Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Themes in RPGs

Since I've been thinking about Oriental Adventures lately (particularly this post), I'm mulling over how different OSR type games and different RPGs in general handle different genres of fiction.

Recent D&D, since around the time of Dragonlance in the latter days of AD&D 1st Edition, has been very focused on High Fantasy: dirt-farmers becoming heroes that save the kingdom or even the world. The grognards will tell you that older D&D was Sword and Sorcery: you're mostly in it for gold and glory things are more Conan-style with the strange weirdness of Lovecraft and Clark thrown in. Though few OSR games capture that sort of feeling for me except Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria or the Conan d20 game. A Song of Fire and Ice / Game of Thrones, thus far, began a bit more in the Sword and Sorcery realm, but is turning more High Fantasy. But we don't really have the Wuxia or Chambara sorts of elements in many fantasy games.

One of the things I yearned for after reading Oriental Adventures was to implement the Honor system in lieu of alignment for a D&D game. OA Honor reminds me to an extent of the World of Darkness morality type system (Station in Al-Qadim pales in comparison), and that seems eminently usable and easier for players to grasp than a nebulous alignment system. Of course, the themes of duty vs conscience and preserving face are ripe with conflicted story possibilities.

On the Wuxia end of things, I like the idea of a corrupt and/or distant bureaucracy, where past tragedies call out for revenge and justice can only be found in the acts of individual heroes.

I have a hankering to run an Al-Qadim game still, based on the Ruined Kingdoms where the characters are trying to found a new city, and have been reading the Arabian Nights now. I have an actual enjoyable translation rather than the old drivel of the Victorian era. And I hope to distil some of that into sets of recurrent themes and tropes that could be put into a game similar to some of the ideas of Wuxia, Sword and Sorcery, and Chambara.

I don't necessarily see all these as incompatible, but it is too much, perhaps, to roll into one game. Which is a damned shame if true. But I'll be damned if I don't consider adding this into whatever games I may run next. Furthermore, I think this is one of those areas where players can and should be consulted. There's nothing to say that my Al-Qadim game couldn't be influenced by Wuxia themes rather than Arabian Nights ones. But I think the idea of having a few stylistic guidelines for your campaign (and changing them up for the next one) can really help in personalizing a module or crafting the next adventure.

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