Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A few notes from the CoL Development Bible

A few notes from the City of Lives "development bible" I'm working on, to help me and potential collaborators get on the same page regarding the setting and game:

Sitting in the center of an infinite span of worlds, the player characters of the City of Lives must forward their family’s plots and avoid losing themselves in the byzantine maze of court politics and class warfare.
The City of Lives is a complete role-playing game. It consists of a campaign world, detailing the titular City of Lives, as well as many of the bizarre Realms that surround it; and it is a complete ruleset, a version of the Fate system adapted to the specific requirements of the City’s magical and political landscape. It is a high fantasy world, but one more suited to political maneuvering and espionage than grand quests and Good vs. Evil. The City of Lives removes itself from the traditional Tolkienian influences and pseudo-Medieval culture, instead basing itself in 18th century Europe and taking inspiration from the work of Neil Gaiman, Monte Cook, and Bill Willingham, among others.

The City of Lives is not a pickup game -- it is best suited to long, complex campaigns exploring every segment and theme of the City.

The City of Lives aims itself at the sophisticated gamer that has tired of the simple dungeoncrawl and Tolkien knock-off worlds exemplified by D&D. They are the opposite of the “old school” gamer experiencing a resurgence -- they want a simple, unified system that values storytelling over realism or artificial challenge. They want to immerse themselves in an original world, and explore themes instead of simple adventures. They are White Wolf’s audience. They are Planescape’s audience. They are indie gamers.

Game Principles
The City of Lives supports a variety of play styles, but always holds a few fundamental principles. First and foremost is the notion of metaphors-made-real: the farmers in the City are not just close to the earth, they grow plants on their skin; a fiery-tempered magician literally bursts into flame when upset; a sneak-thief sinks into the background in more ways than one. The laws of physics in the City take a second place to the laws of metaphor and story.
Second is the idea of shades-of-gray morality. This is a city of intrigue and conflicting attitudes, not a place of Good vs. Evil. Even the bad guys have a point, and the protagonists may well not be heroes.
Third is the principle of class warfare. The class structure is very proscribed in the City, each class different from the others not only in status, but in culture and even physical form. The struggles between (and within) classes for power and recognition drive a City of Lives campaign.
Fourth is a sense of wonder. The Realms are a never-ending variety of worlds, each more amazing than the last. Exploring them should always take the players by surprise. On the other hand, the characters, jaded by lifetimes spent in a world where this kind of travel is no more unusual than traveling from state to state for us. This juggling of wonder and skepticism is key to the mood of a City of Lives campaign.

A City of Lives campaign can be about exploration, or war, or epic quests – but it really lends itself to politics and intrigue. The default campaign assumptions place the PCs as working for one of the noble Houses that run the City, spying, socializing and sabotaging to promote their House’s interests.