Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Prehistory Fantasy Setting: Tribes

I've been reading through the Kobold's Guide to Worldbuilding, and one of the articles that really resonated with me was regarding the creation of Tribes, City-States and Nations (a short blurb is also included regarding Empires). They list a tribe as a single community sharing language, race, traditions, etc.

The concept of a tribe's solidarity through race creates a difficulty when running a Fantasy setting: namely that players usually wish to create a diverse spread of characters, so when starting such a game, one must either hamper the players in their choices during CharGen or manufacture a reason for a diverse array of races to come together in what are likely to be seriously xenophobic times.

Now that I've brought this issue up, I'm considering a few methods to solve the problem.

The "Shut Up and Do What I Say" Method:

Obviously I'm not going to word it this way during actual CharGen, but this is basically the method where you (as a GM) inform the players the strictures of the setting, let them know that their choices are either restricted to what you decide for them, or they can try to agree on a mutual race between themselves. I'm kind of liking the idea of the second choice, because it means that after they have argued for an entire session about what race to play, the players will hate you a little less and each other a little more. Don't get me wrong, they'll still hate you a little. You are trying to kill their characters, after all.

The "Do What You Want, I'll Try To Make It Work" Method:

This is, obviously, the opposite of the SUaDWIS Method. Here, you give players the setting, and let them run (mostly) wild with their character choices, and then work the campaign around those decisions. Perhaps they are some kind of fellowship (centered around some kind of mystical engagement jewelry), or perhaps they have been enslaved and have been forced to travel together (like every Dark Sun game ever). Perhaps you can create a more original reason for their diverse group of adventurers to buddy up.

The CRPG Method:

I say CRPG because it's easy to place videogames and computer games under a single umbrella. CRPG could stand for computer RPG or console RPG; regardless, the expression here is in regards to the occasional mechanic of having players 'unlock' various races/classes/etc for later play. This concept really only works if I'm planning on running a game where alternate races are not only slowly introduced to the players, but the ability for the races to coexist is also slowly implemented. Of course this also creates a tension between players and GMs as you may be constantly introducing cool races, while at the same time putting a gameplay block between players and mechanics for...reasons. However, what stands in favor of this method is the idea that players will encounter these races, and so will have an idea of their makeup, their cultural values, and how they interact with others before they choose to play them as a race. This has the ability to cut down on players playing themselves rather than playing their characters.

I'm honestly unsure which tactic I'm going to choose to roll with (or even if I'm going to use any of these), but I thought I'd get my brain in the game again.

Also, as a sort of post-script, I seem to have a really tough time coming back to blog posts after I've saved them, rather than knocking out an entire post in one go, which is actually super easy for me. Just a random thought.


  1. Pendragon is an interesting example of how you can go from Option A to Option C. Initially, everyone has to be from Salisbury, following the same lord, etc. But, as you're perhaps starting to realize, over the course of the campaign things "unlock" a bit. At the moment, we've got one "outsider" character (Edern) with the potential for several more (Edern's kids will be from Gloucester, Pace's kids from Cumbria, Cynrain's kids from Silchester, and then there's that half-fae daughter...).

    A little closer to your purposes, Quest for Fire presents a similar scenario, where all the initial characters are Neanderthals, but over the course of the movie they encounter other hominids (homo erectus and Cro Magnon). So you could easily set up a "tribal" based campaign with the promise that as things progressed, other replacement character options will get unlocked. A prehistoric-era campaign is bound to be pretty high mortality, after all... (I'd stay away from Option Two at all costs, though.)

    1. Yeah, I find myself utilizing Option 2 too frequently for games, and those ones have very low prospects for continuity. It's probably time to crack down a bit more and have people do what I damn well tell them, because they'll have more fun, dammit.

    2. When I first ran Pendragon, my players were talking about going off to Romania to hunt vampires and do other picaresque D&D-style adventures, and I had to work really hard to communicate the fact that Pendragon didn't work that way, but they needed to trust that it would better for it.

      Later, I discovered an essay Greg Stafford wrote that's really shaped my approach to running focused, highly thematic campaigns: