Fun with Leverage

These five guys you probably know, but if you can figure out who these guys are, you win a prize. Strangely enough, although I’ve had the latter idea in my head for years, they are a perfect Leverage crew. Once again, I create ideas and then RPGs spontaneously come into being to accomodate them.


Invincible Chris Sims digs Freeport

Chris Sims, he of the Invincible Superblog (IIRC), was asked for his favourite D&D setting and names Freeport (scroll down). He goes on to say it:

“has the funniest jokes in the sourcebooks”.

I’m going to assume that instead of being a reference to Jody’s awesome line of cannibal children jokes, he’s talking about my extremely oblique “snakes on a plane” gag in the write up of the Temple of Yig. 😀


Because everything is selling


The Game Chef competition has interesting (new?) rules for their playoffs between finalists: the winner is the one that gets played the most. Strangely, you have to play the game with different groups for a new instance to count, which seems to validate a game that is only good once, instead of something you keep wanting to come back to. But apart from that being stupid, there’s something appealing in rewarding not so much a game’s quality but a game’s ability to sell itself, since a) selling themselves is what so many small and indie games suck at and b) selling an experience to the reader so he can sell it to his group is the heart and soul of rpg writing and rpg design.


Haedra Part One: The Gap Into History

I don’t know where the name Haedra came from. It popped into my head and it didn’t sound taken. The Aedra are apparently some magical race in the Oblivion universe but hopefully they lack lawyers. I may change it later.

I’ve been throwing down ideas for a while. Basically, I want to make something a lot like Warhammer in the sense that it would be a world where I can play around with history, and a world with an inherent style to it. There is a Warhammer lens you can apply, a Warhammer example of everythng that exists. I’d like to work towards that. Now, once upon a time I updated Warhammer into Warhammer 4,000, because I wanted to see what happened to the world when it went from the early days of humanism to the depths of liberalism and radicalism. I’ve recently relocated my files for 4K I may post them up again soon. Of course, I could never do anything with that setting without getting sued into oblivion (as opposed to being sued by oblivion).

So the idea was to do a setting firmly entrenched in the Enlightenment, a period generally forgotten by RPGs. It’s almost weird. Warhammer stops around 1648 or so (the end of the Thirty Years War). Witch-Hunter is a Restoration game set in England in 1670. Although including a lot of early Enlightenment ideas like science conspiracies and exploration, 7th Sea is also explicitly set in 1668. Then we jump forward to the Jane Austen RPG (1811) and In Harm’s Way: Dragons (Napoleonic War, so no earlier than 1792) and Northern Crown (revolutionary America so 1776 onwards). GURPS Goblins is vaguely Georgian rather than Victorian (although I think it is more Dickensian, really) but it’s still 19th century. There was Green Ronin’s excellent pirate resource book whose name eludes me right now, but there’s nothing of Europe in the period. Nearly an entire century gone.

And what better period could there be for examining our modern age? A sudden rise in science leading to a spike in atheism, deism and a general disregard of the church that had nothing to do with the Reformation? A sense of nationalism and even internationalism uniting all mankind! Continental Congresses uniting whole governments together about the right way to do things…the world of Voltaire, Walpole and Mozart. And Capability Brown.

To put it another way: it’s about damn time the Victorians stopped getting all the press. Haedra will be an Enlightenment world. With horse – people.

I think I shall create a setting

And not for any particular reason. Not for an RPG or a wargame or any other kind of game, nor for a novel or story, though there may one day be any of these things, or all, or none. And not because I feel I should, although it does seem required for a gentleman of the geeky arts these days to have a few of these in his archives. But simply for the whismy and the intellectual and creative exercise, and perhaps the discipline and skills and general enlightenment I may acquire from doing it.

Not that this isn’t something I’ve done before. You can read a bunch of my setting notes in my RPGNet column. Indeed a lot of them started off as drafts for something bigger, or something that has been put on the back-burner until I find a suitable use for them. The world of the Forest Infnite, for example, was to be a D&D setting but then I didn’t feel sufficiently motivated to hew it to the needs of D&D, and until it finds a purpose, it remains incomplete, but quite rich, in my head. There are a great many such ideas; so many in fact I started that column to get them out of there and hope somebody might find them useful. Alas, barring a few exceptions, settings alone are rarely interesting to anyone but their creator, it seems. But there is something in many of us that loves to know more of the fictional worlds, there ins and outs and intricacies, the nature of the lens it applies to things we know and recognise from our world, the intimacies of history, the perculiarities of geography…and so I shall pursue such things, and see where the sailing takes me upon this new ocean.

Many good settings have a purpose; but a few of the greats began with nothing but whimsy, so we should be okay.  And I do have a conception. It shall be a grand work, a great work, of far horizons, epic scale and deep resonances. It shall be fun, it shall be witty, it shall be intelligent, it may even be wise and beautiful. it shall be many things at once. It shall contain multitudes and may not be self-consistent or even coherent.

Like Warhammer, my true heart, my sanctum sanctorum, it shall be strong with history, strong with culture, and strong with theme; it shall be rich with detail, riddled with satire and drenched in style. It shall be what it is, and no other, and markedly so. It shall shine like a diamond, roar like a cannon and cut forth like hammered steel. It shall be full of things I like and am interested in, and it shall contain, as much and as often as possible, the awesome, the cool and the wicked glee of the mad gods.

Or at least, we can hope.

I may post it about here, and people may read about it. Or at least, I can hope.



No PC is an island

This is a very, very long but excellently written thesis on Robinson Crusoe as the Master Narrative of the white Protestant ethic of exploration and enslavement and how, through the book’s popularity that meme infects all modern culture to keep perpetuating that story throughout history.

The racist and environmenallty exploitative elements of Crusoe are fairly obvious (and the article takes a long time to tell us them again). What caught my eye is the emphasis on Crusoe as the Man Alone. Crusoe is, like Defoe, too Protestant for his time and he finds in the island a blank slate where he can recreate not the world he left behind but his perfect idealised version of it, where all of nature submits to his will. He plunders all the treasure of his lost ship, becoming instantly wealthy, and he uses that to master his domain. What beasts he cannot train he kills with his fire-stick. Eventually, he gathers a follower and builds a great tower. And when he does return to civilisation, he does so as a legend, a great lost hero.

Sound like any PCs you know?

In fact, it sounds like the archetypal D&D campaign.

The idea of the wandering orphans is a cliche in our hobby and one we’ve wisely grown to be aversive towards. But while we dismiss it with one hand we tend to keep hold of it with the other, yes I wrote a backstory but mostly the game is about us wandering through modules, making the natural world dead and taking its stuff. I’m not going to dance about how orc-killing is a stand in for how racist we all are because it’s not that simple and that saw is tired because it’s not that simple and its been overdramatised. The orc-killing is really just another part of subduing the landscape, of the Great White Man turning the wild island of Crusoe into something he controls. That became Taming the Old West, and American fantasy has always drawn directly from that well (as indeed is much of the superhero mythos).

The man alone bringing his order to the wild (in D&D and Warhammer, Chaos, in Gotham, the mad of Arkham, in Exalted, the Wyld etc etc etc) but also outside society (not Dragonblooded, not an NPC class, not a cop) is great for telling stories, especially action/adventure stories.  Have Gun, Will Travel, as Paladin’s card read, is all you need for a story to happen. It allows you to move your characters any and have anything happen to them.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It doesn’t have to have racist or imperial overtones just because it came from those origins, and it doesn’t stop those stories from being awesome.

But the article compares this to the hero of ancient, oral stories. Said stories were almost always told in the third person, by the sidekick survivor, and they were told to the community, and thus very often were deeply about the community or a community. Yes, Gilgamesh went on his journey far across the land but Enkidu is there pretty much as an equal. Crusoe is regarded by many as the first real novel, and it is striking for doing what almost no other writers had done before, which was being told in the first person. A story about an individual, told to an individual, and that allows Crusoe to present the world as he sees it. Which is kind of like handing a setting to the players and letting them mould it into what they want.

Yes, as you level in D&D you get a fortress and followers but you don’t build a community, you create one in your image. And yes, Vampires live in societies of other vampires, but their goal is to kick the old guys out and run it their way. Teenage rebellion writ large.

(As an aside, the really clever thing about Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vinyard is it satirised this idea of total world control. Dogs stressed over and over again that whatever the Dogs believed was true was the absolute truth in the setting. So if they decided jaywalking was a killing defence, then your character would sleep easy. The quesiton was would you. )

The point is, we often lose community in our rpgs, and our PCs. Although we must, by virtue of the PC group tell ensemble stories, games almost always begin by you shaping who you are – a lone character written by a lone player whose interior monologue is, really, for a lone player.And in that, we run the risk of locking ourselves away from aspects of reality which have powerful themes and great storytelling possibilities.

Yes, you can build communities in games but we almost always build it around ourselves, which rarely is a true society. Consider Ars Magica’s Covenant system which while developing an internal society also creates a society that is in many key ways at odds with the world outside it. It is a haven of PC definition upon the world. Perhaps one of the few games that really understands that who we are depends on who we are among is Best Friends, where your stats, IIRC, depend on how the other players view you. On another angle, I once pitched a game based on 19th century Australian convicts re-integrating with society, so instead of starting out a family man and then picking up a gun, you would slowly put down your gun, get a job, build a house and start a family. In a sense, slowly subsuming your original character’s identity into the GM’s world, rather than making it your own, the absolute opposite of teenage fantasy.

Boring? Too close to real life? Hardly relevant complaints in a world where we have RPGs about first dates and falling over. Too railroady? Yes, but that’s life for you. I’m sure Tony Robbins believes we can write our own adventure script for a great many of us – and a great many great heroes  in many great stories – events are more about sinking into the world as it is, not making it anew. Turning your character into just another NPC, because really, in the end, we’re all NPCs in somebody else’s game, right?

Something to think about, anyway.