Thursday, October 18, 2012

Campaign Dials and Medieval Hack

Three in the A.M. thoughts continue to rule my head as we pound out playtests—and pages--of Medieval Hack. Many of the sleep-deprived thoughts seem to cluster around the broader game design questions. Long box-car thoughts like: “we chose a relatively narrow period/place/literary tone so we could focus a bit more on period feel and little details...but we love DIY what is the range we think it can support conceptually before it becomes something else entirely?”

While I find myself feeling that sliders and other schemes are a bit mechanistic (and confining when a game starts growing organically in play), they do allow you to think about the broad parameters are of the game. What follows are some idle, “non-official” thoughts on some campaign dials.

Campaign Dials
Medieval Hack is designed to be flexible enough to incorporate a range of campaign types and settings while maintaining its coherence as a focused mostly historical, yet-fantastical and weird game. Gamemasters should think about what feels right to your play group and choose accordingly. (My own Ulfland playtest campaign is a nice even 2,2,2 in setting while Evan's Languedoc is a 2,1,3).

Fantasy Element Dial
1. Magic and the supernatural as open mystery. The existence of Magic and the supernatural is an open question. Does witchcraft exist or is it trickery? PCs are typically not allowed access to magical skills. Supernatural effects may exist but are shrouded in mystery.

2. The Medieval Mind is “right”. The world view of much of this period is assumed to be mostly accurate. Witches sometimes work “black magic”, sometimes just folkloric “low magic”. Prester John's kingdom and its strange monsters and stranger denizens likely does exist somewhere at the end of the earth. Still for the majority of people in Christendom these matters are mostly unknown and unencountered in daily life—and greatly feared. The game has mostly been designed and playtested to support this approach and while it can be readily played on the other settings, we feel this gives the broadest play experience of the game's vision.

3. Low Magic Fantasy. The setting is assumed to something more akin to what is called a “low magic” setting in a D&D or fantasty novel context. Magic practitioners, while still rare are not as feared and shunned, and have an open existence in civilized areas. Supernatural beings and goings on are more readily acknowledged and encountered. The game Ars Magica, the fantasy Earth of Runequest 3 and other games come to mind.

Setting Historicity Dial
1. Historical World, Realistic. The campaign setting is based in  historical Europe. Major settlements are actual historically-existing places. Small-scale settlements and areas (such as villages and manors)  may, however, be semi-or entirely fictional. Important personages are typically found in historical accounts. (Fantasy elements can still exist in this dial setting.)

2. Historical World, Fictional. The campaign setting is based in historical Europe but has regional areas that may be fictional. The fictional area could be an entire county-sized area such as Averoigne or a mythical set of islands such Jack Vance's Elder Isles. The rest of the world is more or less historical. Some important personages will be entirely fictional.

3. Fantasy World, Quasi-Historical. The setting world is entirely fictional, but the culture is a thinly-skinned Northwestern Europe of this period. Important historic parallels will exist such as a (mostly) universal monotheistic church.  The setting may even blend in thinly-skinned personages from real world history.

Player Restrictions Dial
1. Players restricted to certain roles. Character generation in MH will often produce a wide range of backgrounds and vocations for players. Some GMs may desire a more focused campaign with a specified range of characters. A GM for instance shooting for a more knight-based chivalric game may ask players to only roll characters under the Second Estate table or one seeking to have a bandit-like Robin Hood game could give a range of likely vocations such as bandit or forester as open options.

2. Broad but bounded. This is the default of character generation as written. Character types are drawn not as a statistical snapshot of life in that period, but as the classes and backgrounds more likely to lead to an adventuring life in the bounds of Northwestern Europe of that time (or its fictional mirror). Use of the Alternate Table can slant players to be more likely to members of the nobility while maintaining both the diversity and bounds of the game as intended.

3. Wide open. Players can either freely choose from character backgrounds or are allowed to play roles that may have been more difficult. Playing Islamic characters or Joan of Arc-like warrior women (not historic impossibilities  but rare) for example is allowed.   

1 comment:

  1. Clearly, there is a historical distinction between clerical or magician based spell craft.
    PRIOR to the papal inquisition and the Renaissance (15+ century), magic was seen as a natural force under the dominion of God. Harmful magic was a crime prosecuted under SECULAR courts and not necessarily demonic in its origins.
    . .
    Other forms of magic (alchemy, healing, fortune telling, etc.) were often practiced openly and tolerated
    . . . .
    Two Examples:
    Agrippa who wrote one of the seminal texts on ceremonial magic was a devout Christian.
    Born in 1365 AD, the medieval author Christine de Pizan was the daughter of the court physician / astrologer for the Christian King of France.
    For a more scholarly and lengthy treatise/ lectures,
    I defer to the series, Late Middle Ages
    by Phillip Daileader

    . . .
    It was confessions obtained (many thru torture) during the papal inquisition that prompted the movement of the jurisdiction of harmful magic (i.e., witchcraft) FROM secular TO church courts.
    . .. .
    There was a distinction in the High Middle Ages (11 -13th century) between naturalistic or magical based healing / knowledge than divine healing / knowledge.
    Actually, most magic of the time was concerned with activities that concerned everyday life such as crop growth, romance, animal husbandry, child bearing, weather prediction, etc..
    . .
    Recall the scientific method was not invented until the 16th -17th century, many credit this to Sir Francis Bacon. Hence, early scientists would be classified as magicians in the medieval nomenclature..

    It is peculiarity to modern man that both science and theology accomplish the same things.