May 14th, 2009

hoard potato, tv, movies

The Hoard Potato on Games: Complete Stranger Theory

Back in 1993, I ran a GURPS Space game for my local gaming group. A local BBS -- remember those? -- was the organizing center of our social activities in those days, and it was common practice to use it to schedule games and distribute material.

I came up with a simple premise for a setting, wrote up a quick history to give everyone the basics, and set it up so that the players themselves could create the planet and the culture from which their characters hailed.

When we sat down to play, I found that most of the players hadn't bothered to read the background post.

These are people who would memorize setting information in stacks of published material.

normanrafferty calls this "Complete Stranger Theory": players are more willing to accept the work of a complete stranger than they are that of the person sitting in the same room.

(Since Rafferty designs tabletop games and uses his local group as playtesters, you can imagine how frustrating this must get for him.)

This came to mind because, yesterday evening, I leafed through the Russian Doll file structure of my hard drive and found, nested in Archive folders two or three deep, the files from that time-lost game.

Both normanrafferty and rodant_kapoor asserted that they would have read it -- so let's test that, shall we?

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I've said "four pages" in relating this story over the years; it actually comes out to less than a page and a half, as originally formatted.

It's evident what I was reading at the time; there are bits in there obviously cribbed from Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, and some obvious influence from David Brin's work, especially Earth.

The general framework, however, is pretty good: Humanity colonizes worlds using "slow FTL", develops dozens of cultures in comparative isolation, and then, poof, the discovery of "fast FTL" drops everyone in each other's back yard -- and First Contact.

There, okay, I just summed it up in one run-on sentence. But really, was a page and a half that onerous?