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A tension in RM's Campaign Law

pemerton

Legend
Some recent thread took me back to Rolemaster's Campaign Law. I'm quoting from my 1989 version of Character Law & Campaign Law, but am pretty confident the text goes back to 1984 and the original release of Campaign Law.

Here is some stuff about world building, under the heading Design the Campaign Setting (p 104):

Design should flow from the general to the specific. Construct the general parameters first, and then build specific concepts using the general framework. The design of a world setting would progress as follows:​
1. The World
a. Gods, the Comsos, and the World​
b. Physical Landscape . . .​

2. The Inhabitants . . .
b (iii) Social Beings[/indnet]​

3. The Cultures . . .

4. The Events
a, The Dynamics of Politics and Culture​
b. Natural Events​
c. Political Events.​

5. The Non-Player Characters . . .​

Not long after this, on pp 104-5, is the following, under the headings "Start the Players with a Rich Background" and "Start the Game with a Manageable Yet Challenging Adventure":

A. Ask each player about their desires for their character. Maintaining reason and play balance, attempt to incorporate them into their PC background.

B. Based on the player's wishes, game needs, and the PC's race and profession, help choose an appropriate cultural background for the PC.
1. Give the PC (sic) a handout or talk about their cultural roots, and the manner of their folk.
2. Inform the PC of any overall goals or problems associated with their culture.​

C. Build a specific past for the PC.
1. Discuss any family background, taking note of any adventures connected with family members. . . .
2.Discuss the early goals and activities of the PC.
a. Adventures​
b.Schooling . . .​
4. Be clear about things the player wishes to keep secret. . . .​

Get clear any long or short-term goals each PC may have at the time the game begins. . . .

Allow for any common goal or goals that might keep them together. . . .

Based on the area and the PC group’s desires and stated goals, construct a variety of adventure options with which to start the campaign.​

What is missing is how to reconcile these two sets of instructions. Hence the the tension I mention in the thread title. What if a player's idea for family background, or schooling, clashes with a GM's ideas about cultures and NPCs? What if a player's desire for his PC has a religious or cosmological aspect that contradicts the GM's ideas about the gods and the cosmos?

There's also the practical problem of how to connect all the goals and secrets and the like the GM is invited to elicit from the players, with the variety of adventure options the GM is instructed to construct.

The text is simply silent on all of this. A clear contrast can be drawn in this respect with, say, the Burning Wheel rulebook and even moreso the Adventure Burner supplement, reprinted in The Codex: they tackle this issue head-on, with lots of helpful advice for both players and GMs.

My interest in this isn't purely theoretical. I GMed RM for 19 years straight. In that time it was my go-to game. So I had to try and reconcile these tensions myself. I think I did a passing job of it in my first campaign, and a good job in my second. But part of what helped me in my second campaign was reading more widely about RPGing techniques, including relationships between backstory/setting, characters, and scenarios/situation. In the end I realised that, for me, the stuff about "starting the players with a rich background" was good and the stuff about "designing a campaign setting" was less helpful.

(A footnote: I promised @Thomas Shey I would alert him to this thread.)
 

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pemerton

Legend
I've just had a quick look through the RMSS core rulebook and Gamemaster Law (both 1995). They don't have the same tension, because they keep and elaborate on the world design stuff, while dropping the stuff about rich backgrounds with player input.

I think that is consistent with the general trend in mainstream RPGing between the early-to-mid 80s and the mid-to-late 90s.
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
Two ways to go about it, I think:

1) Design the world, present it in session zero as 'this is what it is', and require the players to live within those boundaries. Anyone that doesn't want to play in that sandbox can hit the road for another game.

2) Poll your players beforehand as to their desires and construct the world to conform (at least mostly) to it. This would almost require a pre-session zero... a session -1, so to speak, or it could be done via email, etc before that first get together.

I'm more inclined towards the first option, myself, if I'm the GM. If I'm playing, I'll either conform to what the GM wants to prep or take my own advice and hit the street if it doesn't grab me.
 

pemerton

Legend
Here is a way where a similar tension occurs in both the earlier and later books.

From Campaign Law (p 127 of my 1989 version):

Discuss the player's desires concerning their character's nature and background. Some players . . . are very concerned with the details of motivation and emotion associated with their PCs; others have a burning desire to undertake a particular quest. . . . In every reasonable case, attempt to indulge the player, for after all, this is a fantasy. . . .

The GM needs to create the scenario that will serve as the story's opening.​

How are these two things to be reconciled? I'm not saying it can't be done - see eg @Jmarso's post - but the rulebooks don't say how.

The RMSS core rulebook (p 116) says:

The player characters (sic) should set their own goals - sometimes with help from their Gamemaster through background details. However, to maintain an exciting game, the Gamemaster should supply incentives.​

And Gamemaster Law (p 11) says:

What makes role playing special is the stories are those that the players desire. They should reflect the motivations and goals of the people playing in them.​

But this focus on player priorities is absent from the more concrete discussions of scenario/adventure design.
 

Greg K

Hero
Two ways to go about it, I think:

1) Design the world, present it in session zero as 'this is what it is', and require the players to live within those boundaries. Anyone that doesn't want to play in that sandbox can hit the road for another game.

2) Poll your players beforehand as to their desires and construct the world to conform (at least mostly) to it. This would almost require a pre-session zero... a session -1, so to speak, or it could be done via email, etc before that first get together.

I'm more inclined towards the first option, myself, if I'm the GM. If I'm playing, I'll either conform to what the GM wants to prep or take my own advice and hit the street if it doesn't grab me.
I am the same as you as both a GM and player.
 

Staffan

Legend
I think the tension lies between "the setting is a 'real' place and it's the player's job to find a place within it" and "the setting is a means to tell the story of the PCs and should adapt to those needs."

Published settings tend to lean toward the former, because it's a lot easier to sell people on a "real" place where you can keep going into detail, because that is the setting designer's job. This goes even more for published settings with metaplots - we can't have PCs messing up our finely designed story now, can we? It's a lot harder to sell "Make things up together with your players that fit with their backgrounds and plot desires" because, well, I just gave it away for free now, didn't I?
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
As someone who hasn't played RM in forever, maybe since that passage was written, I feel that the tension and how to resolve it wasn't addressed because the 'language' of gaming was still developing in a way. By that, I mean maybe we were still developing the 'language' of how to talk about PCs in a larger world. I feel like '89 was still a time, in my experience, where the burden was on GMs/DMs to provide the world and be the drivers of it. I feel we were still in a time in gaming where players were largely consumers, and GMs were producing settings for their tables. Largely, it was my experience that it was on each GM to try to shoehorn in yea/nay player ideas - we weren't at a point where it was written as more co-operative.

My RM experience - when I joined my friend's game, the world was pretty detailed. The universe was divided on Law/Chaos and Good/Evil axes. Each faction had one lead - the fact that someone was now stealing power in a Chaos/Evil direction was causing imbalance.
The paladins followed a god who was the Noonday Sun - pure Law. That was the world built.
I came in wanting to play an outcast paladin who focused more on Good, a voice in the wilderness. Whereas the party's last paladin was LAw and melee, I was Good and more balanced. And my primary weapon was a crossbow - much to the surprise and confusion of the last player of a paladin.

At the time, the GM could've just said no, that's not paladins in this world. Instead, he adapted it and made the story about how the paladins had lost their way - their god wasn't about law and punishment (the Noonday Sun), but he was the god of the Sun - different aspects of his being played to different things like the Morning Sun was healing, etc. It added to the story and made for a great campaign.

My apologies if I went astray there - it was a great campaign I don't think of or talk about often enough! :)
 

Though as I noted, I'm not directly familiar with the RM take, I've got some thoughts on this more in general, and will post them when I have a little more time. In particular, I think there's some differences in the amount of "give" some types of campaign have for having a solid basic structure while fitting in PC specifics over others.
 

Greg K

Hero
When I first learned to play Rolemasters, the two GMs that introduced me, were the one's that taught me about having a setting, having the PCs create characters fit within the confines of that setting, but creating adventures around the players backgrounds and goals.
 

pemerton

Legend
I feel that the tension and how to resolve it wasn't addressed because the 'language' of gaming was still developing in a way. By that, I mean maybe we were still developing the 'language' of how to talk about PCs in a larger world. I feel like '89 was still a time, in my experience, where the burden was on GMs/DMs to provide the world and be the drivers of it. I feel we were still in a time in gaming where players were largely consumers, and GMs were producing settings for their tables. Largely, it was my experience that it was on each GM to try to shoehorn in yea/nay player ideas - we weren't at a point where it was written as more co-operative.
I get what you're saying. But I think it's interesting that the earlier book seems more positive towards play contribution than the later ones.

My RM experience - when I joined my friend's game, the world was pretty detailed. The universe was divided on Law/Chaos and Good/Evil axes. Each faction had one lead - the fact that someone was now stealing power in a Chaos/Evil direction was causing imbalance.
The paladins followed a god who was the Noonday Sun - pure Law. That was the world built.
I came in wanting to play an outcast paladin who focused more on Good, a voice in the wilderness. Whereas the party's last paladin was LAw and melee, I was Good and more balanced. And my primary weapon was a crossbow - much to the surprise and confusion of the last player of a paladin.

At the time, the GM could've just said no, that's not paladins in this world. Instead, he adapted it and made the story about how the paladins had lost their way - their god wasn't about law and punishment (the Noonday Sun), but he was the god of the Sun - different aspects of his being played to different things like the Morning Sun was healing, etc. It added to the story and made for a great campaign.
I think this is a good example of an individual GM resolving the tension in a way that prioritises the player's contribution over sticking come-what-may to the pre-authored backstory.
 

pemerton

Legend
When I first learned to play Rolemasters, the two GMs that introduced me, were the one's that taught me about having a setting, having the PCs create characters fit within the confines of that setting, but creating adventures around the players backgrounds and goals.
So you think there's no tension? Or at least less than I do?
 

Greg K

Hero
So you think there's no tension? Or at least less than I do?
No. I, personally, have never found a tension. The first adventure of my campaigns always takes into account backgrounds and/or goals- especially to bring them together. Then the campaign riffs of those backgrounds and goals, prior actions, and decisions at the time while keeping in the confines of the established setting.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
My interest in this isn't purely theoretical. I GMed RM for 19 years straight. In that time it was my go-to game. So I had to try and reconcile these tensions myself. I think I did a passing job of it in my first campaign, and a good job in my second. But part of what helped me in my second campaign was reading more widely about RPGing techniques, including relationships between backstory/setting, characters, and scenarios/situation. In the end I realised that, for me, the stuff about "starting the players with a rich background" was good and the stuff about "designing a campaign setting" was less helpful.

I fail to see a tension. Players asked from scratch will only be able to express very general goals and one size fit all backgrounds. It's useful to know those general goals for adventure design, but in my experience, the more the players are knowledgeable of the world, the easier they can come up with something interesting (or realize that if you're creating a grim and bleak setting and they want to be a knight in shining armor, they might want to skip this one out before the start rather than dropping out at session 8...).

I find it more difficult to design adventures taking into account player's input if it is expressed in very general terms (we want deep moral dilemmas and face difficult choices! Ok.. but that doesn't help me as a gm) and prompting rich players input by presenting them with a vivid background helps stimulate their creativity. Have a border settlement at the edge of primal chaos and a refined slightly decadent capital and see where they tie their background: it will express what you need to narrow down their first adventure and the rest of the campaign will go from there, very differently if they all tied themselves to the savage frontier than if they had chosen the capital rife with political intrigue.

I think player task will be easier at session 0 if they have a knowledge of the world. It also helps to hammer out details of a character: if they know the gods and their quirks, how the afterlife works and so on, their religious character will be more detailed than if they just have a very general view on the gods. I came to realize that by playing in published settings and homebrew and comparing the session zeroes. It is just an experience, but I never saw a tension.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Players asked from scratch will only be able to express very general goals and one size fit all backgrounds.
This isn't really my experience.

For instance, in my first RM campaign a player wanted to play a mystic whose childhood was spent herding sheep (or maybe goats?), and whose mentor lived in a large hollow tree and was in hiding, a refugee from some sort of mages' power struggle.

In my first 4e D&D campaign, one of the players came up with a very intricate background for his dwarf PC, and another player a very intricate background for his refugee human PC, both of which established significant aspects of the setting.

In my first Burning Wheel campaign, one of the players established as his PC's overarching goal the freeing of his brother form possession by a balrog. There was also enough character backstory to explain the basics of how this possession came about.

I think that when players have these sorts of ideas/aspirations for their PCs, there is the possibility of a clash with the sort of detailed setting design advised in the RM books mentioned in the OP.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think big part of the underlying does not come from having a well defined setting, but rather from having a well defined setting you are trying to keep a mystery from players. It's really hard to negotiate a character who fits the setting or where you have a good idea of the contextual pieces if the GM is being coy. I have found this tension is not really a thing in say Vampire, Legend of the 5 Rings, Exalted, Greyhawk, or Ebberon if the players are well versed in the setting. It's a big part of why I would seek out games with official settings and lore before I found Burning Wheel.
 

It's really hard to negotiate a character who fits the setting or where you have a good idea of the contextual pieces if the GM is being coy.

I’m currently reading the Heart RPG, and one of the bits of advice the book offers to GMs is to not be coy. Part of play is for each player to select two Beats, which are like goals for what they want/expect to happen and which will earn them an advance if achieved; the GM should be working in opportunities for these Beats during play. The players select their beats at the end of each session so the GM is able to consider them during any prep he may do in between (which in Heart is pretty minimal).

Just do the thing. Don’t tease the thing. The players are offering you fodder. Use it.

It’s something I think I’ve begun to realize over the past couple of years. Seeing it stated so specifically in GMing advice just drives the idea home.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I think big part of the underlying does not come from having a well defined setting, but rather from having a well defined setting you are trying to keep a mystery from players. It's really hard to negotiate a character who fits the setting or where you have a good idea of the contextual pieces if the GM is being coy. I have found this tension is not really a thing in say Vampire, Legend of the 5 Rings, Exalted, Greyhawk, or Ebberon if the players are well versed in the setting. It's a big part of why I would seek out games with official settings and lore before I found Burning Wheel.
Sure, but sometimes the GM isn't telling you everything about the setting because the setting isn't complete, or at least the GM doesn't know whatever they aren't telling you. Dealing with that is--again--about dealing with people, not so much systems or settings, though.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Sure, but sometimes the GM isn't telling you everything about the setting because the setting isn't complete, or at least the GM doesn't know whatever they aren't telling you. Dealing with that is--again--about dealing with people, not so much systems or settings, though.

Totally. In that case we can totally negotiate stuff out though because we both don't know what's happening so we can work on making stuff up. There might be compelling reasons to have defined stuff that players won't know about, but there's a danger that there might something in those know unknowns that changes their creative connection to the character they want to play or it can just be tough to navigate those waters of trying to make something fit when you do not know why it doesn't fit. Does that make any sense? Feels like a word salad.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!
What is missing is how to reconcile these two sets of instructions. Hence the the tension I mention in the thread title. What if a player's idea for family background, or schooling, clashes with a GM's ideas about cultures and NPCs? What if a player's desire for his PC has a religious or cosmological aspect that contradicts the GM's ideas about the gods and the cosmos?

There's also the practical problem of how to connect all the goals and secrets and the like the GM is invited to elicit from the players, with the variety of adventure options the GM is instructed to construct.

The text is simply silent on all of this. A clear contrast can be drawn in this respect with, say, the Burning Wheel rulebook and even moreso the Adventure Burner supplement, reprinted in The Codex: they tackle this issue head-on, with lots of helpful advice for both players and GMs.

My interest in this isn't purely theoretical. I GMed RM for 19 years straight. In that time it was my go-to game. So I had to try and reconcile these tensions myself. I think I did a passing job of it in my first campaign, and a good job in my second. But part of what helped me in my second campaign was reading more widely about RPGing techniques, including relationships between backstory/setting, characters, and scenarios/situation. In the end I realised that, for me, the stuff about "starting the players with a rich background" was good and the stuff about "designing a campaign setting" was less helpful.

Because back in the early 80's any "tension" between differing desires was handled like any other social interaction; both parties talked about their perspective and they came to a mutual compromise. There was no need for any specific "ways to handle it" written in the rulebook. This social skill was something that everyone learned growing up and going to school.

I'm NOT going to make any more comments about it other than this: I find it increasingly perplexing and difficult to have a reasonable conversation with a lot of 'younger folk' nowadays due to...from my perspective...a complete lack of the ability to accept that someone might have a different thought, preference or idea about something. ... this is, I believe, why you see things written in rule books about how to "deal with different perspectives"; because too many people simply don't have a clue how to do it.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Totally. In that case we can totally negotiate stuff out though because we both don't know what's happening so we can work on making stuff up. There might be compelling reasons to have defined stuff that players won't know about, but there's a danger that there might something in those know unknowns that changes their creative connection to the character they want to play or it can just be tough to navigate those waters of trying to make something fit when you do not know why it doesn't fit. Does that make any sense? Feels like a word salad.
Makes sense to me. During chargen, there are things the GM knows about the world that the players don't, and there are things neither of them knows. If it's the latter, the people at the table can figure something out. There's a danger if the GM knows something that'd change a player's build, either to literally undermine it or to ... make some other choice better for that character.

That about right?
 

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