17 May, 2018

Walkabout: People of the Outback

Going through some of my old notes, I found a few things that felt a little problematic at the time, but now seem far more so.

In the last round of playtests for the game (which echo back to 2012/2013), I defined a character by a series of template stereotypes in a mix-and-match system. I still like this idea, but it's the nature of those templates that will need to change in the rewrite. Three template fragments were combined in that system. Each template came in a general form, with a specialty that could be used to refine what it means specifically to the character.

First were the "people", where these are the culture the character grew up with and those who they consider their family. The people might be considered a "race" in some games, but not quite. I basically categorised the various types of people by the culture and technology they shared rather than any genetic heritage. The "Nomads" were those who roamed the highways in mobile towns built on the backs of trucks and assorted vehicles. The "Cultivators" lived settled lived in the old farming areas, trying to live a pastoral life again. The "Scavengers" lived in the ruins of the old cities, trying to piece together a new life from the remnants left behind of the past. The "Tribalists" thought that the ways of technology were the wrong path to spiritual harmony, and deliberately chose to live their interpretation of a life with nature (noting that the Indigenous communities of Australia didn't have to be tribalists, and it was just as likely that an Indigenous Elder might see these Tribalists as fools misunderstanding and misappropriating their culture). The "Arcologists" were the descendents of the wealthy upper classes who had hidden themselves in bunkers and fortresses to weather the apocalypse. The "Outlanders" were those who embraced the chaos of the post-apocalypse, including mutants, bandits and those who deliberately opposed any attempt to return the world to the tyranny of the past and the darkness of capitalism. Then there were the "Skyborne" who lived in balloons drifting high above the surface of the world, who retained the most technology from the old world, but who had become insular, inbred, and vaguely xenophobic toward the ground dwellers. Within each group there were specific castes, such as the nomads having drivers, mechanics, traders and navigators. I still like these ideas, they can stay.

Second came an "edge", where different types of people would pay different amounts for various edges, or might have access to specific edges reflecting their people's culture and technology. I had a wide variety of these, from pets to special vehicles and equipment, from mystic insight to mutations. One of the "edge" types was a reputation, which gave a character access to a range of skills based on the kinds of things they were known for in the wider community. For example, an "honourable" character would gain access to a bunch of social skills and advantages, while a "vicious" character would gain access to a range of violent and combative skills. I think that the reputation is actually more important, and I'm actually going to pull that out of the edges because everyone should have a reputation for something in this setting. Especially the player characters. The last edge type was a connection to another "people", for example a nomad might have an "Arcologist" connection indicating that her family regularly did trade with the old wealthy underground elite. This is also something that I think shouldn't be limited to a binary where some characters have it and some don't. As I was writing settlements for the game all those years ago I started to realise that almost every settlement had a range of cultures in it, and while there might often be one particular group that is predominant in the community, it was virtually impossible to find one that was completely homogeneous. I had also created an edge where a character had the option to belong to a specific subculture of their people (where some subcultures might function as links between various types of people). One of those subcultures was the New Koori Nation, which was a subset of tribalists and cultivators, divided into males and females with different areas of advantage based on "mens knowledge" and "womens knowledge". This is leaving me at a dilemma, it's accurate, but the presentation of it is culturally problematic.

Finally came the "dance". This is getting tossed in the bin. The dance was based on the idea that almost every group of Indigenous people in Australia shares their knowledge through the ritual corroboree, and this involves dancing. It also came a bit from the Rippers in Tank Girl, and a few other sources that functioned as inspiration for the early incarnations of the game. Don't get me wrong, Tank Girl is still a huge inspiration, but the idea that every character has to dance feels a bit problematic. Most of the Indigenous Elders I know wouldn't dance, but they all have their own methods for sharing news and knowledge. making every Walkabout Wayfarer character dance feels a bit like reducing them to a caricature of the culture rather than a representative of it.

One of these things I did like in the system as it was presented was the idea that no character was too much of a unique and special snowflake. While all template fragments were balanced against one another, those that should have been the most common had a low cost (1-2 points), those that should have been less common had a higher cost (3-4 points, but possibly reduced in cost if you bought a pair of template fragments that had a tendency to be found together), and some fragments that would have been quite rare in the setting had the highest cost range (5-6 points). Everyone had 8 points to spend, and all characters needed three base template fragments to build their character. This basically meant that a character could have a single super rare thing about them (at 6 cost), but the two other template fragments would have to be run-of-the-mill to balance against this special factor. Another character could have two uncommon elements to them (3 cost each), but the third element would be pretty common (2pts). Players could opt to not spend the whole 8 points, and if they did this, they might gain a minor XP bonus for every unspent point, or maybe an extra piece of equipment from those available to them. part of this idea was that character's weren't necessarily super special heroes at the start of their journey, but their paths had already been started. It was only through interaction with the spirit world and coming to understand the balance of the holistic world that characters become truly heroic and memorable. This idea is staying.

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