Archive for May, 2008


Setting is an angle

May 31, 2008

Why is it some games can give you 1-4 pages and sell you on the concept and give you enough to roll with, and other games have 200 pages of made up history that does nothing for you?

The trick to setting is that it has to be meaningful. The meaningful bits are what you load context with, that makes any given scene or event powerful instead of mundane. These are the hooks with which players build stories and meaning for play.

So like those last couple of posts where I redid Bahamut and Tiamat? I basically loaded them with values. Values are an easy way to load any setting with meaning. Groups, politics, philosophies, even the way you write the setting and the history explains an attitude about how to approach life, and players identify with them or want to twist them a bit, or express something about those values. This is a trick that White Wolf games use to the utmost with their splats and clans- the groups exist to sort players ideologically and set them against each other (or at least, provide tension in the face of larger problems).

What about places or objects? Again, it’s about detailing their history with something meaningful the players can play off of. A field of bones means little. The field of bones where most of your people were killed? The field of bones where dragons come to die? The field of bones of angels? There’s all kinds of ways to slant it and tie it specifically into your setting history and make it meaningful for players.

The other thing is to take the generic, and give it something specific. If we’re talking D&D and we have wizards? Come up with a specific order of wizards. What are the costs and prices for joining the order? What is the price if you leave the order? It’s one thing if being a wizard just means, “knowing how to do magic”, it’s another thing if being a wizard means using a magical pot full of the bones of children, or if it means having rescued a ghost, or if it means giving up half your lifespan. Maybe it means you’re automatically ocnsidered the enemy of giants and they’ll seek you out if they ever hear of you.

This context now loads the choices the players make in character creation. It provides both a cost and a challenge and gives more direction when people make those choices in play. It also loads the context when the players encounter a wizard (or whatever) in play.

The questions I ask (not necessarily in this order, but generally):

1) What is the local area/culture that the game is set around (city? nation? star system?)
2) What are the most relevant conflicts going on right now?
a) Who are the major powers in that (large factions-wise)?
b) What are their motivations?
3) What history plays a part in that?
4) Are there any kinds of slants or twists I want to take on game’s classes/clans/etc.?
a) Tie those into the above(or come up with them first maybe!)
b) Decide if this has any mechanical stuff I need to change
5) Tie the above into places and/or objects
6) Add description and color!


Nyambe thread… countdown…

May 26, 2008

There is a thread on about Nyambe, which is filled with half clues vs. cluelessness, but nothing head-explodey… yet. Read at your own risk.

On one hand, I have to respect that it’s one of the few settings based in Africa, period. And possibly the only setting not based as “a place where europeans go for adventure!”. On the other hand, I feel like I’m not sure who the target audience is with it.

As far as gamers (or the many people raised in a culture with little actual history of Africa), there’s not a lot of real info- some neat mythology, some neat classes, but little in the way of laying out social structures, which a bunch of folks probably need to make it less “Africa the Magical” and more “Africa where my hero comes from”.

A couple of friends also pointed out that the artwork ranges from solid to problematic, and that it’s really interesting how the more “evil” demihuman types fufill the darker, more traditionally african appearance while the nicer ones move away from that.

Of course, it’s not like we’ve -ever- seen rpg material that is less than 5 stars before right? Actually, I think the thread probably will eventually lead into something more telling about gamer culture and it’s issues with cultural appropriation rather than about the product itself…


His hand leaves a mark on all he touches

May 26, 2008

Just a week ago, I listened to Luke Crane’s interview on Fear the Boot, where he mentioned he’s doing work on Bella Sara, which was hard to imagine.

But seeing this Penny Arcade strip?

I know it to be true.


Cults of Tiamat

May 26, 2008

Tiamat, Queen of Power, The Ancient Way

Amongst ancient nations, the rulers did not bandy about with new gods or ways, they did not quibble over the laws of short lived mortals or fashions of thought- they sought the source, the truth, the way of the First Queen. Today, a few places still know of her and practice her ways, and in time, they will rise as all things which find truth must.

She is forgotten amongst the world, though this is part of her power. While many argue and theorize about virtue and power, she holds the primordial laws of power, the primordial laws of virtue. The deserving and clear seeing excel, and those blinded by illusion must move with unseen currents beyond their ken. The few who know her are empowered- they swim freely while others drown in fate.

Tiamat’s truth is greater than any sage, wizard or wise man can grasp, for that reason, she has given us five paths, five voices, five ways, allowing each to excel and embrace truth according to their destiny.

The Head of Rulership

A peasant does not become king by fate. Great things are not accidental. It is the bold and the willing and the strong who rise and prosper. It is those who are not willing to accept their role, and not be deceived into accepting less, nor placing themselves below lesser beings that find the truth of Rulership. Those who have found their lot in life have no place here, Tiamat’s crimson head speaks to those who will forge their own destiny.

The Head of Fury

Justice does not create itself. Those who have been wronged have the right to take vengeance, to exact retribution. The world is full of wrongs and those who do wrong, and only those who are willing to make their own justice can find it. This path is simple and open to all, for who has not been wronged in this life? The ebon head of Tiamat grants the mercy of vengeance to the suffering.

The Head of Laughter

Life is short and joy is fleeting. Yet the truth is that life is joy and to be enjoyed to the fullest. Many would enslave you to fear joy, to work tirelessly and die, unfulfilled as they are. Few can find the freedom and peace that true joy brings. The path to joy is in the moment- a dance, a song, a drink, a caress, a taste, a vision- and one which requires opening oneself to new paths to joy. Tiamat’s emerald head knows that there is no limit or law to joy- each person can find their own path and nothing is wrong in it’s pursuit.

The Head of Law

The wise should rule over the unwise and guide them. As an enlightened ruler, you must show others the true and right way to live. They may be trapped in foolish beliefs or traditions, but with applied discipline, you can improve the world for all. Once society works according to your wise plan, all will be well. Her Ivory Head helps the wise and just conquer ignorance and it’s followers and bring them to the right path.

The Head of Wisdom

The only cause of failure is a failure in understanding. The path to perfection is perfect knowledge, and those who pursue seek the direct path to truth. Imperfect knowledge and beliefs often attempt to bar the way, to limit the paths to understanding, yet how can one find the unlimited truth through limited means? The path of wisdom is one of unlearning restrictions as much as it is learning what is yours by virtue of seeking. The First Queen’s Azure head opens the path to sudden illumination and understanding.

Though Tiamat offers us many paths to the truth, power and understanding, it is not for any one mortal to try to walk more than one at once. In fact, as each head is the truth, it must by nature be jealous of the others, until the understanding of the unity of the Five is achieved. It is by following the path of one, that understanding all occurs.

You will find her followers in the courts of kings and queens, in guilds of mages, amongst peasants and old peoples’, you will find her truth anywhere, where someone is willing to seek beyond the paltry destiny handed to them on a plate. Her truth is not for everyone, only the deserving, and only the deserving are strong and bold enough to not look away, to accept the truth of power, of the solitude of the path, and make the necessary sacrifices and steps along the way.

It is not a path for the weak of heart, but the truth never is.


Cults of Bahamut

May 26, 2008

Lord Bahamut, The Wings of Light, The Wheel of Law

Most of us know the common phrases, “May the Wings of Light protect you” or “May the Wheel of Law protect you”, but few realize the origins of such common blessings. Both reference the Divine Dragon that fought during the Gods War and whose name is holy and not spoken.

Around the world it is easy to find tales of his battles and triumphs against evil, countless peoples and places saved and touched with the divine protection of the Guardian Dragon. It is these places, scattered and ancient, where his orders and worshippers can be found.

Oh? Did you not know he is still worshipped? Few do. Most people seek simple things in life- food, shelter, love, children, and there are deities that protect and provide for communities in these ways. But all of these things, simple and humble as they may be, can be wiped out in an instant by uncontrolled power and malice. It is for this reason that The Wheel of Law refuses to sleep, refuses to rest, and knows that evil must be hunted down lest it grow again. It is also this reason that few choose to take up this unending path of service.

You will know his followers by their signs. The Wheel of Law, the Wheel with Wings, or, the very old ways, a curved line with wings and a circle, the closest representation of him that is allowed. Within ancient ruins or temples, you may find a carving of a single dragon scale, and holy ash offered below it.

We begin by apprenticeship- it is not teaching in the classic sense, but a maturing, for it is not enough to simply desire his protection and power- you will become a vessel for it, an extension protecting others in turn. It is your courage, your will, and your strength of mind, body and heart that will continue to guard the world. At the end of it, you will pray or meditate alone, until he grants his Blessing and Vision to you, and gives you a glimpse of your Path.

This is not an easy road. Not only is the rest of your days spent seeking out evil wherever it may lie, but just as stories around the world exist of his protection, his enemies have not forgotten either. To the north the Beholders remember the only army they have every raised in all of time being blasted to nothingness by his Holy Light, in the East, it is rumored a Lich King still seeks revenge for his missing limbs and across the world there is no place without evil that does not begrudge the Wheel of Law. Taking up with the order means accepting fierce and ancient foes.

You have chosen a dangerous path, a journey fraught with many perils. At least, then, seek out his followers and know that as long as you walk in light, the light will not turn you away.