Tableau Design Diary: Embracing Composable Traits Over Playbooks

Continuing my Tableau Design Diary (previous post), I’d like to talk about some design choices that set Tableau apart.

When D. Vincent Baker introduced Apocalypse World (2010), I was particularly impressed by his one-page character playbooks. While I’m unsure if he was the first to implement this concept (perhaps Harper’s Lady Blackbird? ), each playbook catered to a different genre niche within his setting. For example, inspired by the Mad Max films, you need a Driver character not just for their skills, but to embody the personality and stunts of a post-apocalyptic road warrior. These playbooks resulted in a focus on “how you do it” rather than the “what can you do” found in traditional class focused character sheets.

Since then, Apocalypse World has spawned a vast array of PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) games, such as Blades in the Dark (2015), which in turn birthed its own offshoots under the FitD (Forged in the Dark) umbrella. The game style has continued to evolve, with titles like Java Cordova’s Brindlewood Bay (2022) and The Between (2022) pushing the boundaries further.

Another noteworthy development inspired by PbtA was Avery Alder’s Dreams Askew (2018), which not only adapted character playbooks for her own unique post-apocalyptic vision but also transformed the game into a GM-less experience by creating playbooks for setting elements. This concept inspired the BoB (Belonging Outside Belonging, if the game is about people on the margins) or NDNM (No Dice, No Masters) game systems, which have since inspired many innovative games with even more integrated character and story elements. These range from Jay Dragon’s Sleepaway (2019) with its summer camp movie horror, Riley Rethal’s Galactic (2020) with Star Wars & Battlestar Galactica archetypes and setting playbooks, and most recently, Possum Creek Games’ very successful Kickstarters for even more setting-focused games like Wanderhome (2021) and Yabeza’s Bed & Breakfast (2023).

One result of these new designs in both of these major branches is that recent playbooks are becoming even tighter integrated with their settings. In Bridlewood Bay , you are really close to being a fictional character: you are essentially one of a number of stereotypical elderly fiction or TV-show detective, such as Miss Marple or Jim Rockford. In The Between , you can be the stereotype of the bold but ugly American in the Victorian Era. The same is true in most Belonging Outside Belonging designs; for instance, the Pilgrim character playbook in Wanderhome is tightly integrated with the feeling of that game’s specific genre of light fantasy elements in an anthropomorphic setting.

While I appreciate these designs, my preference for stories is broader, and I sought a technique that offered greater versatility across genres and themes. Like Apocalypse World , in Tableau’s Twilight Road playset, I have a Playset Character “Face” card for “The Driver”:

My card provides a general role for a Driver applicable to fantasy, sci-fi, or modern-day settings. Thus, players can embody a pony express rider, Han Solo, or be a trucker. But instead of checkboxes, there are separate cards that you can choose from for each “approach”. These cards describe how your character makes decisions. Are you Brash like Han Solo? Fast? Careful? Each card offers a different insight into your decision-making as a Driver that are very different.

Additionally, you might have a third card, a character “Path,” that represents the delicate balance between your character’s virtues and vices. Are you a Wanderer with no attachments, or are you a Loner grappling with the challenges of forming meaningful relationships?

I’ve discovered that this “composable” design for character traits offers several advantages over traditional playbooks or character sheets. The back of each card outlines the “Moves” your character can make, enabling you to be Brash in a bar or struggle against being a Loner even when you’re not driving. You can keep the relevant cards at hand and set them aside when not needed, making it easier to make decisions on what Moves your character desires to make.

There is a drawback with my “composable” design choice: the loss of the evocative and intimate connections between characters and their settings. However, I believe this tradeoff can be worthwhile, as it enables a greater variety of characters and adaptability across multiple playsets.

I invite you to explore how I approach composability from the full Print-and-Play version of my Tableau, including both Twilight Road and GateWatch playsets, which available to all Kickstarter backers (even at the lowest $2 tier).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my composable character trait approach!

What is your favorite character playbook? If you were to decompose it into three essences: one a genre trope or skill mastery, one a personality style or stereotype, and one a life path between good and bad, what would those three essences be?

– Christopher Allen - Dyvers Hands Productions
“The best stories are the ones we tell together!”


Is there a late / backer kit option? I’m very interested in studying the design.

Currently I hope to have this Kickstarter all fulfilled by end of June and make it more broadly available in July.


Make sure you sign up for announcements at

The only other option is that I’m considering is keeping the $50 “advanced playtester” tier to be more generally open. They get early access to playsets for playtesting (you still have to pay DriveThruCards if you wanted printed poker cards though).

— Christopher Allen

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If you are interested in this option, it is now open at — basically with it you get codes for all the playtest versions of current games (Improv Playset plus the 2 funded in last week’s Kickstarter (and going final early this summer), plus some early playtests of new playsets, like Lovecraft Country: ‘A Study in Madness’.

Thanks! Appreciate the options and I am signed up for announcements.