Thursday, September 9, 2010

[ctd] Setting - What do characters do?

OK, the long-awaited post on what characters do.

Lemme tell you, I've been dreading this post. Not because I don't have any ideas, because I do. But because...hell, I don't know. Because I hate explaining things like this. I hate telling people what my stories are about; I'd rather you read the story. "Mistress" isn't really about dogs, it's about loyalty and submission, but when I tell people about it, I usually say it's about dogs. Argh.

Anyway, curse the darkness is a game about what's important. It's about survival and about freedom, and which you choose when you're really up against the wall. It's about a world where stupidity really does get punished...but how that reveals that all of us have our blind spots. It's about memory and which details of people stick with us.

So how does that translate into the game itself? Well, let's consider the setting. The world is largely fucked. Some years ago, He showed up and killed off many of the most powerful people in the world. World leaders, military leaders (both of official and unofficial armies), CEOs, religious leaders, drug kingpins and anyone else who had built a cult of personality and was using it to exploit, all vanished or died openly. Monuments to ideology were destroyed, starting with obvious stuff like the Dome of the Rock and St. Peter's because it's obvious. He completely annihilated Jerusalem, and used that as the staging ground to reveal Himself.

Then He made the Riyadh Address, in which He outlined the rules for the world. No more religion, no more ideology. The whole of the law, basically, was that you did what you could and you took care of the rest of the world - one race, one planet, one nation. Except that He backed that up with "or else you're dead," and He only ever delivered the Address in English. It was translated and retranslated, and yes, it spread across the world, but it wasn't always delivered in pure form. It hasn't reached everywhere, and it's not enforced evenly everywhere.

Overt displays of religiosity or fervent belief in a...well, belief system, spiritual, economical or otherwise are a good way to get killed. Covert displays aren't safe, either, but they're safer for longer. Entrenched belief dies hard...but it's dying, because He's been killing off the people who are willing to fight for it. Parents take a big risk by teaching their kids to pray, because as any parent knows, kids don't know when to keep their mouths shut. You instruct your kids to believe in God and they say something at the wrong time, He might hear, and if He hears, They aren't far behind.

But quite beyond that, the world is in shambles. In some places, basic amenities like water and power still happen, because people are willing to go to work and produce them. But officially, money is verboten, and that means you don't get paid for your work. You're supposed to have everything provided for you by providing for everyone - if people were involved in production before, they still should be, only now they're doing it because that's how they keep their part of the world running. And in some places, that might happen, at least for a while.

But remember Office Space, and the discussion about the hypothetical "what would you do with a million dollars" question? Michael's response is that it's a bullshit question, because if everyone went by that there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean up shit if they had a million dollars. And something similar happened here - the people on the other side of the world are out of sight, out of mind. There's some import/export because you can Open a gateway (Openers aren't uncommon, but no one knows how common they really are) and go anywhere, but people are afraid to cross the Between. Communities grow insular because it's hard to sustain a larger community (every person not working is a burden on those who do), but people are afraid to set up any kind of working system for fear He'll take issue with it. As a result, people live hand to mouth, people steal, people kill and prey on each other.

Now, why doesn't He prevent it? He does...if He knows about it. But despite what people believe, He can't see everything at once. Life in this world is a constant fear that He's going to open a shadow at exactly the wrong moment, peak in and hear you say "thank God" or something out of reflex and send Them to kill you. Life in this world is fighting for food, shelter and other basic necessities, and then worrying once you get them that He'll see and figure you're hoarding. Mortality rate is high, and it's small victories that matter.

But I want PCs to be outside that, in some ways. There's got to be some resistance, people that figure that if they can learn enough about the Between, about Them, Him and what's happened to the world, maybe they can change it. I want the PCs to have some hope, and to have some reason to be brave. So a game of cure the darkness might involve hooking up with other resistors, transporting data, trying to get people established and communities running smoothly (so there's a base of operations), figuring out how the Between works and under what circumstances the Symbol works and doesn't, and other such dangerous work.

Need some suggestions, here. Brainstorm with me, folks. Oh, and you can read the existing curse the darkness posts by clicking here and working backwards.