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The Travels of Mendes Pinto: Team Game

R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.  UFF!

Sergio Mascarenhas
July 26, 2001  

So, I am to design a Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook for a setting known as The Travels of Mendes Pinto. Yes, but what exactly does that mean? To understand it, we need to delve a little on roleplaying game books.




I think it's consensual that D&D set the mold to which following games were to compare for most aspects of RPG design, including on how to distribute content among different volumes. To go the D&D way one finds: a core rule book with the basic rules of the game, directed both at players and GM; a book for the GM with helpful information to support him in his mischievous task; other resource books for the GM (starting with the creatures books); other resource books for players, like specialized books for the different classes; adventures and campaign books detailing settings and offering plots. One of the key aspects of the D&D approach is that there's a core set of books that need to be owned for the players to be able to play the game. This means that If you don't own one of those books you miss vital information to set up a game (these are the above mentioned Players Hand Book, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monsters Manual). All other books can be considered optional. 

Other game lines tried to do it in a different way, most notably by going down the "single rule book" path. In this case we have a book that contains all the rules and material that in D&D is relegated to the DMG and other resource books. My first gamebook, the second edition of RuneQuest, made an halfhearted attempt to be a "single book" game (1).

Some companies - specially those that focus their efforts on the setting - attempt to do it in a "drop by drop" way where each new book adds some vital information that is mentioned but not developed in other books. This means that all books are to be considered necessary.

What is the best approach? I suppose that one cannot say that there's a best approach. Each has its advantages, be it from a game learning point of view, a player's economics stand point, or a marketing angle. I  can only present my own take, the one that underlies the effort of developing the present book to the TToMP game line. I consider that the best way to set a game line is:

  • A Core Rules Book that covers character creation, evolution, and action. This is written in a way that is oriented both to players and GMs. The book includes the basics of the setting, so that the players can grasp the context where their characters are going to evolve.

  • A Game Masters Book that introduces rules and setting material that are not supposed to be relevant or known by the players. It has a similar structure to the one that can be found in the Core Rules Book.

  • Rules Books for specific aspects of the game world that, either because they are complex - requiring more complex modeling through rules - or because they don't have universal appeal for the players, are not covered in the Core Rules Book.

  • Settings Books, Scenario/Campaign Books, fiction books.

In any case, I think that the players should need only the Core Rules Book to play, while the GM would be advised to get the Game Masters Book as well, and some setting books.




Translating what I just said to The Travels of Mendes Pinto game line, there is provision () to several types of books: Annotated Books; Travel Books; Casados Books; Itinerary Books; Narrative Books.



These books, each written around an actual existing book that will be the main source for setting material, consist of rules and general setting presentation. They set the foundations on which games can be designed. These include (2):

  • The Annotated Book of Mendes Pinto, vol. 1 [AB01] - This is the core rule book, the one that will be designed in my column. Most of the setting information will be taken from Mendes Pinto book, of course (3).

  • The Annotated Book of Mendes Pinto, vol. 2 [AB02] - AB02 will be the "game masters book" of The Travels of Mendes Pinto game line of books. Like in AB02, Mendes Pinto book will be the main source of setting information.

  • The Annotated Tragic History of the Seas [AB03] - "The Tragic History of the Seas" is a collection of narratives of ship-wreaks, recorded by the survivors, and collected in the 17th century. AB03 is intended to be the ultimate source on everything maritime.

  • The Annotated Regiment of War [AB04] - "The Regiment of War", as the name implies, is a book on how to behave in war. It was written around 1540. AB04 will be the ultimate source on everything military.

  • Other annotated books will cover religion, trade, etc.

As you can see, the first two books are the basic rule books. All the rest correspond to developments directed at specific activities that the players may wish to involve their characters with.



In pre-modern times, pilots used route books where they recorded the shape of coasts and all possible dangers that a navigator could face. Route Books detail the different regions of the Eastern world, starting in South East Africa, and going up to Japan. Here is a couple of examples:

  • The Route Book of Duarte Barbosa [RB01] - Written in the first years of the 16th century, "The Book of Duarte Barbosa" was a comprehensive guide to the lands bordering the Indian Ocean. Duarte Barbosa was a soldier and bureaucrat that lived for many years in India. RB01 will include a broad view of East Africa, both West Asia, and India. 

  • The Route Book of Tom Pires [RB02] - Tom Pires lived in Malaca, and was the first ambassador sent by the King of Portugal to the King of China. Unfortunately he never reached Beijing. While he lived in Malaca he wrote "Suma Oriental", a book where he described Indochina, South-East Asia, and China. RB02 will be the equivalent to RB01 to the lands east of Bengal in India.

While RB01 and TB02 provide broad views, RB03 and the following books will be much more detailed:

  • The Route Book of Vasco da Gama in Africa [RB03] - Based on the famous diary of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama in the Indian Ocean, RB03 covers Africa from the Cape of Good Hope to the lands south of Aethiopia.

  • The Route Book of Aethiopia Oriental [RB04] - Based on Francisco Alvares' "Aethiopia Oriental", covers the lands of the fabled Prestes John. Francisco Alvares was a priest that participated in the first diplomatic mission sent by the Portuguese to the Negus of Abyssinia.

  • The Route Book of Bisnaga [RB05] - Based on the "Chronicle of the Kings of Bisnaga", a description of the Kingdom of Vijayanagar, RB05 will describe the most important kingdom of Southern India. 



"Casados" was the name given by the Portuguese to Europeans settled in Asia. Men usually went in Portuguese ships either as soldiers or sailors. They were supposed to remain in those functions. But many opted to settle in Asian cities and start a civil career (as traders, crafters or whatever). When they did this, they were called "casados".

Casado means 'married'. These men were given this name because usually they married local women, and by doing so - coupled with the fact that they started a civil life - they got integrated into the local society, at least to a greater extent than the common soldier.

But, what does the line of Casados books stand for? Basically, this is a line of books detailing cities. In other words, these are city guides. The line will cover Goa (the capital of the Portuguese Estado da ndia - State of the Indies); Malaca, another key Portuguese possession; etc. Almost any major Portuguese possession can be turned into a CB book (Moambique, Mombaa, Ormuz, Diu, Cochim, etc.). Besides these, the line will also cover major cities with a strong presence of casados but that were not under Portuguese rule, like Odi in Siam, Pegu in Burma, Meliapor in South East India, etc. 

Unlike in the other lines of books, there is no correspondence between a CB book and an underlying original source. Furthermore, each CB book can be used in conjunction with the corresponding regional RB line book.



These are the equivalent of "modules", or "campaigns". Based in actual or fictional expeditions, they bring action into what would otherwise remain a static game line. Some possibilities are:

  • The Travel of D. Sebastio da Gama [TB01] - Be a member of the expedition into Aethiopia leaded by D. Sebastio da Gama, younger son of D. Vasco da Gama, in order to deliver Prestes John from the grip of his Muslim foes. Better used in conjunction with RB04 (or with RB01 if you don't own RB04). RB04 can also be very useful.

  • The Travel of Mendes Pinto in Patane [TB02] - Not long after reaching Malaca Mendes Pinto was sent by in a diplomatic mission to Patane. Join him in is efforts to strengthen the links between this small kingdom and the Portuguese.



These are the fiction and original source books. The epitome of this category is, of course, Mendes Pinto own book: "Peregrinao" (NB01). But there is an endless list of other 16th century sources on which we can rely to expand the universe of TToMP. All of the original books mentioned so far fall into this category. 

The books I listed so far are not to be considered fiction. But it's always possible that someone may wish to write novels, short stories, comics, what ever set in the universe of TToMP. These would also fit into this category of books.




By the time that "AB01 - The Annotated Book of Mendes Pinto" will be finished you will have the basics that will allow you to start a game set in "The Travels of Mendes Pinto" game line. You may need another book, though, and this is the original Peregrinao by Ferno Mendes Pinto (maybe in a translation to a language that's more convenient to you than Portuguese). All in all, with an investment of USD $60.00 (if you go for the UCP version) - which may seem a little expensive, but really isn't considering the quality of the book - you get a game, a setting book, and excellent fiction. What else can you ask for?




(1) I say that it was halfhearted since the game didn't provide enough gods to be playable without additional god books (Cults of Prax, and Cults of Chaos). Furthermore, the attempt to be compressive can only be understood at the "box" level, not at the book level. I mean, RQ was sold in a box with the core rules book, dice, a kind of "fast play" non setting specific rulebook called Basic Role Playing, and a small book with scenarios.

(2) Usually, each game book will pick most of its setting material from a 16th or 17th century book. This will be complemented with other sources. Notice that all the books mentioned in the following paragraphs do exist. Some even have English translations.

(3) Of course, saying that "there is provision for" does not mean that the books will actually be written. My compromise is only with the core rule book. The rest will stay in the realm of intentions. But it's nice to have a tidy and well laid-out plan of publications. After all, there's this "RPG Game Designer RPG" that I'm playing in this column...

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What do you think?

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All The Travels of Mendes Pinto columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Not Dead Yet by Sergio Mascarenhas, 18jul03
  • Still Struggling With Section 4 by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07mar03
  • It's Time For Combat by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31jan03
  • The Criminal Always Comes Back to the Scene of the Crim by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31dec02
  • Tahahahahime Is On My Sahide! Yes It Isn't! by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07nov02
  • Character Creation for Dummies by Sergio Mascarenhas, 08aug02
  • Thus Do We Start by Sergio Mascarenhas, 01jul02
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part II) February 21, 2002
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part I) December 6, 2001
  • Time for a Hiatus October 23, 2001
  • System as Language September 27, 2001
  • Don't Forget the Damn Index! August 30, 2001
  • R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.&nb\ sp; UFF! July 26, 2001
  • Who is this Mendes Pinto, Anyway? June 28, 2001
  • Once Upon A Time ... (How It All Started) April 25, 2001

    All Ruleslawyer For Free columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Experience: From Fiction to Roleplaying Games September 11, 2000
  • The Applied Experience Curve Concept June 26, 2000
  • Experience Curves May 30, 2000
  • Trait Curves March 28, 2000
  • A Change of Course November 28, 1999
  • Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System October 26, 1999
  • Introduction September 21, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

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