fantasy Civ/worldbuilding game

edited August 2009 in Story Games
from over here:
Posted By: Marshall BurnsPosted By: ValamirWhy should humans have a bunch of distinct cultures but all elves in the world are the same. Why should each different elven culture require a different elven race? Why do "wood elves" and "high elves" have to be different races? Why can't they just be elves who live differently? That sort of thing.
Oh, wow, this reminds me of a game that I sketched up in my teens but never actually played. It was supposed to start in an early Bronze Age, prehistory kind of thing, with a handful of different cultures per race, with different ability biases and environments. And, periodically, play would shift forward a generation or two, and changes to the world and cultures would occur based on the cultures' statistics and the things that the PCs accomplished in the preceding interim.

(WTF, why didn't Iplaythat?)

Anyway, I can remember a few of them. The humans all started off as totemic cultures; I remember a Crow Clan, a Lion Clan, and a Bear Clan, but there were probably others. Their abilities were based on their totems; e.g. the Crows were scavengers, had a written language already, and were more likely to develop tools first; the Lions were hunters, and better suited to warfare; the Bears were gatherers and fishermen, and were the hardiest of the humans. All of this wasstarting out, mind you; this stuff was subject to change from generation to generation. Cultures could splinter, and so on.

Let's see, I can remember the Dire Rock dwarves, who were stocky, hairy, and started with bronze technology. The Haunt Rock dwarves were taller, and thin, with longer beards but less hair in general, and they had a good chance to develop magic, and also cloth.

The elves started off unified, but would, in one of the first few generations of play, receive dispensations from three conflicting deities, which would almost certainly prompt a three-part schism (or four-part, if a group declined to worshipanyof the three gods). And then a war, which any combination of the elven cultures might survive or be annihilated.

I can't remember the ogres, but I know they were there. Trolls were there too, but for some reason didn't evolve to trolldom until a few generations into play. There were several clans of goblins (I've never really felt comfortable about using the term "orc" outside of Middle Earth, so my goblins are actually a combination of Tolkien's orcs and your contemporary fantasy goblins -- it just depends on whether a given goblin is born big and scary or scrawny and sharp), of which I can only remember the Dead Crow clan, who started with witchcraft and were the most likely to contact demons first.

Man, I gotta see if I can find the old notes for this fucker.
Posted By: Valamir

Yes, yes you should.
Well, I couldn't find my notes. They're either gone, or they're not with all my other old game notes. I can distinctly remember writing up a huge tech tree when I was supposed to be taking notes in class. It was probably stupid, given my age at the time, but I remember doing it, and I remember it going from flint to lasers.

Also, I think I may have played this once, for a brief amount of time. I can remember one of my cousin James' characters killing one of my characters with a flint knife, and I can only surmise that it was this game.

But, since I can't find the notes, I suggest brainstorming.

First off: cultures need stats for:

- Discovering new things. Both resources and features of the environment, and scientific & magical principles once appropriate tech has been attained
- Inventing new things. Inventions would of course rest on the discoveries you've made so far.
- Engineering. I.e. a stat that determines the quality of your tech, and your ability to improve on it.
- Warfare. Mass battles would be abstracted.
- Trade
- Diplomacy

Anything else?

Comments

  • edited August 2009
    Huhm.

    Okay, can we have some idea of the scale you're considering, in terms of the size of a cultural group over the time period? Because "Europe over centuries" is not the same as "Hawaii over decades" which is not the same as "The Tribe of Gahuka over the years of Cheif Marlut"

    (I'm extra-interested in this topic, because I'm working on the small scale "Tribes over seasons" for Hoard (my dragon game)).

    EDIT: Whoop, missed "Over generations"in your OP. Even so - a little more clarity?
  • Clarity... Um...

    Ok, so, the idea is you've got this starting map of cultures, with one or more implicit conflicts (inter-culture, intra-culture, and/or culture vs. nature). So, you pick one to "play into," stat up some PCs that represent exceptional members of the culture, and take some action to deal with the conflict. K?

    Between this "playing in," you have things going on at the bigger scale. Most of the warfare, invention, discovery, etc. is going to happen in this stage. But it's going to happen influenced by what the PCs accomplished just now. Does that make sense?

    When we're up at the big scale, and nobody wants to take a conflict to "playing in," the stuff just gets resolved by dice based on the cultures' stats and resources. We continue this process until we reach a situation that we're interested in "playing in." Considerable time may have passed, generations even.

    Am I making more sense yet?
  • Oh, you've been making sense all along; I'm just trying to... Here, a nice specific question:

    How many people in a culture - Normal, Minimum, and Maximum (if any)?
  • Ohhhh.

    Normal: well, I dunno. Starting out, we're looking at nothing more than tribes. What's normal is going to depend on how things go.

    Minimum: Hmm. I think, maybe, that two families could be enough to constitute a culture.

    Maximum: no maximum. Sky's the limit.
  • Okay, cool. I'm gonna crib from a bunch of books I've been reading recently, now, and throw some whacky ideas at you. Keep what you like, ignore the rest.

    First, a stat that indicates cultural "centrality" - that is, do the members of the culture live as isolated wanderers, or do they pack together in tight cities? The more centrality a culture has, the faster it can develop culture and technology - lone geniuses are well and good, but it's rapid exchange and refinement that makes things into cultural standards, no matter how far Merkin the Mad Mage has pushed out. A centralised culture also makes it easier for the culture to have specialists - from politicians to priests to glassblowers. Centrality is first seriously acquired (real world) by sedentary lifestyles, usually things like growing crops. In a fantasy world... Who knows?

    Second, Centrality is a shit name for a stat.

    Third, a stat for "industrial power". By which I mean, how much oomph can Joe the guy on the street harness at need? Just the output of his muscles? A team of oxen? A steam engine? Bulldozers? Industrial power determines how fast the society can change footing - think about how countries moved to a "war footing" in WWII, and how fast they moved back out again afterwards (well, most of them, anyhow) - rapid transitions like that require power.

    Fourth, population as a stat. Which should have been first on my list.

    Fifth, Ideology. Ideology protects against cultural absorbtion. A culture with a low ideology score would be adaptable, flexible, fast on it's feet, and easily eaten up by another culture. A culture with a high score would be hidebound, inflexible, and very defensible. A nice way of getting the benefits of both could have a running internal conflict between low-ideology and high-ideology populations (Liberal vs. Conservative, nyah!), but it might not be stable (c'mon, show me your bias).

    Sixth, sanitation and medicine, bay-beeee.

    Not sure if that's anything like what you wanted, but hey.
  • Yes, yes, very cool! This is all stuff that needs to be thought about.
    Posted By: Levi-Who-Babbles.Third, a stat for "industrial power". By which I mean, how much oomph can Joe the guy on the street harness at need? Just the output of his muscles? A team of oxen? A steam engine? Bulldozers? Industrial power determines how fast the society can change footing - think about how countries moved to a "war footing" in WWII, and how fast they moved back out again afterwards (well, most of them, anyhow) - rapid transitions like that require power.
    Ok, this? This is a derived thing, I think. It would be a function of population, resources, tech level, and engineering, yes?
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsOk, this? This is a derived thing, I think. It would be a function of population, resources, tech level, and engineering, yes?
    Could be, yep.
  • So is the idea to play on the single-individual scale for a session or three, then zoom out and do "civilization stuff" to create the next situation that is played at the single-individual scale for another session or three?
  • Yes, that's the idea.
  • Oh, on that note, here's a fun bit from the thing I'm working on...

    In the Hoard-thing, you send out population to places to accomplish tasks. That's a rules formula...

    Population = dice.
    Places = difficulty and task lists.
    Tasks = improvements, food, development, blah blah.

    The neat thing that got put in is, when you roll those dice to generate successes, you want to score high. Successes brings you closer to completing tasks.

    However (this being the neat bit), when you get doubles or triples on a task roll, you get an event. So, if you send some people up to the rocks, and roll 5, 5, 5, 1, 6... You've got triple-fives. You check the chart for "the rocks", and that's "Your people have unearthed a sealed cavern which has valuable stuff in it - but also has elemental spirits that are mean and nasty. The Guide sets up the situation, if the players want to explore it."

    So, uh - a system like this can also act as a random adventure generator, is my point.
  • I'm not going to presume to have a comprehensive list of psychological, technological (and cross-pollination of same), or geographical influences on culture. But I know a guy:
    Gapminder World

    I think you'll find MORE than enough influence vectors, over three or four generations, for the real world to drive a subset in game format.

    (Brief aside: I tried to write a similar game--Of Gods and Men--some years back, basically trying to make an RPG where you role-played the gods in a pen and paper game of Populous. It was a BIG task. Big. I wish you luck.)
  • edited August 2009
    Regarding sanitation and medicine:

    1. Medicine, of various types, is just a kind of tech. Like all other tech, its presence will allow certain things to be done.

    2. The realistic way to go is to have a certain number of people die off in a time cycle due to disease, with sanitation conditions and population density factored in. The gamey way to go is to have plagues and such be events, prompted no doubt by demons, monsters, sorcerery, and/or other weird, magicky stuff. Like proximity to these strange, dark caves from which odd vapors emerge.

    I'm inclined to go the gamey route. Thoughts?
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsPosted By: Josh RobySo is the idea to play on the single-individual scale for a session or three, then zoom out and do "civilization stuff" to create the next situation that is played at the single-individual scale for another session or three?
    Yes, that's the idea.
    Important questions, then, are: "Who does the civilization stuff?" "How does play affect civilization-scale?" and "Who interprets the play>civ influence?"
  • I think you didn't take time to check out Gapminder--it dispels a lot of myths about what you're trying to systematize (which was the point of its creator's recently published TED speech). For instance, track Fertility (children per woman) against per Captia Income, and watch Qatar as compared to China (turn on Tracks for both).
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns2. The realistic way to go is to have a certain number of people die off in a time cycle due to disease, with sanitation conditions and population density factored in. The gamey way to go is to have plagues and such be events, prompted no doubt by demons, monsters, sorcerery, and/or other weird, magicky stuff. Like proximity to these strange, dark caves from which odd vapors emerge.

    I'm inclined to go the gamey route. Thoughts?
    My thought... Do both!

    Mechanic: Sanitation affects your population growth, in some dead-simple way that can thereafter be ignored, to represent all that jazz. It also provides some defense against event-plague.

    Events: Yes.

    ...............

    Note: Also - big scary illnesses often develop in places where people have regular traffic with animals. The more regular, the 'better'. The people in the places of regular contact can develop resistance (but not always).

    So, when we meet the people that have domesticated the hoobadoobeast, that might well mean "plague". When our cities become host to rats, that might mean plague. Basically, when you push back the boundaries of the world and meet new people, plague is often waiting for someone. It might be you. It might be them.
  • Who does the civ stuff:
    Everybody. There will be some manner of system for negotiation; I don't know what it'll be yet. I'm thinking that part of it will be claiming certain features (cultures, but also other features of the map, like, say, monsters, mountains, forests, etc.) as Yours, regarding the decisions that are made by that feature (can a forest make a decision? Of course! This is fantasy).

    How does play affect civilization-scale:
    So, you've got a grabby situation already that you want to play in, right? So you make your characters and state what those characters are working for: what change do they want to make, what effect to they want to have on the civilization-scale? Based on their successes and failures, they will influence the civ mechanics with, say, bonuses or penalties (as appropriate) to rolls.

    Who interprets play>civ influence:
    The mechanics, with some input from the players.
  • Shreyas was talking about this a while back and Tony Dowler linked to Pocket Civ which I thought looked very, very cool as a general engine.
  • edited August 2009
    Downloaded!

    Speaking of things to steal from:
    Back then, when I first sketched up this idea, my inspirations included Sid Meier's Civilization 1&2, obviously, but slightly moreso by Sid Meier's Colonization, from which I really really loved the differentiated resource categories, and Ultimate Domain, which also had fairly differentiated resource categories, as well as an in-depth tech development system. (I still have Ultimate Domain, but it runs like shit on DOSBox.) SimAnt (of which I am apparently the only fan in the world, based on the conversations I've had about it) probably also had a little to do with it. Also, ActRaiser.

    Since then, I've played Civ3 and Populous, and that's about it for civilization/culture-based sim game (i.e. I've played the hell out of Themepark and Railroad Tycoon and so on, but nothing else relevant to this project). Any recommendations of other games to check out would be welcome!
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsAny recommendations of other games to check out would be welcome!
    Personally, I'm a fairly hardcore Travian player. But it's an online micropayment MMO, not everyone's ball o' wax.

    Hardcore PVP full-loot town management in sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow mooooooooootion.

    (If that sounds even remotely interesting, give me a whisper).
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsWho does the civ stuff:
    ...I'm thinking that part of it will be claiming certain features (cultures, but also other features of the map, like, say, monsters, mountains, forests, etc.) as Yours, regarding the decisions that are made by that feature (can a forest make a decision? Of course! This is fantasy).

    How does play affect civilization-scale:
    So, you've got a grabby situation already that you want to play in, right? So you make your characters and state what those characters are working for ... they will influence the civ mechanics with, say, bonuses or penalties (as appropriate) to rolls.
    Does roleplay ever impact players' claims on features? Can I steal your forest?
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: Josh Roby
    Does roleplay ever impact players' claims on features? Can I steal your forest?
    Ooooooh. That's a really cool idea. I'll have to think about how to implement it.
    Not just stealing, which would have to require something at the individual roleplaying level, but also buying, which could be done at the civ level.
  • Here's my take on this:

    Coming up with a list of "stats" for cultures or civilisations seems to be reproducing the things that seem important in our culture. It's kind of ethnocentrism, assuming that our cultural traits are universal cultural traits. I don't think it's a huge problem, I just think it's ignoring potential. It's like when playing Civilisation. By the end of the game, the civilisations all look exactly the same. It's not bad, it's just boring. So here's how I'd do it:

    Cultures have "traits" that represent how they differ from surrounding cultures. If you start stone age, all the cultures have stone tools, unless a culture has the "Bronzeworking" trait. Conversely, if a culture has the "Nomadic" trait, you can assume all the other cultures are not nomadic. One culture might have the "numerous" trait, or another could have the "Witch Doctors" trait. It's up to you what gets called out as traits, and what's standard.

    Then there's a list of things a culture can do every generation. Something like:
    1) Acquire a trait from another culture
    2) Remove a trait from another culture
    3) Develop a new trait
    4) Lose an existing trait

    Maybe every generation there are troubles and such as well. Wars, famines, disasters, discoveries, diseases, and so on. They can use their traits to roll against those troubles. The fallout from troubles is new traits, losing old traits, changing existing traits, as well as merging with another culture or splitting off into two cultures.

    When cultures merge, there's a roll to see which of the traits from the two cultures go forward into the new culture. Maybe all of them do, maybe some are lost.

    When cultures split, do the same thing. There should always be a difference of at least one trait though.

    When a trait is lost, you can either say that the trait is gone, or that it has become ubiquitous. It's up to you.

    Every few generations you can change the general level of technology, if you like, and change traits appropriately.

    So what you get is these cultures organically shifting and splitting and merging, with the traits acting like memes within the field of all the existing cultures. Traits shift around and multiply, or die out. Cultures grow up and aquire traits, and change over time. Nomadic barbarians with superior technology become primitive agrarians. Powerful civilisations split into warring factions over the use of horses in warfare.

    That's just how I'd do it.
  • Those traits could also be positive and negative a la FATE Aspects — hence why you'd want to get rid of Aspects that are too-easily targetted for tags/compels...
  • Yeah, for sure. That's cool. I figure a lot of traits could go either way. "Populous" is great for surviving wars, not so good for surviving plagues.
  • Posted By: Simon CIt's like when playing Civilisation. By the end of the game, the civilisations all look exactly the same. It's not bad, it's just boring.
    There's kind of a reason for that - those are societies optimised for the goals of the game.

    If you wanted to avoid this phenomenon, I'd focus first on making sure that there are multiple different things that a society can optimise for.

    If the way for a culture to excel is to wallop the crap out of those other guys, differing aspects in multiple cultures will slowly converge into being different ways to say "watch me kick your ass".
  • This is a game I have wanted to exist for a long time. I think the only game that attempted this sort of thing was Aria, but there was probably some others.
  • Posted By: Simon CComing up with a list of "stats" for cultures or civilisations seems to be reproducing the things that seem important inourculture.
    Specifically, when I'm talking about stats, I'm talking about numbers that you will try to roll under to make the culture accomplish things. Colorless functions. F'rinstance, don't think of "Engineering" strictly in a mechanical sense; if your culture has a tech like "Contacting and placating the spirits of nature," its Engineering stat is going to determine the quality and rate of improvement of quality of said communication.

    Things like tech and cultural values, those are non-numerical traits that can be applied to roll for a bonus (letting you roll more dice and take the best). So, things like "Nomadic" and "Bronzeworking" are already traits, the way I'm thinking of this. They can be developed independently, and they can be communicated between cultures in contact with each other.

    And, of course, it's best if the player controlling a given culture works to have them acquire traits that help them deal with their environment. Otherwise, they'll probably die off.
  • I will make this game.

    In a week.

    Bets on how much/little will it rock and/or if/how late I will be to meet the deadline welcome.
  • edited September 2009
    You might get some mileage out of paying attention to what the computer versions of Civilization struggled with over their various editions and figuring out what you want to do in those areas (or, figuring out how the tools of RPGs could make them work better). The two areas that jump out at me as being radically altered for each edition (to varying degrees of success) are:

    Religion
    Slavery

    You might also want to compare the differences between the full tech tree of Civilization IV with the slimmed down one from Civilization Revolution. The choices made during the optimization are interesting.

    Also, the notion that each civilization has a certain set of "alignments", for lack of a better word, is sort of interesting. For example, in Civ IV, the Greeks are “Philosophical” and “Aggressive”, and this provides bonuses that tend to steer the civilization in that direction. Choosing these correctly could be a way to counter the concern voiced above of cultural bias. On the other hand, it could reinforce it as well.
  • Posted By: Josh RobySo is the idea to play on the single-individual scale for a session or three, then zoom out and do "civilization stuff" to create the next situation that is played at the single-individual scale for another session or three?
    Given that that's the idea, I see similarities in that to the late-90s Aria RPG/World Guide from Last Unicorn Games. While I think that's higher-crunch than you're thinking, it's got some pretty interesting big ideas about this sort of stuff in it...

    - D.J.
  • Whoever said "he'll get it done, but will be late by a day" wins the bet.

    The game is mostly ready (as ready as anything made in a week can be), but I failed to manage my time right today, meaning a text that can allow you to play without me being there to explain it all is still forthcoming.

    Writing stuff is hard work. Who knew?
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