Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Building Worlds: Shadowrun #1

This is the first instalment in a series of posts looking at putting together an RPG campaign from scratch. This is by no means the ONE TRUE WAY of worldbuilding; this is just what works for me. Hopefully it will be helpful or at least interesting. (Ideally, I'm hoping for both.)

I'm going to make a Shadowrun game!

Why Shadowrun? I'm pretending I can hear you ask.

I've always had a soft spot it. I absolutely loved the SNES game when I was a kid, and even though the actual tabletop RPG is quite different it's still one of my favourite games. 

But why Shadowrun now? you continue.

Well, I've run it a couple of times in the past, but I don’t think I've ever got it quite right. I'm also pretty immersed in the Shadowrun world at the moment. I’m currently playing in a Shadowrun tabletop game and I've been playing Shadowrun: Dragonfall on my iPad. With all that going on, it seemed a like a good idea.

Thanks, you say. That was very informative. I smile: I've always enjoyed our talks.

I’m going to start by listing the things that are going to help give my game its overall shape. This is going to be big stuff, like location and story structure; I'm not going to get too specific just yet. I make a lot of lists when I'm putting a game together. Making lists does two things for me: first, it helps me focus the ideas that I already have, and second, it gives my brain little nucleation points to come up with new stuff. Once again, I should point out that this is just what works for me. There are plenty of different worldbuilding techniques out there and no way is better than any other. 

Anyway, onward to the list!

  • I don’t want to set the game in the US or UK. Dragonfall is probably to blame for this, being set in Berlin and and having a lot of locations and levels with German names. This isn't strictly necessary for the game - I can put whatever I want, wherever I want, after all - but it's a big world and I'd like to explore a little more of it.
  • I want the game to be set in a major port city. Part of this is because I like the idea of people constructing shanty towns in abandoned shipping containers (from a narrative point of view, that is), but the constant flow of ships and cargo is also a great excuse to include all kinds of people and situations in the game.
  • I want the game to start pretty low-powered. Shadowrun can turn into an arms race pretty quickly and with big group like mine you can end up with team so well-equipped and so skilled that it can be very hard to challenge them in any meaningful way. The characters will eventually have access to the finest gear that money can buy - I think that's part of the fun of Shadowrun, to be honest - but I want it to be something they've earned over a lot of play time.
  • I want to avoid making the game too episodic. I don’t want to just preside over a collection of loosely connected runs; I want to have a narrative arc that matches the rise in the group's abilities.
  • I want to make a community of characters for the players to interact with. There will still be room for the occasional ‘Mr Johnson’, but I want the players to have the chance to build relationships and get invested in the world that way.
  • I want magic to feel like something special. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine: magic in RPGs rarely feels very magical. Often it's a little too commonplace and, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. I want the supernatural to feel special and that means it has to be rare and unusual.

The list is a bit of mix between setting notes and story notes. Some people might like to keep the two separate, but I don't think that's really worth doing at this stage, or indeed at any stage as I think that setting and story are part of the same thing. You couldn't go into a theatre and build a set without knowing what the play is, just like you couldn't make NPCs and locations without some idea of what you're going to do with them or need them for. 

(OK, you can, but making this stuff takes time, effort, and brainpower, and it's a shame to waste that on things that you're probably never going to use. ) 

There are also a few things on the list that mean I'm going to limit player choices at the start of the game. Saying 'no' to your players is always a little tricky, but if you're clear about the game you want to run from the start you can get away with it.

So, with the vague shape of the game nailed down, it's time to start getting more specific. I already have some thoughts based on the list I've made, but I'll save those for next time.