Whenever I build a campaign setting the first thing I do is figure out what assumptions I’ll be using. I typically assume one “major” assumption (sometimes two) that forms the backbone of the campaign and then several linking assumptions that help bring it together. Since I am using real-world religions I’ll try to be as careful as I can, but honestly. It’s a game. Let’s move on.
So here we go – the assumptions:
Major Assumption: Judeo-Christian Mythology is Correct/Real
So what’s that mean exactly? Let’s unpack it a bit. I’m talking genesis and creating the world, letting there be light. The whole she-bang. But there is so many interesting things about the various Abrahamic religions that lend themselves well to playing in a contemporary/urban fantasy/secret magic/horror game. I assumed that those who had faith could perform miracles (GURPS Powers: Divine Favor) as well. That magic was the echoes of the act of creation (more on that later). That God was a benevolent being who loved His children. I also had to fiat some things (evolution playing nice with divine scale was the biggest).
One thing I did take the time to think about was how God could allow terrible things to happen and be omniscient. Here is an outtake from the setting bible that sums it up pretty well:
What’s The Plan?
Astute readers will note that the Chronicles version of God is not an absolutely perfect being! He is powerful and intelligent enough to simply leave it at as “practically” omnipotent and omniscient. So why the change? Because it makes sense for the setting! In Chronicles, the existence of primary evil is as real as primary good. The setting was based as much on Judeo-Christian writings as it was other philosophical and religious texts. One important decision when designing the underpinnings of the universe was derived from the following quote:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
These are important questions to ask and the only way to make things take on a logical sense was to make the Creator – in his way – flawed. To answer Epicurus: Can God prevent evil – yes, but not all evil and in doing so can make those he helps complacent.
Major Assumption: It’s All Connected, It’s All Real
All of it. Odin, Zeus, Buddha, you name it. But how to make that jive with the fact of the monotheistic Christian God? I played with it a bit – small-g gods are manifestations of belief (or in other cases belief changing beings who already exists to conform to their worshippers ideals). Some beings are even fallen angels who became something else thanks to this belief, going so far as to forgetting how they came about. This is how I can have stories about Zeus in the same campaign setting as Gabriel the Archangel an it still makes sense. This sort of gamist syncretism allows me maximum versatility when pulling from real world supernatural sources while keeping campaign cohesion at it’s maximum.
Minor Assumption: Make Supernatural Powers Feel Supernatural
For some of the abilities I planned to use this was going to be easy (Divine Favor), others, a bit harder (Psionic Powers). In the end, I kept my list of powers fairly small: divine favor, ritual path magic, psychic powers, and “black” or weird-tech (think TL6 occult Nazi scientists or Mary Shelley). By keeping the list of types small I could alter the abilities to make them feel like paranormal powers as viewed in many TV shows or movies. This would aid suspension of disbelief and help to make a richer campaign tapestry.
Minor Assumption: The PCs are Chosen/Special
The PCs are special. Yes, most PCs are, but I decided to make this a meta-construct as well as an in-setting assumption. For better or worse the PCs were chosen by the universe/God/etc. to do what they do. (This assumes heroic PCs which everyone is currently playing; at least most of them.) This easily applies to non-heroic characters to – darker powers choose them to act as their proxies in the endless conflict of Good vs. Evil. The way I set this up in the game world is by using Impulse/Villainous Points as a basis for how important a PC was. I renamed Impulse Points as “Destiny Points” – how much you could weave the narrative/story to your character. Villainous Points became “Fate Points” – how much you were forced into a specific narrative.
Minor Assumption: What You Do Matters
In some campaigns it doesn’t really matter what your character’s actions are or where you might go in the afterlife. I decided this was not going to be the case in this campaign. Your sins would eventually be laid bare and you would go up or down depending on them. So I decided to record all PCs actions using a system I created just for this in Pyramid (How Very Tempting), though I did expand on it and give it real effects. For example, PCs who act virtuously get a reaction bonus against angels or other heavenly beings, while enjoying protection from unholy powers and demons. The reverse is also true. PCs who act without virtue suffer reaction penalties and may be especially susceptible to certain unholy powers or possession.
Picking Over the Bones
So here’s the first installment as promised. The next one is going to talk about the history of the campaign setting (as much as I can fit into a small post considering how large the actual file is) and after that I’ll get into the mechanics of the setting a bit more. As I said in the intro post – there is a lot and condensing it down is kind of difficult.