Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Setting First Game Design

I feel like I haven't been gaming as much as I would like lately. Part of this is just the time of year, as life and work tend to become quite hectic around now. But, it's also a matter of focus. I've been doing a few games here and there, but each has ended with the rather unceremonious death of the PC.

Well, I want to get going again, but this time I want to approach things a little bit different than I normally do. In most of my Solo games, I've started with the PC first, and then tried to build the story and the world around them. Or, I've started with a module or something like that. For this game, I want to try building up a setting first, give it some degree of detail and conflict, and then create a character to part of this world. If they die, perhaps the setting will outlive them, and the initial PC's death will simply become part of the background. Of course, not everything will be "known" right from the start. What details I create are intended to be "common knowledge" in the setting. Perhaps everyone "knows" that the local merchant is acting as a front for criminals. Maybe this is true, maybe not. Perhaps he's being forced into it due the gang threatening his family. Maybe he's actually their boss. Maybe the merchant and the thieves are both members of an insidious cult. I won't know when I start--and it's answering the "maybes" that will hopefully form at least part of the game.

Now, the first question is "what game/setting do I want to play?" As I had little idea of what I wanted to use, I immediately discarded any generic system. While I'm actually a fan of a couple of these, they really only work when you have a very clear idea of what kind of game you want to run. I then used a couple of tools and resources I was recommended, but none of them felt right for me. Not that the ideas generated were bad, per se, but none of them excited me or got me interested. It did clarify that there were some ideas I didn't want though, and that was helpful as well. Finally, I just wrote down a list of the games I already own, and came up with reasons to discard them. I'm playing in a traditional D&D game, so that was out. I've done a lot of Vampire and am planning on doing a game for that once Chicago by Night is released, so that was out. Went through the lists, and finally realized that the game that had what I wanted (ie: just kind of everything), that I knew pretty well, and that I was actually kind of excited about exploring was Rifts.

For those who don't know, Rifts is a "kitchen sink" game, set in a magically infused post-apocalyptic Earth.  There's mecha and powerarmor, defiant computer hackers, mystics and summoners, dragons, superheroes, knights and cyborgs. It's crazy. The rules are old and even the most die hard fans complain about them incessantly. It's also just one of the games I adore for reasons I can't adequately explain, and that I've never played enough. So, Rifts it is.

With a game decided, I next needed to develop a setting to play around with. Rifts, as I mentioned, is crazy. It has everything from mega-city Arcologies to huge stretches of demon and monster infested wilderness. There's a basically Neo-Nazi Empire dominating the Mississippi river basin and the Great Lakes, Vampire Kingdoms running Mexico, a Lovecraftian Monster ruling the returned Atlantis--just, all kinds of crazy stuff happening. I have a natural predisposition to the "basic" area of North America, so I decide to set my game somewhere there. Except for that though, I'm pretty much open to whatever at this point.

Given that, I flip open my copy of the Adventure Guide, which has some basic rules for creating communities. One can either pick what type of community one wishes to create and get a pile of points to purchase various attributes, or you can roll. I decide to go with a "roll first" approach, and then I'll tweak and revise it as needed.

Step One: Orientation &Disposition. I roll and get "Tight Bonds and/or Strong Family Ties."  The people of this community are tight nit, and organized along close families.
Step Two: Type & Size of Community. I roll and get Advanced Village or Small Town. This is actually a pretty prosperous and decently sized community for Rifts. It also gives me a pool of points to spend on other features--185, if you want to keep track. I'm still going to focus on rolling, though, and will only edit if/when I have to.
A. Weapons & Armor: I roll and get None. No one in the community has advanced weaponry (Mega-Damage in game terms), and only a few basic hunting weapons. I leave this alone for now, but note that I'll probably want to come back and boost this later. At this point, the town is incapable of even the most basic levels of self-defense.  At least its free, with no cost to my point pool.
B. Medicine: I get Very Good. A few proper doctors, a larger number of nurses/paramedics, a small clinic, and a good number of midwives/holistic medicine practitioners. At least there are people to patch up those mauled from the dangers of the world. Costs me 15 point.
C. Agriculture & Natural Resources: I get Enviable.  This town is in a good spot for fertile farming and/or good ranching. Plus, probably quite a few resources that could be traded. Costs me 20 points.
D. Real Estate/Land: I get Prime. Weather is stable and normal, and the area is relatively safe and defensible.  Maybe they just don't need a lot weapons? Costs 15 points.
E. Vehicles & Fuel: I get Very Basic. Mainly horses and livestock, but a few ancient and beat up motor vehicles and the like are around. Fuel is an issue. Costs me 6 points.
F. Administration & Social Structure: I get Fearless Leader. The town is ruled by a strong man, a petty king or other local tyrant. He might be feared or loved, kind or brutal. But, we're all placing are hopes on him. Maybe he has the ram power to protect the town, hence why we don't have weapons? Costs me 10 points.
G. Social Alignment: Mixed Anarchist & Unprincipled. For those more familiar with D&D, these are the "neutral" alignments. Personal honor and ties matter more than laws and codes. Makes sense for a small, family oriented community. Most conflicts are resolved through family elders worked out arrangements than by appeals to the Leader, who only operates as the final judge or in cases that impact the whole community. Costs me 4 points.
H. Magic: Good Knowledge. Ok, so, the town is familiar with magic, and has some vague idea how it works. They also know enough to know that magic is a raw power, with both good and evil practitioners. There's about 3 of these practitioners in this town, plus a few psychics. Cost is 10 points.
I. Racial Tolerance: Disapproving and Suspicious. Race in Rifts isn't about skin color, but like actual "aliens who look like cactus plants." Given that this is a collection of family clans more so than anything else, I imagine they're leery and initially hostile towards any outsider. Costs only 1 point, though.
J. Trade: I roll and get None, which I'm really not that happy with. I want at least some sort of ties to the outside world. It currently costs me no points, but its another thing I'd want to increase.
K. Threats. Dangerous. The community is pretty often beset by troubles, which might explain their limited trade but not their lack of weapons. Maybe the problem is between and other communities? In this category, the more you spend the safer you are. So, this is only a 3 point cost.
L. Skill Level & Professionalism. This is a category where you purchase certain highly skilled NPC's. I decide to skip this step, and will play around with it once I see what else I have available.
M. Community Overall: Average. Most people are illiterate and uneducated laborers and farmers, with only a few highly skilled professionals (doctors, wizards, mechanics, etc.). Cost 5 points.
N. Shelter: Fortified. This is the best for this category. Almost every building is fortified and reinforced, there are more than enough fortresses and bunkers to secure the people in the town, and there's even highly advanced and secure walls and towers securing the perimeter. No matter how dangerous the land outside the town, it would take an army to seriously threaten this community. Costs me 35 points though.
O. Security & Fighting Force: Standing Army.  A professional and competent military force garrisons and maintains the town, compete with advanced weapons and armor. So, that explains how the town gets by without any weapons among the citizens. Costs 20 points.
P. Power/Energy: Good, Hydroelectric Power. While the have some back up fuel and wind powered generators, they have a steady and good supply of power from a local damn. Costs 20 points.
Q. Special Features. Like category L above, this is a category where you can buy various features to round out the community--good maps, landing strips, specialized workshops, etc. I hold off on this for now.

With all of that, I've "spent" 164 out of my potential 185 points, and have 21 remaining. There's a lot of things I'd like to improve and special things I'd want to buy. The Security in particular is just outrageous. But...I'm also seeing a bit of what makes this town tick.

So, what if, this small and prosperous community existed since the apocalypse (or close enough)--isolated from most of the great dangers that best the world, though of course still dealing with the horrendous aftermath. For most of its history, it had a dedicated Protector. In Rifts, this is pretty common for small towns--often something like a Cyber-Knight (a psychic warrior who wields an energy sword and is most definitely NOT a Jedi, thank you very much), or a Glitter-boy (pilot of the most advanced Mecha suit ever developed). Though it could also be a powerful wizard or superhuman or whatever.  In any case, it would probably be a familial legacy.

Somewhat recently, the Protector fell. The community was left defenseless, and vulnerable, and turned to a powerful band of warriors for aid. They had the resources to pay their outrageous demands, and the warriors managed to overcome whatever was threatening them. But, they saw the prosperous, well defended town, and saw how defenseless the locals were, and decided to make the place their home.

The warriors are now raiders and mercenaries, using the community as a safe and secure base of operations. The people of the community have been reduced to something like serfs, completely dependent on and vulnerable to the warriors. The leader of the warriors, I'm going to say the son of the one who moved them in, is something of an "absent-minded tyrant." So long as the people of the community stay out of the way and pay their tribute and taxes on time, he doesn't much care what they do. In fact, most of the mercs aren't even present most of the time. The "garrison" is a combination of the elderly "in retirement," sons and new recruits being trained, and wounded individuals recuperating.

Not a bad spot to endure the apocalypse
I decide to stick the  community somewhere in Vermont/Upstate New York. To the north lies a number of small, independent city states and kingdoms along the St. Lawrence, and beyond them the overwhelming state of Free Quebec (they were part of the "neo-Nazi empire" I mentioned earlier, but split off a few years ago. Rifts is...complicated. They're still pretty evil and nasty). The warriors ply their trade along this area, with some forays to the Atlantic Cost. They aren't inherently evil, just a brutal obligation to the people of the community.

Note: there's like 50 Rifts Sourcebooks, and I'm sure at least three of them detail this area. While I enjoy a lot of the material, I'm not tied to canon in any game I play, so I'm going to ignore what ever the "official" lore is for this area.

I decide to "spend" my remaining points in boosting Trade to something like Established--enough that the town can survive and justify adventures moving elsewhere, but not enough to radically change anything. The remaining points I don't care about too much. I am, however, going to have a few more rolls. I want to roll twice for "L. Skills Levels & Professionalism" and just see what major NPC's are in the area. It's a chart from level 1 to 45. I decide to roll 1d50 and see what I get.

29: Pirate
05: Cyber-doc

I have no idea what a Pirate is doing around these parts. Maybe he's on the run? Perhaps he has a long buried treasure a PC can go after?  The Cyber-doc is a medical professional with a focus on Cybernetics. I'm not sure if he's part of the mercs, or operating on his own. Maybe he's "moonlighting" and equipping adventurers with special upgrades? Eh, we'll see.

Finally, I'm going to roll once on "Q. Special Features." I get Harbor. Oh. That explains the Pirate. I shift the location slightly to Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River. The mercs use this route to get out into the more prosperous St. Lawrence corridor. Hell, maybe the mercs and pirates are all one and the same?

Time for some names. I decide to call the community Cresthaven. I don't know...I just like the sound of it. Maybe something to do with "crestfallen"? The warriors I decide to call Mardok's Rangers.

And that seems good enough for this post. I have a game and a basic idea of a setting. Next time I'll go more into the details of the locale, it's history and the like. I'll also be tacking a few questions, such as:

* Who was the Protector?
* What are the "dangers" around Cresthaven, and why is Mardok so unconcerned about them?
* What do the people believe?
* What is the relationship of the magic wielders and the Rangers?
* Who are the primary families in town, and how have they responded to the presence of the Rangers?

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