A Blanket of Ashes

So I’ve been doing those things that lead to lots of nifty ideas ricocheting off each other — namely “reading stuff” and “talking to Kate” — having done so, I’ve got this pile of stuff I feel like hashing out in public.

I’d like to run a game, right? And I’d kind of like it to be big game — one of those epic tales with kingdoms rising and falling and like that. I imagine this is due in part to what I’ve been reading — A Song of Ice and Fire and Tolkien (again) and things like that.

Maybe I just want to roll some dice.

I like the Game of Thrones stuff — it’s fun. I know Martin based the setting on something he used to run for a tabletop RPG, so it makes sense that it tickles that part of my brain. (I like to imagine that the game he ran was actually people playing Ned Stark and Robert and those guys, back when they were young and taking over the Seven Kingdoms, and that he ended up writing the Game of Thrones story instead of running it because none of his old players could get super excited about playing their characters’ kids hopelessly fucking everything up beyond all recognition.)

It would be fun to run that kind of broad-reaching game with noble-borns (throne wars are fun) and maybe some kind of troupe-play where everyone has secondary characters they can play when the camera shifts to someone who happens to be 500 miles away from where your main guy is at. Reminds me of the way Galactic handled different starships, captains, and their crews. Also (maybe) it makes it easy to have a lot of players without caring if everyone can show up for every session, because you’ve got a big cast to work with. I did that with Spirit of the Century for a while, and it worked. Kind of.

That seems like kind of a cool game to play.

I got to thinking about it, though, and I realized one of the things I really liked about the second Martin book (Clash of Kings) was the idea that magic was coming back.

It seems like a really simple thing, but in that genre, it’s really quite unusual — in fact it’s backwards. If you look at Tolkien (which kind of formed the template for epic war fantasy stories for a LONG time), the idea is there’s good, there’s evil, there’s some magic, but the magic is weaker/subtler than it used to be back in the Age of Whatever, and when everything is all said and done and the good guys win, magic is going to pretty much go out of the world and we’ll be left with the plain old boring rules we all understand. There are many examples of this.

That sort of setting is where Game of Thrones starts — it’s really your basic “no-magic medieval society” default. There’s tales of magic and stuff, from the old days, but almost no one really really believes them anymore. Alchemists have these spells that let them make crazy-ass super-powered Greek fire, but that’s just Greek fire or something — it’s not MAGIC. Someone says they have a magic pendant that makes the wearer immune to poison and people kind of smirk behind their sleeve. I mean, we aren’t savages, are we? Surely we don’t believe any of that nonsense.

And then Something Changes and those old spells start working a lot better. Or… you know… just start working at all. It’s gradual, and it’s not (for many people) a central plot point, but it happens.

Wouldn’t it be cool if destroying the One Ring had put all that confined magic back into the world?

So anyway, I got to thinking about worlds where the magic has kind of gone away, and no one really believes it anymore, except for a few people who live in weird places.

There’s a fun-sounding game setting called (I think) Midnight that was kind of a big deal a few years ago. The elevator pitch for this setting was “Sauron won, and he’s in charge of everything now.”

I was talking with Kate about this, explaining why I thought this was kind of a really cool idea — what if the bad guys had won, right? And a whole bunch of time had passed with the bad guys in power, and then you start the story there.

And she says, “Like the first Star Wars movie.”

And I kind of shake my head and say “Yeah, kind of, I guess, but…”

Then I stop and think about it and realize that it’s not “kind of”; that’s exactly the situation — the bad guy’s won, they’ve been in power a long time, and we start our story there — it’s just never described that way.


So here’s a fun little exercise. Combine that with the dying magic thing.

You know what’s interesting about A New Hope? There’s very little Force use. Vader chokes one guy. Ben ‘senses’ a bunch of stuff. Vadar ‘senses’ a bunch of stuff. There’s a lot of sensing. There’s damn little space-telekinesis. Vadar’s scary because he’s ruthless, is made of a lot of robot parts that let him pick guys up one-handed and snap their neck, and has a laser sword. His big contribution to the final battle in the first movie is as a fighter pilot.

People mock the force. They don’t believe in it. No one who can do anything with it does very much. Ben’s biggest force trick in the first movie? Dying.

What if it was that way because the Force itself had grown weak? Maybe it really is just mumbo-jumbo at that point in the story. Maybe it’s like a well you have to keep primed, and with all those Jedi dead during the Clone Wars, and just like four living force users left, there just isn’t that much mojo left.

Then the Force start waking up. Maybe because the by-blow of one of the living force users grows up enough to start using the force himself — maybe because Ben died and poured all his mojo back into the well — whatever: the magic starts flowing again, and up until that happens, Vadar is left tossing guys around with his robot arm, swinging his glow stick back and forth, shooting guys with his custom fighter, and sensing things.

With me on this so far? Cool.

Now take that situation, except the Emperor is Sauron, Vadar’s a Nazgul, and all those skeptical imperial generals are Uruk-hai who don’t really have any use for hokey religions anymore, not since the Old Kingdom of Good got its teeth kicked in five hundred years ago.

Evil won. It won so long ago that that people don’t really believe there was ever a time when they were free. The Good King? Wizards? All those whimsical creatures like “dwarves” and “elves” and “horses”? Those are nice stories that are going to get your hopes up and get an overlord’s whip in your face. The sky’s always been that color. The mountains have always burned. We’ve always had to figure out a way to find clean water and grow food under a blanket of ashes. Just keep your head down and do what you’re told. That’s the way the world is.

Until something changes.

Kate wants there to be a secret society of female warriors, plotting the downfall of the Wight Lords.

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