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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Mon Jul 07, 2008 2:05 am 
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Grettir wrote:
Big J Money wrote:
Honestly, when I first think of TRoS, I generally imagine a world where wars are fought among groups of people whom are subject to the rulership of those in power, either through birthright or conquest. People give what lip service to the gods is required them, but ultimately there is no law higher than the sword.


Hm, let me try to rephrase, to see if I get you; if I don’t please correct me.

The key to your favourite setting’s flavour is strife. You would like to see a setting torn and governed by almost constant violent strife, but not strife out of noble reasons, but mostly for deeply selfish goals (power). The second keystone to this setting’s flavour is thus egoism.

A setting dominated by egoism and strife – is that what you have in mind?


Yes, strife and violence because of egoism. Not an anarchial violence that shakes the urbane trappings of one's society, but a violence that seeks an outlet among the exploitable. The exploitable would be (but not limited to) the lowest of classes, and those considered outside the society. Think of how some of the English soldiers, encouraged by royal law, exploited the Scots in the movie Braveheart.

So to restate: This is an urbane culture, but because of this thick dark cloud of egoism, people look for ways to push others outside the safe bubble of society to create a reason to exploit them. This fits the widely oppressive religion; for, to denounce this faiith could mean to be cast outside.

-- John M.

PS -- And when I say violence, I mean bloody violence. There are wolves looking for reasons to paint their swords; they just happen to wear sheep's clothing when others are looking. Maybe for some people these sheep-skins includes a priest's vestments.


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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Mon Jul 07, 2008 7:45 am 
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Thank you for your input, Crow Caller, it is much appreciated. The question wether religious law and prescriptions are actually still right or have wrong is one we will answer as we go along; most probably, it is something to be determined through play alone. For my own part, I feel that answers along the lines of “to be a truly good human being you have to follow your conscience rather than rigid commandments” has become so commonplace that it is already contrite. But we will see.

I would say that at this point, we have arrived at a consensus concerning the flavour of our setting.

Religion is the single most powerful force both politically and individually, in people’s lifes.
At its core, the religion is basically beneficient and well-meaning towards its flock, but its standards and demands are incredibly high. All people save saints frequently fall short of these demands and are almost constantly in a state of penance. Failing to do sufficient penance promises incredibly dire consequences in the afterlife; outright deviation from the religious law promises incredibly dire consequences already in this life.
Politically, the setting has for quite a long time been torn by wars. The eneies are not other cultures or religions, but basically of the same culture, and the wars are not fought over philosophical differences, but only for power and domination. Political entities are small and mostly ruled by self-made men, condottiere-like types with an “everything goes”-mentality. Alliances and frontlines shift constantly, and the religious apparatus supports those contenders who best serve their ends – and undo those who don’t.
The common people suffer greatly from the constant warfare. Most turn even more fervently to religion for solace, but a few turn against it in anger.

Picture the following:
Crops burnt and lifestock slaughtered methodically by enemy troops.
A frothing priest promising hell and damnation from his pulpit.
Marauding bands of deserted mercenaries.
A procession of chanting flagellants.
A priest sheltering dispossessed refugees.
Barely adult farmboys pressed into service as soldiers.
The pillaging of a village, rape and murder.
The raging pyres of the inquisition.
Wondrous and inspiring temples almost touching the heavens above, glorifying God.
A general ripping the crown from the still-warm brow of his former ruler, murdered by no other than himself.
The same general, gracefully acknowledged and anointed as ruler by the local high-priest.
The same general again, torn to pieces by a mob incited by priests’ sermons.
Streets crowded with severly crippled beggars, mangled by the war and tended by a few hopelssly overtaxed priests.
Somebody asking: “How can God let all of this happen?”, and a priest answering: “Because of your sinfulness.”

Does this click with you? I at least hope so; it sure does with me.

Anyway, I feel that the landscape of our setting should reflect and support the flavour of the game. Setting the above in Tolkien’s Shire would be somewhat inappropriate, wouldn’t it? While one could put our flavour in a landscape that was (before the war) especially lovely and paradisical and has every potential to become so again, to give even stronger emphasis to the ravages of the wars, I would personally prefer to have the landscape reflect the harshness of the setting and to be inimical to life. I would prefer an incredibly hot desert with city-states in scattered oases, or failing that a land of deep northern woods with long dark winters bringing loads of snow, or failing that a steaming jungle, lush but stifeningly hot and humid.

Ian and Big J, what do you think of all this?

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 4:42 am 
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For what its worth, whilst reading your post I was picturing towering snowcapped mountain, and endless forests of evergreen trees still covered by the snows of last winter even though its now late spring.

At what point do you guy decide the "era" or play? That is, to say, at what point do you decide if plate has been invented, and if firearms are in use, or if its still sword and shield with the odd bit of "chain" mail?

Cheers!

PS: I see this setting similar to Warhammer's Old World Empire which is in turn inspired by the Holy Roman Empire of old.

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:20 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
At what point do you guy decide the "era" or play? That is, to say, at what point do you decide if plate has been invented, and if firearms are in use, or if its still sword and shield with the odd bit of "chain" mail?


This depends. In my experience, this decision does at some point, well, almost decide itself. In starting out with theme and flavour and making every aspect of the world subservient to both of them by either mirroring them or by being a deliberate counterpoint to them, you usually arrive at a point where a certain technological stage - and thus, and more importantly, civilisational stage - seems just right, and all others don't. Our flavour could work equally well in the Stone Age (think Mayas and Aztecs), the Bronze Age (think Troy) or the Baroque Era (think Thirty Years War) - or anywhere in between.

Crow Caller wrote:
I see this setting similar to Warhammer's Old World Empire which is in turn inspired by the Holy Roman Empire of old.


Yes, you are right, there are parallels in the flavour. Maybe one more reason not to go with a northern and Renaissance setting. But in any case, I would say that the Old World is lacking the theme of spiritual conflict. It is dark and violent, sure, but the religions, even though said to be strong forces, remain very pale in the setting. The question wether the established religions and their commandments are right or not and should be obeyed or not is not a pressing one in this setting - it isn't even present. The way I see our setting, this will be the central concern:

"It is a dark and violent age -- can you still keep your faith? And is it even worth it?"

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:55 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
I would say that at this point, we have arrived at a consensus concerning the flavour of our setting.

Religion is the single most powerful force both politically and individually, in people’s lifes.
At its core, the religion is basically beneficient and well-meaning towards its flock, but its standards and demands are incredibly high. All people save saints frequently fall short of these demands and are almost constantly in a state of penance. Failing to do sufficient penance promises incredibly dire consequences in the afterlife; outright deviation from the religious law promises incredibly dire consequences already in this life.
Politically, the setting has for quite a long time been torn by wars. The eneies are not other cultures or religions, but basically of the same culture, and the wars are not fought over philosophical differences, but only for power and domination. Political entities are small and mostly ruled by self-made men, condottiere-like types with an “everything goes”-mentality. Alliances and frontlines shift constantly, and the religious apparatus supports those contenders who best serve their ends – and undo those who don’t.
The common people suffer greatly from the constant warfare. Most turn even more fervently to religion for solace, but a few turn against it in anger.


This is way cool -- potential characters and plot arcs just jump out at you.

Grettir wrote:
Anyway, I feel that the landscape of our setting should reflect and support the flavour of the game. Setting the above in Tolkien’s Shire would be somewhat inappropriate, wouldn’t it? While one could put our flavour in a landscape that was (before the war) especially lovely and paradisical and has every potential to become so again, to give even stronger emphasis to the ravages of the wars, I would personally prefer to have the landscape reflect the harshness of the setting and to be inimical to life. I would prefer an incredibly hot desert with city-states in scattered oases, or failing that a land of deep northern woods with long dark winters bringing loads of snow, or failing that a steaming jungle, lush but stifeningly hot and humid.


This is fine by me. As an alternative you could have the situation where this world wasn't always this way. For example, you could have a setting with a relatively advanced social structure -- high middle ages or early renaissance -- where country borders are relatively stable, there are large areas of land under farming, and trade is extensive. "Something happens" and we begin the descent into the world we have now. What was farmland is largely abandoned -- rather than going fallow, extensive rainfall produces wholesale soil erosion. The land is no longer good for farming even if the resources were there to farm it. However even now tales are told of how the land once was -- an unattainable golden age, where everything was green and lush and everyone was well fed and free of warfare.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 5:39 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
For example, you could have a setting with a relatively advanced social structure -- high middle ages or early renaissance -- where country borders are relatively stable, there are large areas of land under farming, and trade is extensive. "Something happens" and we begin the descent into the world we have now. What was farmland is largely abandoned -- rather than going fallow, extensive rainfall produces wholesale soil erosion. The land is no longer good for farming even if the resources were there to farm it. However even now tales are told of how the land once was -- an unattainable golden age, where everything was green and lush and everyone was well fed and free of warfare.


Excellent! Bought! This idea of yours is a prime example of what this kind of communal, theme-and-flavour-oriented setting creation can do; one tries to make everything supportive of the theme and flavour. Your idea of the very countryside having become inimical to man is just such an instance - it provides one more incentive for people to question their believes.

So, as far as I am concerned, I have dropped my idea of the jungle. I propose two different flavours and ask Big J and Ian to decide which one they like better:

1) City states in the desert. But the desert hasn't always been rock and sand and heat; once, it was grassland, pasture for cattle and sheep. Then, it became arid, and now it is difficult to graze even goats outside of the oases. Which seem to be drier every year, too. Desertification now threatens to swallow up all lifelihood of the people.

2) A Russia-like northern theme, with plains and huge evergreen forests. Once, this was fine farmland, but then there was a shift in the climate. It became both colder and more humid. Winters became longer, with much more snow, and the vegetational period became shorter. And the summer rains wash away the fertile topsoil. Now, some crops can't be cultivated anymore, and the other yield much less than in the old days. (Picturing what I have just written, I cast my vote for this second idea)

Ian.Plumb wrote:
This is way cool -- potential characters and plot arcs just jump out at you.


As an aside, this is in my opinion on of the main benefits of communal, theme-and-flavour-oriented setting creation. You get settings that just exude atmosphere and in which all participants are really interested, too. I certainly don't want to bash Weyrth, but what we, even though practically strangers to each other, have created communally in not two pages does already beat Weyrth hands down in regard to atmosphere and vivid story potential.

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 3:02 pm 
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Hey guys, first of all I'm really enjoying this Thread, anyway I just thought I'd give my thoughts on Grettir's suggestions for the land.

Now, I think that having the very land resemble the harshness of the setting is a great idea, it just seems to infuse everything together, however I have to say that as a player I would not be too keen on a desert campaign, the reason for this is because in a non-desert campaign a harsh enviroment means having little to no food, where-as in a desert campaign a harsh enviroment means havin little to no water. I know from other gaming systems and from real life experiences that running out of water is really bad news. This being said, in order to have a desert campaign where adventurers can go on long exploration like journies, there would have to be lots of watering holes, however, if there are lots of watering holes then that defeats the desert being a hostile enviroment.

On the other hand however, having the frozen tundra of the north means that food is scarce especially crops, in order to survive one must hunt, however game is scarce, so one must compete, alls this seems to add to the hostile competitive feel of the setting, so if it were up to me I'd vote for this option.

Ofcourse who could also take Ians idea of... "a setting with a relatively advanced social structure -- high middle ages or early renaissance -- where country borders are relatively stable, there are large areas of land under farming, and trade is extensive. "Something happens" and we begin the descent into the world we have now. What was farmland is largely abandoned -- rather than going fallow, extensive rainfall produces wholesale soil erosion. The land is no longer good for farming even if the resources were there to farm it. However even now tales are told of how the land once was -- an unattainable golden age, where everything was green and lush and everyone was well fed and free of warfare." ...in this case it neither frozen north nor burning south, it is simply endless fields of useless land, that is turned to mud with the extensive rains. Here you would get sort dry summers, and long wet cold winters where everthing turns to mud and the land is prone to flood. It would certainly be a depressing place to live, constant rain, flooding and endless mud, add to that famine and desease and you have a dark age campaign where the only light is religion, then add the twist that religion is an oppressive regime and you have a very dark setting.

Cheers!

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 6:19 am 
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Grettir wrote:
1) City states in the desert. But the desert hasn't always been rock and sand and heat; once, it was grassland, pasture for cattle and sheep. Then, it became arid, and now it is difficult to graze even goats outside of the oases. Which seem to be drier every year, too. Desertification now threatens to swallow up all lifelihood of the people.


This gets my vote. I like it because it is different from typical fantasy or historic settings. I also like it because it provides the opportunity for different technological development. With water becoming more and more scarce, effort will be put to conserving water and to developing technology that allows water usage to be more efficient. That'll make our world look and feel different.

Grettir wrote:
As an aside, this is in my opinion on of the main benefits of communal, theme-and-flavour-oriented setting creation. You get settings that just exude atmosphere and in which all participants are really interested, too. I certainly don't want to bash Weyrth, but what we, even though practically strangers to each other, have created communally in not two pages does already beat Weyrth hands down in regard to atmosphere and vivid story potential.


As a player joining a new gaming group you take a gamble on several levels. In essence it boils down to the seemingly simple question of whether you'll enjoy gaming with the group. There are a lot of factors that feed into enjoyment of the game and one that the player generally has no control over at all is whether the game world itself strikes a chord with the player. Usually the game world belongs to the referee and the players play in that group because they happen to like the game world that the referee has created or bought and implemented. This thread shows how you can remove that question from your gaming group. When the players are as involved as this in the creation of the setting then they can't wait to play. They've already invested in the game world and the referee then has an easier time of things -- every referee wants highly motivated players. When you add this to TRoS where the scenario content is derived from the character's SAs -- well, you are effectively spreading the creativity requirement across the whole player group and not just the referee.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 9:57 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
Now, I think that having the very land resemble the harshness of the setting is a great idea, it just seems to infuse everything together, …


This is exactly what writers do – making everything supportive of their theme.

Crow Caller wrote:
… in a desert campaign a harsh enviroment means havin little to no water. I know from other gaming systems and from real life experiences that running out of water is really bad news. This being said, in order to have a desert campaign where adventurers can go on long exploration like journies, there would have to be lots of watering holes, however, if there are lots of watering holes then that defeats the desert being a hostile enviroment.


I don’t view this as much of a problem. The way our setting turns out, the desert itself will be mainly there to provide colour, not to be itself the opponent. In all of fiction, there are only ever three types of conflict:
Man against Nature
Man against Man
Man against Self

Our theme of spiritualism and zemptation is clearly of the “Man against Self”-type. The “Man against Man”-conflicts (violent egoistical strife) and the “Man against Nature”-conflicts (desertification) are only there to strengthen and support this main conflict. The real conflicts of our protagonists will not be with nature and other men; these conflicts are only there to initiate the real struggle, the one with themselves. As a referee in this setting, I would deemphasize any and all “long exploration like journeys”. They might happen, but they are not the main thing, they are not what stories in this setting are really about.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Grettir wrote:
1) City states in the desert.


This gets my vote. I like it because it is different from typical fantasy or historic settings. I also like it because it provides the opportunity for different technological development. With water becoming more and more scarce, effort will be put to conserving water and to developing technology that allows water usage to be more efficient. That'll make our world look and feel different.


I really can see us go either way, both would be interesting and vivid; Let’s see what Big J has to say on the matter.

At this point, in the context of the desert world, I would like to point out an additional benefit of communal and sketchy setting creation: It is in this way much easier to arrive at and play in very exotic settings.

A common problem with the more fantastic and exotic settings is the effort it takes the players to familiarize themselves sufficiently with a setting deviating by a far call from the countless role-playing versions of medieval or Renaissance Europe. A setting like M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel might be fascinating, but if you’d like to experience Simulationism-heavy play in it, you will have to spend dozens of hours memorizing all the alien facts about the setting any of its inhabitants would be thoroughly familiar with. Not so if the setting would have been left deliberately sketchy, to be flashed out communally during play, by use of Director Stance. All that is required in this case is that all participants are on the same page about what the setting feels like and looks like; following this rough guideline, details are then made up on the spot in whenever the need arises.

So our experiment would afford us the opportunity to create a rather more exotic setting then we are usually used to, like some version of Middle Eastern city states amid an encroaching desert.

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 1:39 pm 
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I wish I had more to add. At the moment, I am really enjoying where the votes are going. I'd like to say that I do envision the idea of "technology" developed for the purposes of maximizing water retainage. It would be cool to see pumps, bilges and homemade filter systems made from wood and animal skins in dry communities. Fishoil merchants would hawk the 'next best thing' in terms of medieval contraptions that supposedly either find water pockets deep in the earth, or suck water straight out of thin air. Of course, this is more color than story, and only serves to highlight the desperate times a bit more.

[Edit: Actually, I do have one request. Even though this is going to be a desert region, I would prefer to stay with more western cultures and themes. I have a harder time relating to eastern themes, since I am mostly unfamiliar with them. Maybe a few well-defined ones would be ok.]

-- John M.


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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 5:46 pm 
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Big J Money wrote:
I wish I had more to add.


Don’t worry about that. In my experience, it is only natural that some add more to certain settings and less to others; that’s ok. And don’t forget that your flavour idea of violent, egoistical strife is one of the foundations of this setting.

Big J Money wrote:
Of course, this is more color than story, and only serves to highlight the desperate times a bit more.


At this stage, we don’t concern ourselves with the stories. Our sole concern is colour, colour of a type that will support the theme of our stories. So you picturing details about the setting highliting the desperate times is just fine.

Big J Money wrote:
Even though this is going to be a desert region, I would prefer to stay with more western cultures and themes. I have a harder time relating to eastern themes, since I am mostly unfamiliar with them.


Well, lack of real knowledge isn’t normally a problem in this kind of setting creation. For once, few role players have any idea what the middle ages were really like – and they don’t have to; all that matters is a common idea of what things are like. So if you can at all picture merchants hawking their wares at a bazaar, a muezzin calling to prayer from the top of a minaret, men squatting cross-legged on artfully woven carpets and drinking hot, sweet tea from tiny cups, flashing scimitars, the scent of exotic spices, veiled women, gilded palace domes glittering in the harsh sun, and hawk-faced, black-bearded warriors riding to battle on camels, that’s ample. You don’t have to know anything for real, all that’s required is that you are able to imagine what life might be like in such a place. It’s like I wrote in my last post: It’s not about knowing anything about the setting, it’s about being able to imagine it. That’s one of the strong points of communal, sketchy setting creation.

Big J Money wrote:
Maybe a few well-defined ones would be ok.


I am very glad that you mentioned this – because this is exactly the way not to go with communal setting creation. Settings made up this way start out as very sketchy, and any further definition is done during play, equally by the referee and by the players, by means of Director Stance. Your imagination is obviously vivid enough to picture crazy contraptions for preserving or finding or creating water – it is certainly vivid enough to picture details about a vaguely Oriental culture, and to add them to what little has already been determined in the beginning, to the benefit of all participants.

If you still think that you wouldn’t be up to it, or if you prefer a more European setting for some other reason, please let us know. While I am personally very keen on an Oriental setting I am all against going that way if you are for some reason uncomfortable with it. So, Big J, what would you prefer – the cold and humid north, or the hot and arid south? And if the latter, with an Oriental or a European flavour?

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 6:46 am 
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Why not have the setting at a cross roads? East meets West, North meets South.

You could have anything from Greekesque type people from the West, Rus-like people from the North, Egyptian/African people from the south, Arab type people from the local surrounding areas and more Orientalish people from the East. All loosly based on their real world counterparts, but over time they have come to adopt this new land an culture.

Ofcourse, you would need a reason for such diverse ranges of people to all want to inhabbit the same land, especially when the land is a desert. The only idea I have in keeping with the Theme of Religion and Conflict, is that the camapaign takes place in some sort of holy land, though I'm not sure if that's the way you'd wanna go.

I'm picturing Istanbul in the desert personally, but to each there own I guess, :P

Cheers & God Bless!

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 1:08 pm 
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Crow Caller wrote:
Why not have the setting at a cross roads? East meets West, North meets South.

You could have anything from Greekesque type people from the West, Rus-like people from the North, Egyptian/African people from the south, Arab type people from the local surrounding areas and more Orientalish people from the East.

(...)

... the Theme of Religion and Conflict, ...


First of all, our theme is not a broad religion and conflict, it is more specific: Violent strife for egoistical reasons, and spiritual temptation to deviate from harsh religious law.

The second theme would, I am quite convinced, be diluted by a any ideas of a holy land fought over by several religions. This would introduce the question of which religion is the right one, and in extension the theme of religious tolerance. But with our setting we don't want to pose the question which religion to follow and how to behave towards differing faiths, but the one wether one should still follow a religion that is harsh and oppressive, and if more good will come from doing so or from refusing to do so.

And our theme of violence is one of mindless violence, of strife for deeply selfish reasons, of struggle for raw power. I feel that this is portrayed much more vividly if there is only a single culture. The people in our setting are undivided by ethnic, cultural, religious or philosophical differences. They are basically brothers, and nothing would stand in the way of them understanding each other. They are one people and could easily be one nation and live in peace with each other, but still they war. I therefore think that it would make for a much more opressive and bleak setting if there are no misunderstangs or cultural differences to serve as excuses for strife; this would highlight the egoism behind it all much more clearly.

The Romans had a saying: Homo homini lupus - "man is a wolf to man".

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:27 am 
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Grettir wrote:
First of all, our theme is not a broad religion and conflict, it is more specific: Violent strife for egoistical reasons, and spiritual temptation to deviate from harsh religious law.


This post is spot on -- and it shows to me how, inadvertently, the referee (in traditional RPGing where the referee creates the world) can create a setting for the players that absolutely precludes the examination of particular narrative themes.

I've encountered many RPers who believe that a good referee and good players (which, invariably, they define in such a way as they belong to these groups) can play any type of plot with any rule system and in any game world. In other words the rule system and the game world just don't matter, good gamers can play any style of game. I would also make the observation that these gamers have no experience of trying to do this -- playing out a romance plot in Weyrth with TRoS rules, playing out a siege scenario in Call of Cthulhu, whatever. For me this thread shows in some detail that the game world affects the viability of particular plot arcs -- let alone whether the game mechanics support the game style.

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 Post subject: Re: Experiment: Creating a Setting
PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:22 am 
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I prefer the arid south, but I'd also prefer a European medieval architecture and fuedal system. I'm not sold on that last bit though, so let's see what the concensus of imagination is. I'd go so far as to imagine something like an old stone keep, surrounded by the remnants of a ghost village, and next to a scorching desert basin that was once a lake. This land is old, and it's still in the middle ages precisely because of the harsh times that only get worse with each generation.

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