Sometimes I Play the Game and other times I Game the System. I have been gaming long enough that I am not a big fan of “imposed motivations” being placed on a PC. In Dungeons and Dragons 5E, there is a section in character creation where the Player is supposed to select a Personality Trait, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw; there are tables of options from which the Player can choose or on which the Player can roll randomly. There are rules and sidebars designed to help a Player create unique Personality Traits, Bonds, Goals, and Flaws, but the default assumption seems to be that when the Player chooses his or her PCs Background that he or she will take from the provided lists. This is not an ideal situation for me, since the suggested options are designed to be as generic as possible and I am presently running a very specific (Gnome) campaign. However, it has provided some neat insights for me.
Years ago, Jason Holmgren of Ironclaw explained to me how he felt rules not only provide the framework of game play, they also set the style of play. I think he’s right in that supposition. I’d even go so far as to say, “Rules, not only provide the framework needed for game play and the style of play, they also provide assumptions about the setting.” For an example of this in D&D, check out my complaints about 3E and 4E (paragraphs 5 and 6). While I do believe it is possible to tell whatever story one wishes to tell, regardless of the rules system, it takes effort to mold those stories into the assumptions the rules system places on the setting. (2014.10.04)
In my Gnome Campaign, Nicki and JR are playing forest gnomes. Nicki’s character, Roywyn, is a druid (PHB pages 64-69) and JR’s PC, Gimble, is a ranger (PHB pages 89-93). While the quick build suggestion for druid is Hermit, Nicki chose the Outlander background (PHB pages 136-137). JR stuck with the suggested quick build background for the ranger class, which is Outlander. In addition to the four categories of characteristics that a background provides, the Outlander background offers a table for Origin. Nicki rolled Hunter/Gatherer and JR rolled Tribal Nomad. JR’s roll for Origin, along with Nicki’s roll of “I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend,” as her Bond caused me a bit of a problem when it came to my setting. Gnomes in the literature are not tribal nomads. They are hill dwelling, warren digging, settled folk. This is reinforced in the 2E supplement The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (I book that I got when a friend was giving away his collection, but tha I had never opened, until two weeks ago). How am I to reconcile this? (2014.10.04)
I believe the basic presumption of D&D is that the game is going to be a multi-racial, multi-class, pseudo-European milieu. Also, a GM is unlikely to get someone who wants to play a truly weird character: a gnomish ranger from a band of tribal nomadic little people or a halfling barbarian. If the GM does, then he or she can use the basic assumptions of the setting to say that the halfling was found as a baby abandoned in the wild and raised among the Ice Marsh Barbarians who had a band of gnomes that lived among them or something similar. I don’t have that option in my Gnome-centric Campaign. (2014.10.04)
So, I have to come up with a reason as to why there would be nomadic gnomes. I have to use the rules to make the setting. Are all forest gnomes from Terah nomads? I don’t think so. What if the nomad tribes (I really want to write it as gnomad tribes) from Terah were not just made up of forest gnomes? What if they were a mix of gnomish subraces? Why would they have such a society? Roywyn is the last of her tribe? Gimble only knows of one other member from his tribe, Papi? What secrets does Papi, a rock gnome, know about the now lost nomads? This is all a case of me trying to making sense of the results of the rules, as I see them. Hopefully, I will make world sense out of rules sense and have a compelling setting and campaign. (2014.10.04)