In my review of GURPS Banestorm, I briefly mention one of the points that intrigues me about its gameworld: Unexplored pockets of diverse Earth cultures tucked among Yrth’s dominant European-, Middle Eastern-, and Asian-descended cultures. From page 9:
… African, Chinese, German, Indian, and Slavic groups popped up across the continent. Dominant local cultures quickly absorbed most of these smaller ones, but even today travelers can find isolated villages where almost all the inhabitants have black skin, worship Krishna and Vishnu, or speak undiluted German.
This is an opportunity for the GM to create any sort of interesting micro-culture that he can envision, as long as it is well off the beaten path!
While that’s pretty much all the book has to offer on the overall topic, it’s plenty to set the GM mind in motion. A few non-dominant cultures do get a bit more mention (like low-tech Hindi or Mesoamerican peoples around southern Araterre and Bilit Island), yet others remain entirely up to us to flesh out (African tribes? Slavic villages?).
I like the possibilities, and think there’s a supplement concept waiting to be born: Banestorm Enclaves, books detailing outlying clusters of humanity from non-dominant cultures. (Hmm, I thought I picked up the label “enclave” from within Banestorm, but a quick search shows I must have tacked it on myself. I like it anyway!)
SJ Games already lists Banestorm supplements on its GURPS wish list, so there’s nothing radical about that idea – and not surprisingly, the Enclaves concept itself is at least partially addressed by the existing call for Banestorm-focused books in the Adventures, Bestiary, Encounters, Foes, Locations, Martial Arts, and Supporting Cast title categories. Enclaves would be most similar to Locations, with a healthy dose of Adventures too, but I see it picking up elements of all those titles. Some ideas on content:
- The culture or society. Who are these people, what Earth people(s) did they descend from, what’s their post-Banestorm history, how have they changed from their origins, and what are they up to now? (Use and recommend any helpful GURPS references like Egypt, Aztecs, Vikings, etc.) What relationships do they have to existing Banestorm cultures/societies?
- The location. This could be a hidden village, a quarter in a city, maybe even a fair-sized (if remote) chunk of a country. Or for a more ambitious book, a far-flung diaspora linked by something other than geography.
- Points of interest. The good stuff that leads to adventure: caverns and forests, towns and ruins, laws and customs, beliefs and secrets, lore and legends, organizations and institutions, conflicts and alliances, dangers and rewards.
- Persons. Leaders and celebrities, PC-level friends and foes, and common folk too. Add notes on playing a PC from the society.
- Fun extras. Local beasts, monsters, weapons, tools, skills, martial arts, magic, more.
- Adventures. A solid multi-session adventure, plus a packet of quick-grow adventure seeds. Should include plot hooks that bring PCs into contact with the enclave in the first place, plus any connections to plot lines and adventures spelled out in Banestorm.
- Customizations. Ideas on moving the enclave to other spots on Yrth (or to a non-Yrth generic setting), hints for radical reworkings (an India-inspired village of Reptile Men?), tweaks for use with Dungeon Fantasy, any other interesting alternative possibilities that had to be left on the cutting-room floor.
- Resources. Suggestions for GURPS resources (per above) and third-party resources.
That’s the basic idea. Which, overall, boils down to something along the lines of what Banestorm uses for its central cultures.
I was thinking, though, about the actual appeal of a supplement centered on one tiny corner of one published gameworld. Yrth descendants of Masai herders may sound nifty to me, but I predict “meh” a-plenty from GMs in general.
Lots to like
For gamers not interested in the core setting, there’s still plenty of good stuff above. Skills, weapons, monsters, and so on are easily used elsewhere. Locations and adventures are recyclable too, especially if they have lots of maps and descriptions and other tangible stuff. NPCs are always nice to have, especially common folk that fit anywhere in a gameworld.
I think one key to appeal would be to hold the setting background down to modest length, and put a spotlight on the adventure(s). Whatever the setting, GMs can’t help but like a product that’s ready-to-go for the evening’s session.
The side trip
This is one more idea to broaden appeal. The side trip (for lack of a name) would be an exploration of a topic that’s vital to the book’s setting, but useful in other settings as well.
If the enclave is descended from Cherokee hunters, real-world info on the hunter’s craft, with new crunchier rules for PCs who want to try their luck, would be fun and widely useful. If it’s a Dutch-descended merchant’s quarter in a Megalan city, that’s a good place for a little extra research on merchant guilds, trade-related jobs, and what guild membership means for a character. A Tibet-inspired mountainside monastery? Include rules for crossing and exploring mountains, with detail on specific perils and how characters get out of those. Xenophobic fishing village with a dark secret? Details of the fishing life, with rules for what a boat (or just a PC with a net) can bring home, along with watery perils both expected and strange.
One crunchy side trip in each Enclave book would keep it useful after the setting and adventure are put aside. Given the fullness of the GURPS line, though, the trick would be to pick a topic that isn’t already, or soon will be, detailed in a core rulebook.
As a final thought, I’d suggest making series titles punchy. Banestorm Enclaves: Slavic Fishing Village on the Erythraean Sea is a yawner. Grab something juicy from the culture or the adventure. Banestorm Enclaves: A Net Full of Death hints at some delightful creepiness under those docks. (There will be tentacles.)
Anything worthwhile there?
This has been a bit of brainstorming on a passing thought, all for the fun of it. Do you think Enclaves would be an interesting Banestorm series? What specific installment would you concoct? What sort of installments would you buy?