Thursday, February 26, 2009

One Map

At GASPcon and Dreamation, I used a pre-generated region for the playtests, in order to get into regular play as quickly as possible. I do subscribe to the philosophy of Fred Hicks that character creation should play like a game unto itself, but for the purposes of conventions, sometimes compromises become necessary. Since I had a pre-generated region, I produced a map with all the information printed directly on it, invested some time into making it look nice, and had it printed at FedEx Office (the copier chain formerly known as Kinko's). At both cons, the map seemed like a big hit. It happened at Dreamation, too; plenty of people remarked on how unique and evocative they found the map.

In native cultures, that "native" part plays a big role. E. Richard Sorenson describes the sense of space in "preconquest consciousness", saying, "Geographic sensibility was simply affect relationships thrust out onto surroundings. Such geography was haphazard and rarely uniform. It fluctuated over time, from place-toplace and from individual-to-individual." (Sorenson, 1998)

In indigenous societies such as the Native Americans and also the Australian Aborigines, great importance attaches to the relatedness of a person to a particular named place. Such a person might introduce themselves by saying: "I am from this place, and my father's family comes from these mountains, and my mother's from this river." It is only after describing in some detail their relationship to that place, that land, that they can proceed with the business at hand. In Euro-American society, we are much more likely to introduce ourselves and friends by saying "what they do," their profession, accomplishments, and the like. We don't know where we are "from" very often; even if we own a house somewhere, we might not really be "inhabiting" that place with consciousness, or feel at home and rooted there. The Indo-European tribes have always been nomads, wanderers, emigrants and invaders. They invaded Europe, conquering and dominating the aboriginal civilization known as Old Europe, thousands of years before they set sail for the so-called "New World." It has been aptly said, that as the Euro-American descendants of the European invaders and colonizers begin to understand the true story of what happened, perhaps the time for the real discovery of America has now come. (Metzner, 1999).

That "real discovery of America" lies at the heart of the Fifth World. David Abram (1997) also writes powerfully about the centrality of place in the native sense of self, going so far as to claim that "[t]he local earth is, for them, the very matrix of discursive meaning; to force them from their native ecology (for whatever political or economic purpose) is to render them speechless—or to render their speech meaningless—to dislodge them from the very ground of coherence. It is, quite simply, to force them out of their mind."

Naturally, with sentiments like that, a map of the setting has to play a major part in the Fifth World. But the v0.6.0 game that I ran at Dreamation has other maps, as well. The character sheet really presents a relationship map in disguise (I use the term "relationship map" here in its most generic sense, not in the same sense as, say, Ron Edward's Sorcerer). You have a character built up from relationships, so your character sheet really just shows you one nexus in a relationship map. Putting all the character sheets together, you could draw a single map for the story.

I also took an initial step towards another dimension of the setting map in v0.6.0, an admittedly weak step, but an attempt to define each place as an affect, as Sorenson describes it. Abram (1997), Ingold (2005) and Sheridan & Longboat (2006) all discuss the differing assumptions about where imagination comes from. While we assume that imagination comes solely from the human brain, native cultures experience imagination as an ecological function, something that belongs to a place, and they get to participate in it while at that place. In other words, they do not make up stories; they discover them in the landscape.

I wanted this to become an important part of the Fifth World; by defining places with themes, a story moves across a landscape of not just geographical changes, but changes in tone and emotion. I don't think v0.6.0 accomplished that very well, but the movement across the map could still become a movement through the story. In fact, that kind of mirroring of internal and external seems to strike precisely the magical realist tone the game needs.

Biologically, you don't go too far wrong to call an animal a bit of soil ecology that wraps itself up in a skin so it can go for a walk. And when you die, you go right back to living as soil ecology. So, the setting map has places connected by paths; the relationship map has characters connected by relationships; and then you can have a theme map, with themes connected by transitions. In the modern viewpoint, these all need to have their own maps; people don't map to places, and neither map to themes. In the native viewpoint, people exist as places, which express their theme.

So, why not have everything on one map?

You don't need a character sheet—everything you would have on your character sheet already exists on the map. When your relationship with your sister sours, the path connecting your place to hers becomes difficult—which again, strikes precisely the magical/animist realist tone the game needs. Themes arise from the place, and apply to a character like issues in Primetime Adventures. The issue map could also help generate the story. In a collaborative game, you may not want to throw trouble in the way of other players, but blocked paths and conflicting issues on the map can do that for you.

In v0.7.0, I think I can work out the whole game on one map. I don't know if any other game could do this, but because of the native perspective that the Fifth World aims to recreate, I might have a chance at it after all. Ambitious? Definitely. But I don't think this particular game will settle for anything less.

Do you have any ideas, advice, encouragement or feedback? I'd love to hear from you—please comment!


Willem said...

I've got a comment: I will give you no peace until you bring this idea to fruition.

Does that help? Haha.

Some things I haven't heard you mention: Polaris' character sheet actually constitutes a map of the Knights' Stellar decayed world. Ben Lehman never used this in the game per se, but he does point it out in the game text, that each direction of the cosmos maps to one of the directional fortresses, and in the hole in the center emerge the Mistaken.

Also think of the Dischord "map" in Thou Art But a Warrior; you'll find it at the bottom of the character sheet, as a series of boxes segregated into basically Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, and Act 4 as the world decays around the Muslims. Each new stage triggers a reading of new constraints on the story, and the current condition of the Caliphates.

I suppose in a sense Montsegur 1244 does this two, on its boardgame-like map.

If only you could catch Jonathan Walton's interest. He seems to really jive with this kind of idea. Maybe you could whisper at him on Story Games or something? He has so many ideas of exactly this kind (well...not exactly, but you know what I mean).

Good luck.

Willem said...

Ha. See, I told you so - just the mad genius you seek:

buddha said...

Also, I'd talk with Adam Dray, who you might have run into at Dreamation. His game Verge is played out on a big-ass relationship map. I'm guessing it doesn't do what you want, but you might be able to get some ideas from it!

He's over at and if you haven't met him, just let him know that Buddha sent you! Also, Verge is over here:

Hope any/all of this is helpful to you! Let me know if there's anything else I can help with... Fifth World looks cool!

Matt said...

I love this idea, it is so, so cool. Each character embodies certain sets of issues or one issue which are in turn embodied as locations or places. Or you could phrase it other way around, too, but both the place and person are twin expressions of an idea. I have no suggestions, but much encouragement.

Willem said...

A one map idea, for a celtic-themed land:

Think of every run of ribbon as a space, between overlappings of other cords.

Willem said...

It looks like you can find Adam Dray's Verge map creation method here: