Emergent vs Established World

My last post and some other things I’ve been reading lately have been running around in my head. I’m also considering something that might surprise those who know me well… but I’ll get back to that.

The thing that is running around in my head is this… the difference between established world play and emergent world play. I was thinking about this with my last post about how it is so much easier to get player interest and investment into worlds that they are capable of grabbing onto. I think the reason so many D&D worlds are practically carbon copies of “medieval world with magic” is because it is so easy to grab on and build a character concept. Heck, my homebrew world that I’ve been running for something like 15 years I pretty much describe as, “imagine the time of Charlemagne.” It’s just a really easy short hand to, “it’s this kind of medieval world.”

Same thing with Star Wars and Amber, etc. Everyone (okay, maybe not everyone) identifies with some character from Star Wars and knows about Rebels and Jedi and the Empire and Wookies. Heck, I always just wanna play Lando. And Amber is this powerfully evocative fantasy world that allows players to have a wide range of backgrounds while still fundamentally existing in a universe that just makes sense.

It just seems to me that the wealth of information and easily accessible hooks really aids player engagement. Players can go to the places they’ve seen in the movies, interact with favorite NPCs, be a part of the Rebellion, etc. And despite this they can also play a game which NEVER interacts with the mainstream story told in that universe.

This vexes me though because I think about games like “Houses of the Blooded” which is meant to create emergent detail as the game is played and my current ACKS game which I started a new game world for and which has this problem of, well, if the details are being invented as we go then there is a lot of freedom but… it comes with an inability to predict or plan ahead because you don’t have stable points of detail to build on.

And all of this comes down to the fact that despite my difficulties with FATE and my difficulties with entirely emergent play (because emergent play is a big part of most of my Amber campaigns) I find that I really want to run Houses of the Blooded and have players who are interested in the game. So I need to think more about this, more about how to make such a thing sing… because I want to run the best game I can and I want my players to feel good about it, but I’m fundamentally a planner, a thinker, and it’s tough for me to say, “I don’t know.”

4 responses

  1. Michael Pureka | Reply

    I’ve only read the preview for Houses of the Blooded, but reading the included sample scenario seemed to indicate that there was nothing in the rules against having some pre-established ‘canon’. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that it’s ALMOST impossible to have a -purely- emergent game. There needs to be some sort of commonalities, some agreed upon constants. Otherwise you get one guy who is a twelve foot tall sentient robot with internal rocket launchers, one guy who is a dwarf with a hammer, one guy who is an archeologist with a whip, and one guy who is a six inch tall talking rat with an outrageous french accent, and that’s before you even start talking about where these people come from.

    So I think the answer to your quandary, which doesn’t really seem like much of a quandary, is “build as much world as you feel you need for investment, then fill in the grey areas during play using the game’s natural mechanics for doing that.” These are sliders, not absolutes, as you yourself have already pointed out, and even then, they’re not actually diametrically opposed either.

  2. No, you’re right. They are sliders… and Houses does certainly have some strong worldbuilding already done. It’s what attracts me to the game. What I’m more considering is the idea that the individual campaign tends to be almost purely emergent. And that part seems odd to me as it then seems difficult to have the same level of initial engagement.

    It may create more buy-in over time so it may be a wash. I guess I’ll see.

  3. Well, again though – if you WANT a given campaign to be less emergent, just make up more stuff first. That said, I always advise folks to play a game “as written” at least once before they start tampering with it.

  4. I *LOVE* the concept of emergent gameplay. It is my holy grail. However, as I’ve discovered as I’ve tried to use systems that encourage it at the table that it requires a very specific set of players, what I’ve heard called “little DMs”, or at least a strong core of those types of players.

    Most of my players, I’ve discovered, don’t want to be that creative and come up with people, places, things, they would rather live in and explore and offload all that processing onto the GM. Which is why I’m running 13th Age now rather than Fate or another game.

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