MoonHunter Sayeth 20180131


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Against the Storms
The Joys and Pitfalls of IP based Settings

Ten Years ago, all I wanted to do was run an "Against the Storms" chronicle.

Ten years ago I wrote: Against the Storms chronicles. They are set in Kerren - a Swords and Planet world, where elements of low tech and fantasy (Spears, Dragons, etc) and Science Fiction (Colonial Star Flight, Some technology that survives, and science explaining all the "magikal" elements (warp, Zhan, etc)) exist and mix. The Chronicle would follow the Colonists and all their various groups in an attempt to maintain themselves on this strange and dangerous world.

For hundreds of years colonist from Earth have lived on Kerren. They came to Kerren to live a simpler peaceful life. A pity that dream never materialized.

Kerren is a world in an Age of Saurians. Giant megafauna live among huge trees. Smaller saurians and giant insects live in their shadows. The Humans live in Clusters, walled cities usually along cliffs, to protect themselves.

Kerren is a world of little metal. The colonists expected resources to maintain a minimal level of technology. Those resources did not exist or were unobtainable given their tools. They adapted to the materials they had and developed a unique set of technologies to compensate.

Kerren would of been a challenge to live on, if it was just for those two factors. There is one danger more that made the world dangerous.

Zhan are extradimensonal "blobs" that fall from rifts caused by electrical storms. (The phenomena is related to the hyperspace static that made this system so complicated to navigate via FTL or NLD.) Zhan infect living things, twisting them into rampaging monsters. If Kerren was not dangerous enough, now "things" roamed the lands.

The Colonists found allies against the Zhan- The Dragons. Working with this native animal species, The Ryders defend their people. Riding their dragons they destroy Zhan as they fall before they can contaminate the world, remove Zhani monsters in Grey Zones, and wrangle Mega Fauna and Jumpers. Together with their Dragons, Ryders help build and maintain the colony.
*** *O* ***
Okay, I cringe at that write up. It is not a bad blurb, but I have become a much better writer over these last ten years.

As you might of guessed... I did some public work on this setting. There are some Kerren Posts on Strolens and there are some forum posts also on Strolen's. Yes, there is enough work there that when Convergence Point goes live, this will be a setting done for it.

Many would conclude that it is based on Pern. Well, anything with riding dragons of a conventional size will probably look like Pern to some degree and there are a few elements drawn from it. Some of the things just ... follow logically. However many people would just dismiss it as "a Pern Clone". This drove me a bit batty back then, as it was different... but most people didn't see past the "riding dragons on an alien world" or "it is Pern"

You see, many people want to play Pern. There were/ are many Pern PbP games where the soap operas of weyrs goes on and canon is mostly maintained. The Pern Books were mostly about people, their relationships, and some snowflake event that changed a segment of the world. Changing the world every few sessions is really hard, but it is the staple of a number of IP settings.

Let me expand on this....
*** *O* ***

First IP settings are intellectual property settings. These are settings defined by books, movies, tv shows and the like. These are settings usually from other media that are gamed with. When these are officially products, they are called licensed settings. If they are fan created, they are just IP settings.

Secondly: Snowflake or one of a kind characters and events occur in various books, movies, etc. If you were making a setting, most characters or elements would "fit the rules" and the "expected". It is characters who have rare or unheard of abilities (Talia's Empathy in Valdamar setting or Terisa's (of Mordant's Need) ability to do everything with a mirror) that tip the balance of the setting. These are characters whos abilities would not be defined in a standard write up of the setting. (If they are, it would be in a sidebar.) Snowflake events would be finding of a computer room on the low tech world of Pern or dealing with The Mortal Cup.
*** *O* ***
There are many IP which have diehard fans that want to game. Star Trek, Star Wars, Mistborn, Marvel, Deryni, Dr. Who, Valdamar, DC, Shadowhunters, Amber, Mordant's Need, and of course Pern, to name just a few. They are easy to get players attention with, because the players will know the setting and everything without studying up the game. Fans will want to play in those settings.

Some have published licensed games. Some are just GM adapted. You would think it would be easier to play an IP setting, but most gamer's experiences would say it is just the same. Players can play "book characters" in some games or chronicles. However, most people want to play their own characters in those settings. While these novels/ stories are interesting, the game play might not be as as exciting when your character is not one of the special snowflake characters that populate many of these stories. (Or you are not The Doctor or some other Gallifreyan in a Who game.) So while you can play in many of these settings, it is not quite as great as the novels/ stories.

Sometimes the setting is only great when you are in the middle of a canon changing event. A Fudge Mordant's Need game I was briefly in, comes to mind. It is a fun setting, but if you are not in the thick of the mad king conspiracy or if there isn't treachery among the Imagers... it is just a fantasy sand box with under-portable magic users and few monsters.

It is not just Mordant's need. Shadowhunters becomes just another monster hunting game (with more cool powers) without the various relationships. Valdamar/ Heralds is mostly a "villages with mundane-ish problems" unless there is a war or something bizarre happening with the magic. And so on.. and so on. It is when the setting is in motion, changing beyond the previous canon that they become that super interesting setting that people want to game in.

Now some Settings are more playable than others because of the innate drama and situations that are part of the setting (Star Trek/ Wars for examples). They don't need the special situations or characters to make their game play great when playing with your own characters. If one is careful about finding and playing in great settings, rather than novel situations or with special characters, then IP setting can work for you.

Yet, will it be gameable?

Many settings (and the drama from the novels) don't lend themselves to traditional (or even non-traditional) RPG play. While their stories/ novels are great... playing out those adventures or similar ones would be difficult.
*** *O* ***
That brings me back to Pern. Except for one knife fight and a few flying rolls, there isn't a lot of gamer style adventure going on. The situation and setting of Pern makes for a great story, but less of a game.

So to address that, I started with the core ideas and built my own setting. Thus began Kerren. It took inspiration from Pern, and Empire of the Petal Throne, and a touch of Moorcock and Marion Zimmer Bradley, plus a bit of some other Swords and Planets and Imperial Sci-Fi.

I changed the geography and settings elements to find that swords and planet vibe. The building came from the lifeforms on the planet. I played with the resources and the plants so things would be very different in terms of artifacts. It helps give the otherworld, not just "another Earth", vibe.

My Dragons basically started the size they were.... and I applied some biology making all Kerrenese life with six limbs and all Earthlife with four (as a start).

I needed monsters to scare people and for characters to hunt, thus the Zhan infection. Making monster dinosaurs would add to the danger factor. The Grey Zones could be used as "a place to adventure" or a dangerous place you have to go to rescue someone/ obtain a mcguffin. Plus there can be scary Zhan Infected Humans to add a horror element.

I needed tournaments to give an optional source of less violent drama and conflict. Then again, less violent is a relative term. These tournament events are a bit more dangerous than quidditch. But now we have rivalries, romances, teamwork, and so on.

Warren vs Warren drama could happen, but would be counter productive. I skewed the relationship between Warrens and Cluster folk, so we could have people dramas as well.

Human psionics is a stronger option in this world as well. TY MZB
*** *O* ***
So playing IP settings... or IP inspired settings.

So Ideally, you need to have things for a PC do... a general kind of danger and drama and some other kinds of drama they can be involved in, as whacking monsters is not everyone's cup of klah.

You need to have interesting abilities for the players to have.

You need to have strong visual bit that players can latch on to...

You need to have good analogs to people can grasp what is there and how it is different.

Make sure that everything makes sense (something that you can not accuse some novel settings of).

So you start with the IP as a starting point. Starting Bits. You take it and add what you think a game would need. More bits. If you are lucky and the setting is gameable, then there is very little you have to add. (if you want to make it your own, change the names and some details). If you game is less gameable, add more. Then you work with it until you get something that takes the best of the IP and fits your troupe's style of gaming.
*** *O* ***

One final note. You need to find IP that the players like, because creating settings that you like, but the players don't is just an exercise in chronicle building.... not something you can play. Now sometimes you can disguise an IP enough that players might play it, even though they hate the original intellectual property. (Remind me to tell you about Samurai with Lightsabers sometime.) I have found it is easier to make a setting and chronicle that is "loosely based" upon an IP. YMMV

The choices are yours and should fit the Troupe you are playing with.


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I do have a comment I want to add. When you are running an IP based setting and you have a real fan (or two or three) in your troupe, you need to watch out for "The Experts". Unless you are more of a fan of the IP than everyone else and have totally mastered the setting, you will be getting commentary from The Expert. They will believe in canon and that things should be "just that way". Things will be questioned. Statements you make will be corrected. There will be complaints that they made "certain decision" because of "the way things are", not the way they are in your chronicle.

The presence of The Expert is one of the reasons I often run "setting roughly based on", so those extra details that they know are not canon in my chronicle.

However, if you want to run a game that clings more to the original IP, you and your troupe will need to work out how strict to canon and how deep into the details you can go.
* "All the important things and people are there, but there will be "people in the background" and "other opponents" that will be different" defines a setting where the big brushes of the setting are the same as the IP, but the details will be "more flexible".
*Assume everything from episode VI or before is cannon, and we will be flexible from there.
* and so on.

You also need to working out how the group will work with disparities between the chronicle and the game. This is a play rule, one about how your troupe works and plays together, when these things come up.
*Catch an error, point it out nicely, then take a hero point.
*Invoke a Lucas Tampering... it was this way in the first revision of the movie, but now in this version it is different... reward the player with a hero point or eps or a cookie.
*Retcon everything to include the newly remembered detail.
*It isn't real unless you can site page number, episode number, or run minute of the movie/show. Be prepared to show it. We do the review and then retcon things (or if you don't want that much hassle, just go with it....)
*You never bring it up at the table, but point it out to the GM after the game.
*Hit the continuity bell first to claim your trivia award.
*and so on...
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