My last post touched on still more details about the game world and how the PCs can approach the Big Bang Theory, playing along with the premise of the world. But what premise? While I clearly have work to do on the character options, I feel that the premise needs the most work to clarify and make it stick. So that’s today’s post.
Most of the gaming worlds for D20 start from a concept and use it to inform the world’s features. I have such a concept – Geek. As stated before, this necessitates a world where the majority culture is safe and specialized enough that not every family needs to hunt its own mammoth or starve, just as a for instance. Geeks are outsiders; they co-exist with cliques, social orders and complex fraternities, but typically stay outside of them.
There is perhaps another concept that needs to be addressed. There have always been Geeks, but Geeks have always had another social class (ex. Isaac Newton was of the landholder class in England) or was put in some pressure to conform. Geek culture, therefore, needs something else. It needs individual liberty or it couldn’t work. This tends to bias in favour, not of the European empires of the seventeenth century, and certainly nothing like the world empires of Rome or China, but towards America, specifically a loose America where personal opinion matters. This can be achieved by a straight republic, a constitutional monarchy, or whatever hidden oligarchy design informs the United States.
Brain Flash! Why not all three? There can be more brutal, primitive forms of government in practice at the frontiers (one can see Eberron in my thinking, I’m sure), but the core of the civilization is a competition between three awkwardly balanced, periodically at war nations, each calling themselves the True Land of the Free. I love it, especially as it permits Good, Evil, Law and Chaos to operate in equal measure in all three nations. There’s so much room for unintended consequences, the Player Characters could easily set off all kinds of trouble.
To engage these nations in “enlightened” debate (evil people don’t enlighten, they obscure), complex media are needed. Copiers/printers with the Copy spell, a troupe of Magewrights and an artificer for applying the spell to a magic item can make thousands of copies in a day. Newsies can distribute them, typically on the cheap, maybe a silver piece a day, maybe half. A professional postal service can also serve to tie nations together, with very little magic and more than a few spells for improving on the base.
There are pieces to the “geek” condition that are particular to 20th century America that I want to incorporate, including professional, low cost (ideally free) libraries and ultra cheap Dime stores. Both would serve as the centers of literacy in the communities that they are found in. The European version can also stand – the coffee house. It would be in places like this that stories circulate, that whispers carry names and exaggerate deeds. But something is still missing, something that makes heroes more important than nations, and more approachable than gods. Something that levels the world, makes everyone kin, equal, and needed for survival.
What is needed, is an apocalypse to strike this world.
The apocalypse that levels Eberron is the Day of Mourning, the capstone to a terrible war that almost never ended. There are yet other ways to end civilizations, though. The slightly overdone follower of war is zombies, especially if the means used to control the zombies cease working, or even threaten to stop working. It would set off panic in the streets around the war-ravaged world.
Eh, too much. It creates pandemonium, but the panicking masses will be eaten and those left will cling all the more tightly to governments to save them. And it doesn’t lead folks to seeking heroes to save them.
Another often overlooked apocalypse is disease, on a Black Death plague scale. Such diseases come with two effects; it violently breaks the illusions we have of wholeness, showing our bodies to be complex machines that can be ruined with in horribly disturbed ways. It also causes an upsurge in the live young, die young life’s mission. After all, how long do you really have? Can liver poisoning from this alcohol really be so bad? I still don’t see it leading to heroes though.
I can think of one more: climate shift. Caution, I do not offer that this world is anthropogenically shifting its climate, or offer any opinions on anthropogenic climate change or its scarecrow counterpart, global warming. I mean to say that for reasons the civilization in question cannot comprehend, the climate, long temperate warm and feeding an abundance of food, suddenly shifted dramatically towards colder or warmer, or perhaps merely dryer. The effect can half the food supply, drive governments to clear new land for the plow in a hurry, and set off running agriculture wars. What might work even better: this is only one continent. All three nations are now pushing out onto the other continents, setting up new convents and farming settlements, and otherwise provoking global changes in settlement patterns.
I get the idea that colonization is sailing right into territory Eberron’s Keith Baker feared to tread. Nevertheless, I like it. New settlements come with conflicts, conflicts create heroes, and those heroes have their stories magnified, in the form of Daniel Boon or Johnny Appleseed. Roving starvations in the Old World can create their own heroes and villains, variants of Robin Hood and Batman for both good and ill. All and all, though, it mixes in a strong sense of the tragic into the villains’ stories. This can make for some much stronger storytelling, and harder adventuring for good heroes.
But I must return to a point made above – in order to be geeky, the world has to be more or less safe. While I think making the fields prone to drought and starvation would be very unsafe, the cities traditionally become very dangerous when the majority can’t get their day’s bread. So where is safe? Fallout’s Vaults? Let me ponder that question for a while.