Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relic Hunters: Desert and Empire, plus, the Value of Open Spaces

The blasted remains of the Empire of old are now barren and lifeless, reduced to lone and level sands.  Once, it was a single nation whose boundaries once stretched so far that the sun was always overhead somewhere.

It was an age of magic, an age of wonders, an age of discovery. It was an age where crystal-spired towers sprung from verdant fields, reaching for the heavens because the earth below holds no more secrets.  The empire stretched from distant Narreth in the west to mighty Urizen, far above the clouds. It was an age when Man held sway over the world, and none could challenge him.

It was a Golden Age. An age of Reason. An age of Law.

…and it ended in fire.

When the mad sorcerer Theol Shaan shattered the Rod of Judgement, he unleashed pure chaos on the world. The crystal towers fell in glittering shards. The fields crumbled and became mere dust. The earth trembled, swallowing the chaos and spewing it forth again as that which lived within it was changed.

It is an age of sorcery, an age of steel, an age of powder-smoke and lead. It is an age where ancient machina and ill-understood spells reach for the glories of the past. It is an age where Man struggles to reclaim his place.

It is a Dark Age. An age of superstition. An age of ancient treasures waiting to be rediscovered.

History and Gaming and the Value of Open Spaces

A lot of settings spend pages and pages on history, and unfortunately for the readers, the authors don't seem to have much of a grasp of what's useful in those history lessons.  They end up like a high school history textbook: this happened in this year, there was a battle here and here - skimming over the subject in a shallow presentation that gives us nothing to be interested in.

Now, as you know from the rest of this blog, I'm a big fan of stealing from anywhere possible, but even I'm hard pressed to do anything interesting with a list of dates.

If I see a history section in a setting, I want one thing: I want it to give me ideas.  I don't care about the exact succession of the monarchs of Voormat unless there's something juicy in there about a lost heir.  I don't need to know the details of the battles between the Chandrish and their elven mercenaries fighting against the Mornese, unless a legendary blade was lost during the battle.  I am about history like Zak is about cities.

I admit, there's a certain temptation to having reams and reams of paper dedicated to the details and history of your world.  Certain GMs and certain players even thrive on that sort of thing.  To me, all of that stuff is completely pointless until it hits the gaming table and interacts with your group.  They're never going to be as interested and into the history of this imaginary world you've created as you are—but they can be as interested and into what's going on right now in the world that they are a part of.

The above is basically all the history I developed for Relic Hunters before play began: simple, very broad, with a couple of important things tucked in there.  I didn't write any more because I didn't need any more: that's enough to set up the situation and give a reason for what's going on.  I knew my players wouldn't pay attention to a detailed history anyway, and writing down a bunch of crap would just tempt me not to throw it out if something better came along.

Picture it: you've spent years writing the history of this world, and all of a sudden a player comes along with a concept that's got them crazy excited—and it contradicts key stuff that you have written.  You've got a choice: kill their concept, kill your world.

The first instinct is to kill the concept, especially given how much work you put into the world as a GM. But you know what all that work is worth if nobody plays in the game?  Absolutely nothing.  So I've been slowly retraining myself to kill the world instead, to get excited about that character with the player and to change whatever we need to in order to make it work.  And if you build in vast, empty spaces where the players' ideas can fit, you don't have to kill anything.

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