Sunday, December 13, 2015

World Building - Cultures that Don’t Work

I have come to realize that I’m not the only one who does this, so I thought I’d bring it up. In some ways, I see world building as a cathartic social commentary. What do I mean? Well, have you ever created a culture (current or historic) that follows some social policy that you believe is completely stupid? The point of your creation was to demonstrate what would happen if this social policy were used.

Let me give you an example (not mine!). There are folks out there who refer to themselves as anarcho-capitalists. They believe so strongly in the free market that they think that all governments should be abolished. They believe that the free market will encourage people to advance and everyone will thrive. One of our fans has two of these guys in his gaming group and set up a new campaign for when they all got back to school in the fall. A big part of the plan was that the core region follows these anarcho-capitalist principals and then to show how horrible everything becomes. (In my mind - the Lincoln County War is an example of what happens in a nearly complete anarcho-capitalist society. While I hate the levels that the current world governments have achieved in suppressing business, I do accept that a government preventing businesses from using force against its customers and competitors is a good thing.)

So what’s the point? The point is for you as the GM to let your imagination soar! Pick a region of your world that might be ignored at the moment, or perhaps more easily, pick an era. Build up a society that is/was using those principles that you believe to be foolish. You will need to determine if these people building this society are true believers or simply using this as a bullshit excuse for how/why they are taking over. Then think through what would happen as this society starts to run its course. Try to be fair, or if you feel that the issue is that this concept cannot survive a “jolt” (any emergency issue), then give them some run time before you jolt them.

But why? #1, because it can be cathartic. Honestly analyzing how this social principle will affect a culture can either prove your theories correct or give you some legitimate criticism of your criticism. #2, because it is cool. You have now just developed a region or era that you far better understand and would be able to GM if you had to. Also, because you will probably have wanted to consider the interactions between this society and its neighbors, you have probably deepened the history and lore of your game world, which is always a good thing.

For the non-role-players who don’t care about history or culture, crazy societies do crazy things. If they are sacrificing gold to the lake god, then the bottom of the lake is now covered in gold - you only have to slaughter the natives to get it. If they believe that mortal and demon interactions are fruitful, then they probably crafted a whole bunch of demon infused weapons. These weapons have a tendency to cause huge amounts of damage, but then corrupt the souls of those who use them. This means the gold farming player gets his massive damage weapon and the GM gets to teach him that the role-playing aspects of the game are important. There are always adventure sparks hidden in these histories you are creating!

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