What Things Remain: Tangible Lore and Oracular History Generation
Table of Contents
Making Lore Tangible
But, now with a pandemic putting me out of a job, I at least have the time to get some shit done. That's some monkey's paw shit right there. Sorry everyone.
By intangible, I mean that no matter how well crafted your lore is, it cannot be experienced by the players in the game. It is, by definition, shit that has happened already. Which means that if your players do want to educate themselves about the world, they have to do it outside of the game, which, if you have players at all like mine, means that they will just not do it.
History contained in an pdf or google doc or printed handout or whatever can be cool, and provide context, but only if someone reads it, and, more importantly, reads it closely enough to internalize it and act on it at the table. If the end goal is to treat your game world as though it has some actual weight and internal reality, you have to face that 99.99999999% of the time, all that history will only ever be known in a meaningful way by you, the person who wrote it, and thus will contribute precisely nothing to the texture and depth of your game.
1. Makes your campaign feel lived in
2. Doesn't take a boggling amount of prep
3. Makes your lore tangible, that is, something your players can engage with in game
There's a lot of good answers to that question, and only one of them is mine, but if you're still reading, I figure that's the one you're after, so here you go.
What Things Remain
How To Make Your Lore Tangible
"Ah, but Screwhead" you say "Isn't the best way to do that to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the birthing rites of elves and the saffron trade routes across the Bay of Belts?" The answer to that is "sure." Sure, if you'd like. If you really really just wanna try your hand at a world bible and you've got some time to burn and you promise that you won't make anyone read it you'll just sprinkle in interesting and interactive tidbits into your game, sure.
The thing is, with a world bible, for every interesting bit you do include, there will be entire chapters that you write that never, ever, ever see play. That's a lot of wasted time and effort. Additionally, if you want to write a world bible, you've gotta have an entire bible's worth of good ideas, which is just not something I usually have on hand.
So, what I do, rather than write up a comprehensive history of anything, is to just create some interesting things that have happened in the past, and then turn those events into real, tangible things that I can use in my games.
And, because I will never come up with an idea unprompted if I can instead make an oracular generator to interpret, I've done just that.
Oracular History GenerationTo start with, determine around 4 Ages. An Age will be a period of time in your world's history defined by thematic similarities. If you've already got a handle on your world's history, dope, this should be easy. If you don't, like me, then use the Age Generator (inspired by and created with the help of the lovely Archons March On and their wonderful Lands Generator) and click through it till you get one that gets your mind whirring. Do this till you've got 4 to work with.
These tables look like this:
Don't worry, I'll explain what each category is for, and and give an example for each one.First, identify the four Themes of the Age. What do you want the players to gain from this? Why are you telling them? What are the principle things you want to communicate about each Age?
1. The Elements are Chained to Our Will
2. Gods Bow at the Feet of Kings
3. The Princes of the World Bring Us Tribute
4. Our Kings Will Live Forever
These are the Foci I chose for the Age of Conquering Kings:
The Age of Conquering Kings
Go through this process for all four of your Ages. Here's a link to a doc with the completed tables for my sample four.
FragmentsNow that you have these 4 Tables, it's time you use them to generate Fragments. Fragments are what I'm calling the random interesting bits of history that you're going to be including in your game. Rather than generate an entire narrative or chronology for each Age, it will serve our purposes better to create five moments, individuals, places, items, or events that hold special significance within the Age.
To create a Fragment, roll on the Age's Fragment Table that you just made, record the results, and then interpret them to write something that includes all of the elements that you rolled. I like to roll once for Focus, twice for Action, then once for each Detail. If I feel like I need or want more, I'll give myself another detail roll.
Unless you hit on something particularly brilliant immediately, you really must try to include all rolled elements: it is in the puzzling over the bizarre juxtapositions that the Oracular Generation method does its best work.
Here's a sample Fragment:
- The Ruby Blood of Dal-Ep
- Theme: Our Kings Will Live Forever
- Focus: Princess
- Actions: Shining, Praying
- Details: Dusty, Ruby, Blood
- When the Princess Dal-Ep was born, oracles in the employ of her father, King Altef told him to rejoice, for his chance to seize immortality had come. His life was bound to Dal-Ep’s and as long as she lived, he could not die. He told her of this miracle early, and she was raised to shoulder its burden when she came of age. When the time came, she was sealed in a ceremonial tomb, watched over by statues of her ancestors. There, she mediated and prayed on her life and that of her father, and of all those who had come before him, and all who would come after. So great was her prayer that from the time she entered the tomb, the years did not touch her. She remained, petrified and preserved by her faith, a living statue. Centuries later, when a physician of her father’s came, as they often did, to see that she remained in good health and to brush the dust from her frozen hair and face, they found that though she still drew breath, they could not draw her blood - it had crystalized, turned to solid ruby in her veins.
Your Fragments don't need to be anywhere this long. A couple jotted notes will do for almost all cases; I just got particularly inspired by these rolls.
Here you will find the complete list of all my sample Fragments.
Next, determine the Legacies for each Age. A Legacy is the stuff we've been talking about, the tangible thing that will represent your Fragment in the game.
Think about how you want each Age to manifest in your campaign, what each age left behind. Each Age gets 4 Legacies, chosen from or rolled on the following list:
For example, for the Age of Conquering Kings I rolled Landmark, Fashion, Ruin, Story.
Next, you must fill in the Actions, Descriptive Details, and Concrete Details. Do this using the same Actions and Details that you filled out the Age Oracle Tables with, choosing your favorite Actions and Details from each age to carry over to the Legacy Oracle Table. A completed Legacy Table can be found here
Now that the Legacy Oracle Tables have been filled out, you can begin to use them. Simply roll to determine which Fragment this Legacy will be grounded in, then roll to determine the sort of Legacy it is. I then like to roll once for an Action, then once again on each Detail Table, but you'll get a feeling for whatever your preference is.
Once you've rolled, take your results and synthesize a Legacy, using much the same method as when you created your Fragments.
You'll note that this method gives you Legacies grounded in a Fragment from one Age but given flavor with Actions and Details from other Ages. Again, this a loose way to give a nod towards the inevitable intermingling of customs, inventions, etc. across time periods. The present is, after all, a product of all past ages.
Here's a sample Legacy I rolled up:
Now, to prove they work and for anyone who'd like to use them, here's a few of my own generators:
Age of Conquering Kings Fragment Generator
Age of the General Fragment Generator
Age of the Vulture Roads Fragment Generator
Age of Mechanical Governors Fragment Generator
And at long last, we'll wrap this one up. Hopefully you found some of this useful, or if not, at least inspiring or diverting. If anyone does end up using this to generate a setting, please let me know; I'll do a post featuring any and all creations made with these tools.
Enjoy, and until next time (hopefully somewhat sooner).