Tuesday, August 13, 2013

FtA: More on Bearings

Last week, I laid out the idea of Bearings, which I believe is the most unique aspect of From the Ashes.  I wanted to take some time and talk through some of the aspects of the notion that I think will encourage some unique roleplaying opportunities.

  • Engagement with the world - In From the Ashes, changing the world is literally a matter of life and death - the only ways to keep the reaper off your back are to either not use your mutations, or to change the world around you. 
  • Intraparty conflict based on opposing viewpoints - Let's face it - how often does your Chaotic character really debate the finer points of societal philosophy with the Lawful character?  In From the Ashes, each character is trying to change the world to bring it in alignment with their own worldview, but chances are that nobody will be at the same point, or they are, they won't be for long.  There's only one world, and each party member has their own worldview, and while their desires may align, any such alignment is only temporary.  This should cause debate amongst the party as to the best way to progress.
  • Shifting views based on changing needs - what happens when the world's position overshoot's your mark?  You've spent the last few sessions pushing the world towards order, when all of a sudden you look around and realize you've created an authoritarian nightmare.  All of a sudden, you need to push the world down the ladder, and you could find yourself fighting against the very system you helped to establish.
This is a system which has been built purely to scratch an itch that I feel when whenever I engage with fiction of any kind.  As much as I love zombie movies, I've yet to find the right one that balances the personal horror of the situation with the wider, "what's going on in the world?" aspect that I crave (World War Z came the closest, but that's a different story).  It's the same thing with roleplaying.  When I GM, I veer towards the triptych model, sending the PCs zooming from one exotic locale to the next, always pushing the "big picture".  When I play, it's what I crave.

So hopefully some other people out there are looking for an RPG to scratch that same itch, and this will be just the backscratcher they're looking for.



  1. I am not sure how Bearings are different from the AD&D traditional 9 alignment system, and second, why not just have the characters interact with the physical, geographical, social, cultural and political world? Bearings might give you a clue as to how they will fit in, but that's about it, unless there is more?

  2. Great questions - the main differences, as I see them, between Bearings and Alignment are in both design and mechanics.

    Bearings differ from Alignment in that Alignment is block based - if you're Lawful Good, you believe that order is necessary for Good to flourish, and it's a "one size fits all" description. You may quibble on the details, but your character's outlook is pretty much the same. Bearings, on the other hand, are point based. You're operating on a plane, where you are not just "Lawful Good", but each of those characteristics has its own value, indicating HOW Lawful, and how Good you are. So while some characters may occupy the same quadrant, they will still differ over more than just the details. For instance, if the world is at (6,3), and two characters are at (3,1) and (7,6), even though they are all Lawful Traditional, Player 1 will be less Traditional and less Lawful than the world, while Player 2 will be more of both. So even though they are all in the same block, the two players have opposing goals - Player 1 will be attempting to drag the World's Bearings even farther from the center, towards extreme Lawfulness and Tradition, while Player 2's goal will be to reduce the influence of Tradition and Law, to bring the World into alignment with their own views.

    Further, by collapsing it down to a point rather than a block, it can drive the theme of From the Ashes, which is, "What kind of a world do you want to leave behind when you die?" Your character only has a certain amount of time to live before their mutations kill them, so what will they do with their time? The world's own Bearings are more volatile than the character's, so they are able to have a direct impact on how the world will evolve. Since the goal is to "push" the world in the direction that makes sense to them, and the closer they are to true alignment, the better chance they have of Leveling, having those Bearings exist as points allows their progress to be codified. By tying the Bearings to Level Progression, it reinforces the theme.

    Another difference is that Bearings removes morality from the equation. Alignment is essentially Morality for Dummies, a sort of moral code that works, so long as you don't look too closely. You can kind of get away with that in fantasy games, but I don't think that morality has any place in a post-apocalyptic setting to begin with, so that was jettisoned. Right and wrong just aren't as pressing of a concern when you're scrabbling to put food in your mouth, day to day - it's all about survival. The idea of Bearings is to reflect not so much right and wrong, but better and best - every character has their own idea on what the world should look like.

    So essentially, Bearings aren't so much where they fit into the physical, geographical, social, cultural and political world, but rather what they see as the ideal aspects of that world. The world's Bearings are the now, the characters Bearings are the destination, the game is the vehicle that gets them there.

    Or doesn't. You can always decide, "Screw changing the world, I'm out for me!" and burn bright and fast.

  3. James,

    I see where the Bearings are morality neutral, unlike the alignment. As to values and ethics becoming irrelevant in the post apocalyptic world, it is a sad fallacy. Social control is always more prevalent than (ignorant) people often perceive. Once they start falling and letting themselves go, they fall into looting and often get executed for the crimes they commit in the name of survival. The reason that good always triumphs in the end, is that good is defined by altruism, while evil is always selfish. Evil is incapable of self-sacrifice, good will sacrifice itself for the sake of its progeny. Post-Apocalypse is largely an American fantasy, where it is viewed as a place where you are free from all the prior oppressions free to start up your own little utopias. In reality "Post Apocalypsis" is a condition that affects most war-torn countries, where the infrastructure is destroyed. Business of survival is not the dramatic act of looting or cannibalism, those are death throes of the already dead and hell-bound. Those, who indulge themselves and burn light and fast are really giving up on tomorrow to have that last drag on the cigarette today. Those dramatics aside, the business of staying alive is incredibly routine and oppressive, eating up all of your time, and turning you into an existential hero. This is where the human spirit can really triumph, and religions like Islam and Catholicism really take hold.

    The way you are describing Bearings, is that they are similar to political ideologies, because that is what drives people in our world to act on the world. So, my question is, Let's say I have a setting, a local tribe, an area fleshed out, I have some sort of NPCs and powers for the players to interact with, some sort of a conflict and an adventure. If I am involved player, I will have an idea of what I want to do in the adventure and in the game. How to the Bearings affect the game mechanics?

  4. Interesting thoughts regarding PA Morality, definitely something to chew on - thanks!

    Mechanically speaking, the Bearings will come into play as the characters come into contact with the Leveling mechanic. As they use their mutations, the mutations grow in power and as they do, the likelihood of them leveling up increases, with each level bringing them one step closer to death. The chance of that happening is lessened, depending on how closely the Character has been able to align the World's/area's bearings with their own. The closer they are when the Level check comes, the better chance they'll be able to resist the Level check.

  5. Forgot to mention, there is a great memoir regarding surviving in the PA (or the Death Camp), it is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. He was a shrink who survived WW2 in (you guessed it!) and who analyzed how and why he was mentally able to pull it off.

    BTW, what game system are you using (mutations killing you as you level up)? From the PA genre I know Gamma World, Aftewrmath! and Twilight 2000.

  6. I will definitely check that out - thanks!

    While I'm a big fan of all three of those games, I decided to design my own system for use with From the Ashes. If you're curious, use this search string - http://fromtheashesrpg.blogspot.com/search?q=fta - to find all the From the Ashes specific posts on the blog....

  7. I don't think that the search string works. It brings me to the Larry Hagman posting. Aftermath! and Gamma World are two very different games. Aftermath! is a realistic, no magic PA game very much like the movie Escape From New York and the book Warday! Gamma World is a science fantasy game with super powers and mutations (and I am talking strictly 1st edition here, maybe some stuff from the 2nd edition book.) I own those two and don't particularly care about the 4 subsequent editions. I never played Twilight 2000, and so I know what THAT game stresses. Have you played it? Where does your game From the Ashes fall on the spectrum? Are you talking about the D&D Greyhawk Boxed set, From the Ashes.

  8. That's strange, it works for me? Well, if you're interested, type "FtA" in to the search bar to the right, about halfway up the page. It'll pull up all the posts specifically regarding From the Ashes.

    I'm a huge fan of Gamma World, love love love it to death. Aftermath and Twilight 2000 were both a bit too realistic for my taste. I like my games to be a bit more balanced between realism and fun. If I had to, I'd say From the Ashes falls between the two camps, but leaning a bit more towards Gamma World. It's not gonzo like Gamma World, and it's a bit more serious minded, but at the same time, there is no complicated algebra involved in character creation, nor will you find yourself worrying about the gas mileage of a M-1 Abrams. Poke around the blog some, you might like what you find!

    Nothing to do with Greyhawk, though, just the same name as that supplement.

  9. FtA worked! Will read it over the next few days. A lot of early posts seem to do with morality. Not sure about rising radiation levels. Why introduce the time bomb? From blog posts I realize that Gamma World is Gonzo, but when I read the 1st Edition at 14, to me it seemed a hard-core sci-fi game and we were wracking our brains trying to figure out who the Apocalypse were! To me GW will always have the Native American Man vs Nsture exploration flavor of palyers living in a hunter gatherer village. My GW setting, as yet unplayed, is set in rural New Mexico. Second Edition turned the game into more D&D warfare like. What did you make of the 3,4,5 and 6th editions of GW and how have they changed the game?

  10. Some of the older stuff has been jettisoned as I get closer to release, so not all that you read will be germane. While there were definitely bits of the "primitive man vs the elements" type of storytelling going on (especially in 1e), they were set side by side with bunny rabbits with guns, or evil, intelligent badgers. It's hard to play it with a straight face, so I think many turn into the skid, so to speak, and embrace the gonzo.
    As far as later editions go, I loved the Action Control Table, being a fan of the Marvel RPG, and kept it around for use with critical hits and fumbles in recent GW campaigns. 4e was somewhat nice as it was close to my favorite iteration of D&D, 2e. There were some rough edges that needed houseruling, but what game doesn't have those? So yeah, favorite edition is a tie between 1e and 4e - 1e for it's pure, raw exuberance and 4e for its sophisticated polish. I never actually picked up 5e until literally last month, as I never played or even looked at the Alternity system until recently. So I don't really have a meaningful opinion on it. Still haven't looked at the 6e SSS version of the game, it seemed a bit too humorless for my taste, and the 7e looks like it went too far in the opposite direction. I have it but have yet to play it, but from what I've read the consensus seems to be that it's a nice game to visit, but wouldn't want to run a campaign there.