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Mix-O-Tronic: Creating Game Seeds

The Grimm World

by Brian Hollenbeck
Jun 26,2002


As a tribute to the current hoo-ha surrounding the Wizards of the Coast setting search, I thought that I'd bend the will of the Mix-O-Tronic in a particular direction. Normally, I run through the Mix-O-Tronic results and work with what I have. If it looks like sci-fi would fit the result best, I go with sci-fi. If it looks more like a board game, so be it. However, if you take the result components very liberally, looking for what the concepts mean rather than their literal meaning, sometimes you can get surprising results. This week's column takes an ordinary Mix-O-Tronic result and tries to make a fantasy setting out of it.

Mix-O-Tronic Result "theatre : Romeo & Juliet : Blair Witch"

The Grimm World

Hmm. Ok. Let's start with the easy stuff and work our way to the harder stuff. The Blair Witch Project (for those who have been under rocks for a really long time) is a low-budget horror film released in the summer of 1999. It was the story of three college students out making a documentary on 'The Blair Witch', ostensibly a real folk tale from Maryland. The students manage to get lost in the woods, encounter the Witch's doings and eventually are slain.

Whatever you thought of the movie itself, here's what we're going to take out of it for our setting: the world is our own, all folklore is real. Every story about pixies, brownies, Robyn Goodfellow, black cats under ladders, hats on beds, pennies on eyes, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Three Little Pigs. All superstition and wives' tales are plain fact. People don't bat an eye running into talking wolves in the forest. It's strange, mind you. It doesn't happen to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Put you heard from your mother's milkmaid's sister that her brother was "et by a witch livin' in a gingerbread 'ouse", so you're prepared for that sort of thing.

Magic works through superstition. If you want good luck, you throw a pinch of salt over your le ft shoulder, carry a penny in your left shoe and for heaven's sake never break a mirror. Each character has a Charm rating, operating as either a bonus or a penalty. A black cat crosses your path, -1 to your Charm. Find a hankie tied in a knot, +1 to your Charm. Your Charm doesn't apply all of the time, however. In order to use it, you have to perform some small ritual in order to whistle up your luck. Then your Charm applies to whatever roll you have to make next.

Most magic will have "magical" effect through massive amounts of Charm. Spellcasting classes (or individuals with the correct skill) may get more than the usual amount of Charm from the same rituals that others perform. Then they expend that Charm in one big burst to seemingly magical effect, such as being able to turn invisible . Spells like Fireball and the like wouldn't be possible, unless of course there was a fire nearby. In other words: magic in The Grimm World is really just a lot of luck and a slim margin of possibility.

Eager GMs may make up superstitions for the various cultures in their worlds (assuming you don't want to play on Earth). The superstitions of one culture can't be used by folks of another in order to effect their Charm. Of course, others can benefit indirectly from a Charmed action that the character takes. For a list of some superstitions, go here or here. The second is particularly encyclopedic.

We're not done yet. Theatre. The theatre has many superstitions of its own, such as never mentioning the Shakespearean play M_____h. Never saying 'Good luck', substituting instead 'Break a leg.' More are located here.

The theatre in Grimm World is more than just a passing entertainment. Some of the most powerful and influential people in the world, the heroes, are often actors and playwrights. This is because they are the ones capable of creating new folk heroes, new magic and new life. When William Shakespeare penned the words to the immortal Romeo & Juliet, it wasn't just a play. Eventually, in Verona, two merchant houses, alike in dignity, suddenly arise out of obscurity to become powerful players. Soon, civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Then, from the houses come two lovers (star-crossed, of course) who, despite everything that their parents can do to try and stop it, wind up dead of poisoning.

Viola really does wash up on an unknown shore, Caliban slaves under his master's thumb and a craftsman named Bottom once has his head turned into a donkey's. Playwrights and composers created Oberon and Titania. Faust and Don Giovanni.

There are those who would use this ability to further their own ends. As in most pieces of the period, those who do usually wind up on their own swords. In the meantime, however, others (the heroes) strive to make sure that drama and theatre are used only to further art and understanding, not base pleasures. All right, perhaps there's some base pleasuring, but never at anyone's expense.

Of course all of this depends on how well the work is received: if no one comes to see Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, then the story won't happen. The greater the story is received (the more work that the players put into the acting out of it or such), the more likely it is to occur, or some form of it anyways.

Such is the underlying ethos of our setting: Belief is reality. If enough people believe that a thing works (like a superstition), or if enough people believe in the story being told (such as Romeo & Juliet), then those things come to pass. If not, then a story is just a story, and how silly of you to think otherwise.

This is, of course, not your typical RPG setting. Apart from the Charm rules, however, none of it is necessarily bound to one system or the other. While casting about the internet for research, I found much that would make me think that Ars Magica would be a good system for this sort of alternate setting. Amber and Theatrix also make good pairings with it as well. But there's nothing saying that this setting couldn't work with any fantasy RPG. At least if you believe it. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Mix-O-Tronic columns by Brian Hollenbeck
  • The Grimm World by Brian Hollenbeck, 26jun02
  • Space Truckin' on the Highway To Hell by Brian Hollenbeck, 12jun02
  • Second Base April 17, 2002
  • First Steps March 12, 2002

    Other columns at RPGnet

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