Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Sisyphus Can Teach Us

From Wikipedia:

"In Greek mythology Sisyphus... was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever."

So I've been going through the process of creating races for my sci-fi game when I realized just what a Sisyphean task it is to try and populate an entire galaxy with individual alien races. Especially since I have already noted that space fantasy tends toward specific alien tropes. 

So what separates reptilian alien A from reptilian alien B? In games that cover a huge multitude of alien races like Star Wars, the difference comes down to the Planet of Hats trope. For those unfamiliar, it's when we say things like "All Jawas are mechanics", or "All Trandoshans are hunters". It defines an alien race down to a specific stereotype that rarely leaves any room for diversity. But what if I wanted to play a Jawa farmer, or a Trandoshan technician? The rules in many games say I would be better off playing the stereotype because I would be handicapping my character by making him individualistic.

You could argue that cultures have given rise to specific types of specialists (Sparta) but I want my players to have the freedom to create characters that are interesting and varied. I don't want Race to become a substitute for a D&D style class system. Wow, there's a whole lot wrong with that sentence.

The game High Space for Savage Worlds had an interesting way of handling it. They created racial "Templates" that you could just plug in to any trope alien and let the differences between the races be trappings. I'm going to follow that philosophy in my game design because frankly I have neither the time or willpower to make 3 different reptilian races with unique traits, let alone a billion.

So what can Sisyphus teach us about setting? That if you spend all of your time pushing the rock up a hill, you have no time left to play. Unless you really enjoy the never-ending-boulder-roll game.

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