Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Uresia, One Piece and the importance of whimsical fantasy

I'm not the only blogger to have sung the praises of S John Ross's amazing Uresia: Grave of Heaven. Jeff Rients (do I say this guy's name enough or what?) has often doted on the setting in his early Gameblog posts and SirLarkins of The RPG Corner made an attempt at a mechanical conversion for Rules Cyclopedia D&D. It's a dynamite little book, lean on population-density data but chock full of plot hooks, adventure seeds and character ideas. Each continent and civilization has the important cultural details and maybe a few cities sketched out in the descriptions but the book gives GMs more or less free reign to make Uresia a setting of their own based on the building blocks set out by the author. It's a fantastic approach to a published setting that really inspires and if I ever get a group together with the right mindset, I'd love to give my Culinary Adventures campaign a try. Because really, there's gotta be groups of adventurers that have to go out and track down the secret ingredients for the Dreed fighting chefs, be it hunting for giant beasts on Trolllander islands or climbing the Laochrian mountain ranges for a chance to harvest the rare Winter Thyme.

But I think the thing that really sticks with me about Uresia is the whimsical, light-hearted nature of the setting. So much of the role-playing community, old-school or not, is obsessed with increasing doses of grittiness and dystopia in their gaming experiences. Now, I'm not saying that no one should play gritty games: after all, my favorite system of all time is still Unknown Armies and I've had great times playing Cyberpunk and Call of Cthulhu. But the games I really remember are the ones where everyone is having fun and the setting supports that fun.

I'm a huge fan of the shonen manga series One Piece for a multitude of different reasons. I've been reading for six years and over 600 chapters now and I can honestly say that I'm as interested in reading more now as I was when I first started, which I NEVER say about most lost-lasting shonen series (Naruto, Bleach et al.) Honestly, I think it's because the series has maintained a consistent tone of whimsical adventure since it started. Times have gotten dark, situations have felt hopeless and struggles have been overwhelming but at the end of the day, it's still a series about a young boy wanting to become the greatest pirate ever with the help of his friends. No matter how serious matters get, there's always hope and camaraderie to rely upon.

I know that I haven't done a great job of explaining how I feel about this 'style(?)' of gaming, but in the campaign idea that I'm working on for my potential library D&D game, I'm trying to capture this whimsical and hopeful feeling for a group of completely new roleplayers. There are a couple of established settings outside of Uresia that really hit that mark for me, chief among them Shane Lacy Hensley's 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds and the core-books-only approach to Eberron, which is fortunately made much easier in its new 4th Edition format. But in all honesty, I think that I want to create something using the core assumptions of 4E and frame it in these whimsical ideals.

I want their characters to believe that they can change the world. And goddammit, they should be able to.


  1. As you'd expect from a guy who runs a blog called Risus Monkey, I'm a big fan of S John's work. Uresia is no exception. And rumor has it that there is another Uresia product in the works. Check out the uresia yahoo group for details (http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/uresia/).

  2. Wait, REALLY? That's the first concrete news I've heard about Uresia 2nd in years! Awesome!

  3. Uresia is indeed cool, and I agree the concept of whimsy is an underrated one in settings. I can't say I see a lot of that in Eberron, though.

  4. I think a lot of my Eberron whimsy comes from the "If it's in D&D, it has a place in Eberron" design goal. Keith Baker took a lot of the standard D&D tropes and gave them just enough of a tweak to make them interesting and different, but similar enough so that a relative novice can still recognize what they are. In Eberron, you're more likely to negotiate with a medusa than slay one, the orcs are at one with nature and the group that you should be the most afraid of are gnomes.

    Along that same note, there was a World Building thread on the SA Forums that talked about how really good settings are full of Things To Do and not Places to See, which Eberron has in spades.

  5. Yeah, I'm going nuts waiting for the systemless Uresia book to come out. When it does, I'll likely start working on my conversion again...

  6. I dig S. John's work. When I first started writing zines around 1999, he was very helpful to me. I should pick that book up some time.

  7. Yo! Uresia is all sorts of killer. In my failed Barsoom campaign, besides having Monster Trainers (inspired more by Pokemon, but also by Uresia), one of the classes was a Fighting-Chef. Only one character chose to play one and that was right before the campaign went kerflooie, but it was awesome, while it lasted.

    The thing about Uresia (and hopefully my own games) is that the whimsical exists alongside the gritty, as either as an antidote or centerpiece. Those are my favorite settings, where the whimsical, dark, and even the mundane, coexist side-by-side (killer band) in equal doses and the players groove on the whole thing.

    The best thing about Uresia is that almost every paragraph has an adventure hook thrown in to use in any game.

  8. The new edition is out :) http://www.cumberlandgames.com