Foundations of Play

This is a set of guides for designing and running games around the players and the themes they want to engage and that the setting might encourage.

Foundations of Play is inspired by Skeleton World and PUSH.


Every game has a concept, a top-level idea that should summarise what the game is about and evoke how to play it in players.

The concept doesn't need to be anything fancy. Even with just a couple of sentences, you can imply factions, historical events, and a major plot point.


Once you good a concept, list what major themes this game is about. Your themes will remind you where to go to when you are stuck, and help set expectations for all players involved.

Your list of themes doesn't need to be comprehensive but should cover the main and most sensible ones.


The pillars of play are certain boundaries expected to be always true in the game and the setting.

As an example, look at the Pillars of fantasypunk:

  • heroic fantasy: the world is alive and vibrant, and it doesn’t revolve around you;
  • wondrous and mundane: magic exists and it is wondrous and wild, althout it is hardly world breaking, if at all;
  • humanity is relative: people are complicated, diverse, and often conflicted but are mostly kind and willing to do good;
  • monstrosity is relative: the real monsters are those who stand against happiness, love and the freedom of being, usually by choice or complacency;
  • no hat fits all: no individuals, communities, religions or cultures are single-minded, unilateral or exclusive.

Although the pillars of play touch the fiction, they are directed at the players, informing them what limits there are and expanding upon the Themes established.


The Agenda is a set of goals that help push the game toward its themes and pillars.

A good Agenda is aware of what tropes, genres, and cliches should be encouraged to hit the game concept and help guide players towards it. You should cover at least the basics below:

  • Play to find out what happens;
  • Deliver the world according to its concept and pillars;
  • Deliver action in line with the themes;
  • Engage Calibration Procedures (safety tools) liberally.

Improve and grow this agenda according to the game you want to play.


If the Agenda represents the goals of the characters and players in the game, Principles represent just how to go about achieving these goals.

I would say that the list below should cover most situations:

  • sprinkle evocative details;
  • name everyone, make everyone human;
  • create tension, not plots;
  • address yourself to the characters, not the players;
  • be a fan of the player characters;
  • ask provocative questions and build on the answers.

You should improve and change this list according to the game you are going for.

Individual Agenda and Principles

Player characters can have individual sets of Agendas and Principles that add to the game's core. These Agendas and Principles are great for pushing characters towards their own goals, creating subplots and story arcs, and even helping players bring them to life.

Rule Expanded: End of Session

If characters have individual Agendas or Principles, at the end of the session, each player character gets +1 XP if they engaged those during the session.



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