Tuesday, August 30, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 14: Emergent Play

I have been reading through Burning Wheel and Diaspora more and more as I work through this project. Reading through Diaspora got me itching to reread through classic Traveller. So, I did. And in reading through it I realized something. It is flipping awesome. Mostly in that it seems to not have a setting to it. Instead the setting(and make no mistake there is a setting), is revealed through play. And looking through the other games I have been focusing on I realized that this is true of them, as well.

In Burning Wheel the game is very much revealed as you play. The mechanics emphasize a certain style of play. In the lifepaths you get a very specific feel of how the world is as you make your character. If I had to pick one system to run a Middle Earth game it would be Burning Wheel. Every aspect of the game leads you to that sort of feel. Now having read through some of the other stuff done with the system, it can be said that other games are just as viable, just setting up different life paths. And that is true, I am merely talking of what is presented in the book.

Diaspora looks very open ended on first glance. Hell, the damn thing sort of looks like a text book on gaming with Fate. It is all the needed items, with no clutter. No unused space, almost everything in the book is rules or about the rules. If you look within that architecture though, the game is dripping with setting. From the first piece of fiction to the last the game is all about telling a very specific story. It just doesn't come right out and tell you specifically what the story is. It is about being on a ship, traveling from system to system and the troubles that occur in that regard. The problem a lot of people who deride this game is that they never played Traveller. Diaspora is Traveller with a smoother rule system, and slightly different set pieces.

OK, so what have I learned from this? How does this help me with my game? The short answer is that it has shown me a couple of things I didn't realize I was in love with. First, I love Life Paths in games. What this means, to those who do not know, is that character creation takes a number of steps. Each step represents a time period in your character's life. In Burning Wheel, you start with birth, in Traveller you start with your first Job, and Diaspora starts with early childhood(in a very nonspecific way). Then you go through the character's life up to the point where your character is now gaming. I love this because it forces you to have a back story. You know where you came from, who you were involved with, that sort of thing.

The second thing I realized that I loved was the minimalist approach to setting. I am not saying that I want to work less on the setting, nor that I am lazy and just want the easy route. This is far from the easy path in design. When you have as much space as you want to write you can put any old idea you have down, and then call that setting. With the minimalist approach, I have to look at every sentence, every idea, and ask myself, is this necessary? Does this sentence add to the game? My goal for setting now is to try and do what diaspora did with its setting. Little blurbs here and there, and the rest is explained through mechanics.

I also really love Traveller adventures. Seriously go check them out, they are some good stuff. I really like how each adventure adds to the setting. I will endeavor to do something like this with my game. I would love to put out several adventure books, each adventure in them adding a bit more to the world. That way, everyone learns about the setting together, in play. Which is important. We do not roleplay in order to read things, we role play to go on adventures. If you have to read several chapters on the setting then you are really missing out on the real joy of gaming. Which is gaming. So I want my setting to be integral to gaming. There will be few to none true setting splats. Instead there will be things that you can do that will get you involved with the setting.

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