Monday, April 18, 2011

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

This post is not about the Star Trek episode; sorry to disappoint. 

In the responses to my recent poll, I’ve seen a number of people who are fine with Science Fantasy, as long as it is presented as such.  However, if a hypothetical DM were to pitch a high fantasy setting, only to rip off the curtain at the end to reveal aliens or weird computer-gods, I get the feeling these individuals would be a tad pissed. 

I must say then that I am public enemy number one for these people, as about 90% of the settings I make are ostensibly high fantasy (or sometimes low fantasy) with quasi-science fiction explanations.  While my presentation of Uz makes it very clear from the start that the setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, IRASS is by design a more subtle creature.  My goal would be that any players who had not read this blog would think of it as simply a fantastic planet until the hypothetical end game.

This is not the first time I've thought about doing this.  My version of the Wilderlands was actually a ring world colonized by Star Trek's Federation (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and got separated during some war with the Markabs (demonic entities).  Even my first game, which was a railroady mess, was really just the collapse of the Roman Empire with magic, but the "angels" the main church worshiped were really the aliens who colonized the planet.  Indeed, this seems to be my wheelhouse, with the Dark Country being a tad out of the box for me.  That's probably not entirely accurate, but I've done way more "high fantasy with secret ray guns" than "middle ages with a fog machine" settings.

Part of this is undoubtedly due to the Might & Magic series.  They were the height of fantasy gaming to me at age 12.  The typical course of events in an M&M game begins with you trying to take down an evil wizard or cult, and ends with you descending into an alien hive-fortress with a blaster rifle.  While the Heroes series largely lacked these elements, they were almost included in Heroes III, but apparently fan outrage kept this from happening.  (I find this odd, since it's a natural continuation of M&M 7's plot, but I'm sure you don't really care about that).

There is obviously some precedent for this sort of thing in D&D:
from the first module published by TSR: Temple of the Frog

this one should be obvious

Both of these include saucers and ray guns in what are otherwise typical Tolkienian (in Blackmoor's case) and Gygaxian fantasy.  Neither of their respective settings state on the box "this has fucking rayguns in it!" so I suppose I'm participating in a long D&D tradition.  Of course, thats not why I do it.  I do it because I like it.

One thing I'm interested to know, though I got some ideas from the response to my poll, why do those of you who don't like this particular embodiment of the mixture dislike it?


Two tangential notes:  First, I've often wanted to run a Star Trek game in which the away team gets stranded on the Wilderlands planet and has their ship stolen.  They have to find a spaceship and get it operational again while fighting the Orcs of the Purple Claw and a myriad of other Wilderlands threats.

Second, most of my early campaigns were very railroady, but almost without exception they crashed and burned really quickly.  Then, rather than running the game "I most wanted to run" I decided to run the game I would most want to play.  Thus I started running sandboxes and thus I learned that I was wrong about what I most wanted to run to start with.


  1. A big way to soften the blow of the mystery, I would think, would be to let the PLAYERS solve it, rather than lifting the curtain for them.

    A) It requires there to be a certain logic to the situation, meaning that they won't feel it's unreasonable.

    B) It necessitates their collection of clues over time, meaning they'll be plenty of evidence by the time they've figured it out. It won't just seem like something you added at the last minute.

    C) Because they'll arrive at the conclusion in their own time, you don't run the risk of them not getting it.

    I was quite surprised how well the X-Com inspired game went, as it was almost entirely a game of clue collecting and logic. The paramilitary missions were token at best, and even my more "waste it with my crossbow" players seemed to enjoy the relatively cerebral tabletop experience.

  2. Those are good points. One of my biggest problems is that I show my cards too earlier for fear they won't figure it out. I do think though that the campaign itself should probably focus on a different situation than "do we live in a meteor controlled by a computer?"

  3. Then, rather than running the game "I most wanted to run" I decided to run the game I would most want to play. Thus I started running sandboxes and thus I learned that I was wrong about what I most wanted to run to start with.

    And thus was wisdom gained! :D

    I kinda keep things vague. The strange device of the illithids is, technically, sci-fi tech, but the players don't know that and aren't likely to figure it out, really, except that it does do wondrous things and doesn't glow under detect magic.