2014-08-30 : AW:Dark Age playtest preview: Peoples

One last preview before the playtest document!

I'm kind of nervous about this one. Meg and I aren't willing to publish a fantasy game that doesn't handle race well, given the racism so prevalent in the source material. But at the same time, I'm a lot more secure in my ability to handle gender and sex well (as you see in Apocalypse World) than I am race. I'm a little timid.

So here's how we're trying to do it. We're eager to hear what you think, and naturally we'll take your challenges to it seriously and be very happy to answer any questions you have.

Click for the PDF. Two pages this time:

AW:Dark Age: Peoples

1. On 2014-08-30, Vincent said:

Oh, and I'm totally taking advantage of the long weekend. Expect the playtest document on Monday.

If you want to sign up for playtesting, please do! Here's where:


2. On 2014-08-30, nerdwerds said:

I was planning on pushing my players to think freely and openly about lore and history without feeling like they needed to be constrained to reality.
So how much of the game is going to focus on historical realism?


3. On 2014-08-30, Dionysus said:

Oh wow, playtest for Monday would be perfect :) we're just looking for a new game to start - we liked apoc world but are in more of a fantasy mood.. Perfect timing!


4. On 2014-08-30, Ian R said:

Interesting.  The listed numbers options are those of localised and likely tightly-knit communities, which is not necessarily what I think of when I hear 'creating a people'.  If you wanted to create a holdover from the Empire influential class of Latin speaking landowners, or a diaspora of monotheists, or a Anatolian kingdom known for its wealthy cities, or Nordic people seafarers and warriors, these are on a much larger scale.  Are these all (intended to be) covered under 'as you choose' numbers option, or is there another scale for that level of 'culture' or similar?
If not, how does it interact if I want to create a specific clan of red-haired expansionsts as a distinction from their surrounding communities, but still absolutely part of that larger seafaring people you had previously defined?  Do we mark or note their interrelationship?  Am I informed by your choices when I pick mine, but no more?

Just some questions that occur.  Looking forward to seeing more of the project!


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This makes...
IR go "Oops, some grammar was lost in editing."

5. On 2014-08-30, Chris said:

How are you dealing with "playbook creep"? I had a fantasy/sci-fi game in this vein going (PbtA), and we just had like 30 sheets going on the table at any one time.


6. On 2014-08-30, Joao said:

All this stuff seems great to me!

Just a few minor typos:

On the fist page, fist column, in the bottom "What their names and language are", it should be romanic languages (without a t), not "romantic".

"On the strength off their"... stats... "they're known for" (fist page, second column) "For Rites" appear repeated 3 times. It should be "For Rites", "For War" and "For Wealth" respectively.


7. On 2014-08-30, Tom Lawrence said:

Are the choices for each of the three sections meant to be dependent on Rites in each case, or should it be each stat?


8. On 2014-08-30, Meguey said:

nerdwerds - This is the last bit we're baking in. There will be probably be some expansion on what sorts of metal-working is going on in the dark ages, or what animals and transportation look like and maybe how trade routes tend to work, but we're not pinning it down to a certain couple decades or asking folks to research a certain king or whatever.


9. On 2014-08-30, Vincent said:

Ian: You're right about the scale, yes. Ultimately I imagine a whole pageful of group sizes, not just this small-scale list. Meanwhile, for larger groups, yeah, go with what your gut or your own research says.

For supergroups and subgroups, you're informed by my choices, no more.

Chris: Paper clips!

Nah, I've got no good plan. If it turns out to be impractical in play, I dunno.

Joao, Tom: Fixed, thanks!


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This makes...
VB go "I don't remember offhand where I got these numbers-"*

*click in for more

10. On 2014-08-30, Per said:

Hats off to you guys for tackling "race" right on. This is good.


11. On 2014-08-30, Tom Lawrence said:

Hmm. These rules seem as though they're operating on several different scales simultaneously, and that feels... Odd?

For example, I can pick that a people are known for their cities, but then there's also only a few hundred of them? It makes sense only if this "people" is a subset of a larger culture which you're also defining here, or if the list of sizes is truncated and we should expect larger sizes (into then tens of thousands) in the full rules.


12. On 2014-08-30, Vincent said:

The list of sizes is truncated.


13. On 2014-08-30, spigot said:

Are you planning to include nomads? I'm wondering if you could have a warrior order travelling around with a few yurts, surviving off raids and horticulture and covering themselves in garish jewellery. Nomad art's really cool by the way - everything had to be very small and portable but they always crammed a lot of detail into it.'VTERE_FELIX'_fibula.jpg


14. On 2014-08-30, spigot said:

Messed up the hyperlinks there:

Fibula Broach
Broach 2


15. On 2014-08-30, gk230 said:

On one hand, you refer to real world languages and, (meguey says) while not a specific year under a specific king, how things generally looked like in the historical ?dark? ages. On the other hand, you have things with changed names which seem to tell me that this is not the dark ages.

In addition to this inconsistency (at least it looks like one to me, I'm sure you have thought about this long and decided on it based on good reasons), something else about this does not capture me yet. I suspect it might be a mixed signals in terms of what to expect, because usually I seem to either like games where I can dive in deeply, and actually experience How Life Is for the characters. In those games, I like game text that helps me explore these things, so some amounts of descriptions and rules are nice. Or alternatively I like everybody to heavily participate in world building and story generation, defining many things on the fly. In those games, I love good guidelines on how to make the collaboration fun, and meta-guides when I should throw the guidelines overboard.

This game seems to speak to both these sides, giving me both details I want to immerse myself in (A clan of displaced Celts? How does their language sound? Did the Romans move whole families or did Celtic auxiliars marry local women or sth? What are their legends? How do I best interact with them?) and questions of flavour I need to answer myself (I intend to recruit some people from this village, so how do I make a people that feel right for me going there to recruit, and for living in this particular place?) ? but somehow in a way that doesn't make me go ?Yay, the right game for both my preferences in games?, but instead post this long wall of text about my doubts. (This is somewhat related to the first remark, because a familiar name somehow tells me that I should deal with how it ?really? is, and not make up stuff.)

So I feel I would be more enthusiastic if the specific world were either more veiled or more explicit. But I'll definitely play this anyway ? after all, I have sometimes seen that the right type of game makes me want to play it lots, even though I did not initially dig the setting description. And also the opposite.


16. On 2014-08-30, silby said:

It took me rather longer than it ought to have done to figure out what the Empire of Eagles was alluding to.

You have languages of the Maghreb and the Levant on your list. Is there going to be other material evoking this (physical and human) geography, or are we on our own to go learn about it if we want to play there?


17. On 2014-08-31, Davide said:

I love the approach; if *as others pointed out) the whole paperwork (people sheets, war sheets and so on) survives the test at the table, this is a pretty intriguing way to deal with war-building and generating the setting on the fly, while playing.

Also, as others (and as I wrote earlier) I am not really sure about the choices of the real languages, as a strong link between real history and this fantasy world, and as the link from characters to populations. But again - this is just an impression. But the more I think of it, the more I would have liked a more evocative, less precise approach. Something like: 1 common tongue, 2 local dialect, 3 exotic language... or something like that...

But since we're talking mostly about races, I really like this!


18. On 2014-08-31, Brandon said:

As far as race is concerned, I think it really helps that when creating a people, the player or MC is forced to examine them from a number of perspectives, so you're probably not going to end up with a bunch of one-note societies. As a caveat, I'm also more comfortable in conversations about gender and sexuality, so I'm not sure how useful the rest of this post will be.

That said, the way the lists are currently constructed does still allow for some kinda shitty representations, for example, a people with +2 war, 0 rites and -1 wealth, you could have them known for:

- their fearlessness in the face of death
- their implacable blood vengeance
- their insatiability in war
- their ruthlessness
- their superb metalwork (bit of a stretch here, but presumably to make their murder tools)

And you could attach the appearance and names of a currently marginalised group of people, say Arabic or Berber. Then you have a bloodthirsty society comprised entirely of people of colour. Hopefully people aren't actually going to make this society, and if they do, hopefully they'll engage with why they're so focused on war, but lazy engagement with race is still a thing that happens quite often.

I think it would help to have the text try to get players to engage with the chosen qualities a bit more maybe adding a parenthetical '(why?)' to the end of statements such as the ones listed above.

Perhaps this makes the process way too complicated, but "they're known for" could be read as "these are things that outsiders think of these people, but the reality is more nuanced than this." That opens up the possibility of stereotypes and misunderstandings (not that it isn't there already, but perhaps it could be made more explicit in the text), and exploring that within play. Okay, now that I've typed this paragraph out it feels a bit like trying to shoehorn post-structuralism in where it isn't needed, but I'll leave it here for consideration.

So yeah, that's what I think about the race stuff at the moment. I'm really glad it's a conversation you're open to having though! I live in South Africa, so race and historical narratives are something that we need to engage with a lot; not that it isn't the case in a lot of other places, but it's good to see these issues being treated with sensitivity.


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This makes...
GS go "That's how I read "known for""*

*click in for more

19. On 2014-08-31, Donogh said:

Along the same lines as one of Brandon's later points, I was expecting some emphasis on external reputation (unfair or not). Though maybe the truth of what your people are known for will emerge through play.


20. On 2014-08-31, gk230 said:

If I had not read earlier posts from you about people of obvious African or Middle-Eastern descent in early medieval Europe and similar things, I would still assume that for a game playing in eg. dark England, my choices of languages are Latin, Celtic, English, Germanic, Nordic and Welsh*, or something like that. Is there an incentive that will make me not jump to conclusions and consider other options?

Also, I think having some interesting options to choose from helps avoid it slightly, but similarly, what will really keep me from very insensitively stereotyping, and defaulting to combining eg. Worship the same god/enclave/bronze-brown/Arabic with whatever cultural stereotypes I may have about Muslim in European diaspora?

The main reason to make peoples mentioned on the sheet is to muster warriors from them. Will this skew what peoples are created?

Not knowing a lot about the Migration Period, I just read its Wikipedia article. You mention dispacement by the Empire, but "they grew together by migrating together" is a non-obvious application of "bound by a single common experience". Should that be a more pronounced option? Also, apparently groups that migrated showed a large ethnic internal variety, which I did not know about. Does that mean that "A diversity" should be a more pronounced option (eg. first, rather than last just as "other")?

*) Some of those are more like languages, some more like language families. (If I look at it like this, I miss some languages, but luckily there is an "other" option.) Is that on purpose? Does it have to do with not-yet-implemented multiple scales of peoples?


21. On 2014-08-31, DWeird said:

One immediate hack I would likely apply is to have the "What defines them" list be a "pick two" one.

This allows a good deal of creativity and control of scope.

You can play reinforcing beats of "they're a single family and they all live in the same place", if you want a simple concept; or different tunes of "they are descendants of the same hero or demigod, and they've been displaced here by the Empire of Eagles."

Also makes the approach to peoples a bit more nominalistic. Rather than defining the core features of an existing people, you are instead choosing certain intersections for the purposes of play, which is not as tall as an order.


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This makes...
VB go "good idea."

22. On 2014-08-31, DWeird said:

Also, here is a consideration.

As is, it seems that people are mostly self-contained, and they can carry on being what they are with or without player involvement. Compare this to AW, where every person had a basic need or drive, so by merely noting their existence you would bring a new vector into play.

Is this threat/basic scarcity thing going to come up somewhere else, or is the very basis of the NPC side of the game different? It is not scarcity but aspirations that drive play?


23. On 2014-09-02, Vincent said:

I haven't answered some questions!

If you've read the playtest document and your question still stands, I'll be happy to answer it. Please feel free to ask it again.


24. On 2014-09-02, plausible.fabulist said:

Having skimmed the playtest doc (will read it extensively tonight), I love it so far, my main concern is the same as that expressed in gk320's first post. lumpley game about the Empire of Eagles and Bloodless Xristos? So there! lumpley game about Arabic and Basque and Athapascan speaking PCs in historical Dark Ages Europe? So there! Game involving Empire of Eagles AND Arabic and Basque? ...hmm.
It's not clear where the line is between the alternate world evoked by Empire of Eagles and the real world evoked by real-world languages (and the specification, for instance, of which of them have literatures) is. In particular it's not clear why the "Empire of the Eagles" isn't just "Rome". I mean, we know that the Empire of the Eagles must have had an administrative language, which produced a corpus of administrative documents, and that thus it must therefore have been either Latin-, Greek-, Persian-, Arabic-, or Hebrew-speaking. While the idea of making it a Persian-speaking Empire is tempting, it feels like it runs sufficiently counter to the other cues we're given to make it seem like we're drifting away from the game design's intention if we do so.

I'll see what happens in playtesting, maybe it won't be a problem, but my reaction to the text-as-such, this version, is that the term "Empire of Eagles" is simply coy, whereas in the earlier version it represented an opening, the possibility of a reimagined weird Dark Ages history.


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This makes...
PF go ""so there!" in the sense of "yay!""*

*click in for more

25. On 2014-09-02, Vincent said:

plausible.fabulist: "Coy," I see what you mean.


26. On 2014-09-02, Erik Amundsen said:

First look is good.  I'm finding a lot to like.  My only suggestion is to shy away from food-color in the descriptions (though I see it's mostly coded-white descriptions, which, at least, is not the way that usually goes down).


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