Friday, August 13, 2010

[Blogs] Marley's Ghost

MARLEY was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

A recent post over at the Hopeless Gamer brought up an interesting item (and, no, I'm not going to comment on the John Wick/Play Dirty subject).

What interested me in the post was this sentence:

This isn't a disadvantage, this a "Marley was dead: to begin with" drawback.

Now it's true: Marley was dead. And it was a drawback for him, assuredly. But it was part of a backstory to Scrooge.

And I wonder how many of us run games with these sorts of situations - where the setting or background has an inherent set, an excessive set, of drawbacks that turn the game a certain way.

I'd think it was a lot. Not that everyone starts out as dead, but in a game set on Glorantha, the setting is the drawback but nobody really minds much (unless they're not interested in playing in Sartar).

I wonder if it's possible to trim down those drawbacks to the bone and allow more opportunities for the players. We used to do that back in the old days. The world started in a dungeon and expanded from there, with info added as needed. Now we have tons of books with backgrounds and histories, all mapped out to the nth degree, some settings which require a Bachelors in History/Anthropology to even play in (Forgotten Realms, I'm talking to you).

Part of what gets me about running some settings is that I, as the GM, should know more about the setting than anyone at the table. It's a hang-up of mine, I'll admit, but one that many feel is the right way to do it. Being interrupted during a bit of background fluff and being told that the Elves migrated to Zuchinniville during the 790s not the 1750s and the Fall of Steak Port occurred after the King of Leafy Greens declared all of Couscous part of the Empire just grates on my last nerve. Canon can equally be a GMs boon or bane, and with a player who knows the full histories, including the secret histories, the novels, the modules, all the supplements, and the middle name of the daughter-in-law of the best friend of the blacksmith who forged the sword that killed the beast, it's annoying.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is as follows: cut any background and setting you use, published or not, to the bone and make it obviously that at the beginning. Leave out all the stuff that doesn't fit or will waste time (like that bit on mule production on Easter Island). Announce straight away to the players that this may be Traveller but it's not your father's Imperium. Nothing on the background, histories or anything is valid unless the GM says so. Use the players that have that damn eidetic memory as a resource but not as a cudgel. And don't be afraid to say "yeah, that's the common history but it doesn't add up when you compare the witness statements" and "nope, it really didn't turn out that way because X, Y and Z made up stuff to please their patrons." Use a red pen to excise history, background and characters as you see fit.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was unfamiliar with John Wick's videos nor the controversial topic. It was an interesting read.

  2. I own John Wick's Play Dirty - it's actually pretty good. Whether I'd use the same techniques in my game wasn't the point of the book, in my opinion. The resulting $#!' storm discussing it on, well, that was just crazy. Tempest in a teapot, the latest in a whole series of them in the gaming world.


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