Friday, December 20, 2013

On Calidar, Fluff and the Future

This was supposed to just be a quick G+ post, but I got long winded and philosophical so I figured I'd put it here instead.

Seasonal monetary commitments have been accounted for and I had enough left over to back Calidar. I was never exposed to Princess Ark, but I really dig the idea of system neutral settings where much of the creative point is fiction, feel, and interesting set pieces or problems that can be explored directly or dropped piecemeal into an existing, unrelated campaign world.

I'm also personally biased because I'm trying to do something similar with the Swordfish Islands. Right now WoTC, Paizo et al, in my personal opinion, make the bulk of their cash by selling things that make players more powerful. It's all rules, rules, rules. Content's king, when you have 5 players and a GM, if more than one copy of an adventure is sold to the gaming group there are spoilers. There's meta-knowledge. So rules become the way to go. With 5 players and a GM you've got six potential sales of rule books.

"I know you've given us some money, but if you give us more, you can min/max your crit build better!"

"Want to play a half warforged half dragonborn?! It's just one dead president Grant away!"


I think there's another way, and I think it's with "fluff". With fiction. With graphic novels of other adventures and adventurers exploring the lands. Everyone can buy it. Everyone can read it, and if it's done right it makes players not just invested in the content, but hungry for more. Not everyone has an existing gaming group, or the time to play in hangouts. Some people that like these things just want to read, so why not make something for them too? Find them. Get them. There's nothing prideful about obscurity and a limited audience. Humans love stories. So attract them with stories. Then give them the tools to write their own, and example stories they can personally consume, and content that they can collaboratively build into shared experience.

Now, we can say that TSR tried this, and Paizo puts out their own fiction, but I think they're doing it wrong. Dragonlance being the perfect example. The novels hobbled Krynn with cannon. The stories were too big. The timeline too fixed. Raistlin did this, with these people, at this time. The gods threw a mountain at that specific time. Then the gods all went away. Sure you can go against it, but now you're on your own. You're off the timeline and the content you're purchased can't help. Didn't you realize that you were just supposed to be happy running along in the shadows of characters determined by cannon a long time ago? That's what Star Wars fans like right? The universe? You can't stop the death star from blowing up, or Vader from sacrificing himself. It goes against that which has been set down.

No. It needs more freedom. More chaos. And people are scared of that stuff. So what do you do?

You make a map. And you fill it with interesting locations where things can happen. You build sets. Like a play. Your factions are the furniture. Then you make some history, and this part's hard. No one really gives a shit about the history, and they shouldn't. But the thing is, it's not really history, it's connections and motivations for the factions. All intelligent creatures want things, and can't get them, and they come into conflict with one another over these things. It needs to be presented like a filing cabinet, or a folder of folders. When you first look at the history it needs to be basic, basic, basic:

"There were snake people that liked plants. They vanished. Then there were elves. They all died. Their home blew up. It was probably their fault. They trapped some nereids before they died. An efreet on the run hid out in a volcano in the remnants of the elves old home. He found something useful and started fencing it. The fence gave the efreet slaves. The efreet found the nereids and did unspeakable things to them. The efreet mismanaged the slaves. The slaves revolted. The nereids and slaves tentatively banded together against their common enemy. The fence found out the efreet's true identity and began extorting him. Adventurers started showing up on the islands...."

The past defines the now. It sets up the pieces, and stacks them precariously. Each of those sentences is a folder, or a drawer in the filing cabinet. None of it really matters, but when the players show up, they're going to start knocking things over. So when the time comes the depth is there premade for the GM if they want it. Only the past should be known and it should only really be know in terms of the consequences it is going to impose on actions. The future should not be known. Only the now and the jumble of events that caused this now to be.

So then you take your sets, and your furniture and your web of problems and consequences and you find people that can write and you say "This is the now. Do you like it? Would you like to tell a story that begins at this point?" And you let them tell their story. And then you go to someone else, and you say the same thing. And again and again and again. There is no cannon. The future is undefined. You embrace the fact that every story beginning at that "now" will be different. And you make graphic novels and short 11 minute cartoons with grossly different art styles, and you remind your audience "No, you are not a passive consumer. You are a creator. For too long you have suffered under the tyranny of force fed story. There is no future. Take these plastic dinosaurs. This sandbox and this water hose and tell your own story. What's that? You have too much potential and are suffering creative paralysis because of it? Ok, let's watch Godzilla. Now let's watch the Land Before Time. Now let me read you Jurassic Park and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yes. Go. Copy. Refine. Remix. Explore. See, you didn't need rules afterall."

Let the Gem of Immortality shatter and be enthusiastic that every shard will go its own way.


  1. I totally agree....and even if I prefer a more detailed description about NPCs and the land, everything should stay in the past as a background for the "present day", to give more deep to the world in which players move their yes starting from the past, come the present and the future by the will of a DM and his players (that's what I love about mystara pre-wrath of immortals after all ^_^)

  2. This is a good manifesto. DnD is a strange artform. We're not storytellers, we're set designers. Fill the environment with enough interesting NPCs and strange remnants and the story emerges on its own from the interface between the players and the game.

  3. Going to play a friend's game of Pathfinder, so I'll see if all the dead trees he bought give us lots to explore or just a seat on the lore railroad.