old post: stretching the limits of osr, civ game shit

old post i'm moving over from my wordpress blog to think about some more. especially thinking about xp as an infinite state machine for drive/desire, and mumford's analysis of the megamachine and human monuments

fuck it gonna write new stuff before the section break

let xp correspond to surplus labor (total labor output - labor necessary to reproduce society)

surplus labor must be redirected into society to become necessary labor or something idk fuck tired waiting for my computer to be fixed

I'm going to start posting updates about a potential collaborative game about sustaining a village! Let me link the initial post I made on The Pit that got me down this route. So, this is really all about throwing the principles of old-school roleplaying games outside of their original context: dungeoneering and hexcrawling.

Game Inspirations

The Ultraviolet Grasslands by Luka does this very well. The game revolves around a pointcrawl where the players are the heroes of a caravan, traversing the Ultraviolet Grasslands to trade goods, discover new things, and so on. It includes a list of basically different game modes, where the party can gain XP in different ways: exploration, profits, diplomacy, raiding, etc. This is cool!

My only gripe is that all of these "engines" so to speak are placed on top of this system. I think it would be cool if the game were made to encapsulate one drive in particular, like how DND is made to encapsulate the drive to accumulate loot. Also, the game is pretty abstracted to encompass both all of these different XP engines and to be compatible with 'main' rulesets. Nothing wrong with this! But for my purposes, I want to make something stand-alone. My project will not necessarily be compatible with old DND modules or other old-school games. The objective is to apply those principles of gameplay in new contexts to see how far we can take them.

Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter is a system-neutral minigame where the players manage a scarce village throughout the worst winter in known history. The players keep track of Food, Fuel, and Medicine. Each player keeps track of a number of villagers in a house. Villagers who do not eat become Hungry. Hungry villagers who do not eat die. Sick villagers can last for two days without Medicine before they also die. I dig this a lot! But it's a minigame meant to be attached to a larger campaign, and the challenge is maintaining the village throughout the winter instead of over the long-term. It also still features usual DND characters as the players' avatars.

Although Cold Winter is a good start, it's too attached to DND for it to fulfill the experiment I'm going for. I want to take the principles of old-school roleplaying and throw them out into a totally different context. I don't want DND-esque adventuring and looting to be the gameplay loop. It's going to revolve around the sedentary village.


What might the players be? Do they collaborate as elders of the village? Are they the heads of different settlements bound together by common tradition and maybe government (like, the Greek city states or the seven hills of Rome or the Iroquois Federation)? Are they representative of families or clans who make up a whole village? There could be some fun marriage drama!

In any case, it might be more beneficial to think about the core gameplay loop. "Don't die" is a good place to start. Avoid death and sustain yourself: that's the good old pleasure principle. But, it's not satisfying in itself. In Freudian terms, we need to exceed the pleasure principle and risk death to achieve more fulfillment: the death drive. We need a contrast between risk/reward and safety/no-reward to make either option appealing. This is decision-making.

As an another example of why the pleasure principle (avoid dying) is not enough, think about DND. The implicit assumption is that the characters themselves are playing a game: loot enough treasure to avoid the poverty of shitty serfdom or early workshop capitalism or whatever else. Broadly speaking, everyone who is not an adventurer has chosen safety over the elusive reward. They are not driven to risk death for surplus enjoyment that they would not have otherwise.

So, I like the players acting as village elders or noble families, whether they rule over their own village or not. Leaders can choose to play safe, or to risk destruction for something more. The players will act as leaders who head the settlement bureaucracy (if such an advanced structure exists). They or their ancestors convinced the settlement to let them guard the agricultural surplus. They control who makes food, who gets food, and what is done with the labor/time not required for agriculture.

Leaders give gifts to other leaders as part of a dick-measuring contest, to demonstrate who has control over the most people and resources.

Leaders organize their subjects to war. Maybe they can't return a gift with something of equal or greater value, so they decide to take the other to war instead. Maybe they have given a gift and received nothing in return, so they decide to take it back with interest.

The reason why I am hesitant to have players lead individual villages is because of the potential that the game would turn competitive rather than collaborative. It might be better that the players act as villages elders/nobles, and should they die they pass on their title to an heir.


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