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Necris Omega

RPGs - Best World Tech?

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What is the best (your "favorite") level of technology for an RPG world to feature?

 

Granted, a lot of the time there's going to be some "ancient, lost civilization" with "magic" that could often go blow for blow with anything in Sci-fi, but generally there's a baseline for the broader, "common" world the heroes/villains are trying to save/conquer/destroy. That and magic always plays an interesting role - "I made an unstable exploding powder we could eventually weaponize with decades of development and violent innovation" seems a little less likely to result in a civilization with minigun mounted helicopters when "I waggle my fingers and everything explodes" is a fact of life.

 

Spiderweb's always stuck to a pre-Guns sort of situation, with the big exception being Geneforge, but Geneforge is a setting unto itself. Outside of this, this highest non-magical technology I think the games have shown would be... Exile 3 when Crossbows were a thing.

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I prefer no gun powder and no steam power in my RPG worlds.  To me, they are both so foundational to the industrial type technologies that displace magic.  Genetic engineering (as opposed to low tech breeding) would also be a major no-no.  I also never really got into space travel in a fantasy setting (active space travel).

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I think once you add the "simple", mundane (because it's not hard to make a "what about magic wands?"  argument against this point) point-click death interface that is gunpowder, the whole dynamic changes, and... well, the romance is dead.

 

For me, I just take one look at the Three Musketeers for that argument. Their name literally refers to firearms, and yet how are they almost exclusively portrayed? As swordsmen.

 

And that's not to say that "higher" technology can't make for a good RPG - steampunk and the like, but I think there are very deeply rooted reasons why so many RPGs don't put anything more complicated than a bow on a shelf in the hands of the general populace/heroes. At a certain point, once you make it about technology and less about the character's individual skill, the heroism gets diluted.

 

And yeah, I know you could make the argument "do you have any idea how absurdly hard it was to use ancient firearms!?" but I think the point remains. Most associations with guns are going to be to the modern, while swords n' such aren't so time-period sensitive in concept.

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Basilisk Games in their Eschalon series had some fun things you could do with gun powder barrels especially when you could move them around to set up ambushes for the monsters. Great for weakening or killing the high health boss monsters.

 

The Three Musketeers was early single shot gun powder weapons where they were replacing the crossbow as the long range weapon. Even close fighting with pistols was a single and not that accurate shot weapon so swordsmen were still for fighting.

 

It's a matter of having well defined and balanced weapon rules. It took Jeff several remakes before his games eliminated point blank archers fighting melee weapons. You could make his games science fiction by swapping in energy weapons with the same fighting rules and not change the challenges. :)

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I still prefer the sword and sorcery motif.  

 

Swords and/or lances were still useful to calvary troops until horse calvary became obsolete (sometime between 1870 - 1914), A good 250 years after the setting of the three musketeers or 100 years after Zorro.  Early fire arms just were so inaccurate and took so long to reload that it took a long time for them to displace lower tech weapons.  Early fire arms were not that much harder to use than long bows (more steps for the fire arms, but they tried to teach the archers how to aim, something no one really bothered with teaching for military fire arms until fairly late in the 1800s).

 

I played Top Secret, Gamma World, Star Frontiers and Champions which were essentially a James Bond RPG, a post nuclear war RPG, a SF RPG and a modern superhero RPG respectively and enjoyed all three, but I prefer swords and sorcery.

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Yeah, it's not hard to balance the gameplay around the idea of guns - if my HP is so high I can shrug off a screaming halberd to the face, then why's a tiny supersonic bit of metal anything to be worried about? If you judge "damage" by resulting viscera, a gun would potentially do far less damage than a bow and arrow.

 

I do, however, think that it does start to beggar the question "why are there still swords when we have reliable firearms"? Granted, thinking too hard about trying to stack up historical/real world effectiveness vs. RPG balance is always going to be a slippery slope, but I think limiting the technology to a point where the concepts generally "played" well together helps diffuse that brain itch.

 

And really, for me personally, that's why swords and guns have difficulty really playing nicely together in the same setting. While it can be done in a narrative sense, more often than not, when things take a plot turn, and RPG mechanics are set aside, the guy bringing the sword to a gunfight ends up looking kind of silly to me.

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I'm agnostic about technology level. I think it's quite possible to make a ridiculous setting that doesn't justify guns and swords in the same combat, but that's not necessary. Mass Effect is a perfectly good gun RPG with some sword-like melee weapons. Want to classify it as a shooter with RPG elements? The Shadowrun games, then, which have near-future technology (plus magic), so there are some nuts who use implanted blades or swords but they risk getting mowed down by automatic fire. Or Pillars of Eternity, which has something like an early Renaissance level of technology, complete with the presence of slow-loading firearms that are useful but definitely not (yet) the only weapons worth using.

 

—Alorael, who puts balance considerations and verisimilitude/plot considerations in separate bins. You can have a very consistent world with stupid combat. You can have an engaging and fun game with awful, nonsensical worldbuilding. You can have both very easily. And with good design you have games with neither.

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I kind of like the medieval sword and sorcery feel, that can have a dash of steampunk (but not everywhere steampunk).  Avadon with its tinkermages is a good example,  or Final Fantasy 9 is a good example.  

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I'm happy with either low technology or high technology -- but it's actually the "dash of steampunk" that bugs me the most.  When technology just gets thrown around in a world that doesn't seem realistically able to have produced it, it does make things feel less internally consistent and less immersive for me.

 

An interesting parallel question is: how much magic?  You can have low magic or high magic without impacting the setting as much, simply because magic is expected to pop into existence without a context of how it was developed, whereas technology isn't.  But it certainly affects the feel of things.

 

My preference, I think, is for low magic.  I prefer magic really being treated as something special and unusual, rather than something that everyone and their mother can just toss around.  (And that goes not just for spellcasting, but also for magic items, magic appliances, etc.)

 

Nethergate is really interesting here, because even though the setting is full of magic, it is a low magic setting in many ways for the humans.  The druids don't get magical powers out of nowhere, but have to propitiate and navigate the world of the sidhe skillfully in order to do much of anything; ritual is important, and even a simple blessing is treasured.  (The Romans, of course, are a terrific example of historically-minded low magic with low technology.)

 

Low magic does seem to be a lot more common in books than it is in video games.

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I supposed it can get hard to define (very low magic, medium magic, etc).  Most of the games that I have played I consider towards the low magic end of the spectrum in that the characters are supposed to be special and that your average citizen does not have a magic water heater or magic toaster sitting in their house.  But my cut off for what I consider low magic may be higher than someone else's.  I would consider Avernum, Exile and Avadon all low magic, because while magic is a normal part of the world, most human inhabitants do not practice it and have to rely on a special class of people at a relatively high cost to get benefits from it (healing, etc).

 

With that said, I prefer a scarce magic setting as well.  I do not particularly want magic to be just a substitute for technology.  Although magic getting replaced by technology can make a good basis for a novel (or an underlying theme in a game such as Nethergate).  For that matter the post apocalyptic setting of technology has become "magic" can be interesting as well, although I the few times that I have gamed it, I found it kind of frustrating.

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While I actually like a lot of high-magic, magic-as-technology worlds, it's like shooting for the moon - most games miss and end up suffocating in the cold empty void of space.

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Exile and Avernum I agree are at least ambiguous, but Avadon's an easy high magic call for me.  Pretty much every humanoid encounter has one or more spellcasters; Avadon -- however great its resources -- hands out magical artifacts like candy; and townspeople who give you potions in exchange for killing some rats, or whatever, are a dime a dozen.  Not to mention Kellemderiel, where magic is the national pastime.

 

Lord of the Rings has had an outsized influence on the whole genre, of course, and I think it makes a good measuring pole for the low end of low magic.  There are literally five Wizards and, spoiler alert, they are actually demigods.  Some enchantment-style magic seems to be available to the few remaining High Elves, but it's limited, quite mysterious to the audience, and totally inaccessible to those of mortal (or even moriquendi) blood.  Magical items of any sort are rare, and are pretty much guaranteed to be millenia old.

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Traditional old school fantasy fiction had magic divided into low level and high level reserved for those that spent years learning usually from a teacher or as you put it demigods and gods that had it by divine right. It's mostly recent fantasy writers that started having characters learning at a rapid pace with little training like Raymond Feist. 

 

I could blame it on the generation that grew up on D&D and had poor game masters that let players grow too fast and have it too easy to gain magic items. Early gamers grew up under the view that you went up slowly and you gained items after hard quests that could take weeks of gaming. Even the early TSR books using the gaming system had characters level up too quickly to keep readers interests. Although some characters were explained away as related to gods.

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Another thing about LotR is that it's said that Magic is explicitly in decline there, which... Honestly, that's always been my least favorite setting.

 

Worst of all is when that's how everything ends. - "And then things were mundane and boring forever." Sure, the heroes survived, but then they lived out their lives as unremarkable turnip farmers. And maybe that's what they as characters want, but as the audience... no. A Normacalypse is a not fulfilling or gratifying or happy ending to me. If the magic and wonder of a setting is doomed to rot away, because of or, worse, in spite of the heroes winning than everything just feels hallow and depressed.

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LOTR is too low magic for my gaming tastes (I love the trilogy and the hobbit, could not get into the rest of the books), I want to have wizards and priests, not just a few demigods.

 

As an immature DM playing AD&D it was a challenge to balance the desire for rewards with the slow build-up.  XP point values for monsters were really low and so most advancement came from XP for gold and for magic items and unless you enforced encumbrance and detect magic/identify mechanics (which were not very fun) there was more than enough loot in the published adventures to advance a party pretty quickly even without going to the Monty Hall extremes.

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3 hours ago, Necris Omega said:

"And then things were mundane and boring forever." Sure, the heroes survived, but then they lived out their lives as unremarkable turnip farmers.

This is... not at all what happened?  Aragorn and Eomer become kings, the four hobbits occupy the highest positions of the Shire, Sam and Frodo use enchanted gifts of the Elves to reforest the Shire and endure PTSD respectively, and a whole truckload of said heroes board ships and take the Straight Path to Valinor.  In fact I'm pretty sure there are multiple paragraphs devoted to the fact that everyone in the Shire thought the four hobbits were extremely remarkable.

 

The magic and wonder of Middle-earth doesn't "rot away" -- but it does fade away, into the past -- into the realm of memory and spirit -- as everything eventually must.  Lothlorien provides an explicit metaphor for this.  Tolkien was interested in acknowledging existential loss.  At the same time LOTR was intended to provide a connection to that world of magic and wonder.  The story of Middle-earth fading away is, ironically, the very thing that keeps it fresh and immediate.

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I was being generic to the notion, not explicit towards that exact story. It destroys the path forward for a setting - it generally, irreparably damages the world in which it takes place. If the author/writer/designer has done their job, that's going to matter. I'm going to care and be invested in this setting, and now? That setting's lost a piece of its soul. It's an awful, awful thing to happen to a world you love, even if your favorite characters all live happily,  even ecstatically ever after otherwise.

 

 

 

As to LotR, really, there, the fact that magic was fading didn't really have much to do with the story as it unfolded. Yes, it did provide motivation for the rings in the very first place, but "magic is dying" is otherwise tangential to the main story. Yes, magic was fading, but it had been fading for a very long time. The fact that mini-Satan was on the verge of reclaiming the key to his power and dominating all creation was the driving force of the story. At it's core, LotR isn't a quest to save magic, but to stop evil. And that's fine.

 

But ultimately... I disagree with the notion. "As everything eventually must," is defeatist. It's one thing to accept the passage of time, or the onset of age, but the concepts of magic and wonder belong to no man, life, civilization, or age. Minus the whole "deal with mini-Satan who we didn't know was mini-Satan" thing, the Elves had the right idea. Trying to save what makes your world special is something worth fighting for. They got screwed and nearly destroyed everything in the process, but... again. Mini-Satan. Their initial motivations weren't entirely wrong.

 

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The concept of magic belongs to no age (etc.) because it exists in the realm of concepts -- the realm of memory and spirit.  The passage of time is simply, in this case, what pushes magic from being a temporal reality, to a timeless truth.

 

The Company took their places in the boats as before. Crying farewell, the Elves of Lórien with long grey poles thrust them out into the flowing stream, and the rippling waters bore them slowly away. The travellers sat still without moving or speaking. On the green bank near to the very point of the Tongue the Lady Galadriel stood alone and silent. As they passed her they turned and their eyes watched her slowly floating away from them. For so it seemed to them: Lórien was slipping backward, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world.

 

Even as they gazed, the Silverlode passed out into the currents of the Great River, and their boats turned and began to speed southwards. Soon the white form of the Lady was small and distant. She shone like a window of glass upon a far hill in the westering sun, or as a remote lake seen from a mountain: a crystal fallen in the lap of the land.

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I just realized that Chrono Trigger has ALL the levels of technology AND magic - depending on the era. 😂

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