Friday, August 17, 2012

Why I'm unlikely to run a game in Tekumel

I've been re-reading the two Tekumel novels by M.A.R. Barker - Man of Gold and Flamesong.

As books go, they're pretty enjoyable. Not the best fiction in the world, but the stories are interesting and the world is extremely well detailed.

Ultimately, that's why I like the world but I'm unlikely to run anything in it.

Why I like it. The world drips with interesting and well-connected detail. It's clearly well thought out, and nothing reads like a retcon or half-baked idea. How could it? So much of the world has been thoroughly thought out. It makes it an interesting place to read about, and probably to play in as well.

Why I probably won't run it. The world drips with interesting and well-connected detail. Their is clearly a pretty big canon that, as a GM, I'd feel compelled to achieve a good command of. I could just make stuff up, sure, or pass it off as mis-information later ("Sorry, that guy was just wrong.") But I'd still need a lot of digging and reading and checking to get it "right." And if I didn't get it "right" I'd feel like I was not doing justice to either the setting or my game. It's fine for the players to be foreign mercs utterly unaware of the setting and learn as they go . . . but I can't GM that way. And once I start making stuff up, and letting my players make stuff up, the well-connected detail of the world becomes more and more of an obstacle to me. I'd rather make stuff up in play without reference to someone else's world.

So, yeah, as much as the books are a good read and the world looks like an awesome place to explore . . . I'm just not convinced it's worth the effort of learning someone else's world just to have my own game. I understand others disagree - strongly! - but for me, it's a lot of work and I don't think I'd feel happy with the results of the work. That said, I'm still going to steal cool stuff from the world - my players dealt with stinky Ahoggya in my last game . . . and may again!


  1. This is much like why I generally don't play (or run) in Glorantha: there's so much background that if I'm with experienced players (which I usually am) I'm completely lost in terms of world-knowledge, and even if I had a bunch of neophytes I wouldn't feel I was doing it justice.

    I believe Skyrealms of Jorune had a similar problem: not so much of the huge background, since there wasn't as much published for it, but very little to get a handle on to get started.

  2. Okay, so you've basically stated implicitly why I like to create my own settings even if I import stuff that I (liberally) change later. Heck, I'm even thinking of (thanks to you and Jeffro) sticking some Keep on the Borderlands fun into either my tabletop or PBEM game. But that ain't the point...

    I have run stuff in Star Trek (WAY back in FASA days) and even in Greyhawk and (ulp!) Palladium Fantasy. But using existing modules in existing worlds is self-limiting. Doubly so for something as deeply written, televised, and even made into motion pictures as Star Trek. Basically NOTHING I can do that "adds" to it really can do justice without eventually tweaking canon. So in the end it becomes "my" Star Trek universe or "my" Greyhawk, etc. Which is to say, it is no longer "Star Trek" or "Greyhawk" in any real sense *IF* I or the players are given free reign to act in collaboration in a creative project.

    I wouldn't say that this is the same in your DF "Keep on the Borderlands" because -- and this is important -- you stuck the module into a world that, although it was (it seems from my perspective) built to include it, was nonetheless otherwise entirely yours and your players.

    Heck, I've been playing in the same gameworld for YEARS. Sometimes *I* feel constrained by *MY* own gameworld. Silly, I know. But really, whenever I start feeling that way, whether it's as a GM trying to graft a version (deprecated or not) of Keep on the Borderlands into it, or whether I'm trying to shoehorn a new player's character into *MY* world, it's irrelevant.

    Although the setting is "mine", its a F___ing game board that I created for the purpose of either collaboratively telling stories or allowing my PCs to do stuff (usually some mixed state of both such that x|collaborative storytelling>+ y|PCs doing stuff> = 1 -- and that's what makes it fun for me as a GM!). In other words, I have to get over myself.

    This is much harder to do when everyone at the game table has (or can later form) some attachment to the canon of the gameworld. If it's Star Trek or Tekumel, it really doesn't matter. It's the same effect -- at some point, either the GM or one or more players is going to say "that cannot happen because of X" and the game stops to consider the violation of canon. Ick.

    In a game I create, even if a player points out that *I* have violated my game notes, I say "well, play *IS* canon, so there," and we all go on to have a fun time, retconoing my (or their) mistakes later on. All is well.

    It doesn't work so well if you accidentally kill Captain Kirk early... And that's my point. Have your own world, or live in a walled off universe. The choice IS yours. I choose freedom. Better to rule on graph paper than to serve in Greyhawk...

    1. This gets into the metaplot argument - if you're running, say, classic World of Darkness, you've got to be ready for some area you've developed on your own to be the subject of the shiny new setting book, and not only is that book now useless to you but anything building on it later on will be too. (For me it was Torg.)

      This is part of the reason why I've run a lot of games in loosely-defined (Dark Conspiracy) or obsolete (Crimson Skies) worlds - I know I won't be overtaken by events.

      What I've been doing most recently is to take a historical setting - World War II, 1967 London, 1909 British India - and then add some new and fantastical element to it - magic, psionics, flying steamships (not yet written up, as it's my current demonstration game for conventions). With Wikipedia and DuckDuckGo, it's trivially easy to do enough research to give a feeling of verisimilitude (some of my players are much better historians than I am, so when I say that this seems to be working that's more surprising than it might sound); I automatically have lots of real-world NPCs and organisations; but the world is big enough that if I want to invent people down at PC level they can easily fit in. (I also like the "early development" phase of a new idea - in 1967, the characters were as far as they knew the first psis, and have had to deal with that.)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...