D&D General Gaming From Above vs Gaming From Below

TheSword

Legend
For a long time Historians had a tendency to focus on the great figures of history - The Great and Good whose deeds shaped society. Famous monarchs and generals, scientists and philosophers. In the later half of the 20th Century though, Marxist thought led to people thinking about the lives of everyday folks and whether this gave a truer picture of what really happened. Not just what the elite wanted to happen (or wanted us to believe happened) but how it actually impacted society as a whole. Study in this way became known as History from below as opposed to focusing on the elites - History from above.

In recent discussions about Modiphius’s new release of Raiders of the Serpent Sea I was struck how much this product brought the PCs into contact with everyday folks. Raiders, villagers, pilgrims trying to make their way in the world. Their customs, their challenges and motivations as well as their games and entertainments. This was in sharp contrast to their previous product Odyssey of the Dragon Lords that focused on Kings, Gods, Champions and Commanders. One of my frustrations with which was that it didn’t quite seem real or grounded. It did bring an epic scale that no doubt they were looking for but in some ways it rang slightly hollow which became more pronounced as the PCs got to the higher levels. What exactly was the society they were risking their lives for like.

Similarly in the Enemy Within Campaign my PCs have moved away from slogging through sewers and breaking into warehouses (Gaming from Below) to hobnobbing with the court of an Elector Count (Gaming from Above), in sharp contrast to their previous adventures. Now etiquette and negotiating a complex web of allegiances is more important than picking locks and fighting trolls.

Lord of the Rings would be another example of Gaming from Above where almost every main character is either a king, great lord or royalty of some kind (Hobbits aside). One of the flaws for me with Middle Earth as a setting has always been that (outside the shire) I’ve never really know what life is like for the average Roharrimn, Gondorian or Breelander.

Don’t get me wrong Raiders of the Serpent Sea has its fair share of Gods and Kings. However they seem somewhat more real because we get to see the society they preside over. Or as Machiavelli said “If you want to know a ruler, look at the people they have around them.” I want to see Gaming from both Above and Below.

One fantasy fiction IP that does this very well is the Witcher. Of course we get to see the very highest echelons of Society in both the books, the games and the TV. But we also get to see a lot of common folk. The farmers, the hunters and the soldiers. If we take Foltest for instance we first find out about him from the miners that are rebelling and only later from the Lords and King himself. Another series that does it well is the Wheel of Time. Mixing all levels of that society in its stories from start to finish. Game of Thrones starts with the men of the Night’s Watch not the Starks and large parts of the protagonists’ storylines involve how they survive when along ordinary people. I don’t think the series would be anywhere as compelling if it just looked at the noble houses conflicts.

The tier system seems to encourage Gaming from Below at early tiers and switch to Gaming from Above at higher tiers but it isn’t spelled out explicitly - just the scale of the challenges. However it doesn’t have to be this way. Is a princess more precious or important than a farmer’s daughter when it comes to preventing calamity? Pathos and engagement doesn’t require scale - in fact sometimes the greater the scale the less humanity we can identify with (see the Avengers series).

Give me real identifiable people first. Show me where they live and how they live. Then, and only then show me the folks that rule over them. I’ve got no problem with Kings or great lords as quest givers, but I need to see what that throne is built upon for it to mean anything to me in the context of a fantasy game.

As players, what do you prefer? Dealing with the Open Lord of Waterdeep, Laerl Silverhand herself in the Palace of Waterdeep’s or dealing with a low ranking Lords Alliance agent like Jalester Silvermane in the Yawning Portal? Or does none of this make a difference. I’m interested in people’s thoughts.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Given the virtually demigod status of most PCs in modern WotC D&D at even middling levels, and the continuing trend of PCs being so special as to practically be considered a different order of being from the folk they supposedly sprang from, I have a hard time seeing them as anything but "gaming from above".

Of course, other games handled this differently, but I think its a real concern regardless of the adventure, as the PCs themselves are the "great figures" around which history turns. No amount of hanging out with the peasantry changes that.
 


TheSword

Legend
Given the virtually demigod status of most PCs in modern WotC D&D at even middling levels, and the continuing trend of PCs being so special as to practically be considered a different order of being from the folk they supposedly sprang from, I have a hard time seeing them as anything but "gaming from above".

Of course, other games handled this differently, but I think its a real concern regardless of the adventure, as the PCs themselves are the "great figures" around which history turns. No amount of hanging out with the peasantry changes that.
I don’t think this is a question about physical power but rather about status. It’s also less about the PCs actions and how they live. That will be in the players hands. The nature of adventurers is that they are often itinerant for a large part of game time.

My question is how do you ground these PCs in the world? Who gives the quests? As a DM who do you focus the attention of the PCs on. Is it with the kings and rulers or is it with commoners. Is it the lord of the keep or is it with the kennelmaster or blacksmith.

Or if there are no distinction between elites in your games and everyone is classless - kicking down doors and taking skulls - then it’s probably not a relevant topic.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I don’t think this is a question about physical power but rather about status. It’s also less about the PCs actions and how they live. That will be in the players hands. The nature of adventurers is that they are often itinerant for a large part of game time.

My question is how do you ground these PCs in the world? Who gives the quests? As a DM who do you focus the attention of the PCs on. Is it with the kings and rulers or is it with commoners. Is it the lord of the keep or is it with the kennelmaster or blacksmith.

Or if there are no distinction between elites in your games and everyone is classless - kicking down doors and taking skulls - then it’s probably not a relevant topic.
Depends on who they choose to interact with. I run a sandbox,, so the PCs decide what they want to focus on. Quests tend to come from people who have money to spend hiring PCs. Shopkeepers and traveling merchants have stuff the PCs want. Working folks can certainly ask for the PCs help, but I don't make any assumption that PCs are wandering heroes looking for wrongs to right, so generally a quest-giver needs something to offer.
 

TheSword

Legend
Depends on who they choose to interact with. I run a sandbox,, so the PCs decide what they want to focus on. Quests tend to come from people who have money to spend hiring PCs. Shopkeepers and traveling merchants have stuff the PCs want. Working folks can certainly ask for the PCs help, but I don't make any assumption that PCs are wandering heroes looking for wrongs to right, so generally a quest-giver needs something to offer.
That makes sense. If you’re only responding to the PCs actions rather than promoting them then it won’t really be relevant to you.
 



Reynard

Legend
Given the virtually demigod status of most PCs in modern WotC D&D at even middling levels, and the continuing trend of PCs being so special as to practically be considered a different order of being from the folk they supposedly sprang from, I have a hard time seeing them as anything but "gaming from above".
I don't think this is true. Even if we consider modern D&D characters as superheroes (and I understand the tendency to do so) superheroes still deal with the "common folk" all day. Capability or power level isn't necessarily tied to position in society.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I don't think this is true. Even if we consider modern D&D characters as superheroes (and I understand the tendency to do so) superheroes still deal with the "common folk" all day. Capability or power level isn't necessarily tied to position in society.
I disagree. From what I see it is, far more often than not. Superior ability, or just superior resources, is rewarded by all levels of society.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top