Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Communicating the Setting

So I'm working on getting GodWar in good enough state that it could actually be played sometime in the next few months, and part of this is trying to communicate the setting.  Luckily the setting is alternate history so its easier than some settings to convey, but still the feeling it odd.  Most people don't think stone shattering kung fu when they think Templars.  So to that end I've been thinking a lot about how to get people into the setting quickly. 

First off the thing I am avoiding is lots of in depth text blocks.  To me any sort of in depth inspection of politics, culture, etc is focusing on the wrong thing as most of that is not the focus of the game.  Sure, knowing the basic political conflicts of the era is very handy, but knowing all ends and outs of all the wars fought over Italy is really unnecessary.  Instead I've tried to break down all the setting info into paragraph sized chunks that focus on how things are different from the real world and how things are awesome.  Each nation gets a few hundred words as to what is going on in it, but lengthy discussion is not included.  I figure in this day and age with the Internet players can get better information than I can provide with a thirty second search, so I should concentrate on what is different in the game.  Also information in small chunks makes it easier to get people into the game quickly. 

So each nation and major faction gets a few paragraphs updating it to the GodWar setting.  Also I want to include a timeline in the book that details the next century and change to say how things are different in the GodWar setting.  The default year for the setting is 1494, just long enough after Columbus's evil deeds in unleashing the GodWar to have come home to roost, but there are so many other cool events I want to examine through this occult high action lens.  I want to have Elizabeth pulling the sword from the stone and having Merlin as her advisor under the guise of John Dee.  I want the destruction of the Spanish Armada to involve magic on both sides.  So timeline.  I'm afraid this will smack of metaplot by saying the world continues in this fashion for the next century and change, but its meant more as an idea mine for things to do in the campaign.  I want every paragraph to have some sort of awesome idea to build and adventure off of. 

Also in recent weeks I've been looking backthrough my role playing game collection and remembering the books I really enjoyed reading and those I didn't.  For example, to this day the Deadlands books are some of the most fun game books I've ever read as they put for tons of setting info and mysteries for the players, and then in the same book give the GM the real scoop (or at least ideas for the real scoop).  I'm thinking about doing something similar, putting another version of the timeline in the GM section of the game with more info about each item on the timeline, but putting those kind of specifics to paper seems like more of a metaplot. 

So here is a sample of the timelime I'm talking about.  Does it look interesting?  Would you enjoy reading this? 

  • March 15th:  Christopher Columbus returns to Spain from his first voyage of discovery. The change in his appearance, having grown gaunt during his voyage and replaced his right eye with one carved of obsidian, gives birth to rampant speculation as to what happened on the voyage.  His tie to the beginning of the GodWar is not revealed until months later by Dominican investigators who infiltrated the occult society Columbus led.  Columbus has been an outlaw ever since, wanted by the Pope and secular authorities for a wide variety of crimes against God and man. 
  • May 4th: In the papal bull Inter caetera, Pope Alexander VI decrees that all lands discovered west of the Azores are Spanish.  This is later retracted November 14th after the truth of Columbus’s actions in the New World was revealed.  Instead Pope Alexander VI considered putting out a call for a crusade to the New World in the hopes that whatever Columbus has been done could be undone.  This idea never gained much support due to the New World lacking the religious relevance of the Holy Land and the logistical problems with such a mammoth undertaking.    
  • August 19: Maximilian I succeeds his father, Frederick III, as Holy Roman Emperor.  Unfortunately for the citizens of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian I was more concerned with advancing his family, which gave birth to the Hapsburg dynasty, than he was seeing to the needs of his people.  This allowed demonic forces to make increasingly large gains in the Holy Roman Empire while Maximilian concentrated on wars in Italy, attempting to protect the holdings of his wife’s family, the Sforzas. 
  • September 9: Battle of Krbava Field was fought between the Kingdom of Croatia and Ottoman forces against a undead invasion force in southern Croatia.  The battle began as an Croatian ambush of an Ottomon cavalry force, but shortly thereafter the field was overrun by forces from the nearby blood citadel called the Walking Crypt.  Despite their differences the Croatian and Ottoman forces united against the demonic attack, eventually turning it back but at vast cost.  Of the ten thousand Croats and eight thousand Turks who began the battle, less than two thousand on a side survived.  For the Croats this loss was devastating as many of their feudal lords were killed in the battle, weakening their defenses against further Ottoman incursions. 
  • September 29: Christopher Columbus escapes continental Europe via Cadiz with a small flotilla of ships manned by his cult followers.  It is assumed he returned to the New World, but no one is certain. 


  1. Interesting, Lee! I like the story ideas that I can see in these -- the involvement of Isabella and Ferdinand in the cult's formation, for example, or the consequences from the refugees fleeing after the Battle of Krbava Field.

  2. I think it'd work better if you removed the dates and grouped them by year/region instead. Perhaps even decade/region. The dates aren't as important as the order in which they happened; grouping by region makes it easier for readers to see the cause-and-effect. As it's set up right now, the Columbus plot thread is separated by 3 entries that have little to do with him.

  3. As a variation on Mike's approach, I'd include a master timeline as well as breaking out individual timelines. For example, the section describing Columbus and his cult should have its own timeline that includes only events closely related to them. The master timeline is still useful, though, for getting everything together in context and letting you more easily play games set in different starting years.

  4. I'm thinking currently have a master timeline with one sentence of info, then have faction/nation/whatever specific timelines with more meat on them. The overall one should be player accessible while the more detailed one would be more GM focused.