Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Introducing the Fifth World in Forge Parlance

Emily K. Dresner-Thornber's two-part article, "The Crunchy Bits" (Part 1, Part 2), talked about the importance of being able to define your game succinctly. So, accepting that challenge, I came up with this concept statement:

The Fifth World tells local epics about feral humans in a living, animist world, centuries after the collapse of civilization.

And a synopsis:

After the collapse of civilization, humans became feral out of necessity. They rediscovered magic, tribal lifestyles, and eventually formed syncretic, feral cultures. Life in the living world can seem idyllic comparatively, but it requires constant renegotiation of the human place in the world against competing human and other-than-human powers. The players tell the stories of the shamans, scouts and braves who step up to safeguard their people and ensure their future.

The Big Three

  1. What is your game about? The Fifth World tells local epics about feral humans in an animistic future. The game talks about the relationships that make up the life of a particular land, both human and other-than-human.
  2. What do the characters do? The characters pursue the aspirations they set for themselves, protect their communities, prove themselves, and negotiate the place of the human community in a more-than-human world.
  3. What do the players do? The players help tell the epic of a particular place, and the human and other-than-human relationships that make it up.

The Power 19
  1. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about? The Fifth World comes after the Fourth World, our world. It reclaims the post-apocalyptic era as something to look forward to, rather than a desperate time. But that always casts a shadow over the Fifth World: they live amidst the ruins and constant reminders, still dealing with the consequences of what happened when humanity didn't recognize the more-than-human world living around them, didn't honor those relationships, and didn't listen to the particular epics of the land.
  2. How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about? Characters develop along a lifepath, by filling in how they've related to their communities and their land.
  3. What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)? The mechanics try to create a kind of ecology, with a constant give and take. Take too much without giving back, and you'll quickly find yourself falling apart. Yes, you can burn your relationships for an added boost, but in the long term, the only reliable source of power comes from those relationships.
  4. How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game? Players have all the rope they need to hang themselves. The mechanics never come in and explicitly reward or punish. Honoring a relationship by acting in accordance with the person you relate to will strengthen it, but you can burn through that relationship, as well. You'll need to always give back more than you take, if you hope to become more powerful.
  5. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game? Most players have a limited number of characters, perhaps only one. The Genius loci plays all the land, which includes all other characters. That doesn't mean that it necessarily falls to the Genius loci to come up with the plot, though; the other players should drive the action by pursuing their goals, leaving the Genius loci simply with reacting, or perhaps pursuing his own characters' goals.
  6. What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?) You might (in fact, you probably should) make the land of the game the land you live in or the land you love, so the epic you tell repeats the stories of the same land you live in, as part of, dealing with the same themes that occupy the land now.
  7. What are the resolution mechanics of your game like? Playing the Fifth World should feel like a shamanic divination. Your character sheet takes the shape of a medicine wheel. Resolution comes from budgeting colored beads representing your different kinds of relationships and means of relating. You don't need to worry about the chance of a die roll; you need to worry about budgeting your strength across many different fields. You can consume everything you have for one climatic encounter, but most of the time, you'll need to balance the needs of the moment against the need to conserve your power.
  8. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about? The budgeting creates an ecology of energy, give and take, relationship with the world around you. You'll need the rest of the world to replenish your energy, and whenever you use that energy, it goes back to the world.
  9. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how? The primary means of advancement lies in building up stronger relationships. No clear-cut, quantifiable metric exists to compare who has advanced more than who, but all of a character's opportunities to grow stronger come out of his relationships.
  10. How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about? Advancement can only come through greater relationship.
  11. What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players? With luck, playing the Fifth World will give players a glimpse of what the world looks like to an animist.
  12. What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why? Most of us have a preconceived notion of primitive cultures as lacking in cultural refinement, knowledge, medicine, technology, and so forth. Trying to play the Fifth World with this misconception will lead to disaster. The Fifth World derives a good deal of its content from real-world anthropology and ethnography, so it won't work with the Hobbesian misconceptions most of us harbor about primitive peoples.
  13. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why? The "cool" factor. The jungle tribes of Texas that hunt giant beetles to turn their exoskeletons into armor or shields; the bike gangs that turn to horses and hunt elephants across the fields of South Dakota; the tribes exploring the heart of the verdant evergreen forests nestled amidst the razor-sharp peaks of an ice-free Antarctica. That element fires the imagination. It banishes the idea of life beyond civilization as "solitary, nasty, brutish and short," and excites people with the adventure of creating a new, tribal future. In the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry used Star Trek to excite us about a glitzy future where technology fixed everything for us. I want The Fifth World to excite us about a future that works: for us, and for the rest of life on earth.
  14. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t? To their own human nature, beyond their domestication. Other games take the stereotypes of primitive life for granted, which means that we keep looking outside ourselves for something to come along and "fix" us. The Fifth World has the audacity to suggest that we don't need fixing at all, that human nature already ennobles us, strengthens us, and unites us with a living world that we don't need to conquer, rule, or even steward. We belong to it.
  15. What are your publishing goals for your game? Make it an open-source game, using an online wiki. We'll publish and sell some books, which will provide a convenience for players more than anything, but the heart of the game will sit online.
  16. Who is your target audience? We'd like to pull over some gamers, but we'd rather pull in non-gamers and people who've never played RPG's before. People with an interest in anthropology or ecology.

No comments: