Looking for feedback on my game's setting (The Dark Roads)

edited November 2013 in Story Games
So with Fear The Living done and over with (it's going into final editing come the beginning of 2014, and will be going into PDF form shortly thereafter) I've turned my attention to any idea for a setting (with thus far only tentative mechanics associated with it). I wanted to get some feedback from the fine guys, gals, and non-cisgendered individuals that make up Story games on these questions:

Is it interesting?
Does it sound like fun?
Any potential landmines content wise that I should watch out for?
Would you be at all interested in checking a game with this premise/setting out?

For those with limited attention spans, a succinct version of this overly long description is located at the bottom of the page in bold

Imagine that the story of creation, as imagined in the Torah, Koran, and Bible is more or less accurate, but that things went down just a bit differently after Iblis and the rest of the rebellious Jinn decided "fuck this, we're not bowing to a bunch of dirt clods". These newly minted demons declared war on Eden, and God was nowhere to be found. So his angels (who, in this setting are the slaves and servants of god, incapable of questioning their directives or rebelling-a key point in Islamic theology, as Satan is considered to be a Jinn) do the only thing that they can do: they fortify the garden, building ramparts and spires, battlements, and narrow, winding streets all the way to the front door of Hell. Incapable of stopping, even if they wanted to (their anointed task after all, being to protect the garden at all costs), they pave over paradise and force humanity's ancestors out "for their own safety"; destroying Eden in order to save it.

At first, perpetual war is the rule between the legions of heaven and hell, with humanity and those Jinn who had no part in the rebellion struggling to survive in the crossfire and making their homes in those fortresses and holdfasts abandoned by both heaven and hell. As the centuries wind on, the numbers of angels and demons both are whittled down by the constant attrition, and vast swaths of the world-citadel are reclaimed by nature, lakes forming in marching fields and whole forests protruding from the sides of great alabaster fortresses. Humanity has adapted, separating blocks of the Citadel from the surrounding Wilderness to form small city states, leagues, and sultanates akin to the city states of Renaissance Italy or the patchwork of kingdoms that made up the Ottoman Empire.

In the lonely places of the Citadel, savage beasts and monsters out of the strangest medieval bestiaries roam (as there was never any flood to scourge them from the earth) and demons haunt the crossroads of the alabaster paths, some mustering their strength for another great war and others wandering the earth, seeking those whom they may tempt into offering up their souls for worldly gain or magical power. Angels, great seraphim with 7 wings and wheels of fire about their bestial faces pursue inscrutable purposes with utmost conviction, and without any hint of mercy. Those who oppose their aims are crushed in the name of a God who has long since disappeared.

Connecting these lonely settlements are the great roman-style roads that the Angels and loyal Jinn built so long ago, still shining and strong (if often overgrown with foliage). Trade and communication between city states relies on great caravans of armored wagons, captained by those rich enough to maintain them, crazy enough to brave the dangers of the Dark Roads, and (at least theoretically) independent of the byzantine politics that cover interaction between the city-states.

These wagons, akin to the Hussite war-wagons of the 16th century go by the name Trinituri or Thunderers; and the player's characters are their crew: tightly bound by shared loyalty, the distant hope of profit and stability, and enough debt and dysfunction to make one of the faithful turn to drink. The Thunderers serve as a lifeline between the great city states, facilitating trade, diplomacy, travel, and more often than not smuggling and intrigue. Characters are a dysfunctional "pseudo-family" of sorts that try to eke out a profit, live to see another day, and keep free of the strangling ties of debt and obligation that bind so many of the Drogs (peasant-folk who rent a floor of one of the great fortress cities) to their land.

Or to put it more succinctly "It's Firefly, except in a decaying world-city with a vaguely Ottoman empireesque culture, with 16th century technology. Instead of clunky spaceships, crews ride around in big-ole armored wagons, perhaps decorated with protective sigils to ward against Jinn, Demons, and Angels. Instead of space, these wagons traverse the vast overgrown roads between reclaimed city-space, enabling the contact, trade, smuggling, and backstabbery that keeps human civilization alive."


Let me know what you think, and feel free to link to your personal projects in your replies-I'm nothing if not willing to take a look at other people's ideas/work/random musings in exchange.


Thank you in advance, and hope to hear from you soon,


-John

Comments

  • Check out something called " Beyond the Farthest Star" by Edgar Rice Burroughs (or something like that - I only read it once years ago). Similar concept - might be able to mine it for ideas. Also the old "Wagon Train" TV series.

    I'm not clear on the threats faced between the cities. What good is armour if you run into an Angel or Djinn? I thoroughly get all the "threats from within" stuff in wagon train settings. ("Curse of the Demons" by John Jakes - again I think the title's right it's been a while - the third Brak the Barbarian book is another good reference.) The threat level seems to be all or nothing. I presume your reference to "savage beasts and monsters" is meant to cover this.

    It isn't quite Firefly. In your world they'd be running an independent wagon ducking off and on the roads dodging the threats - which I suspect would be suicide.

    What I think would help is some hint of "great events" the players could get involved in and influence. Games of survival where nothing changes pall after a while. Firefly was cancelled too early but my personal theory is that Mal Reynolds was eventually - unwillingly - going to be forced into leading the rebellion against the Inner Worlds. If it wasn't cancelled I reckon Whedon had a series by series arc planned out with Serenity being one step along the way. Where is your world headed? Again the ERB book I reference above may give some inspiration - though it's a bit quick in that one (earthman arrives, throws down the overlords, frees mankind all in one book).

    Personally I'd set up the world, get it all running nicely and then, suddenly, violently/mysteriously take out/obliterate one of the key cities, throwing the whole world into turmoil. Players have to find out what happened and combat it to avoid mankind's bastions falling on by one into the Dark.

    INTERESTING? Yes
    FUN? Lots of potential provided PCs are Knights rather than Pawns.
    LANDMINES? Offending people by using religious inconery too overtly. Not allowing PCs to progress out of the humdrum. You need to avoid the old Traveller trap of becoming traders rather than adventurers.
    CHECK IT OUT? Wouldn't buy or run it - though I could easily write adventures for it* - but would happily play in it.

    * my first adventure would be a blatant rip off of the Brak the Barbarian book I mentioned. I've done that before for a fascinating D&D mini-campaign.
  • Thank you so much for your feedback, I really appreciate it. On the subject of the threats faced by your average caravan on the road I was thinking that besides the odd Jinn or Angel there'd be regular beasts, monsters (drawn of course from medieval and Renaissance bestiaries...hope you brought a virgin to deal with the unicorns!), rival caravans who might resort to sabotage or outright treachery in order to snuff out competition, and human bandits who make quick forays onto the roads to pillage poorly-defended caravans before retreating to their squatter's dwellings in the depths of the dark woods. The armor that you typically see on a wagon isn't really for the Jinn and Angels (although most angels do manifest coporeally in the source material I'm going off of, and Jinn are material beings as well, albeit ones that can go invisible at well) it's mostly as a defense against bandits, potentially treacherous caravans, and the odd monster.

    That being said, if your route to your next job leads you straight through Jinni territory, you might thank God for a few inches of armor plating when the retort of muskets echoes through the air and bullets start flying from nowhere (nothing stops Jinn from using mortal weapons after all). As an addendum to that, while steel or iron plating won't stop an angel's flaming sword, it most definitely won't turn into a flaming deathtrap the way a wooden wall or canvas frame would. Hell, it might even buy you enough time for your mystic to try and banish the damn thing, or failing that ride away as quickly as possible.

    The primary defense I see caravans having against spiritual attackers is either hiring on someone with some skill at magic (magicians of any sort are distrusted, but folks with a mastery of folk magic, banishing spirits, and unhexing bewitched individuals; Cunning Folk in other words are in high demand), or else carving or drawing protective sigils onto the walls of the caravan to ward off spirits. Some few caravans forgo that protection, out of the idea that such superstitions indebt one to the wicked Jinn, but those puritanical caravans seldom last too long.

    I'd like to stay away from an over-arching "metaplot" or canon situation for this game. I see a good portion of play prep using the same sort of approach used in apocalypse world and it's cousins: the GM fills in a few major locations (in the case of this game, major city-states nearby, way-stations, and maybe a couple of Jinni settlements, or areas left to monsters and demons) and then asks provocative questions both before and during play to fill in the details in a way that's relevant to each character. That way the GM is able to establish the game's flavor, but makes sure that the players have a personal stake in the setting.

    As for the worries about the travel, trade, and smuggling getting pedestrian that's one of my big concerns too. I think following the source material helps here. Most of the Firefly episodes I've watched have a similar narrative structure:

    1. A job comes in, or is sought out, one way or another.
    2. Things go well...so far.
    3. Complications arise, and things quickly escalate.
    4. Cue interpersonal drama, action, a touch of being Big Damn Heroes, some betrayal, and lots of difficult choices.
    5. Profit? and reflect on how the crew, and their relationships with each other have been changed by the events of the (unusually eventful) job, and the hard choices they were forced to make.

    Now that might seem like a snarky summary, but it makes for compelling television and that's what I aim to emulate with this game. I do agree with you that for a long-term campaign a recurring narrative structure like that might get a little bit boring. To combat that, I'm thinking of providing mechanical and GM advice support for making the repercussions of each job the crew takes "snowball" with one another, until one way or another the PCs can't help but be movers and shakers in the setting, even if it's against their will.

    I also want to provide levels of support for everything from being ragged independent smugglers stopping at whatever abandoned building or scuzzy waystation will hold their crew to "respectable" emissaries of an established merchant company. Both have their good points, and both demand certain responsibilities and pose interesting problems for the crew, and that's ultimately what I want to focus on in the game.

    I'm eager for any other feedback you might have, as well as any thoughts anyone else wants to contribute! In the next few days I'll hash out a resolution system and take a swing at character creation so that I can get this off the ground.


  • johnthedm7000,

    I really like the idea and there is great potential!

    There are some similarities with what you've done and my Arabian Nights styled fantasy IN THE SHADOW OF SWORDS that you might want to look at.

    http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Swords-Val-Gunn/dp/0615232698/ref=la_B004IM08BM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385345537&sr=1-1

    Critical Review: The killing of Hiril Altaïr by legendary assassin Ciris Sarn results in his being hunted by the victim's widow. At the heart of the matter are four books whose pages contain knowledge of a conspiracy that may have world-shattering consequences. Gunn's (A Resonance of Shadows; The Fear Beneath) latest novel introduces a fascinating antihero and a strong-willed heroine against a backdrop that blends Arabian mythology and culture with the timeliness of Middle Eastern political complexities. VERDICT Strong storytelling and vivid characters make this a good choice for most fantasy adventure readers.
    -- LIBRARY JOURNAL

    Some selected relevant passages:

    His [Ciris Sarn]mother was a Para; female elemental spirits brutalized by greater Jnoun such as the Jinn, Jann, Marid and Efreet. All such elemental beings were bound to the world. The Jnoun did not possess free will and were forbidden from entering Paradise, they could not escape the bounds of Mir'aj--therefore most were jealous, spiteful and harbored hatred for the mortals who they, on behalf of Ala'i, had originally created.

    ...

    They told him a little of Waed an-Citab, the Books of Promise. This involved the blood of Ala'i, called Azza, used in lamps, among other things, across the lands of Mir'aj for over nine hundred years.

    As the son of the Sultan of Qatana, Nasir was well-versed in the kingdom's stance on the burning of Azza--it kept the Jnoun, evil spirits that dwelt in the unseen realm, from breaching the veil that divided them and Mir'aj.

    These books were a contract between the tribes of Jnoun and the Siwal Sultans.

    ...

    Marin moved onto the road. At a signal from their captain, the riders closed and flanked her. She knelt to study the crumbling stones and sprouting weeds beneath her feet--all that remained of the ancient road.

    ...

    For years the people of this land suffered at the hands of the kayal and now the dark things were no longer just a farmer's problem.

    ...

    Though holding vast sway, Illam was not the only divinity in Mir'aj; there was also Jovah, Himnnariki, or Vijayu.

    ...


    There is a lot on genies (and their fractured relationship with Ala'i) in this novel, along with strong Islamic influences (Illam). As well as travel on dark roads.
  • You might want to check out Peter Brett's The Warded Man for ideas on threats to the caravan in a Djinn heavy world.
  • Excellent ideas for a setting - I like how it's immediately conjures up types of charcters I'd like to play. With the Djinn it reminds me a bit of Outremer by Clash Bowley.
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