Thursday, September 1, 2016

Problems with Physics in the Strange

The Strange defines itself (and differentiates itself from other RPGs) by the ease with which the game can slide between different settings -- including settings of widely varying theme, tone, genre, etc.  It succeeds in this regard but there are some limitations that one should watch when using published material for the game.

The typical approach to structure the use of material for different creatures, items, etc. is the use of a "physics" qualifier.  This makes a great deal of sense.  A lightsaber would be out of place in a paleolithic adventure.  The entry for a lightsaber would include a qualifier that the item relied on "weird science" to indicate that it would be a poor fit for a recursion based on low technology (like "sub-standard physics") or even contemporary technology.  

This system works fairly well but one needs to be careful in implementing this advice.  

First, the use of underlying physics to define recursions can lead to some confusion.  It may be that a lightsaber is entirely consistent with realistic physics -- we just don't know how to develop that technology yet.  A better term may be technology, then, than physics.  However, with "sub-standard" physics, the assumption seems to be that some technologies like gun powder and electricity actually would not work at all -- even if you brought that technological knowledge with you as you translate.  

Second, the categories can be quite broad.  "Weird science" includes a broad range of categories from far-future transhuman technology to retro-futurist technology to outright science fantasy.  A Rukian graft would be as out of place in some science fantasy settings as it would a "substandard physics" recursion.  The category is quite broad and includes many different genres wherein different rules of appropriateness may apply.

Similarly, "sub-standard" physics could include anything from a world where specific technologies are dominant and others don't work (steampunk) or where technology is pretty much absent (paleolithic).  

So, what are we supposed to do?  First, we should recognize that the physics limiters are good starting points for the development of material for our games.  For creatures in particular, the physics limiters are actually pretty much all you need (though there are some exceptions).  The real problems come in when using items (cyphers and artifacts). 

Second, we have to use our own judgment.  You can use technological level as one indicator.  You can use the basics of magic or other what other supernatural forces (if any) operate within the recursion.  You should feel free to make your own judgments about what would or would not fit within any specific recursion.  

So, "problems" is probably too strong a word.  The Strange is a game that encourages flexibility in adventure design -- but it also calls for direct judgment on the part of the GM about the appropriateness of including specific elements in a recursion.  Don't take physics limitations as a necessary or sufficient indication for the appropriateness of an element for your game -- take it for the soft recommendation that it is.  

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