The gameplay in an RPG is shaped by the system, which is shaped by the world. A high fantasy world doesn’t involve computer hacking, and an alternate-present sci-fi adventure doesn’t take well to magic spells (or at least needs some interesting hand-waving). Personally, I’m tired of ‘standard’ fantasy settings (think anything Tolkien or D&D inspired).
I like the idea of “Tales From The Loop,” in that it focuses on these low level stories where the players may be heroic, but they are not “heroes.” I’ll also admit to appreciating the spotless dystopia of “Mirror’s Edge.” One fantasy setting I’d like to borrow from is “The Black Company.” Not necessarily the world itself, but the principle that the powerful, the true masters of the world are best kept far away. Attracting even their benevolent attention can be dangerous.
Let’s move forward with the idea of an alternate-history sci-fi epic. It gives the opportunity to explore how society can be shaped by technology, how needs and wants change over time, and allows many opportunities for a ground-level perspective for players. To allow further flexibility, I’d like to build a system that is is era agnostic – meaning that it can support multiple settings and levels of technology, leaving it up to the group to determine the exact workings as long as they fit within the principles of the system.
More benefits to describing eras:
- Player progression is not limited to gaining new skills. Your accomplishments, whether your character survives or not, allow you to shape the future of the world. Players are rewarded by literally shaping the future.
- Each era will have breathing room both before and after it to allow for groups to find additional adventuring spaces – as long as the end doesn’t contradict an established fact. Or, if it does, consider the difference between an accurate and an official history.
The Principles of the World
- People are people, whether they’re in the past or the future. Most people aren’t good OR bad. They’re scared, jealous, loving, kind, and occasionally heroic – sometimes all at the same time.
- Your game doesn’t NEED a villain. It does need an antagonist whose needs and wants oppose the players. No good antagonist is evil for laughs. They do good things for a bad reason, or bad things for a good reason.
- Violence has repercussions. Short-term or long-term, whether in terms of physical harm, emotional harm, or social status… others will notice.
- Life is long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of excitement or danger. Skip the boring stuff. If it’s not important to the characters or the story, it’s not important to the game.
- That danger doesn’t need to be extraordinary even if the external circumstance are (to us). Conflict that happens at human scale can follow the same patterns of jealousy, fear, and the like – whether they happened 30 years ago, or will happen 300 years in the future.
- A mystery may be revealed to the players, but the wider world may not know. If a mystery is revealed, subsequent eras will face major changes.