Setting Contest: Developments

November 26, 2006

So one of the issues with designing Folkways is it’s really a meta-setting and not a setting, at least as it is now. There’s this outer story of tricksters working to gain release, but the content of the stories they tell is not specified, and that both 1) is really cool and 2) blows. I don’t want the game to just be a string of PTA one-shots tied together by a strange meta-fiction. There needs to be a stronger sense that these stories are related somehow, either thematically or by genre or the like. It needs to be an anthology of similar, interconnected tales — like the One Thousand Nights and a Night — not a literary journal.

I also need to emphasize the sense that the characters don’t stop being themselves when they put on masks to tell a story. If Coyote has transformed himself into a dark, brooding forest, the dark brooding forest should still act recognizably like Coyote. That’s where a great deal of the fun comes in.

Additionally, Folkways is really about the development of a working relationship and a family. It’s unmistakably an allegory for the act of roleplaying and borrows a ton from Nobilis‘ Chancels (which come almost directly from Ars Magica). Your character doesn’t necessarily like the other members of his/her troupe, but these are the people they have to work with in order to get the job done. Like family, you don’t choose them, but you’re stuck with them anyway.

So I’m thinking about being more explicit with elements of the meta-setting, creating specific leadership roles and responsibilities for each character in a troupe and maybe even starting with pre-generated characters. Maybe the game isn’t about the process that all tricksters go through. Maybe it’s about a specific group of characters who have a very unique situation imposed on them. Far too often, I suspect, we worry about creating an “adventuring class” for characters to come from when maybe it’s okay that this party of characters is totally unique in doing things the way they do.

If the characters start out with specific identities (which can, of course, evolve over time as their masks and totem do), then it seems like I can set a sort of genre for the maskers stories to be in, or at least a place to start from. I’m not sure I want to go ahead and define all the masks in advance (because that seems like it robs the players of a chance for creative expression), but maybe I’ll define a few major burdens that each character needs to work off, as examples. And then the types of masks that characters have goes pretty far to set boundaries for the types of stories that can be told.

Maybe I need to focus more on the folkways themselves and what they include. It could be that action scifi stories just aren’t a part of the folkways. Perhaps the folkways only contain stories that are really iconic and primordial, only things that would be considered folktales or folklore. But I also want the stories to have a unique flavor. I’m not sure what that flavor is yet, but I hope to stumble on it soon. Maybe if I create the starting characters and their masks, I’ll get a better sense of what that is. Maybe it’s the folklore equivalent of “mythic fantasy.”

I’m also wondering if character identity and totems should be singular, since that seems to deemphasize one of the major points of the game: that identity is a complex, plural thing, that you are different people for different purposes or audiences. Perhaps characters start out with multiple totems. Perhaps you begin play as Loki-Archne-Anansi, the multi-faced trickster spider.

I also need to figure out what XP does in a game where the only permanent statistics are your Pools.

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