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Author Topic: Anarchist Fantasy  (Read 9711 times)
chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« on: May 15, 2009, 11:59:22 AM »

A quote I've seen in somebody's sig on another site:
Quote
"D&D is the ultimate right wing wet dream. A bunch of guys who are better than your average joe set out into the middle of nowhere where they murder and kill everything they come across in order to stockpile gold and elaborate magical bling. There are no taxes, no state and any poor people that get in your way get their village burned to the ground. It's like Ayn Rand on PCP." - Mr. Analytical

I've been thinking about what Dungeons & Dragons would be like if you removed dominance hierarchy from the equation.
1) Classes are kept to promote division of labor and cooperation within the group, but levels are done away with (for individuals at least).
If there is any "level-up" at all it may come in the form of a communal experience system or into some kind of relationship mechanic where you invest points into your relationships with other characters to gain bonuses when cooperating with them.
2) The DM role is eliminated; the setting and plot is created through random tables and group consensus.
3) The player characters are not super-heroes; you play as a regular person (farmer, miner, etc.) who is forced to rise up in rebellion against the established disorder.
4) The adventurers here do not seek to accumulate wealth, but rather they seek liberation from some kind of tyrrany.

I'm thinking that this idea will likely build upon previous game ideas I've had. I've been working on a supplement for OD&D that ports over ideas from 4E, but I'm thinking maybe I could take the fusion of ideas from there and use them for inspiration here.
I was also designing a game a while back where the character classes were based on mundane occupations such as farmer or blacksmith except that their tools were weaponized for doing combat against invading monsters.

Any suggestions for this project? Can you show me any games that already do something similar to this?
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2009, 01:51:22 PM »

Hm.
I'd recommend taking a look at this post: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=13852.0 It's a topic called "Libertarian RPG", and so there's a 50/50 chance (or more) that it'd be ideologically opposed to what you've got going on (i.e. is your stuff social-anarchist or individual anarchist in nature?)
That being said, I have some suggestions/questions for ya - what do the players do? If they're anarchists, or at least taking part in anti-authoritarian revolution (^___^ yay!), then you could probably structure game mechanics in terms of things like The Cause, personal resolve towards the Cause, progress towards the revolution, the chance of someone betraying/joining the Cause, and so on.
Any idea on stuff like Creative Agenda, etc?
I can appreciate what you're thinking with removing "dominance hierarchy from the equation", and I'm intrigued by what "communal experience system" could mean. A relationship mechanic is a bit more standard, at least around the Forge, but that's no reason not to go ahead with it anyway!
Cool.
Also - I had a thought along the lines of "Life-cycle of a revolution" - if the revolution succeeds, is that particular storyline over, or do you move on to the next stage (new gov't, the absence of a new State, etc.)?
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2009, 02:39:04 PM »

Social anarchism. Definately.

What do the players do? Well, in addition to playing as characters, they also perform roles traditionally assigned to DMs. This is done through a distribution of labour much like the class system. Each player takes up a role fleshing out different elements of setting, color, and situation. Everybody is in charge of character and system.
Every player has the right to propose rulings and houserules, and it is up to the group to discuss them and come to some kind of consensus.

I think I'm leaning towards simulationism. This game is largely based around the deconstruction of Dungeons & Dragons. I want to emulate the dungeonpunk genre, but also dig beneath the surface of it and get the players to think about what these fantasy worlds would be like if the characters within were real people.
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2009, 04:42:10 PM »

Oh, okay - good to know you have an idea of what play could look like, i.e. dungeonpunk with a really critical eye.
My question for you is this: where's the anarchy? Is it the approach to design (which focuses on collaboration and shared authority between players), is it in the setting/setting-related mechanics itself, as per the suggestions I made, or is it somewhere else entirely?

Quote
I want to emulate the dungeonpunk genre, but also dig beneath the surface of it and get the players to think about what these fantasy worlds would be like if the characters within were real people.

^ That makes me think of Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy series, Discworld. That comparison, then, begs the question: what is the tone of your game, as far as you can foresee at this point? It's like the epilogue in the hardcover edition of Batman: Year One - the author of that section talks about how superhero stories have to walk a fine line between too much and too little realism. Thus, once you decide what kind of setting you're envisioning, you can think about that line - particularly if magic ever gets treated like science, i.e. it's reliably replicable and more-or-less commonly encountered, if not widely accessible, then focusing on the grit of "real people's" lives would probably make such things lose their sparkle, or even seem comical rather than evocative.

I'd highly recommend looking up stuff on the history of medieval communes, on monastic communities, the concept of a Commons (as in the English farming commons), and so on, to get good info on how people without much, if any, political power would band together for mutual support and protection. Wizards, warlords, master thieves, high priests ... these guys aren't exactly friends of the People, so some other option would need to be available to give the little guy some kind of agency in the plot. Then again, if you're interested in what I'll call high-fantastic realism, you could have astonishing events going on more-or-less in the background, and have the lives of regular people take center stage while the heroes are off doing things elsewhere. Hm.
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2009, 07:08:21 PM »

I'd say the anarchy is in the design and the setting... at least for now. I'm not quite sure where to approach it otherwise to tell the truth.

I'm really not sure where to go with the tone though. In numerous prior projects I've always gotten stumped trying to figure out if I wanted to go in a direction that was more comic and satyrical. or more serious and gritty, or some kind of tongue-in-cheek juxtapozition of the two.

I can already tell you though that I don't see very much magic being used by player characters at least.
Maybe the players could perhaps pick up some magical 'craft' similar to the rituals from D&D 4E. These would mostly be noncombat utility effects like brewing potions, divination via tea leaves, or building a fire on wet ground.
Maybe if enough communal XP is gained the players could gain some magical rituals that require multiple people to cooperate in order to produce a magical effect... but that would be pretty rare. I don't really intend for the player characters to shoot fireballs or anything.

Player characters would be able to arm themselves (mostly with weaponized farm-implements or molov cocktails) and work together to take down a larger threat. This would be modeled after peasant revolts where an undisciplined rabble goes up against trained soldiers.

I see actual games going a little like this:

At the beginning of each session, the players each choose an 'Issue' for the characters to tackle in the game world. Generally I intend for the issues to deal with inequities; players could choose more general types of inequities like
"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer."
or the could choose more specific ones like
"All Drow are percieved as evil"
or
"Dwarves can't be wizards."
Issues don't neccessarily have to involve inequities however. A player could choose something like
"The Imperial Army is coming!"

The player characters go on quests to solve these issues. More issues can arise in play, and sometimes solving one issue causes another issue to pop up.

Perhaps one way that players handle these issues is by facing symbolic monsters.
To quote Donna J. Haraway:
"The word monster shares more than its root with the word 'demonstrate'. Monsters represent."

In classic and even contemporary pulp fantasy, monsters are often used to symbolize nations and ethnicities. The old Conan stories were really racist when you read into them. Arguably, even Lord of the Rings is pretty racist in parts.

With this game, I want to get away from monsters as representations of people and use them more as represenations of ideas and concepts.
Player characters can fight these monsters and destroy them... or befriend them!
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2009, 07:30:39 PM »

Absolutely, Lord of the Rings is racist, at least in the sense that it's full of "fell races", etc. Orcs are disposable people, made exclusively to serve the immediate recruitment goals of Sauron and Saruman; hell, they're made, respectively, by torturing Elves or by putting mojo on mud. Don't forget the desert-folk: the humans who serve Sauron. I used to wonder if that was some sort of Afrika Korps, World War 2 reference.. who knows?

There's a minibook/series of articles called "Seven Theses: Monster Culture". I have a PDF of it if you like; it talks about the multi-layered symbolism of folk-tale monsters. A recurring theme in Anarcho-Fantasy! could easily be a study of the ramifications of one's actions; remember that scene in Hellboy: the Golden Army where they have ol' Red take down a gigantic nature spirit? Well, plenty of horror-genre creeps come about because someone (or a society) is transgressing some kind of law or taboo; maybe the harried splinter factions of a defeated peasant revolt take to the wild and call upon the powers of nature to topple the hierarchy endemic to feudal society? That'd be neat!
They'd have to give away their humanness to achieve that agency, but that's related to the radicalization process - arguably, we get so used to thinking (especially in the US) that all people are or wish to live a bourgeois lifestyle and ethos, such that we see radicals and non/anti-bourgeois individuals portrayed as inhuman all the time in movies and television. How much easier is it for writers to declare a certain kind of person (someone who purges all emotion, for example ^_^) to be non-human, than to suggest "yes, you too could be like this, viewer!"?
I think really honing in on what society considers honorable, respectable behavior could be worthwhile for game mechanics ideas, as could the old Norse concept of a "warg" -
Quote
chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2009, 08:04:55 PM »

Sweet!
Yes, I'd love to check out that pdf.

Hmmm... I wonder if it might be cool to give players the option of playing monsters in addition to townsfolk.
I'm a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft's dream cycle, and for the longest time I've been aching to play as a Ghoul in a Call of Cthulhu or Cthulhu-Tech game.

One of my complaints about white box OD&D is that, while it suggests the possibility of playing any type of character, even a a baby dragon, it doesn't really give any advice for how to go about statting up such a beast.
I think that I want to have a lot of system transparency in my game and include little sections that provide hints and tips for players who wish to create their own classes and races and whatnot.

It is important though that these creatures should be balanced with simple human townsfolk. A rust monster character should not be superior overall to a human blacksmith, but simply special in its own way.
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2009, 10:03:27 PM »

System transparency sounds pretty sweet.
As far as PCs portraying monsters, and with that peasant-revolt example I used, it might be good to substitute religious symbolism for politics, kinda sorta. Tap into the blood-and-guts themes behind political stuff you want to address through your character, and you'll find your way to the religion-equivalent easily enough.
If you'd like the PDF, send me a personal message with your e-mail address, and I'll shoot it your way Smiley
I got the article through a film studies class called Cultural Constructs of Sexuality. With any luck, the file has information on how they crafted the Xenomorph's costume for Alien. Creepy stuff.
On that note, I'm of the opinion that horror, and Lovecraftian horror at that, is intensely reactionary in its politics. That makes it pretty tricky space to work in if that's not your bag, especially because of the monstrousness bequeathed upon anything Other, which is limiting as far as "making your case" for your character's perspective on things.
That's one reason why I tend to not have much interest in horror - most of it is superficial "don't break the taboo" stuff, with little actual analysis or thought put into it.
Not that fantasy doesn't have its problems, too - ol' Tolkien's setting was all about the divine right of kings, etc. Blech ^_^
Oh, what's a politically radical sci fi nerd to do?
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2009, 12:41:27 PM »

I'll send that PM after I finish up this post. Smiley

Ever see the Clive Barker film Nightbreed? I'm thinking maybe that might make for a good source of inspiration here.

Dungeons & Dragons is a really pulpy mish-mash of things taken from every mythology and every genre, so I think I'll go in that sort of direction. That is, I don't think I'll confine myself to the trappings of only one genre, but rather pull from a variety of different sources. I may very well use elements of horror and science fiction along with anything else I can find that can reinforce my ideas and give players cool things to play around with.
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2009, 02:54:36 PM »

I've been thinking about the tone I want to use for the game, and I had an idea that I wanted to run by you guys:

Punk-Rock

Political, anti-establishment.
Frank, confrontational.
Do-it-yourself ethic.
Rebellion.

These are elements that I think fit into the overall vision I have for this game.

I think that juxtapozing punk-rock asthetic against medieval and Tolkienesque themes could make for some interesting settings.

If I go in this direction, I'm going to want to look at OD&D for all the freedom it does allow, but do away with a lot of its structures.
I might look for some way to break down 'turns' and 'initiative' and try to figure out ways to enable more freeform gameplay.

Your thoughts?
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NN
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2009, 05:37:39 PM »

My take: the 'political problem' with "D&D (type games)" is twofold.

By 'problem' I mean the absence of any real politics.


Firstly, the Powerful (characters and the NPCs and monsters) dont seem to really need the labour of the poor exploited peasants (/hobbits/goblins etc).

For example, Create Food And Water is merely a Second Level spell.


So I think you need to put the exploitation back in to the fantasy political economy.


Secondly, you need to abolish the objective cosmology of standard D&D games with alignments and a god manual etc.
Sure, have cults and religions and superstitions....and by all means give some of them impressive magic powers...but dont have any source of authority in the setting beyond the groups own self-serving claims.



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Vulpinoid
Member

Posts: 803

Kitsune Trickster


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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2009, 07:27:47 PM »

Punk-Rock
...
Do-it-yourself ethic.
...
I think that juxtapozing punk-rock asthetic against medieval and Tolkienesque themes could make for some interesting settings.
...

My instant thought when reading these two comments in context with one another.

"Most people are doing-it-themself in Medieval settings anyway."

There are no big corporations, only artisans and possibly guilds.

If you were going to make the Do-It-Yourself attitude a key feature among the characters (rather than prevalent across the setting), then you'd really need to maximise the influence of guilds and trading groups...almost to the point that they become multi-national/multi-kingdom corporations.

Otherwise there isn't really anything the characters are rebelling against by doing it themselves.

...and rebellion (as you've rightly indicated) is a part of the essence of punk.

Just some thoughts...

V
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2009, 09:16:12 PM »

I think I will play up the rebellion against guilds along with rebellion against feudal lords and rebellion against the organized religions of the setting.
The fact that sorcerers and dragons exist in the world should give the players other things to rebel against as well.
Perhaps these things could be wrapped together so that the huge multi-kingdom guilds also function as cults with their own patron deities and are lead by sorcerous master guildsmen.
Each of the guilds and their patron gods could be under the rule of a single powerful church run by a powerful lich who claims to represent the interests of his god; the dragon god.
Something like that maybe?

I was also thinking maybe spells like 'Create Food and Water' wouldn't exist in the world as such.
Magic in this world would carry a much higher cost; blood. Wizards are required to perform regular human sacrifices to acquire spell-components. Massive temples must be constructed to appease the gods, requiring thousands upon thousands of peasant laborers and centuries of back-breaking work.

So I'm thinking of going with something that is loosely based on medieval Europe, but I'm taking as many liberties here as traditional fantasy does.
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chronoplasm
Member

Posts: 286

Kevin Vito


« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2009, 09:32:11 PM »

...Just to clear something up.

The above is just one direction I might go for a possible example setting that players could use.
I don't want to be too authoritarian and create any sort of definitive setting that players must use.
I want to be flexible about this, you know?
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 188


« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2009, 10:55:32 PM »

Stay flexible? Well, that's easy enough to do - provide a pretty basic premise, and don't create a setting! You want anarchist game design, you've come to the right place - one of Ron Edwards' biggest public gripes with big gaming publishers is that they make products that are essentially coffee table books that show off the designers' setting, and have some rules tacked on so it's less obvious the whole thing is a redirected novel-writing urge.

It could be something as basic as "you, the little guys, are in the path of murderous, magic-sword-wielding psychopaths. What to do?" Or, it could be "Feudal society, supported by wizards and miracle-workers, has pushed the common people even further into the mud. How do you live with this?" Since D&D fantasy is so unformed and non-specific, even a tribute/critique in that direction wouldn't be hindered by a thin or nearly non-existent setting.

The important thing is the Premise, in a Narrativist sense, I imagine. Setting comes out of that, from a combination of the PC concepts and the Premise. Good stuff - nice and organic ^_^
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