Wednesday, March 17, 2010

UWP for the fantasy RPG genre?

[geek related]

In an effort to prove that I'm not dead, I thought I'd post a thought I had today while driving home from Kzoo. This should also prove that I do have some old-school RPG cred.

I was thinking of what I may be asked to run in the future, if anything. I have one group whose GM is thinking of wrapping up her current storyline and stepping into the role of player. This was discussed at a game I was not present for and my name was thrown in the hat as someone who could run a game for the group (if I was interested). At first, I thought they would want me to run something akin to what we’re currently playing – modern supernatural (I refuse to put the horror moniker on this game). Then I thought, “Am I so sure?” What else might they be interested in playing? Fantasy, sci-fi, weird west, etc. This led to the question:

Has anyone bothered to develop an Universal World Profile style tool for fantasy settings?

For those of you who don't know the term, UWP is a string of 6 or 7 letters and numbers (+1 additional) (all depending on the version) designed for the RPG Traveller. This set of numbers would tell you the starport type, planetary size, planetary atmosphere, hydrographic percentage (important for ships based on nuclear energy), population, planetary government type, law level, and finally technological level. Depending on the version of the game (I only have the first four, including most of the first & third and all of the fourth) you own, will determine which of those categories are included.

Obviously, these are designed for a science fiction setting. Yet, I feel they could be redesigned for use with a fantasy style setting. First we should look at the purpose of the UWP in the Traveller books.

When it was first published, Traveller was a simple collection of three little black books (lbbs). There really wasn't much for specific setting structure in these first three books. That would come later. What was in the third book, Worlds and Adventure, was the first version of the UWP. This tool was designed to help GMs design their sectors of space. With this tool, you could code everything into a concise number and know at a glance what was present.

For example, at a glance I would know that the planet Marler has a good quality starship installation on a planet 5000 miles wide with dense atmosphere and 30% water atmosphere. The population is in the hundreds of thousands with a law level wherein weapons of a military nature are prohibited, and the technology level includes starships.

As a side note, these short codes exist in one shape or another for many things in this game, including trade and star mapping.

So, with all of this in mind, I now ask, "Would this tool be useful for a fantasy style game?"

That asked, I have another question to ask, "How many people actually prepare their own fantasy setting game world versus using something already known or prepackaged?" My guess is most use the prepackaging, whether they purchase official role-playing game products, novels, or works more graphically orientated (comics, art books, music albums, etc.).

For this last question, I think the answer is, "Most people do not create their own world."

Well, phooey on them, spoiling my work here. Let's continue on as if there were a market for this idea, please.

Which takes us back to, "Would this tool be useful for a fantasy style game?"

If the answer is, "No," we must ask, "Why not?" The main reason I can think of for why not, is that people may populate their fantasy world exactly how they want it. This is a respectable reason.

If the answer is, "Yes," then we can further discuss this idea. Now, we can ask further questions.

Who is the target audience?
What makes it useful?
Where does it belong in a product?
Why is it useful?
How is it useful?

Some of these have simpler (easier, perhaps) answers than the others.

The target audience is ideally the person running the game. Therefore, I'd also drop it into the GM chapter of a product, unless the product has a section dealing with world creation. Jason Vey's Dungeons & Zombies by Eden Studios, Inc. does this on pages 50-53. That portion of the book isn't necessarily verboten for players, as it discusses the new rules, powers, etc. in the book. Jason does a good job speaking to the basics behind world/setting creation. So, if you need help getting started, these four pages may help you.

It's useful because it condenses information down into a small string of letters and numbers. This makes tracking the information easier on the GM (and potentially the player). This also speaks to the why question. Let me show you an example.

Marler A5935A3A
Foss D0002C9X
Machtan AA8677E7A

Good quality starship installation on a planet 5000 miles wide with dense atmosphere and 30% water atmosphere. The population is in the hundreds of thousands with a law level wherein weapons of a military nature are prohibited, and the technology level includes starships.

Poor quality installation, is an asteroid belt with no atmosphere or free standing water, has a population in the hundreds, the tech level is average for the setting, and weapons outside of your residence are forbidden.

Excellent quality spaceport on a planet 10000 miles wide with standard atmosphere density and 70% water, population in the tens of millions, with above average technology and law level stating blades are a controlled item requiring license and all firearms and laser guns are illegal.

I see the merits to both. The second example gives you the opportunity for flux text if you want it. The first assumes you can memorize the information (which is easy to do if you use the method to create the planets) and will take up much less space.

So, if you're doing a setting where you need to know information on all the various cities, towns, and villages, this may be the route for you.

That's another answer to, "How is it useful?" If you want to make a list of all the places of residence in your "home-brew" setting, this could do it for you. All of the information would be on one page.

You could also use this method for a setting wherein the source material isn't provided in the system you want to utilize. For example, if you are running a Hyborean era game and have many of Mongoose's fine products,

Now, let's talk more about how to make it (exactly) useful in a fantasy game.

The first bits of information we need to discern is what do we need to code? If Traveller codes these, what can we translate them into for our setting?

Starport type
Planetary size
Planetary atmosphere
Hydrographic percentage
Planetary government type
Law level
Technological level.

What is the basis for trade outside of the locale? (farming, milling, fishing, hunting/trapping, smithies, animal husbandry/breeding)

Country size

What is the major land type? (plains, swamp, mountains, forests, etc.)

Farmable land amount (in percentage format)


Government type (hereditary position, council of elders, vizier, appointed by kingdom level person, etc.)

Law level (is still relevant, just because most RPGs let characters walk around armed to the hilt, doesn't mean they should)

Technology level (doesn't have to be extravagant,

[This would also work for the interests of the kingdom:

Where is the basis for trade? (Sea/Ocean Coast, River Coast, Capitol City, Major Trading City, none - all localized)

Government type (hereditary dictatorship, council of statesmen, council of wizards, etc.)]

There is one more question/comparison we need to study. Does this material already exist?

D&D, AD&D, and that ilk had random charts that allowed for you to roll and create your settings. I remember some of these charts were quite extensive. I don't have a copy of any of the core rule books for those products, so I can't speak directly to them.

Harndex for Harn 2nd ed (that's from circa 1983 for those of you keeping track) does have a quick reference for locales. It lists the Realm the location resides within, population, holder of the location, and the liege for the location. All of that is good information. For the kingdom level, it doesn't do this. Perhaps, that information is in a different book. The kingdom level does list out the past monarchs and then a separate list for the fiefs/territories and holders thereof. This information is coupled with text about the territory.

Runequest doesn't have such a system that I've seen, nor does Hero Quest or whatever they're calling it these days. Iron Kingdoms doesn't provide the information in this method, either.

So, perhaps the answer is, create a version, see how it works myself, adjust it, then offer it to others here to use and abuse? I know I'd use it, but would others?

Yet, I have to ask, "Have you seen something like this in an RPG product for a fantasy (or even modern) game?"

My apologies for the rambling. I hope you got something out of this.

1 comment:

Kaiju said...

I could see this as being useful. I don't have any Traveller books, nor have I ever played, so I'm going by your description here (though I've heard of the UWP notation before).

As I see it, this may work best at the kingdom/nation/region level in a fantasy campaign. In a SF campaign, your "world" is the area of space that is accessable -- a sector of space, a solar system, or even a galaxy. The individual worlds or systems are the possible locations.

The fantasy analogues to this might be kingdoms, nations, or cities. These locations would have the kinds of differences described in the UWP system.