Role playing, world building, and the suspension of disbelief

Okay, but let me just say, for the record, that having the ability to genetically engineer bunny-elephants, in the same setting where the best medical science can offer is 19th century snake oil, is pretty damn off-putting, role-playing-wise.

It’s like having sailors navigate by visually locating GPS satellites through high-powered modern telescopes. I mean, sure, it could work, but if you’re at that level of tech, you’d think they’d be able to find the more obvious way to solve the problem.


I’d be careful mentioning snake oil around the space lizards. Some of them can be a little touchy about it.


I realize it transpires a bit after the Regency period, but another English novel might help @nimelennar get this hang of this world:

The Man Who Was Thursday.

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This world isn’t about tech consistency – the setup is absurd.

It about about a bunch of amateurs riffing through two genres simultaneously.

My viewpoint: maintain character consistency, build narrative, don’t sweat the details, and trust the GM to make it interesting.


Only two?


Be grateful our GM does not require us to fuel our powdered-wig starships with our own fæces.

It wouldn’t be the first time.


I hadn’t thought of it explicitly in these terms prior to this thread, but this kind of mashup reminds me (for good or ill) of the space-western thing that Firefly had going. Fantastic technology exists, but it’s unevenly distributed due entirely to societal conventions, and scammers and cheats are still with us in the future.

I :heart_eyes: space opera, but I don’t know much about the Regency era, so I’ve had to basically wing it and let the rule of cool guide me. I found the “yes, and” rule to be both clarifying and comforting, somehow.

ETA: that being said, @nimelennar, I’m quite enjoying the St-Patrick-Hartbrooke character. Please continue.


There’s the issue, though. I build any of my characters within the world of the setting. When the world shows cracks, it affects my ability to keep my character consistent.

The scientific setting doesn’t match the social setting? I can deal with that. The scientific setting doesn’t match itself? That’s a much greater challenge.

It’s just jarring. It restricts the flow. I try to put myself into the heads of my characters, and figure out what they’d logically do. Putting myself into the head of a religious, egotistical, easily-offended quasi-Regency-era Space Griffin in a high-tech setting is simple enough. I have all of those pieces to play with, and when I open the gates, SPH flows forth in all his splendour. Break the setting as the character sees it, though, and the character starts fighting back, and there goes the easy flow of words.

I can probably still make this work. The character will need some adjustment, but there are a couple places I can take him where he won’t notice the cracks. I’ll have to think about it.

Okay, I’m not sure what you mean by “get a hang of this world.” Do you mean the Regency period, in terms of my character, or the hybrid past/future setting, or the contradictory technology level? Because I think I’m doing okay with the character; it’s just the oddness where every bit of technology is futuristic except for the conspicuous lack of modern medicine that’s throwing me off.

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Even with modern medicine, I am being forced to lay in increasingly uncomfortable positions just to breathe and can’t get more than a few hours sleep. And that’s with a disease where if I coughed on a slide, they could easily identify it. Incidentally, it’s one that is cross-species.

There is something else I am dealing with that test upon test can’t seem to diagnose. I can treat some of the symptoms, but not all of the time.

Every day, people – even some who should know better – buy into “cures” more disproven than snake-oil. Because they’re desperate, and modern medicine can do little more than shrug. All of this is on a planet we’ve had thousands of years to study.

Frankly, I find the idea of needing a hat more world-breaking than a cross-species alien virus or other microbe with no known cure and people hawking some kind of placebo (or worse) to desperate victims.


I was thinking of a similar point but you beat me to it! But, I will expand.

I too found the medicine situation odd (or at least out of place) - though I’d note that for the most part it does seem like we’ve mostly been playing in an absurd version of the 1800s as opposed to a future recreation of the 1800s, and perhaps that’s the head-space messana is in too.

My impression was that messana went on a Regency novel/movie/TV bender and got excited about it and wanted to make it work as a Badass game and came up with this Charybdis mash-up, but primarily rooted in the real thing.

I am into media about the British in the 1800s too and I’d like to point out that mysterious illnesses and plagues are a rather common plot element. But, importantly, mysterious illnesses and plagues are also a common plot element in a lot of science fiction - numerous ST:TNG episodes immediately come to mind, for example. In those kinds of stories, despite advanced medical technology, the illness is able to take hold and spread (at least for a while, until the characters figure it out). So I think it’s a reasonable thing to have in the game.

Snake-oil cures do also sometimes exist in those kinds of stories, but I think in our story here it felt odd because there was no indication that anyone had actually tried modern medicine on the plague, and no broader suggestion that in this world people outright reject any aspects of modern technology or that it’s unevenly distributed (a la Firefly) - it seems like the recreated society was created as sort of a backlash against purely social aspects of the broader society, not against modern technology.

It does still have a whiff of foreign-auto-repair about it (i.e. arbitrary restrictions that don’t make sense in the setting), but we haven’t really seen how it will play out. Chances are, though, that we’re reading far deeper into it than messana expected. So, @nimelennar, I have to say I have enjoyed your role-playing as a plague-ridden character, but you also have the option of steering the story towards something that makes more sense to you - the “yes, and…” principle, which we know from experience messana will go along with, so long as it doesn’t break the base mechanics of the game.

So this is all really a gentle reminder that you can come up with an explanation for why the plague exists that you like better - your character is stuck inside, after all, and has free time to research things - and it will become canon.

I say all this because these kinds of player-led changes/additions to the basic setting are typically some of the most interesting, exciting, and enjoyable aspects of these games, and it really seems like you are worked-up about it enough to have the motivation to do it - and you’ve demonstrated really rather clever and creative writing already.


I think this is exactly the problem I’m having. It’s not that there is a cross-species plague; that I can suspend disbelief on (despite the fact that we would probably share a larger portion of our genome with a banana than with an alien). It’s not that there are snake oil cures being offered; that’s (sadly) just human nature. It’s not even the complete lack of any quarantine or other mitigation strategies; I can see how those would break the feel of the setting. What’s missing are the blood tests, the coughing on a slide, the randomized clinical trials… the sense that science is being done to stop the plague.

I’m not sure that I feel comfortable with that. I come from more of an “invisible forcefield” style of roleplaying. My character, his thoughts, his backstory, his species (physiology, culture, history, etc.), these are things in my control. Your character, etc., are in your control. The setting and NPCs are in the GM’s control. I can only interact with things in someone else’s forcefield with their consent, and vice versa. Interactions between myself and the GM’s area of control are moderated by either dice rolls, mutual agreement, or (if necessary) GM fiat.

Without rules like this, I’ve overstepped those bounds in the past, leading to unpleasant consequences. So, those are the rules I’m comfortable playing under.

Having a plague scare in my character’s backstory, or a history of plague on his ancestral homeworld? Those fall into my area of control. Taking control of an actual game mechanic like the GM’s plague, by going to a doctor, having a full spectrum of futuristic tests done, and getting results as to what’s wrong with my character and his prognosis (what my character wants to do)? That’s way over the line, and feels alien to this setting where buying snake oil is part of the actual game mechanics.

I do have ideas, but it’s hard to come up with something that suits both the setting and the “straight man” vibe I’m going for with this character. The two obvious paths I’ve rejected are having the character be a hard-core religious zealot into faith healing, or a conspiracy theorist suspicious of modern medicine. Both of those, though, would descend into caricature, making my character into another comedian rather than the straight man, and rather lessening the humorous effect overall.

I’ll keep thinking; the mark of the straight man is the complete refusal to engage with the absurd, so I’m sure I can spin this into something. I just haven’t figured out what yet.


I haven’t followed “Badass”. But:

–You can’t substitute characters for the settings. Sometimes certain character concepts only fit in certain settings. You may want characters to fit in the setting, or to not-fit in interesting ways.

–You can’t substitute characters’ motivations for their knowledge.

–You might get interesting ideas from creating a consistent setting.



Thank you for staying with this discussion. You have really opened my eyes to a different way of view this game. It explains why your character feels so “real” to me!

I am a lousy world builder/character developer, so I don’t have much to add.

In the spirit of being helpful, I’d like to share two ideas. Feel free to ignore them.

  1. In the Sterling/Gibson collaborarion “The Difference Engine,” the steam-driven computers of “Clacker” culture were recognizablely modern and “scientific,” but the medicine, while using the vocabulary of “science” and some of the baubles of the new technology was still mostly quackery. Given that Weatherby was colonised by a self-selected bunch that want to (socially) go back in time, it wouldn’t be shocking the people wh would convey and champion “modern” scientific thinking about medicine didn’t bother to board the original colony ships. And once a culture gets established…

  2. You’ve already established that Space Griffin hail from offworld. If it helps you patch together the world view so can propel your character forward, invoke that! Don’t sweat the game mechanic - as @MalevolentPixy has already illustrated, even the most modern of medicine can have a stochastic element.

@MarjaE thank you for that valuable reminder. The structure can only be as strong as its foundation, right?

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Thanks for the suggestions, but I think I have a handle on what I’m going to do.

My apologies, @messana, for any insult or offense offered to your skills as GM; they were unearned and unfair. I must confess that this is somewhat of a recurring habit with me, where I get frustrated by the decisions that go into worldbuilding, and go on interminable rants directed at the GM. Please, accept my humble apologies if you took any of this as a personal slight: it was certainly not intended as such.

Thank you, all, for your feedback and assistance, and thanks once again to @messana for running a most excellent game. I will return to the role of SPH momentarily, when I have fully regained the proper dignity of the character and feel that I can comport myself as a gentleman once again.

Kindest regards,



It’s all good! I try to take it as an opportunity to step back and think about how and where I might be falling short on this side of things. It’s an opportunity to double check where the larger narrative is being steered and what ingredients might need to be added, augmented, or diminished. I find it so easy to forget that this headspace I’ve been kicking around for months feels completely coherent from my own vantage point - and yet often loses bits and pieces of detail when converted into walls of text. For me, most of the fun is watching how all these various headspaces smoosh together at their oddly negotiated boundaries and achieve some sort of larger coherent story - even when a little conceptual friction is discovered here and there along the way.

But sincerely - no offense or slight taken or inferred, and I absolutely mean that in a straightforward 21st century manner and not a backhanded 19th century way. :wink:

PS - I also want to give a quick shout out to everyone adding very thoughtful commentary to the discussion. Come for the excellent badassery, stay for the awesome players.