Setting Architecture

For many years, my white whale was to design a good game specifically for capers. I loved the idea make it difficult, but in the end Leverage was the game I wanted it to be, so I laid that to rest. For a while I was adrift, but I have settled on my next whale – a setting as playable as Feng Shui.

Feng Shui is brilliant (this is all predicated on some familiarity with FS – without that it may not make much sense) for a lot of reasons, but the setting in particular is friggin genius for reasons having nothing to do with its badassness. Structurally it allows:

  • An infinite diversity of potential backgrounds (from one-off junctures)
  • Modern day setting which is not disrupted by extreme events in play
  • Isolates characters who are “in play” from the rest of the setting (via timeline shifts)
  • Incredible diversity of supporting characters
  • Clear objectives for action (Feng Shui sites)
  • Complicated problems which can be solved with fighting
  • Trivally addresses transportation issues
  • Setting can be changed by players non-disruptively
  • Player accomplishments have a concrete impact on the setting, but that impact does not depend on the setting details.

Note that none of these are specific to the details of the setting – you could swap out the Lotus and the Architects with Vampires and Werewolves if you wanted, and it would not change that. Those are details poured into the magnificent architecture above.

Let’s contrast that with a generic supers setting. Such a setting certainly allows a similar diversity of characters, and it probably addresses transportation and isolation issues. It might offer clear objectives for action in a limited way (stop the bad guy) but that’s not super robust. But the setting probably doesn’t help much with disruption – either players don’t really change the status quo, or they do change the status quo, and that makes for a lot of work. If the setting is well thought out (say, something like Abberant) or has a mythology that underlies its superheroics (like a unified source of powers) then it might fill in those structural gaps with specifics, but those require details and buy in. If you can solve those problems on a structural level, it’s easier to get buy in.

This is not to say you’re goign to get a better game with Feng Shui. It just means that Feng Shui’s setting makes certain parts of your game’s job easier (in much the same way that, say, the xistence of dungeons makes runnign your D&D game easier). And easier is pretty appealling.

Anyway, I’ll be noodling on this for a bit.

3 thoughts on “Setting Architecture

  1. Kevin Matheny

    I like Feng Shui for all of the reasons you listed, although I hadn’t thought of them in that way before. One setting that I’ve been noodling on myself for some years is a “Timeline Wars” setting that posits time travel and forking timelines, with competing factions vying to gain control. The problem I’ve had is that, well, Feng Shui already did that, more or less, and provided a nice in-game fiction for why the war is ongoing (the Feng Shui sites) that I haven’t come up with a better (or equally good) version of.

    So I’m definitely interested in what you come up with. And I should probably just go ahead and use Feng Shui for my game – there’s a new edition coming out anyway. 🙂

      1. Kevin Matheny

        I’ve tried Nobilis – ran a convention game using the system. It’s a neat system, but hard to get right. You need players and GM to be in sync to manage the flow of the game, since there’s so much reliance on narrative flow. Not great for a convention game, as it turns out. At least, not when it’s the only Nobilis game that’s been run in years…


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