[Meta Gaming] M. John Harrison on worldbuilding, writing, reading and play

Long long ago, in the before-time, I wrote a post that quite badly misapplied, misunderstood, or perhaps merely under-utilised M John Harrison on the matter of worldbuilding.

I stand by what I said – that the nerdist approach to games and literature and cinema is based on an obsessive and pedantic hoarding of facts that’s ultimately misguided, dull and ever so slightly dangerous – but I didn’t go all the way down and I regret that.

What Harrison actually talks about is the claim that an imagined world really exists, and is a thing that can be interacted with at all. It’s all just words – words written by an author or authors – and what you’re really engaging with is an exchange between author and reader in which you complete the process of creating fiction. It’s not real when the author writes it, and it’s not really real even after you’ve read it, and pretending that there is something real and “canonical” behind/underneath the author’s writing of it is a fundamental failure to apprehend how the real universe works.

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[V5] Oblivion Discipline: Full Rewrite (and another hack)

Referring back to the previous post for context: Oblivion has some problems as a Discipline, I’ve attacked it in various different ways, this is probably the most developed. To ensure compliance with the Dark Pack guidelines I won’t be providing full writeups for the actual powers, only page references to Chicago by Night and Cults of the Blood Gods. I’ll add, in italics, any additional rules or changes to those powers as I go along.

It’s only fair, before you hit the wall of text, to say that it’s a lot simpler to just make The Binding Fetter the prerequisite power for all the “ghost path” Ceremonies (the ones with ‘Spirit’ in their name), Ashes to Ashes the prerequisite power for all the “zombie path” Ceremonies (the ones with statblocks for that which is summoned included), and Where The Shroud Thins for Split the Shroud and Ex Nihilo. That’s a really tidy way of doing it and I sort of wish I’d thought of that instead of having someone suggest it on Discord and me going “well, that’s a lot of my brain tape wasted.”

But the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time, and I’m still quite pleased with what I did here, so: let’s begin.

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[V5] Oblivion Discipline, Bloat and Monobuild: a Take, and some House Rules

Ah, Oblivion. A controversial choice on the part of Onyx Path Publishing, and it really is their baby since it’s been laid out in the two books they’ve produced for V5.

Take the Obtenebration of the Lasombra and the Necromancy of the Giovanni (and the Mortis of the Cappadocians, the Thanatosis of the Samedi, the Nihilistics of the Nagaraja… Vampire necromancy is a right mess, whether you treat it as separate paths of one big thing or an array of similar-but-different Disciplines).

Tie together the obvious commonalities – Kiasyd used to have both! The Abyss, the bad place where the shadows are alive, is correspondent to Oblivion, the bad place that turns wraiths into spectres and defines that whole game line! Something to do with Werewolves, the Labyrinth, the Wyrm, honestly I’m not much of a Werewolf person but it’s there! Lasombra, the Antediluvian, is not as dead as everyone said he was! (spoiler warning for a book that came out in 2005 and has been Wiki-synopsised to death, I suppose. honestly, “spoilers” in an RPG book, who’d have… anyway.)

Then, think like Dawkins – a WoD superfan who’s owned more or less every Vampire book there is to own and actually remembers them all – and decide what if this was all coming from the same place? There’s something at the very bottom of the World of Darkness’ cosmology, it has something to do with ghosts and shadows and spiritually corrosive world poisoning nastiness, it’s always hungry and one day it might devour the world.

It makes sense. Sorry, haters, but from a worldbuilding point of view there’s enough there. From a mechanical point of view… eeeh. Good and bad. It’s great that the Hecata (as they now are) and the Lasombra have a single Discipline in common (much like how Protean has been used to cover the similar-enough remits of the Gangrel, Tzimisce and Followers Ministry of Set), and are otherwise very different in their spreads. (Giovanni and Lasombra having functionally the same spread outside their signature never sat well with me, really.)

However, Oblivion itself has suffered slightly from being developed across two books, by a team who I think might not have been sure they were going to do the second one when the first one was being worked on. As a result, in an age of streamlining Disciplines, eliminating redundancy, and controlling bloat, Oblivion has ended up with four powers per level where most Disciplines only get two, and the understandable desire to gatekeep “necromancy” behind the Ceremony system has led to a weird situation where this huge and flexible discipline has expensive monobuilds.

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