My favorite activity in roleplaying is world-building. World-building is the act of creating a fictional world, and in roleplaying, it happens both before and during a game. Today, I will briefly discuss the two worlds I have created for gaming while in college, and still consider ‘works in progress’.
Street Level came about in a fairly boring way. Towards the end of first semester freshman year, I had expressed to my friend and DM Dan my interest in running a game. He recommended GURPS, and extended that recommendation to the rest of our group. I got the two core rulebooks, and took to writing my own cyberpunk setting. Basically, I wanted Cyberpunk 2020, but without the parts I found annoying or trivial. The setting I wrote described an America shattered by nuclear attacks on the east coast, where California was the largest population center. I planned the adventure to start in California, but by the time the dust had settled, three large cities were described: the California sprawl, a massive arcology-like structure somewhere in New Mexico, and a fairly undeveloped city in the midwest that served as a trade portal to the east coast. The resulting campaign was one of my favorites, both due to a memorable ensemble of characters and my willingness to basically change the setting as I went along.
Since then, the setting has played host to two additional campaigns, with Europe being significantly fleshed out. In Europe, the destruction of Western Europe by both nuclear and conventional war has left room for Eastern Europe to come to power, and the displacement of refugees has rewritten the political map, and left a lot of room for enterprising criminals. Needless to say, it’s a great environment to run a game in.
I have outlines for writing the rest of the world into this setting, but what’s really missing from my profiles of Asia, Africa, and South America are the touch of my players. I have these great ideas for conflicts that drive each local area, but only by having players walk through and shake things up can I really gauge if these conflicts are both believable and fun. I hope to have a chance to run more Street Level in the future, though it’ll probably be a slightly different flavor than the games in the past, given my interest in running so many different parts of the world.
The Space Campaign
The Space Campaign has been my only serious and nominally successful attempt to depart from hard-edged, gritty, present-day/near-future settings. It takes place in a far-flung future of faster-than-light travel and aliens, where four human empires struggle for power around the same time that first contact with an alien race is made. The setting was based on an earlier setting I had come up with for a game when I was younger, and some details stuck out in my head quite vividly. The setting is clearly thought out, with economic and political conflict, as well as established limits on what the crazy futuristic technology is. However, as I found out in my one attempt to run a game in the setting, I needed to do a better job establishing limits, both in terms of my story writing for any given campaign, and in terms of reflecting the world’s reality in terms of the GURPS rules. Still a relatively novice GURPS GM at the time, I made several fatal mistakes about the power I allowed my players, and it broke the game before things really got off the ground. Nonetheless, I strongly believe this setting is very promising, and do want to run another game in it some time.
In these writing endeavors, my most consistent mistake was the continuous desire to expand. In both settings, you could run a game that took place in one city, without any real involvement of the other 99% of the world. Yet, the desire for breadth I had in my early writing is clearly shown here. At this point, with some real time investment, I actually have a good worldwide overview of the Street Level setting, and a good broad overview of the Space setting as well. What the Street Level setting has that the Space one does not is a good amount of detail in smaller areas. With that in mind, it will be easier for me to plan and write for future campaigns in both settings, because it’s more clear that closer detail is what’s needed to run a believable game. This won’t stop me from trying to comprehensively write these sprawling behemoths, and I’m using a PBWiki to do just that, one random idea at a time.
Though this entry was about my settings, I have not included much in the way of detail about them, mostly to keep the word count down, and also to avoid falling prey to the temptation of cut-and-paste. If anyone has any interest in my setting notes, I have no problem sharing them.
Tomorrow, a post-mortem of the Cyberpunk 2020 session I ran this afternoon. Wednesday, a retrospective on my most memorable campaigns as a GM.