The Albatross Playbook: Game Master Design Workshop


Welcome to the second edition of AOD game design workshop! 37 members of the community took the wild flying pathway of experimenting with game design last June. We tried imagining game features that could potentially offer transformative learning experiences. We tried to imagine putting the player-learner into situations that would be conducive to unlocking designerly ways of thinking. And, we tried to do this in a playful way. And indeed, we failed, failed and failed again. But in this failure, we incrementally learned not only about possible ways to do that, but also about ourselves. 

Since then, some insights were kept and some were forgotten. But some became fundamental in framing what we aspire to and how we might design it together. Among them, the framework shared by Jeremiah Monk’s online team is inspiring the AOD game design team to this day. Within this framework, the potential in re-imagining the game master system available in most tabletop role-playing games still resonate . It is now time to give this feature a chance. And it is also now time to give a chance to North American based participants to game jam together in person!  

Upstream, how might we redesign a game master system that might be conducive to unlocking inner designerly ways of thinking? And, downstream, once these designerly ways of thinking are unlocked, how might we redesign the game master system to test initial ideas provided by player-learners in complex, emerging contingencies and unexpected scenarios? 

Workshop outcomes will contribute to enhance the game master feature in Project Albatross on the one hand. On the other hand, the workshop will contribute to develop a modular stand-alone game master system. This stand-alone project will initially take the form of a Game master manual including tricks that can be leveraged by a team to enhance critical thinking, self awareness and creative thinking on the one hand, and also to test their approaches to address complex problems, on the other hand.    

But before this, we will need to apply our most fundamental lesson learned. Together with Jeremiah’s team reinforced by new AOD members, staffers, game designers, artists and university professors, we will have to drop our favourite tools. We will have to drop our words… words… words. We will have to trade them for prototypes and tests. We will be in pain. We will grieve. But if we survive this rite of passage, we will bring about a new game master system that is needed but does not yet exist. 

In the following Playbook, you will find resources that may contribute to your thoughts and teamwork for each activity. The playbook is organized in chronological order following the workshop programme. Feel free to send us additional suggestions at




Flying Pathways, the Game Master Way

Tuesday May 24 – Playtesting Breakthrough and GM training (Optional) 

Playtesting Breakthrough 

In these sessions, members of the AOD community will be able to playtest Breakthrough, the last iteration from the first prototyping sessions initiated almost one year ago. Breakthrough is a mystery role-playing game inviting player-learners to investigate construction delays at the Reconciliation and Prosperity Canal in Nunavut in 2035. This canal is meant to consolidate Canada’s status as a great power in the North and the Arctic in part by treating its control over the North-West Passage as a fait accompli. The canal would cut transit for 1 day and a half, ensuring a safer pathway and allow ressupply and refueling, thus ensuring Canadian control by providing a game-changing advantage in terms of transit over any other trade routes. 


These sessions will be helpful to collect feedback to: 1. improve the experience, 2. bringing it closer to its intent of unlocking the inner designerly ways of thinking of player-learners in defence and security, and 3. on adapting this version for various audiences beyond Canadians. Moreover, these sessions will provide an overview of the Game master feature and hopefully, trigger insights as to how we might make it better. 

Cyrena’s Concept Art in Progress

For a background on global security politics surrounding the Canadian arctic:


For a general foresight informing the scenario that Canada could become a potential regional great power in the North and the Arctic:  


Supplementary: Great foresight report on the arctic 



GM Training in Breakthrough

The Alexandrian presents the 3 clues rule that was implemented in breakthrough


Compelling insights on running Mystery Role playing games


Supplementary: On the renaissance of mystery games


Wednesday May 25 – Re-imagining a thousand GM features 

Welcome and Aspiration 

In this short introduction, Philippe BB and Jeremiah Monk will present on the purpose of the workshop, the long-term aspiration of the project and connect it to the vision unleashed by Monk’s team last June.

To better situate ourselves and reconnect where we left off as a community, you may re-watch the pitch presented by Monk and his team.  


Should you wish to attend this intro session online planned on Wednesday May 25th at 9:15 EST, you may access it via this zoom link.


Mining Game Master Features in Role-Playing Games 

The first activity will aim at sharing as many existing game master features and feedback loops as possible to inspire the group to create our own GM features. You must use the game master material sent to you by mail or e-mail. 

In your working group, you will discuss:

  1. Why does the game you delved in mobilized a game master feature? 
  2. How does this game master feature work in this game? 
  3. What are the key game master features including recommended tricks that you found the most interesting? 
  4. How would you make the game master feature better in this game?  


N.B.: Indeed, each working group lead is free to tweak these questions and take a more organic approach. Please also note that those working on video games will have to look more into how the game evolves depending on your actions as a player. You must look at the expression of similar features as a game master in your video game such as story-telling and player choices. 


GM Mining Working Groups, Leads and Materials

Working Groups


Individual Ideation and Prototyping 

After the GM mining activity, each participant will have 30 min to ideate a Game master feature that is either conducive to unlocking inner designerly ways of thinking or to test the products resulting from mobilizing inner designerly ways of thinking. Participants will randomly pick one out of two themes and one out of two dixit cards in a hat to inspire them. In other words, and building on Irving and Clare’s Jam this Game leveraging randomness in game ideation, you must design a game master feature related to one theme expressed in design theory or practice to be picked randomly out of two themes and one abstract context interpreted from one out of two Dixit cards.  

Possible themes are, to name a few:

  1. Open-mindedness/Openness
  2. Comfortable with being uncomfortable
  3. Empathy
  4. Weak signals
  5. Emergence
  6. Sense-making 
  7. Wayfinding/Navigating
  8. Multiple pathways
  9. Relevance Gap 
  10. Self-imposed rules/constraints
  11. Shock to belief system
  12. Challenging the challenge/assumptions/mental models
  13. Challenge Framing
  14. Rapid Ideation  
  15. Breakthrough
  16. Mind-shift/Paradigm shift
  17. Testing
  18. Self-awareness 
  19. Reflection-in-action 
  20. Self-Disruption 
  21. Letting go
  22. Propensity
  23. Mismatch plan/design & reality
  24. Collaboration vs competition
  25. Learning by Failing


Participants will have access to prototyping materials such as cardboard, butcher block paper, legos, kapla, tokens, dice, post-its, and index cards to name a few.

Each participant will then share their idea to the group without feedback. Then we will do a second round before testing. 

In Copenhagen, Thomas Howalt provided an inspiring keynote on prototyping that will make all the difference to your experience and will be essential to prepare you mentally to prototyping. 



After sharing their second GM feature, each participant will test one of the two they iterated with another participant and vice versa to get implicit and explicit feedback. We will end the day by sharing our testing experience in plenary.

Supplementary resources on GM-ing 

These resources can help in becoming more familiar with game mastering and the possibilities this feature may offer. 

An Experienced GM shares key storytelling techniques to immerse players.  


The Alexandrian explains how to help the players navigate the world without providing clear goals or directions. 


Disco Elysium as the closest a video game came at reproducing Game mastering in a pen and paper RPG 


Feedback loops: Mark Brown explains how Arkhane’s Prey Mooncrash redesigns itself based on how the player played the level in previous iterations in comparison to Arkhane’s Deathloop. 


NoClip interviews Game designers sharing the time loop feature in Outer wilds where the only progress is the learning of the player after each iteration


Thursday May 26 – Designing a GM system together

Louis-Martin Guay on Learning and GM-ing 

Louis-Martin Guay is the Director of the Graduate Diploma in Game Design at Université de Montreal, a lead designer who contributed to the Rayman and Splinter Cell franchises and a mentor to Project Albatross since the early days in 2020. Louis-Martin will start the day with a keynote on learning in games and make the connection on how a game master feature may contribute to set conditions for the player to learn. 

James Paul Gee shares the key features making games an ideal medium for learning 


Designing a GM System 

After the keynote, participants will further develop one game master feature or system from all the individual ideas shared the previous day. Participants will work in small teams assembled from individuals showing commonalities or promising tensions between their ideas the previous day. 


Each team will test their game master feature or system with other teams acting as playtesters 


We will culminate the workshop with an hybrid pitch session joined by project contributors online for their feedback including Jeremiah monk. We will then wrap the workshop by discussing the way ahead and other opportunities. You may join us by following this zoom link on Thursday May 26th at 3:30PM EST:


Supplementary Resources on GM-ing by the AOD Community

Kassie’s GM/DM Skills and Meta-level Game Management

Websites and blogs

Forum post with great overview/intro to DMing, such as “The DM is always right.”, keeping notes, using NPCs, preparation, and “Theatre of the Mind” 

So you’re going to DM – Tips for beginners – Dungeon Masters Only – Dungeons & Dragons Discussion – D&D Beyond Forums

Another great article with advice for DMs, such as setting up situations, be on the characters’/players’ side, use tools and techniques that help you prepare to improvise, build from the characters outwards, pacing, and fiction first mechanics second.


Matt Colville has a great series of YouTube videos called “Running the Game”

Matt Mercer on GMing

GM tips such as goal setting, why tone is important, how to create dialog on the fly, constraints and expectations, things to avoid as GM, GM style etc.


Oliver’s inspiring DM story

The DM describes how he revived a character from a forgotten/lapsed campaign (complete with a one-off appearance by a player who had dropped out)  in order to play with the expectations of the players.


Paul Mitchell’s watch list

The sociology of D&D by Running the game



The Albatross Playbook, The Copenhagen Edition, June 2021 (Archive)


Welcome to the virtual playbook of the first series of Project Albatross co-design workshops (see below).

These workshops will take place virtually on June 8 & 17 and in person at the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC) in Copenhagen for European based participants on June 22-25! 

This series of workshops will aim to radically re-imagine design learning experiences in order to generate new insights for defence practitioners, educators and game designers. We will do so by prototyping transformative learning features by experimenting with game design approaches for the community by the community.  

Thanks to a game design 101 crash course developed by veteran game designer Ilan Graicer, the virtual workshop on June 8th will provide a shared game design language to unite the multidisciplinary network of participants. For the second virtual workshop on June 17, this small groups will rely on this language to share their vision of potential transformative design learning experiences. These collective visions will then shape physical prototyping in Copenhagen in June 22-25, and more broadly, the project as a whole.   

We will join a critical mass of the Innovation Methodologies for Defence Challenges (IMDC) community with military student alumni and game designers to form small teams to create physical game prototypes. We will benefit from the support of a prototyping kick-starter delivered by game design specialist, director, and writer Thomas Howalt (IO Interactive, Square Enix, The Danish Film School), the mentorship of Ilan Graicer throughout the week and feedback from game design legends such as Louis-Martin Guay (Rayman, Splinter Cell & Far Cry) and global leaders in military design such as Ben Zweibelson and Ofra Graicer.

These workshops will ultimately feed the development of a proof of concept unlocking the development phase of project Albatross. 

Are you interested in being part of this journey? Please contact Project Manager Jonas Groesmeyer  

For your convenience, please find below a playbook following each activity with resources supporting them ranging from Youtube clips, books, and websites that delves into the many aspects of the promise of video games as a medium for transformative learning. Please note that this playbook will be continuously updated. 



Flying Pathways

June 8 – Game Design 101

In this session, you will learn more about Project Albatross in the broader emerging learning system of the Innovation Methodologies for Defence Challenges (IMDC) community, acquire a shared language to discuss and design games and share your own gaming experience in small teams.

1. A brief history of games (10-15 min. read)

2. Reference guide for board game terminology (5 min. read)

3. Intro to a “History of Play” Humanities seminar from University of Arizona, presented by Professor Ken McAllister (2 min.) 

4. Can we make better tutorials for complex games? (21 min.)


5. James Paul Gee’s Principles of Gaming (23 min.)

Group work preparation

We invite you to anticipate discussing these questions in small teams:

1. Tell us about the most recent (virtual or physical) game that you played. What did you like about it? What did you dislike? and why?

2. From your perspective, what were the goals, scopes, and rules of the game? What kind of strategy and tactics did you require to play, if any?

3. How would you teach this game to a new player?



June 17 – Transformative Design Learning Experience

Facilitators will invite you to bring to awareness who is the learner/player and the transformative experiences s/he must go through to become a designer in defence and security contexts. Then, you will reflect on the tensions between a learning and a playing experience in small teams in order to consider how the former could inform the latter. Insights generated from this workshop will shape game prototyping activities in Copenhagen between June 22-25.

Many thanks for taking the time to prepare by consulting these resources:

1. JSOU’s Paper Roll Exercise (30 min)

Ben Zweibelson provides a compelling example of a transformative design learning experience with the paper roll game.

2. 7 Games so powerful you won’t be the same afterwards (19 min)

Rob Pearson offers 7 examples of transformative video games that may inspire you.

3. Tracy Fullerton’s on Player Experience Goals from the reference on Game Design Workshop (2018) (1 min)

This excerpt summarizes the concept of player experience goal.

4. Brian Upton’s Introduction to Situational Game Design (20 min) (Text or Video version)

Situational game design is prone to transformative learning as it involves the constraints players bring themselves to the game.

Upton Intro


5. Jane McGonigal’s Gaming can make a better world

Group work preparation

We invite you to prepare discussing these questions:

1. What kind of learners are officers? What kind of players are officers? Are learners and players the same? 

2. What would you consider to be a transformative experience that a learner should go through to become a designer in a security context? 

3. Together with a facilitator, you will be invited to reimagine this transformative experience as player experience goals.



June 22: Experiencing Game Design Through Game Review: Mission Zhobia or Disco Elysium  

For the in-person phase of the workshop, you will be invited to ice-break with fellow participants with a game review exercise in small teams. With this exercise, we will bring to awareness and warm-up your innate game design capabilities. While Mission Zhobia offers the example of a typical serious game to learn about implementing a development mission, Disco Elysium mobilizes 24 mind bending perspectives on the reality of a detective inquiry.

Prepare a critical review of Mission Zhobia (free) to be discussed in small groups (1 hour). Alternatively, prepare a critical review of Disco Elysium (3 hours+). Disco Elysium is available on PC on Steam, Epic Store or GoG and on MacOS via the Apple Store as well as on PlayStation 4-5 and Google Stadia (at your own costs).  

Group work preparation

1. What do you think about the player experience?  

2. What do you think about the learning experience? 

3. To what extent do you consider this game to be transformative? Why? 

4. What would you keep versus what would you change in this game? Why?




June 22: Physical Game Prototyping

After deciding what kind of player experiences  you would like to leverage to shape the prototyping of game feature(s), Thomas Howalt, a veteran Danish game designer behind the Hitman series and instructor at the National Film School of Denmark, will present a keynote on physical game prototyping. This keynote and the supporting resources below will be essential for us to move forward. Physical prototyping remains the main activity most game designers use to translate game concepts into concrete game features before moving to digital development. Howalt will also provide insights on how to share constructive feedback on physical prototypes. These insights will be useful both for the gallery walk in person and the feedback session online on Thursday, June 24th.

Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop Chapter 7 offers a thorough summary of physical prototyping as a method:

Fullerton Prototyping



June 23: Mantras for Foundational Prototyping

Prior to experimenting with physical prototyping, Philippe Beaulieu-B. will share game design mantras distilled from the two online workshop sessions (June 8 and 17) and the state of the art in design in security and defence contexts as well as game design. These mantras will offer references you will be able to rely on or disrupt in your team to inspire prototyping.

For those who are interested, Creative Director Corey Barlog offers an inspiring example of translating game design concepts into reality through his experience with God of War (2018). Corey Barlog does not shy away from sharing the numerous trial and errors required to bring a game to life from concept to prototypes to the screen.



June 24: Narrative Design

Gameplay would be meaningless without an explicit or implicit narrative to engage and immerse the player-learner. In this session, your mission will be to try to bring or refine a narrative to make your game feature(s) meaningful.

For more background on narrative game design, please consult these resources:

1. In the Art of Video-Games Storytelling, Creative Director Neil Druckman explains how he relied on narrative design to engage the player and to create situations conducive to learning.

2. In this article, Emily Naul and Min Liu shares how narrative is critical to serious games

Story Matters

3. Lessons from the Screenplay shows how the Wachowskis are using exposition to engage the viewer in learning about the complex world of the Matrix

4. Obsidian shows how they relied on branching dialogue to create player agency in the narrative


5. Dylan Holmes, 2012, “A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games”

6. Narrative Design in Fallout

Exercise in teams

How would you bring dramatic elements to a game that seems devoid of narrative like chess or go? What difference would it make to the player experience?

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