20 September, 2012

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.
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