Thursday, 25 June 2020

A World Without Violence

Part of the 'Soft D&D' series;

Introduction & Concept
Character Generation
Shintobox- failed 1st attempt.
Shinto in Cumbria - 2nd Attempt

THE PARADOX AND DIFFICULTY OF A WORLD WITHOUT VIOLENCE


There is a kind of cognitive box around our imagined selves, stuff that’s easy to both imagine and communicate - I have discussed this many times, it relates a lot to the same range of topics, situations items and agents as ballads, fairytales and folklore.

Violence is a neat, coherent part of that cognitive box, and it's great for games. Its relatively easy to model, highly dramatic, always (often) interesting to the players, simple to communicate with its results and general schema easily understood by all and something that is charismatic to ordinary people as a mode they are interested in but don't wish to experience in real life.

In games violence is a very handy tool.

As I wandered through the following field of ideas, I have come to think that stepping away from violence and still making something OSR-y, with meaningful sandboxification, real choices, environmental investigation, challenge and possible death, is a matter more of research and effort than a simple political or aesthetic choice.

It’s just a bigger mountain to climb and I doubt I will be able to climb it myself, but I think I can chart a few paths.

A second problem is that of how to arrange the game rules, the game as played and the imaginative world in such a way that a less-violent game results, but without it feeling intuitively "off".

There are, after all, a huge range of situations where violence might interact with the natural play of any adventure story. What happens when you encounter a dangerous beast? when you go hunting, which  presumably requires a roll to hit of some kind?

Or are there only three states from a hunting arrow? Miss, Hit-and-kill, and Hit-and-Wound-O-Fuck-We-Have-to-Chase-It.

(A side note here is that a play space where violence is strongly de-prioritised can still have a post-OSR-like system of very quick and lethal violence. It doesn't need to be a soft system with a lot of ways out. The simple fact the violence is rare, and that you are strongly expected not to use it, means that when it does happen it can still be very dangerous.

A rule of thumb might be that, if we imagine the PCs starting as children. Direct lethal violence is off the books for the first few adventures, and then can be slowly dialled up as a *possibility* in later ones. And that, using Chris McDowalls cult of information, we can strongly circle any potentially lethal violence with bands of signalling, both in the imagined world and from the DM.)

What happens when the Kings Tax Collector comes round? You can't resist by force, and they can't take by force.

The absence of violence would seem to indicate a pretty politically quietist game, at least by D&D standards, a long period, and large area, of peace. If authorities exist they are either beneficent or neutral, and almost always distant.

Situationally the characters are unlikely to do violence to other sentient beings, to be trained to do intra-human (or equivalent) violence, or to have violence focused upon them (but its not impossible). The simplest way to achieve this is - childhood. Since in most cases all children are victims of the niceworld conspiracy, and maybe more importantly, it means Players will be more likely to limit their behaviour without being nudged or constrained.





Kikis Delivery Service





THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING


Horror films are essentially 'normality' films (though not always, Susperia is almost pure.. whatever it is, from the start). But, for my intended example of the standard issue American Horror film, generally it starts with the creation of normality so that normality can be disrupted by whatever horror is going on. They are a little like Trojan Horse realism films.

These less-violent (I won't say "non-violent") games, would need a complex social, environmental and cultural base to disrupt. We need players to value this and want to protect it.

It can't be gold for XP can it? Because while that doesn't necessitate violence, it is on the same lines. And there can't be XP for fighting things.

So there has to be a strong reason to adventure, to journey, explore, encounter strange beings and deal with remarkable objects. And the simplest way I can think of is if the Character (and maybe Players) already have something they value and are trying to protect and preserve it.

Have I talked myself into a situation where, if D&D is a somewhat capitalist, mercantile, violent game, then this must be in a way a kind of conservative (small-c) game?

Regardless, if you want people to value something at the start of the game, the simplest way seems to be for them to have a hand in creating it.

Other possibilities - maybe each Player plays a *Family* or a Household, and they level up not by making any individual more powerful but by keeping the Household together?

A thing I think would hit very hard for young players is if the PC is a child or near child and their mother or father is sick and needs help - see the Disease adventure below...

Maybe you play a Hearth? That seems insanely abstract..

But maybe not, maybe you, the player, the meta-being, are the fire spirit or hearth spirit at the heart of a Household. That feels solidly diegetic, easy to grasp, but also weird enough to be interesting. Imagine being the fire in a small household, you do all the cooking, everyone gathers around you and you warm them.

It makes the diegesis of what happens when they are out adventuring challenging. Are you controlling that person as the spirit? Of is there an exchange of some kind.

This might be better for the DM, if they play the Hearth Spirit then that gives them a reason to go along, they are the flame in the lamp, and can only advice the PCs when the fire is lit..




Howls Moving Castle





SICKNESS AND POISON


MUTATION BABY - The really interesting things about sickness are the change it effects on the people you care about, and the gradual measured degradation of the victim, a kind of highly visible organic clock which anyone can understand. Once they know that the disease goes in stages then that creates the stages of an adventure.

Seeing your parents or loved ones change, become weak and suffer, is in some ways a more powerful motivator to a child character than death.

Also a Father or Mother figure who is desperately ill and begging for your help, is much, much more effective than the same figure simple asking/telling you to do it.


PHYSICAL ALIENATION - The particular emotional horror of a plague - the disease almost always spreads person to person, so the natural stress reaction of humans, to huddle close together and attend to loved ones in pain, becomes dangerous. To save the people you love, you must send them away, often far away.

Of course this is actually wonderful for the construction of an adventure setting involving children. They must be sent away from their parents (who usually stop adventures happening) to an unknown environment, usually a less-urban one. And subjected to reduced adult supervision. - Boom, instant YA novel.



HUNT FOR A CURE - and in stories and adventures at least, there is always a cure for a plague or disease, its often very far away. Sometimes it is a rare material, first you have to discover that it exists, and then find it. So 1. Investigate to Gain Knowledge then 2. Travel and Adventure.

In an animist Ghibli story, the disease might be the result of imbalance between complex environmental forces and the protagonists might be able to negotiate a settlement.



Totoro be creepin'



SPELLS AND CURSES


Basically super-diseases, but perhaps even better for provoking adventure and investigation. Again, these can isolate certain members of a community - the PCs HAVE to go questing because everyone else is borked, and it specifically sends them looking for *magical stuff*, as they know the problem is magical so that means they have to poke into the dark corners of the world, looking not for treasure, but for magic knowledge.

There must be a magician, one with a history and personality, and a motive, which suggests you don't have to beat the magician, (though you can try), but can do something about the motive, or just lateral-think it and bring in some disruptive element like another spirit, or a world alteration.

(For a non-violent game the possibility of "converting" an antagonist should be a possible focus. Maybe they are doing bad stuff because they are also cursed or limited in some way, and maybe this is something that the Child PCs can deal with but they themselves can't. That would suggest either more magical reasons why the "Villain" is constrained, or complex psychological ones, like maybe they can be persuaded?

So antagonist constraints and motivations should be a linked development strand.

And for a true OSR feel, it shouldn't be the case that you can *always* convert the Antagonist, or that the means and knowledge to do so are always available. An OSR-derived game should have a more pseudo-natural patterning of moral consequence and less a story-based pattern.)

We get a more specific and gameable version of the Disease-change, in this case, someone could be cursed to change slowly into glass with a little more of them changing every day, that’s non-violent, but still terrible. The thing with a curse-change of this kind is it should fundamentally alter someone’s relationship with their environment in a way that is bad, they don't want it to happen, but which is still *interesting to play through*. Another one is being made a real gingerbread person, sounds fun to a kid and then you realise it’s terrible, or turning into a pig (actually that just sounds like fun).



Guilty Crown


THE ISSUE OF MOTIVATION


This implies a history, so maybe in addition to creating a social and environmental matrix, we need to include history with the culture.

I tried to deal with this a little in the Shinto Cumbria post.

I can see this easily becoming a weighty and rather leaden part of the rules-matrix.






ENVIRONMENTS


What would the dungeon-equivalent of a low-violence D&D game be? A maze of mysteries? A labyrinth within a forest? Something like Labyrinth (the film) certainly.

Something that comes to me is that - ok I got distracted and don't know what that was but I'm sure it was going to be a good insight.

Need to pin this subject for later.

(They would probably have to be more "civilised", social and mysterious than D&D dungeons as movement through them is meant to be a challenge and without violence to impede PCs then alternative elements will need to be enhanced.)


https://www.deviantart.com/pancake-waddle/gallery



DISASTERS, WEATHER - STORMS ETC


Seemingly easy but in fact overwhelmingly difficult, because it will not break down into the objects and agents that the standard D&D-human cognitive space is good at dealing with. Weather is wide-scale and difficulties with it involve lots of passive action. Much of weather resistance is, well, resistance and involves getting the right clothes first, and doing lots of prep, which is interesting in a limited way - getting the right clothes can mean getting the materials for those clothes, and dealing with an agent who has the skills to create them - so that can be an adventure. But weather is still passive and it’s hard to make a passive effect interesting.

I tried with Veins of the Earth but caving provides a lot of imaginative 'real estate' - specific hard and interesting things that could go wrong as a result of failing to resist the environment and I still had to link CON into that system at a base level, making it a meta-quality that controlled or increased the consequences of a fail.

Nevertheless it is possible, let me see if I can dig up some of the fire effects I came up with for BFR.


.............................................................

Here is some old BFR text;

"Fire as a Monster

You can run an encounter with fire in a similar way to running an encounter with a monster.

Fire grows in power by feeding on itself. When small, a fire is weak and static, easy to defeat and drive back. As it gets stronger, fire learns to crawl, then climb, finally it flies from crown to crown.

At low levels it’s like stamping a gnome to death, at high levels it’s like facing a demi-god.

At its greatest intensity a fire can send forth waves of heat strong enough to boil the sap in living trees before the flames even touch their bark.  It moves attended by whirlwinds of flame and rains of burning wood. Cyclone-limbs and gale-tentacles pick up things and people, hurling them into the advancing front.

D6 Crawling Fire Attacks
1 Spits sparks – Those in close combat must save vs breath or be blinded one round.
2 Sends smoke into lungs – save vs poison or be paralysed by hacking cough for one round.
3 Sets clothes or possessions smouldering – Counts as a ‘smoulder’ on the PC’s person.
4 Escapes suddenly – moves double speed away.
5 Advances suddenly – moves double speed towards PC’s.
6 Sends burning leaf or twig spiralling – lands d20 feet random direction, must be stamped out or may create new spot fire."


The fire gained new powers as it got larger..

...........................................................................


An idea which has fascinated me since I read it in Mouse Guard is that the Seasons have stats - as if they are active agents, and that could be interpreted as storms and other weather effects having stats in the same way, and being interpreted as living things interacting with the PCs and their environment in a particular way. That seems like a more pleasing and workable way to model such things.

And it locks into the animist world again, if you piss of a certain segment of spirits then the North Wind is angry with you but maybe other winds are your allies.


Unsure of creator



MAGIC - ADVENTURE TIME PLOTS


Well, all this Nature stuff is somewhat limiting, though I think I have enjoyed working within those limitations, but I should acknowledge that, using classic D&D tropes and aesthetic, other paths are possible.

In a fantasy world we can create situations to fill our needs; like, a bunch of Giants have a rowdy rock-throwing competition and its in or near your village, they don't want to hurt anyone but they are hurling huge fucking meinhier around, and maybe cows also.

I think for now I'm probably *not* going to go deep into this aesthetic. The range of options is too great. Each of them feels like an individual adventure. Right now I'm more strongly drawn towards a more pseudo-real Ghibli social drama/semi-historical aesthetic. I feel like if I can solve the problems there then that provides a strong framework to expand on, while if I go deep into classic D&D land then I will just end up producing a range of semi adventure-seeds which, will probably be fun, but won't provide a strong bedding for system growth and development.




Adventure Time



WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER INTELLIGENT MONSTERS


We can replace outright predation with alteration (the troll steals your voice, your eyes, your hands, your legs, all pretty terrible but assuming it steals differently from each PC they can still work together to do stuff and maybe team up to get their parts back), authoritarianism (the Troll enforces some crazy-ass law like you can't look down and abduction (the Trolls don't eat people, instead they pick them up, put them in a bag and take them away somewhere to make them work).

In this way Monsters are more like really abusive teachers from a Harry-Potter type environment. They have an interest in controlling the PCs and their environment but not primarily a violent one.


Rien Poortvliet



POVERTY!!!


Again, without dramatic violence, this is like weather, how would it work in real life?

I guess poverty turns every single thing you do into a specific adventure. Because you don't have anything, even getting food, shelter and clothes is like getting treasure, so its like, todays adventure - get enough rice for dinner! Get mum a new dress as she can't go out in this one. Find SHOES.

This is an avenue worth exploring I think. You could do a whole range of "Beggar Adventures" where you have to risk and think and scheme just to find food, where you start at minus-levels or something, and can trade levels for stuff like missing feet and facial sores, where the monsters are the Guard and the Dungeons are rich peoples homes and the top-level Big Bad is like a local drug dealer.

I mean I think I just invented a new genre of adventure, the Zero-Minus Urban Survival Crawl, so stick a pin in that, but firstly it feels mainly like an Adventure strand of ideas rather than a Core System strand, secondly I want to make a game that children can comfortably play and the Urban semi-crime setting would be an even harder mix to deal with and thirdly .. that's just not there my head is at right now. It contrasts with everything else in my current development palette.

FARMING would be a better development strand as it fits more directly with my initial concepts, however, even to do a Farming simulator, you would need to do a lot of research or have a lot of experience, and to turn that concept box into meaningful OSR-style adventures would take all that knowledge plus talent and time, which I don't have right now.

But, 'learn about farming - at some point' is on my infinite list of things to learn



We all remember this laff-a-minute tale I'm sure


DANGEROUS ANIMALS 


Another "stick a pin in it" situation since, to deal with potentially-dangerous animals *they way they often are in nature* would require deep contextual knowledge. Again, this would need to be a series of Adventures or Modules. Like, its a long winter and a Wolf-Pack has come down from the Mountains, what do you do? This is how Wolves act, this is the amount of your sheep or whatever they will take, here is the unlikely but still possible situation in which they might go after children and the old, and here is how you hunt wolves. And here at the end is what the local animist spirits might think if you do hunt the wolves.




TWO TYPES OF THREAT


A theme has emerged here that there are two kinds of threat; those which are going to come for you in your pastoral paradise and force or encourage you to do an adventure, and the other is something you encounter out there as you do your adventuring.





THE META-PROBLEM OF INVESTIGATION AND DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE


To return, again, to the beginning;

The answer to a lot of these problems is simply that you need a lot more contextual knowledge to run them and to produce the items of sensing and processes that would make them interesting and palatable to players.

Boo hoo D&D is descended from Wargames - yes, and that deep depth of knowledge and research about medieval war all provided a base of improvisation and development which Arneson, Gygax & Co could use.

To make it into a game you need a lot of knowledge, and then to break that knowledge down into simple intuitive heuristics which are much more cognitively light than any of the original processes but which give the right *feel* and which magically work together in some kind of coherent way despite being basically made up.


SO - The central idea is to produce a Core Book, with all of the central rules and ideas for a limited scale of play.

AND - To produce a design document explaining everything and suggesting/prompting development possibilities, a 'manual for the manual' if you will. Then if its a popular idea, people will already have a river tributary of possible paths of investigation and development and individuals can create and fill in with their own knowledge spheres, like "I know about ships so here's the ship version of this" or "I’m from Malaysia/India/Nigeria and here are the social structures and cultural background that make a "pastoral child-based sandbox in that environment."


Arthur Rackham


TAKEAWAYS


- It's going to be hard & will require real research I HATE WORK!
- Settling likely politically quietist.
- Political authorities likely distant, beneficent &/or neutral.
- Initial game likely to focus on children.
- Characters should start with a social matrix they value (opposite of classic OSR D&D).
- Players will probably value this matrix more if they generate it.
- Player as Household is a possibility.
- DM as Hearthfire Spirit is a possibility.
- Your Mum being sick is a good starting adventure.
- Sickness & Plagues good adventure concepts (more YA than Child though).
- Curses and Spells are a good less-horrible equivalent for younger players and have a lot of give in them for adventure development.
- Magicians with complex histories as possible antagonists?
- What are Dungeons in this game? Mystery mazes? Labyrinths?
- Civilised, social & Mysterious Dungeons-Equivalents?
- Consider Seasons, Weather, Disasters, as *monsters* & give them "attacks"?
- Monsters like bad, cruel Teachers or Authoritarians.
- Consider Urchin-Crawls as later development strand.
- Learn about Farming - at some point.
- Make a Central Book and produce a Manual for the Manual.







POSSIBLE NAMES



Secrets and Stormclouds - [my favourite]

Wild-ness and Wanderers - [eh]

Princes and Piglets - [a close 2nd place, though the game currently has neither]

Heroes and Hearthfires - [most accurate but also dull]



31 comments:

  1. I am monitoring all this project closely Patrick. This has potential to be very good.

    Let me suggest you the motivation variant "going back home", as in Over the Garden Wall. Basically children start stranded in a Mythical Unknown (as opposed to the Mythic Underworld) represented in the series as an idylic forest.

    Even if they manage to come home, the Unknown World is still likely to "call them" for more quests in which the things you solve in the Unknown have impact in their homesteads.

    A wizard of oz is another example of this, though a little different.

    There is also the possibility of running "detective-like" investigations that delve a little on the magical side of life. As in the books Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirrless or Roald Dahl's The Witches. None of them has any hinted or present physical violence, but both are settings which take themselves seriously and are horrific and can send nightmares to any child; and present serious stakes for players to act against.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, 'Going Home' is a good idea, almost the opposite of the something-threatens-the-village story I was considering.

      Delete
  2. The artist of the two red nosed trolls is Rien Poortvliet, a dutch artist famous for his gnome books, amongst others. The gnomes in his books are roughly the same size as smurfs and like them are constantly in danger of larger creatures, especially the trolls. Players as small creatures in a world that is large might be something to consider. Fighting would be deadly and so avoided, mavigating through a giants house to get a piece of bread for your family could easily be a dungeon, everything is a dungeon when you're small

    ReplyDelete
  3. Have you checked Gravity Falls ?
    It sure is more DnD-esque that what you seem to aim for but it contains some the elements you mentionned : the teen characters are all part of the same "household", minimal adult supervision, investigation, non-violent resolution ...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Piglets and Playgrounds. The children are the piglets.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dungeons are any kind of mystery maze (I once wrote a full Choose-your-own-adventure book taking place in an ever-changing garden of magical thorns. The only creature in that who can die is you, the child-protagonist. And due to the magical nature of the place even that is temporary) or like a haunted house / creepy abandoned place that spirits have moved into. I'm thinking of a half-crumbled 19th century industrial building, labyrinthine in its rooms of crumbling brickworks, rays of sundhine flooding through holes in the roof. Smallish ghibli-style trickster spirits now inhabiting it...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was about to lay out a farming sim in broad strokes, but it occurs to me that Harn does this already. Check out HarnManor for a good starting point. It deals with medieval European style crops and environments, but could be expanded.

    Also, as a probably unnecessary observation, a gentle childlike setting probably shouldn't get into slaughtering animals. A pig on a farm is probably more likely a pet in a setting like this. Milk and eggs are probably fair game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I an't softening shit, if they want bacon then they will pay the price.

      Delete
  7. Solaces of the Weather Princess

    ReplyDelete
  8. A Picnic Most Perilous (Picnic could be replaced with Path)
    A Troll Bone Teapot
    Dinner with Dragons
    The Wind in the Hedgerows

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Troll-Bone Teapot

      Trollbones and Teapots is actually pretty good.

      Delete
    2. Feel free to use it, or parts of it.

      I am starting to think that the only definition of a true OSR game is that it is titled (something) & (something), though there are exceptions.

      Delete
  9. I run a game a lot like this using 5E! It works because the players themselves don't want to use violence to solve problems - they want to talk to the monsters, and I make monsters that want to talk to them.

    So I think a dungeon in this concept can mostly be similar to a D&D dungeon, but:

    -All monsters will talk to the players immediately (jack vance style).
    -The monsters are primarily concerned with social problems (Eg, insecurity, vanity, dislike of another faction) rather than violence-related problems (eg, they want to eat the PC's). If they do want to eat the PC's they will express that in a social way (EG fattening up hansel and gretel slowly; Baba Yaga saying "You must do this for me or I'll eat you")
    - The monsters are clearly so dangerous that it would be foolish to attack them, but they can be tricked or outwitted
    -There are many interesting environmental hazards, traps and tricks (typical osr stuff really)
    -The social landscape of the dungeon is as interesting as the environment. The social map of who-works-for-who, who-wants-what, who-secretly-loves-who etc, must be as interesting to discover, explore and navigate as normal dungeon architecture.

    For the last point, maybe having a method to create a social web for each dungeon would be handy?

    So I do think the usual dungeon ideas (forgotten ruins, lost cities) work fine. I can see portal fantasy dungeons working awesome though (Secret gardens, worlds behind the mirror, realms in the wardrobe, etc)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm really enjoying this series so far, not only because the concept itself is appealing, but also for the insights you're sharing based on the constraints you're imposing, so please keep on sharing.

    I really like Jack Tremain's point above about having a mythic otherworld as a place to do weird, sometimes scary things where fighting isn't the answer, but I can see how that might be detached from the social grounding you're looking for. One solution might be to make everything outside of town explicitly otherworldly - it's not just that the woods have spirits, it's the woods from Mononoke where the spirits and animals rule and men dare not go but for the gravest reasons.

    You touched on it with farming, but the other broad class of challenge that came to my mind as I was reading was investing in the community physically - you need tools, materials, and master artisans from elsewhere to build a new temple, or an inn that will make your town a trade hub, or a new terrace for farming so that new families don't have to move away.

    A few resources you might be familiar with, but might be helpful:

    - "Playing Cute" by Mateo (formerly of gloomtrain) is a closser to normal D&D take on doing some Miyazaki inspired stuff, see especially the different village institutions you can improve, which is how you gain experience: https://hexculture.com/2016/06/playing-cute.html
    - Beyond the Wall is a D&D clone that borrows some world-building from AW style games by grounding character creation in playbooks that ask specific questions to link the characters to each other, but they're all from the same village and it creates a lot of small town social ties: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/113405/Beyond-the-Wall-and-Other-Adventures
    - Book of the Manor for Pendragon is another option for a system for running a medieval farming community based on real practices: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/94690/Book-of-the-Manor
    - The Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe is a painstakingly detailed take on medieval society with standard D&D assumptions (but it lays out the real world stuff before commenting on how magic might affect it). The link is to the most recent edition (3rd), which is $30, so if you're not sure about dropping that kind of money on the product, there is a first and second edition which are both cheaper and likely have most of the same fundamentals (I have the second edition from years back): https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/192370/A-Magical-Medieval-Society-Western-Europe-Third-Edition?manufacturers_id=69
    - Stonetop is a dungeon world hack where the characters are from a tightly knit bronze age town - so, not so much for kids or lack of violence, but it does have some interesting stuff on how the fortunes of the town affect the characters (and vice versa), how to create the town with player input, link the characters together with relationships, and so forth: https://spoutinglore.blogspot.com/2018/07/stonetop.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, and in case you want some books on real-life farming, not for games, here are a couple that might be useful for a more homesteady/community type of farming, rather than the large collective farming of Western European manors:
      - "The Power of Duck" is by a Japanese guy who invented a system where you grow rice, but you also have ducks and fish in the paddies, and they create a little ecosystem, so you get a lot more food out of the same square footage and don't need chemical fertilizers (the book is hard to come by, but you can read about him and his stuff in a lot of places online): https://smile.amazon.com/dp/0908228120/?coliid=I1HQXQBSD5JU0D&colid=2IRT71IE0AGY0&psc=0&ref_=lv_ov_lig_dp_it
      - Joel Salatin is an American farmer who raises cattle, chicken, and pigs, and he's worked out a similar mini-ecosystem approach where he mimics more natural behavior (like bringing the chickens in a day or two after the cattle to eat the maggots in the cow paddies, just like wild birds do with wild grazers). He comes with a heaping side dish of libertarian-ish politics, so if that's not your thing, be prepared: https://polyfaceyum.com/product-cat/merchandise/#!/Books/c/43780190/offset=0&sort=normal

      Delete
  11. Some more ideas:

    There is a parallel place to the kids school called The Unknown. Most have heard of it; some of them are scared by it, but not many know how to access it. It is possible to get a word on which path on the forest will lead you there, or which abandoned house has an entry to those deep tunnels in its basement (the unknown is always way bigger than what it seems from the entrance, and the paths in there seem to interconnect)

    Not everyone needs a motivation to get in: most of the time kids get lost in there, and for the most part they get out after witnessing the Weird without knowing exactly where they were.

    There are others who, led by the temerary foolishness of that age, tirelessly sought to get in in order to pursue their own interests, as it is said, and it is "somehow" true, that anything that you really desire and the solution of all your troubles might be found there.

    The place where the monsters that haunt you sleep, the love you never met. The chance of meeting someone who departed, the witch who will grant your wish. The treasure of a Sphinx; the power to beat those who harmed you. The way to change your body or becoming who you'd like to be. The cure for your mom's illness, and the bear-trap which caught the spirit of the rain
    by his foot and has been preventing him to put out the draught all this late years.

    All of this and more can be found there, even if those might not be what they seem at first, or entail horrific risks or costs.

    Who would dare not to sneak a peek into it, given the chance?

    That is for motivation. Now I go for the Lethality part.

    There is an easy fix that should work well: Just make it so at 0 HP monsters are debilitated and must retreat to rest, or just to accept whatever the PCs require of it.
    Debilitated PCs must also go back to rest somewhere safe if the situation allows. A PC at 0 hp cannot help that a troll catches him prisoner, it just happens automatically. If they are lucky and it suits the monster's motivations, it will just retire triumphant and the PC might come back for the revenge someday. This way they act as zone-blockers (PCs that cannot defeat a monster cannot access a zone, but PCs can try as many times they want providing they make all the way again). To put it plainly in rules, you don't want to reach 0 hp because you either lose a lot of work and time, or you lose agency over your character (if the character becomes imprisoned, charmed, polymorphed, etc it happens at 0 hp only, and it might have you rolling a new character while the GM uses yours as an NPC)

    The task should be giving every monster in the bestiary a way in which they violence-less-ly deals with their victims.

    The beast in Over the Garden wall polymorphs you into a tree and saps your oil. Medusas turn you to stone. Vampires turn you into a vampire, etc. But who knows, all can be reversible by a party determined to bring you back. Or at least, becoming a vampire is a slightly less graphicly violent way to end than chopped by an ogre.

    ReplyDelete
  12. More good stuff. Oddly, treating hazards as creatures is a bit like the approach in 2nd ed. Pathfinder, where *everything* gets a level and a set of moves etc. I've been doing something similar for a game I'm working on, writing up stat blocks for storms, flash floods, insect plagues, etc. I'm simultaneously inspired and a bit jealous of your fire, which is great (and, to an Australian, scarier than most monsters).

    ReplyDelete
  13. The emphasis on non-violent problem solving reminds me of Steven Universe.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Another idea for a child-friendly, non-combat-dungeon: Climb a really big tree. Perhaps a huge oak. Up there is the nest of the bird that stole the key to your grandfather's old steamer trunk and that is probably full of adventures itself. On the thicker branches on the way up there are fairy-creatures but also a murder of crows you may need to placate and a family of squirrels to befriend and and and ...

    ReplyDelete
  15. I’m not sure why you assume the game would be conservative (small c or not). If anything, it sounds like you’re building a game about utopian anarchism. The distant authorities and emphasis on non-violent cooperation in particular sounds very anarchist and not very conservative at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The idea of preserving an existing, benevolent order that is threatened by outside forces is sort of the definition of the word conservative.

      Delete
  16. I wonder if the hardest element of combat to replace might be the team work. The clearly defined nature of roles (tank, buffer, healer) and potential to combine strategies is difficult to replicate.  I sometimes think of D&D combat as offering an idealised experience of teamwork we lack in our modern alienated workplaces. It is possibly this, and not the killing things which players gain most fulfilment from.  

    The "fire as enemy" type idea seems like it could offer this. It got me thinking of the Never Ending Story, where the nothingness is a ubiquitous enemy and character interactions are almost something separate and distinct from it. The nothingness is the film cannot be overcome through teamwork.  But what about a similarly ubiquitous shadow enemy or something.  I mean something which scratches the combat itch, but is treated distinctly from the roleplaying and other soft D&D elements you want to introduce.  

    ReplyDelete
  17. Performance is the first thing which comes to mind. Like a play or something similar. A heist might do it too. Also sailing a ship possibly.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Those would work well for disparate occasional team challenges. I was wondering if there is a replacement overarching activity that could apply consistently in the setting. Eg. Using magic to repel troublesome spirits in imaginative non violent ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Generally in OSR-adjacent stuff the concepts of 'Tank, Buffer, Healer' aren't anywhere near as defined and combats take place as much more random collisions of events, more combat as war than the combat as sport of something like 4e or high powered 5e, (which is what comes to my mind when you describe combat in those terms)

      Regarding a "replacement overarching activity that could apply consistently in the setting", probably not, or at least not to my purposes. Firstly because OSR combat is a lot less like that to begin with and secondly because anything that consistent introduced in a diagetic way (i.e. there are spirits and this is how you deal with them and this is always the way), means the game would essentially be 'about that' rather than about experiencing the imagined world.

      Delete
  19. Super interesting idea, and one I'm going to follow. One thing that comes to mind (mostly because I've been watching it recently) as a fantastic example for this aesthetic is the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. In that series, there *is* fighting, but almost always as a last resort and (importantly) never as the means of solving problems "for good". In the original show particularly (jury's still out on Korra, I'm only partway through it) the characters will do battle when forced to, but almost as often they will befriend their former foes, or discover some way of convincing them to leave or stand down. It's been really refreshing to watch.

    ReplyDelete