#RPGaDAY 2019 - DAY 6: "ANCIENT"

Numenera is set on Earth approximately one billion years in the future. The setting is called "The Ninth World" due to the fact that eight civilizations have risen and fallen prior to the current era.
- Numenera Wikipedia article, originally from the Transmissions from the Ninth World podcast, about Monte Cook Games' Numenera game.

In my post on Space, yesterday, I described an area in which I have a mental block and how I have trouble being creative when doing things in that genre.

Today's post is just the opposite. Today, I'm speaking about the word "Ancient" and how figuring what came before, and how things got to be the way they are today is one of my favorite ways to be creative.

When I write about my current world, I am often nervous about making big changes. If, for example, two of my countries go to war, I have to consider what lead up to it and was that telegraphed in the stories the characters experienced. What does the war do to everything around it? Who else might be involved? What happens to the allies and enemies? What prices will have to be paid? Who might profit, and who might be killed? What factions are involved? How might it end? What happens to the loser, and the winner of the conflict? In a sense, the "real-world" implications of the big changes have ripple effects and so I am cautious about making those changes.

Yet change is the way that things get interesting. It's where you get songs and stories, heroes and villains. Change can cause new borders between countries, shifts in alliances and ascendant and descending fortunes. It can provide engines for growth, by both people and nations, and even change the fundamental nature of how people interact. And when I start thinking about Ancient, I can safely introduce all the conflicts and strangeness I wish, because I know that the world ends up where it is today.

In Trinity, for example, there are five major evolutions of magic from ancient times to today. Of course, today, everybody gets it: Vancian magic, with 9 spell levels, and levels of memorization or dynamic casting with a few variations as you progress in power. That's just standard SRD stuff, which has only slightly changed over the last 40 years or so of D&D versions.

But when I think about ancient magic, it's very different. Things in Trinity began with the primal dragons and their type of magic which was dream-based and nearly unlimited. Then the world changed, and the Tuathan developed a new type, still dream-based, but fundamentally different. This was challenged by the next, and so on until we go to the type of magic we have today. 

To me, this is interesting on multiple levels. First, as the world's creator, I know how Magic fundamentally works, and so I know why it evolved. But I don't necessarily know all the subtleties of how each type of magic affected the world itself. In thinking about the ancient, I can understand the successes and failures of past ages as it relates to magic; I can picture the people people who truly understood those magics, and how they affected the world, and in some cases, I see how they fit into the world today. Second, sometimes those magics show up in the current world as artifacts--which in Trinity are items of stored power from previous ages, which rely on magic which no longer exists today.

Thinking about the ancient also inspires me as I create crypts, ruins, lost cities and such. At one time, these things were modern. What were they for? How did they fit into the world, and what secrets did they hold then? If, as a world-builder, you lay down a lost city, with a few buildings, it might look like every other lost city the characters have come across. But if you figure out that this was once a city of trolls, from a barely remembered time when trolls were more social and intelligent creatures, the city might be just different enough to be a very weird and unique experience.

Numenera takes this a step further. It advances the concept of weird...that some of the billion-year-old detritus which characters run across are not just unfamiliar, but so different that even the GM has no idea what they did or why. And so the characters don't even try to figure it out...they just accept the weird thing as it relates to them today in their immediate situations. The random thing they found...maybe it was once a toilet seat for the 15th gender of the Hykorian people from two universes away. Today, though, it's a teleport bomb that may get the party past that mech who has been pestering them.

The Numenera rulebook suggests that you try to make things a couple levels weirder than your initial inclination. Find your weird idea, then take it to the next level...a few times. As the GM in Numenera, I make no attempt to model what was there in ancient times. But I do find useful to sometimes have a vague idea of what something might have done a very long time ago. If I think "15th gender interdimensional toilet seat" it might not just be sufficiently weird, but might also have that tiniest hint of "truth" to make the situation a bit more grounded and consistent.

When I think about Ancient, I fill my world: ancient weapons, curses, enemies, feuds, gods, nations, technologies, alliances, betrayals and histories. And if I can connect those things, even peripherally, to my modern game world, it doesn't just make for some interesting stories; it makes the world itself more real and consistent to me, as its creator and hopefully to the players.



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