Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Solo Gaming And The Fantasy West

So, lately I haven't had a gaming group. There are a couple of ways I could alleviate that. One is Google+ and Constantcon. Another is to find a place and run a game myself. I do plan on doing both of those (I'll play in someone's Constantcon game sooner or later, and I will run a megadungeon-based game using Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox plus my own set of houserules). However, there's a third way, which is solo gaming.

Solo gaming has a long and glorious tradition. There are a few ways to go about it, from getting solo adventures (which are more or less like the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books or adventure gaming books like Lone Wolf) to just making stuff up. Somewhere in between lie the concepts in Mythic Game Master Emulator, which I'll likely be using. Basically, MGME is a systematization of using random rolls to figure out what happens next. It acts like a dice oracle, where you ask a yes-or-no question, roll dice, and take the result as the answer. There are more complexities involved (such as "chaos factor" and "event meaning", plus a structured way of approaching the adventure and an admonition to use logic), and there are even more ways to use the material in the supplement, Mythic Variations, but that's the basic idea.

This, however, is not a review of that product, but is instead a discussion of what my ideal game (or one of them, anyway) would be. As a solo gamer, I get to do that, with no concessions to anyone else's vision. This is both good and bad. It is good in that I get to play in a situation that is exactly what I am looking for when I game. It is bad in that it lacks the wider context that comes when a group of people collaborate on the game. For every thing gained, there is something that must be lost.

So, what would my game be? First, the setting. I envision a sort of fantasy world subcreation that includes those things which are of particular interest to me. In this case, a lot of wilderness with scattered areas of settlement, some of which are larger than others. So far, a typical sword & sorcery RPG world. I'd like the magic to be more subtle than "pulp", with amulets, blessings, and curses rather than fireballs and glowing staves. And in the big change from traditional roleplaying fantasy, I'd like black powder, caplock revolvers and stagecoaches and pony express riders. Not science fantasy, not steampunk, not gonzo, and not historical Old West. More like Eyes of Fire, Pale RiderThe Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and Ginger Snaps Back than The Wild Wild West or The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., but set in a fictional world that I can play around in and with. Sort of like the relationship between Middle-Earth and the historical Dark Ages.

There's even less literature to explain what I mean, but Louis L'Amour's The Haunted Mesa and The Californios come close to the tone I want to set. The story game Dogs in the Vineyard, which I love, is very much in line with the idea, but I want to play a roleplaying/adventure game, not a story game. If anyone knows of other books or movies that they think might fit the idea, let me know. Edit to add: Durr. Of course Stephen King's Dark Tower books are very much in line with the idea. A couple of others that I thought of later were the Jonah Hex comics and William S. Burroughs's The Place of Dead Roads, though neither really fits the idea well.

In addition to the "fantasy Old West" vibe, I want to include some other aspects. One of the lands will be, effectively, 17th century Scottish highlanders mixed with 14th century Irish with mid-19th century tech. Another will be an area where Chinese and Japanese analogues have colonized. Of course, the whole land will be one of colonization, and there will be some sorts of Native American/First Nations peoples. Perhaps I will make them the "humanoids", and work with the problems of racism that are implicit in fantasy at least since Tolkien. Furthermore, I want to have a Mormon-like enclave.

The magic will be like Appalachian/Ozark Power traditions, Pennsylvania Dutch Hex magic, Hoodoo, Native shamanism, Renaissance magic, and the like.

Anyway, with setting loosely defined, that leaves me to move on to system. Some game systems work better for some styles of play. Plus, since this will be something I am doing for myself, I don't have to worry too much about pacing and similar issues, so I can use a system that is as complex as I can stand (or as simple as I prefer). To that end, and because it already has an excellent magic system that fits my criteria, I am going to use GURPS, with a lot of the "realistic" and "gritty" options turned on. Magic will use the Path/Book magic system from GURPS Thaumatology. Martial arts will exist, but not the Trained by a Master advantage or cinematic skills.

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