Today seems a good day to remember this. I met Gary Gygax once. He was a guest at a UK GenCon in the nineties. I queued up for hours to meet him (my mates weren’t bothered). He signed my programme and I thanked him for giving me my lifelong passion. I asked him if he still played at all. He said mostly Chainmail when he got the chance. A true gent, I was honoured to have spent a few minutes with him.
Thinking about the gods in my new Brightshadow campaign, and in realise I’ve under-thought religion in fantasy gaming all these years. A discussion about verisimilitude and consequences elsewhere got me pondering: what do fantasy tropes actually do to the world around them?
Imagine taking the D&D basic pantheon and dropping it into our modern world. I don’t mean imagine Pelor showing up at the UN, or Gruumsh invading India (though those are awesome notions) I mean imagine if Christianity, Islam, Judaism and all the rest were real.* Really real. As in, certifiable, true beyond doubt, witness them with your own eyes and ears, there’s one right there and he walks among us, real. What would be the consequences?
Atheists would be seen as highly deluded, probably pitied individuals. The word ‘faith’ would need a different meaning, as there would be no faith necessary, it’s all right there. Would there be any need for a clergy? Or even temples? Surely worship would be ubiquitous, and wouldn’t need special places to do it? In fact, I wonder if the whole notion of worship might be different. Perhaps people would talk about the Gods the way we might currently talk about our bosses, or the government? I think bureaucracy and the system would get involved early on. Gods would become ordinary.
In fact, the Gods’ main selling points would be access to the afterlife, and miracles. Death holds no fear now, because an afterlife is guaranteed. What type of afterlife you’ll get is another matter, and that’s something that surely no one could afford to be ambivalent about. Miracles? I think they’d be the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket, less about prayer, and more about luck.
So let’s bring all that back to fantasy worlds. In my experience, most gamers pay little attention to religion in games. Perhaps more in Glorantha, dunno. I’ve never seen or heard anything that reflects the kind of questions I asked above at my tables, and that includes from guys playing Clerics and Paladins. Funny no? So I want to address that in Brightshadow. I want religion to be cultural, and ubiquitous, like the Internet is to us now. But I want it to mean something to the characters and the game. The afterlife thing is a very big deal, when you’re alive. What about afterwards? Ahhhh…. I see what to do now.
In my campaign, everyone’s already dead.
*I mean no offence to those who of course DO believe in the existence of one, some, or all Gods in our own world. Crack on. I’m talking about games of make believe here.
So D&D Next is out this summer. Time to plan, or prevaricate at least. I’ve made a few decisions already: first, I’m going to look forward to it, and play it with enthusiasm. Second, I’m going to try really hard to NOT buy anything beyond the core and instead raid my library for content.
I’ve got loads of stuff. Most of it goes unused after an initial browse. I want to treat my collection like a bunch of Lego, and use pieces to assemble my own concoction. Zero points for originality, which irks me a bit, but infinite points for practicality and realist goal setting.
I’m calling it The Brightshadow Campaign.
I’m taking the cosmology of 4e, and rearranging it into a single world. It will be archipelago style, with the islands being the dominions of the gods. Except the gods are more like kings and queens rather than distant ineffable beings. The whole thing will be powered down quite a bit from epic to heroic. I’m layering the Shadowfell and the Feywild over the top, not as regions per se, but as opposing civilisations, who are at war.
I’m twisting the 3×3 alignment system too. Chaotic is going to represent the Feywild, law the Shadowfell. The good/evil axis remains.
I’m not having humans at all. Which means I’m not having gods for elves or dwarves, as they aren’t secondary races any more. In fact my gods will be more akin to 13th Ages icons in scope.
I’m amping up the tech level ever so slightly, to be more like Iron Kingdoms. I’m having psionics big time.
Adventurers will be highly respected in the setting, like the way superheroes and villains are in the Marvel Universe. In fact, I’m nicking loads of MU tropes, like SHIELD, Dr Doom, mutants, the moon, aliens all that jazz.
And then there’s formatting. I’ve learned to love index cards thanks to recent forays into Fate and the excellent Pathfinder Card Game. I’m going old school with cards and pens! I’ll have maps art and monsters culled from books, but otherwise I’m dropping that screen and keeping the GM footprint small.
Well, that’s the plan anyway.
Last January I published my Adventure Environment for 13th Age. http://rpgtreehouse.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/knee-deep.pdf . It was a great experience, and now the game itself is out there’s been nearly 1000 downloads, which I find both amazing and humbling. With that anniversary looming, I think it’s time for the second installment, this time set in the Champion tier.
My first thoughts are to write up another mini sandbox, this time on the coast of the Iron Sea. If you don’t know the setting, in this world, the sea is alive, angry, and wants to destroy the Dragon Empire. Well, sort of. Essentially it gives us a chance to reenact Godzilla in a fantasy setting. Typically of 13th Age, this write up is no more than a couple of paragraphs, which is more than enough of a springboard. Any more than that and I’d start to feel painted into a corner.
I love brutal frontiers and sieges. There’s loads of precedents too, from the Wall in George RR Martins Song of ice and Fire, to the Wall in Legend of the Five Rings where the Crab Clan hold back the Shadowlands. Then there’s all the great sieges from the genre verse, like David Gemmells Legend, or Warhammers Storm of Chaos with Middenheim. It’s all grist to the mill and I’ll be looking to pay homage to some of these in the book.
I’m also going to play with the formatting a bit. I want this to be a book that’s as useful as it’s enjoyable, which is easier said than done. The choice of 13th Age as a system throws up a few issues too, so I want to make this flexible enough to accommodate backgrounds, icons and OUTs without either being too prescriptive or too vague. Right now I’m thinking of multiple options in the text for plots, people and places which the GM will pick from as they go. It will give it replay value too, although it is essentially tripling the amount of cool ideas I need to come up with!
This is super early days, so I’ll write up notes as I go. I’ll also ask around for some brainstorming and idea bouncing, so be ready for that. Excited.
On our fourth session of Fate now, playing through a highly customised Traveller adventure. There’s an awful lot to like about it, but it’s still not easy to GM, and I believe the players are feeling the same.
So, I’m going to throw out a few observations, just to see what they look like ‘out loud’.
The characters are full of character. The generation session was ace, and the aspects really helped colour in the PCs (once we had all gotten our heads round them)
Fate Accelerated is a great setting starting point. No need for extras, or house rules, just straight up sci fi goodness
Rolling Dice is fun. It’s visual and tactile and makes sense to everyone.
The amount of stuff needed at the table is fairly light, just tokens, cards and pens really.
Any question that comes up can be answered in lots of different ways
Create Advantage is making something very simple in theory rather more difficult in practice.
A game with a robust plot starts to creak once the ‘costs’ start coming in.
It’s not actually much less prep than a traditional game.
Compels throw me, just generally.
Any question that comes up can be answered in lots of different ways
To expand on the ‘tricky’ parts: my usual games have the equivalent of the overcome, attack and defend actions, so I’m well used to calling for rolls and adjudicating outcomes. The CA action still makes me pause, and I find myself overthinking it too often. Back in Fates earlier days this was separated out into Declarations and Assessments, which I struggled with too, though the terminology made more sense to me. I guess these are the Perception and Gather Info type rolls from trad games, which would all be fine if it weren’t for the generation of an aspect of the back of them. My players often attempt these sort of actions of course, and it feels a bit odd to be writing out a phrase as their reward for success. It seems to be there to help them build up a great roll later on. That works in conflict situations, but I’m not quite seeing it with other, common, situations like surveillance or research.
With plots I fully appreciate that I should be all ready to improv and riff away on invokes and compels all night. I’m not ready for that yet. I’m using a published adventure as the spine of my game, and as with any of those I’m happy to adapt to players plans. The issues kick in when the players roll a result that demands a ‘cost’ be paid, especially a serious one. I’m thinking that it almost demands that the adventure go off in a whole new direction when this happens (otherwise it’s not much of a cost is it?). It’s not fatal, but that could mean having to be very flexible indeed to fit it all in.
Which is where the prep comes in. One reason for going with Fate was to trim down my prep. It’s easier in some ways, and more fun because I can play with words rather than numbers, but there’s no less of it. I like to have all my elements all written out, with aspects, skills, stunts et all. I put some flex space in there, but I don’t want to spontaneously generate opposition at the table.
Compels. I’ve read the rules on this many times, and tried the wisdom of the Internet many times. I want to give out Fate points, but I don’t want to railroad the players. I want to play up my NPCs faults, but don’t know how to self compel those in a way that makes sense at the table. And when the group is is a bad place due to events? Who gets the point?
Clearly, there are no straightforward answers to any of these issues, which is an issue in itself. Fate has only a few moving parts really, and each one of them could be the answer to any mechanical resolution question that comes up in the game. I need more structure than that!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Fate dearly, and the latest iteration is much better for me than the old one. Our game is very cool, and every session brings some brilliant scenes.
We’re getting there, but it’s hard!
I’ve been looking for the perfect storage for all my books for ages now. I’ve never settled on anything ever since moving house about 5 years ago and trading in my bookshelves for kids bedrooms.
While I was in B&Q today I spotted some of those very excellent Really Useful Boxes, these ones designed for storing Christmas trees. The dimensions are perfect, they hold RPG books like a long comic box. At £20 a pop it’s a non trivial expense, but it does the job brilliantly.
And it turns out I have two and a half metres of D&D books. Who knew?
I’ve been writing a column for ukroleplayers.com for a few months now. I’ve put some of them up on this blog before. They’re memoirs, all nostalgic and rosy about my life in gaming. I’ve enjoyed writing them, and really enjoyed the positive response.
I’ve been putting the next column off for ages now. It’s about the ten years I spent working at Games Workshop. It’s a rollicking tale alright, and one I think I can tell well. I think there’s even an appetite for it, as gamers seem to lap up anything to do with GW even now. My reluctance stems from this: what’s it got to do with roleplaying games?
You see, my audience is RPGers, as am I. GW has has next to bugger all to do with any of that for decades. Yet, I can’t be blind to the fact that the old firm had, and still has, an enormous influence on the gaming hobby. The community seems to have never forgiven GW for what they see as a Great Betrayal. Only this week I saw them referred to as Games Whoreshop. Classy. I understand those feelings, I had them myself once, but it was all so long ago. GW moved on. That’s pretty much it.
My time there was great. I loved it. I learned all about the history, the present and many of the plans for the future. RPGs were no more than a footnote. I think my recollections will upset the haters because of a lack of hate on my part. And I think there are still many folk who want to see GW cast in a wnegative light. I don’t want to do that.
I’ve written the first part now, and it’s gone off to the publisher (hi Dave!). I’ve got loads more to write, but want to see how this bit goes down first. Glad to have gotten it done, and am feeling like doing more. Hope to get the chance