View Full Version : [Collaborative setting/premise generation] This really is a lot of fun!

2011-10-29, 08:59 AM
We've just started playing a Dresden Files game, City on the River (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?598858-(Dresden-Files)-City-on-the-River), and so far we've had the first of what's likely to be two sessions spent on city and character generation. Now the second part isn't all that novel, barring that we've tried to do Aspects only while together, it's the first I want to focus on.

Traditionally, coming up with the setting and premise was largely the preserve of the GM. It might be something that happens when they choose some pre-designed setting and whatever elements of that they find most appealing/sold the group on. Or it might be their homebrew setting, whatever. Either way, it's often something pre-supposed before the players are involved. The GM makes the world, the players make the characters.

In DFRPG (and others) it is explicitly assumed that the group will to the setting/premise generation collaboratively. The players are expected to come up with things they want and are as involved as the GM in formulating the lie of the land. Maybe it's because I'm a GM as well as a player, but I found this aspect a lot of fun. It wasn't like playing, I wasn't responsible for a single character but thinking about global things much as I would do were I creating a setting as GM. That meant coming up with elements that were interesting, could provide challenges to the PCs, and made sense in the context of the whole.

Now collaborative works like this can turn into a rather bland "design by committee", and while things were a little tough going at the start, we really got into the flow of things. For anyone interested, here's some of our outputs (you can listen to much of this discussion in the first podcast):

We did our first (turns out one wasn't enough!) City Generation session a couple of nights ago, and it went really well. What we found was that the initial business of overarching Themes and Threats was kind of vague, what really nailed down what was going on for us was determining the layout of the various supernatural and mortal power groups. That really made things come alive for us, and we're going to go back over the first part again in session two (in a week's time).

The lay of the land is thus:

Bristol is a supernatural nexus and transit point, it's where a lot of things come into Britain and is thus of particular importance.
The balance of power and de facto rulers of the city rests with a coven of three hags. They arrived at their present dominance by striking at the original Fae overlord (they were a Summer or Winter Court noble) when he was weak and stealing his power base. They hold the centre and ensure that no other group gets powerful enough to challenge them. They're the reason none of the established groups in the Dresdenverse are in charge here, and why they all have a presence there. They were our own invention and tie quite deeply into a lot of British and European folklore. Individually they are powerful, acting in concert they are nigh-invincible. No one messes with them. They also have a deal with the White Council that the wizards don't touch anything in their city. They run the "flesh trade" in Bristol; prostitution, muscle, humans-for-food, drugs; they're a Theme because they like a nice, balanced, status quo where they are in charge and their operations continue to prosper.
The established vampire group co-operating with the coven is the White Court, specifically House Skavis. We have a White Court PC from a different house who is a constant irritation to them. She isn't sanctioned by them to operate in the city, so they're incessantly working to get her operations shut down and drive her out. We didn't really develop them a huge amount besides that.
There is a Red Court "insurgency" going on, they're buying up property and expanding their population, and are a Threat to the city. They've been digging deep under the city and may have found things that should have stayed buried (like a certain silver Roman coin...).
The Fae are not under either Court here, there are lots of fiefdoms out in the countryside and beyond, but they swear to their own lords and rulers, not to the Queens. The hags displaced the original Lord, and the native Fae were happy to be free of the yoke of the Courts and so went along with the change. Mostly this stems from our dissatisfaction with the idea of the Fae so neatly divided into Seelie, Unseelie and barely mentioned Wyldfae. Instead all of Britain is Wyld, with only agents of Summer and Winter no doubt trying to re-establish control here. The city itself hosts an urban collective of "industrial" Fae, some of whom are dabbling in dangerous and heretical developments with iron. They run an underground railway which also runs into the Nevernever.
As above, the White Council are not active in the city itself by agreement. They have all sorts of holdings and interests in the southwest, Glastonbury Tor, Stonehenge, Avebury and so on that are frankly more important than a mortal city. Our wizard PC is the sole wizard in the city and isn't connected to the White Council (not any more).
The river spirit/goddess Avona resides here, her moods moving back and forth with the tides. There's a manic-depressive giant, Vincent, who once vied with his brother for her affections. He inspired the architect Brunel to build the bridge and the urban Fae treat him like a distant god who has secrets of artifice they wish to learn. He sees them as annoying groupies who won't leave him alone to brood.
There's also a powerful earth spirit who lives under Temple Meads railway station, who is in opposition to Avona and often to the urban Fae too. Still need to define that more, it connects to another of the PCs.
Arcane knowledge and such is centred around a bookshop with a genius loci that ensures it always has a mortal mouthpiece/guardian to act as the broker of information in the city. Most groups see it as in their interests not to mess with the owner since they could get blacklisted. Besides which, killing the owner just results in the loci selecting a new one to replace them. Not that that is much comfort to whomever the current owner is. That said, it does invest them with a load of magic knowledge and a measure of magical power in order to ensure they have the means to protect themselves and remain useful to the supernatural community at large. Though they are by necessity strictly neutral (which also serves the hags agenda).
There's a growing weirdness with spiritual dead-zones around the city. Places where there are no ghosts and they choose to avoid. Bristol is old and so has a lot of ghosts, but the Blitz wrecked the thresholds and safe places for the dead.

I know that isn't to everyone's tastes. There are GMs who enjoy having sole authorship of this stuff, or simply enjoy getting to do this stuff so much they don't like having to wait for everyone to be gathered. There are also players who just want to make their character and get playing, or find more fun having to make something in a pre-defined premise rather flipping back and forth between the two sides of the screen.

But anyway, I had fun doing it. How about other people?