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SF Groundbreakers: Messiahs & Destroyers
Topic: SF Groundbreakers: Messiahs & Destroyers (Read 2751 times)
SF Groundbreakers: Messiahs & Destroyers
February 03, 2003, 09:51:55 AM »
This is a spin-off thread from SF Groundbreakers in the RPG Theory forum. I'll start by repeating the contents of my earlier post to that thread for context:
....a point Paul made [in the Limits of SF thread], about the unique character. We all know the type, both from literature and roleplay: the first detective to be partnered with a robot, the runaway with experimental cyberware which does heretofore impossible things, the classic first-AI-made in a thousand incarnations, the bearer of the One Ring. Characters who break the mold of their setting, who are perhaps the first arrivals of a new thing upon the world stage, or the last relic of an era which predates the setting's assumptions, or perhaps simply a character whose essential nature could only ever occur once. ****
I've been spending a lot of effort in the past months wrapping my head around a subset of this particular theme and it's application in a SF RPG. Specifically, I've been looking at stories where the "groundbreaker" (usually an individual) is the "agent of change" for the society in which they exist at the beginning of the story. Characters like Gully Foyle, Paul Atreides, John Sheridan, Ben Reich, and Jommy Cross (you could cast the net a smidgen wider and include the Skywalker boys, Anakin and Luke). Whether for the good of mankind, and/or as spectacular vengeance, "The System" as it has stood is torn down by the actions of the protagonist and replaced with something new... often ushering in a New Age.
Almost invariably, such characters are "more than human", or at least distinctly different for what passes as the "normal" human of the setting. The effects of their special talents often cut deep into the heart of the tenets and authority of the system, an annoying prick at first, but eventually increasing to a critical and civilisation-threatening level.
There are as many anti-heroes as heroes in this genre, ranging from the destructive Unmaker to the messianic. Ron made a great observation when I discussed this very subject with him a few weeks ago: that the destructive anti-heroes often end up "doing good" in some way [by changing or tearing down The System], whereas the heroic, messianic ones never quite achieve closure.
So how can we apply all this to an RPG? Here are my thoughts so far on applying this sub-genre of SF to (with kind encouragement from Ron) a Sorcerer mini-sup. I don't have all the answers yet, but here's what I have in a nutshell:
- Humanity represents a double-edged sword that is both the characters membership in/connection with "normal humanity", whatever that may be in the individual setting, as well as their "driving spirit", that which spurs them to change things. At 0 Humanity, two things could happen:
A) if the characters' abilities are developed to a certain extent, and the Civilisation Rating (see below) has reached a critical level, the character becomes "something else".... the next evolutionary step for that character (Keir Dullea becomes the Star Child, Gully Foyle into the Burning Man, Paul Atreides to burgeoning Kwisatz Haderach, etc), and moves beyond the scope of play (presumably, at this point in my thinking).
B) if the above conditions are not true, the character's "driving spirit" has been finally defeated. He/she gives up, goes insane, becomes a mindless cog of The System forevermore, etc.
- Humanity loss is connected to the development and use of the characters "special talents", much as it is used for the sorcerous rituals in the base rules. It could also be keyed to "setbacks", instances in play when The System has prevailed over the goals of the character.
- Humanity gain is keyed to the successes of the character against The System. Examples: Jommy Cross discovers the secret of the tendril-less slan and effectively blackmails them with the knowledge, giving him increased leverage against The System; or, Paul Atreides gains the confidence and allegiance of the Fremen, giving him a powerful force with which to oppose The System. Gaining Humanity allows the character to use and keep developing their special abilities.
- The System/Civilisation is tracked by the GM during play in much the same way that Humanity is tracked by the players, sort of a "Civilisation Rating". Humanity loss incurred by the players in the use and development of the characters' special abilities, and successes by the players against The System during play, add to this rating; conversely, if The System prevails in it's goals for the adventure, this rating is reduced accordingly. Once this rating reaches a critical level, The System comes undone, breaks down, revolution in the streets, dogs and cats living together, real Old Testament stuff.
- Mechanically, the special abilities that such characters posess can be handled pretty much like demon abilities in the base rules. The Sorcerer rules offer lots of flexibility in designing such abilities. These abilities should start off moderately powered, with the potential of becoming "cosmic" over time and development. I'm reticent to come up with a "list" of such abilities, and leave it more to player customization. I realize how open and "loose" that sounds... I'm not satisfied yet either.
- Defining The System, or Civilisation As It Stands, should be intimately connected with creating the characters. The setting has to be one that the players want to sink their teeth into and change, so I feel that co-authorship of the setting to some degree before play is essential.
- Pragmatically, it seems that this premise would be limited to smaller groups of players for effective and practical play.
As Harlequin noted above:
A group full of such ["groundbreaker" characters] is potentially less fun than one without any at all. ****
Is this an incorrect presumption? If not, is it such a bad thing?
- My primary goal is to present this premise with just enough structure that it allows individual groups a lot of leeway in their specific application. Sorcerer is a great example of this model of game design, and (I think) a great rules set to work from for this subject. Writing this project as a mini-supplement has freed me up from coming up with a rules system to do it with (thanks Ron, really!).
I sincerely hope that it sounds like I'm on the right track with this so far. I'd be very interested in your opinions and approaches to the question of SF "groundbreakers".
Here's a link to the original thread:
SF Groundbreakers: Messiahs & Destroyers
Reply #1 on:
February 03, 2003, 12:17:09 PM »
I was just thinking the other day, when looking at existing sotries, "why here, why now". I found myself thinking that there is some value in establishing the importance of situation and setting.
I think the number of stories potenially tellable is infinite; why then do we choose certain stories to tell and re-tell? What brings about the decision to tell THIS story?
Now, I am not addressing RPG's at all as yet. I think that most of the time, when people sit down to tell a story, they choose the particular story on a number of grounds some of which are: it has a particular pathos; it contains a moral lesson; it explains a significant historical event; it is relevant to me in my situation.
Thus I think that a fair amount of what makes stories communicable over time is this sense of placement. Surely Robin Hood is a repeated story partly because of sympathy with the characters dilemmas, but also in large part with who those characters are and what they are doing, the kind of stuff we tend to relegate to colour.
Impeach the bomber boys:
"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
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