Collaborative or GM-Driven?
Yesterday we talked about the Budayeen setting as seen in George Alec Effinger’s stories, and listed some other sources inspirations we’ll be using. Before I go any further, I should take a minute to discuss how my approach will fit with the game creation process described in Fate Core.
Chapter 2 of Fate Core describes a general approach for game creation from scratch, and a handy game creation worksheet is provided in appendix and as a standalone download on the Evil Hat Productions website. In addition, Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing has also posted “A Spark in Fate Core”, an alternate approach based on ideas from his own game Spark RPG. Both versions rely on the specific setting of a given campaign being devised collaboratively between the Game Master and all the players in the initial session.
What I’m discussing here does not replace this, it merely gives you an example of getting there in steps. I admit that it gives a bit more importance to the GM’s vision at the beginning, because it relies on her doing enough preparation to offer more focused choices to the players by the time of the first episode. In my experience, even with a collaborative setup it’s easier if options have been pre-screened. The game always unfolds better if it’s set in a world that fires up the GM’s imagination.
Unlike in the example provided in “A Spark in Fate Core,” by the time the group sits down together the GM has already made a certain number of choices: this will be a game set in the cyberpunk universe of Effinger’s books. This is very much like what we see in Evil Hat Productions’ predecessor to Fate Core, The Dresden Files RPG: group setting creation, yes, but you know you’ve come to play in the universe of the Dresden Files, not The Lord of the Rings.
Moreover, sometimes you just want to run a one-off game for a demo at the gaming store, a convention, or to introduce your friends to the game. In that case, the GM may want to do more of the detailed setting creation in advance, perhaps going as far creating characters herself.
OK, now let’s get back to our example.
Step 2: What is the “feel” of the setting and campaign?
Let’s start by describing the atmosphere of the Budayeen in Effinger’s books.
- Quaintly ruined tourist spot in the day, den of vice and entertainment at night.
- Everyone is a hustler, everyone answers to somebody.
- Repeating motifs: addiction, fluid gender lines and transsexuality, intracranial implants for personality modules (“moddies”) and temporary add-ons (“daddies”).
- Connections and community are everything; everyone has a name and a story.
- Uneasy relationship with religion.
- What do you find in the Budayeen: souks, cafes, night clubs, drugs, gambling, sex trade, little shops, narrow streets, bakeries, restaurants, tourists, burnouts, low-lives.
- Crime in the Budayeen is controlled by Friedlander Bey, nicknamed “Papa”, who also has legitimate business interests in the city.
What do we know from the books about the Budayeen and the world it exists in? There are no superpower countries left; the closest thing are alliances of political entities. North America and Europe have fractured into many small countries and no longer hold the lead in technology and development, though they still have notable capabilities. The Islamic world has risen, thanks to oil-based money and the investments it fuelled, to a position at least as important.
The Budayeen is located in the city, an unspecified metropolis located about centrally in the Islamic world between Mauritania to the west and Indonesia to the east; the city has a busy port but its back to an inland desert. We also know it’s at least east of Tunisia, and it’s not Egypt. So we can guess that it’s probably in on the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf, maybe Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates. Since we see countries disappearing and reforming as new political entities throughout the world, it may be in a totally new political entity.
Cosmopolitan. The primary religion is Islam, probably in its Sunni version since at least one character is referred to as “Hassan the Shiite”, but there is a Christian quarter. People from all over the Islamic world come to the city, as well as tourists from the rest of the world. East Asians, Europeans and Americans stand out but do appear; it’s unusual but not that infrequent to see people from Sub-Saharan Africa.
If your group has trouble stretching their imagination past “white American” when it’s time to make characters (PCs and NPCs alike), then maybe you need to think about this a little bit in advance. We’ll talk about this some more in a future post when we discuss the tools you can use in order to be “ready to improvise.”
Scale. The Fate system asks us to think about the scale of the campaign, “how epic or personal your story will be.” Typically, not only in Effinger’s stories of the Budayeen but in the hard-boiled detective genre, stories are on a very personal scale. Plot threads and macguffins of greater and even global importance do appear, but they only matter because of the ripples they cause in the local pond of the heroes’ world.
For example, in Casablanca the events have to do with Nazi Germany’s advance on a world scale, but they matter because of all gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, Ilsa chose to walk into Rick’s American Cafe. (Then again, everyone comes to Rick’s eventually…)