Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Broken City: Political Realities

In my last post about my role-playing game, The Broken City, I talked a lot about the in-game mechanics for determining character and background, and how these two basic choices (Path and Order) have a big impact on the player characters. I also made a brief mention of the fact that I altered the background slightly for my game, and here I'll explore what I changed, and how it affects the game world.

  I talked a lot about Paths and Orders in my last post, but there's one further category the players and other characters get sorted into in the game - their cabal. If your Path is roughly analogous to something like your race or your star-sign, and your Order is where you work or study, your Cabal is your group of friends. Your players can easily belong to different Paths and Orders in a Mage game (in fact, it's encouraged) but having them in different Cabals is a whole other matter - it essentially means your player's characters don't like to hang out with each other. No-one cares if Thor is a Norse god while Iron Man uses technology, or Willow studies at university while Giles works at the magic shop, as long as they still hang out and kick ass.

  In most Mage games, the superhero comparison is fairly apt when describing the relationships between different Cabals (the one made up by your players, and the others you create to fill up the world). The Avengers and the X-Men and the Fantastic Four might get into conflict occasionally, or have different agendas, but they're mostly content to take care of their own business and leave each other alone. However, my initial conception of the game, and in fact the thing that first made me want to run it, was a very different world.

  When I was thinking about the game in the early stages of planning, and describing it to potential players, my pitch was "Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones meets Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere", and the final, unspoken part of that equation was "...meets The Warriors". I wanted the cabals that the players encountered to be at minimum rivals, or at worst bitter enemies.

  Cabals are usually kept in line by the "Consilium" - a sort of ruling council of mages made up of representatives from all the cabals in the area, but for the purposes of my game, I decided that the Consilium had fallen apart due to rivalries, grudges and infighting, so London was sort of a magical Wild West, with very few people there enforcing the laws, and groups of mages fighting over territory and magical resources.

  This obviously immediately ups the stakes considerably for the players - instead of being welcomed into a stable environment where most people are trust-worthy and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, they're instead dropped into a world where everyone is out for themselves and there is little safe ground to go to.

  Because the Orders are made up of the local mages, this also affects them - it's hard to keep an organisation running when the members all want to fight each other. This meant I shrank the Orders down to a few core members each who gave up their cabal affiliation, making the Orders less about large training facilities and more about one-on-one mentorship and developing a few key characters for each one.

  My players haven't encountered the cabals much yet - I introduced a sort of grace period when they couldn't be approached by other cabals to give the players a chance to get used to being mages and develop relationships with each other and the orders. However, that will soon end, and it will be interesting to see how they cope with suddenly being plunged into what is a very political aspect of the game, dealing with alliances, deals and betrayal. I'm hoping they're up for the challenge, and find the whole thing fun, because it's a large part of what makes up this particular world, and how this game functions.

  In my next post, I'll provide some more details about the world I've created, and the characters who populate it...

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