Sunday, 2 May 2021

Project 'Social': making a community focussed RPG

For a while now I have been trying to focus on community over individuality (look e.g. at my magic system and my polytheism system). This is in part inspired by my own beliefs, but in part I just feel that a community focus is underrepresented in RPG content. It feels like every adventure game is about individuals, and to me that becomes kind of boring. 

A common fix in adventure games that want to focus more on communities seems to be handing out XP for doing stuff for common folk, or a specific community. But this feels like a bit of a quick fix, that doesn't tap into the problem I have with a lot of towns and communities in RPGs: they don't feel like communities. 

Embedded NPCs

To illustrate what I mean, lets look at NPCs. Most of the NPCs I have seen in modules are isolated individuals: there are very few ties to other NPCs in the same community. Sometimes they will have a family, or a history with one other character, but that is as far as it usually goes. For random NPCs this is even worse. That vendor that you made on the spot, but is now a recurring character, they probably aren't tied to any of the named NPCs in your town. Often this is fine, but again, I find it boring if this is always the case.

As I am of the belief that RPGs are inherently DIY (though the amount varies), I guess I'll take a stab at making what I think is missing: An adventure game in which part of the gameplay is focussed on the community, with procedures and guidelines to help run that community as a part of the community.

I'll focus the next few posts on the development of that game. As I tend to get way to ambitious with my projects, I am going to try to make as much of this modular. That way you can steal whatever you think is useable. Lets start now, with my fix for tying random NPCs to prior established ones:

a: (Randomly) select an NPC Y you want to relate to the NPC X you just made
b: Roll a d20, NPC X:

1. Shares a fond memory with Y
2. Shares a tragic memory with Y
3. Shares a horrible secret with Y
4. Shares a embarrassing secret with Y
5. Is related by blood to Y
6. Is related by wedlock to Y
7. Is related by adoption to Y
8. Has grown up together with Y
9. Has had a falling out with Y
10. Has new found respect for Y
11. Used to work in the past with Y
12. Holds a grudge against Y
13. Is secretly in love with Y
14. Considers themself a rival of Y
15. Has a close friendship with Y
16. Grew apart from Y
17. Lives next to Y
18. Shares an interest with Y
19. Has great admiration for Y
20. Does not get along with Y

Overview of project 'Social':

As I have gotten pretty deep into FKR lately, I don't think I'll be focussing a lot on core rules. Any resolution system should do the job. Rather, I would like to create a location this game takes place in, accompanied by a bunch of tools like the d20 table above.

The basic idea is as follows:

  • The game takes place in an isolated valley, that has become incredibly dangerous and is too remote to depend on outside help. 
  • Everyone living in the valley has taken refuge in the one walled Town, which is overcrowded and low on food and other resources. Tensions are high.
  • PCs are invested in the area and aim to make the valley safe. To do so, they most gain resources for the town and get the townspeople to aid them. 

My preferred tone in RPGs is dark with whimsy and a good deal of folklore, so the valley will be filled with local dieties, fae creatures and weird monsters. 

The goal is that the scarcity of resources gives the game a nice diegetic progression: as food is more readily available and people are more willing to part with it, you'll be able to take expeditions deeper into the valley; once you get a source of metal and a willing smith you get access to better equipment; and once the road is safe for trade you might even get access to resources that can't be found in the valley itself once you convince people to start trading again. 

Backgrounds

Though the idea is that you could run this little setting with basically any system, I do want to make some valley specific backgrounds. You can either use these on top of your class/background system of choice, or solely rely on these as templates for your characters. 

RPG backgrounds often say something about the PCs skills and former life and in doing so they also tell us something about the world. However, I think you can go a step further, and make backgrounds the way your PC is tied into the community. So rather than picking a former profession, you pick a part of the community you are part of when the game starts. For example:

The Edelbrart Family

  • You are from a long line of honored members of the Guard. To your family serving the Guard is more than a job, its values are a calling
  • The current Guard is criticized for being corrupt and abusing their power to hoard food and harrassing those taking refuge in the Town
  • Currently a lot of guards die to the threats from Outside the Walls
Family goals:  
  • Keep the townspeople safe  
  • Maintain the heritage of the Guard

I recently played in a game as a prewritten faction, and I really like the idea of having a more defined 'character' to play with. It makes it easier to roleplay something I wouldn't normally think of myself, and it also sort of made it easier to make decisions. Rather than having to think what I would want to do, I could defer to what a hugely powerful corperation would do in a near future setting.

However, I understand that this is very much a taste thing and I wouldn't want to do it all of the time myself either, so that isn't the route I'll be taking with the backgrounds for project Social. Instead, I'll try giving the group you choose as your background goals, that way you can play it both ways. In the case of the Edelbrart Family you could either embrance the family goals, start with them but lose them over time, or start the game breaking with the family over them. 

It also gives whomever is running the game a bunch of little factions they could use if they so desired. My aim is to have 36 backgrounds in the game, so I wouldn't recommend trying to have all 36 factions active in your version of the town all at once, but it is a nice selection to choose from (or fall back on). Sort of like a bunch of tools in and of themselves. 

Finally it gives me a nice way to create some implied drama all players can draw on. For the Edelbrart Family, the little prompt, plus the 2 goals provides us with a little dilemma: The guard is part of the family history, so its heritage should be honored, but it is also currently corrupt and abusive, so it needs to be reformed or abolished. Add a faction that wishes to start a town militia to supplant the Guard, and you have a nice little complex bit of drama going on in the background. 

Scale

Even with overcrowding, I want the Town to feel small enough that everyone has at least heard about one another. This is in part because I want the project to be manegable (I don't want to have too much work in the Town alone), but also because I think the game I envision doesn't have a very metropolitan feel, nor does it take place primarily within the Town. Again, I like adventure games, and the idea is still that your characters will go out into the Valley for most sessions. 

To me, no town feels small without a lot of gossip. My partner's family is from a small town and all they do when they come over is talk about other people, either in their family or people from their neighbourhood. Meanwhile, living in a city, Idon't even know what the people in the same building as me do for a living.

Thus, to finish this post, a d20 table of things people have heard about other townsfolk:

a: Determine whether the gossip is true, partially true, false, misattributed (choose or roll d4)
b: (Randomly) select the NPC the gossip is about
c: Roll a d20:

  1. ... is a great cook, their fish stew is supposedly so amazingly good it once killed a man. Fella died with a huge smile on his face. 
  2. ... really loves birds, I hear they feed them every day and when they do, they talk as if the birds understand them. 
  3. ... is having an affair! They are supposedly having a frequent nightly visitor that only comes around when no one else is in the house. 
  4. ... is the best florist I've ever seen. No one knows how they do it, but any plant in their care flourishes no matter the weather or season. 
  5. ... supposedly has an entire room filled with nothing but rocks. Not even the pretty ones they use in jewelry, just plain old rocks. Keeps them nice and tidy too I've heard. 
  6. ... killed their parents. It was years ago. One morning both their parents: dead. Both healthy as an ox the day before. And they themself were completely fine!
  7. ... is a notoriously bad singer. They once sang 'Oh how the mountain roars' so baldy it made birds attack them en mass.
  8. ... was raised by trees. It is said that they can still understand the trees speaking, though they are not quite as good with corniferous ones. Ain't that something? 
  9. ... is risen from the dead! Can you imagine? A cropse walking among us! I heard you can smell them across the steet, they stink so badly of decay. 
  10. ... has a talent for setting people up with one another. From what I hear, half the town got together cause of them. Such a boon to our community!
  11. ... has been seen going out real early in the morning looking for fae. They were asked why they were looking for them, says they like watching the little fellas. 
  12. ... loves hurting helpless creatures. They've been seen killing all sorts of animals and fae with this big smile on their face.
  13. ... brews the strongest spirits known to man I tell you! Designed their own still to do it! Family of mine once had some and a single swig got them hoarse and staggering. 
  14. ... is obsessed with family lines. They have records dating back to when the Town was but a mere village. Always snooping to get the propper lineage of bastard children too. 
  15. ... isn't just bad mannered. It seems they are an actual grouch pretending to be human! They were actually cought in someone's trash a few days ago. 
  16. ... doesn't look like it, but they are probably the strongest person in the entire valley. They once killed a bear that had gotten in town with their bare hands. 
  17. ... is apparantly always reading. I don't know where they get all the books from, but they are never seen reading the same ones twice! 
  18. ... has been seen dealing with those aweful folks from the Emporium. Not just buying things from them, we're all in a bad spot, but doing jobs for them it seems. 
  19. ... has to have a deal with the captain of the guard. They have been seen outside of Town and after curfew by so many people, yet they never get in trouble. 
  20. ... actually grows fungus in their homes! Someone went to their house the other day and saw it first hand. Boxes filled with mold and mushrooms. No wonder we are all getting ill.

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