Netflyer Oxford University Role Playing Games Society
Netflyer 34

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No More Weirdness!

Martin Lloyd can't take any more.

There's no denying it, there's going to be a row about whether magic and its associated weirdness have any place in the new society game [For those who haven't noticed, the game has already started - our fault, due to late publication. Sorry - Ed]. I'm going to go out on a limb now, I'm going to sod all those people with their PC talk of inclusivity and games for all. I reckon magic has no place in the society game. Not this one anyway.

Sure magic underpinned Pantheon and Conclave, it was a major part of Inferno. Inc has Psi's and Icon had the matrix - a strange place where people did strange things, but lets face it, it was full of ghosts and powerful spirits so we may as well lump it in with magical weird shit.

So why not the current game? Well mostly it's a case of genre and partly it's a case of being fed up to the back teeth with weirdness. Lets start with genre.

It's the 1920's, its prohibition, its gangsters, grifters, cops and robbers. There's going to be boxers, baseball players, actors and actresses, femme fatales and showgirls. There'll be jazz bands, card sharks and detectives. Bootleggers, shoeshiners, button men and numbers runners. It's a busy world, its not like we're short of things for our characters to do.

If you still don't get the picture go watch some pictures. The Sting, Bugsy Malone, the Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America, The Maltese Falcon, the Godfather trilogy (especially the incomparable Godfather II). These are the game's touchstones. There'll be no Star Wars rip offs here, although someone may very well be made an offer they can't refuse. There's a vision here we shouldn't mess with.

Now we all know what we're thinking about, let's think about something else.

Lets think about the Maltese Falcon having its plot scuppered when someone uses a 'detect gold' spell. Lets think about the Sting failing because the mark pays a wizard to predict the horse racing results and doesn't need Robert Redford. Lets imagine Elliot Ness pulling in Capone and giving him the once over with a detect lie incantation. Lets imagine Michael Corleone solving his problems with a fireball instead of a hitman.

You're right. It sucks.

To put it another way lets imagine turning up to Imagister with a machine gun (I can't imagine a world without them) or Inferno with laptops and digital watches (I can't imagine technology that isn't small). Maybe the Corporation could be invaded by a goblin army and a handful of dragons. (It's a role-playing game after all)

Maybe not.

This is a genre about people. Where image, presence and judgement are the only thing between you and the gutter. A man is only as powerful as his supporters and skill are going to make him, hoodlum, hardman or police chief when you lose your friends you're in big trouble. If you don't fancy yourself as a leader find a patron and stick with him, or carve yourself out a niche living between the powerblocks as a grass, fence, journalist or two-bit hustler.

There is in short more than enough scope in this game without bringing in magic. The argument that this will throw people who have never played a 'realistic' game before is spurious nonsense. Realism is something we all put up with day in day out - we know how it works. I fail to see how you can have a hard time getting your head around the idea that magic isn't real. (Anyone who does have a hard time with this please seek professional help)

Now for me being fed up. We're supposed to be part of a society that runs interesting and innovative games, that pushes the boundaries. But we can't envisage a role-playing game without fantasy cliches. We're also supposed to be paying attention to player feedback, and weirdness annoys an awful lot of players.

How much time have we spent throwing Psi's and assorted Psi artifacts out of Inc meetings? How much time was wasted in Imagister glaring down an assortment of untouchable NPC's that despite their infinite power weren't going to lay a finger on us? When was the last time a society game didn't involve the world's fate hanging in the balance, threatened by some supernatural apocalypse? (Thieves Guild for those who don't know) Many of us are just a bit tired of saving the world and the attendant Deus ex machinae.

Way back when Inferno was meant to be a change of scope. For a change the society game was going to focus on the whole world (and Mars) and players were free to be anything they liked. Before that we'd been thieves, gods, mages, the psi-gen (don't ask I wasn't here) and our environment had been constrained to make the game manageable. (The Gods of Pantheon could do far less than the board members of Inc) Even then the games grew exponentially until by the end the GM's were wrestling to keep the game under control and consistent in the face of players perpetually pushing the boundaries.

So here's the new proposal.

  • One city
  • No magic
  • The real world (if a bit cinematic)
Ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Use your imagination folks, some of you seem to be forgetting how.

Roll on the 1920's. Mine's a whisky on the rocks.

Martin Lloyd has nothing to do with the new society game. He hopes people who want to read this carefully.