China Mieville and Gaming

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I adore the Bas Lag books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council) but I have no desire to set a game there.

What interests me about Mieville's fantasy writing is the anthropological thinking (at least that is how I think of it, having dated a lady who studied Anthropology). So, setting a game in the shadow of Perdido Street Station, not so interesting, but taking that novel's kind of thinking so that we play a game where we consider the effect of a series of man-eating undersea kingdoms on the coastal villages or how a planar invasion of Githyanki effects a confederacy of city-state's anti-slavery laws...yes.

The whole game doesn't have to be about these things but I like those kinds of socio-economic touches brewing under the surface of the settings where I play.

Richard K. Morgan's books have this kind of vibe too. The Steel Remains, his latest, a fantasy novel in the swords & sorcery tradition just drips with it.

So, those are my Mieville-ish thoughts.

And you?
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Comments

  • My one-word answer... Shock:
  • I think actually playing a game set in Bas-Lag would be great if you had a group of players who were all fans (not hard to imagine).

    Although I agree that to do justice to the spirit of the books, you'd want the game to be about social forces and external conflicts, with all the monsters and magic as trappings, rather than as central elements. Something like a d20 New Crobuzon setting book would be horrible to imagine ... the infinite weirdness of Mieville's world catalogued and pinned down under glass.
  • Aw, crap. Never mind.

    Adamant Entertainment has reached an agreement with award-winning author China Miéville to license his fantasy setting of Bas-lag, which featured in the novels Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. Adamant Entertainment will publish a roleplaying game that will allow fans of the series to have their own adventures in the city of New Crobuzon. Subsequent game books will continue to explore the setting and characters of the world of Bas-lag.

    "The city of New Crobuzon is an incredibly rich setting," said Adamant Entertainment owner Gareth-Michael Skarka. "We're extremely proud to be producing a game that gives it the level of detail and attention that it deserves."

    "I grew up on RPGs," said China Miéville, "And the idea of a Bas-Lag game is incredibly exciting and humbling. That people might want to play in the world of my books is a tremendous honour."

    The game will also feature a special treat for Miéville's fans -- the original map of the city of New Crobuzon, drawn by the author, as well as his own illustrations of some of the creatures found in the world of Bas-lag.


    http://www.gamingreport.com/article.php?sid=24840&mode=thread&order=0
  • SWEET! The week comes full circle, and now I get to poop on a thread!

    Judd, I can't believe you want to have a thread about something I don't like to read. I'm not going to dicuss this, and you should think of that next time.

    I'm leaving for GoPlay Peoria now. SUCK IT.
  • edited June 2009
    Retracted.
  • I love Mieville. I definitely plan to buy the Adamant Entertainment game, just to see what they do with it, even though I expect that I probably won't like it (mechanics-wise, though I have no basis for that assumption).

    Judd, have you checked out The City & the City yet? I'm about 2/3rds through it and I think it's great. I'd like to set a game THERE.

    Matt, even if you don't like the Bas-Lag books, you might like The City & the City. It's not set there, it's much shorter, and his writing style is much less baroque. And it's awesome.

    Oh, and you could definitely do Shock: in The City & the City. The shock is conjoined cities, obviously.
  • One of the last Dragon mags had a d20 Bas-Lag gazeteer. Blargh!

    And BWA, theres been nothing on the Adamant game for a while, and nothing on their new site.
  • I am reading The City & the City now, a little over a hundred pages into it and I'm enjoying it, yes.

    Shock: totally puts the kind of things I like about Mieville and Morgan's fantasy novels and puts it at the forfront of the game, without a doubt.
  • "Development is underway on Tales of New Crobuzon, our licensed RPG set in the world of China Mieville's Bas-lag. We're nearing the end of the initial stage (where it was all me), and getting ready to move on to stage two, where I open it up for the rest of the design team. We're not announcing a release date yet -- but we're hoping to see it debut in time for Christmas 2009."

    - from the site

    Setting books based on properties from novels and movies tend not to interest me in the least. We'll see.
  • Posted By: Judd

    Setting books based on properties from novels and movies tend not to interest me in the least. We'll see.
    Bas-lag needs to be given to Luke Crane.
  • Posted By: fnord3125I definitely plan to buy the Adamant Entertainment game, just to see what they do with it, even though I expect that I probably won't like it (mechanics-wise, though I have no basis for that assumption).
    Yeah, I assume it will be a lame, d20-derivative game with armor ratings and spell lists and quill attack bonuses for cactacae, but you never know. Maybe it will be cool.

    Not that traditional games can't be cool, it's just that Mieville's world is overflowing with awesome game inspiration, and yet his stories are adamantly NOT about combat and loot.

    I know one of his book editors in New York through a mutual friend. Maybe I will send him a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard and tell him to read it. (Or Shock, I guess, based on the comments here, although I've never played it.)
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: hanselBas-lag needs to be given to Luke Crane.
    You beat me to it.
  • Posted By: BWAI know one of his book editors in New York through a mutual friend. Maybe I will send him a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard Burning Wheel and tell him to read it.
    Fixed.
  • Posted By: BWAYeah, I assume it will be a lame, d20-derivative game with armor ratings and spell lists and quill attack bonuses for cactacae, but you never know. Maybe it will be cool.
    Yeah. That was kind of my thought. But I'm such a Mieville fan-boy I'll probably buy it anyway. If it comes out.

    Anyone know what else Adamant has done?
  • They did a pretty decent Mars supplement for Savage Worlds based on the old Edgar Rice Burroughs sword & planet stuff.
  • Bas-lag needs to be given to Luke Crane.

    What, it doesn't have enough yelling? It doesn't feel right to you to present a really baroque setting without a suitably Rococo system?

  • Posted By: shreyasBas-lag needs to be given to Luke Crane.

    What, it doesn't have enough yelling? It doesn't feel right to you to present a really baroque setting without a suitably Rococo system?

    Spoken like a true renaissance man.
  • Any game can benefit from more yelling, especially at the table.
  • oh, and i know Dirty Secrets is supposed to be "in your town, last week" or something, but i'd also love to set a game of that in Beszel and Ul Qoma.
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: shreyasBas-lag needs to be given to Luke Crane.

    What, it doesn't have enough yelling? It doesn't feel right to you to present a really baroque setting without a suitably Rococo system?

    You're probably right. I just mean this: MC LC (yes that's what I'm calling him) has taken such divergent stuff as the Iron Empires and Mouse Guard and made awesome games out of them. I don't doubt that he can do the same thing with Bas Lag. Well, I kind of do, but that's the point. I love watching Burning Headquarters step up to a challenge.

    Oh, and I also haven't read the books. So my opinion is basically worthless.
  • My two cents: I just finished reading Perdido Street Station, and absolutely loved the setting. My first thought was that I would love to see an IAWA oracle for it. Of course, I tend to feel that most settings would work really well in IAWA. As was stated above, the book seems to be based primarily around exploring social ideas, and seeing it rendered as a D&D-style RPG would be somewhat disappointing.
  • Posted By: hanselOh, and I also haven't read the books.
    Well, get on it!
  • Yeah, I think the point here is that
    * the setting is very, very rich
    * to channel the setting right you need to have read the books. In fact channeling the setting is the biggest challenge I think.
    * because you need to channel the setting, you will need a system that basically gets out of the way. You have to find one that supports the setting rather than a system that is all about itself. (By that I mean avoid systems that revel in their gimmicks and encourage players to play the system as much or more than the setting.)
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: docholaday* to channel the setting right you need to have read the books. In fact channeling the setting is the biggest challenge I think.
    But couldn't a well-written IAWA Oracle channel the rich setting with only a few elements? I like the IAWA idea. Could IAWA be, *gasp*, the Indie GURPS!?
    Posted By: docholadayyou will need a system that basically gets out of the way. You have to find one that supports the setting rather than a system that is all about itself. (By that I mean avoid systems that revel in their gimmicks and encourage players to play the system as much or more than the setting.)
    The alternative being that play of the system reinforces the channeling of the setting. This concept, more than how well BW fits with Bas Lag, makes me think that Luke could do it. This is how all the Burning games that I've played work.
  • BW is not the vehicle for this... unless there was an alternative to lifepaths in character generation... .but to me, that is the soul of BW.

    Trying to come up with THAT many Crobuzon "born to" paths, much less full blown lifepaths of experience...., fergetaboutit. Don't get me wrong, I love BW. But you just simply have waaay too many races to work a lifepath for each one. Yet the setting is CRYING to allow the players to play any race that is mentioned in the books.

    So an abstraction needs to occur. Somehow, a very easy way to bring and allow for so many alien lifeforms to be in the same city and come off easily game mechanically. Because trying to sift through just the Man lifepaths is not easy for new players, much less multiple races x all the professions & walks of life in the lifepath sections.

    I only read Perdido... loved it.... but like Judd, have no desire to game there. But I do loves me some social-economic-geopolitical forces in me gaming.
  • My read on Bas-Lag is to really do it justice you need to the players to have in the moment deep setting edit ability. Part of the experience of reading Perdido Street Station is experiencing the setting, and accepting the strangeness and just going with it when, he pulls out the Ambassador of Hell or what not. Maybe it will stick around, maybe it won't.

    To get that feeling in the game means that the players will need to be able to bring in those out there setting ideas and build them or discard them as the game goes on.

    Otherwise you'd be playing in Bas-Lag, but you really wouldn't be playing the source material.

    I just wish I could think of a good game for doing this which isn't one of mine... But there's not a whole lot of Indie setting exploration.

    - Mendel S.
  • Posted By: wyrmwood
    To get that feeling in the game means that the players will need to be able to bring in those out there setting ideas and build them or discard them as the game goes on.
    And this is why methinks this setting would work great in IAWA. The players are just as much as part of the setting definition as the GM.
  • Posted By: veritascitor
    And this is why methinks this setting would work great in IAWA. The players are just as much as part of the setting definition as the GM.
    And yet, I cannot see Perdido Street Station arising in any natural sense from a series of IAWA sessions. The story structures are too distant. And while you have room for player-driven setting definition, there doesn't seem much room for player-driven setting exploration in IAWA. Although perhaps this is just a deficiency of my experience with IAWA, which while fun haven't been very long term.
  • Yeah I think there is a density to the world & to his work that would require specific mechanics to support, and which IAWA does not really tend to evoke. Shock:'s minutae could work, especially over a longer play arc, though I think you could take it further in terms of helping players build on previous contributions and reward unexpected cross-pollination between them. Something more like a minutae-web.
  • edited June 2009
    Well, traditional GM-and-player games have successfully had games with tons of setting minutia for many years, with GM as gateway for which and how much detail gets introduced. However, the implication of the various sorts of advice (perhaps as a result of self-selection in audience tastes) has been for a level of detail that ranges from minimal to moderate, never super-dense. I'm sure for many groups that's a very good thing. I mean, I'm the only one in my group that likes even to read Victor Hugo, let alone to play a game with that level of detail, tangent and exploration in their leisure time.

    What if, With Great Power-style, you couldn't advance the plot before you introduced, created, or interacted with a certain number of very specific setting details? (The former two could be requirements for the GM, if there was one, or all three could be available for all players.)

    I don't really agree that IAWA's oracles are a great idea for this. You get four oracle pulls per chapter, and a highly limited cast is a feature, not a bug, in that game.
  • Storn,

    The way to do a Bas Lag-ish BW game would be to make up the baseline humanish lifepaths. I'd think there would be born paths for each district of the city.

    Then, for the beasties, use the Monster Burner but with very specialized questions in order to wedge them into the city itself and create the kind of citified non-humans that rock so hard in Bas Lag.

    There'd have to be a city-burner so the players could make their own city with its own situation and history.

    But I dunno.

    Judd
  • I don't really think a 'make-it-yourself' approach would work for any significant segment of the consumer population.

    A lot of the coolness of Bas-Lag comes directly from Mieville's extensive base of knowledge, and the richness he brings to its language by using words from every possible source.

    Cactacae. Watercræft. Khepri. Scabmettler. Vodyanoi. Salkrikaltor. Anophelii. The Cacotopic Stain. The Ghosthead.

    Some of those are made-up; some aren't. But it's their conjunction and casual use that make up the sound of Bas-Lag, and how many of us can do that?

  • Posted By: JuddStorn,

    The way to do a Bas Lag-ish BW game would be to make up the baseline humanish lifepaths. I'd think there would be born paths for each district of the city.

    Then, for the beasties, use the Monster Burner but with very specialized questions in order to wedge them into the city itself and create the kind of citified non-humans that rock so hard in Bas Lag.

    There'd have to be a city-burner so the players could make their own city with its own situation and history.

    But I dunno.

    Judd
    There are just easier ways to go. It is using the BW screwdriver to hammer a nail. I would think GURPs or Hero or Savage Worlds would be much, much simpler. If you really need Beliefs in the mix, that is an EASY hack. Heck, I would think Jorune or even Starblazer Adventures would be simpler.

    Because, some of those races don't really fit into a BW structure that easy. Sure, the NPC races are easy, monster burner is fine. But for the PCs... mmmm....My one problem with BW is that there is so much to know and understand JUST for humans... add in dozens upon dozens of aliens.... not gonna fly under that weight in my estimation.

    But if you could do a mix-match. HEre are a bunch of "Born this" and have a GENERIC lifepath as well as human as well as what we have so far (wolf, spider, gifted, whatever you can pull from Burning Empires)... maybe you got something. But there is a lot of stuff that needs to be widdled away and added. Because Bas-Lag is firmly rooted (in my mind) to Victorian England (railroads, newspapers, industry etc etc), the current mediaeval human lifepath is quite right for the flavor. It comes close... but still not quite right.
  • I think Other Worlds would work pretty well for this one in terms of defining the detail of the characters.

    FATE (Starblazer flavor especially, Storn). You could tag and compel aspects like crazy in Bas Lag.
  • One problem I have with a lot of "steampunk" games & fiction is that it's all steam and no punk.

    Which is to say, the emphasis often ends up on the trappings of the fictional steampunk age (flying machines, engine magick, people wearing goggles for no real reason, etc), and not the social issues behind the fiction - class struggle, the social effects of technological revolution, and protagonists who are at odds with authority and lacking in social power or influence.

    Mieville's books, on the other hand, do this splendidly. The protagonists of Perdid Street Station and The Scar are outside the law, down on their luck, and generally victims of the power structure of the places where they live. They're not kick-ass heroes who hobnob with kings and generals. This theme is taken even further in Iron Council, where the protagonists are workers, slaves and prostitutes.

    To me, for a game to really take place in Mieville's world, it would have to have mechanics for driving that kinds of play and creating those kinds of character.
  • Shreyas,

    The language is certainly excellent, although I'd say it's icing for the ideas underneath. Let's face it, throwing around the words wouldn't be enough.

    In any case, that level of linguistic expertise need not be a requirement to play. Rather I would suggest that an important part of designing the game (or at least the game document) would be in enabling players to better add Mievillian aspects to the world of Bas-Lag.


    Brian,

    What sort of things would your Bas-Lag protagonists do, in the short and long term? Would you still consider it a Bas-Lag game if the PCs had the potential to be heroic and change the world?

    - Mendel S.
  • Posted By: Storn

    There are just easier ways to go. It is using the BW screwdriver to hammer a nail. I would think GURPs or Hero or Savage Worlds would be much, much simpler. If you really need Beliefs in the mix, that is an EASY hack. Heck, I would think Jorune or even Starblazer Adventures would be simpler.
    I don't have much of hope that GURPS, Hero or Savage Worlds could do this kind of thing in the way I'd want. I think it goes way beyond hacking Beliefs or aspects on to a vanilla system.

    We'll talk it over on Tuesday (maybe in front of a recording device).
  • Posted By: JuddWe'll talk it over on Tuesday (maybe in front of a recording device).
    Does this mean that there might be another SoK podcast out soon? Yeah! And could it be about potential playing in Bas Lag? Double Yeah!
  • Posted By: Judd
    We'll talk it over on Tuesday (maybe in front of a recording device).
    fucking please.
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: wyrmwoodWhat sort of things would your Bas-Lag protagonists do, in the short and long term? Would you still consider it a Bas-Lag game if the PCs had the potential to be heroic and change the world?
    That's a great question.

    I guess I'd mostly want the game mechanics and character creation rules to EMPHASIZE this nature of the PCs. Many people commented on hacking BW for a Bas-Lag game, but no one mentioned the serious lifepath culling I think you'd need for something like that. None of the protagonists in the New Crobuzon books are generals or soldiers or clergy or merchants, or any kind of person with significant social status.

    To me, the prevalence of social class, and the struggle against authority (the "punk" in "steampunk") should be front and center in a game like this.
    Posted By: JuddWe'll talk it over on Tuesday (maybe in front of a recording device).
    SoK New Crobuzon Special FTW!
  • But, in the struggle against authority, do you want to win? Do you want it to be possible? Do you even want it to be possible to change the world, even if it is not going to be how you intended?

    What about the smaller scale? Should the game encourage confronting authorities and being punished by them? Tempt characters into becoming authoritative themselves? Or should the game focus on authorities as that which keeps us from achieving our potential / dreams?

    And by social class, would you want that to be reflected mechanically in some way? Or should that be something "too important for dice" as it were?

    (Sorry for all the questions, but early in this thread I was struck by a simple hack I could do that seemed to work for a Bas-Lag game. But your read on Bas-Lag is different enough from mine - and almost certainly more typical, so I want to see if that would still be the case.)

    - Mendel S.
  • Posted By: BWANone of the protagonists in the New Crobuzon books are generals or soldiers or clergy or merchants, or any kind of person with significant social status.
    But are you saying that means such characters would be off-limits in running a game set in Bas-Lag? Is it necessary to have protagonists in identical/similar social positions to the protagonists of the novels in order to 'get at' what makes the setting work? I mean there are certainly characters with social status in the books, they just aren't generally the protagonists.

    I feel like maybe there is a decision to be made between 'I want to play in the setting described in these books' and 'I want to play the story of these books'. The question would be whether and how they are separable.
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorIs it necessary to have protagonists in identical/similar social positions to the protagonists of the novels in order to 'get at' what makes the setting work?
    I don't know about Bas Lag, but I think part of what makes, say, setting X the distinctive setting that it is is how it is approached. If George RR Martin wrote a book set in Westeros but from the view of commoners, it's not really the same setting as presented in his current books. Or perhaps I'm getting my setting and situation mixed up.

    Maybe it's this: You can have protagonists in a Bas Lag RPG that come from a radically different place than the protagonists of the books, but then you're not playing a game that's based on the Bas Lag books. Inspired by them, certainly, but it's not a game that's letting you tell stories in the same vein/feel/theme.
  • Well, probably I just disagree with people's opinions on what the books are about, though perhaps in a very finicky way. To me they're not really about counter-culture or outcast uprisings or the socially dispossessed -- they're just about power, period. One of the central tenets of the setting which Mieville realizes so well is the idea that power moves in all directions -- it's not a hierarchy, and there is no one social or economic position that has an unequivocal advantage. It's not just that there is always someone stronger -- though this is of course emphatically true -- it's that who the 'stronger' person is changes unexpectedly and with often horrific consequences.

    So to me playing a judge or a member of the Mayor's staff or an army general doesn't really change any of that, because in the context of the books those are not positions of security -- they're just positions of more power and therefore more volatility. I think the idea that these positions are off-limits due being unlike the positions of the protagonists in the books is a pretty serious misreading of the books. There is no such thing as working for The Man in New Crobuzon, there's just working for Some Guy. And everybody -- everybody, period -- is working for somebody, whether they like it or know it or not. I think the books lay out in painstaking detail the impossibility of stepping 'outside' the structures of power, and consequently it seems impossible that you could pick a protagonist with an inappropriate social position for telling stories "in the same vein" as the books.
  • Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorWell, probably I just disagree with people's opinions on what the books are about, though perhaps in a very finicky way. To me they're not really about counter-culture or outcast uprisings or the socially dispossessed -- they're just about power, period. One of the central tenets of the setting which Mieville realizes so well is the idea that power moves in all directions -- it's not a hierarchy, and there is no one social or economic position that has an unequivocal advantage. It's not just that there is always someone stronger -- though this is of course emphatically true -- it's that who the 'stronger' person is changes unexpectedly and with often horrific consequences.

    So to me playing a judge or a member of the Mayor's staff or an army general doesn't really change any of that, because in the context of the books those are not positions of security -- they're just positions of more power and therefore more volatility. I think the idea that these positions are off-limits due beingunlikethe positions of the protagonists in the books is a pretty serious misreading of the books. There is no such thing as working for The Man in New Crobuzon, there's just working for Some Guy. And everybody -- everybody, period -- is working for somebody, whether they like it or know it or not. I think the books lay out in painstaking detail the impossibility of stepping 'outside' the structures of power, and consequently it seems impossible that you could pick a protagonist with an inappropriate social position for telling stories "in the same vein" as the books.
    Yeah, I'm just going off of what other people have said about Bas Lag, so I should probably stop my speculation here.
  • Actually, the different ways of adapting written material were discussed fruitfully here, one of my favorite bookmarked threads due to the huge variety of approaches to adaptation people have. Good stuff. (And here too.)
  • Mendel & Daniel,

    You both make the excellent distinction between using New Crobuzon / Bas Lag as the SETTING for a game, as opposed to using it as the INSPIRATION for a game. Either is totally valid, although, as you both point out, these different approaches will have a huge effect on what you'd take from the books and put in a game.

    For me, if I was going to play a game set in New Crobuzon, it would have to be about issues of class struggle and power inequity, because otherwise I wouldn't be getting what I wanted.

    For someone else, the real draw might be the city itself, or other elements of the setting fiction. (Of course, I love that stuff too, and I'd want my character to know golem magic, and have to run from a Weaver at some point).
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorWell, probably I just disagree with people's opinions on what the books are about, though perhaps in a very finicky way. To me they're not really about counter-culture or outcast uprisings or the socially dispossessed -- they're just about power, period.
    I would disagree with you on that. I think the protagonists of Mieville's books are specifically members of classes who lack social power. Certain people in his world read Runagate Rampant, and certain people don't, and the "heroes" of the stories are always the former.

    You reference playing a judge or army general in a game... but I suspect Mieville would never write a book from the point of view of such a character. His sympathies clearly lie in opposition to western (British?) social power structures as we know them, and I think that is reflected in the books - Iron Council is the most explicit example of this.

    Of course, all the monsters are a big part of the awesome, either way you look at it.
  • Posted By: BWA

    Of course, all the monsters are a big part of the awesome, either way you look at it.
    "And when I write my novels, I’m not writing them to make political points. I’m writing them because I passionately love monsters and the weird and horror stories and strange situations and surrealism, and what I want to do is communicate that. But, because I come at this with a political perspective, the world that I’m creating is embedded with many of the concerns that I have. But I never let them get in the way of the monsters."

    Quoted from here
  • I find the Adamant announcement aesthetically offensive. Cataloging the New Crobuzon stuff into a trad game format means releasing Yet Another Licensed RPG, and totally misses the point of what makes his work so compelling.

    Fucking gamers.

    Mostly I'm disappointed in Mieville for not investigating other options. In fact it makes me look at his work with something of a jaded eye -- is it just gamer fiction dressed up in ten-dollar vocabulary?

    p.
  • Posted By: Paul BI find the Adamant announcement aesthetically offensive. Cataloging the New Crobuzon stuff into a trad game format means releasing Yet Another Licensed RPG, and totally misses the point of what makes his work so compelling.

    Fuckinggamers.

    Mostly I'm disappointed in Mieville for not investigating other options. In fact it makes me look at his work with something of a jaded eye -- is it just gamer fiction dressed up in ten-dollar vocabulary?
    If I remember correctly from the old RPGnet days, GMS name-dropped Mieville as a friend. Why would Mieville look any farther if he and the owner of Adamant are buds?
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