Gaming an Unfamiliar Setting
Herein, I consider running ad hoc games using simple generic systems, like Fate Accelerated, with settings that might not be familiar, but have enough draw on common mythology to make the gaming experience a relatively easy one.
For me, having a middle ground of creative and imaginative resource makes all the difference, because few of us can claim to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of any setting. If you have a table of people who know just enough, then you can get almost any setting going and create an enjoyable and engaging game (in my opinion!).
So, Matt Jackson asked me of my Fate Accelerated / Space: 1889 game:
Can you tell us more about your game? Like how you combined FAE and Space 1889? I was toying with this exact same idea but have no experience with Space 1889 so I am a little leery of attempting.
I think the combination of system and game world came about through setting the theme and assigning a couple of basic Aspects. I obviously created the character sheets to get across a basic measure of the theme, and adjusted the Approaches to better suit.
When I started the game, I gave an overview of the setting for Space: 1889.
I admit to probably improvising a bit. Eddison and Tesla invented the ether-screw, allowing movement through the void. Cavor created a substance for submersible travel that Eddison and Tesla adapted for protection against a vacuum. Colonial machinations transferred from Earth into near planets of the Solar System.
I probably delivered 5 – 10 minutes of exposition. I answered any questions from the players and set down the World Aspects of ‘Hot War in the Colonies‘ and ‘Fight for a Free Mars‘ as I went along.
I tried wherever possible to inserted references to non-standard elements, like odd creatures, the strange appearance of the Martians, or the hodge-podge architecture in Syrtis Major – part-Martian, part-Colonial British. I didn’t labour it, nor did I stick to any particular canon. I don’t know the Space: 1889 setting back to front, so I would have just got stressed trying to pretend otherwise.
I have done this sort of thing before with War of the Worlds. I ran a Fate Accelerated version of Arclight Revelation Tianmar, a great setting where Earth won the war against the Martians, only to discover the Red Weed posed the greater threat.
I don’t claim to know the setting back to front, but a shared knowledge helps no end. Whether you’re familiar with the movies, TV series, rock musical, radio drama, or the book – somewhere in the middle of it all you have a common mythology to draw on.
I think people have enough media savvy around Victorian adventurers, Jules Verne-style adventure, and savage inner worlds of the Solar System to get their minds in the right place. Even if a player’s experience only extends to sitting through the John Carter movie or seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth, that should suffice. Yeah, the latter isn’t the right period, but the concept has the right feel.
I think you have to know when not to labour it – you don’t want the session turning into a lecture. In this instance, I invited players to explore and ask questions as we progressed through character generation. The Fate system invites that collaborative character generation experience, so it works as a way to continue the setting education. You can answer questions without becoming a one-voice info-dump.
I think it can be valuable to do a little prep before a session to decide how you want to sell a setting and make a quick list of the essentials. In doing that prep you can get your story straight and feel comfortable answer questions, even if you sometimes might make things up. When you do, write them down!
For Space: 1889, as I mentioned, I’m no expert. I have read enough and I read through the adventure. I made decisions on what I wanted to keep intact and where I’d willingly improvise. I also picked the key encounters out of the adventure and set the rest aside as fallback elements if things didn’t go quite to plan.
As often the way with my blog posts, I hope I’ve answered the question or made a point worth making without wandering too far off topic. By all means, ask questions!