Before the Flood - a 6-person utopic map-making TTRPG

Before the Flood - a 6-person utopic map-making TTRPG

A 6-person, one-session asymmetric map-making TTRPG about striking balance between extremes. Each player takes on the role of a unique force and uses individual mechanics to create a world of harmony and abundance... knowing it's all doomed.
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What is this?
Long ago, before our world, there was another. 

There was a Flood once, or so I have heard. It was vast and terrible in the way that only the greatest of disasters can be, a cataclysm so total in its destruction that when it swept the world, there was nothing left.

This is not the story of that Flood. This is not the story of how it came to pass, or what it broke, or what came after.

This is the story of the world that came before it, a world lost to the sands of time and the waters of inevitability. This is the story of when magic was material, and the ones like us were lions on the prairie. This is the story of Before the Flood.

Before the Flood
is a map-making game for six players about working together to discover a world that existed long before our own. Each player will take on the mantle of one of the fundamental forces that shaped this world, using their own unique mechanics, tools, and perspective to create a map of the world that existed before it was all washed away.
A mockup of the final zine, showing the cover and an inside page spread. Beneath it is a note saying "Cover art and layout not final."

The Flood will come...

The zine includes all the instructions needed for play, along with some instructions that are not meant to be used at all: the ritual for The Flood itself. Players read through this ritual of destruction before starting their story of creation, turning each new addition to the map into a mark of defiance in the face of fate.

The Flood will come, but you will still build, and there will still be beauty, and hardship, and lives to be led. 

Before the Flood’s sparse, asymmetric mechanics guide its players into a space of ritual — to thread the rich tapestry of the world together, and to tear it apart at the seams. Intimate, cosmic, and deeply intertwined. — Caro Ascersion, Last Train to Bremen and i'm sorry did you say street magic?
Before the Flood is a pleasing mix of solid mechanical guidance and fortune-telling mystery. I like the ritual of it, the power given to the right words, the use of objects and roles to impart meaning to arbitrary actions. It’s good stuff! Plus the postmodern ending chapter they snuck in the middle of the text which you are absolutely forbidden from playing through is fun too. — Grant Howitt, Eat the Reich and Spire: The City Must Fall

Before the Flood is a collaborative apocalypse.  It’s so much more than a game about making maps- it’s a masterclass on tangibly processing grief and loss, it’s a treatise on the elusive nature of hope, it’s a  wry celebration of language. With innovative mechanics and a fresh implementation of tarot, Ambrose and Lawrence have crafted a transcendental group experience of joy, suffering, and awe.
Playing the game

The map and two pages of notes resulting from one of our playtests. The map centers around a gliding river, which never touches the ground. The notes detail various festivals, settlements, and events brought about by Weal and Woe. The legend includes notable landmarks such as the strutting marsh and tunnel gnomes./alt>A world built over several hours of play, and shaped by a story told by the players.
A world built over several hours of play, and shaped by a story told by the players.

Before the Flood runs in 2-4 hours and requires zero prep, making it ideal for one-shots, and can be used as a standalone game or worldbuilding for a larger campaign. It also caters to a range of playstyles: since each mantle has its own mechanics and role, players can choose how they want to be involved in the storytelling each time they sit down to draft a new map.

To play, you'll need the zine itself, some drawing supplies, and the specific tools used by each mantle: four stones, a coin, a book, some dice, a set of tarot cards, and a standard deck of playing cards.

Play begins with a ritual taking up of the mantles, the six fundamental forces players will embody while constructing the world of Before the Flood. With the knowledge of the inevitable flood ever-present, players will take turns using their unique aspect to bring together different parts of the story into one complete tale.
Six mantles to build the world...

The world is built through the collaboration of six mantles: Land, Legend, Nature, Nation, Weal, and Woe.

Land is the mantle of the earth itself, carving valleys and building mountains. It is that which marks the map while the rest deliberate over details.

Land starts off each round of Before the Flood by casting colored stones onto a piece of paper, delineating areas of different altitudes. Land decides how these areas are marked to show this, and while the round continues onward and the other mantles take their turns, Land stays dedicated to their parchment, pen constantly moving to add various features. 

Legend is the mantle of histories, those stories that only become greater as they are lost. It is the adviser to both Nature and Nation, and that which marks the details that Land does not.

After Land has cast their stones and started the round of play, Legend flips their coin. On a result of heads, Nature will be called forth to act that round. On a result of tails, Nation will act instead.

Legend then flips through their book, stopping on whatever page they feel is right, before closing their eyes and dragging a finger down that page, again stopping when it feels correct.

The word or phrase that Legend lands on is what they'll use to help either Nature or Nation ascribe meaning to the landmark they discover.

Nature is the mantle of all that is wild and untamed, the magic and mundane that grows from that which is left untended. It is that which sprouts landmarks as a matter of course, growing ever larger as it does.

Each round, if Legend's coin flip lands on heads, Nature will be called to act.

Nature acts by rolling a singular, with their result corresponding to a list of features and items. They start with the smallest of the polyhedral dice, a four-sided die, and on a result of 4 they get to step up their die to the next size and reroll. This continues with each die; if they roll the highest result, Nature is able to step it up to the next size, all the way up to a 100-sided die.

Whatever result they get, Nature takes the corresponding item from their lists and consults with Legend to create a landmark, which Legend then places on the map.

Nature's roll also decides if Weal or Woe will be called forth to act that round. If the result is below a four, Woe gets to act. If it's a four or above, Weal gets to act.

Nation is the mantle of the forces of humanity, in all their glory and hubris. It is that which builds landmarks with structured purpose, forever looking to better its odds and create something more.

If Legend's coin flip lands on tails, Nation will be called to act instead of Nature.

Nation acts by playing their own dice game involving a pool of six-sided dice (d6) and matching the combination of results to tables of landmarks. They can add more dice to their pool to increase their chances, but in doing so scorn Weal and invite only Woe.

Once Nation has their combination for that round they find the correct d6 table and roll one more d6 to find out what the landmark is going to be, consulting with Legend to flesh it out and place it on the map.

Weal is the mantle of good fortune, sharing its joy with all those who would take it. It is that which pulls meaning from the arcane and promises the sunrise will come again.

If Weal has been called forth to act, they will pull three cards from a deck of tarot and interpret them together to create an omen of good fortune.

In Before the Flood the general meaning of each tarot card is listed out, alongside an omen already drawn out from that meaning. Weal's task is to take all three of these meanings and weave them together into one.

Whatever omen occurs Nature and Nation take a moment to describe how their people react to it together, and play continues into a new round starting again with Land. 

Woe is the mantle of ill fortune, but I ask you not to assume their intent. It is often the worst times that bring out the best in us, and while their game can be difficult to understand from the outside, they only seeks to bring the world closer together.

Finally, if Woe has been called forth to act, they will pull five cards from a standard 52 card deck and attempt to create the best standard poker hand they can. They are able to discard cards and redraw once per round. The jokers in the deck also act as wild cards, and can be used as any suit or number.

Once their hand has been created Woe consults their table to discover what omen has been called forth. After Woe has decided on what the omen is for this round, Nature and Nation come together and discuss how their people come together to overcome this trial, and how balance is reinstated to the land.

Then Land casts their stones and a new round begins.

For more in-depth details about how the mantles work and our thoughts while designing them, check out these blog posts by Nicholas on Tumblr. 

An illustration from the zine: A slim figure in fur-lined leather snow gear walks towards a distant cabin. There is smoke billowing from the chimney, and the snow has fallen in odd fractal shapes.
Reward tiers

Included in this campaign are several Backerkit exclusive tiers, including a version of the zine with a deluxe gold foil cover, the Book of Legend, postcards, a map template, copies of the game that have been signed and fully annotated by Sylvan and Nicholas, and more!
The Garden of Automata pledge level, $10. A PDF-only copy of the game, including the rulebook and printable handouts for the Mantles.

Something Strange and Indescribable pledge level, $20. A printed copy of the game and a PDF of the rulebook, with printable handouts for the Mantles.

A White Lion Walks The Road pledge level, $45. A backer-exclusive deluxe foil edition of the game, including specially printed tri-fold handouts for the Mantles, plus a downloadable copy of the PDF
The Crown of Constellations is Bequeathed, $60. Everything in A White Lion Walks The Road, plus the Book of Legend supplemental zine, postcards featuring Reese's art, and a fancy box to hold it all!

The Council of Crows pledge level, $100. Everything in The Crown of Constellations is Bequeathed, plus a map template poster, an exclusive tarot card and playing card to slip into your decks, and add your own sentence to the Book of Legend (subject to approval).

Folt's Featherstitched Forge of Fiction pledge level, $176. Everything in The Council of Crows, plus a special hand-annotated copy of Before the Flood, filled with scribbles, notes, and insights from the authors!

The Marketplace of Secrets pledge level, $200. A pledge tier for retailers, summer camps, and people with tons of friends! You will receive 10 copies of the printed zine, each bundled with their own pack of tri-fold mantle handouts.
Stretch Goals

$4,000: Nic and Sylvan get paid! [UNLOCKED]
Because we so firmly believe in our project, we're willing to forego our cut of the check to make sure that it gets funded. However, if we make it to $4,000, we'll be able to pay ourselves in addition to our wonderful team!

$5,000: Cling Sticker! [UNLOCKED]
At $5000, every backer that receives a physical reward will get a snazzy, reusable vinyl cling sticker thrown in at no extra cost!

$6,500: More art! [UNLOCKED]
Reese will be able to create even more beautiful art for the game. At $6500, we'll add three new large art pieces, and several extra smaller pieces to the game!

$7,000: Bookmarks! [UNLOCKED]
At $7,000, every backer receiving physical rewards will ALSO get a Before the Flood-themed bookmark... in addition to their snazzy sticker!

$8,000: The team gets a raise!
The whole BTF team gets a small raise, as a thank-you for their hard work!

$10,000: Double length Book of Legend!
At $10,000 Nic and Sylvan will double the length of the Book of Legend, adding even more random theming opportunities to use in your games.

$20,000: Even bigger Book of Legend!
At $20,000, we'll also double the physical dimensions of the Book of Legend, making it even more satisfying to handle during play.

$60,000: The team goes underwater!
I, Sylvan Lawrence, solemnly swear that if we reach $60,000, the entire BTF team will attend Big Bad Con this year and film ourselves jumping into the San Francisco Bay (it's the closest we've got to a flood), just for you.

Who are we?

Before the Flood is a collaboration between Sylvan Lawrence (Gravemire, Athanor, Clawhammer Games), Nicholas Ambrose (unmade game, my body is your body is our body is, Indie Press Revolution), Reese Hill (Gravemire, oldmaker picrews), and MC Bacon (Gravemire, Dangerous Times, Clawhammer Games). The team, along with editor Dominique Dickey (Plant Girl Game, Tomorrow on Revelation III, Sly Robot Games), brings collective decades of experience in game design, writing, layout, and art to the project.

All portraits are made using Reese's Oldmaker Androgynous Picrew 2, which is free for you to use as well!

Nicholas Ambrose (he/him) is the co-author and creator of Before the Flood. He also works at Indie Press Revolution and is the beast behind The Horned Sphinx, where he publishes his own games. Indie tabletop role playing games make up but one of his many hoards, along with facts about cats, pictures of his specific cat, all the best snacks, and half listened through narrative horror podcasts.

Sylvan Lawrence (they/them) is the co-author and creator of Before the Flood. They are the director of Clawhammer Games, and the creator of Gravemire, as well as bestselling solo journalling game Athanor, two-player TTRPG Singularity, and more. They are an avid indie tabletop fan, and can often be found grubbing about on solitary corners of the internet for new and strange games to play with their friends. When not making or playing TTRPGs, they can be found at your local library, yes, YOUR local library! Don't believe me? Go visit for yourself!

Reese Hill (she/her) is the artist for Before the Flood. She previously worked with Clawhammer Games as a supporting artist on Gravemire, and has many other odd commission jobs under her belt, including landscapes, portraits, and animation. She also made two gruelingly extensive picrews, and indubitably will make another. More than anything Reese enjoys drawing comics and playing games on the puter.

MC Bacon (he/any) is the layout designer for Before the Flood. He was previously the layout designer on Gravemire, and has also done design work for newspapers, books, and websites. When not doing design work or lost in the depths of some arbitrary research project, MC spends his days perched atop a pile of books, admiring all the pretty pictures and squiggly words. Like any good cryptid he's prone to vanishing into the forest for long stretches of time, and must be drawn out using a ritual, roleplaying games, and a trail of tiny plates of food.

Dominique Dickey (they/them) is the editor of Before the Flood. They are a speculative fiction writer and game designer. As the creative director of Sly Robot Games, they’ve created Plant Girl Game and Tomorrow on Revelation III. They contributed to the Nebula Award-winning Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and the ENNIE Award-winning Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. Their novella Redundancies & Potentials is forthcoming from Neon Hemlock in 2024. Their short fiction has appeared in venues including Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and Nightmare Magazine. They live in the DC area, where they’re always on the hunt for their next idea. You can find their work at

An illustration of a night sky over a city. Constellations trace out the shape of a human in repose above the skyline. In the foreground is a park and townhomes.
Potential risks

As with any crowdfunding campaign, there are certain risks involved. In today's world of printing and supply chain nightmares, we expect there to be some delays during production. However, the wonderful folks over at Indie Press Revolution have partnered with us to ensure for a seamless shipping and fulfilment process. Additionally, we're committed to keeping you in the loop during the entire process. You can expect regular, monthly updates from us during production, and those will not stop until your game is in your mailbox, or better yet, your hands.
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