Saturday, 27 August 2011

Individuality of character

I'm not someone who puts much value on "originality" in the sense of creating new things. I think there's "nothing new under the sun" and than what we praise as original is an inventive rearrangement of elements rather than the invention of new elements. I agree with Cormac McCarthy's quote that goes: "The ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written."

You might remember me saying that I'd probably like Eberron better if it got rid of the old dwarves and halflings and elves and had warforged, shifters and kalashtar as the core races (instead of just part of the core). There's nothing particularly original about shifters or warforged, but their implementation as the main races of a fantasy world is/would be.

I'm writing this now because I've been playing Planescape: Torment (again) and realized what one of the reasons for me liking it so much was. Planescape: Torment is is fantastic example (at least among computer games) of the designers taking that old maxim of "more guidelines than rules" and in the oldschool DIY tradition truly made the game their own. They were not restrained by the rules or the core assumptions in their creation of a vibrant set of characters inhabiting a vibrant world. More specifically: each character is just so much more than a simple combination of race and class taken out of a book. In Planescape: Torment the core AD&D system is used as a starting point that serves the experience instead of being a frame that defines the experience.

Each character has their own distinct abilities, traits, powers, personality and background independent of race and class that makes them, well, original, refreshing. In this sense it's almost the opposite of Dragon Age where the creators went out of the way to come up with a new game system and world, only to deliver us almost more of the same (more or less the same arrangement of elements we're used to).

While I'm a firm believer in seed content from a design perspective, I also think the great thing about RPGs is that they allow us to use their bones to support wonderful new flesh and skin. One of my prime motivations in gaming is wonder.

And while I don't oppose the occasional game with orcs and goblins - I'm kinda running one right now, I'm for it if it fits - I'm not really keen about anything new featuring them (or them by any other name). I'm running a game with orcs and goblins because it's Forgotten Realms and orcs and goblins are part of that setting, and original in the sense of that setting. But if I'm coming up with a new setting, you're sure as hell not going to find more orcs and goblins in there, unless I can do something really new with them.

In which case, are they even orcs and goblins anymore, and why am I trying to change them?

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