Monday, August 31, 2020

What time is it? Or what times there were?


By Christopher Robin Negelein    Art: Public Domain

In Solar Sails, we’re writing the histories of the locations that will be centerpieces to the game. (Though in my perfect world, these are more like examples of what GMs can do with their own home games.) And I started to notice something. 

History textbooks are usually boring for a reason. They do impart important information, but many of them just list names, dates and facts in chronological order. Which brings me to a very relevant true gaming story tangent, by the way.

Some friends of mine came out with a d20 game world and asked if I would give it a review on that still new fangled internet thing. (I think the Associated Press handbook still had us capitalizing that world at that time as the usage of  “World Wide Web” was falling out of use.)  I gave it a good review ed except for the chapter that covered an empire because  its history section was that very  textbook history style, lists of events delivered in a very dry fashion. 

So, I dinged that boring ass chapter. Turned out the owner of the company wrote very section. They were not pleased, but eventually took the criticism in style. It didn’t hurt that the book launched a whole company that’s still chugging along. 

Back on track, bless those people who can read between the lines of these dry bits and find the excitement but I know a few professional historians, a few people who should be professional historians and a lot of history lovers. And the beloved books on their shelf are NOT textbooks at all. Their most beloved books expose the underbelly of those tidbits to show the ambitions, fears and sometimes romance that made people attempt to build empires of all types. They turn names into personalities, dates into a context and events into socioeconomic pressures. Basically, they turn history into drama and stories. This sort of makes me a sucker for certain types of historical documentaries and TV shows. 

So we established that for some people, their vision for a historical section in a gaming/genre is to mimic a history textbook … and that’s okay. There is a crowd for that flavor of presentation but that’s not Solar Sails -- and that is not me. 

Everything in your RPG should help the players - and even more the GM -- with getting a feel for what sort of adventures and experiences the game aims for. So before writing a section for your game world, think about styles that convey that best and stick to them -- or find a compromise solution (refer to the long popular “Post-It notes on an official briefing” graphic design for about every other conspiracy RPG or even Pugmire.) 

So when I caught myself doing the Histories in the more textbook style, I suppose out of a habit of assumptions, and it didn’t work. Worse yet, it made my word count waaaaay too low and was just boring to me (and would be to my intended audience.) 

So now I’ve made an emergency redraft of that chapter to make it more entertaining. More like tall tales and legends than dates and names. Wish me luck.

Go, Ganza! Go. 

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