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Author Topic: Drawing from Experience  (Read 3217 times)
hardcoremoose
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« on: December 28, 2001, 06:32:00 PM »

This is a companion to the Historical Inaccuracy thread, in the Game Design Forum above.

Research is nify, but what about real life experience?  Don't novelists always say "write what you know"?  Who out there has taken things - people and places - from the real world and built a game or scenario around them?  How did it work for you?

I've done this a couple times myself.  One time...

I had the good fortune to spend a summer working for the Department of Natural Resources while I was in college.  I was summer help at a state park in the northern part of the Michigan's lower peninsula.  The place is called Fisherman's Island State Park, and if any of you are the outdoorsy types, I highly recommend it.  It's a beautiful little park - 13 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, completely rustic (meaning no electricity at all), and tons of wildlife (and one year - I kid you not - a bone fide serial killer, but that was a few years before I worked there).  Anyway, not more than a mile away is the Medusa cement factory - one of the larger industries in that part of Michigan.  It's a huge eyesore, and rather an odd thing to see so close to to a chunk of unspoiled woodland.  Naturally, it cried out Werewolf to me.

So I set the game up.  I had all the maps from my summer vacation, and all the practical knowledge that comes with having lived in a place for three months - stories, local yokels, gill netting native americans on the back forty, etc.  And I'll tell ya', the verisimilitude was great.  When playing the game, I was breathing that air again, and I think some of that came across to the players.

Sadly, the game fizzled.  Too much setting I think...I think I had too clear of an understanding of the place, and railroaded my players accordingly.  But that's just me.  Anyone else have any anecdotes?  Does it add to, or detract from, your gaming experience?

- Moose



[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2001-12-28 21:36 ]
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Skippy
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« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2001, 10:21:00 PM »

Case Study 1.  Hawk, a devoted Champions GM, ran a game for us once, set in Seattle.  At the time, we all lived on the Kitsap peninsula, just across the Sound.  We were all relatively familiar with the Emerald City.

Swear to God, we spent an entire hour arguing over why that bookstore couldn't have been where it was.  Everyone got so wrapped up in the "real" setting, we couldn't let it go.

Case Study 2.  I ran a Rolemaster campaign in high school, based on the Norse mythology.  I set it in a mythical world, but based the cultures on real-world equivalents.  One of my players, Jeff, was a history fanatic, with a real penchant for Germanic history.  I was constantly getting corrected with "The Huns wouldn't have done that," or "Viking ships couldn't tack along the wind."  I eventually had to revise the game to separate any element of real-world relationship to save my sanity.

Now, admittedly, both these examples were "in my youth" to quote the venerable Mr. Edwards.  If I were doing the same today, I would establish a contract for suspension of reality.  However, I have never been able to get the bad taste out of my mouth, regarding historical gaming.  It's also the reason I don't enjoy games with an overly developed metaplot or storyline.  I don't want to be held to someone else's story, I want to create my own.

End Transmission.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2001, 10:11:00 AM »

Hiya,

I ran Champions for years set in Chicago, when I lived there (or here, 'cause I'm back) in the 80s. I also played in a Champs game with a totally separate group of people, and it too was set in Chicago. When I moved to Florida and started up some games there, one was Cyberpunk set in the exact spot we were in (and one problem was my lack of familiarity with the culture, actually), and the other was Champions set in Tampa.

I've frequently revisited my home town/area, the Monterey Peninsula in California, in role-playing terms. It's one of the settings in The Sorcerer's Soul, and it provides the geography for the city of Diablo Del Rey in Demon Cops.

The key for me is the emotional and cultural context of living in an area, and a big part of getting into that in play is for everyone to be invested in it; it can't simply be transmitted by the GM to the players. It does work tremendously well, though, in my experience.

Best,
Ron
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James V. West
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2001, 11:25:00 AM »

As I mentioned earlier, perhaps in Paul's original thread on this subject, I'm working on (read: thinking about) a game that is based on Pulaski County, Kentucky, where I live. Perhaps even the entire state of Kentucky.

I haven't actually used any of this in a real session yet. I hope to sometime soon. But I'm 100% behind what Moose is talking about here. Where you are can be a huge inspiration.

Everytime I go someplace else I get ideas, but often none more appealing than the ones I get right here.

My wife and I went to Mammoth Cave and took the BIG tour (a 4 mile hike underground--it was AWESOME). The whole weekend I couldn't get a certain concept out of my mind: what if Kentucky and some kind of fable-land were to collide in some way? So my mind was filled with visions of goblins forting up in Mammoth Cave.

Much of that is going into the game idea I mentioned above.

Another small comment:

I have a friend who lives in Savannah but who lived in Louisville, Ky for years. We were both going to UofL at the same time. He started to get an idea for a Vampire: the Masquerade game set in Old Louisville (the downtown area). He worked on it for months and kept telling me little bits and pieces, but he never seemed to get a game started.

Five years later he still spoke of doing it. He had reams of notes, NPCs out the wazoo, and intimate knowledge of the area. But I believe it was so overwhelming that he could't get past it. None of his players were even half as interested in it as he was and he had built it up so much it was a dissapointment before it ever began.

Perhaps there is a thicker line between fantasy and reality than we think. Too much reality and we lock up, or we don't start at all.

Maybe.


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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2001, 11:33:00 AM »

James,

That last part was kind of what I was getting at, and which I think Ron hit on the head.

Real world stuff may work great, if it's shared by all the players.  But as with my Werewolf game, and with the Vampire you describe, the real world stuff was of interest primarily to the GM.  That's not to say that it couldn't have been made interesting to the players, but sussing out the emotional content of that material and presenting it to them can be tough.  

Funny, but we never had any problems wrecking our college campus in our occasional game of Villains & Vigilantes.  Maybe it's because we all had that in common - the college campus (and the desire to lay waste to it).  :smile:

- Moose
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James V. West
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« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2001, 12:13:00 PM »

Making it interesting for everyone involved is essential. The closer you can get to an "archetype" that everyone can understand, the easier you're going to find the process of playing, I think. But getting too close to that archetype sometimes turns people off, especially if they have a more intimate knowledge of it.

(By archetype I mean the spirit of something. The Platonian Form. Wizard, Warrior, Rogue, Priest. Works the same for setting: City, Kingdom, Village, Homestead.)

If I make my Pulaski game too intimately tied to these personal things no one will really "get it". You're not going to know what I'm talking about when I mention "Hail Knob Road". But if I break these things down into archetypes, I can find a more universal language that you can identify with even if you never see my home town. "Hell's Knob".



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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2001, 08:29:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-12-29 15:13, James V. West wrote:
If I make my Pulaski game too intimately tied to these personal things no one will really "get it". You're not going to know what I'm talking about when I mention "Hail Knob Road". But if I break these things down into archetypes, I can find a more universal language that you can identify with even if you never see my home town. "Hell's Knob".


Yes, something a little more accessible, please, than the "William Faulkner" RPG.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2002, 09:38:00 AM »

Hello,

I have found that some creative attention to the issue can help me, as a GM, to convey "place stuff" to the players. By "stuff" I do not mean place-names or local detail; I mean the emotional or cultural content of those things. If I describe Nepenthe, in Big Sur, in simple physical terms, in terms of what their "characters see," it's me being boring and the players rightly fidget. If I do a simple out-of-game, conversational aside about this restaraunt's role among bored divorced affluent natives and feckless, hitch-hiking youths in the 1965-1975 period, and then provide "character perceptions" that dovetail with vestiges of that culture/activity to this day, then we get somewhere.

I tried to hit some of that with the Monterey Peninsula material in The Sorcerer's Soul, in attempting to convey the zeitgeist of the place in the 1970s to some small extent.

Best,
Ron
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Osric
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« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2002, 12:38:00 PM »

Quote
On 2001-12-29 01:21, Skippy wrote:
Case Study 1.   we spent an entire hour arguing over why that bookstore couldn't have been where it was.  

Case Study 2.   I was constantly getting corrected with "The Huns wouldn't have done that," or "Viking ships couldn't tack along the wind."  I eventually had to revise the game to separate any element of real-world relationship to save my sanity.

I have never been able to get the bad taste out of my mouth, regarding historical gaming.  


1.  For all their faults, White Wolf came up with a great solution to this in the use of the 'World of Darkness' model; I'd heartily recommend using some such 'parallel present'.  The plot is ultimately going to involve changing some locations, and you will have to establish a contract for some degree of of suspension of disbelief, or you'll find your archenemy's base is actually in one of your players' granny's back yard.

2.  Not to dismiss the principle out of hand, perhaps we should extend it from "do what you know" to "do what you know better than your players".  I have always had an academic leaning, but most of the (extramural) stuff I know now comes from having researched it in order to be on top of what I was putting in my games.

Don't tar everything with the historical gaming brush.  The worst problems I ever had were when I was trying to run modern or SF games and had one player who kept bringing in principles of computers/elec eng I couldn't cater for. :razz:

Cheers,
Os.
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