Wednesday, January 22, 2014

World building

For years now, I've been trying to write an RPG setting for an on-again off-again group I've played with since the Realtime Worlds days. We played mostly D&D4e, but since starting up again we've played the start of a Dragon Age campaign and a couple of D&D Next games1.

I'd been inspired to put this thing of mine together by a map I found online, from a published setting called Freeport. I'd originally envisioned something closer to a Grand Theft Auto mission system than the usual linear(-ish) tabletop quest progression, with the whole thing taking place in one city rather than the far-reaching adventures we'd previously played.

But then Realtime disappeared and we stopped playing for a while, so I put it on the back burner, occasionally having flashes of inspiration about the character and setting I wanted to put together.

The Dragon Age game we played put the idea back in my head, though; and when I found the Fate system, I was hooked on the idea of trying it out. Then last night was the first installment of our new D&D Next game, in a setting written (I believe) by the DM, which has really given me a kick to try and wrangle this thing into a usable state.

It's bloody hard, though - even though I'm building on top of the Freeport lore that already exists, there's a lot about the setting I want to change or just remove entirely. For starters, I want to kick it down the road a few centuries to more of an early-Victorian era rather than the Elizabethan age of pirates. I'm also ripping out magic (almost) entirely.

I'm still not sold on multiple player races; given the diversity of cultures in the real world, Humans alone seem like they should still offer plenty of character options. Though I do like the idea of amphibious Elves, for some reason - I want to split them between freshwater and seawater varities, like river and sea dolphins. And my first ever 4e character was Dragonborn, so I kind of have a soft spot for those.

What sold me on the Fate system is that it's much less roll-reliant than 4e was; I'm a notoriously low roller, and a shift to a mechanic that not only minimises the use of dice but also generally assumes success (with rolls determining the extent to which you succeed or face unforseen consequences) holds a lot of appeal.

There's also a lack of complicated stats to track; you get bonuses to certain skills, you have stunts that allow you to add more bonuses to those skills in certain situations, and you have character Aspects, which are like backstory hooks that can be either beneficial or a hindrance to your character's goals.

It seems a little more roleplay-heavy than the action focus of 4e, but the Dragon Age game got me into my character's head (disturbingly enough) more than any other game we'd played before, so I'm not as terrified by the idea as I used to be.

Still, coming up with an entire world is a daunting task. I'm hoping my enthusiasm for the system will drive me to actually get it together this time. The last game I ran was a 4e campaign that I now realise was a horrible railroading effort, so hopefully the move to a more collaborative system will let me relinquish control a bit.

I'm further in the process than I ever have been before. I have a proper notebook and everything, with colour-coded entries and postits of additional information (and rough NPC work). I have a broad sketch of the story planned out (to a point), and already having a city map to plan around means I don't have to come up with loads of new locations.

The next step is to try and write some actual encounters - figure out how the story starts, how the characters get pulled into it, and who's trying to do what on the NPC side. I'm really keen for it not to be a simple "here is the one big bad guy, go stop him" plot, but I've also got to keep in mind that I've never done anything like this before and maybe I should just start small.

1 We're hopefully going to cycle between them; the Dragon Age game was really fun, and the arc we've played culminated in my character slaughtering most of a village, two other PCs being killed by the city guards and the fourth party member hunting me through a forest in the dead of night before I managed to kill him (I was left with one hit point).

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