Friday, 2 October 2015

Devils Advocate to RPG-think

An interesting read at the ConTessa blog, about worldbuilding and how 'trope-heavy' RPG worlds are broken:
Got me thinking about how this is a very simulationist way of thinking (I use the term only because I have yet to find/invent something better), but I wanted to address the many points, and posting heavy text blocks in someone elses blog seems.. excessive.. or even rude.
So I'm going to play:

Devils Advocate to RPG-think

I won't assume you've read the article, instead I'll sum up the points and address them from the narrative perspective. 

1. Magic Shops: The Premise

So, the idea is, that in each and every town is a supposed magic shop full of ingredients and components, spell books and scrolls, potions and the like. The likelyhood of this happening is next to zero, so why does every fantasy RPG do it?

Lets set up some understandings. to be an RPG world, you can't have just one set of heroes. Its not a 'these are the only heroes there are' story, because if it was, the entire premise of anyone having magical potions available for heroes is preposterous. Every single potion, scroll or magical weapon would be unique items, made by unique people, for unique reasons.

Ye Olde Madgick Shop
So then we are left with two possibilities: The world has a fair number of heroes, or the world is filled with heroes.

With a filled with heroes concept, then its obvious that every town or village should have a magic shop. They become the 7-11 of the fantasy world. This in itself should require the simulationist GM to need to label the bottles 'McDonalds Healing Potion" or "Healthy Meal" with 1 potion, 1 ration and 1 charm (one use) resist all.

The 'fair number of heroes' premise, would be something more akin to a car salesman. you're not going to make sales often, but when you do, you pay all your bills for the year.

Personally I like this idea.. little old man, alchemist, retires, has a little shop front, makes salves for the locals, in case they scratch their knee, but need to dance that evening. but once in a while, he breaks out the expensive stuff for the heroes that pass through, the gold they dump on him, buys the next 2-3 sets of ingredients to brew them up again, pay off any debts/tabs built up since the last time, plus some change to buy Christmas gifts for the next 10 years.

For Narrative GMs:
Players are not really taking note of the reasons for the magic shop to exist. There doesn't need to be a magic shop in every single town, it just so happens, there is in every town the players happen to go in.

2. Thieves Guilds: The Premise.
Suprisingly (or not) finding images of a Theives Guild was hard
Mostly just in game images. Art by Isriana

Here, the idea is that, since earth has very little proof of guilds of thieves existing, therefore, they didn't exist. This suggests that they were just good at what they're supposed to do. Remain hidden from public. The Mafia always seemed like a thieves guild to me.
Moreover, the concept is that any kind of 'guild for one class' would have far reaching effects upon the world at large, heirachy, dues to the city council, power play, etc.

Now, the effect would be far more prominent if we have a filled heroes world because almost every hero would belong to a guild, and there would be some kind of guild in-fighting.

A fair heroes world, would be more likely to have singular guild halls, with affiliations to other guilds. Asian fighting schools had this, students could travel to a nearby town and talk to the dojo master about his own master, and if they were friends.. he could stay for the night, maybe even train somewhat.

For Narrative GMs
Unless your plot involves or revolves around the interplay between guilds, there is no reason for the players to see any. Ignore this and include them as you will.

3. Temples for each god: The premise
City of Churches You'd need a city just to fit one of every church - Art by Chao Yuan Xu
For each Cleric/Paladin/Priest to access their spells, they need to pray to their god in a specific temple? I was not aware of the rule myself, but even if we disclude(yes, the taking out of an included item) the requirement, pretty much most villages have a local temple to the local pantheon.

I'm not really at all sure why this is considered strange. All across Europe I saw temples and churches to multiple religions, if the town was big enough. Cities would have hundreds of them. Not one temple would turn away a person who wanted to pray, regardless of religion.

Now, sure, maybe some gods hate other gods, so praying in a rival gods temple might be considered rude or worse. But surely the gods wouldn't require their followers only worship in a temple. They'd lose half their followers (I was mid adventure, but my god didn't answer me, so we called off the quest)

For Narrative GMs
Again, your players are traveling to places where your god has sway, unless the plot requires that your cleric has limited access in these lands, creating a power sink for the group, to make the next scene more dangerous (and the players have to think more with a low/no powered cleric).

Worldbuilding, can be in many ways, the opposite to Plot building. Maybe instead of Narrartive vs Simulation, it should be called world-built or plot-driven styles of play.

For Narrative/Plot driven play, there is no need to care if your world 'works' or not, the shop keeper is surly because the story works best that way, not because he had a bad argument with his wife the night before, about the lack of flowers for her anniversary.

But for World Builders, these things are critical. You can't have magic shops, thieves and fighters guilds and player specific temples in every town, you need to map out the influences of each of these forces, and how they came about in the world, to ensure that they are robust. 

More to come on this train of thought.