Author Topic: Building a Shared Mental Model of the World  (Read 4624 times)

dubsartur

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Building a Shared Mental Model of the World
« on: December 24, 2022, 03:45:29 PM »
Over on Gaming Ballistic, Doug Cole raises an Exilianish question:

Quote
while I own several of the books (at least two, and only in hard-copy), and have loved reading through them, I’ve always found Transhuman Space daunting as a potential campaign setting. ... I think what puts me off of such a deep, rich setting – and isn’t that a hell of a thing to write – is that both the GM and the players either have to know, or will want to know, more about the background than they can easily absorb.

When approaching a world or a map like Transhuman Space, where sure, it’s the same geography, but social, political, and economic assumptions must all be modified or jettisoned, it makes for a bit of an urge to say “yeah, give me my broadsword and let’s go kill orcs.”

Many “deep” fantasy worlds run into this problem too. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it, and am in the process of being guilty of it for Dragon Heresy. But the question remains: if setting is important, and if background matters, how, without assigning a hundred pages of homework, do you bring everyone along so that the setting informs relationships and choices, and the play of the game?

In short, how do you keep from drowning?

Players want a working model of how a setting works, and they rarely want to do a lot of work learning about the setting and its tech and laws and customs.  This century D&D settings often acquire material culture from the 1870s like beds with steel springs or prisons with walls of cast iron bars because the 19th century is now "old-timey" (I just saw one geek with a YouTube channel whining that it would not be overpowered for characters to have lever-action carbines in a D&D setting).
« Last Edit: December 24, 2022, 03:51:05 PM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: Building a Shared Mental Model of the World
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2022, 12:13:46 AM »
I think the answer is that setting matters insofar as one makes it matter, and that's usually about mechanising it rather than making it an Immersion Quiz. So in my Savage Worlds games one of the commonest rolls taken is the Common Knowledge skill, I don't expect my players to know or remember details and will supply what I think their characters would remember. But the setting bits that most matter are made to matter in particular moments: like the fact that this is a setting that works much more by early medieval style social bonds than most D&D settings is brought home by the players not always having an inn to stay at and instead having to work out who to stay with and why as part of the social game itself.

I don't actually think things like tech level come up much: I do tell people "that hasn't been invented yet and you don't have the stuff to make one" on occasion but I've never had a problem with that?

One thing I also stress in the intros to the two unfinished Kavis setting books is that the world is flexible and fractal, I don't think any campaign setting book should be much more than an ideas toolbox in the hands of a good GM (there's a big place for more closely defined adventures ofc, but those have of necessity to be more defined and restricted in their parameters).

I'll read more on Transhuman Space and try and formulate thoughts on that more specifically.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

dubsartur

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Re: Building a Shared Mental Model of the World
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2022, 05:48:31 PM »
I disagree!  For example, if players assume that the town watch are paid professionals not their neighbours, or assume that servants sleep in individual rooms rather than around the hall, that can interfere with their heist plan.  Likewise if they underestimate the ubiquitous surveillance in a setting such as Transhuman Space.

Many people have their culture's way of doing things so internalized that they will never think to ask "who are the watch?" (or "do responses to crime here try to rigorously prove who did it, or just find someone to punish / repay the damage?")  A good GM can enlighten them through interaction with NPCs that as outsiders they have no claim to protection under the local laws (or whatever).
« Last Edit: December 29, 2022, 05:53:39 PM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: Building a Shared Mental Model of the World
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2022, 07:43:40 PM »
I think a good GM should be in conversation with the players about what their characters know: I as a GM know when my players are planning things socially or on operations, and I'm there having that conversation with them. That's what things like the Common Knowledge skill are for, and I never feel inhibited about just sometimes telling players things they'd know given their character backgrounds whether or not there's an NPC present (I'll probably use an NPC for it if they are there, but they don't need to be).

Obviously that takes more work for the GM and requirest that they know these things, but then again if the GM doesn't know those things, then they won't be in their sub-version of the setting and that's also fine.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...