Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hex Reassignment Surgery: Backmarsh, meet The World Between

Deciding where I wanted to pull my ideas from for this mash-up / re-skin was pretty easy. I've been reading +Jack Shear's Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque compendiums for a couple of weeks now. I am really enjoying them as gaming materials and academic primers on the subject of gothic literature. Reading them, and trying to understand 'how-to: Gothic' has been fun and challenging. I'm finding that in my attempts to wrap my head around the materials that I'm able to prevent some of my own, vanilla fantasy assumptions from being so automatic.

The Swords & Wizardry SRD has all the marks of a labor of love, and like its bigger cousin the Pathfinder SRD I love that its online, and easy to get to. When I saw the Blackmarsh Campaign Setting described as an example for newer GM's to follow, I decided I wanted to take the time to try and understand it. Hex-mapped campaign settings are not really in my background as a gamer; I was rarely able to afford game books growing up, and I didn't take the time to really appreciate the technical side of game books until much more recently. So, hex-mapping is pretty much "all-new" to me.

Having read most of the TotGaD companions a couple of times now, I can tell that while I'm going to aspire to be as "Gothic" as I can manage while re-skinning this, I don't think I will manage to be as faithful to the inspirational materials as I want to be. That's pretty okay with me in the context of trying it out though. I'm not writing any papers for Jack's class so I should be okay. The exciting thing for me is going to be using his material as a way to stretch my GM repertoire and try to put a clear "fingerprint" on this basic campaign setting. Due to my own personal tastes I may wind up with something more Alex Toth than Edgar Allan Poe, but I will have made an honest attempt.

I want to read Blackmarsh through a couple of more times before starting, in earnest with the re-skin and hex reassignment, but here are some of the ideas I've got forming currently on the big picture side:

Blackmarsh vocabulary changes:
We have GOT to get rid of 'Viz' as a name. I can't take it...I keep flashing back to the Coo Coo Cola Cult episode of Rescue Rangers. I'd rather call it Magicite, or Manna. Quintessence has the right sort of feel to it, but seems less "does what it says, says what it does" than Manna. Even blood stone, star metal, or ghost rock would be better. So, Viz is gone and Manna is in for now. I want to reserve Jack's 'demonstone' for later.

So, Manna is a thing in this setting. A discreet unit of magical quintessence that allows a magic user to cast a spell, but retain it in memory. This works on a 1:1 ratio of Manna to Spell Level. So, you can burn 1 Manna and keep a Level 1 spell in memory; 2 Manna for a Level 2 spell etc. Also, 1 Manna is equivalent to 100 GP for making magic items.

That's pretty cool, right? It makes Manna a fantasy-style gold-rush kind of resource. The problem now is that I'm reading that Manna (Viz) is both a discreet unit and some kind of interestingly unique snow-flake resource. The setting has some indications that it can be any number of amazing forms: "a flask of pure spring water, a newly bloomed flower, or an iridescent rock" while simultaneously, the sand-box has locations with artefacts that have places where "Viz can be inserted." So I'm going to want to clean that up. Hopefully without rules / too many rules. The questions that arise immediately for me are "where are the Manna pools?" or "how can I make that game-able?"

What I'm thinking right now is that Manna can be caught, and crystalized somehow to make it a unit. With some skill, this could tie into the gothic 'grandeur of nature' thing and maybe even cast an eye towards Reason vs Supernaturalism...I'm not sure yet.

Gothic themes and window dressing:
Feyan Folk, Elves, Eladrin, Drow and fairies of the D&D description are a bit whimsical for the inspirational material. Making Elves weird is going to be hard for me in actual play, so I'm going to want to set them up well in my head. That means narrowing the field and changing some designations and really trying to use Elves for something other than 'High Men' or whatnot. (I will not take 'Ancient Astronauts' off the table.) So I want to lump Elves, Eladrin, and Drow as concepts into something more compact. I think I want use them to highlight the fears as indicated in the Compendium...I just don't want to make a major kind of distinction between them. I think I'll have an easier time emphasizing the subtleties at the table if I keep them together in one slot in my head.

I will want to think deeply about the cultural rules that allow Men and Feyan (or whatever I'll call them eventually) to interact. In Blackmarsh, as in Tolkien, the Elves are the shepherds of civilization but on the wane...I'll want to address that in particular rather than assume it. Bake it into the setting as a feature not a bug. Keeping them weird will require some anthropological raiding for strange customs and the like.

Weird ideas about individuality, property, and modesty
roles as names "Puck" "Alder King"
bound by certain kinds of agreements
morbidly fascinated by mortality in short-lived sentients
a comment on class / colonialism
problems with intensity or exposure to human emotionality makes ruling humans complex
have a 'veiled countenance' and 'unveiled' wich is hard on other sapients

Monsters are going to get lumped a little too. I want Trolls that are Giants, and want to call them Trolls ala 'Troll Hunter' with a lot of various breeds. There are Troll tables for that. Gnolls are definitely in because of the 'Grand Guignolls' and my love of animal-dudes. There's plenty of swamp, but I don't know what kind of D&D swamp denizens I want. I do want Goblins as Gremlins, and maybe Kobolds can be my swamp guys. They eat humans and are devious so they hit some classic Degenerate Hillbilly notes with a lot less of the classist implications I see with Ogres and Voodoo Halflings. If I have Orcs, I may use them as created enforcers for the Elves...

Thats it for now. Feel free to sound off on some of this if you have the notion.