areas simply being declared, I think I agree.

I hope I understand. In your example, perhaps we are playing along in a game, and someone ( a GM, a player) declares that small area off trees on the table to be the Forest of Arden. It's Good Enough for that game. Later, in a sequel game, perhaps the owner of the terrain builds out a bigger space, since player interest seems to fall onto having more events take place in The Forest of Arden.

Is that what you were getting at?

That approach seems to follow the natural progression that some well-know ( like Raven's Nest) table layouts took over time ( and multiple conventions). It seems a bit like what FFilz inherently does too.

It's a bit different from what I have done in the past. I tend to follow more of a wargamer mentality, where general purpose terrain is made/collected, and repositioned/recombined on a game by game basis. I'm beginning to think that this is a bit too limiting in some ways, at least as far as long-term fictional development goes.

DeReel's picture

You read me perfectly. It's the drama vs wargame polarity at work. I never see children adding sets after the first installation, but they change characters. When they change location, they do exactly what you say, enrolling out-of-game objects if need be. And I love those moments of sincere breaking the 4th wall in theatre too.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

My thoughts on this haven't really changed since we discussed this in the minis+ threads, but I will repeat what I said there for the benefit of anyone new reading this, or anyone familiar who has forgotten. The setup that Frank has is awesome, but not really attainable for most people just starting out. So, my thoughts on this are these: just like you have a cast of stock-characters (who can be developed into fully-fledged characters through story-play; you need a set of stock-locations. The choice of these stock-locations will be determined by your genre. One of the locations, where the most important events are likely to occur should be the most developed and detailed. I'm not really sure that I agree that it should be the characters' home (base), unless you are telling a certain kind of "monster" of the week story, or Fawlty Towers/Are You Being Served story.

DS9 was a Fawlty Towers, and Star-trek was a monster of the week kind of story, so was Buffy (quite literally), so they had the station, the ship, and the library, respectively. But consider a story/genre like Conan. What would be required? Well, in my mind, you need a half dozen or more compressed (I'm using this word in the sense that Bob introduced it on S-G) dioramas, a few trees (as mentioned) for an escape or mysterious encounter, a bridge for a challenged-crossing or a last stand, a hut for an encounter with a crazy shaman, a few others that fit the genre, and a well-detailed temple complex where Conan is going to fight the beasts sent by whatever god or goddess he has pissed off. The compressed set pieces are the ones that are always going to stay the same; you just need enough so that you're not using the same ones for every chapter of your story; the place where the final conflict or cliff-hanger is going to happen in each chapter will be continually different for each story/adventure/module within your campaign. It will have to be built anew for each chapter of your chronicle. So to summarize, I think that the notion about a home needs to be modulated depending on the genre of story you are trying to emulate.

komradebob's picture

I suggest that we give a working name to these two common approaches and work on the practicalities of each, then come back together and try to figure the right balance of overlap?

Let's call one The Hometown Centered and the other the Adventure Site Centered. I think we all pretty much know what each means, although I'm open to much more clever titles.

Suggestions for topics of exploration on each of these two types:

A) Initial build/collection and the thinking behind it.
Talking about the physical "stuff".
B) Planned and directed expansion
How, how much, when , and why and when not to
C) What makes adventures work with this type of approach
what doesn't work as well
D) How do we approach this successfully with our real world budgets of time, space, and money

On a personal note, what got me thinking about this recently ( in the past few days) was an urge to engage in a little retail therapy and invest heavily in an entirely new genre for me and my existing collection ( Cold War Spies by way of Movies and TV) and was trying to do that with a Hometown centered approach inspired by the original, early1980s Top Secret starter module Sprechenhaltestelle. Normally that genre seems waaaaaay more associated with Adventure Site Centered play, so it got my mind working on how the whole thing could potentially work with the other approach.

ffilz's picture

A lot to absorb. Don't feel bad about necroing this thread, until we have enough varied discussion of this general idea to justify a sub-forum somewhere, I'd like to keep as much discussion in as few threads as possible so we can all find it...

@komradebob - yea, you've hit on one of the issues for me. Obviously you don't clean out the "town" like a dungeon. But I like the idea of being able to add temporary satellite locations, though for my building, most likely anything I build will be a permanent addition.

@Hopeless_Wanderer - yes, someone just starting out, and for many folks in general, a huge permanent setup is unlikely, though someone using official sets could grow a full table over the course of a few years just buying all the sets for a single LEGO theme as they come out.

Certainly a central bit will be a cast of recurring characters. Series like Downton Abbey are a good model for what the cast will be like. There will be central characters, peripheral characters, guest characters, and one-off minor characters. Actually, looking at the structure of the Downton Abbey show might be a good way to inform play in the style of world I'm setting up. Sure, my "central set" encompasses a larger area as compared to Downton Abbey where the central set is a single castle (and I would argue a FEW other locations are part of the central set), but I think looking at the types of conflict, and particularly for an RPG, the types of external pressures create the conflict within an episode. Play in a setup like this won't be "dungeon clearing" though some of that could be introduced by introducing a new location, and allowing the character's to "tame" it so it becomes part of the ongoing setting.

On another note, my setup is modular, so large portions of it COULD be used for a more "one time setup" wargame, but that's not really the direction of my interest.


komradebob's picture

Yeah right now the bee in my bonnet is all about the idea of a long term display and how to focus stories/adventures there with some minor excursions to Other Places. Part of my reasoning is simple practicality:As a central a display becomes more intricate, it just plain becomes much harder to move and also tends to take up more and more space.

Once you reach a certain point, even not having the semi-permanent central display becomes a problem if you have somewhat limited space. I've ended up with shelving I never thought I'd need just to keep mobile piece terrain somewhat organized. :D

Now, the other reason I partly wanted that Big Central Set Up was simply because it seems to work better for creating situations where direct and obvious combat are not the default, and thus making adventures where they aren't a more obvious choice as well. Or, if not that, at least some other interactions.

Hopeless_Wanderer: As I recall the conversations you're referring to, the earlier example wasn't Conan, but Arthurian inspired stories. If that's the case, I could see a "county" making more sense as the central display than a particular "town" or castle or starship.

Conan strikes me as being a bit more traditionally D&D-ish in a way ( or maybe, D&D is a bit more Conan-ish ?) in that part of the charm of the stories is travel to exotic locales, and not much revisiting of the same place.

If that is correct, then how does that impact the stories and build style?

(Come to think of it, that might be perfect for conventions and Lego: Each year or convention season, you challenge yourself and anyone else involved to a new build project based on a new part of Hyboria for Conan's adventures to take place. Hmm)

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

@komradebob You've got a good memory... yes, my original example used Arthurian stories. I wanted to vary it up a bit with a different example.

I'm kind of at a loss for what to suggest here because for me the kind of story-play that I find interesting involves physical journey--and that's antithetical to Big LEGO Worlds (BLW). That's really a key realization I've just come to, which you two probably already understood and took for granted. I'll try to recalibrate my thinking so that I'm making a more direct contribution to what you and Frank are trying to do.

If you think about DS9 (i.e. a Fawlty Towers), and what would make it work as a BLW, it had a worm-hole that constantly spat out new threats and challenges. It also had fronts (cf. PbtA) with minor but regularly appearing characters who were connected to or represented those fronts: the Kardasian expats, the Bajoran government trying to rebuild their world, the Kardasian government/military trying to disturb the peace so they could reclaim their former colony, the Bajoran religious sects all seeking temporal and sacred power, and the segment of Bajoran partisans who weren't happy with the peace and wanted retribution for outstanding war-crimes. It had a history of recent conflict that was more wall-papered over than resolved with a third group trying to maintain the peace (i.e. the Federation). It also had a host of minor interests represented by mostly one-off travellers coming to the station. DS9 had two focal locations, what you called "homes", Quark's bar and the bridge of the station. In this set-up, the PCs are representatives of the Federation.

As for rules/game design, it seems like Apocalypse World, Blades in the Dark, or even Danger Patrol (Beta) would be where I would start looking for ideas.

So, to make this applicable to Frank's Castle, you need:

  • Your castle, especially it's throne room where lots of debates, decisions, and adventures will start, and where the epilogue will likely occur (equivalent to the bridge of DS9)
  • places where your different factions/fronts claim jurisdiction (their home base, their church/temple/shrine, or the tavern they frequent, etc.),
  • some generic places where some random factional/front trouble can occur, i.e. the village (equivalent to the concourse and shops on DS9),
  • a place where the PCs congregate when they haven't been summoned by the king/queen, e.g. the village well, tavern, or something similar (i.e Quark's),
  • the Perilous Forest, a mountain, swamp, or cave complex, where new threats can be found or emerge from,

As for minis/minifigures, the PCs are the king/queen's men/women but you need some red-shirts too, you also need to represent the fronts with regular re-usable minifigures. The threats from the worm-hole are going to be one-offs, so are the travelers with unique interests.

Was that helpful? I feel like I am telling you what you already know. I hope that I'm understanding the gist of your dilemma, but I feel like I am not.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

The reason that I mentioned Apocalype World isn't because I have any special affection for it (or any disaffection either). It just seems to be based on surviving in a hardhold (home base), village life, and the threats that arrive from off-screen to disrupt or endanger "the home" and that seems closest in terms of game design to what you are looking for. Maybe other games like this exist, but I don't know of them.

DeReel's picture

This discussion made appearing the "anchoring" of characters in the world. The ability/skill/perk system (if any) is linked to that : if the protagonists are travelers, fixed contacts won't be of any use. They will take the form of organizations or guilds (this implies a certain kind of world) or pure charisma (a talent for persuasion seen only in fiction and Lawrence of Arabia's misdemeanours).

komradebob's picture


It really has helped me a great deal. A number of points you mentioned have helped me to clarify some broad, vague concepts I've been trying to struggle my way through.

So, partly to follow up on what you posted about necessary areas for "Home" to have, I will try to toss out there something so absurdly simple that I'm not sure why I didn't think of it years back. I can only assume it was because I was blinded by tradition of another sort.

  1. The layout table doesn't need to be a rectangle.
  2. Multiple small layout tables can be used.
  3. Multiple layout tables of different sizes and configurations can be used.
  4. A layout table can have permanent areas and also designated temporary areas.
  5. "Home" can change and evolve between games, provided it is recognizably home, and those changes can reflect either physical ( fictional) change or a focus ( zoom in/zoom out) change.

So, right, I know some of you are laughing about how obvious all of this is ( I would too), but I'm trying to clarify all of this and get it written down so as not to have to retread it too much in the future.

I was initially ( probably from minis wargaming experience) very fond of always thinking in terms of rectangles for layout table shape. After all, my inexpensive foldout table came in a convenient 6' Long x 2' Wide) shape. Put two butted up against one another and you have pretty much The Common Wargame Table size and shape ( get 8' x 2' and you've arrived as a home wargamer!).

Step one in my thinking about this was the realization that I could formalize a grid of locations on that layout, by making locations of a standard 2' x 2' size and putting out 6 of those ( or 8 on the larger rectangles). Each could become either a part of Home, or, as Hopeless Wanderer talks about, a key location outside of a Home.

Equally important, provided some kind of break was shown between areas, they could show general directional relationships and, to a limited extent, distance. The areas, however, did not need to be in exact scale to one another ( and when sailing/space ships are on one unit and the interior of a bar on another, they could even feasibly be wildly off scale to one another).

Okay, good so far, right? You can visualize all that ( if not, let me know and I will try out some of my horrible graphics skills …)

Not so much of a breakthrough, but still different from a standard wargame table, if only because it posits 6/8 small square areas/battlefields, rather than one big area/battlefield.

But, what are the implications of an L shape layout instead ( aside from likely being easier to actually play on, since less reaching is involved)? Howabout a Tetris style Z shape? Or, what about two tables side by side, but not butted up against one another, more like parallel lines ( or the number 11)? What about tables, plural, of entirely different shapes, scattered around an area, like a 4' diameter round table, a 2' x 4' table and a smallish 2.5' square card table ?

Yeah, I had a lot of caffeine. Anyway, it sparked some thinking, again, not just for visual reasons, but also for some practical ones as well, and some implications for in-fiction play as well.

Bringing it back to Frank and his thoughts though, this is what I came up with this morning, after I read H-W's post:

Howabout a layout that looks a bit like this, based on a pair of 2' x 6' tables ( vary to taste and space) and 2' x 2' location units:

Province....Home 1.... TBA
TBA………..Home 2...Province

(God, I hope the formatting stays right on that)

Each word represents a 2x2 layout unit on a pair of 2x 6 tables.

Home1 and Home2 represent permanent areas for the layout. Home1 might be castle interior rooms of importance, with the boundary to Home2 being the castle gates and wall and Home2 being a village with key building interiors accessible. Scale difference is very slight.
The Province units represent areas of interest outside of Home, more like what Hopeless Wanderer was talking about wrt to Arthurian stuff and Conan stuff. Is the scale different? Maybe. But if it is relatively similar scale and the area is supposed to be bigger ( Province 1 = Forest of Ald) what is actually built there mostly represents the most interesting/most visited site within the larger imagined area.

TBA= To Be Announced. These areas are specifically set aside for adventure-specific location unit builds. For this adventure today, we're going to Pirate Island. Okay, one of those spaces will be built to represent Pirate Island for this adventure. It may change status later on through repeated play or be simply forgotten if no one ever returns to Pirate Island.

Now, that's with a basic pair of rectangle tables. Cool right?

But once we take that concept and break up that rectangle into other options, now we are really cooking with gas, and possibly opening up some concepts for group play or building being incorporated, especially with Lego.

komradebob's picture

I also have been thinking about the style you prefer H_W, and how I might go about that with gaming minis. Will post here about it later, but not sure how you'd swing the same concept with Lego, so you may have to do some translating between the mediums.

ffilz's picture

Dividing the table up or breaking it up or using a non-rectangular shape are all good ideas for game play. I had actually thought about dividing the table up, but rather than doing so with some kind of boundary, I was actually thinking in terms of creating tight clusters in the display, with open space between them, the space could be a field, forest, or sea. There could be roads, tracks, or paths across it. But the idea is that sure, this castle and that castle are separated by at most a few feet (or base plates, with LEGO it's handy to think in terms of 32x32 base plates) of table space but that space is considered to represent a much larger distance. Of course that would limit the encounters, but then many game systems abstract long journeys, maybe having a single encounter or event opportunity during the journey.

If I was to try playing at home, I think I'd actually have to go with the idea of conceptually multiple table spaces. I'd then make it a significant journey between sites, because then the idea would be that I would set up a portion of the "world" and leave it set up for awhile. Then when the PCs move to a different space, I put away what's been set up and set up the next bit.

komradebob's picture

If you go GMless ( or semi-GMless) having them separated also creates something a bit like a LARP* style effect if the tables are far enough apart.

*Well certain kinds of LARPs anyway. I mostly played LARPs with big groups in things like multiple room clubs or houses ( Vampire Larp, mostly). Anyway, the idea is the same: players break up into smaller groups and get up to things without the whole group being involved.

As for setting up and breaking down, I was mostly thinking in terms of having a semi permanent display Home ( possibly partially disassembled between sessions, but able to be pulled out and reassembled in sub ten minute time frame) that would be set up on game day, and then other layouts, all pre-set up as the TBA/adventure-specific areas. Those ones could probably be almost entirely disassembled and put away as components, since they're one-offs.

Having said that, are there programs to either record builds or pre-plan builds with Lego? That might be really useful for what Hopeless_Wanderer was talking about. Having a record or blue print for common area types ( keyed I supposed to the standardized base sizes would be helpful too) for putting stuff together before game day. Plus, you then have the info ready if that one-off area becomes a recurring location to visit.

For the gaming minis, the closest equivalent that I currently consider viable for playing with lots of location changes and where lots of space is not currently available to play on is 2D layout ( printed maps, basically) with minimal 3D enhancement ( spot terrain like furniture or the odd bush, tree, doorframe, wall inside). I'd keep it minimal, simply because I feel building a layout during play is a momentum killer in general. That last bit is a major reason I don't care for dry erase boards or mats, even beyond any aesthetic snobbery. I had started looking hard into this option first when I was considering running some adventures inspired by the original Ravenloft module and later when I thought about doing some games in the Paranoia setting Alpha Complex.

In the case of Paranoia, I realized some foam-core sheets turned into geomorphic terrain really did hit a sort of appropriate aesthetic for Paranoia (trapped like rats in an ever repeating maze) and would be much easier to deploy and re-use, and even vary with a few 3D pieces.

With Ravenloft, I had no urge to build too much of Barovia in 3D, at least ;lnot for a single short campaign. I went through printable terrain sets made by a creator whose work I like that are sold on Drivethru RPG, found several that I felt hit the key 5-8 locations in the original module ( and some that inspired variation- hey, I customize every adventure) and made a list of those. I missed the mid-summer 60% off sale, but I have them on my wishlist, should it come up again.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

@komradebob asked,

[A]re there programs to either record builds or pre-plan builds with Lego? That might be really useful for what Hopeless_Wanderer was talking about. Having a record or blue print for common area types...

There are many. The most well-known is LEGO Digtal Designer (LDD). It's LEGO's version of a CAD program for designing LEGO projects and creating instruction booklets.

David Artman's picture

I like the threads going in here, as a long-time LEGO head.

I trust folks are aware of Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack (mech combat) and Alpha Bandit (space ships and tiny mechs)? It not only does the visualization thing (systems on units are apparent) but it also leverages LEGOness by having terrain/cover get blasted to pieces and having units lose systems, literally dropping the pieces that comprise them on the playing field. They also have objectives and such.

Not really much "RPG", true. But as a simulationist system on top of which RPG elements could be layered, it's pretty solid. The real key, I think, is ignoring minifigs: build up your character using all sorts of pieces and visualizations. (A minifig could be a golem familiar! ;) )

komradebob's picture

At this point, I've seen a number of games ( board games, minis games) that are so close to things I am sure are absolutely, 100% unquestionably roleplaying games that I think we need a term like, I dunno, "Demi-RPG" to describe them.

In general though, have we discovered at least some preliminary things about this kind of Big Lego World ( and the ever related Big Mini World) stuff that we can clarify down and state as a start towards producing Best Practices type advice, if not set-in-stone mechanics?

Also, since Hopeless_Wanderer was talking about almost a mirror version of BLW [ Home Centered], I guess more BLW [Travel Locale Centered], have we sussed out some general concepts we can write up to make that work more easily?

[After that, let's talk about he evolution of recurring locations and growing collections thoughtfully. I'd like to eventually create a useful advice-filled document to help folks already inclined to use this physical stuff in play to do so more easily and with less trial-and-error, especially since so much real world time/money/effort tends to be involved with any toy use in games]

komradebob's picture

While I know this is starting to veer wildly off track for this conversation, my personal crossover point ( or at least a major one) for where a toy using ( boardgame, minis game, Lego using game) goes from a simple high color game-game to an RPG has something to do with Player ( as opposed to designer or designer/GM) input into what happens or exists in the fictional setting.

And yes, I know that is the vaguest of the vague statements. :)

Right now, I have on my storage shelves copies of Star Saga, Mansions of Madness, and Last Night on Earth. Each one is incredibly close to an RPG. In fact, I bought them because of this and because they almost made more sense for genres that I wanted to play about in, but didn't necessarily want to go fully into a brand new, traditional style RPG to play in.

Yet each, IMO, is missing some small something that keeps it from being an RPG.

Whatever that something is, the kinds of Lego or Minis -using games we've been talking about really needs that something also.

[ My actual suspicion is that it is a subtle combination of somethings, but that's even harder to pin down...]

ffilz's picture

Yes I know Peter. I didn't actually play in his BrickQuest games when we had active gaming at Gencon but I observed some play and looked at his setup. It's basically Dwarven Forge with LEGO (which has real advantages) along with a simple game system. It could totally be played as an RPG instead of as a board game. A Dungeon setting has a replay advantage in that the bulk of the setup is passages, basic rooms, stairs, and other "common" stuff. You could then build a few custom pieces for a specific scenario and customize the detailing of some of the rest to keep prep and setup time minimal.

As to what may be missing from games, look at how 1974 D&D differs from a war game. To me the key is the Lumpley Principle as that is what guides the improvisational play outside the bounds of a typical wargame.