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- Oct 7, 2018
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I don't think we're disagreeing. If the polity or society is just a source of hostiles then it's pretty limited. If your players are expecting to be jumped by slavers anytime they go near it then it becomes something to avoid. This situation is the sort of outcome that you might get from a one-dimensional design for a society. You can make an adventure out of escaping the slave pits but that trope has a fairly limited shelf life unless you fill it out with something rich enough to make the slave pits an interesting setting in its own right. If you can interact with NPCs in a society on a meaningful basis (or use it to inform an interesting character design) then it becomes more interesting.Mm. Apologies for the pile-on, but yeah, this is worth a comment. If these are the tenets on which a GM runs the campaign, then it seems to me that the only purpose for that society is to inform the players whom to shoot and whom not to shoot.
Pop quiz: When was the last time you saw a decent-sized campaign set in Mordor or The Zhodani Consulate?
I think these are examples of a badly designed evil empire, at least from a role playing perspective. Granted Mordor was never designed for this but the entire Modror arc in LOTR consisted of Frodo and Sam assiduously trying to avoid any contact with the locals. Although a lot of verbiage got put into humanising the Zhodani in later publications, they were originally painted as bad guys and it never really got past being an evil empire. There wasn't really a lot of thought put into how to set adventures there, and the folks at GDW set themselves up with a hard task as Zhos were originally designed to be creepy psi-sensitive bad guys with several wars being fought against them. It was set up as a place where it was more-or-less impossible to hide without high-tech Imperial gadgetry that wasn't normally available to random PCs - and even then that only gets a mention as an afterthought in one particular adventure. Basically, they tried bodging stuff on the side but it never really worked and the majority of post CT-era material largely ignored the Zhodani.
You can make things more nuanced. I did a Call of Cthulhu game set in 1950s (just after Stalin's death) Soviet era Tajikistan once, for example. To make it work I filled in a bit of corruption in the local apparatchiks and a more lazzes-faire relationship between the party hierarchy and the local Tajik population - i.e. chinks in the fabric of society that the players could use to get about and do their thing.
To cite a couple of examples from the discussion above, If the NPCs have motivations informed by the society, or situations set up by social norms then the society is doing its job in informing play. This is really the stuff I was getting at - discussing how the design of a society has informed play, or how it was done with that in mind. We are starting to see a few examples of that coming out in the discussion, and the question I actually asked was -
[ . . . ]
Describe an exotic society or culture you've done or thought of and outline an idea for half a dozen sessions worth of material without using any of the following cliches:
[ . . . ]
In particular, how did the various mcguffins you put into the culture inform the adventures themselves?
I guess it's not strictly necessary to avoid the cliches but I've seen a lot more effort put into justifying why the poster shouldn't have to do that than into answering the question that was actually asked. Having said this, If someone's designed slave pits that made for an interesting side quest that they got half a dozen sessions out of then I'd be quite happy to see a discussion of how that went.