Monday, March 4, 2013

Clerical Conclusions & Cosmology (Part 1)

[sorry for the delay in getting this wife just got back into town this last weekend and I've been doing "family time" ever since. Which is a good thing, but has resulted in substantial delays. There will also (probably) be more delays in the coming few days and for similar reasons. Just letting folks know]

In writing up this recent series of posts on clerics…

[hmm…please reference:

-        Clerics: What You Get
-        Undead Turning
-        Armored Spell-Casters

If you haven’t already checked ‘em out]

…in writing these posts, I come back to a blog topic that I’ve been meaning to sit down and write up for awhile now, which is the importance of COSMOLOGY for your RPG.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the American Heritage Dictionary defines cosmology as:

1.     A branch of philosophy dealing with the origin, processes, and structure of the universe.

With regard to a fantasy role-playing game (like Dungeons & Dragons), I break this down into the answers for the following questions:

-        Where do monsters come from?
-        Where does magic come from?
-        Where does the world come from (i.e. the nature of God or the gods)?

And (specific to D&D or similar games):

-        What part of the world’s history provides the adventuring environment, i.e. the dungeon?

For me, these are the questions that need to be answered for the world to make any type of sense. I also find it personally helpful to find a baseline correlation (if possible) with a particular history/time period in our own “real world” in order to get a grasp of the types of technology and politics one will find in a particular game.

Now some folks might be saying, “Hey, man! When I design a fantasy heartbreaker, it is GENERIC…just like D&D! The stuff you're talking about is all ‘setting material,’ and I don’t care about the setting…let the individual DMs fill in those blanks!”

To which I say: if you don’t know how these base building-blocks of your game came to be, you are cruising for a bruising. Or at least, you are opening yourself up to the (very strong) likelihood of criticism and ridicule. At least at the hands of people who have half a brain and care about coherent, sensible (as opposed to nonsensical) game play.

If you can’t tell me how all the monsters of your world came to be and why, nor how and why magic functions the way it does, nor what role the gods (or God) have in the grand design of your game world, then you might as well be playing a board game. “When you pass GO, collect $200 okay? That’s just the rules.”

Don’t be nonsensical.

Or at least, don’t be nonsensical if you want me to buy or play your game. Your purported-to-be role-playing game. It’s hard enough putting myself (mentally) into the shoes of a dwarf or wizard or whatever…don’t hamstring me with a ridiculously lazy attitude like, ‘hey, it’s just all there, folks.’

Don’t tell me wizards can’t wear armor unless you can tell me WHY they can’t wear armor. No, game balance is not a reason. I say:

“My wizard is going to wear the plate mail.”

DM: no you can’t do that.

“Why not?”

 Because it’s a rule.

“Screw that, MY CHARACTER CAREFULLY BUCKLES THE ARMOR ONTO HIS OWN BODY; if I have problems, I ask the fighter to show me how…there, I did it…what are you going to do about it?”

Well, you can’t use cast spells now.

“Who cares? I already used my sleep spell for the day. Anyone have an extra mace? A metal spiked club seems like an easy weapon to use…you just swing with it, right?”

You have to give me a reason WHY things are the way they are, because one of the draws of playing an RPG is the ability to act in the role of your character. As if I was a wizard poking around this imaginary world, get it?

Assuming you have an explanation for the sprawling underground labyrinth (of not less than six levels, per the instructions in OD&D)…why are there monsters living down there? What exactly are monsters anyway? If they have intelligence, why aren’t I trying to build alliances and trade routes with them? They can provide me with mined gold, I can bring them fresh rations from the surface world…this sounds like a “win-win” for everyone concerned!

Look, it’s not hard and it’s not rocket science…any half-assed reason or excuse can be come up with to answer these questions of cosmology. But you have to put in the (minimal) time and (minimal) effort to do so. You can’t just say “because.” Or rather, you CAN but then we will mock you for being a knucklehead.

Why don’t magic-users wear armor in Krynn? Because it was forbidden by the gods (oh, yes, the gods are very active in this world…like fighting it out with each other on the material plane and not being content with ruling their heavenly plane but trying to rule the material world as well). What happens if a wizard puts on armor or tries to wield a weapon? Well, then the gods will punish you for your arrogance in some way…maybe strip your “magical gift” or blow you up with a lightning bolt from the clear blue sky. Um, so why can elves (or dual-class humans) use weapons and still learn magic? Um…because the elven ancestors performed a lot of divine fellatio? I don’t know…Krynn doesn’t make that much sense! Hopefully your world will make more.

The point is you have to consider it. You have to think about it. And it’s helpful if you WRITE IT DOWN so that other people who play your game will know what the F is going on, too.

[to be continued]

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