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A major part of the premise of the Myst series is that a number of characters in the setting can 'write' worlds (mostly ones you could walk across in a few minutes). The gameplay of the series is built around exploring such worlds, the plots are universally a consequence of the accessibility and exploitation of those worlds, and the major characters are almost always those who either have the ability to write worlds, or who seek to claim that power for their own.

I like this idea, and am looking for an RPG supports it with little modification.

Spcifically, I would like to know if there is a game which places a similar central focus on the creation, exploration and exploitation of worlds by human or humanlike characters, and which has a detailed and workable set of rules governing the creation of smallish worlds, preferably by player characters.

Notes and clarifications:

  • Those familiar with the series may be aware that writing an age is not at all the same thing as creating a world, but there are enough similarities that I am willing to let the distinction slide.
  • The 'human or humanlike' bit is because I'm not particularly interested in a game where the player characters are gods or god-like. One might argue that being able to crate worlds is automatically god-like, but I'm looking for characters who are more or less mortal in other respects. Well, maybe some spellcasting or something, but let's say... no less mortal that a mid-level D&D character.
  • I've not asked a system reccomendation question before, and while I'm reasonably sure I've met the various guidelines, I'd be perfectly willing to believe I've made a mistake somewhere. If anyone has a suggestion as to how this question can be improved, I'll happily re-word it.
  • Given the specificity of this question, I suspect I'll recieve only partial answers. Prove me wrong, folks.
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As this is a system-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  mxyzplk Jul 2 '13 at 12:42
    
Mystic Empyrean has built-in support for characters directly creating worlds, but it's more guided freeform (using interpretable ingredient lists) than a solid constrained creation system. The characters are also more than mortal, though that's not tied into the world creation system directly. It may be worth a look for inspiration, but I don't think it fits your requirements as-is. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 14 '13 at 22:19
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4 Answers 4

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+50

I have a cunning plan.

First off, Amber is expressly about this. If you asked for a system to delve into dungeons and slay dragons, D&D makes sense, if you want a system for exploring the angst of the recently undead then Vampire is your game. I haven't played Amber really, and others have recommended it already. Check it out. I am going off the beaten path here.

If you're interested in doing something different- You could hack FATE to do this.

Setup

In FATE, characters have a resource called FATE points. These can be spent to invoke aspects of the world around them or of characters around them, to activate certain in game powers, or more importantly for our purposes to declare a minor story detail or to create an aspect of the scene. This is a quite explicit rewriting of the world, though it is a metagame one- This is supposedly the way things always were, instead of the world changing entirely.

While this is entirely a houserule, I tend to let bigger details be declared if more fate points are spent. I have stated/bragged that ten FATE points makes any story detail happen. This works very well- most 'big' declarations are in the two to three fate point range- that's still pretty expensive. The ten pointer has been used exactly twice, and both moments were pretty cool.

Execution

What I am proposing is making the declarations explicit in world alterations. While we do not know the exact mechanics of the books in Myst, we do know that they require some kind of expenditure in order to be created. Atrus couldn't make his own way out of the green book without assistance, and couldn't create more worlds from inside. If the spending of FATE points on new scene aspects was an in game 'edit' of a book, and large FATE point expenses could create entire new areas, you could easily regulate the creation of new worlds.

The creation of worlds would be where FATE would shine. The FATE fractal is a construct in the FATE rules- basically, everything has Aspects which describe it, Skills to allow it to defend itself or attack, and Stress and Consequences which mitigate damage. Myst Island for example, might have Aspect "Center of Everything" while the Red, Blue and Green books might have the consequence "Missing Pages." The cool thing is fractals can nest- A building might have the Aspect "On Fire" and contain several rooms, which are subfractals containing their own separate aspects. The Fractal would allow you to quickly write a new world, delving down as needed- one or two aspects to cover the island as a whole when first created, making new sub-fractals for areas on that island, or maybe for interesting puzzles.

Conclusion

From your question, you want creation, exploration and exploitation. The expenditure of FATE points, along with the relevant book allows the creation of these worlds. Entering them, we can explore the world we have created, or we can explore a world left behind by another. Each world presumably has something we want, allowing us to use ('tag' in FATE parlance) the aspects of the world to help us accomplish tasks.

You specify a preferred difference between worlds and ages. I confess, I don't remember enough about Myst to be clear on the distinction, and Wikipedia is of little help to me. However, if I remember right an age is a larger version of a world- and this could be modeled with world being a subfractal of ages, and the creation of an age requiring more FATE points.

You also ask for human or near human characters. That's straightforward- by default, FATE makes characters who are very human in capability and behavior.

Again, Amber Diceless expressly sets out to do what you want to do. However, this would mechanically work just fine, and amuses me greatly by making in character a rule of the system. If it's not to your taste, oh well, but thank you for the question- I intend to try this out in some form or another next chance I get.

Edit: Turns out, I'm not the only one who thought FATE and Myst were a great pairing- the awesome folks over at unwritten are actively writing a definitive (not official, but definitive) FATE variant for the D'niverse. They've got the OK from the makers, they've got a successful Kickstarter, and they're actively writing. If you don't feel like creating your own variant, these guys may have exactly what you want in a bit. Kudos to GMJoe for noticing this was going on.


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So, it may be a stretch, but I believe this has most of the themes you're looking for.

Mage: the Awakening has the Astral Realms.

Though not exactly player-created, an Oneiros is a Mage's (or anyone's, even non Awakened have one though they can't access it) personal inner world, representing a "materialisation" of their mind. It contains "realms" for special parts of one's mind, such as strong memories, emotions or vices and that's also where you're going to meet your Daimon, the embodiment of your will to better yourself. A competent and/or dedicated Mage can build stuff there. And tampering with someone's Oneiros (possibly oneself's), which can definitely be done, has consequences on the person in the real world, so there's definitely power in being able to do so.

Further out in the Realms, when a Mage leaves the Personal domain, they enter the Temenos, which is a "Dream space" shared by the whole of humanity (roughly, the "collective unconscious"), where you can meet Jungian Archetypes, mythic figures, common prejudices (yeah, it gets a little abstract)... and mess with them. Want everyone to remember Arthur Pendragon was an early 60's rockstar ? Switch Excalibur for a guitar and a few tabs.

Even further, you get to the Dreamtime / Anima Mundi which is the "Soul of the World". Stuff probably gets way too abstract and weird to be practical for your needs, but with the power to visit the unconscious of a very Planet, there's no telling what's within your reach, really.

Conclusion : Mages with access to the Astral Realms can wield the power to create many things within this space, with far-reaching consequences. While doing all this (which requires tremendous work and implies potentially lethal risks), the Mages remain 100% human, capable of dying, aging, bleeding and possibly find stranger/worse fates than Death while in the Realms. This is all very abstract and might not be what you're looking for, but to me it does feel like an interesting metaphor at very least.

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I had considered modifying Mage to fit my purposes, but the system seemed so inextricably linked to the setting paradigm that the changes I was planning would have had repercussions as powerful and far-reaching as the ones you describe. –  GMJoe Mar 8 '12 at 3:56
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The Amber Diceless RPG is specifically about creating shades of reality. I never liked the novels, and the game left me cold, but it's specifically written for that eventuality.

Wrath of the Immortals, for Allston's D&D Cyclopedia rules, allows PC Immortals to create pocket universes. It's not very detailed on it, but does limit it sharply enough to be playable.

Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade are also capable of this level of play, but provodes no support for that play style. Creating an age, however, would bring twilight and/or paradox demons right quick in many cases.

The Microscope could be used for such a game, but isn't in the character centric mode.

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Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth maybe of interest if you can get past the pretentiousness of the writing... Not sure if it is still in print. Players are meant to build the whole mythology of the game as they play it.

As Coreworlder said, Amber RPG may fit your needs as well. In the game, you play one of the family with the ability to walk between shadows of the One True World. Thus players can create as many shadows as they like of the "real" world. It is based on the books of the same name by Roger Zelazny.

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