There are games that exist in an existing fictional property, such as Star Wars or Tolkien. There are games that exist in an historical setting. There are games that exist in an original fictional property.
There are advantages to setting a new game in an existing property. Every game that exists as part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe has 30 years of creative output to flesh its backdrop out. Star Wars provides 40 years. Tolkien: 80 years. History provides somewhat more…
There are reasons for wanting your own background fiction. You want to tell a new story. You hope that people want to hear a new story.
More than that, you hope that you can create some intellectual property (IP) that becomes valuable. If the fictional world that you have created is strong enough, you hope it might spawn other kinds of products. There are many mediums to explore a great IP in, and tabletop games, video games, novels, films and comics are constantly borrowing and re-applying great original IP.
I will say, this is not my primary objective with Gaslands. As I state in my vision for the game, I want to create an super fun car combat tabletop gaming experience. Of course I would love (in theory) for someone to think the Gaslands IP is strong enough to warrant making a Gaslands video game, or writing a series of Gaslands novels, but this is not an objective. (Although, 2000AD, if you are listening and want to put out a Gaslands strip…)
I actually don’t care for writing fiction. It’s not my skill and it’s not my passion. I want to write great games that are slick to play and fun as hell. I have spent 20 years, on and off, playing, writing and thinking about games. I have spent a decade thinking about how to make great products that customers will love, and ensuring that I don’t waste time making stinky products no-ones wants. I have spent close to zero time over the same period attempting to write original fiction. For Gaslands, the game came first. Once it was clear that it was going to be published, I actually slightly dreaded having to write the background material…
The advice from Phil, my editor, was clear: keep it short. It is his belief that you can achieve incredible efficiency with your background text, if you are mindful about it. As someone brought up on GW army books, this seemed tough to imagine. However, he’s right, and it’s going to be my approach for Gaslands.
For proof that you can achieve efficiency in your fluff you only have to look at the Frostgrave rulebook. 200 words of background, plus some small number of “textual vignettes”. And yet see the creativity those 200 words have inspired.
Gaslands needs enough background story to hook the players in. It needs to have enough tension and conflict inherent in the setting to motivate the in-world characters to action. It needs enough internal logic to get these cars on the race track with guns strapped to them without significant cognitive dissonance. It needs to be able to communicate all that in 200 words.
I don’t think Gaslands needs to tell sweeping epic tales. The race season structure provide Gaslands with a natural “narrative arc” for each campaign of play.
Clearly, by leaving many things open and unexplored, you leave gaps for some players and opportunities for others. Some players will want more, some will gleefully take up the slack with their own stories.
The post-apocalypse is actually a fantastic place for me to set a game. I don’t need to provide a huge amount of detail to bring the world to life: you just take the existing world around you, and smash it up and leave it to rot. The player can “wind-forward” from real-world environments and issues and get to something interesting and colourful without worrying about whether it is “canon” or not.
The gently futuristic post-apocalypse setting allows players access to everything from cyberpunk back through 20th-century memes as far back as the Romans. It’s a fertile playground for the imagination, and the trick with the background material in the Gaslands rulebook is going to be to “unlock” and “give permission” to the players to maraud as far and as wide as they like in their imaginings of a post-apocalyptic world.
It has to be possible to tell the kind of post-apocalyptic stories that you want to play, and this has to include the obvious film and video game memes that you’d naturally want to explore on the tabletop: Mad Max, Death Race, Fallout. It players can’t tell those stories for themselves on the tabletop, then the game has failed. However, Gaslands is not a licensed product, and I do want it to exist in an original fictional world, as a stand-alone piece of original IP. I want to ensure doors are created and left open for more and different Gaslands content in the future.
Beautiful images borrowed from http://www.lorinix.net/ without permission.
I suck at writing fiction, but you might not… Keep you eyes peeled for a competition later in the year!