30 September, 2012

Modified Walkabout Sheets

Walkabout is't one of those games where all of the rules fit on a single sheet; that might be an admirable design objective, but there are simply too many nuances in the game to handle a single side of a single page. On the other hand, I do like those sets of miniature rules where a "cheat sheet" provides all the core information to help a new player get started (and to remind veterans of the basic rules without forcing them to open up a dusty tome). 

With this in mind, I'm thinking about the option of splitting out the basic rules of the game onto a simple play sheet. Most of the rest of a character's information will be defined by a series of index cards, and this play sheet doesn't have much to make it specific for a given character. It basically just provides a place for players to distribute their tokens as they resolve their situations, and a handy guide to visualise their body  markings and long term injuries. I'll add here that I've clarified how the front and back of the torso and abdomen can have different injuries, scars or tattooes. The circular track around the central figure shows the characters progress along their long-term spiritual journey (gaining advantages and disadvantages as they wander the spiritually shattered land). Actual methods for filling this sheet out in play will be clarified in the rules.

If I take this route, I could provide the sheets as good quality full-colour glossy dry-erase boards so players can indicate the specifics for their character while wiping them clean once a new wayfarer's story begins (or as a cheaper option simply get players to insert the pages into a clear file sleeve which can be written on).  

I'm basically just throwing ideas around at the moment, to see what sticks.

Creating a Walkabout Story (Part 1)

In a typical Walkabout story, the Wayfarers come to a dangerous part of the world. This is a place where the spiritual energies of the world are out of balance and only the Wayfarers are able to restore the natural order of things. The Wayfarers need to see the problems in the world, understand what is causing them and find a way to resolve both the symptoms and the deeper issues. In some stories the Wayfarers will face ethical dilemmas on their paths, at other times they’ll argue with one another about the best course of action, they’ll frequently face fearful and superstitious denizens of the world and quite often they’ll be forced to make difficult decisions that require a sacrifice in order to succeed.

When developing a story for Walkabout, it helps to think about things in reverse, then work full circle. Start with the most hidden things, trace their more visible effects, each of which will often cause problems of their own…create chains of cause and effect that follow logical sequences between the true menace and the visible symptoms in the world. Short sequence chains make for quick tales, where the Wayfarers see direct effects incurred by the menace they will face. Longer sequence chains make for more complicated stories, where the true menace might exist behind a string of causes and effects, creating ripples across the land that reflect aspects of a larger and more sinister picture. 

Weaving a story for Walkabout is not developing a simple set of scenes for the Wayfarers to follow, it is about setting up a unique environment for the Wayfarers to explore. But the environment is one where there are fundamental problems threatening to tear apart the fragile and tenuous fragments of civilisation remaining on the planet. Only the Wayfarers can properly fix these problems, but they’ll need to use everything at their disposal. 

Who or what is responsible?
Is a spirit responsible for the problems in the story?
Is it a human causing a problem that is rippling through the spirit world?
Has a problem from the distant past remained unresolved?

What specifically is happening?
Why are there problems?
Is there a motivation behind them? If so, is it malign, misguided or simply an unexpected side effect?

What trouble is this causing?
What are the side effects and obvious symptoms of the basic problem?
Do these side effects have knock-on ramifications of their own?

What steps could lead the Wayfarers to the truth?
How are the situation’s effects felt by the outside world?
Do people notice it? If not, how do the wayfarers find out about it?
Has this sort of thing happened in the past?

How could the Wayfarers best fix the situation?
What is the obvious solution to the issue?
What steps will this take?
What clues would lead the wayfarers toward the required resources?

What will happen if the Wayfarers act in different ways?
Are there less obvious ways the situation could be resolved?
What are some ways to lead the Wayfarers back on the right track?
What could happen if the Wayfarers fail?

How are other people linked to the situation?
Is anyone suffering problems due to the situation?
Is anyone gaining advantage due to the situation?
Are these groups aware of what is happening?
What relationships might these people have to each other, or to the Wayfarers?
Are there any supernatural creatures aware of the spiritual disturbance? How are they involved (are they a part of it, opposed to it, or simply observing it)?

What obstacles could these people pose?
For those gaining benefit from the situation, what might they do to hinder the wayfarers?
Could anyone have moral objections to the tasks required to solve the problem? (eg. Arson, Demolition, Murder, etc.)
Could anyone misunderstand the situation and thus cause problems for the Wayfarers?

What other obstacles could resist the Wayfarers?
Are there potential benefits that are hidden?
Do the Wayfarers need to travel somewhere dangerous in their quest?
Do secondary problems need to be overcome before the truth is revealed?
Are there any weaknesses or penalties that could be exploited against the Wayfarers?
Are there relationships that might pull one or more Wayfarers against the objectives or against each other?

What advantages could the Wayfarers gather?
If this situation has existed for a while, what clues have people picked up over time that might expedite the investigation of the Wayfarers?
If this situation has occurred in the past, how was it resolved then? Why is it back?
If there is a known supernatural being involved, does it have a folkloric weakness that could be exploited?
Are there any advantages already possessed by the wayfarers that could be useful?
Do they have any advantages that could easily be exchanged or traded for something useful?

It might sound like a lot of work up front to develop this degree of environment, but it's certainly no more than you might find in a typical dungeon crawl or sandbox. When designing the scenarios encountered by the wayfarers, you certainly don't need to go into detail or too much depth; cascading too many effects leads to stories that can't be easily by wanderers, such complexity forces the wayfarers to remain in one place and that's not what the game is about. Provide a no more than a dozen possible effects in play (all inter-related to one or two spiritual disturbances), a good number might be equal to twice the number of wayfarers. Then come up with the same number of survivors some of whom might be gaining benefits from the effects, some of whom are suffering, some of whom aren't linked to the effects at all but who are significant in the local area in some way (but who have opinions on the matters anyway).

The combination of the causes/effects, the survivors, and the environment should be used to address the player character's capacities, they should be used to reveal more about the wayfarers; their strengths, their weaknesses, their ideals and beliefs, and their relationships with one another. You don't need to answer every question, and certainly don't need to answer every question for every scene or situation you develop, but keep them in the back of your mind. Each adds a degree of richness to the story and brings the environment to life, perhaps prompting new story ideas to explore later in the journey. 

29 September, 2012

Sign Markings

When the sheltered communities of the underground emerged after a century of self imposed exile, they needed a quick and secure method for marking territory to one another. Unable (or unwilling) to use their high tech gadgets, except for short bursts of computing power, they've taken to spraying an ancient form of coding on the roads, just beyond the outskirts of settlements. When one of the sheltered approaches a settlement that has been visited before, they pull out a handheld computer, activate it for a few seconds to analyse the markings on the ground and then determine if it is safe to proceed into town.

QR Code generator 

QR Code generator

QR Code generator

QR Code generator

QR Code generator

QR Code generator

QR Code generator

I'm thinking about making a deck of cards using these markings, to make the game a bit more interactive and immersive for the players.

Walkabout Character Sheets - Work in Progress

26 September, 2012

Walkabout: Tying Mechanisms to Story

Character generation in Walkabout is simple (whether those characters are wayfarers controlled by the players or the other survivors they interact with), spirit generation is also simple. While spirits and survivors are incredibly different beings, their creation methods follow the same basic structure.

Each consists of three core traits.

For survivors (and Wayfarers), these traits are:

For spirits, these traits are:
Manifestation (analogous to People)
Affinity (analogous to Edge)
Agenda (analogous to Dance)

Beyond these core traits, individuals have a range of positive and negative non-core traits that modify the chances of success in various situations. No numbers, just descriptive terminology, strategic modifiers and in-game items that tie into the story as it's being told.

I've blogged about the core mechanism of the game before...you basically draw three coloured tokens from a bag and allocate them to three categories: success, sacrifice and story. If you can link one (or more) of your core traits into the action, you can draw an additional token for each useful trait and then discard down to three tokens before allocating them. It makes someone more likely to succeed (and less likely to suffer) at things where they are more proficient.

But this is just a resolution mechanism, it's not a complete game.

What do players do in the game? What do the wayfarers do? What does the GM do?

The players work together to resolve a story. They use their characters within the game to explore the world, uncover the issues disrupting the balance while considering the ramifications that their character's actions have on the outside world and conversely the way their character's change in response to the world. Walkabout is a two way street, the characters need to change the world, or humanity is lost...but the characters will be changed by their world. Sometimes they will need to make sacrifices to restore the balance; those sacrifices may need to be made in order to achieve a degree of success, or a degree of success may be needed to reveal the nature of greater sacrifices that need to be confronted.

The wayfarers research the inner workings connecting the physical and spiritual worlds.

The GM constructs a mystery and a setting in which it resolves. There is no point getting into too much specific detail for this setting, the wayfarers are nomads, they are just passing through. More important than the descriptions of the scenery are the relationships of the people involved (whether survivor or spirit) and their connections to the issues surrounding the imbalance.

I've been doing some more thinking about the game. To pull the right elements together, I think a few inspirational sources need to be mixed together.

Grimm - A TV series in which the last descendent of the Brother's Grimm is a private detective, investigating a world of supernatural beings who can't be seen in their true form by the rest of the world. The supernatural beings in this TV series are linked to the stories of myth-lore, with each race revealed in subtle hints by the old tales recorded by the Grimm brothers in centuries past.

Once Upon a Time - A TV series where the characters of folklore have been transported to a typical American town. In this series, all of the traditional characters have forgotten their history in the fairy tale realm, but they tend to fall into roles like those of their pasts. Many of the episodes revolve around the resolution of a fairy tale story by working out who a character was before they arrived in our world, Cinderella might have to meet up with Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood might have to confront the wolf. And since the big bad wolf is a part of so many traditional stories, he has links to a lot of characters and becomes a significant figure in town.

Supernatural - This one's pretty obvious. But in Supernatural (especially the early seasons), it seems that everything unearthly is a demon and must be destroyed. It's only in later episodes that the actual nature of the hunter's attitude is touched upon, and some elements of the supernatural are actually good. I don't want the supernatural to be evil in Walkabout, it should more often be good, or at least a part of the natural order of things.

These concepts work well in a place like Australia, where the game is predominantly set. Different parts of the country were settled by different cultures, the Barossa Valley (known for it's wines) had a strong culture of German settlers, who brought the tales from their homelands. The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme in the late 1940's through to the 1960's brought immigrants from all over the world to complete the project. There are ghettoes of citizens from all over the world in pockets across the cities and small towns; each with it's own myth-lore and unresolved stories, each overlaying something unacknowledged about the aboriginal spirituality that existed here for untold millennia.

Every session of Walkabout needs to be about the correction of the balance, and the restoration of spirits to their natural places within the cycle. The variety comes from the various cultures associated with the spirits and places encountered. Every session follows the cycle of the hero, as investigation takes our wayfarers into the deepest depths of the unknown, while the corrections and restoration process leads them along specific paths until they bring balance back to the land.

This isn't your typical game where characters can simply turn tail and run away when things get too tough. They have been charged with a sacred duty, and to turn their back on that duty is to resign a fragment of the world to oblivion. A character who sacrifices themselves for a cause gains more honour and prestige among the community of wayfarers than a character who puts their self preservation above the balance of the world.

It's almost a "Doctor Who" type of story. You know that things will work out in the end, but you know that sacrifices will have to be made. It's just a case of hoping that the value of the sacrifices doesn't outweigh the value of the restoration. Throughout the course of the story, the characters learn what actions will have the greatest effect, then they try to execute those actions to the best of their ability. If there is any deficit between what has been accomplished and what needs to be accomplished, the characters end up paying for this in deeply personal ways (loss of allies, personal injuries, geases to spirits, enforced taboos).

If these sacrifices aren't accepted (or the issues haven't been resolved), then the imbalance remains. The mission has failed.

I think it's time to start describing how the GM writes up an imbalanced setting for the game. That's where we'll head next.

25 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 11


In Walkabout, a zombie is something more than just a shambling infected undead, it draws its power from the legends that spawned it. To defeat a zombie, the wayfarers need to learn how it spawned otherwise the simple defeat of the monstrous menace will lead to it respawning quickly. To defeat a zombie, one must learn of Voodoun, the Loa, the way dark spirits ride the living, and the rituals used to reanimate the dead...or at least watch a whole lot of zombie movies. The power of focused belief comes from the esoteric, but the deluded belief of the masses carries a lot of weight as well. The movies and stories from the pre-tilt world have instilled the spirits associated with the concept of "zombie" certain consensual traits. When they infect one of the living, they become "susceptible to head shots" and in parts of the world where more traditional zombie beliefs are still upheld, they may become unable to cross lines of salt.

Spirits associated with the concept of "vampire" may show a reflection (or may not)...it all depends on the beliefs of the local populace. The same human host possessed by the same "vampiric" spirit may have a reflection in one town, while remaining void of reflection in another. In both towns, the notion of vampires requiring blood to survive is a constant. This becomes a permanent part of the "vampire" myth, and a constant trait of the "vampire" race. If a host possessed by a spirit doesn’t drink blood, it doesn’t fit the specified criteria of a “vampire”; it doesn’t fit the belief patterns of vampirism and therefore it isn’t one.

With this in mind, spirits in the tilted world of walkabout have a myriad of possibilities. Anything that might be used to define a concept, could become a source of power to a spirit; elemental mysticism, religious ideals, specific locations, emotions, animals or folk-lore.

In the years immediately after the dark times, surviving occultists tried to categorise the variety of spirits according to their respective forms of mystic lore…some naming them after choirs of angels and orders of demons, others defining them by elemental affinities. Surviving scientists tried to delve into the xenobiology of the spirit world, adding categories of order, class, genus, and species to pigeonhole the creatures they were encountering. Yet none of these systems seemed to cover the full diversity of the spirit world. Every day new spirits were encountered, or new tales shared and the old models of description had to be continually revised.

After arguments between occultists, mystics, shamans and scientists a grudging consensus was reached. A system of three categories was used to define the general nature of spirits; Manifestation, Affinity and Agenda. Within these categories, a variety of subcategories refine the nature of a spirit. Often it is impossible to fully identify a spirit, but the classifications of spirit category give a person an idea of where to start…in much the same way that stereotypes of race, occupation and religion might provide ideas about how to start dealing with a person. It is a fine line to walk, stick too closely to the beliefs associated with a category and you risk insulting a spirit belonging to a similar but different category; ignore the categories and you won’t even know where to start in dealings with them.

Cryptid – (Creature is one of many responsible for the myths and legends of the world)
Hybrid – (Creature appears as a blend between two “normal” animals)
Legendary – (Creature is humanoid but bears resemblance to a specific subject of a legend or myth)
Sapient – (Creature appears as a normal plant/animal but has human-level intelligence)
Transformative – (Creature has two or more forms and can shift between them)

Extraplanar – (Creature seems to belong to a reality far different to our own)
Alien – (Creature is small and grey [or green])
Celestial – (Creature bears resemblance to a traditional angel)
Infernal – (Creature bears resemblance to a traditional demon)
Xenomorph – (Creature appears as a horrific monstrosity from nightmare)

Possession – (Creature exists in our realm through a connection to a host body)
Animatory – (Creature animates the dead corpse of a mortal host)
Parasitic – (Creature fights with a living host for control of the body)
Symbiotic – (Creature cooperatively shares power with a living host)

Spectral – (Creature is caught between the dreaming and the physical plane)
Ghast – (Creature assumes the memory patterns of the recently departed)
Poltergeist – (Creature thrashes between the worlds causing chaos and destruction)
Shadow – (Creature exists only in the corner of your eye and just out of sight)

Conceptual – (Creature is linked to arcane and abstract concepts)
Death – (Creature is linked to the concepts of death, decay and disease)
Fertility – (Creature brings life to the world around them)
Hunt – (Creature revels in the act of pursuit)
Knowledge – (Creatures reveres lore of all kinds)
Magic – (Creature is mystically inclined)
Religion – (Creature is linked to a religion or belief system)
Technology – (Creature is connected to the physical sciences and devices of man)
Travel – (Creature is always on the move)
Trickery – (Creature cannot be trusted, ever)
War – (Creature is linked to destructive urges on a massive scale)
Weather – (Creature bears an affinity with clouds, winds and storms)

Element – (Creature is linked to the primal forces underlying reality)
Air – (Opposed by Earth; Element of movement, communication and surface meaning)
Darkness – (Opposed by Light; Element of stealth, mystery and secrets)
Earth – (Opposed by Air; Element of stasis, knowledge and deeper meaning)
Fire – (Opposed by Water; Element of linear progression, offense and passion)
Light – (Opposed by Darkness; Element of observance, awakening and insight)
Metal – (Opposed by Wood; Element of death, decay, and technology)
Water – (Opposed by Fire; Element of cycles, defence and meditation)
Wood – (Opposed by Metal; Element of life, growth, and nature)

Ephemera – (Creature is linked to aspects of reality only echoed in mortal thought)
Dream – (Linked to phantasms the of the unconscious mind)
Fate – (Linked to the infinite possibilities of the future)
Illusion – (Linked to the senses of the waking world)

Nature – (Creature maintains enough links to the natural order to control aspects of it)

Place – (Creature bears a primal connection to a specific location)

Noble – (Creature follows the virtuous path and inspires others to do likewise)

Passion – (Creature is linked to subconscious desires)
Controlled – (Creature somehow summoned and under the orders of someone else)
Bodyguard– (Protects a specified individual)
Infiltrator – (Gathers information from rivals)
Scout – (Sent to explore an area)
Sentinel – (Stands in one place, guarding/protecting it)

Selfish – (Creature has detached itself from the natural order and now has desires of its own)

Selfless – (Creature has been detached from the natural order and only wants to rejoin it)

The list still needs some fleshing out, but this gives a basic idea.

Response to Feedback

I think one of the nice things about the songline idea is that as you travel you should (if following the songline correctly) meet the things appropriate to the songline (you wouldn't be able not to).  These may be spiritual in nature or mundane things that serve the appropriate purpose or behaviour. If you deal with these things correctly (either through luck or knowing the song) you continue travelling to the next station on the songline, gaining spiritual momentum as you do so.  This need not mean that you win btw, some steps might require that you "lose" the encounter in order to win.   Fail and you drop out of the songline at that point and lose all that wonderful spiritual momentum you've built up.  Even worse, to restart it you'll probably have to go back to the beginning from wherever you've ended up (which may be further away than it was when you were following the song).  There might also be problems if people intentionally drop songs before the finish (particularly if they do it repeatedly as that would tend to sever the songline) because of this released spiritual momentum/energy/posssibility. 

Ian Borchardt

This runs so counter to the idea of most modern "indie" RPGs that I love it. 

In many indie games, the idea of a linear narrative is anathema. There are plenty of forum regulars who believe there is no real potential for character development in a preconceived story, where the GM leads the players through the plot with pacing moderated by die rolls and player intuition.

Yet Walkabout is a game about spirituality, and spiritual concepts are eternal constants; they may gain significance within a culture or belief system, or they may fade away into shadows when the paradigm shifts. ...but they continue to exist in the collective subconscious.

All deep and meaningful talk, but what does this have to do with a light-hearted game about post apocalyptic monster hunting?

I've thought a bit about Ian's comment here (and a few others that he has made over the past couple of weeks). I think they've tapped into something that I wanted from Walkabout, but something that I was having some trouble identifying.

My main agenda for Walkabout is to create a game about investigation and restoration. The wayfarer characters might have to fight unbalanced spirits, but this is not a game about combat. They may have to destroy a human who is responsible for spiritual imbalance in an area, but first they have to identify what the problem is, who is causing it, how it is best resolved, and how to prevent issues like this occurring again.  

In a world where everything is twisted, how do we know what is right? How do we know that the wayfarers are restoring things to a balanced state rather than twisting them into an even more imbalanced parody?

If spirits are creatures of habit, following specific cyclical paths through their existence, then the characters need to learn what the correct paths are. Perhaps they need to act as mentors, allies, sidekicks and adversaries to the spirit heroes. They need to learn the one true path for a spirit, whether that path is a physical journey across the land or a metaphysical journey of transformation. They need to remove the obstacles that should not be present, and need to replace the obstacles which should be hindering a spirit's journey.

Imagine that the characters are in Egypt, they might have to learn the journey of Ra across the sky and the significance of its steps in the real world. 

Imagine they are journeying through Jerusalem, following the "stations of the cross".

In the black forest they might have to assist a red hooded girl on the way to her grandmother (perhaps the wolf spirit has grown too strong through a tainted source of spiritual power), or they might have to teach a predatory wolf spirit how to attack a grandmother and how to disguise itself in her clothes (perhaps the spiritual grandmother has become imbalanced and needs to be taken down in order to restore the cycle).

In Australian aboriginal mythlore, the legends give meaning to the events of daily life (as is the case in most religions and mythic cycles), those who don't bother the learn the meaning of the symbolism confuse the purpose of the tales. Lorekeepers might relate the tales of spirits and talking beasts to explain a morality tale, the clerics of the church might teach the same morality tale through the apocryphal lives of their saints. Both the lorekeepers and the clerics teach the same lessons, but the clerics of the church see only the dressings of the tale...dismissing the talking beasts and spirits as primitive folklore.

Both the clerics of the church and the lorekeepers/shamans of the tribal societies believe that the heroes of their morality tales are immortal (some ascended from humanity as saints or walking eternally through the dreamtime, others born immortal as angels, demons or natural spirits), in much the same way that the Greeks and Romans believed in the transcendence of their heroes or the immortality of their gods. Each of these figures embodies a concept.

In Walkabout, the beliefs are made manifest.

When belief is tainted, the immortal concepts associated with them also become tainted. When the spirits are tainted, the protectorates of territory or associated concept become similarly tainted.

A spirit of death might not be popular, but it has a job to do. If someone causes the spirit of death to no longer claim the souls of the departed, the citizens of a town might live longer, but at what expense. If nothing dies, the carrion spirits grow weaker, the nutrients of the deceased are not returned to the soil and the fertility of the region dwindles. The cycle grows stagnant and the ripples of this stagnation filter across the land.   

A spirit of knowledge might reveal the truth, but some truths are best left unknown.

Spirits have duties in nature, they are destined to perform specific tasks. Some may be appear to be good, others may appear to be evil, they merely have roles to play; once they no longer play those roles correctly the deviation in their actions cascades across reality. The primary purpose of lorekeepers and shamans was to ensure the stories were remembered correctly, and therefore reinforce the purpose of the spirits...thus ensuring the balance of spiritual energy.

A savage dingo spirit may have been slaughtered by survivors who didn't realise it's true purpose in the scheme of things. They only saw the way it killed their animals...they didn't realise that it was culling the weak and diseased from the herds. Now the wayfarers need to convince another dingo spirit to come to the area, knowing full well that the beast is scared of also being killed by the xenophobic humans...or perhaps they need to teach a new young dingo spirit how to hunt.

Every part of the country has it's own tales, and its own spirits embodying those tales. New arrivals bring their own tales and spirits, and it is through the mingling of these voices and energies that the world moves forward (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). But with the loss of the shamans, the wayfarers have to relearn the tales of the past to correct the balance for the future.

But I'm starting to ramble...I'm not sure if I'm refining the concept now, pushing it in an unintended direction or diluting the pure energy I started with.

Still more thought required.

22 September, 2012

A fun table for Jellies, Slimes, Fungi, Molds and related things...

I've just been alerted to this table.

It's really clever and inspires some great ideas.

I like 5, 12 and 20, but the whole table has given me ideas for randomly generated low-sentience spirit entities in Walkabout.

20 September, 2012

Walkabout Images Interlude 2

The next range of illustrations for Walkabout.

Like the first images interlude, these are mostly the type of atmospheric moody pieces that I'm actually trying to get away from. The bottom picture with the argument is getting closer to the type of things that I hope to have more of...images that describe relationships between people (whether they are in stressful situations, looking out for one another, or simply engaged in group activities).

Tying things together in Walkabout

There is a fracture between the OSR and the Indie factions within the roleplaying community.

It's been around a while and I've even commented about it a few times on this blog.

In the old days we divided the RPG community into "Roll"-players (who were all about the mechanisms and the dice), and the "Role"-players (who were all about the characters and the story). In the circles where I associated, the "Roll"-players were inferior; they were a throwback to the wargamers, they didn't get into the actual spirit of the game...instead they just sat back and kept asking the GM "Is it my turn to roll? What do I roll now? I got a 6, what does that mean?"...while the "Role"-players got into the funny accents, the cultural portrayal of races and almostfelt that the game fell apart once a GM decided a die roll was necessary.

At that time, the clever players took things full circle. They seemed to use the mechanisms when it might be to their best advantage, and used conversational and social tactics when the dice weren't in their favour. Knowing when to use what form of play became a good way to get through the story meted out by the GM.

In more recent times, these two methods of play are seen for just that; both are just tools toward the completion of a story. It is the story that comes into question and divides the community.

A module (or adventure) is a preconceived story with a starting point and an ending point. A "Railroad" module leads players through a specific series of scenes as they progress toward a conclusion, either the players pas or fail, but either way there are specific scenes that must be played out along the way (most computer games are like this). An "Illusionist's Railroad" gives the impression that players decisions matter but still has key points along the way that have to be played through (some of the better computer games are like this). An open module has a few events that are likely to happen, each of which points to a specific ending but doesn't force the players in that direction (the best computer RPGs we've currently seen might fit this description).

A "Sandbox" is an environment that reacts to the decisions of the players. A sandbox is often seeded with a series of predetermined vignettes designed to reveal something about the world, or something about the characters (games like "Grand Theft Auto" are considered in the Sandbox mould).

The current crop of Indie games shrug off the idea of pre-written stories or seeded vignettes altogether. They aim to be reactionary pieces of improvisational theatre, possible moderated by dice in some way. I'm still trying todecide whether these games are a step forward for the roleplaying community (vocal adherents to the new-wave claim that they are the avant-garde, the only way to play); or whether they are an evolutionary diversion, a fashion that we'll look back on and laugh at.

I guess that the main difference at the moment is that OSR games basically seek to explore the world outside, while the indie game ethos seeks to explore the world within. OSR games are characterised by the notions of dungeon exploration, mystery investigation and confrontation of the monsters without; Indie game seek to explore the dynamics within the group, the development of the individual and the confrontation of issues within the character's mind. This is a gross overstatement, and a over-generalisation; it's more of a vibe that I'm getting from the typical games lauded as paragons by each community.

I've never seen a real need for a split here.

Why can't you tell the stories of characters interacting with one another as they explore the unknown? I'm thinking of complex shows like Firefly, where each character brings something special to the table, and when two or more characters face a given situation they react to it in different ways. Each story is episodic in nature, but the overall storyline can go in any direction.

We know that the character have been charged with the sacred duty of restoring the balance of things between the cities of Rockhampton and Brisbane; we know that they will start their journey at one point and will either end up at Brisbane or die along the way, but we don't know how the obstacles encountered will change them as people. Will they end up jaded and disappointed at the atrocities they see? Will they make a stand for their beliefs? Will they decide that the stories they were told as children were naive, or even lies, before turning their backs to join another human culture? Will they transcend the chaos around them, becoming shamans able to mediate with the spirits, or will the go even further transcending the boundaries between spirit and human to become veritable bodhisattvas, saints or gods?

Each chronicle in Walkabout is a tale of restoration for a single Songline. It is a road trip across a desolate and dangerous world; a pilgrimage of the neo-shamanic wayfarers through a dangerous land where the characters will be tested in their mind, their bodies and their souls. We know where they will be, but we don't know how they will be tested. They will need to rely on their skills, their tools, their relationships to one another and their innermost beliefs to overcome the corruption lurking in the wilderness.

Along the way they will encounter lost trading posts, homesteads, shattered towns, and struggling survivors who often need their help, but will just as often fear them as outsiders and a chaotic influence capable of toppling the carefully constructed power-base that is keeping the survivors alive.

Walkabout is a game about heroes in the Campbellian sense. It is a game about the outsiders who don't necessarily choose their fate as "changers of the world", but who are forced to walk in the shunned places of the world, confront the darkness and emerge with a new-found power that might bring a glimmer of hope back to society.

Every Songline cleansed is a chance for a wayfarer to retire, resuming their place in the world with benefits that might improve the lives of the people around them, or a chance to advance toward a more complete understanding of the world as they push forward to cleanse new Songlines (with established partners or new disciples). There is darkness inherent in the setting, and characters may choose to embrace the sinister, but hopefully they'll choose to push against it to act as beacons of hope in a dystopian world. The options of progressing or staying, and light or dark, are specific choices that will not be imposed by the GM, these are specifically personal. Only the player of the wayfarer can truly know when their story has reached a conclusion, and when it is time to bring a new wayfarer to the table.

I guess it's a bit like the old traditional style of play where you can decide whether or not to send your adventurer down the next dungeon, or just live a comfortable life with the treasures found so far. But I'm trying to look at more than this, making players really consider the stories they are weaving together within he context of the greater setting.

The Walkabout World: Part 10


The Walkabout world is similar to our own, but it has two drastic changes (and these changes lead to a cascade of lesser changes). The first change is the tilt of the planet, this has been discussed fairly extensively in the first posts of this series. The second change is the manifestation of the spirit world in the physical plane, this has been touched on but hasn't really been detailed.

In some of those early posts it was even said that the nature of spirits either remains unknown, or isn't really important to the objectives of the characters within the setting. This was an oversimplification to allow us to progress with the other description that help set the scene for the stories within the Walkabout world.

At other times, statements were made about spirits being in a state of quantum flux, their exact parameters defined by the observer. There were also comments made about the ways were somehow linked to nuclear energy, with the effects of electromagnetic radiation playing a mysterious part.

The idea was to make spirits an integral part of the setting, certainly supernatural, but only in a way that they exist beyond the boundaries we have put on nature. The spirits force people in the setting to expand their concept of the natural, or reveal themselves for narrow minded.

Religions are forced to change, shattered technologies are harder to rebuild (because they often lure curious spirits), the news ways prove the be a dangerous deviation from the natural order (as environmentalists and radicals had been saying for decades) and the old ways prove their virtue.

In this setting, some might claim that the spirits are travellers from outer space, carried aboard an asteroid crashed into the earth with such force that the spin was altered. Running through the physics, an asteroid large enough to divert the spin of the earth this much, and an impact that big...it just isn't right. Not only are there no major craters on the planet, the planet would have probably shattered into a plethora of new asteroids.

No, the spirits have always been here. The most popular theory states that it was probably their intervention that tilted the earth. The most powerful among them, once known as gods, celestines, archangels or demon lords, were fed up with the abuse of humanity but knew it took conscious thought to anchor their forms. They couldn't get rid of all humanity, but sought to resume their power within the world. Different religions filter this theory through their assorted beliefs and dogma, but the pattern of powerful beings re-asserting their power in the world remains a common theme.

Scholars of pre-Christian Norse faith (and neo-vikings) might make claims about Ragnarok, justifying their words with the manifestation of nightmarish creatures, fiery earthquakes and the freezing of the world. The assorted Christian denominations whisper about the time of revelations and apocalypse. No religion is more correct than any other, and just like any other period of history they cherry-pick the facts that back up their dogma while ignoring or disputing any evidence that might run contrary to their beliefs.

Let's not get caught up in too much dogma though, we'll look at what the inhabitants of the world know about the spirits, as well as what they think they know, what is rumoured, and what is just downright wrong. No-one in the Walkabout world has a complete understanding of the spirits; almost like an electron, where you can know either its position or its velocity (but never be 100% certain of both); there are those who understand the spirits from a clinical and scientific perspective and there are those who understand them from a social and anthropological perspective, but even most spiritually aware individuals are unable to grasp the alien-ness of the spirits compared to themselves while upholding a meaningful discourse with them.

(This idea could end up playing a part as a significant mechanism within the final game, especially among those characters who regularly deal with spirits; those who have little spirit lore tend to believe more of the fallacies and some of the rumours, while those who learn more about the spirits gradually develop the accepted beliefs and the known...still working on this idea.)

The Known

Spirits are not human. It is clear that spirits are otherworldly beings, existing in a state somewhere between energy and an uncollapsed quantum wave-form. It is unknown whether they evolved along a different developmental path to matter based life-forms, if they were engineered by a progenitor race (or divine being), or if they are simply universal constants somehow linked to living consciousness.  

The range of spirits is nearly endless. For every person that has ever existed, there seems to be at least one spirit. The means tens of billions, if not more. Most spirits are simple things unaware that they are bound to a certain concept or a specific place, many are ignored as they perform the background tasks that they have maintained since the dawn of time. Some have developed awareness and goals of their own, perhaps seeking to improve the world in some way or push some agenda (such as "technology", "occultism", "capitalism", "evolution", or "monotheistic faith"). A few rare spirits have developed a degree of full self-awareness. These are the greatest allies and greatest enemies a mortal human can face.  

The Accepted Beliefs

Spirits are magical. Spirits do not seem to follow the laws of physics as we understand them, they are able to fade into in, their forms may vary from opaque through translucent to transparent, some are able to render themselves insubstantial (often walking through walls or otherwise impenetrable barriers). As far as the spirits are concerned, this is natural as the laws of their native hyperspace realm surrounding our reality are very different to our own.

Spirits are Otherworldly. Yes and No. Spirits naturally exist on a plane that is interconnected with our own, their actions have always impacted on our world and our actions have had ripple effects in theirs, it has been a symbiotic relationship since the beginning of time. Jewish Kaballah has a description where the centre of the universe is a light and all of perceived reality is simply a reflection of that light. Some aspects of reality are more pure and exist closer to the light, while others exist further away. In this cosmology, our world exists in a neutral sphere around this light. The agents of the pure exist closer the to light, refracting the will of the light onto our reality. The agents of the impure try to cast shadows and prevent use reaching the light. All exists within a delicate ecosystem and our perception of the world is but a tiny part of the whole. We may not have perceived spirits before the tilt, but they were definitely a part of our world.

Spirits cannot be killed. The exorcists of various faiths have often stated that spirits are eternal, they can be repelled from certain physical locations, they can be banished back to their home realm, their consciousness can be suppressed, and they can be bound into a quantum stasis (imagine a djinni in a lamp being a parapsychological version of Shroedinger's Cat), but there is always the chance that they will resume their original form once given enough time.

Spirits are dangerous. This is basically true, in certain contexts. Unaware spirits are single minded, almost programmed with a limited set of actions, deviating them from their tasks or placing them in situations where this "programming" isn't appropriate may cause unexpected results. Aware spirits have agendas rather than limited sets of programming, such spirits become dangerous to those who oppose said agendas, or when their agendas are rendered irrelevant due to changing circumstances (correcting these circumstances is often the best way to appease spirits in this condition).

The Rumours

Spirits fuel themselves with the beliefs and faith of humans. Since spirits manifest according to the perception of a conscious mind, they sometimes seek to strengthen that form through the concerted effort of many minds. The more "believers" hold a spirit to it's form, the more stable that form is. This renders them unable to transform and adapt, but gives them power among those who focus their belief. Many spirits choose to "work miracles" among their believers in order to assert their authority in the physical world, this often takes the belief of many humans to bend the laws of physics within our reality.

Spirits are tied to religions. Spirits have always been a part of the unseen world, and religion and occult arts have always sought to explain the unseen world. Since spirits are defined by perception and belief this has often caused them to manifest in forms associated with religious and occult concepts. The oldest beliefs of the world are shamanistic, and thus many of the oldest spirits manifest as intelligent animals, hybrids of man and beast, or anthropomorphised elemental creatures reflecting storms, fire, water, stone or wood. Many spirits care little for the concepts of religion, especially when they exist separate to our reality; the simply fulfil their tasks in the world and prefer to be left alone.

Spirits come from dreams. The complex electromagnetic signals within the brain are like the most delicate candy to curious spirits; they are drawn to the fluctuations of emotion and symbolism. Spirits are able to manipulate and inhabit dream realms, they are even able to lure humans into their own world through their dreams. The exact connection between spirits and dreams is unknown.

(As creatures driven by an observer's perception and naturally comprised of electromagnetic radiation, the conscious brain is a playground for spirits; it's hardly surprising that some spirits get into a brain and do not leave, using the filters of the conscious mind to experience the outside world.)

Humans may become spirits. When a human dies, the echoes of their beliefs resonate for a brief moment. Among some groups it is said that in this moment of dying, a spirit may copy the memory pattern of a human, thus becoming a ghost. Other groups state that hidden reaper spirits offer a chance at immortality to those who have proven their worthiness. Only at the moment of death is this known, and those who've made the choice are unwilling (or unable) to share the truth with the living.

The Fallacies

Spirits are demons. Spirits may be responsible for the human belief in demons, but they are just as responsible for legends of angels, faeries, saints, ghosts and totems.

Spirits are nothing without Humans. Humans may give spirits form, but without humans the spirits would still exist. They might be a swirling energy of raw chaotic potential, and would probably work to develop a new sentient race on the planet (one capable of stabilising their form once again), but they would not disappear completely

Walkabout Images Interlude 1

I don't know how many walkabout images I've posted here on the blog, but I've got about 40 of them in various states of completion. I'll intersperse a range of images here and there throughout the remainder of my descriptive posts about the setting.

More than half of these images are people I know, or gamers who have kindly permitted me to use their images as post apocalyptic survivors in the setting.

19 September, 2012

New Links for Easier Reading Access

To make things easier for everyone to search through some of the more popular series of posts on this blog, I've added a range of quick link pages.

So far I've included pages for "Walkabout", "Hell on Eight Wheels" and my "Game Mechanism of the Week" Series (this last one's in progress).

You can see them up at the top of the page.

18 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 9

Religion and Beliefs of the new World

I’ve looked at the science and pseudo-science of the Walkabout from a few different angles; so at this point you’re either going to run with the suspension of disbelief that spirits could awaken in our world and that the shifting magnetic poles could cause the world to shift t’s rotational axis could, or you’re just going to call it crap and move on to another setting with a series of fantasies that you can believe in.

Beyond this point, it’s less about hard science and more about anthropology, and the projection of history into the future based on the actions of the past…and a bit more spirituality.

I’m going to make some broad sweeping stereotypes based on what I understand about the world. If you think those statements are racist, then consider that I’ll be trying to paint both a positive and negative picture each group described. Inevitably, some will be depicted in ways that show them to be more positive than others; but this is based on my understanding of their beliefs and how they might react to a world that has seen angels, demons and monsters emerge from the shadows while undergoing catastrophic seismic events, followed by months of darkness, then gradually emerging from years (if not decades) of ice age.

Walkabout is based in Australia, so I’ll be focusing on the transformed beliefs of Australian survivors from a variety of cultures. I’ve shared times with the Christian (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox), Buddhist, Islamic and Australian Aboriginal communities; I have friends among these, as well as self-professed Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, Agnostics and Atheists. I know less about them, but there are also communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Hindus, Ba’hai, and assorted other faiths, we even have a small number of religious ethnic minorities such as Jews. 

The personal belief among survivors is a varied thing. The philosophical responses to the changes world are drawn from a survivor’s history within the institutions of their society. Those who have looked on religion as a society for the betterment of humanity might draw stronger together in this hour of need, while those who honestly view their religion as a connection to the divine probably have a more dramatic response, perceiving this as a time of testing or believing that they have been forsaken by their spiritual protector(s).

Times of great tragedy polarise beliefs, blame is easily thrown but never accepted. The vast majority of the local priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams have been killed in the carnage of the dark time’s early days. A few rare survivors have lost the vast majority of their communities; it is a time when they see their beliefs made manifest in the world but it seems there is no-one to listen to them. Most people are more interested in surviving than in paying 10% tithes to community institutions that have failed them, the religious institutions of the past need something new to compete with the blatant spiritual presence in the world. Spirits are quantum entities, their manifestation is driven by the presence of an observer, the billions of dying souls during the dark days gave them forms of angel, demon, deva, asura, monster, alien and shambling horde. The most devout among the churches, mosques and temples have long held that their faith could deal with these creatures; thus belief and observation hold true against the manifestations of the spirits.

For centuries, the Catholic and Buddhists faiths have had exorcists who dealt with demons and spiritual anomalies unallied to their beliefs. The decades before the tilt saw members of these orders derided for their out-dated beliefs and chastised for their “unpolitically-correct” agendas. Once the spirits started to manifest across the world, these holy-men (the religious orders rarely employed females among their ranks) found themselves in a unique position to deal with the menace.
Using their respective tools of holy water, sacred mirrors, relics, prayers and ritual; the exorcists purged their local communities of spiritual activity. The Catholic priests weren’t concerned whether the spirits were dangerous or simply going about their business, they just exorcised anything that didn’t manifest as one of their saints; the Buddhists at least tried to work out the spirit’s intention before driving them off or eliminating them. These priests rendered certain areas safe from spiritual activity for the survivors, sometimes drawing acolytes and disciples to learn their ways. The confrontational ways of these exorcists made them targets among certain vengeful spirit groups, some spirits sought to avenge their weaker and more innocent brethren who had been damaged and banished by the exorcists…other spirits simply wanted war. Thus began a new crusade of faith, with the beliefs of humans shaping the very things they fought.  Pockets of supernatural war broke out across the darkness; the last candles of civilisation flaring up before flickering away.

Early in the dark times, a few surviving “spiritual revival” churches claimed that the rapture had come. Evangelists in their auditorium churches preached to the scared survivors, blaming the homosexuals, the Islamic community, the devil worshippers, the scientists, and anyone else they could think of as convenient scapegoats. Those groups who still had pastors and preachers alive were often more moderate in their treatment of the outside world, willing to assist other survivors and take in those who might be willing to convert. Those who had lost their religious leaders often found the more radical members of the community step up into leadership roles, driving their churches to insular hatred, or vengeful fury against the communities around them; they felt forsaken by their God, only taking solace in the new belief that they had to purify the world to make way for a new heaven. Melting down the holy symbols and syphoning all of the holy water in old churches for ammunition in the new war, they hunted down spirits and came into direct conflict with the surviving Catholic priests who still remembered the arts of exorcism. These priests they avoided as a lesser evil, instead choosing to persecute any spirits they might find; when they found that their actions were often ineffective against the supernatural, they lashed out at other survivors, blaming them for the problems in the world.

Insular communities like the “Closed Brethren” and the “Twelve Tribes” survived the early onslaught by withdrawing even further from the world around them. Communities like these had often been self-sufficient for decades before the dark days, they often followed dogma believing that the communities around them were decadent and corrupt. The authorities basically considered them cults but were unable to step in until formal complaints were made…when the authorities were all but eliminated, they became enclaves of religious ideals (and heresy), often fortifying their walls to prevent scavengers from destroying their self-sufficiency. Sometimes it worked, sometimes mobs would hear about their communities and skirmishes would eliminate ever more survivors from the world.   

Neo-pagans and wiccans typically had a more sharing attitude toward the spiritual activity sweeping across the world. Some wanted to worship the new beings, others wanted to learn from them. This open attitude left a lot of these groups exposed to the darker spirits derived from the beliefs of right-wing fundamentalist Christian nightmares (“anyone who deals with spirits is a devil worshipper”… “spirits are tricksters who will lead you unto temptation and evil”), but the world was filled with more than spiritual tricksters and demon who conned, misled or killed na├»ve new-agers. Some found benevolent spirits, learning mysterious occult arts from them or trading favours.

The assorted people following the collection of faiths referred to commonly as Hindu, fared far better than most. Their various belief systems had always stated that the world moves in great cycles, and the axial realignment of the planet simply marked for them the turning from one age to the next. The appearance of spirits in the world is considered by some to be a distraction on the path to universal truth, while others see them as agents of karma (easily categorising them as Asuras or Devas), or possibly a stage of reincarnation appropriate to the newly changed world.

Despite the best efforts of Christian missionaries among the colonial forces, there are some among the community who still follow the old ways. These ways might be described by anthropologists as Shamanism, but for these people it was simply life. All things are live, all things have spirits, now the other people in their land were starting to see the truth for themselves, but it took the blacking out of everything else for them to see this. The aboriginals who still follow the old ways find it amazing that many of the other groups of survivors are able to physically see the spirits of the world, yet are still unable to understand what they mean or what they do. The old ways teach that the world moves in cycles, and in this way they share some ideas with those who adhere to the customs of Hinduism. The two groups don’t agree on everything, but in a time of danger, allies are few and far between. It has been said that a fusion of these two forms of faith may have led to the first Wayfarers (the player characters in Walkabout).

Agnostics and atheists have often had a hard time reconciling their beliefs (or lack thereof) with the supernatural activity sweeping across the globe. Many converted to some kind of faith, deathbed conversions; some stalwarts found ways to rationalise the catastrophic events unfolding around them with scientific terms and claims about aliens or ancient conspiracies. Many simply believed that more facts were being revealed about the world through the darkness, or perhaps that a global mass hysteria had occurred.

Though they may not be considered a religion per se, conspiracy theorists felt vindicated in the changes sweeping across the world. Masons, Rosicrucians and Theosophists similarly felt that a time of awakening had reached the earth, and that after a period of trials and tribulation a new chance for a golden era would emerge.

I deliberately haven’t touched on the Islamic side of things yet, I want to do a bit more research before I indicate possible directions they might take in the changing world. The first distinct thing that I can think of is the orientation of mosques, each mosque points toward Mecca while traditionally Buddhist temples have been aligned north-south in accordance with feng shui, and the most traditional Christian cathedrals line up east-west to capture the rays of morning light through stained glass windows. With the changing axis of the world’s spin, cathedrals and temples have their geospatial alignment shifted in erratic ways, but mosques remain facing Mecca. Some might consider this a vindication of their faith.
If you’re reading this and you have any other ideas about where things could head, or if you have insight about another system of belief that I haven’t covered adequately, let me know. I’d love to hear your input.