Introduction & Concept
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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|
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."
- 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.
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]