Saturday, June 12, 2010

To play a game in somebody elses setting

Today I read an interesting post about published settings and canon. For those of us who have played in a game, like MERP, set in a "canned" world it talks about things we have all encountered. Also, some settings have heavy duty meta plot campaigns which have to be handled. That post got me thinking of my experiences.

Personally I hate meta plots. They are a bad idea on many levels. They are more work for the GM, since you have to make sure you keep up with it, buy stuff, adapt players actions to it and so on and so forth.

There are ways a pre-fabricated setting can help, though. I started playing in Tolkien's Middle Earth. It was a great help to know that I had all the players on the same page as regards setting knowledge, and expectations of what worked and not. Basically, using literary background can be a great way to manage expectations.

That being said, there are some things you will have to handle. Will you "replay" what happens in the books, and are you going to interact with the great figures in the setting.

I know that the latter can be a problem. Who have not heard of the "Elminster problem"? One high level NPC who pops up and saves your bacon, or steals the show. Not fun. For me that wasn't that much of a problem in Middle Earth, since I set all our adventures before the War of the Ring, or the Fourth Age. Maybe it's cheating, moving the Big Issues out of the way, but it was practical. In Stormbringer on the other hand, I felt it totally ok to have to players hear of Elric. If they were stupid enough to meddle in his affairs they were just so much dead meat, and he cared nothing for their bacon or their petty affairs.

There is one way to approach this which I feel is cool. The Great Names of a setting are tied by fate. But, as a player character you have freedom of action. In Stormbringer that works just fine, since everyone is a plaything of the gods, so the hand of fate is everywhere and it wont feel odd to have fate intervene or twist things.

Frankly, Stormbringer is ideal! The Eternal Recurrence is not just some Nietzschean dream, it's real! There are endless realms and planes. There are so much room to have they players wreck the setting if they like! You can have them scuttle around the Multiverse and repeat themes and iconic characters and it will feel a lot like bing in an Elric story, and you don't even have to worry about canon or if they interfere with the big man or not.

This is probably why Stormbringer have long been my favourite "canned" setting. In fact having a determined end to the world help to bring the doom laden feeling on, and everyone knows it will end badly.

Heavy Metal. Game on.
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