There is a new post on Psychochild’s Blog that got me thinking.
What about you? Have you done deep research for your games besides reading fantasy books or playing similar games?
You might think that – at least in theory and at least for roleplay worlds – that the designer might think through the ramifications of what they put in the cannon of the world’s lore. After all, the lore puts the rules into context. The best loved settings (and IPs) such as Jordan’s Wheel of Time and McCaffery’s Pern are deep and self consistent. Sadly, most fantasy worlds are modern society in medieval clothing with flashy fireballs thrown in for good effect. It really does seem to be the case that the only real consequences for design decisions, ruleset or lore, is on player behavior and not on the setting that they are in. This creates cognitive dissonance of course and is immersion breaking.
I have a book on my bookshelf that has had a profound effect on my approach to world design. It is called “The Black Death” and it was an assigned book in humanities course I took eons ago as an undergraduate. I’m not sure which of these (if any) it is as the book is on my bookshelf in Germany and I’m in India; but just looking at the subtitles gives an indication of the importance of the subject.
Anyone designing a world and a society would be well served to study the Black Death. Simply put, it broke the back of the feudal system that had been in place for the better part of a thousand years and transformed western society into the modern one that we know. The changes were not overnight, but removing a third of the population almost overnight freed Europe from its centuries-long flirtations with Malthusian catastrophe and dramatically increased the cost of labor, which made the feudal manor system – and its dependency on cheap labor – untenable in the long run.
Now consider how your ruleset might upset the apple cart with “minor” elements.
Do you not have permadeath? Does everyone respawn? If so, how has this affected society’s view of death? Is it a minor inconvenience, to be corrected by a quick trip to your neighborhood priest? Does only some of the population respawn? After all, players often protest when the respawn rules extend to NPCs because it makes killing orcs feel pointless. If so, how exactly does your society handle some of the population being effectively immortal? It only takes a few influential sociopaths among the immortals to turn the society into an Orwellian caste system of immortals and slaves.
Do you have flight? If so, are your fortifications ready for airborne attacks? Does the presumed military doctrine (i.e. the one used by NPCs) handle this?
Do you have a high magic world? Does it break the presumed socioeconomic paradigm?
Does your world have necromancy? How often are graveyards associated with the undead in fantasy settings? Wouldn’t it be unbelievably idiotic to bury granny in a graveyard so that someone could come along and turn her into a zombie? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to cremate her and do so as quickly as possible; such as before sundown on the day of death? This would likely hold so even if necromancy was rare. Terrorism is rare in the real world, yes the precautions against it are many. Necromancy would likely loom larger in the imagination than reality. This gives new meaning to the intensity of corpse runs and even opens up quest possibilities.
What examples of well thought out worlds have people seen?