Archive for the ‘setting’ Category

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Culture Gaming

May 29, 2017

One of the key problems for roleplaying games is figuring out how much interaction with the broader society in your setting matters or doesn’t.

To give a simple example – if you’re playing a modern supernatural game – does your vampire have to hold down a job? Do they have to interact with the landlord?  How about their family or friends from before they got turned into a vampire?  Or is it all “Politics of the Night Court” and fighting werewolves and such, and we don’t think about the rest?

This question ends up being one of the places where people feel lost when they first start getting into gaming and you give them D&D or a sci-fi game – you need to have an idea of what the fictional society is like and how your character fits into it, if you actually are to roleplay out that interaction.  A knight, a nomadic clan warrior, and hired muscle for a criminal merchant all might fit the “Fighter” class but they certainly will approach the world very differently and be treated quite differently, depending on where they are.  Without specifying that context, it takes a few sessions to even figure out how the world works in the broadest sense for the characters.

This not only is critical in terms of setting up your characters for roleplaying – it sets up what values they hold, what things they’ll fight for and so on.  It gives people options for negotiation – status is a critical thing people struggle for and use as leverage every day.  It creates ties and relationships between player characters and NPCs – and also ties the players into the desires of those NPCs in ways that are reasonable and consistent.

The 3 Questions

What is your role in society, what is expected of you, and what can you request or demand and reasonably expect to receive?

The 3 questions form the basic set up of what you need to know for how things operate in your setting.  Of course, these questions are the sort of thing you could write whole anthropology courses on, so it’s not so much about detailing every possible space, but giving sufficient direction that people can have a good idea and the negotiation/question and answer at the table during play is short and easy.

Specified Roles

Some games handle this by limiting players to specified roles in society – Dogs in the Vineyard, Legend of the Five Rings, Pendragon, Paranoia, for example, all work on the idea that the player characters are from a specific group for the most part, which means the answers to those questions are mostly the same, and the players then create their characters within that space.

This turns out to work pretty great for the sake of getting people into play quickly, and also reliably hitting certain aspects of play.

Massive Setting and Negotiation

Another design strategy is to give a wide setting with a lot of different possible answers and the group having to pick a society/space to focus on and narrow down the roles from there.  Glorantha, Shadowrun, D&D campaign settings, and most of the White Wolf games fall into this category.

While this does provide a lot of options, I have found the process of groups negotiating down to the actual scenario and characters is rarely quick or smooth unless the group has already done a lot of pre-negotiation about what they’re looking for.  A lot of the hurdles start with, “But did you read ALL of this setting material?” and then happen into, “And how did you interpret those ideas?”

Fuzzy Outlines & Negotiation

D&D is the game that exemplifies this design choice.  In baseline D&D, you get some features of things that exist in the setting – dwarves, clerics, deities, but it doesn’t tell you how society really works – are dwarves normal people? Are they discriminated against? Respected and treated with awe? Are clerics rare and amazing like saints? Can anyone get their broken leg healed at any local temple? Do deities demand prayer, blood offerings, incense, what?  It’s really fuzzy for the most part.

So, as a group, you have to either take these elements and form them together yourself, or leave it open and then find bumps when you discover that one player expected one thing and another something completely different.  (“Wait, I’m a cleric, shouldn’t people treat me with respect?” “Wait, people treat half-elves poorly?”)

This choice often has complications, since a lot of the assumed expectations usually will be what someone is drawing from a previous campaign or a setting or series of books and so on, and without clarity, the disconnect can be quite steep.

Practices and Meaning – pre-loading vs. in play

Consider someone doing something insulting without using words.  What do they do? Do they spit on the ground?  Scowl?  Chuckle?  Throw an object instead of handing it over? Bump your shoulder? These things are meaningful, and the context of the situation and culture are what make them hold that meaning.

Since most RPGs are set in fantastical and futuristic settings, far from whereever you happen to be, the meaning of practices might be very different, and the question is how much is this going to matter for your game, and how do we, as a play group, get to a shared understanding?

You can pre-load all of that with lots and lots of chapters of expected behavior to read up on.  Or you can, as a GM, explain as you go what the implications are (“They kneel, but it is only about a second before they look up to you.  They’re respectful, but clearly in a hurry.”)

I’m fairly certain that this language of culture and implication are why game groups seriously invested in a setting-heavy game, tend to have a slow recruitment and deeper investment in long term play – the time it takes to learn this and fluently apply it in play, can take months or years.

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The Monsters in your Worlds

March 4, 2015

There’s an interesting thing about “monsters” (aliens, robots, spirits, whatever) in your setting – how do people in the world react to them?  This doesn’t just define the tone of the setting, but it also affects whether people have any means to dealing with them, how well they can plan/work around the beings and so on.

Here’s four ways to set that dial:

Familiar

Familiar monsters are ones the world knows well.  If it’s controllable, the creatures are used towards society’s benefit – griffons as mounts for knights, sandworms that make psychic power drugs, etc.  Uncontrollable monsters, or threats, are fought, warded off, using whatever means are available – maybe that’s just big walls, garlic hung over doorways, forcefields, magic talismans.  Your entire society or setting might be shaped around these creatures.

Effectively the monsters are like tigers or wild animals in our world – we know of them, if they’re dangerous we have sense to respect that, but it’s not the wild fear of something completely unknown.

If the monsters are intelligent, they’re effectively another culture to deal with.

Familiar Monsters have the benefit of making your world very different than reality, though the monsters themselves become mundane.  Notice that this doesn’t mean society is necessarily in power OVER the creatures – you might have a world where a horde of rampaging robots follows a never-ending storm seasonally – no one can stop the horde, but they can close the gates and wait out the annual Sweep.

– How do they impact the world? Has the culture or mythology changed because of them?

– Does society make use of them?  Does society need to avoid them? Obey them?

– What are practical changes that come out of this? Trade? Survival? War? Business?

Unfamiliar

Unfamiliar Monsters are either rare overall, or just happen to be rare in the area you’re in.  Unlike familiar monsters, society is poorly equipped to deal with them – they have rumors or only partial information at best, and none of the necessary tools or organization to deal with them effectively.

Unfamiliar monsters work pretty easily for creating the classic “monster” – a threat that people cannot deal with well and it requires heroes to even resist them.  The flipside of it is that you have to have a good reason why people haven’t figured out how to deal with them yet.  If the same monsters keep showing up, then they’re not going to be unfamiliar for long.

– What kinds of things can the monster(s) do that people aren’t ready to deal with?

– Why is the monster unfamiliar?  What needs to happen to change that?

– What sort of myths, rumors, or straight up projections are people applying to the monster?

Unheard of

Monsters that society simply has never heard of before.  No one even has rumors or stories about them.   Whereas people might be able to figure out which rumors about vampires work or don’t work because they have those rumors, an unheard of monster is simply an enigma you have to learn as you go.

This could be the ancient evil that has been locked away for thousands of years with no surviving records about it (or, usually, the heiroglyphs on the temple that seals it away that you just opened…), or it could be something that is kept unknown by some kind of conspiracy or cosmological reason – such as invisible death gods that each are waiting for our time to come up and so on.

– Why is the monster unheard of? Has it been hidden? Is there some kind of magic involved?

– If the monsters are not trapped, what have they been doing? How have they affected the world, or history?

– Is there any projections people might throw upon the monster, mistakenly? (“It’s really an angel, see…”)

Unprecedented

Unprecedented monsters are absolutely new to the setting.  They haven’t existed previously.   This might be a sentient AI you create, or some kind of horrific reanimation experiment or a magical construct.

Society not only lacks means of dealing with these things and whatever they can do, there’s the strong possibility that they may break our understanding of the rules of the world or physics.   There’s a good number of horror movie killer/monsters that effectively do this – it’s not like everytime you burn someone to death they come back as a dream-hopping murderer, it’s a random, new thing and no one totally knows what the rules are and how it works.

– What happened to bring this thing (or things, plural) into existence?

– Do they break the physics or “rules” of the setting in some way?

– What do they want? Are they driven by a primal need, a misunderstanding of how the world should be, or perhaps some kind of violent twisted idea?

What’s it mean for your game?

I’ve seen a lot of games turn weird when the expectations of what the monsters are, or should be, aren’t aligned at the table.  Sometimes this comes down to people complaining about “bad roleplaying” or “metagaming” but a lot of it is “What SHOULD be the expectation of how we treat things in our game world?”

The other part of it, too, is that a lot of game settings don’t ask the next step of what are the implications of some monsters existing or doing what they do in the world?  The common parallel is magic – “If we have easy access to magical healing, how does anyone die of disease anymore?”

Consider how the monsters shape your society and world, and make sure the players know what to expect out of it.

Also – what if different creatures occupy different categories? How do you respond and what does that mean?  You might have a sci-fi game full of aliens and robots and that’s all Familiar, but space zombies would be Unprecendented… and what does that mean for your setting?

You don’t have to slot every creature into these categories (especially if you’re playing a game with a giant book of monsters) but you should take some time to consider what role monsters play in your game, and if there’s any key ones around which the game revolves as a whole.

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Drawing within the lines vs. drawing our own lines

November 22, 2014

One thing I’ve been thinking about is setting as an emotional investment and two ways it works.

Drawing within the lines

Take pre-established setting, and one of the core goals of play for a group is staying within the setting canon, and the fun and events created in play are primarily about how the characters fit within the canon or interact with it.

This requires the group to sufficiently coordinate on what that canon is, and how they’ll use it.  It’s also where I see a lot of groups begin splitting across lines as a few people have read the 402 pages of setting scattered across 8 books, and then you have the other player who looked at the pictures in half of one book.  Some friends were really invested into Lord of the Rings and it was kind of critical to get group re-readings of select books to get themselves on track.

So, if say this was a superhero game, based on say Marvel comics, it would be very important to respect and give nods to the setting bits – SHIELD, Victor Von Doom, Morlocks, etc.   The focus of play is playing within and interacting with all of these bits.

Drawing your own lines

In this kind of play, the core focus is not necessarily overriding or breaking canon, as much as it is focusing on what you create revolving/tied to your characters.

Again taking the Marvel Comics example, you might instead focus on the heroes being a small team in some corner of New York, and the setting focus would be on their personal families, friends, nemesises and so on.  The focus of play would be building this entire world and whether the larger setting bits come into play at any point, or simply remain distant ideas rarely mentioned, wouldn’t matter as much.

Where the focus goes

Although this seems mostly like a stylistic choice, I think it’s becomes a bigger issue – this goes everywhere from how you build your characters, what relationships/NPCs you establish, what conflicts you choose to build your focus on and so on.  It spread further out in terms of where the camera or spotlight goes, where conflicts focus around scene to scene, or story arc to story arc, and even what should be getting narrated, if at all.

Both Simulationism and Narrativism can go either way, which I think is one of the tripping points for the issue of fidelity vs. protagonism as a dividing point for a lot of people.

Sim as interaction-with-setting is Fidelity to the Setting in terms of canon elements, primarily, while Sim as creating-parts-within-the-setting is Fidelity to the Setting in terms of tone/mood of story, color, and established tenets of what fits within that world.

Nar as interaction-with-setting is Protagonism with some elements established as boundaries – “We can be knights of the Round Table, but we can’t kill Arthur, or fundamentally change the other major established characters”  Nar as creating-parts-within-the-setting is pretty trivial – it runs on basic Narrativist play without any thought at all, except perhaps intentionally avoiding canon elements.

Time and feedback loops

Provided everyone knows what elements are involved and are on the same page as setting, playing within the boundaries of setting requires less time investment – once the tenets/elements are established, you can play one shots of games and get that payoff in play rather easily.

I think this is one of the reason superhero games work so well for many people – genre familiarity, familiar elements, short story arcs are already part of the genre.   You don’t have to build up tons and tons of investment and exploration – you can simply shorthand because people have read the comics/watched movies – they know who the characters are, they know what their motivations are, and the emotional content is already loaded to some level.

That is, if we run a game where Batman and Wonder Woman get married?  That sentence alone stirs up a lot of thoughts and ideas for conflict and I don’t have to spend lots and lots of time explaining who these characters are and what it might mean or why it might have conflict or drama involved.

Creating your own setting investment within a larger setting requires more time and tighter feedback loops to get everyone making things that are important and interesting and investing back into it.    “Sure, sure, the X-man Mansion was destroyed, but what we really find interesting is our mutant kids who have all moved back into one person’s extended family house and so-and-so’s brother who disowned him and my character’s best friend who doesn’t know I’m a mutant…”

It takes more time or tighter design to create these new elements, to get everyone invested in them and to focus on them instead of the shorthand for setting elements.

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The Genreless Hurdle: Character Creation

December 3, 2013

I’m gearing up to run a Hero Quest game in the near future.  One of the things I’ve found over the years is that games where the mechanics allow players to “do anything” with a character, often also suffer the problem of not giving enough guidance as to what kind of characters fit, or how to get create a character with a good angle in terms of motivations and conflicts.

The usual solutions are:

1) Have a familiar genre so the group simply falls back on the expectations of the genre (superheroes, police drama, etc.) – games like Capes, Big Eyes Small Mouth, and Primetime Adventures utilize this.

2) Have a massive setting dump in the form of either the game books themselves or a large licensed set of shows, movies, books for people to have read as fans.  This is pretty much what Heroquest by default has going on, and usually how most folks end up running something like GURPs or most genreless games when basing it out of a specific setting.

This is one thing where a class based game usually excels – you have a pick list of options, and a bit of description on what that looks like and directions to go in play.

So I’m snagging a few tricks from some other games to put together a character generation process tailored specifically to the setting I’m working with.

Roles

A pick-list of professions or roles within a community. Simple, straightforward, much like classes, but also the least interesting part.

Notable Aspects, Spirits, Heirlooms, History

Each of these are pick-lists as well, but angled a bit more – designed to give some idea of the character’s place in the society – where does your family stand? What are their obligations?  What is their influence?  Reputation?  (by extension, where are you to all of that?)

In a certain way, this sets players up to “build your own splat faction” – much of what Whitewolf or Legend of the Five Rings type splats do, is provide a political/philosophical faction which then you build  a character aligns with that angle, or is built to go against/play off of it.   In this case, you build your family/clan situation, and while you’re doing so, you’re considering whether your character personally is with this, against it, etc.  In a way, this mirrors a bit of what both Pendragon and Artesia do as far as generating your family’s heritage.

Not only all of that, but many of these are also built to try to provide places to angle conflict from – obligations, competition, etc.  This ties a bit into what Polaris and FATE games do with aspects – something can be both a source of power as well as problems.

The other feature of this is that it helps players get the setting – even if you don’t pick some of the options, you can easily see that there is probably another family or clan who would fit one of the other molds – so you can think about your character and clan in relation to that – maybe they’re your rivals, your allies, etc.

Values and Relationships

I’m also using my HQ advancement rules I wrote a while back.

With all the above, then we look at the village/Clan’s values as a whole, and you basically place your character as one who upholds, or challenges society, and what that looks like.   And you name a few characters that matter and why they matter.  This becomes the mechanical hooks that keep this focused in play, not merely background material.

Starting Points

While it’s been set up as pick-lists, it’s not limited to just those lists – other ideas can be used as well, just that the list makes it easy to find a direction instead of looking at a blank sheet of paper.

Obviously, this seems like a bit of work, but the other advantage is that as a GM, whatever the players don’t choose, I can simply run down the lists and pick something if I need to improv a character, clan or family NPC relatively easily.

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Reclaiming Problematic Material

November 19, 2013

One thing roleplaying does really well is the ability to take a setting and simply do it better – excising the problematic aspects.  This doesn’t have to be very complicated, but it does require knowing your setting and genre expectations and how to twist them and being able to talk about that as a group.  Dev Purkayastha’s Firefly re-working is a good example.

A big consideration when you’re reclaiming a setting is how you want to address the problematic aspects:

1. Presented as background

A lot of settings do this, and actually this is why a lot of settings are rife with problematic material.  Someone put something in and didn’t think about the implications for play and whether it fits the rest of the tone of the setting.   Or, worse, they basically thought it would be cool while trivializing something pretty serious and ugly.

This option is pretty shitty all around.  It includes something serious, but doesn’t say where the boundaries are or how to engage with it – it just sits there like a landmine waiting for people to step on it.  When, where, and how do you include it and why?

The only folks who find this a great option are the people who are unbothered BY the problematic thing itself, and use it as a way to engage in a form of “ha-ha-those-people” kind of jokes and behavior through imaginary play – after all, it doesn’t matter how insulting or painful something is if you never have to interact with the targeted group or, you don’t care and you’re using it as a microaggression at the table.

2. Excised 

I often do this for my setting material – just cut out or change the problematic into something ok.  This is a great option when you want something fun, escapist, and don’t want to have to deal with bullshit.  “Ok, we’re doing Lord of the Rings, but women are equal, there’s no “primitives” like Ghan-Buri-Ghan, and no sketchy miscegenation scare BS like the half orc character…”

Excising might also involve ADDING stuff where there’s exclusion – “We’re playing Firefly except Chinese people actually show up as more than weird background folks in 1800s garb…”

3. Criticized

The problematic material exists in the world, but is going to be addressed as something problematic, not ignored or left uncommented on… or worse, celebrated.   This requires some thought and discussion, since you probably want to agree as a group how far play will go into addressing the problems and how dark it might get vs. when to cut away.

Dog Eat Dog, Steal Away Jordan, Dirty Secret, and Dogs in the Vineyard are all games that thoughtfully include problematic material with the idea of it being criticized as a key part of play.

4. Solvable?

A big question is whether the problematic issues are to be solved in the game itself.  If the setting has sexism, can you, through the course of play, change society to remove or at least seriously diminish the it’s power?  Transforming a culture or society is a big deal and certainly a great thing to play with, but if that’s what it’s going to be it’s going to be the focus of your game and you want to know that before you start.

I ran a Dogs in the Vineyard game where a player once decided, without warning, that her character was going to lead the NDNs to revolt against the white settlers… it felt very much like it was coming out of a weird place of white guilt, but just as important, was the fact that I wasn’t playing with the assumption that the problems of setting (Mormon Utah, 1800s, racism, sexism, etc.) were going to be resolvable in play.

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The Library – campaign idea for Sorcerer

June 27, 2013

2 Statements:

San Francisco – a facade of prosperity falling in on itself.

Endless shelves of books, doorways (physical and metaphorical), and sound of pages turning.

Introduction

It began with something you had to do. A task that was important, and one that people said was impossible. But you were determined, and you wouldn’t stop looking. So you researched – libraries, online, anything. It took months and you found out about The Library. Maybe you found a website, or a piece of paper was folded up in one of the books you had looked at… it explained a very simple ritual.

Write down the name of someone you love. Slide it under a closed door. Knock once on each corner of the door. Open the door. It led to the Library, where you could find all of your answers.

A book on anything. “How to bring John Smith to ruin and steal his wife in 6 months.” “How to cure your brother’s cancer”, “How to transform yourself, Christine Jackson, into a millionaire in 3 years”. Anything for anyone. Check out a book and everytime you opened it and read, it would tell you what you would need to do, for your circumstances to do the thing you wanted to do.

There was a price though. The name you wrote on the slip of paper? You can’t remember it. Or the person. And neither can anyone else. I mean, the ring on your finger means you were probably married, and you start to cry if you try to think about it too much, but there’s no records, no memories, it’s as if in some alternate universe, you married the love of your life, and in this one… they’re somehow gone.

…maybe you’re better off not thinking about that. Go to the door, knock on the four corners and open your way to the Library. There’s probably a book you can get to overcome your sadness.

Concept

Modern supernatural – the players are people who have done the ritual and gotten access to the Library. Each player has checked out a book, which is effectively an “object demon” in Sorcerer rules- it provides information and powers to help the character achieve their goals in line with the book’s “topic”.

Thematically, the issue is one of addiction – the books are extremely useful, but they take you further and further from normal life – a life of learning how to do things on your own, of making mistakes, etc.

Humanity is: Connection & faith in humanity. Gains are when you choose to trust your own abilities or other people in difficult situations over the power the Books offer. Checks are when you go to the Books or the Library for normal, human tasks, or cut off human connections for such things.

For non-sorcerous types, consider gains or checks not to be about the Library or Books, but rather idols or magical thinking – which could equally apply to delusions, religious belief, get-rich-quick schemes, etc.

Humanity 0: You write your own name on a piece of paper, slide it under the door, knock 4 times and are never heard from again. You disappear from reality and everyone who cared about you takes an immediate Humanity Check. Yes, this might spawn a domino effect of disappearing people…

Non-sorcerous people who hit Humanity 0 basically give up on reality instead to live in their delusions. Think of the end of Requiem for a Dream…

Lore Descriptors

Naive – you’ve found the Library and this one Book. For whatever reason, you haven’t had a chance to explore it or learn more.

Initiated – Your first trip to the Library was because someone else brought you in. What happened to them? Are they still around? What are they doing and what’s your relationship to them?

Informed – At some point, you either asked the right questions, got info from another Sorcerer, from your Demon or spent some time in the Library finding out more about this Sorcery thing altogether.

Broken – You don’t remember how or why you know these things. You just seem to know

Price

In this setting, all sorcerers share the same price – Lost One.

“You gave up someone you loved. They were written out of reality, imperfectly. No one remembers them, no one has records of them. But maybe there’s keepsakes left behind. A single photo of a person you don’t remember. You start crying when certain songs play on the radio. It hurts to think of the past.” -1 Die to dealing with your past in any way.

Telltale

Sorcerers pick up a small, useful, but dead giveaway. They will always open a book to exactly the section or page they want, even if it’s a book they’ve never read before. It makes normal research and reference terribly convenient, but they can never choose NOT to do this – it happens anytime they open a book.

Sorcery

Contact – after the First Sacrifice described above, one can simply reach the Library by knocking on the 4 corners of a closed door then opening it. The Humanity check occurs when walking through the doorway – so non-sorcerers who may get involved may avoid or incur this depending on if they, too, go to the Library.

If someone chooses to do further sacrifices – writing down the name of a loved one, sliding it under the door before knocking, they get a bonus to all further Sorcery on this trip equal to their current Humanity. It also incurs yet another Humanity Check AND increases the penalty of the Price by another die, permanently. Writing out parts of reality and yourself is not a good practice.

Summoning  Walking the endless stacks of the Library, looking for a book that does exactly what you want. The more specific the title the more bonus dice you get. “How to become rich’ is no dice, “How to become rich by faking insurance fraud with my grandfather’s house and arson” is worth bonus dice.

Binding Declare out loud what you intend to do with the Book and what it provides, and walk out the door with it. Binding always works, so, it’s really about whether you really understand the book and what it does or not that the binding strength is looking at.

Punishment Deface the book.

Banish -Throw the book through an open door. If successful, the door will slam shut as it flies through and the Book will no longer be here.

Contain -Books can only be contained by older writing mediums – the most common method is to bind it in cloth or parchment strips with detailed information on a topic of which the Sorcerer knows a lot about on their own (You can use Cover vs. the Demon’s Power to get bonus dice before rolling).

Other methods, such as scrolls, or tying it between stone tablets could work as well and it mostly depends on how much time and effort you want to take and how secure you want the Book to be against outside tampering.

The Books

When you go to the Library, you can find a book that explains “how to” for nearly anything. They’re titled in ways that explain exactly what they’ll tell you to do. The books’ text will change according to the situation – it will always be the information that the Book is trying to give you to meet the situation’s needs.

Books count as Object Demons and can have a Power no greater than 6. The Books Need is to be read for 30 minutes or more at least once a week. Books confer powers onto the sorcerer, usually after the sorcerer completes some form of tasks or minor rituals. (“How to find out tomorrow’s stocks: First you must go to these 3 websites, pull the numbers from these 12 companies, then by calculating…” – because this requires action on the part of the sorcerer, it may produce bonus dice before using the power…). Often enough, the “task” is simply flipping a page of the Book before the power is conferred and activated.

All Books will have Cover (appropriate to their topic), Perception (usually a special sense tied to their topic – “Know what is wrong with broken machines” , “Read the emotions of another person” etc.) and often but not always – Boost. Books may additional abilities which are conferred upon the sorcerer.

 

Knowledge

What if I just spend time at the Library reading books and don’t take it home with me?

Pick a topic, spend a lot of time at the Library reading various books but don’t take any home. Great, you’ve now got the knowledge “in you”. That’s what you’re taking home, so that’s what you’ve Bound…
Knowledge counts as Possessor Demons and have Power of 7 or more. The Knowledge has Need for you to come to the Library once a week and do several hours of study. (Remember, entering the Library is automatically a Humanity check…) Knowledge simply takes over the character to do the thing you’ve been studying on… often obssessively, ruthlessly and without regard for society, social mores, or your relationships.

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Tenra Bansho Zero: Wait, I like this scenario…

October 25, 2012

Finally got to reading the included “playset” with the game – basically a nailed down setting bit for people to play in.

Normally I hate specific setting stuff in games – either lots of dry almanac style information that you have to crack open and think hard about to make useful, or lots of completely meandering history that is too convoluted and disjointed in it’s own ways. I had saved reading this towards the end of going through the book because I’m so used to being disappointed in this stuff.

Here, TBZ homes in on a simple, important issue – only talk about what is relevant to leading to current conflicts. In 21 pages you get few states to work with, but basically in 11 pages you get a good focus on one, with an idea of what it’s recent struggles are, what direction it’s going, what threatens it, and who are the folks in power that might save or damn it.

Like a good character, it’s got a direction and motivations driving the whole land and it’s politics. The characters are also laid out with their own goals and desires, and any one of them would be equally as entertaining as a PC as much as an NPC, and since they’re left without stats, it’s pretty easy to swing them either way. What helps is that no one is a clear villain – everyone’s got an understandable motive.

Under each section describing something or a character, they give suggestions story/situation ideas to jump into play with.