The logic of Andalusada and playability

Yes, yes, I've neglected this for the last two weeks. I'm lazy, and I've had a full week of excuses. Now, where was I? Ah yes. Writing about how Andalusada's been shaped by being inextricably tied up with GURPS.

Most alternate history writing makes a point of prizing plausibility. Andalusada does too, or tries to; it's why I went from this thread to this scrapbook-blog, which gets more attention than this. But because it was first GURPS, and only secondly a serious alt-history, Andalusada has another value that many TLs don't: playability.

Playability means keeping things canny

With a POD in the Middle Ages, Andalusada should by all rights be completely unrecognizable. There's no guarantee aside from inertia and author fiat that any of the Crusades play out the same way (and indeed they're gonna get wildly different.) There's no guarantee that the Mongol conquests are going to play out the same way, or that the Black Death will come when it does. There is a guarantee that Protestantism isn't going to happen identically, given that I've already written - and that's going to have huge downstream effects. The way they think about the world is different, which was why I created the category and concept of "steampunk social science": to explore what happens instead.

And that's a problem, because when a game setting stops being recognizable, it starts being bad. The TLs that I've read can run hundreds of pages long, even if they're in outline form - but I have no right to ask any of my prospective players to read that much, even if I had that much written (and I won't for quite some time.) You don't ask players in a Forgotten Realms game to read The Grand History of the Realms, stretching all the way back to when Faerûn still had dinosaurs, and to remember all that - and that has the advantage that it's clearly fiction. Andalusada doesn't even have that running for it.

If I ever run a game set in Andalusada, it'll be a bunch of characters without much background. For the sake of getting to the actual game faster, I'm trying to keep the world... not convergent, but canny: superficially similar enough that I only have to infodump about big stuff, like the UCNA in all its plot-critical details. Italy's going to be united by 1930, for instance, because it's easier to account for a united Italy ("a loose confederacy, and the governments fall like bricks") than a divided one. English is still a significant world language. The Southern Cone has lots of caudillos, just like here. Everything's bigger in (Hispano-Baltic) Texas. (Canniness can also be exploited. Vechism isn't Stalinism, but Andalusada fears it as if it were; keeping Great Russia revolutionary, and really fond of dressing in red and black, leaves people working on the assumptions they have about the USSR - which are not only wrong, but wrong in character.)

And the need for canniness, in turn, provides a lot of backbone for the blank slate of alt-history: because I'm lazy, there are large swathes of the world whose histories I can describe only in terms of plot-significance. The Inca Empire was subjugated at this point, yeah, but for Gran Peru to be like what I say it is, this happens to happen then, which means that Luso-Moorish relations have to be like that. Knowing the present, to a big extent, shapes the past.

Playability means keeping things flexible

The Dragonlance franchise had a huge problem: the world was small enough, and the novels critical enough, that there wasn't much room for the PCs. Even TSR publications suggested setting campaigns before the Cataclysm, simply to leave more elbow room.

Without having any clear idea how grand a scale I want to play a campaign in, Andalusada needs to be a bit of a sandbox. There has to be room for people to make messes, so that I can sprawl and do whatever it is that the group will do without being forced to say, "Congratulations, you started World War 3. I hope you're happy." (Which my party has done, at least once, in F.'s game.)

This need for flexibility is why I declared the Andalus TL had low mana back in that first post: because it meant that magic wasn't impossible. This is why the "occultism" tag was created, even though I've ignored it for months, even though I'm now gonna have to pay undue attention to it for centuries: because I'm going to need to, to establish that Andalusada is a world that might work like this. You want to create a pulp sorcerer? Go ritual, but have at it, fine sir. (And if I want pulp sorcery, I can just as easily throw in the Gem Addiction Problem from GURPS Thaumatology.)

Playability means giving people what they want

Because, ultimately, this is what flexibility means: not just that I can do what I want, but that I can do what my players want. Keeping Andalusada playable means that, to a certain extent, it can be our world, not just mine that they play in.

Take Chinese six-guns, for instance. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, which came out of R. derping about what he wanted his character to be: armed with a quality gun, and competent with it. And I, in turn, had to come up with something that fit his specifications - and came up with that.

A. had thoughts about playing a 1930s-style super character, and initially I wasn't hot on the idea. At the moment, though, I'm warming up to it, and trying to figure out how such an archetype might fit into Andalusada - and how I'd have to engineer it in.

I'm terrible at writing endings, and since I get the feeling I'm going to expand on this anyways, tonight's feature-length blog entry will end with a sentence

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