Saturday 23 May 2020

Shintobox - a failed idea?

This is a post about a concept I was developing for 'Soft D&D'.

Intro /
Char Gen /
Crappy 1st attempt at Shinto /
Shinto in Cumbria /
A World Without Violence /
Monster Brainstorm /
Goose-Gold & Goblins /
Looking for a Mechanic 

It’s an idea which I have found does not quite pan-out. I couldn't bring it to a reasonable conclusion. Right now I'm not sure if I couldn't get it right because I'm tired and out of ideas or if just the idea itself is bad.


Ok so my intention with this is to help create a world in which SOFT D&D can be played.

Specifically -

- to create a world of spirits and natural forces.
- to make that method of creation a GENERATOR
- to make it modular so the parts can be swapped out for different cultures.
- to be easy to understand.
- to be scalable, so you can create the potentials behind the whole world, and narrow those down to how they effect one particular place and social situation, but also if you then go on to explore the world in greater detail - it will expand and still work.

My central concept here is a combination of the Theology of Glorantha, vague memories of Ghibli films and the personified word-aspects of The Faerie Queene (you will probably have a general sense of the 'Renaissance Fictionverse from Gaimans 'Sandman').

We imagine the powers that rule the world as personified beings, or at least potentially personified - they have a name, a coherent personality and they can appear in a form with which you can communicate. So it’s an animist world in a sense, but like Glorantha - everything is somebodies child.

This sounds more complex than it is.

Basic idea - natural things are made up of families and these families sometimes fight, and sometimes co-operate and have complex relationships with each other.

So - when you get down to the level at which I imagine the game to be played. The local woods, the local stream, those both have 'personalities', and 'parents' and those families interrelate in some way.


Not everyone in the imagined world knows this stuff. Many know a little, or have incorrect facts which they deeply believe. Not all of it CAN be known. Different branches have different opinions on what is true and what things mean. Not all of this is meant to be discovered by the PCs, the game is not necessarily about finding these things out.

This structure exists - to provide structure, to provide the context for a world that CAN be investigated and that CAN be understood, at least partially so that investigation, and growing understanding of the game world - actually work in a real way. Not just - generating new information when someone passes an investigate roll.

As the PCs gradually build up knowledge of the world, this knowledge actually pans out and helps them decide what to do. So when new characters and new elements are introduced or discovered, they 'make sense' - they are integrated into the world structure in a way that is coherent.

Maybe you can call this a 'spiritual sandbox' or a 'theological sandbox' or a 'shintobox' - probably that last one


I'm imagining this as being drawn on a page, say an A4 page because almost everyone has a blank A4 page handy.

Instead of 'family trees' going *down* the page, they will go *up* because I feel like this makes more intuitive sense and is simpler to develop. This way, you can say - there are two magical families which shape the local area and the base of each tree is a particular marriage of these magical beings.

As the trees grow - the branches of the families meet - interact, and have relationships with each other sometimes they are friends, sometimes they stay apart and sometimes they really hate each other.

The players village is held in the branches of these trees, right near the top, or in the middle - where the most branches mesh.

(In fact the measurable parts of these trees for now would be those branches that 'go towards each other' and meet and interact).


These 'trees' can be expanded in any direction.

The current 'map' is only meant to show those elements and aspects which are closest to the immediate human lifeworld, easiest to understand, most likely to be encountered and have the greatest influences on the starting village.


In concept this means going back in time, to the creation of the world, the 'trunks' or 'roots are actually just branches of deeper older trees.


You can add more trees as you go on, either from side to side or at the tops and bottoms of the page and then draw 'larger scale' maps of how they interrelate.


Ok this is some weird shit, but maybe this would mean going into much deeper detail about particular places?
Granularity, like this particular nymph of this particular pond etc etc.


When 'branches' meet - a few things can happen. they can 'marry' and produce offspring, they can touch, meaning they know each other, maybe they are friends or even don't like each other, but whatever they are doing its not producing offspring. or they can fight - or be in conflict - they are actively trying to stop each other. (or if you want to get tiered, they can produce offspring and also be in conflict).

This sounds insane but maybe it might work [future Patrick here from the end of this process - it did not].


Assuming we are beginning with the 'imagine an environment' deal we can include descriptions, pictures and keywords for many different global environments. So you can start with the classic pseudo-western 'fantasy' environment, basically a pastiche of pretend middle-ages with land life and seasons more like north America.

But people from any environment and legendarium can create their own 'patches' or 'zines' for their own seasons, environment, cultures and likely legendary beings etc

Way this is meant to work is a three-pronged combination into a hex map or drawn map.

ONE - The Village - as much a social matrix as a physical one. Human-level interactions.

TWO - The Shintobox - the relations of natural forces and elements.

THREE - The Map - shouldn't be too hard to fill in from the Shintobox.


How the fuck do I do this?

do I use two trees or three?

ok lets keep it simple -  do two trees

FIRST - Imagine a place and an environment

like a land, somewhere you are familiar with, or that you can imagine deeply, created or real. Somewhere where you can imagine the plants, wind, animals, people, rivers, smells, sounds. What it feels like to be there.

THEN - imagine the two, biggest, oldest strongest and most important influences on that place.

So right now I'm imagining the coast of Cumbria, where I grew up. That one is pretty simple. It's a flat, narrow fertile plain. On one side are the fells, the mountains of Cumbria, steep, grey ,scree-sided, covered with heather and sheep, with tarns and narrow tracks and slices of mountain and black lakes hidden.

On the other side is the Irish Sea- shifting in colours like the sky, rippling with like a bed of jewels in summer, black and heavy as wet slate in winter. Where storms come from.

In that part of Cumbria - all the trees lean to one side, like letter Z s. The wind has blown them all since they started to grow and now they grow in the direction of the wind from the sea even when that wind is not there.

So - to cut it short. The two most important things in that area are the Mountains and the Sea.

Those are the roots of our two trees. The oldest strongest things - King Stone and Queen Sea.


Think I need to make a list of all the natural elements  which will make up the immediate play space.

The rivers
the beach
Individual mountains
smaller hills
individual forests
the sun

So the dominant (biggest, oldest, most singular) of these seems to be;

Rain - creator of rivers.
Scafell - the tallest mountain.

>>>> after some time fucking about with a sheet of A4 and some coloured pens

>>>> and completely losing track of what I was doing and how it might work


Or not a simple systematisable one

I think maybe the best way it to approach it from the 'other end' and to start with the village and work out from there?

Sometimes I look again at these things and I realise there’s a simple way.


  1. My two cents: maybe use a hex graph paper and simple "Game of Life" style rules for the branches ?

    1. I regret I am not familiar with those rules. but thank you

    2. Definitely worth a read:

    3. Thats interesting but oh my god insanely complex to think about

  2. I cant see how you can make that work either but then I don't have a clear vision of how you intend to use the result. But ... your list of influences reminds me strongly of some of the things KJ Davies was playing with with his Polyhedral Pantheons:
    Especially in his later work where he was playing with things that weren't pantheons.

  3. Having followed these posts, I'm enthusiastic about the idea.  It does seem to have become increasingly abstract, with the substitutability of cultures.  I might be able to come up with a shintobox for Mushi-shi (to labour that point).  This would have mountain guardians (eg giant trout thing), underground life energy rivers, human exploitation of the environment.  Other settings might have more political emphasis though, which I feel you are not going for.  Eg. the courteous seems difficult to square with class antagonisms - I see this as a virtue for nobility .  

  4. Firstly, it was very interesting seeing this through process in full. Secondly, any sufficiently complicated situation can be approximated by randomness. Why not use Spark Tables from both of the "Trees" and then figure out each point individually, rather than trying to hold a whole complex structure at once? It won't have that "existing scenario" that is important for investigation but... once it exists, it just exists, and everything else twists around to make that new "node" fit.

  5. I have found that sometimes putting something aside to concentrate on other things causes the subconscious to work the problem.

    Writers often do this, juggling multiple novels, letting the subconscious work on problems in the 'set aside' novel. Of course sometimes an author might write entire a novel or two instead of finishing the Song of Fire and Ice as promised...