This week has seen some positive and clear progress on the SF setting that I've been posting about on and off over the last month or so. The setting is now under collaborative production with the first pair of players and, frankly, we're pretty excited about the basics we've thrashed out already. If you're new to this thread, check out the previous articles starting with Recurring Themes in SF.
Planning a new campaign, to be played online with friends all across the world, has thrown up a number of new challenges and exciting opportunities.
This post is a way to help me organise my thoughts and propose a number of cool possibilities. So... here goes with the madness...
First of all, there is serious power in collaboration.
This idea began to really surface a couple of years ago for me as a pushed-for-time GM running the regular home-based Friday Night Roleplay group. In short, I was hopeful that my players would be willing to join me in co-creating a setting and running games in it.
There have been serious barriers to this aim, not least of which has been my reluctance to let go of the traditional GM control role. I always wants things to fit my own vision of things, even when players suggest cool innovations, and end up cherry-picking things rather than really listening to player wants.
That said, the other major barriers are two-fold: the players aren't used to collaboration and the systems don't always accommodate it either.
Players don't usually expect to be creatively involved, at least not my players. They are ok with thinking up a hero and, perhaps, tacking on a background slug. They just want to get on with playing, however, and don't want to spend precious session time chatting about setting design... and the rest of the time they are busy with work and life. This is a barrier to the collaborative idea.
Systems assume GM control. At least, the systems we prefer do... you know, the simulationist style games we prefer. In fact, even the narrative style games tend to assume a strong Narrator. I realised this fact only this week as I began to read the FATE Core
.PDF (available from the Kickstarter campaign page
Why do systems place barriers to collaborative setting design? Well, imagine you want to build the setting I'm proposing using Traveller or GURPS or a similar system; you will be writing crunchy conversion rules for equipment pretty quickly, as well as adapting character traits for the players to choose from. Using Traveller I might need to adapt the Career tables; for GURPS I need to tell them which Advantages are available. Sure, they can help with this... except, who wants to spend games night working through lists of game traits?
No, collaboration has to be built into the game experience from the word go. That's why HeroQuest and FATE have been appealing strongly to me for this project.
The first step is to take a narrative approach. Ditch the system choice and start by engaging the players in the project. In this case, two guys have shown interest; one is seriously excited about collaborating on the setting, the other is (so far) wanting to show up and play.
Step One for me was to get email chatter bounced to a forum, so we could talk online and keep the thread clear and open. This has, in just a week, generated the basic assumptions and background for the setting - raw, rough and ready to use.
Step Two has been to find a wiki space so that we can record the "canon" of the setting as we create it. Wiki implies collaboration from the word go. It's private, so that we can mess around and not feel that we have an audience yet, but can be made open if we feel we have something to share.
Step Three has been to realise that we can use any system we choose... and that this depends on the style of game we want to play.
Some settings are hard-wired into the rules that support them. Or, put another way, game designers build a system to play in a particular setting. Examples are games like World of Darkness or Star Wars. With time and popularity these systems can be stripped out of the setting and made multi-genre, but they always taste the flavour of their original form.
Other settings are looser and fit the form. Mykenaea, for instance, has been built for use with Rolemaster. It is flavoured by the system now, most notably in the way that magic works. If I wanted to run Mykenaea with another system I'd need to either model the same magic system or accept a major shift in the setting. D&D does this to settings too.
This new setting, however, can be trans-system in nature. In other words, it will demand that the system be adapted to suit the setting. Depending on the style of game I want to play then I will use a different style of system.
For loose and high-octane adventure I am tempted to play with FATE or HeroQuest. These model cinematic / narrative styles and suit heroes who are dealing with televisable stories. For more serious and simulationist tales, however, I might choose Traveller5. All of these systems, however, will need to be adapted to fit the setting... not the other way around.
What's My Point?
Well... my point is that the creative fun of the setting is the heart of the collaboration. It's vital to get the setting roughed-out and into play quickly. Thus, the players can be engaged in quick sketching of the setting and then moved towards active play, filling in details as we play, to maintain interest.
The setting will evolve and grow in play. I'm not going to spend weeks writing alone and hoping that my players will like the outcome. That was how I worked on Mykovnia... and that way is hard work and might lead to a living campaign. Without ongoing interest, however, it is prone to running out of steam if I ever run out of steam.
This setting will evolve and grow to meet player needs. They know that they have a stake in everything the setting offers from Day 1. They will be encouraged to add details and suggestions to the setting as play progresses... and we'll simply record and organise the notes.
If a player wants to take off on a side-track and detail something they are interested in, who am I to stop them? No, as Narrator, I'll just read and digest the ideas into the campaign as it evolves.
Overall, the setting is a group property. It exists for the entertainment of the group. It is created and maintained by the group for the duration of play. If play continues, it will grow and evolve.
No matter what, however, the setting cannot become a slave to a system. It's the other way around: the system must deliver on the type of game the setting demands.
Labels: Fate, GMing, musings, SF, Traveller