Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Game’s The Thing: Collective Settings

So, raise your hand if this is familiar: You’re running a roleplaying game. You’ve put a lot of work into the setting. It’s not modern day Earth or a popular franchise everyone is familiar with. Your characters don’t know where they came from, have no idea where they are, and don’t @&$^ing care either. They don’t engage the setting and since in most roleplaying games, you can’t go too far wrong by rolling initiative against the guy with the thinnest mustache, they make a habit of driving the razor blade industry and wenching with Dwarven women.

Not their fault. No one wants to play the political game and get tripped up on some nuances they missed because either the storyteller didn’t make it clear enough or because they forgot, what with having a life, family, job, etc..

But what if players got to help make the setting?
All a roleplaying setting is is a bunch of cities/planets with names, functions, and nationalities strung together in a physical arrangement with a wilderness flood/fill added to fill the spaces. Yes, you can develop the wildernesses as well, but you get my point.

I’d suggest using cards, since players are a flighty and forgetful lot (You should read the Elseworlds I wrote where Bruce Wayne’s parents’ characters were killed by a rogue storyteller. Adderall and Effort Man really turned Gotham’s gaming scene around). You’d need cards for Cities (of course), and other cards for things like Accessibility, Functions, Style, and Defensibility.

Like this, but good.

Accessibility would describe how many other cities could be ‘adjacent’ to it. A trade hub might have five or six, while a lone outpost might have one or two. In addition, some Accessibility cards might just be something like ‘Ocean’ or ‘River’ that might let it access other cities adjacent to those same waterways.

Style would tell you how the people in the city act. Are they old school and bound to welcome travelers warmly? Are they conniving thieves? Are they prosperous merchants? Desperate refugees? Out of touch artisans? Certainly, the populations of these cities won’t be homogenous, but the perceptions of them will be.

Defensibility is how militant the city is. A city with high, strong walls and a well trained militia might be high, but so might a city that’s situated on an isolated plateau with a single access point…or an island. A capitol might be moderately defended with strong walls that encompass only a fraction of its population. If someone does strike, much of it may be utterly indefensible.

Or…surprisingly defensible.

Cities themselves might have a Significance, a limit on the number of cards that could be played on them. That works if you plan on making small areas you tend to stay in, differentiating cities and villages, but it doesn’t work so well if you’re building a world. If you’re building a world, the general size and populations of your points of interest may be roughly the same. A size bonus card of some kind might be a way to better distinguish places that are just bigger than the norm.

Function is the wildcard of this bunch. It describes a more story-based function of a city. Whether it has ruins, was recently attacked, is a trading post, has a wizards school, or whether it’s just a nice wealthy city that’s safe from all (well, most) of the drama that comes with being an adventurer. A group of players should be able to look at the function(s) of a city, guess what type of adventures they could have there and decide whether it’s a place where they would want to stop. Functions could also have other uses, like conferring a size bonus, defining capitols, or detailing surrounding terrain.

A lot of this is off the cuff. What else do cities in D&D (or any roleplaying game in general), really need to make an impression on players? Should I keep them vague so players have room to fill in the gaps with some of their own details? After we’re done with the cards, we could try to have a ‘fine details’ jam session, maybe?

1 comment:

Derek said...

I like where your head is at sir! This seems like a pretty cool idea =)