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Author Topic: Mesopotamia Game  (Read 13248 times)
Mike Holmes
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« on: February 22, 2002, 07:37:29 AM »

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...Also, maybe we are thoroughly hijacking this thread and need a new one.

You were very right about the hijacking, so, here we are.

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I would be concerned that we use a "key concept" that makes it hard to differentiate the two.  That I would not want to do.

Concerned that we not use a key concept from Paul's game? Yes, absolutely. I think we can manage that.

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...a kinda model I have been toying with on and off would be to play a game which actually created a civilisation.  Difficult to conceptualise, but with a dynastic structure, obviously the culture will accrete data and depth over time.  Might be doable, I don't know yet.  The mechanics would have to be structured to prompt player behaviour in this direction.

Certainly. We need to pin down some basic design goals as well, however. I could just use Universalis to do a storytelling version of building a civilization (mental note: playtest that idea). But for a more focused and more traditional RPG, do we want to go more G,N,or S? I'm really tempted to make it a really Gamist thing. Just seems to make sense. Sorta like a really advanced version of the game Civilization. But I'd be amenable to the others as well. GM/Player power split? Or sould we wait until specific ideas come up to get into that?

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Course, another idea might be A Canticle For Leibowitz.  It rides close to post-apocalypse stuff but is spread across a good thousand years IIRC; anyway it might be feasible to start at a point in the future which is sufficiently removed from the present that all the dead technology stuff is irrelevant.  IIRC the story was a partial retelling of the "irish monks save civilisation in the dark ages" concept.

Might make an interesting concept. But just as easy would be to have it be set in the ancient world, before other civilizations. In fact you could kinda combine concepts, and build your own Mesopotamia, while the Indus and Nile civs grow around you. Lot's of possibilities in that vein.

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I think perhaps we need to refine our explicit goals.  I am interested in:

1) pseudo-archeological RP, or perhaps "psycho-archeology"
2) construction of plausibly consistent environments
3) experimenting with the process of history

I like all those.

Something more Simulationist, maybe, then? Or should we stick with the trend here and do a Narrativist game?

Sounds like Mesopotamia might be a good choice. Lots of data, lots of shifting history. I'm starting to see a game where you have cities developing in the region, and the players play the rulers of one or more cities. They form alliances, establish trade, etc. with other cities and try to maintain power. Again, a lot of Gamist potential. Or we could do it Sim centering around creating "accurate" sorts of historical events. I must admit that I am tempted by someone's recent challenge to create an avant garde Sim game.

How much magic and other non-real world stuff do you want to include?

Off to read up on the Sumerians...

Mike
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amiel
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2002, 09:13:46 AM »

Mike Holmes Wrote:

Quote
Certainly. We need to pin down some basic design goals as well, however. I could just use Universalis to do a storytelling version of building a civilization (mental note: playtest that idea).


You have captured my interest. This sounds like it has drifted toward an idea I'm trying to develop. See http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1347"> this thread. How do I get on board to playtest?
                                                                            -amiel
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Mithras
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2002, 02:13:14 PM »

Alhough this sounding out of why? where? and how? is something I think you're best doing on your own, I am interested in chipping in with tangents, ideas and more concrete historical nuggets that you could incorporate - however you decide to go with this.

Personally, I've always focussed in on the real people. Somehow dynasties, heroes, gods and mythic archetypes don't 'take me there' but remind e more of reading books on world religions (my foible). As one of my players remarked: 'in your games, Paul, we always get to smell the shit!'

There you go ...
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Paul Elliott

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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2002, 02:26:19 PM »

Well, I don't know exactly where I stand on the subject of scope, yet. One concept I was thinking of was to have the characters have a very human sort of experience, despite being from a rarefied social stratum.

Please do chime in, Paul, as well as anybody else who feels like it. I didn't start this thread to exclude you, just to separate the effort into two distinct projects.

Anyhow, one thing I'm finding in Mesopotamian religion is that they interpereted dreams as a means of augury. That gives me a lot of neat ideas. I'm considering having characters having both a dream life as well as their normal life. That way I can have both the rarefied and down to earth in the same game.

More to come.

Mike
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Mithras
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2002, 02:32:22 PM »

Egyptians interpreted dreams too (remember Joseph?) - I tried to create a simple dream system once but wasn't too hot at it. I ended up writing my scenario, then creating three dreams to foreshadow three events/locations/NPCs I had included in the scenario. As characters induced dreams and had them interpreted, or did this themselves, they would receive one of my pre-written dreams. The advantage was these dreams weren't flaky - they were useful, and full of important symbolic meaning. The downside was I only had a few of these and sometimes gave out the same dream, just emphasiszing a different or more important aspect of the 'story'.
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Paul Elliott

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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2002, 03:26:34 PM »

Oh dammit - I've posted a big chunk on the wrong thread, in Egypt.  Could the powers that be move it over here, pretty please?
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contracycle
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2002, 03:46:07 PM »

As far as the character psychology goes, I think we should firmly establish the theistic mindset in colour and structure; but I'm inclined to favour at least having go at the "strict" historical sim.  In terms of pushing what sim does, and the Civ idea, some mechanism could be developed for representing cultural and economic institutions mechnaically, but "from the inside"; the object then is to mine historical information for scenario construction.  Religion would have a role in informing players about the expected or appropriate social behaviours and value systems; perhaps these should be expressed mechanically through metaphysical attributes.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2002, 06:56:39 AM »

That big post was supposed to be here? Oh. Hmm..

Anyhow, yes, establish the Theistic mindset. One problem with using actualy Mesopotamian gods, though, is their sheer number. While some are certainly more important than others, references to over three thousand gods can be found. And they change over time. Instead of trying to have an encyclopedic listing of the gods, I'm envisioning a system whereby the players introduce the gods as they go (and they'd certainly be allowed to use the actual Mesopotamian gods; or possibly make their own).

As rulership changes from city-state to city-state, the gods can change to match. You see this most dramatically in the Babylonians using a lot of the Sumarian mythos, but changing it to suit them a bit better. For example, many of the myths that were formerly naturalistic take on a militaristic tone. It would be cool to see the drift of gods from one form to another over time, something the players could effect as rulers and people important to society.

So, how about each character getting to define a sort of Patron Deity? Not that every character is a priest, necessarily, but the diety in question should say someting about the character, and his place in society. So, I have a character that is in charge of brick making. His deity could be an Earth deity that can help or hinder the process of making bricks by ensuring that the earth used had the proper composition. Each player would then have a stat that related to the character's connection with the diety, and, therefore, how much he could rely on that dieties help. Or something like that.

We could leave the question of the in-game existence of deities open-ended. This would be interesting as it would point out how belief in a diety in such a civilization could be important (even if said deities do not exist). In that case "connection" with a deity would actually represent self-confidence, and an instinctive understanding of the shpere of influence, as well as others support of that belief. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people believe that you are connected to a war diety, they may support your decisions better. Or you can look at it as the deities actually existing.

This brings us back to the question of whether or not we want to have actual magic and supernatural elements in the game. Not just belief, but factual existence. This is a choice that should be nailed down early. I like them both. Actual existence is colorful. Simple belief in magic is interesting psychogically.

This also leads to the question of ahistoricity. How far afield do we want to go from actual history. For example, should the results of magic be limited somehow to the sorts of effects generated in myth, or theoretically produced by actual practitioners. Again, I'm tempted to leave things open-ended, but the more we do that the less we actually need to use anything from RW Mesopotamia.

What we need here is to determine why we are using Mesopotamia, specifically, and how we want to link it to the game mechanically. Because if we find very little, I'm going to advocate going to an entirely fictional setting that just focuses on the concepts of ancient life. Mithras is focusing his game on the interesting social aspects of Egypt, specifically education of the upper classes. What part of Mesopotamia is most interesting to focus on?

There are lots of aspects that fascinate me. Probably the most interesting to me is the architecture, and engineering. These things are almost always the parts of ancient civilizations that get most of my attention. What is a society like that has the centralized authority necessary to produce such monuments as the hanging gardens with such relatively limited technologies? I think that it might be interesting to design mechanics that dealt with characters and populaces in the context of their constructed environs.

Sorry, this meandered quite a bit. But there's lots of things to go over, things which should get nailed down before we get into making specific mechanics. A focused vision.

Mike
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Mithras
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2002, 10:29:49 AM »

What identifies Mesopotamia? Pyramids? Cities? Chariots? River culture? No. Accessibility of gods. In Egypt common folk were not allowed into the temple or precinct - Greek style. It was a cosmic factory where rituals were performed to keep the universe ticking over. The commoners had their own culture of shrines, amulets and spells...

In Mesopotamia I believe the ziggurats were used for great public ceremonies. What is more everybody had a 'personal god' a guardian angel (maybe a lammasu or an actual god) that may or may not be the god of the city. It is alleigances to gods which gets me interested. Marduk 'owns' Babylon and it is his 'estate' the inhabitants all serfs on his land, the king his steward. But a character may have Shamash as his personal god (perhaps the character is a judge or magistrate), and maybe one day he prays to Dumuzi that his sheep prove to be fertile.

Having relationships with different gods and different spirits (as well as people) really attracts me to the setting. It attracted me to RuneQuest...
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Paul Elliott

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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2002, 12:25:02 PM »

Quote from: Mithras

In Mesopotamia I believe the ziggurats were used for great public ceremonies.

Makes sense with what I've read.

Quote

What is more everybody had a 'personal god' a guardian angel (maybe a lammasu or an actual god) that may or may not be the god of the city. It is alleigances to gods which gets me interested.

Which fits with what I proposed above.

Quote

Having relationships with different gods and different spirits (as well as people) really attracts me to the setting. It attracted me to RuneQuest...

Sounds like a good starting point to me. Perhaps that set of metaphysical stats that Gareth mentioned could be determied by the god chosen, and vice versa. The character affects the God's stats. Essentially represents the importance of the character's support of that god. So a slave believing in a particular god means little, whereas a king who believes may be critical to a particular God's existence. Or, possibly a cross-product of belief and status. Which means that a very devout Semite slave could superimpose the will of their one god over the local Mesopotamian one to effect, say, an escape.

Hmmm. That's very juicy and a lot to think about. Gareth? I'd like to pin a few of these subjects down so that we can start in on mechanics.

Topics:
1. GNS
2. Premise as it relates to Mesopotamia
3. Religion, Magic and Supernatural
4. Character relation to the game

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2002, 02:11:25 AM »

Hiya,

The big post which outlines one possible conceptualisation of the game resides under the Egypt thread.  It's an attempt to conceive the dynastic "time slot" in which a game occurs as generated by the players and GM; check that out and let me know what you thin, anyone who's interested.

This is the beginning of the Babylonian story of how Marduk created the world.  It is interesting that the "creation of the world" and the creation of cities are conflated; the begining of the city is the start of history as they conceive it.

"A holy house, a house of the gods in a holy place, had not been made, reed had not come forth, a tree had not been created,
A brick had not been laid, a brick mould had not been built,
A house had not been built, a city had not been built,
A city had not been made, a living creature had not been placed (therein).
(...)
All the lands were sea.
The spring in the sea was a water pipe.
Then Eridu was made, Esagila was built,
Esagila whose foundations Lugaldukuga laid within the Apsu.
(...)
The gods, the Annunnaki he created equal.
The holy city, the dwelling of their hearts' delight, they call it solemnly.
Marduk constructed a reed frame on the face of the waters.
He created dirt and poured it out by the reed frame.
In order to settle the gods in the dwelling of (their) hearts' delight,
He created mankind.

This from the book: "Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City" by Gwendolyn Leick.  Leick goes on to discuss the material history of Mesopotamia and argues convincingly that the later Babylonian myth is substantially accurate - Eridu was the first city, contains the first structure (a squarish space with a plinth and a recess) and is the place where "kingship came down from heaven" and is later "carried off" to other cities (notably Uruk, by the city-goddess Inanna).  Later, "Uruk was defeated (and) its kingship was carried of to Agade."  At Akkad, a new city explicitly founded and thus without a god, king Naram-Sin becomes the city god through popular acclaim and the consent of other city gods.  I think there is a definate and deliberate conflation here with the god as "genius" of the city proper.

Anyway, one approach might be the "hexapolis" of one historic period; then the gods might be the city gods and we anticipate that PC's will come from at least several cities.  I imagine eachy city would have its pet heirarchy of lesser gods and spirits etc.

A temple hymn refers to "Foundation of heaven and earth, Holy of Holies Eridu Abzu, shrine, erected for its prince," - that phrase "Holy of Holies Eridu Abzu" might be used in some manner for explicit colour.
 
http://babel.massart.edu/~tkelley/eridu/
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2002, 06:07:22 AM »

Quote

The question is how to do all the above, and not just make it a rehash of Aria (which claims to do many of the same things).


Well, we are working a couple of parallel ideas really - the first is a game, and the other is a system for creating a game.  But they are occurring simultaneously; I hope that exploration of Mesopotamia as a setting and the development of an appropriate mechanic would allow the extension of the mechanic to other cultures; but in each case realised directly for that culture rather than in the abstract.

This means that the final working example would have to operate on three levels:
The individual
The city as collective identity
The rest of the world

Characters should have the ability to intervene in the city as collective identity; this is where architecture and the construction of monuments enters the scene; where peace and war have relevance.  Cities are the primary actors on the geopolitical stage, either individually or in concert.
Each city should have its own map; physical landscape should not be nominal or representative, but actual (even if fictional).  The system should provide mechanisms by which the construction of monuments and the like are rewarded mechanically.

At the World level, a regional map describes the layout of local cities etc in relation to one another; the purpose of the map is to show interactions, such as trade routes and whatnot.  Again, characters can intervene at this level, but will need City-sized assets to do so, like armies.  The World level would also include external spiritual entities and whatnot.

Anyway, [point is: individual action can accumulate and become city action; city action can accumulate and become world action.  We have three rules strata; a world in which cities are the active entity, and cities in which the individual is the active entity.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2002, 06:57:34 AM »

Quote from: contracycle

Well, we are working a couple of parallel ideas really - the first is a game, and the other is a system for creating a game.  But they are occurring simultaneously; I hope that exploration of Mesopotamia as a setting and the development of an appropriate mechanic would allow the extension of the mechanic to other cultures; but in each case realised directly for that culture rather than in the abstract.

Hmm.. I'm hoping for one or the other. Either a game that is so closely linked to Mesopotamia as to be inextricable from it, or a game that can be used to create completely fictional civilizations, and has no specific links. The first has the advantage of having whatever innate attractiveness Mesopotamia has (pretty high for me and, apparently, people like Paul), and the second has the advantage of freedom to create something new. Again, I think we might be looking at more than one game. And, again, each excites me.

Quote

This means that the final working example would have to operate on three levels:
The individual
The city as collective identity
The rest of the world

I like this. But this is where my Aria comment comes in. IIRC (and I may not), in Aria (":Canticle of the Monomyth") you first create the world and its cosmology through coming up with creation myths, etc. Then you come up with cultures. Then you come up with characters from the primary culture, which are played over generations.

The other thing that I remember about Aria is that it is a tremendously huge ruleset with a roll for everything, and, according to peole who actually tried to play it, quite tedious, often. So all I'm looking for is something that keeps gameplay from falling into those same pits.

Quote

Characters should have the ability to intervene in the city as collective identity; this is where architecture and the construction of monuments enters the scene; where peace and war have relevance.  Cities are the primary actors on the geopolitical stage, either individually or in concert.
Each city should have its own map; physical landscape should not be nominal or representative, but actual (even if fictional).  The system should provide mechanisms by which the construction of monuments and the like are rewarded mechanically.

I like that a lot. The size and magnificence of your central temple complex should affect the spiritual well being of the city.  The market should affect the economics. The granary affects nutrition. Etc. A well fed motivated populace with a lot of slaves can then build more and better monuments or conquer it's neighbors. Yep, I'm all for defining play on this level, and having it affected by character actions. I think we're on the same page.

Quote

At the World level, a regional map describes the layout of local cities etc in relation to one another; the purpose of the map is to show interactions, such as trade routes and whatnot.  Again, characters can intervene at this level, but will need City-sized assets to do so, like armies.  The World level would also include external spiritual entities and whatnot.

Again, I agree totally.

OK, I think that we've got the scope of things fairly well narrowed. Now to what end are the players playing? Are they looking for cultural hegemony? Are they looking to create a utopia? Or are the character goals based more on the individual characters? I think the latter might be best. But I also see characters wanting to be the rulers of the cities and create either hegemony or utopia. If there are rules to get there, won't the players feel that is the goal?

BTW, contrary to your previous post, I see all the characters as being from one city. Otherwise won't they be in competition? Or is that the idea?

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2002, 07:07:43 AM »

Quote
I like that a lot. The size and magnificence of your central temple complex should affect the spiritual well being of the city. The market should affect the economics. The granary affects nutrition. Etc. A well fed motivated populace with a lot of slaves can then build more and better monuments or conquer it's neighbors. Yep, I'm all for defining play on this level, and having it affected by character actions. I think we're on the same page.


Didn't Sid Mier already make that game?  ;-)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2002, 07:30:19 AM »

Quote from: Valamir

Didn't Sid Mier already make that game?  ;-)


Yes, exactly. In fact, if we were to go for the generic version of the game mentioned above, I'd be calling Sid's people (or whomever) about getting a license to do Civilization: the RPG. That's very much what I'm talking about. The RPG would just be more detailed, local and realistic (no sending primitive explorers on trans-polar cicumnavigations of the world, for example; still don't own a copy of civ III).

The other possibility, the Mesopotamia specific game would be very very different, however, and only focus on those elements specific to that civilization.

Just how I see it. Not to say you couldn't play the Civ RPG with the trappings of the Mesopotamians, just like you can start the computer game playing the Sumerians.

Mike

P.S. I realize that you were joking, but I'm not.
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