Designing a Better RPG – Setting/Society

(today’s post: 478 words)

(When I posted my first three comments on RPGs, I thought that was it. I’ve written quite a few in all, and now I have another. What can I say? It’s been fun.)

One setting people flock to with RPGs is the medieval setting. It’s high-fantasy, swords and sorcery, princesses and dragons, kings and peasants, and a huge, forested-world filled with mystery.

Here’s what I’m thinking, though. In these games technology may mirror that which was used in the medieval era, but the people are typically more on par with our most enlightened. My question, then, is would you play a game where society was depicted more accurately?

What if…

  • You arrive in a village and slavery is widespread. And not only is it widespread, but there is no quest to “fix” things. Sure, you can free the slaves and kill the slavers – but it won’t resolve the problem or advance society. Every other town you visit will still utilize slavery – and see you as problematic.
  • You are “volunteered” into a local faction of witch-hunters and become aware that members of your group are raping, pillaging, and plundering (I’m going to say it all happens off-screen, of course). And now they’re wondering why you’re not taking part. Or you’re given a holy quest to slay the elderly or immigrants – because, you are told, they are the cause of the recent plague.
  • A man has a seizure but those around think he has become possessed and want you to starve him for 30 days to starve the demon. Or one of your companions takes some serious damage in a fight – a broken arm – and the local lord, in order to thank you for your bravery, offers to perform a blood-letting or skull-drilling in order to speed up the healing process. Or maybe sacrifice a virgin. He says he knows you will not sully this great gift with a disrespectful refusal.

If I could remember my medieval civ course material, I could probably come up with some better examples.

The point is that a lot of this is not politically correct by modern standards. The point is that people play fantasy games to escape such mundane concerns. The point is that people love the romanticism of an idealized, albeit inaccurate, setting. The point is that this is backward and against our better sensibilities.


The point is also that people, in those times, believed they were acting with best interests in mind; they just didn’t know better.

So what if the game followed this standard – and even the “good” route through the game required you to grapple with ignorance? Or embrace it? Would you still play? Would you go against the flow and allow our real world to influence your in-game decisions? Would you try your best to fit in with what’s expected of you? Would you balance the two – performing little acts of progression when it’s “safe”? What if “good” actions resulted in tougher challenges, but earned you a karmic-like reward (i.e. society progressed more rapidly for a short while)? Etc.

Discuss. :p

4 thoughts on “Designing a Better RPG – Setting/Society

  1. I think that would be awesome to represent more “realistic” social behaviors and cultural beliefs to go along with the medieval setting. I’d still like the option to operate using my modern sensibilities, but have the reactions be in-line with historical precedent (e.g., Galileo’s persecution for suggesting the sun and not the earth was the center of the solar system).

  2. I think it would be an interesting experiment, but unless you had a group that could really divorce themselves from their characters, it wouldn’t last long. The ultimate goal of a roleplaying game is to have fun, and most people I know wouldn’t have fun with this type of realism.

    It’s kind of like the way most people ignore encumbrance or the need to eat during RP games. Yes, it is realistic. But if you think about it, doesn’t really add to the “fun”.

  3. Yeah, the more I thought on it the more I agree that you would *have* to be allowed to behave *normally* even if it didn’t match the game. So there would have to be a “free the slaves” quest, for example, but it could still end with the slaves going right back to slavery because they don’t know what else to do – or one of your party members leaving you because you wouldn’t endure the blood-letting and now he thinks you have a demon. Your comment about Galileo is a great example for this. 🙂

  4. Well, this would be for a single player computer role-playing game. So you’d just have to worry about yourself. And like Kam said above, you’d have to let the character behave how they wanted – even if it was a buck-the-trend modern-day-thinking hero.

    All that said, I’m starting to think I could have fun with this. And I also think that a lot of people might get a kick out of it – if only from the POV of a history lesson.

    “Verily, blah blah blah, the sun and the heavens doth revolve around our very Earth.”

    1. Duh. Of course it does. And the world is flat. We know these things.
    2. What? Is this a joke? The Earth revolves around the sun. And Pluto ain’t a planet!
    3. Whatever you say. I slept through geometry. Do you have any quests for me?
    4. Bye.

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