Byebye 2020, Hihi 2021
Happy New Year everybody. If you are reading this you made it out of 2020 alive. Congratulations – there’s plenty who didn’t.
Before we move on, let’s just take a moment to reflect on that. From Covid-19 to racist thuggery, from warfare and terrorism to lack of healthcare, deprivation and starvation, from slavery and murder to disappearances, accidents, and ecological disasters.
Around the world death has stalked freely, taking those who weren’t ready to go.
So, if you are reading this, you are as lucky as I am to be typing it.
Okay, I didn’t post this to depress people, so, moving on…
There’s plenty of reasons to be down on 2020. In fact, ’20-bashing seems to be a real trend at the moment. I get it. It was bad. I just hope ’21 lives up to the pressure of our collective expectations. That our future is as bright as we would want.
But I’m not into ’20 bashing, despite the truly terrible parts, for me at least it contained some things for which I am grateful.
- I spent more quality time with my family,
- I enjoyed the reduction in traffic near my house, the resurgence of wildlife that resulted, and my own lack of need to travel. Life slowed down and I enjoyed that,
- I gamed with friends online I hadn’t seen face to face in over a year,
- I began attending numerous online webinars and events to broaden my learning,
- Also, it was the year I finally started writing and releasing roleplaying material instead of just talking about it.
So, for those reasons, if no other, I cannot totally trash 2020.
But what ’20 really was, was a big, beautiful Wildcard.
What do I mean about the Wildcard? So, the World Future Society said futurology (what!? That’s a thing!) is concerned with defining 3 P’s and a W. It looks at:
- the preferable future (what we want to happen, when companies project profits this is often the future they are looking at);
- the probable future (what is likely to happen, some companies plan a small-range of likely scenarios with things like risk registers);
- the possible future (what might happen, this includes most reasonable guesses as to what the future holds and shows a high level of planning); and
- the Wildcard futures (these are circumstances, or groups of circumstances that are low probability, but very high impact – just like 2020).
The confluence of events in 2020 made it feel like a Wildcard future; huge, unpredictable and chaotic but on a macro-scale – beautiful to see. Like a satellite image of a powerful storm, mesmerising, even while knowing the devastation it’s causing.
Individual elements of 2020 may have been predictable, predicted even. But could anyone have seen the totality of what we were headed for from the vantage of the tail end of 2019?
And even if someone could have, would we have listened? Or would it have been a Cassandra-like figure destined to know the future but never be believed? Would we have even wanted to believe?
Is this still a roleplaying website?
Errr… Yeah, I can get a little carried away sometimes.
However, there is a point to this.
The settings for your roleplaying games, or the campaigns themselves, can be your own versions of 2020, your own big, beautiful Wildcard convergence.
Here’s a structure to try.
- Think about themes for your game, 3-5 should be plenty, don’t get too detailed, just a word or two for each.
- Then work through the 3PW categories (preferable, probable, possible and Wildcard futures) for each theme.
- Then choose a future for each theme, or roll D4’s, and mash them together to get your own beautiful chaos for your game.
Let’s work that through in an example…
I am going to be running a near-future horror game. I haven’t decided on too many details yet, but I do have some themes.
My themes are:
- Cutting edge technology
- Ancient evil
I’m then going to think about each theme for a few minutes and work out the 3PWs for each.
Cutting edge technology
- Preferable – nu-tech paradise, the promises came true and we all benefited from a significant advance in a utopian technology (AI? Bioengineering?).
- Probable – as now, tech leaps forward in fits and spurts but the benefits are controlled mostly by the rich and powerful.
- Possible – nu-tech is fairly common but the anticipated advances haven’t materialised quite as we anticipated (e.g. we are still dependent on fossil fuel long after we thought we’d be utilising renewable energy)
- Wildcard – a new technology has been responsible for an apocalyptic collapse in our way of life (an attempt to refreeze meltic Arctic ice results in a new ice-age? AI now makes all decisions for us?)
- Preferable – disease has been largely eradicated, medicine can prevent and cure almost anything.
- Probable – there’s a constantly escalating fight between viruses and our efforts to prevent them.
- Possible – overuse of antibiotics and the latest superbugs have rendered all antibiotics ineffective, any simple infection can now prove fatal.
- Wildcard – a ‘fungal-zombie’ has infected humans and is rapidly spreading across the world.
- Preferable – an ancient evil arose and was defeated. (The world may know of this, or not).
- Probable – the stars will come into alignment for the ancient evil soon if the secret cult cannot be stopped.
- Possible – there are many ancient evils that could arise, the race is on to find out which is.
- Wildcard – the ancient evil arose but is now just another part of the world people live with. (Perhaps it’s like storm season with news reports on the problems it causes, or a war that no one cares about taking place somewhere else, or maybe it controls a corporation or religion).
So, now we have 27 different possible combinations to create our game’s setting by considering the 4 possible futures – and that’s just across three setting themes. Probably why you want to have no more than 4 or 5 themes.
Play around with how the different options fit together, roll a D4 or pick one option from each theme.
By spending about 10 minutes using the 3PW framework I came up with 2 setting ideas which could both be fun to play in.
Wildcard setting 1
A new superbug has developed that is immune to every known antibiotic meaning even the simplest of infections can be fatal (Disease – Possible). To combat this scientists examined newly discovered microbes found under retreating Arctic ice and created what they thought was a cure, but actually released a plague of tomb rot that gradually turned victims into rotting corpses hungry for flesh (Technology – Wildcard). What no one realises is that this is only the beginning and the rotting corpses are working to summon their master the ancient Liche Lord (Ancient Evil – Probable).
Wildcard setting 2
When the Prometheus Corporation released the Nootropic tablet Vita-max it seemed like the promise of the evolution of mankind to the next level might be finally here. The tablets proved to raise both body strength and IQ by 10 to 15 percent, fine-tune the metabolism and gut biome to reverse the effects of malnutrition, obesity and many age related degenerative diseases which science was only just beginning to realise were linked to the gut (Technology – Preferable). At first, adopters of Vita-max were full of zeal for their new way of life, with many going on to become local reps for Prometheus and distributing Vita-max. It was only after a year or two of this that it was revealed that the Vita-max reps were actually all part of a church, and that Vita-max had some sort of religious aspect to it. That’s when you realised that taking Vita-max gives the customer a fungal infection and that it grows in their body, optimising its new environment with all the health benefits but controlling it’s host, subtly at first but increasingly driving them to deliver the fungus’s agenda to spread, grow and reproduce (Disease – Wildcard). Can the Church of Vita-max be stopped? Does the fungus have sleeper agents in key roles? Is it really so bad to be controlled by a fungus when all it wants is to make you healthier? (Ancient Evil – Wildcard).
Futurist building blocks
3PW wasn’t designed to accommodate future themes such as ancient evils but I think it works quite well which just goes to show how versatile a framework it is for us as roleplayers and world builders just as much as for futurists. Why not give it a try?
Thanks for reading.