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Thread: What Birthright Means to Me
02-18-2008, 08:45 PM #1
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
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.
02-18-2008, 10:28 PM #2
- Join Date
- Oct 2006
- Chelmsford, Essex, England
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...
02-19-2008, 12:21 AM #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
02-20-2008, 10:01 AM #4
Nice you brought it up.
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)
02-20-2008, 02:05 PM #5
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.
02-20-2008, 04:46 PM #6
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
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
02-20-2008, 06:04 PM #7
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*
02-20-2008, 10:00 PM #8
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
* 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
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.
02-28-2008, 05:13 PM #9
- Join Date
- Feb 2006
What BR means to me.
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.
02-29-2008, 10:51 AM #10
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.
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