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Torchbearer: Mythology or Setting?

Started by Shreyas Sampat, November 25, 2002, 05:51:58 PM

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Shreyas Sampat

Reading over Ron's essay and reflecting on my own experience, I realized that Torchbearer threatens to suffer from the conflict between detailed Character and Setting that creates difficulties for Narrativist concerns.

How do I solve this without losing Torchbearer's precious flavor and individuality?  Sure, System Matters, and the System does a lot to shape the game, but the added color of setting means a lot to me.

So I looked around, and once again my attention turned to Alyria.  What I saw there was that Seth didn't so much create a world as he did create a set of ideas that defined a world implicitly.  That is, he made a mythology.  Well, sort of.

What if, rather than a world, I were to create a mythology for Torchbearer?  Would this function the way I want it to, implicitly detailing a world so that its texture is clear to see but not the details of its topography, leaving the players room to move, or would a codified mythology make it harder for the players to make myths of their own?  I notice that Ron's mentioined that his Sorcerer supplements contain explicit talks on setting and relationship creation; would it be valuable to include a discussion on the deeper structures of myth in Torchbearer?

Mike Holmes

Torchbearer has a setting? Just kidding.

I think that this would be perfect for Torchbearer. What Sorcerer & Sword discusses is the idea of making the world up as you go, as opposed to playing in a well defined setting. It seems to me from what I've read that this is the only way to go with Torchbearer.

The funny thing is that my Sim side doesn't even revolt at the idea. See, the more I read settings, the more two things occur to me. First, how thin the settings are as compared to real life. By which I mean to say that in play you end up having to create most everything anyhow. And of the material that you do find in a highly detailed world, you are only ever likley to use a fraction of it. If you do use most of it, I can almost garuntee that the GM is railroading the players to the material. Because given their own option to wander, the players will seldom head for the charted territory. And even if they do, they'll never come up with reasons to experience it on their own.

As such, much pre-planned material is lost never to be experienced by the players.

So, just don't do it. Figure out a way to have setting occur in play. As such, your idea of the myths is perfect. Definitely go with that.

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Well, obviously I agree.  :-)

Some other games that use this approach:

Unknown Armies
Whispering Vault
Orkworld (somewhat)

So I'd say that you're in good company.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Shreyas Sampat

I suppose the next question to ask would be, How detailed should the mythology be?

Now personally I'm a big fan of the complex layers of Greek and Egyptian myth - stories and genealogies vary from place to place, there are tales piled on tales... I think I can find at least three distinct Engypian creation myths.

But creating a mythology that complex would not only be a vast labor, it's just as likely to be partly or wholly ignored as a heavily detailed physical world, and presenting it as a series of tales makes it highly inaccessible.  This sort of thing could happen:
QuoteHey, where was that discussion on the Heartbeat?

I dunno... something Heartbeaty happened in Vakhriyya and the City of Ivory.  I think that the old man talked about it in the end of the Kanjanj Epic, too.

sound of flipping pages Where?  Dangit, we'll just make it up.
So, while I reallyy like the idea of half the Torchbearer book being my equivalent of a Volsungasaga, I don't think that'll work out at all in terms of useabillity.

At the same time, I don't want to take the White Wolf approach of spelling the mythology out in plain words, as definitions that sit outside the stories.  That's much less meaty and exciting; it doesn't make me care.

What to do?

Parenthetically, I do have the idea of tossing out a sort of skeletal story in the beginning, and then taking segments of it and filling those out, and taking segments of the segments and filling in those, making a kind of fractal myth that holds all the stories inside.  This could have the advantage of having any level of detail I wanted to include, while making the whole still digestible, if it were done correctly.  It also sort of echoes the fractal structure of the game's mechanics.

Jonathan Walton

Hey Shreyas,

The way I'd build background mythology is going the Nobilis route, with a world-specific game system that supports a certain cosmology (which you already have) and then THROUGH EXAMPLES.

For instance, if you have something like:

Quote from: EXAMPLEAfter they had slain the Boar God, Tara'hagen, Segrid Ice-of-Nations led his companions to the beast's den, where they found the children he had captured, trapped within crystal shards like the prey of spiders, waiting for their dreams to be torn from them.

This tells you SO MUCH MORE that just normal background descriptions.  Just from reading this passage, you see that there could be animal gods that live in dens just like animals.   You have a potential plot of a god stealing children away.  You have the interesting idea of gods stealing dreams from people.  And all this is done without having to resorts to soulless description and exposition.

You don't really need to tell "The Legends of the Torchbearer Universe" because not all GM's are going to use them and that increases the amount of knowledge you have to have before you can play.  What you need to give people is examples of the kinds of stories and legends that exist in the Torchbearer world, enough they they can make them up on their own.

If you want an idea of how this works (at least in Nobilis), you might check on the fan-created microfiction from the NobiList, inspired by what R. Sean does in the main book.