One of the first things that stood out when I read through the 4th Edition Dungeon and Dragons DM’s Guide was the section entitled “The D&D World”. This is the section where the designers outline the core assumptions upon which 4E was built and explain the points of light concept. I have always thought this would make a good framework to introduce players to a particular sandbox game by providing them with the core assumptions they can hold about the game world.
So with the regular game winding down for the holiday season I thought I would take the opportunity to work on some gamemaster stuff. One of the reasons I’m doing this is because I feel the game has begun to derail and I wanted to refine the campaign to tell the stories I feel comfortable GMing. So without further ado here are the core assumptions for my game.
The game is set in Seattle – a city filled with apathetic wageslaves, dark skyscrapers and flickering AR signs. The character’s stories begin and end in the streets, slums and bars of Seattle and any characters venturing outside the city limits are off-screen, their actions not important to the story being told.
The characters are outside normal society and must work within the confines of a crime-filled, bloody world. The characters may have chosen this life for themselves or had it forced upon them. Either way they must find a way to survive.
Stories are told at night. The characters work in the shadows and darkness because the daylight reveals their crimes for what they are – a desperate attempt to struggle free from the poverty and crime they’re surrounded by. The daytime is for innocent wageslaves who know nothing about the world beyond their corporate enclaves. If your character is awake during the day expect to be popping longhaul and fatigued from the night before.
The game is styled on Film Noir. Investigations, heists and con games are set across a backdrop of cigarette smoke-filled bars, nightclubs and gambling dens. The world at large is bleak, defeatist, and pessimistic. Nobody gets what they want, and everyone gets what’s coming to them. Everyone is armed but not with assault rifles and cannons but with revolvers, shotguns and submachine guns.
Your character’s victories will be pyrrhic. Characters and their friends will be hurt or killed and you may never be truly sure you succeeded at all. Your characters are forced to make choices between corrupting themselves or turning into a true villain. There will never be a good choice – something dear to you must always be sacrificed.
The law is corrupt and amounts to little more than useless, salaried bullies. This makes the way for private detectives to play the good guy but in the end the law bankrupts all – from the temptations of law enforcement to the credsticks of all but the most powerful of criminals.
My games are definitely not the pink mohawk variety but they aren’t a black trench coat game either. Instead they are set in a world where the players are forced to commit armed robbery, car theft and murder to pay the month’s rent. There is no glamor in these things and there is often little pay forcing the characters to repeat the cycle. As I once said to one of my players “I don’t want to kill your character, I want him to eat his own gun.”