I’ve had some big realisations in recent weeks. The most fundamental was the realisation that I don’t really need all the gumph that the roleplaying games industry is trying to sell me. The companion realisation was that I would be better off starting with a descriptive base and only add in the mechanisms needed to adjudicate that description.

The best kinds of rules for this approach are non-prescriptive – not already laden with other people’s description of their particular vision of fantasy, science-fiction, or whatever. For me, this means utilising the kinds of generic and universally applicable sets of rules that allow for flexibility and personal choice.

Put another way, I want to take the approach of describing my World and the Characters within it and THEN use only the rules necessary to adjudicate the actions of and interactions between those particular characters in that particular world. My choice is to use GURPS to power my play.

Darkwood is a forest in the northern hills of Mykovnia. It’s going to be the starting point for a sequence of solo play adventures that I’d like to create and share. The particular sub-genre of fantasy that I’d like to play is based around the idea of a technologically primitive community of people living within a richly spiritual reality. The core beliefs of those people revolve around the realisation that spirit exists in all things – what modern anthropologists might describe as an Animistic worldview. My aim is to bring that worldview to life and begin the explore the nature of a world where those assumptions are true.

How primitive do I mean? Well, as this is a solo starting point, I would like to experiment with a ruthlessly subtractive approach to my gaming. I am fascinated by early tribal humanity – one of the most exciting topics I teach at school is an exploration of prehistoric human burial practises and the amazing cave paintings discovered across Europe. As crackpot as it might seem to some gamers, I would love to imagine a fantasy community which has some of those kinds of flavourings.

Describing the technology of a whole group of people is in some sense a strange and slightly abstract starting point. Our modern conception of the development of technology tends to be simplistic and monolithic. But this is a game and so one particular conception and label doesn’t need to restrict us. What am I imagining?

I am imagining early Homo Sapiens Sapiens as we think of ourselves today. The question of our evolution in the Primary World is not particularly relevant to our conception of the humans living in my fantasy world, although it can inform it. I am picturing a world that is immeasurably old and which fell from a former state of civilisation sometime in the past. This allows for the discovery of ancient places and forgotten technologies. The people who live near Darkwood have arisen in the context of surviving within a hostile, magical, spiritually alive world.

I think the People – for that is what they call themselves – are transitioning from being a hunter-gatherer community towards becoming a farming community. They have moved down onto the plains and have been living in a semi-nomadic community of tents. I am imagining Native American tribes people as my influences here, trying to remember that this is a fantasy world and not at all pretending to be an historical description. The current situation is that the Tribal Shaman is leading the people to begin the practice of basic farming – growing vegetables and long grasses, as taught by the Earth Mother. This is leading to the building of the first permanent structure – a Temple to the Earth and Sky.

Stone axes on wooden hafts and stone spears, along with stone-headed arrows form the weaponry of the People. They have leather-working skills to make clothing and tents, although I will need to go research a little to be exact about those technologies which I am personally unfamiliar with.

The People believe that all things have spirit and that the Great Spirit is the source of all life. Earth Mother has taught them which plants to gather and which berries, roots, and fungi are beneficial. The Hunter taught them how to find, trap, and kill the spirits who live upon the land. The Fisher taught them how to bait and catch the water spirits who swim in the rivers. The Shaman taught them how to bless and thank the spirits that surround them, lessening their wrath when life is taken for sustenance. The People believe that the Sky Father is the source of all rain and was the one who taught the People the secret of fire.

The Earth Cult is primarily a female community serving and learning from Earth Mother, while the Sky Cult is primarily a male community serving and learning from Sky Father. That said, there is no prohibition from any person who feels called to serve either Cult’s spirit from seeking initiation. There are also cults for Hunter and Fisher, plus individuals who feel called to serve and learn from other spirits – River and Forest are popular in the tribe.

More to come as I play.

Game on!


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