User:Morbus Iff/Sojourns and Scholars
This is an incredibly early napkin. Comments to email@example.com please.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Sojourns and Scholars is an attempt at a nearly combat-free conversion of the latest edition of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game. It arose out of a desire to play with this latest version, but to do so like the days of yore: where the players and gamemaster together determined the story, not the outcome of mindless skill tests and combats simulated with miniatures and handily-named attack moves. One could say that we're attempting to convert a gamist system back into a narrativist one, but we'd rather just state that we prefer to use the latest rules to play in a world where physical combat barely exists.
This world is Ghyll, "an amazing collaborative improvisational fiction that combines an intoxicating patchouli whiff of fantasy with the reckless driving tanginess of bebop", or so says one now-deleted Internet blog. The worlds (or, more accurately, orthogonalities) of Ghyll originated as an encyclopedia whose creation depended on a small ruleset of forced integration called Lexicon: an RPG.
Players became "cranky, opinionated, prejudiced, and eccentric [scholars] from before scholarly pursuits became professionalized ... Despite the fact that your peers are self-important, narrow-minded dunderheads, they are honest scholars. No matter how strained their interpretations are, their facts are as accurate as historical research can make them ... [You] have to treat its factual content as true! (Though you can argue vociferously with the interpretation and introduce new facts that shade the interpretation.)"
After 18 months and more than 50 players, the wiki used to contain the encyclopedia grew to more than 300 full articles, hundreds of timeline entries and people, maps of the known world, and a healthy sense of erudition. Each entry, no matter how foolish or serious, fit in with factual data previously established. The Encyclopedants, acting as the encyclopedia's gamemasters, spent obscene amounts of time ensuring that flavor, sanity, and plausibility were retained. For some, it became one of their most treasured gaming sessions, even though it was far outside the realm of traditional tabletop roleplaying.
Ghyll is, certainly, a potpourri of ideas, some insatiably silly and others malignantly mixed. With the primary character race being podunkish insectoids, along with singing pachyderms used as morale boosters, Ghyll shares a technology level with traditional fantasy, without being the same old Tolkeinesque or traditional rehash of medieval elements. There are no suits of mail here, no longswords, no halflings or elves. Merely humanoids with a penchant for singing, doggerel, and a need to fit in.
The Core Tenets of Sojourns and Scholars
Sojourns and Scholars differs greatly from the ruleset it purports to work with. Whereas that ruleset advances players through the levels of life by killing hordes of plastic miniatures, Sojourns and Scholars is focused on exploration, discovery, note-taking, and article-writing. Everyone plays as a "fact-finding" (often "fact-inventing") scholar, and your ultimate goal is to be well-known but, more importantly, well-read.
Writing, of some sort, is expected of all players
Players start out as level 1 scholars, unknown, unread, and hopelessly obsessed with making a mark in the world with their own understanding of how things are. Their primary goal, at first, is to get one of their articles into the Ghyll Encyclopedia, a massive tome that contains all knowledge of the known world. As such, players and their scholars are constantly expected to take notes and journals of what they're experiencing, and then to turn these experiences into a concise encyclopedic entry. The Encyclopedant (the primary gamemaster of a Sojourns and Scholars campaign) decides which entries are accepted into the Encyclopedia, and the players and characters earn experience based on their literary output. There's no game mechanic or trick to this: players are expected to literally write up an encyclopedia entry as if they were their scholars.
Entries that the players create (as their scholars) are entirely up to the player's imaginations. The GM may set the stage stating that there are "flowers blooming and bugs alight", and a player could rightfully create an entire entry on the pollination habits of the nutter fly. Or the acidic consistency of blooming soil. Or how the nutter fly was identified as the catalyst in three deaths. Gamemasters shouldn't feel that they need to provide noticeable hooks for encyclopedia articles: the players, and scholars, should feel free to carve their own niche from the adventures you both create.
Players are also gamemasters
In the Lexicon rules that inspired Sojourns and Scholars, everything written down becomes fact. This is easy, at first, since so few facts exist. As the game continues to be played, and the world begins to take shape (both in locality and in flavor), however, these facts intertwine ever further. Eventually, truth begins to stretch and morph: where one scholar defines something, only to have another twist and expand it to something entirely different. Scholars try to paint facts into corners for others to devise a way out of. Logic-based "traps" form, family histories become convoluted, plots become thicker, and always, always, a semblance of truth must ring out.
This roleplaying game is no different: even though, as a team of scholars exploring and witnessing the same thing, the notes you take and the encyclopedia articles you submit determine the truth of what is known. Ghyll is a game of consensus reality - the more people who believe in your articles cause them to become the truth of what is being detailed. Getting an article into the Ghyll Encyclopedia is the greatest achievement of a scholar, for the Encyclopedia is widely regarded as the greatest body of research in, and of, the Ghyll world. Naturally, other scholars would prefer their knowledge to be self-evident, and arguments about which facts are most representative of what really occurred replace the physical combat of most tabletop roleplaying games.
In this way, world creation and plot development is shared by both the gamemaster (the Encyclopedant) and his players - players must write articles about the happenings in the world and Encyclopedants must choose one to represent truth, but must then also abide by this player-written truth. It is not uncommon for scholars to collectively agree on a certain fact solely to see its ramifications on consensus reality.
Most characters are weaklings and pacifists
As scholars, most of the characters have spent their lives buried in books or other means of knowledge growth. As such, physical fighting, itself not a very common activity in the Ghyll world (and, even when it happens, deliberately ignored), is even less a popular pastime among scholars. While your fact-finding missions may eventually turn sour, life-threatening, or otherwise physically adversarial, scholars almost always prefer to run, opting to live another day than to have their own definition in the Ghyll Encyclopedia contain half-truths written by other scholars. In cases where running is not an option, obfuscation, diversion, stealth, or other life-saving trickery is attempted.
This rulebook contains no details about physical combat.