Finger Paint Your Setting.

I love miniature painting. No, I don’t like miniature painting, I love it. I’m not particularly great at it (and oh boy, when I see someone who’s serious about painting show me their stuff, I feel it in my gut that “great” is something I might not even be aspiring toward…), but it’s probably one of my top four or five hobbies that I find myself rotating between throughout the course of my life.

Because of this, I watch a lot of painting tutorials and even just discussions on youtube. I find them inspiring and fuel my own desire to just apply brush to plastic/resin/metal. My favorite casual painting discussion show is Trapped Under Plastic. Why am I talking about painting on an OSR/RPG resources blog? Well I think we can apply a lot of what these guys talk about to our own little gaming niche.

Primarily today I want to talk about Jon’s recent video about finger painting your miniatures, which is somehow almost more implausible than finger painting your setting. You see, in this video, and many of his videos, Jon talks about the freedom of painting and how we need to make our hobbies our own. We need to think outside of the box and consider techniques that may seem blasphemous or even foolish to try to innovate and find new, exciting way to forge our paths.

So what does that mean for us? What is the equivalent of finger painting for writing a setting, creating a hex map, or even just designing a single room in a dungeon? One idea is to look to unlikely inspiration for your creations.

Let’s work on an example below from unlikely inspiration through execution.


For Christmas, my fiance and I got one of our close friend’s daughter a set of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… books as a gift, and we sat there Christmas morning with her wanting to be read them right away! As we were reading them to her, my mind wandered. I’m only human. I began thinking about applying this principal of getting in too deep too quickly to dungeon design.

There’s a lot of great ideas and advice out there for building a dungeon with lots of hooks, possible resolutions, and increasing your verisimilitude all at the same time, so why not add to that pile of great advice?

When you’re building anything from your game, one way to approach it is from the center of the maze and build outward around it. The point of this maze from the player’s side of the GM screen is to get to the center, but when you’re prepping a game, you might start from the center and build up the mazes – the twists and turns around it – and get to your starting point in reverse.

Word of caution – this is not the “end” of an adventure or dungeon in that you’re predicting exactly what will happen – that’s rail roading, and many players frown upon that. Instead, think of this as what is happening without player intervention, and let the player characters change the world with their actions – now we got a game!


So let’s put a Beholder at the center of the imaginary maze. The Beholder is the Mouse from the book example above (too many metaphors? nah!), and let’s make this maze a floating sky castle because I like how that looks. Something like one of these from Avatar.

So what does a Beholder want? What’s the cookie for this mouse Beholder? Let’s say he’s hoarding rare sky crystals that can only be farmed from these floating mountains. He set up shop here because he considers the sky crystals a delicacy, and why not set up shop right next to the finest source of his favorite food? What else is a Beholder to do?

Okay, so now we’ve got a sky fortress built around a Beholder who wants sky crystals because he likes to eat them. If you give a Beholder a sky fortress, he’s probably going to need mind slaves to harvest those sky crystals. If you give him mind slaves, he’s probably going to want to have some mind slave guards to keep his slave population in check.

If you give a Beholder a sky fortress to harvest sky crystals harvested by his mind slaves which are in turn guarded by mind slave guards, he’s probably going to be facing a constant threat of revolt from the mind slaves, so he’s likely going to bring in some minor, lesser mind-controlling lieutenants to further dominate his slaves (and guards!), but how is he going to make sure his lieutenants are kept in check?

Hold up. I’m going to stop myself right there, because holy smokes, we’ve got ourselves quite the adventure in front of us! Will the players plunder the sky fortresses for their own supply of sky crystals? Will the players seek to help free the mind slaves? Will they aid a lieutenant in over throwing the Beholder, or maybe they’ll work to free the guards to in turn free the slaves?

There’s so much here to sink your teeth into, and you can see how each little aspect I added to it could be split into further paths – it’s a fractal approach to game design – ever expanding. And it all started with asking the question of what a Beholder wants. The Beholder is at the top of the pyramid, and everything else flowed out down and outward from it.

Thanks Laura Numeroff!


So that was fun. It was a good little time for me, and I hope it helps spark something in you. I’m going to probably be taking that approach in the next couple of weeks thanks to a recent purchase of this amazing Frost Giant model from Steamforged games and their Epic Encounters line. I don’t normally just buy miniatures to paint, but I love giants, I don’t know why exactly, and now I want to build an adventure up around that guy. (He has living wolves tied to his legs as ankle warmers!).

But that’s not really what this post is about. It’s about finding inspiration in unlikely places. I took the lead of something considered largely childish and imprecise – finger painting applied to a miniature – and decided to look to a similarly childish thing like children’s books. But there’s so much out there in the world to look to. My parting advice here is to keep your eyes open and don’t forget to jot down inspiration, wherever you find it for your next game!

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