The goal in my forthcoming gaming is to offer players as deep an Otherworld-immersion as I can manage while at the same time making life as easy and enjoyable for me as the Referee. If we want players to achieve such an Otherworld-immersion, then we need to remove all of the distractions, helping players to maintain focus upon their character’s perspective. This means a big shift in gaming methodology, away from the regular way of doing things and towards actions which support our goal.
To make life easy for the Referee, we need a stalwart and reliable set of mechanisms which are easy to learn and memorise while being detailed enough to help them adjudicate the decisions player’s make with their characters. We must have consistency of effect because inconsistency will jar the perceptions of the player and push them out of role, out of the Otherworld. Therein lies the tension between ease and detail: too much detail is unwieldy for the Referee and yet too little will lead to hand-waving and inconsistent decision-making.
The basics of our methodology are simple: as much as possible, the rules of the game will be brought out of the view of the players – behind the screen, so to speak (although we are not necessarily using a physical Referee’s screen). This means players do not deal with the numbers. If we can stomach it, the players might even cede all the die rolls to the Referee, but this is not necessary: some might prefer to have the player roll dice even though the specific meanings of those rolls are unclear. I have a preference for bringing the player’s numeric character sheet behind the screen and instead giving the player a descriptive version because experience has proven this heightens the sense of Otherworld-immersion.
All of that said, my blog stands as a record of my thinking and decision-making as I work to build a new game in a primal fantasy world. For consistent, reliable, and stalwart rules, I have chosen to build my game with the GURPS toolkit. For the sense of nostalgia and Old School vibe, I am going to begin with the classic edition of that game, also known as GURPS Third Edition. Something about the books, art, and structure of the older game appeals – perhaps even feeds my sense of the primal. While I began my experiment with GURPS First Edition, I realised the errata and changes accumulated to make Third Edition far more robust and expansive. It’s also still in print.
GURPS defaults to a points-buy character design approach. This immediately jars with the goal of removing numbers from the player’s view, so I need to approach things differently. Previous experiments with Otherworld-immersion showed that a combination of random and choice-based character generation was very enjoyable for everyone and also gave the players a much better sense of their character’s role before the main action of the game began. This was inspired by both the Traveller life-path-style approach and the detailed system offered by the Imagine RPG.
In short, we began with the character as a child and then generate a small number of life events throughout the youth of that person. The events would offer choices and these decisions would shape the character, offering options to the player as they began play through character generation. At the end, the player would have a fully fleshed idea of their persona and be ready to begin one-on-one (aka duet) play. In time, players might bring their characters together to form a group. My methodology here is to provide a very individual experience for each player.
At this point, I need to flesh out enough of the player’s starting place in the World so that decisions have enough context to be meaningful. That said, information given to players should be minimised so that discovery through play is maximised. Information should also only be given in a form which would match with the perspective and perception of the character. Meta is inimical to Otherworld-immersion and must be avoided as much as possible.
From this sketched out starting point, I can make the behind-the-screen decisions about which GURPS traits are available to the players and how I want to offer them. I’m going to build a new process, featuring player choice blended with some random dice rolls, to create a rounded character who has a place in this new primal World.
We begin with this:
You are born within a prehistoric tribal community living on the open grasslands. You spend your time hunting game, fishing, and foraging to survive within a cold, harsh environment. Your priorities are finding food and water, maintaining shelter, and fending off predatory threats. You haven’t ranged more than a few miles from your community at any given time, and certainly not alone.
Forests cover the land, dark and forbidding places filled with monstrous beasts and capricious spirits. The world is alive, filled with the spirit that gives life and teaming with wild creatures. Your first challenge as you seek to prove your worth within the tribe will be to pass the rite of adulthood: to survive a full 28 risings of the moon alone in the forest with no cloak, no weapon, and no food.