What makes a Rich Gaming World?

As a player, a rich world is one I’m happy to return to again and again. There is something about these rich worlds that keep drawing me onto the new horizons. So what are these worlds and what is it that keeps me coming back. Firstly some examples…

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth

The classic that has spawned hundreds of imitators making the foundation of the fantasy genre is the only place to start when exploring the idea of rich worlds. Looking beyond the story there are many facets of Middle Earth that draw you in.

Firstly, there is the distinct races of Middle Earth. Each has a unique culture that separates it from the other peoples of the world. The way that Elves exists is distinct from the Dwarven mindset. The quick vicious intelligence of Goblins plays at a different speed to the Ents. So each race or culture approaches situations differently and this can play out in the behaviors of the NPCs, although Players as always remain unpredictable.

Secondly, the use of language or in this case languages. Each language acts as a further barrier to make each race distinct from one another. The harsh sounds of Black Speech, divides the Orks from the musical tones of the Elven languages and the Dwarven Khuzdul. The unique created languages add another layer of richness to the beautiful landscape.

The third is the long history that adds weight to each culture. Thousands of years of history that each individual carries from their own cultures help build a strong narrative. For example;  The eminently that exists between Elves and Dwarves is created from their long history of wars.

Finally, there is the map which represents the geography of the world. For me the map of middle earth provides a rich tapestry to wonder around the page of possibility exploring it’s locations without having to write all the details onto the page, but explodes in my mind filling in the blanks.

George R R Martin’s Westeros

The world of Westeros also has a long history with many elements not fully revealed to the readers (or watchers) of the series. George has previously stated that his inspiration was the Wart of the Roses where this first Tudor king, Henry the VII rose to power followed by Henry the VIII. That time does mark a tumultuous period of English history, and as a fantasy world build it does give you a short cut into creating a rich background for the players to carve up.

Another thing that Westeros has is the taking of standard fantasy cliches and adding a twist. For example; If you look at the Stone men which could be in D&D terms Golems or Earth Elementals, but in the mythos of Westeros are suffers of Greyscale. There are a number of differing stories surrounding each of the major elements existing in the Song of Fire & Ice. So having a basic idea with lots of embellishments and variations to the story existing to add strength to the tales, and natural rumors for the players to shift through.

The World of Darkness

White Wolf’s World of Darkness (WoD), in a similar move to Westeros, shows us a hidden history and what is concealed behind the common news stories of today to illuminate the horrors that lurk at the end of perception. And if we choose to peel back the skin we to can reveal the sores of festering evil underneath. It takes the current world events and adds another layer of meaning to over the top.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

In the first 72 issues of the comic series Sandman, Neil Gaiman weaves together the legends of many cultures with a twist of modern horror to create something new.  The tails are familiar, yet play out in unexpected ways as greater entities that dwell outside the myths impact upon what we know.

What can we do to enrich our gaming worlds?

As the GM or World Creator, what are the simple ways to add richness to our gaming worlds with a huge amount of effort, such as, Tolkien did when writing the created histories for Middle Earth.

  1. Add a map. Nearly every major fantasy series has a map, and you should too. It will help control the space of the game world.
  2. Take stuff from history. Use this to build a timeline to help flesh out your ideas with detailed stories for the major events.
  3. Also having a variation for major event, or building a list of rumors can help add richness to your world.
  4. Steal from myths and legend. By linking to common myths and legends it’s another shorthand way of adding more detail that, as the writer, you do not need to write.
  5. Finally, it’s what is not on the page. Only write what you need at the time for the next game session, unless you think it adds something worthwhile to the world

Conquest 2015

I’ve just found a few characters from Conquest 2015, a Melbourne based gaming convention. It’s reminded me of the fun had and some silly gimmicky trophies won. Mind you, it’s the first trophy I’ve won based on my own effort and skill. And luck, I can forget that. The thanks for turning up trophies I got as a kid really don’t count. However, the best bit was the fun of the kind of games I really enjoy.

Trophies from Conquest 2015
Trophies from Conquest 2015

Early on there was this dungeon crawl, a linear adventure with little scope for creative decision making or characterisation. This been said, I watch the boys make havoc with it all which resulted in the party’s barbarian been eaten by a Mimic and the cleric flame striking both to release him. The Mimic died and the barbarian survived on 1 HP. (My son won the “Stay dead” for his efforts as the cleric.)

I did get to play the board game, Doom, which is no longer in print. As expected, we all died without completing the mission. Although we did run around lots shooting stuff and going hand to hand with big nasties.

The Avengers Assemble session was my favourite in playing the Captain in the post Hydra takeover of SHIELD. I was able to keep the party going and survive some stupid heroics. As a team we where able to move through the scenario and to face the challenges presented to us. The GM was able to keep the situation exciting and to keep us on our toes adapting to our ideas.

The best part was when Black Widow, Hawkeye, and myself were in a subterranean laboratory of  the SHIELD base controlled by Hydra. Where we were trying to rescue scientists without alerting Hydra to our presence. The other 3 where on the surface ready to attack the fortified facility. As professional spooks Black Widow & Hawkeye had moved through the room towards the large vault door. While I hung back and concealed my shield under a large jet engine, and move across the room to discover one of the scientists we are looking for. Natasha plants a bug  so that Tony Stark & Jarvis can start hacking the computer systems to copy all their data so we know what they have being up to.

Discovering what they’ve done to Rhodey, Ironman attacks backed up by the Hulk and Thor. The base realising we are there goes on high alert and starts destroying all the records (computer & otherwise). Realising that we will loose the data and in my rough disguise I take the role of a scientist and order everyone out. Most people start moving out, but a guard points at me saying, “That’s Captain America.” My cover blown and acting as a distraction for the others I run across the room sliding to my knees and pull my mask over my face to recover my shield. (This is where the props the GM provided make it, because I was able to pull the mask down to cheers around the room.)

A gun fight ensures, with the villains entering the room, the Baron and a controlled War Machine. Natasha slips through the door to rescue the other scientists. The Hulk was a menace to all knocking out two players. In the end good triumphs and much fun was hand.

Another highlight was my first LAPR event, Dresden Files, run by either Chimera Productions or LARP Victoria (I believe there is a lot of cross over between the groups.) As a fan of the Dresden Files books and the FATE game system I gave this a go as it combined the two in a LARP format. The result was my character, Marcus, was mind controlled and tried to kill a wizard by throwing him off the building. As you can guess it didn’t work, but with some detective work by the others they discovered the plot, and all of this was not even the main event. Hopefully, they will publish the adventure/event for others to enjoy.

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Finally, a Harry Potter game where I played Luna Lovegood. I used random sketching to get into character. I know I’m not an artist as my raven looks more like a pigeon.

Overall, it was a small and great event with much fun to be had. It makes one of the four Melbourne conventions each year. I’d like to make next years, but it’s will clash with a major medieval event over Easter. So that is unlikely. That still leaves Arcanacon in January, Phenomenon in June, and Unicon in October. Also check out Canned Geek for a list of of Gaming/Geek/Pop-culture related conventions and events.

The art of storytelling

14Every life has a story, it is a story, and creates many stories around it.

Most gamers start with Dungeons & Dragons as their form of live interactive fiction. The lesson learned from D&D style storytelling are simple and thankfully the support for creating those stories has improved over the years. However, much of that Bardic wisdom remains untapped.

TVTropes explains much of the possibility from theme, into mood, and character and motif to make them almost clichés. Another even offering this

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

These only offer a world of rules and pre-packaged techniques that can be applied and their beauty is not forthcoming lacking a true heart to inflame our passion. Because even if the emotion  is expressed by a master, it lacks relevance in our current world.

The art of a good story is to craft a tail that has a life of it’s own with twists and turns, failures and triumphs, and most of all one that can be seen by other.

Beyond that a great story is never just told, but the teller also listens and interact with the other players of the game. To highlight each player’s character in a way that only they can shine.

Even to showcase a minor character in a major way to show that as the individual grows, and demonstrate

Alternative cities in a magical world

Both of the examples below are interesting options for creating a unique city or world for fantasy adventures. A lot of good stories take an odd concept or what-if and just apply everyday logic to it to see what grows and takes shape.

Bones of the Dead

And if some legendary heroes downed a Tarrasque [stats], then this could be the template for the city that emerges from around the bones and keeps it contained. This thread about a city in the D&D universe which is built around the Tarrasque provides great inspiration for a city built around a single thing.

Tippyverse

Then there is the Tippyverse, which is described in this very long thread about all the major cities on the world connected by teleport circles and all production is handles by magical traps. I guess they trigger a magical effect, like fabricate/create food & water/etc. It’s a world where the wizards rule all and are heavily involved with the control of the cities

Alternative Places

But even the two great examples above are still bound by the classic ideas of what a city is.

Does a city need to fill a large area of space? Can a city use magic to exist on the surface of a coin or other small object? Or drawing from the stories of the faeries, can it fill the dreams of others?

Does a city need to be bound to the material plane or can it occupy another reality? This could give rise to various planar adventures as the player reconnect cities that are in different realms with differing realities.

Do the city need to be alive? This can lead to a city of the dead (or undead), a ruined city from ancient times, or an empty automated city waiting for it people to return {Miranda from the movie Serenity}

Earthdawn, Shadowrun, Torg are all good examples of starting with a simple idea and seeing where it leads. All the best stories are What-ifs.

Character Archetypes from D&D

Dungeons & Dragons: Past, Present, and Future is running a showcase of all the character classes, which has been cool reminiscing about favoured character archetypes I’ve played and what they’ve achieved. However, it also reminds me about the limits of such systems and the various versions of AD&D, D&D where build around this. Althogth AD&D 2nd Ed did try a little variation with it’s four basic classes and multiple kits. This allowed characters that are hybrids collecting from multiple templates to create something unique.

To see some excellent examples of the character class stereotypes in popular culture (TV, film, pretty much everywhere) have a look at the showcases below;

Medieval paint recipe

A few years back now, I had the luck to help out with a painting project using a medieval recipe for the paint. Milk powder, builders lime and water. Mix up about 1 litre of milk powder and add 300 grams per litre of builders lime. It looks thin when applied. It has no real odour, an off-white colour, but can be coloured with oxides like ocher.