Friday, 21 August 2015

#RPGaDay 2015: Day 21 - I can show you the world...

Prompt: Favourite gaming setting
Don't be fooled. These daft looking buggers will quack you up (although... I
don't know what's going on with that shield.)

So, my knee jerk response to this one is Warhammer 40,000, which I do adore in all its overblown, grandiose, Gothic-punk, sometimes-ironically macho glory, although as an observer from outside the wargame I am aware that the setting has undergone some changes I don't care for, like the implication that the Emperor gained his powers (aside from immortality) from a pact with the Dark Gods of whom he is the antithesis. Aside from this making little sense cosmologically, from a narrative standpoint it harms the purpose of the Emperor, which it always seemed to me was to illustrate that in the grim darkness of the far future, even a godlike, entirely benevolent superbeing can't do shit in the long run to make the universe less crappy. That just be how it is.
Also available in webcomic form.

This being the case, I'm going to go with Glorantha, which I love simply for its absolute commitment to a realistic anthropology (allowing for the proven, indeed unquestioned existence of gods, spirits, magic and anthropomorphic ducks.) In the computer game, King of Dragon Pass, the only road to victory is to immerse yourself so much in Orlanthi culture that you can make the most Orlanthi decisions, rather than necessarily the most rational from a real world perspective. Moreover, when undertaking Heroquests it was necessary to memorise the story of your quest, then adjust for the existence of Chaos and any other variations, again by being totally Orlanthi about your decisions.

Anyway, I have no doubt that once more James Holloway is doing a better job of selling Glorantha* than I am. Again, it's one of his focus areas.

It's odd, given that one of the things I like about 40K is its vastness, that what makes Glorantha more appealing to me is the limits to its scope; that what lies beyond your borders is a total mystery, which means that your focus is on the here and now. You might look to the horizon, but ultimately that won't get the pigs in.

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So, what about writing settings, because when push comes to shove, I'm a writer and a world-builder. Another friend of mine is currently working up a world-building project on his blog, so you can check that out, but it's made me think about my own process and my own flaws in setting writing (short version - way too much detail, leaving no space for the PCs to inhabit.) We were talking on G+ recently about gods and godly 'domains', which is a kind of D&D concept, I guess, but not an uninteresting one, and about how magic affects society, but I think more importantly from a writing perspective, how much information is needed to sell the setting.

Consensus on that one seemed to be about 1500 words, preferably with something to break up the text like an image or timeline; enough to give a taster of the world without overloading your poor readers. I suspect that it might also be advisable to write this before fleshing out the details, at least in draft format, as for a game setting the appearance is arguably more important than the finer points, which are ultimately something for the players to find out, change and possible even define in play. Fate Core is very specific about this, and part of the game prep process is sitting down with your players to a) determine what kind of game you all want to play, b) generate characters, and c) define certain fixed points in the world. In play, it is possible to invoke aspects for effect to change the world on the fly; it's all part of heroing.

Also an intriguing setting in its own right, with
its fusion of  magic and science.
While rarely enshrined in the mechanics, this is something of an assumption with RPGs in general; that your PCs are free agents and can change the world. It's not going to be easy to rig the ballots, assassinate the king, or overthrow the deerocracy in favour of a system of government founded on the altogether more rational basis of strange women lying in ponds, but you could do it. If you were so inclined, you could walk straight past the tavern and camp in the woods, or mug the old storyteller and steal his stuff. In some cases this would be a total dick move, but consider - for example - The Ashes of Valkana. No spoilers, but if you've seen that through to the end you'll know that the party would have been entirely justified in telling one particular Quest Giver where to shove his giant, rotating exclamation mark, even if it would require the GM to wing it while they became fugitives from justice.

This is why 40K RPGs tend to favour a local setting. You're never going to overthrow the Adeptus Terra, the sheer scope of such an enterprise boggles the mind and would test the most robust of mechanics, involving as it would millions of ships the size of city blocks and a number of people that the brain can not comfortably encompass acting across a substantial percentage of the galaxy. You probably could do it, with a lot of effort and a highly narrative system, and it would be a very long shot, but manipulating planetary or even sector politics is a much more achievable goal, which makes it fun to try, while the difficulty of moving such a calcified system makes it potentially rewarding even if you fail, so long as you fail interestingly (cf. small victories in CoC.)

I'm out for the next couple of days, so I'll be back on Monday with a round-up of the next few topics. That will be 'perfect gaming environment', 'perfect game for me' and 'favourite house rule'. In the meantime, check out the hashtag for posts by folks who get at their keyboards during the weekend.

* Not that I've watched today's vid yet, so more fool me if he's talking about Puppetland.