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  1. #1
    Site Moderator geeman's Avatar
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    What Birthright Means to Me

    >Ah, the primordial question: What Birthright Means to Me

    I think this topic merits its own thread... and since I have a lot of
    comments, I`ll go ahead and put them here. These ideas are about the
    domain level of play and what it means to RPGs, BR in particular.

    1. My Birthright. I absolutely support tweakers and homebrewers
    (both gaming homebrewers and those who make their own beer.) In
    fact, I look at published materials as a sort of raw material, or a
    kind of rough diamond. It`s up to gamers themselves to refine the
    material and make it their own. It`s all well and good to run
    adventures "straight out of the box" because let`s face it, we don`t
    all have time to invent our own materials 100% of the time, and
    sometimes we just want to game, but it is both our right and pleasure
    to take things to the next level and polish them up whenever
    possible. It is, however, important to know the original ideas and
    their intent before extrapolating. One can do anything one likes in
    a homebrew, but if one doesn`t know the original materials well then
    extrapolation and elaboration suffers because such processes are only
    as good as the raw materials upon which they are based.

    2. Gaming at Its Best. RPGs came from wargames. Wargames came from
    board games. Board games came from bored people who wanted to engage
    their minds in some way, often using their personal experience as the
    basis for their activities (though sometimes these things were so
    abstracted as to make it difficult to really find the original
    inspiration.) RPGs are so far the highest form of gaming--beyond
    even advanced computer modelling--because they employ intelligence
    and creativity in ways that are beyond a set of rules or
    instructions. No game ever can incorporate a simple conversation the
    way an RPG does. RPGs themselves often backtrack through gaming in
    ways that are sometimes "degenerate" IMO. A RPG session that winds
    up being little more than one combat encounter after another is a
    step backwards. There`s nothing wrong with wargames or boardgames (I
    like them both) but we should recognize that they are not gaming at
    it`s best. Gaming at its best incorporates the kind of interaction
    that goes beyond the board, table or sandlot. RPGs are gaming at
    their best when they express character in ways beyond stats,
    interaction with NPCs mimics political and interpersonal realities
    and worlds are created in a nearly palpable sense in the process. (I
    like to think they actually do exist somewhere in the fractal/quantum
    omniverse--like Tron....)

    3. Combat Rules are Gaming by Other Means. I`m sure most folks know
    that von Clausewitz is famous for his dictum that "war is politics by
    other means." It`s not entirely true, or I think he`s been rather
    badly misinterpreted, which served as an excuse for launching wars
    through the 20th century that killed millions, and I`ve read a few
    historians who lay those deaths at his door. Regardless of whether
    that`s fair or not, we can take a cue from him and state the
    dichotomy like this: Combat is role-playing by other means. The best
    role-playing avoids actual combat as much as possible, or resolves
    battles as a last resort.

    There`s a scene in series "Deadwood" that I`m very fond of because it
    expresses these issues so neatly. It`s a western, but it illustrates
    how gaming issues that are expressed in BR are universal. A
    messenger/LT of the local Boss (regent) in the series returns to
    Deadwood from Yankton, which is a nearby "domain" that has already
    been incorporated into the federal government and represents another
    domain that is more powerful and influential than that controlled by
    the Boss. The LT informs the Boss that several men have been
    appointed to oversee the "territory" by Yankton with the backing of
    the federal government, and much to his chagrine none of these
    appointees are men controlled by the Boss. A second LT suggests
    going to Yankton and murdering all the appointees in their beds, but
    the first LT notes that that would be playing right into their
    hands. What worries Yankton is the possibility that the Boss has
    "other ways to move on them."

    That`s an expression of the political level of play. It`s what
    gaming does at it`s best, and we find it most effectively at the
    domain level of play when done properly. That`s not to say there
    should be no violence in BR. Of course there should be combat. But
    that combat should be the result of carefully orchestrated
    competition and an expression that players and NPCs have run out of
    other options. If one looks at modern film and literature (and
    politics, but let`s not go there) violence is employed by those who
    have run out of other means and methods to affect their personal,
    political and economic goals. In modern film violence is almost
    always instigated by villains who have been consistently and
    effectively countered by the hero(es) of the story. Conversely, when
    heroes engage in violence it is because they`ve been "forced" to by
    the political machinations of the villains. Truly powerful people
    don`t bother with violence. It`s not necessary. They can more
    easily get what they want without resorting to physical force.

    Too often gamers resort to combat too quickly. Combat rules and
    fights are all well and good if everyone enjoys themselves, but we
    should recognize that it isn`t gaming at its best--it`s a step back
    to wargames or even board games in the "evolution" of gaming--and if
    we`re trying to express things at a higher, political level of play
    like that illustrated by the BR domain level such action shouldn`t be
    rewarded, or it should be rewarded in a way that makes it clear there
    were other means. What it really represents is their PCs acting in a
    way that shows the world they have little real, political
    power. Violence weakens leaders both materially AND politically, and
    gaming at its best (which is what Birthright means to me) should
    reflect that dynamic.

    Gary

  2. #2
    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    I like the ideas Geeman, but note a few issues:

    To the common man riding out and killing the dragon is not merely a major demonstration of might, but also courage, honour, etc, etc - the king who convinces the lonely knight to do the deed better make sure that they get at least some of the credit or the moral mob may be roused against them in favour of the champion 'blessed by the gods'.

    The Vos. Certain comments make it clear that politics is alive and well in Vosgaard (comments in Moolchev etc), but certainly a leader has to prove their strength - repeatedly. Without such proof diplomatic power would be impossible to retain.

    I'd see the importance of shows of physical strength by the ruler (i.e. domination through exertion of overt physical force) as roughly (in descending order): Vosgaard, Goblin, Anuire, Dwarf, Rjurik, Brecht, Khinasi, Elf.

    The importance of political strength (i.e. domination without the need to resort to overt violence) as: Vosgaard, Khinasi, Brecht, Dwarf, Anuire, Goblin, Elf.

    NB. The Vosgaard point to me shows the importance of both Kreisha and Belinik - the Vos more than any other race respect power to me, distrusting only the magic of Ruornil/Vorynn - and likely being very wary of that if the owner is noted as powerful.

    The two lists incorporate a number of my prejudices of course, for example the fact that I see most elves as barely interested in 'power' as such - they'd follow a convincing orator over political or brutal strength any day.

    That said as a GM I want the PC's riding out of their ivory towers every once in a while - and any PC who doesn't then capitalise on their physical power to leverage political power over 'weaker' opponents deserves to struggle...

  3. #3
    Birthright offers the opportunity to play the part of a ruler, to put oneself in the shoes of King Henry VIII, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Thomas Cromwell.

    It offers the opportunity to interact with others in a game setting, in a way that no other D&D game does. It's more than mere strategy such as Risk, or Axis and Allies... It's more than hack and slash games like FRealms or Diablo... it allows players to play the part of historical type figures who changed the course of history... and pit their INTELLECT against one another, or working with one another to overcome a greater threat (the Lost, the Gorgon). There are plenty of Lawyers who have participated in Birthright that I find hard to imagine playing a more common RPG.

    It allows for everything... ruling a domain (diplomacy, decrees, spying, bribes, long range plans, alliances and betrayal) adventuring, and strategic warfare.

    It brings to life Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Brooks' Shannara Series, King Arthur and our own Medieval Times, and allows us to tell the story anew.
    Last edited by rugor; 02-19-2008 at 12:46 AM.
    The better part of valor is discretion

  4. #4

    Post Nice you brought it up.

    Greetings,


    I guess that was one of the better readings in the "posted" part of this webiste.

    I guess the core problem is, that people are neither motivated nor capable of teamwork as roleplay makes a typical group. A small group in Birthright could be:

    A noble, a magician and a cleric. Most players only know how to make them fight. Nothing of atmopshere, nearly nothing of cooperation besides "flanking" for it was in the rulebook.

    Calling the modern game conventions hell would be scientifically wrong, yet it translates well the anti-social to criminally insane flair that rpg gets tainted with or poisoned by. Mostly because the greedy get the positions to continue... yet trusting a pauper on that may not be the allround solution. ;o)

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by rugor View Post
    Birthright offers the opportunity to play the part of a ruler, to put oneself in the shoes of King Henry VIII, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Thomas Cromwell.

    It offers the opportunity to interact with others in a game setting, in a way that no other D&D game does. It's more than mere strategy such as Risk, or Axis and Allies... It's more than hack and slash games like FRealms or Diablo... it allows players to play the part of historical type figures who changed the course of history... and pit their INTELLECT against one another, or working with one another to overcome a greater threat (the Lost, the Gorgon). There are plenty of Lawyers who have participated in Birthright that I find hard to imagine playing a more common RPG.

    It allows for everything... ruling a domain (diplomacy, decrees, spying, bribes, long range plans, alliances and betrayal) adventuring, and strategic warfare.

    It brings to life Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Brooks' Shannara Series, King Arthur and our own Medieval Times, and allows us to tell the story anew.
    This is a lot of what I like about Birthright as well. As a history major myself I relish the chance to portray a character who, much like the great historical figures of the real world, can change course of the societies in which they live. I enjoy the scope of the Birthright game as compared to your typical fantasy rpg.

  6. #6
    Birthright Developer irdeggman's Avatar
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    Birthright provided a means of playing both an adventurer and a domain level of play.

    The war card system was a cross between single PC combat and war games. Unfortunately wargammers tended to find it too simple and RPGers found it a tad "complicated".

    The heart of the setting to me was the dependence on politics and intrigue. It wasn't merely hack-n-slash and dungeon crawling. It was like a combination of the game Diplomacy and standard D&D.

    It had an "epic" feel to it, in that the old gods died and their blood was spilt to the survivors thus touching scions with a tad of "divinity" and subsequent greatness. It accomplished this epic feel without having to resort to having 20th+ level characters running about and slaying ancient dragons. The real threats were the other humans in the area and not the monsters lurking about.
    Duane Eggert

  7. #7
    Junior Member Capricia's Avatar
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    What Birthright means to me:

    High fantasy, intrigue and a chance to match wits with other players in a setting part that harkens back to the lands of my favourite authors and tales.

    Birthright can be an enjoyable table top or a high level PBEM, one with political tensions and an epic background that is both new and familiar. It is a chance to play the part of kings and queens, to see the world from the rarified air of the nobility.

    Birthright allows for the game to be played on a completely different level, not just as a small band of adventurers seeking to improve their fates but as an entire empire weaving a tapestry of faith, blood, politics and diplomacy. In the games I usually chose to play the focus is on empire building, the creation of a story that lasts for many months of game time and carries the history of the setting forward into new twists and turns.

    It is a chance to role play, to write, to laugh with friends both close and far away. It’s an outlet for creativity, and the occasional need to murder death kill. It’s also the reason I never see the sun…but that’s a different tale all together. *grin*

  8. #8
    Site Moderator geeman's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments, folks. Interesting stuff.

    Here`s "What Birthright Means to Me, part 2: The Character of Character."

    1. The Principles of Character. Back when I was writing something
    for a friend of mine who was staging an opera I told her that
    "character is better expressed by contradiction than
    consistency." That comment turned into a set of "Principles" that I
    modestly insist are the basis of all good literature throughout the
    history of the written word and probably going back to the earliest
    cave drawings that were done as soon as an ape developed enough
    wrinkles in his cerebrum to put together a consistent depiction of
    narrative. Three of my seven principles for good literature apply to
    this particular issue:

    * Depth of character is better expressed by contradiction than
    consistency.
    * Heroes and villains are civilized in either appearance and/or
    demeanor. In all other ways they are savage.
    * Perspective has no direct, meaningful relationship with point of view.

    I`m not going to get into those issues in too much detail, but they
    are directly related to what I`m going to talk about next. However,
    I post them because I want folks to keep them in mind in relation to
    the ideas expressed below. In particular relate them to the greatest
    and most advanced expression of character ever produced in all of
    role-playing games (which, I`ll remind everyone, is the highest form
    of gaming.) That is, of course, Birthright`s

    2. Awnsheghlien and Ehrsheghlien. In a genre that is meant to be
    about characters, these characters are gaming`s highest development
    of the concept of character. In one set of ideas they express the
    essence of myth: humanity struggling with super-humanity, heroism,
    villainy, royalty and leadership, tragedy and comedy. They can
    literally do things like shoot death from their eyes but others crawl
    on their bellies like worms. All spring from the blood of kings with
    the very essence of the gods in them, but even the most "good" are
    really degenerate and devolving monsters. They are power and
    authority personified in a human form that cannot help but fill us
    with a sense of revulsion and horror. We recognize their fundamental
    humanity and deny it at the same time. It`s brilliant.

    (Note: there are better examples of character expressed in
    literature--just none that developed most through
    gaming. Frankenstein and his monster are a nearly perfect literary
    invention, for example, and the ubiquitous comic book "mutants" are
    much the same as BR`s awnsheghlien, though only loosely connected to
    a particular history. One of the best recent developments of
    character is in the Showtime program "Dexter" about a "heroic" serial
    killer. In many ways I`ll take the innovation of that character over
    the Gorgon any day of the week--and it`s not a bad show to look at if
    one is trying to find adventure hooks, BTW. However, my point is
    that though the "Sheghlien" are themselves based on a few existing
    literary ideas, but they remain the broadest and most effectively
    interpreted concept of character dichotomy yet produced in any gaming
    product.)

    3. High Drama of the High King. If one reads the work of various
    literary critics the principles of drama can be boiled down to a
    few. First, one must be dealing with the clash of culture and
    turning points of history. `Nuff said about how that works in
    BR.... Second, the story revolves around a "hero" who embodies
    certain basic characteristics. He`s perfect in almost every way, but
    has a fatal flaw that is exploited by the circumstances he finds
    himself in, and that leads to his death and the deaths of many around him.

    The genius of the awn/ehrsheghlien is that they embody the heroic and
    villainous ideals. They are in appearance savage (or, at least,
    primal) yet yearn to lead. Even the Wolf and the Boar control
    provinces, and they are based upon animals. Their leadership is
    based upon their understanding of the concept, but it remains rulership.

    Thus, in BR we have the opportunity to express character in a way
    that is the most advanced portrayal of those concepts ever used in
    RPGs, and in many ways a concept that is the literary ideal.

    Gary

  9. #9
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    What BR means to me.

    Great thread!

    BR is a framework by which a DM can make an epic adventure. The effects of your character's actions truly affect the world around them. It is a chance to create a story on the level of the Lord of the Rings.

    I especially enjoy the different human races and the flavor it brings to the gaming table. The Rjurik are my personal favorite, see my callname I also like the way the Sidhe are presented.

  10. #10
    Site Moderator geeman's Avatar
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    Here`s "What Birthright Means to Me, part 3: The Domain Level."

    In recent years there have been a few games (particularly computer
    games) that use some sort of system of rulership and political
    interaction, but IMO so far none have even been able to match that
    produced in Birthright. Rulership, domain management, political
    intrigue, the qualities of leadership and motivation. I cannot
    emphasize too strongly how fundamental these things are to fantasy
    literature and even the good bits of our mundane world`s
    history. They are intrinsic, and I`d even argue they are what it`s
    (by "it" I mean everything in life) is all about. These are the
    things that separate us from the muck from which we sprang, and it is
    part of their mystical symmetry that they seem to throw us back into
    the muck with such alarming and deserving regularity....

    Yet all these things were missing from gaming in anything more than a
    tangential way. For decades the assumption was that one found more
    adventure, rumors and intrigue in taverns than one did in
    courts. Kings were less likely to be involved in events then
    beggars. Wars were fought on tabletops and the generalship was a
    sort of abstraction of the player, not something that resides on the
    field itself next to the actual combatants. Rulership was a sort of
    hands-off, retirement process. Kings were NPCs, and it was assumed
    by the DM that they would be used to hand out adventures as a sort of
    delegation process. They adventured only by proxy. A PC that rose
    to the ranks of nobility would be assumed to be at the end of his career.

    This is in spite of the fact that many of the folks who originated
    the games had read works of fantasy literature and based fantasy
    gaming on concepts they found there. Somehow, they missed
    politics. Even though Conan becomes king (and Gygax often touted
    Conan as his favorite fantasy character) and his rule is the
    beginning of several books, there was nothing like a system for
    domains or rulership. It`s as if someone looked at a chessboard and
    failed to recognize why or even that one of the pieces is called the king....

    It strikes me as bizarre in retrospect that nobody game up with
    domain rules as soon as they came up with castle rules, but they
    didn`t. Or, to be fair, the rules that they did come up with were so
    haphazard and upside down as to make the process unwieldy or even
    pointless. Wizards collected 5 silver pieces per month from peasants
    after constructing a tower, while fighters collected
    7.... Pathetic. Later editions even did away with that paltry bit
    of information. It wasn`t until Birthright came into being that
    role-playing took on what should have been there in the beginning.

    Gary

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