Creating a RPG – Setting – Big Boundaries

by | Jun 1, 2016 | Notes From the Dungeon Master

Hi i’m Tondi

I’ve worked in the Information Technology field for my entire adult working career.  I’ve never watched or been interested in Star Trek but have always loved the original Star Wars films.  When I was a kid I used to run around the yard pretending to be a knight or warrior more than shooting space lasers.  I loved 80’s space Lego and often built my own rocket ships but always wanted the pirate ship more.  The Matrix was released in my later years of High School and is still one of my favourite set of films (that’s right I like the sequels).  My first game system was a PlayStation 2, bought when I was in university.

What is Sci-Fi

I’m sure that a “scientific” definition to what classifies as science fiction exists only a Google search away but I’m going to go with something more instinctual and simple.  To me Sci-Fi is any world that has more advanced technology than our own.  This technology usually does fantastical things but sometimes it’s become so common place that it’s normal to the people of the world.  A good example of this would be a world with hover cars.  If that was literally the only change to our current world, that would be Sci-Fi.  The technological advancement doesn’t have to be mechanical, genetic engineering like cloning or mutation fit into the same definition.  I don’t believe Sci-Fi has to be set in the future or in space.  With that in mind I’m going to throw a few things out the window straight from the start.

Decision: No Time Travel
Decision: No Aliens
Decision: Not Set on a Future Earth

I’m setting these boundaries on the game simply because they do not appeal to me.  Time travel makes my head hurt.  Aliens open up literally infinite possibilities.  That may sound silly for the RPG genre which is basically all about infinite possibilities but I figure if you have at least one alien race you are saying that anything is possible, because there’s no way you know everything about the entire universe so your existence could literally be the experiment of a few mice.  The reason that I don’t like this for RPG’s is I think a core part of the empowerment of the player should be the possibility that they can build their character into a powerful being.  If an alien race can appear out of the blue and potentially nullify everything you believe in, that empowered feeling goes out the window very fast.  I’ve been thinking about what makes a game great which is why I’m choosing not to use Earth as a setting.

Not Based in Reality

That last sentence was pretty pessimistic, the world is a wonderful place and you should be happy to live in it.  But if we start expanding out our world and history into the future we are going to get a dystopia or a utopia with all the baggage of our real world and history.  What that boils down to is politics and realism, two things that I believe can detract from any game.  I’m definitely not the most politically correct and sensitive person in the world but the last thing I want to do is create something that makes any grouping of people uncomfortable or angry.  The easiest way to do this is to remove the baggage of the past and make a new place.  I’m sure there will be parallels and i’ll probably accidently insult someone along the line but this is an effort to reduce that risk.  The other set of baggage that I want to loose is the rules that govern science.  Just like the fiery explosions that happen in the vacuum of space in sci-fi movies I believe that the rule of cool should trump the laws of science.  With that in mind I do still want to use the real world as a basis of “themes” for this new world, I just never want to have the conversation about why physics and biology can’t work that way because of reasons.

Decision: Not Based on Real World Science Rules

Where Does the Excitement Come From?

I’ve been pondering this question for awhile now and I’m not going to lie.  I’ve been struggling with what makes being an “adventurer/explorer” in a Sci-Fi world exciting.  So to combat this I’ve been thinking about what makes fantasy exiting to me.  I’ve come up with a few ideas but I haven’t made any decisions around this yet.  Settings are important, places that are wondrous and offer interesting and new experiences.  This ones quite easy to picture in Sci-Fi, with the use of technology we can have all sorts of wild, man made settings.  People who are larger than life.  Being able to play as something you couldn’t be in real life is the crux of RPG’s.  Most games have classes that define their role in the world and what they have access too, I’m struggling to imagine a diverse array of interesting roles at this stage but we may need a more fully evolved world before we can do this.  Cool “things” are important.  People want to have and interact with cool things like vorpal swords and potions that can heal your wounds.  Once again infinite tech possibilities make this achievable but if everyone had cool tech what makes some things stand out and others not?  Finally and most difficultly is adversaries.  In fantasy the world itself usually spawns the adversaries but in a world loosely based on our own with infinite tech where do the adversaries come from?  I’ve taken out aliens so that leaves a few usual contenders; robots, clones, ourselves.  None of these really tickle me and this question has definitely weighed on my mind a lot lately.  This subject is extremely important though as it has the potential to effect a lot of future game decisions.  Expect a more thorough examination of the subject in a future post.

Next Steps

So things are still very nebulous but we have some thoughts and decisions so that’s a start.  The next step will be starting to shape our setting in more detail by examining closely the technology of the world.

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts.