February 06, 2022

Aliaterra

I’ve been thinking for a while about a kind of role playing game that I’d like to play in. It has certain thematic elements and mechanics, with wide open opportunities for story and play. What I really wanted was something with a modern feel, but included fantasy elements. My world should easily allow stories to take place in a modern setting, but also a fantasy one, and support both magic and technology.

Of course, a game like this that immediately comes to mind for me is Shadowrun. Shadowrun has always struck me as the most interesting blend of the cyberpunk future and the arcane in a mainstream RPG. As much as I like the world of Shadowrun, I think it has a handful of limitations that I would not want for my own world. For one, the players are strongly encouraged to be shadowrunners. This means that most stories are going to fall in the domain of “a group of players working together to achieve some kind of anti/corporate goal, who get into trouble along the way”. That’s fine, but it leaves a lot on the table. Again, you could play something else, but the source material isn’t really helpful for this.

Also, Shadowrun takes place entirely in the future and blends the magic into the world in a very specific way. To clarify, the Shadowrun worls has cyberjacks and riggers and guns that track targets and are bio-encoded to work for only one user. That’s a cool cyberpunk future, but it’s not the contemporary feel I want out of my game. Shadowrun also made a decision to balance magic against technology in a way that I find unappealing. Using the Shadowrun system (at least, the edition I’m familiar with) it’s not possible to have both magical ability and cybernetic ability. As a general example, it would be hard in Shadowrun to use magic to augment your ability to use technology.

I am reminded of Rifts, too, which is a system/world that I am only truly familiar with by name. From what I know though, there are a couple of things about the game that possibly make it undesirable. For one, the rifts seems to be a game mcguffin, which I don’t like. This is to say, it seems like creating rifts can often be a standard PC power. The rifts also seem to open to any wild world, whereas I’d prefer to limit mine to contemporary here-and-now combined with a fantasy/magic world only. I don’t want the opportunity for players to open rifts (however rare that might be) to alternate reality worlds or worlds with hovercars.

Some may say that I could always simply restrict Rifts to behave like I want, but I think what I would prefer to do is set up a world where “rifts” behave exactly like I want and connect my two planes of space in a way that results in intersting interactions that are part of what the players can explore. I can use a Rifts-like model to connect the contemporary to fantasy in a similar way to how Shadowrun connects the cyberpunk future to fantasy.

I have a handful of ideas of how to both open and restrict the world. The last two nights I’ve fallen asleep thinking about this world and have come up with a handful of really neat backgrounds and adventure hooks that players could play. As an example and to give a bit of background, gateways (to which I hope to give a “fancier” name) only form in particular places in this world. There are many theories as to why they form and why some are larger than others. There are a few known very large gateways, but there are also smaller ones that open in places that people may not know about. This adventure hook involves one such gateway, which is found on the contemporary side by an opportunist. He offers an experience on the black market where a party of wealthy game hunters can go after a new kind of game - one that uses magic to evade the hunter. The players could be that party of hunters. The players could be the commando group that is hired to rescue one of the hunters when he doesn’t come back. The players could be the group of law enforcement that is sent to shut down this black market operation. The players could be part of a village on the fantasy side, lying in wait for the next group of hunters to come through so that can defend their hunting ground. And that’s just one hook; you can see how wide this world could be.

I’m going to start writing down some notes. I might flesh out the whole thing and see if it’s playable. Maybe I can get a playtest group together to start exploring the world and testing the system. The system will need to tidily capture both the “mundane” world with its computers and guns, and the fantasy world with magic and monsters. I want it to play smoothly as a storytelling system, but still have enough crunch to interest players who thrive on the leveling. This balance always seems challenging in my mind. I could adopt an existing system, but if I intend to publish, that could be problematic. We’ll see.

The name of this setting is Aliaterra, from the latin for “another country”.

I hope to start spinning out small notes here and there of ideas for the world, and then ultimately knit the whole thing together into a cohessive, playable unit. Maybe I can even get some people to play in the world with me.