Friday, June 19, 2015

Gayming in Greendale -- Community Campaigning

So, I play RPGs.  But, my roommate doesn't.  Once, when my college roommate was visiting, we got her to play a game of Fiasco.  She was fantastic, taking on the role of a Swedish research scientist at an Antarctic research station.  But, from time to time, she'll ask about something in an RPG even if she's not interested in playing.

Lately, we've watched a lot of Community together.  There are two fantastic episodes of Community (called "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" and "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons") where the gang actually plays an RPG.  On the show they claim it's D&D, but it's a highly modified version more suitable to TV.  The theory behind it isn't changed, it's just that the DM does all of the rolling.  I can get behind the idea of having the players do all the rolling (thank you Monte Cook Games and the Cypher System!), but making the GM do it is just one more burden when your GM could be doing something to make the game more interesting.

But, I'm digressing.  This weekend, I hit on an idea to introduce my sweet roommate to the RPG world.  I built a fantasy world based on the tropes in Community.  This is not the world that Abed creates for his games in the show.  Rather, this is a game that utilizes the tropes from Community to build something totally new (or, as we'd say in the world of copyright, an unauthorized derivative work).

One of the most difficult parts about campaign settings is getting into them.  If it's homebrewed, the GM knows everything and the players have no frame of reference and that's a lot to learn.  Ditto for other campaign settings.  I love Paizo's Golarion setting and dutifully subscribe to the Campaign Setting line as well as devouring gazetteer articles in Adventure Paths.  Most people don't.  Golarion is a tough setting to get into.  Ditto the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, the 9th World, and any other setting you can think of.

Shadowrun might be able to overcome this problem since it's setting is based on the modern world.  Unfortunately, Shadowrun's gameplay is so totally opaque that I have no way to evaluate this statement.  In fact, I'm attending a two-hour GenCon session that's just about creating Shadowrun characters.  There's no adventure--just character creation.  Maybe.  Just maybe, after I get back I will have an idea about how Shadowrun is supposed to go down.

So, a campaign setting is probably best if it's accessible.  One way to do this is to create it from the ground up.  The GM doesn't know anything more about the setting than the players do because the GM hasn't invented anything yet.  Have a player that wants to be a cleric?  Okay, pick a couple of domains and tell me about the god(dess) you worship.  Is there a cobbler in town?  Hmm...okay, sure.  Her name is Shawna Tumbletights and she's an ancient gnome who's warding off the Bleaching by investigating all forms of footwear.  She'll provide you a discount on a pair of shoes created custom for your feet if she can investigate your strange bunion...

But, worlds built from the ground up fall easily to internal discontinuity.  What if you need the Vermin domain to be the sole province of the evil insect god and your player already picked it as part of her worship of the goddess of music, who happens to be incarnate as a giant cricket?  Well, you either have to take something away from the PC (never a good idea) or be SOL.

I won't dwell on the problems of playing in a setting familiar to just about everyone, like Middle Earth because we've all hung out with that one guy that can recite the entire Silmarillion.  So, back to Community.  This seems like a great compromise.  My roommate's already familiar with the show's tropes, so it's accessible to her.  There will be some changes, of course, but she should get the general concepts.  Greendale is a good place.  The Pala-Dean is a good guy.  The Greendale Seven are good guys.  Commander Chang is a bad guy.  Etc.  Etc.

I shared the one-page Google doc with her last night.  Thus far the only comment is that the Pala-Dean sounds a little bit like Paula Dean--which only goes to show you why accepting feedback is important.  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share the one-pager with y'all as well.  Since my family is visiting this weekend, I'll plan on posting the stats for a few of the characters, including Dingleberry the Troll(kin) on Monday.

Harken close to hear the tale of Greendale...

latestOnce upon a time, in the Aumverg region of the Idlemann River Basin, the bucolic Kingdom of Greendale flourished under the rule of King Greendale, the Human Being.  The king was advised by Baron Carl Bladt of Rusty Bucket Manor; Duke Richie Countee, an overweight alcoholic who believed he could read others’ minds; and Benjamin Chang, known today as the Betrayer.  After consultation with his council, King Greendale directed the Pala-dean, a holy warrior dedicated to love, education, and fabulous costumes; to enact his will.  The Pala-dean was assisted by great champions, known collectively as the Greendale Seven.

But all was not well in the kingdom.  Chang played to the fears of the little people within the kingdom; the dwarves, the halflings, and--especially--the gnomes.  In secret he recruited them to his cause.  Chang made common cause with a band of wizards that operated a bakery.  The wizards wanted to corner Greendale’s grain market.  The wizards carved secret passages beneath the city of Greendale.  When the time came to strike, his Changlorious Bastards attacked through these tunnels, known as the Subway.  

Chang coopted Baron Bladt and Duke Countee.  They sent the Pala-Dean to challenge the dread dragon, Draconis.  With the Pala-Dean distracted, there was no one to protect the king when Chang struck.  By the time the Pala-Dean realized Chang’s plan, the deed was done.  The Pala-Dean returned to Greendale, making haste to the castle.  Fighting through Chang’s midgets, the Pala-Dean entered the inner keep.  He exited an hour later, spurring his horse to the east.  None have seen him since.

The Greendale Seven attempted to free the king, but were repelled by Chang’s men.  Early on, Chang was successful in framing them for the coup.  By the time the truth came to light, the Greendale Seven were scattered and unable to form effective resistance.  Shirley the Cloying, ever an enemy to the wizard bakers, fled south to New Fluffytown.  Troy the Obtuse and Abed the Undiagnosable vanished.  Only Britta the Needlessy Defiant attempted to organize resistance, but none rallied to her cause.

Today Chang imposes arbitrary law and rules with an iron fist.  Chang keeps Baron Bladt and Duke Countee loyal by plying them with alcohol and women.  Anyone who speaks out against Chang is jailed as are any even suspected of defying Commander Chang’s authority.  Just last night, you were imprisoned.  Perhaps you were taken by surprise, perhaps the guards tricked you into coming in for questioning, perhaps they threatened your family.  Now you sit in a cell among other suspected traitors, awaiting what passes for justice in this Chang-blasted country.