Sunday, 19 April 2009

My Magna Carta

Cool post at Uncle Bear the other day:
In the book No Plot? No Problem? author Chris Baty discusses creating two “Magna Cartas” before tackling a fiction project. One is a list of things you like about the genre, what makes you want to read it (or, in the case of a roleplaying game, play it or run it), the things you’ll want to include. The object is to keep you focused on the things that will make it fun to work on. The other Magna Carta is for things you dislike and want to avoid. You make this list to remind you where you don’t want to go, cliches to resist and paths of least resistance to avoid traveling. It’s a process I apply to worldbuilding and campaign building, and a topic I cover at length in the forthcoming Worldbuilding 101 book.
Here's my list of likes and dislikes in a role playing campaign setting.


Non-European influences
Capricious gods, spirits and suchlike
Characters who relax the way people relax in the real world (sex, alchohol, drugs)
A cold-hearted universe
Ancient ruins
Mutations of some variety, and/or fear of mutation
Good old British fantasy malaise/fatalism
Dwarves having disproportionate influence


Elves and their imitators
Anachronistic real-world modern-day politics/beliefs
Characters who kick ass all the time or who are overly awesome
Magic item economies
Gods who dispense quests
Giving new names to traditional fantasy races to try to appear innovative. If it's an orc, call it an orc, for God's sake!


  1. Heh... It's funny, if it's a traditional fantasy thing, like orcs, I completely agree. If it's heavily associated with modern life but is found in your fantasy campaign (such as coffee), I'm very cool with new names. I'm weird that way.

    Great lists. I can see why I enjoy playing with you and reading your stuff.

    I should probably do something similar. Oddysey might be surprised that my likes are not just the word "doom" repeated a dozen times. ;p

    -Magic being part of everyday life
    -A sharp distinction between the mortal world and that of the spirits/fairies/etc.
    -Corrupted parts of the world
    -Elder cosmic horrors that can be beaten for now, but not for good
    -Political intrigue, but not to excess (can be historical or modern, as appropriate to the feel of the world)
    -High Adventure!
    -Strange and exotic fauna like dinosaurs or Avatar: The Last Airbender's hybridized animals
    -International influences, especially Middle Eastern, Native American, and traditional Chinese
    -Geographical oddities
    -Players having the opportunity to fight and win against one Really Really Big Monster
    -Unusual but not bizarre races. Winged humanoids, artificial life-forms, these sort of things are more interesting than elves and dwarves.

    -Inevitable defeat (the greatest evils can't be destroyed, but as long as there are heroes willing to take the fight to them, the world should endure)
    -An abundance of powerful NPCs
    -Having dozens of variants on a monster or a race
    -Having too many races in general, especially races that are just western European/American humans with pointy ears and one trait magnified.
    -Races that are so bizarre I can't roleplay them properly
    -Powerful magic-item based economies (It's awesome if a farmer can buy a wand of animal growth for his pigs, but the truly magical stuff, like magical adventuring gear or rings that give three wishes, should be all but unique in the entire world, so that not even a mighty king could afford them.)
    -Gods that can be demonstrated to exist (except inasmuch as the clerics get their magic SOMEWHERE.)
    -Pig faced orcs.

    Hm. Shit. I knew there was a reason I like Eberron despite all 3.5's flaws.

  3. Being a native Midwestern American, European stuff is plenty exotic for me. And I don't care overly much for dwarves. But otherwise, right on!

    "- or fear of Mutation" Ha!

  4. You need to read NeoExodus: A House Divided:

  5. And of course, "No Plot? No Problem!" is a book about National Novel Writing Month, something which I have been telling you to have a go at for years...

  6. trollsmyth: Nothing wrong with a good bit of doom. I should have put that in there too.

    Rach: I've never really seen anything to do with Eberron. I'll have to take a look at it one day to see what all the fuss is about.

    Crazyred: I don't actually dislike European-style fantasy. In fact I've often thought about doing a campaign setting based around the Scottish Highlands. And there are some European cultures that aren't mined enough in fantasy worlds (Byzantine Greece, the Balkans, Poland, the Baltic countries, Iberia, Hungary). But I love it when somebody knowledgeable about a non-European culture injects it into a setting. Like Tekumel, for instance.

    LPJr.: Thanks. I'll take a look.

    zero_zero_one: Surely you should have realised by now that if lots of people are doing something, it immediately means that I don't want to do it.

  7. @noisms: But don't loads of people play roleplaying games?

  8. I did Nanowrimo one year. never finished it, and I don't have the computer I did my writing on anymore.

  9. I once had a campaign wherein the Dwarves were shiek-like power holders because they controlled the only source of gold in the world. They spread their influence, culture and language over the entire world. Dwarven became the lingua franca of the campaign. They were power brokers. The Gnomes were the craftsmen and a vassal race. There one weakness was that they lived in a place barren and desolate. They imported almost all of their food.