We place an emphasis on story, and our rules have been designed in a way that we hope will reinforce and immerse us all in the world. We use a hit location system for combat; you can read more about that in our Rules section. We also place a heavy emphasis on plot happening onsite. Responses to letters, telegrams and research will always be presented in play and onsite whenever possible.
Creating a game in an alternate history "Weird West" setting has advantages and disadvantages compared to a fantasy or sci-fi LARP. It is easy to provide real life analogs to in-game cultures, but this presents pitfalls as well.
The 19th century was a thrilling time in American History, but there was an incredible amount of bigotry and intolerance as well. We want a world that is full of conflict, but tempered with the need to create a game that is open to everyone and balanced with 21st century social sensibilities. We understand that our game world is drawn from a time in American history where racism and gender inequality were the norm, and the concept of sexual definition was non-existent. Part of the benefit of utilizing an alternate world is setting those injustices aside and adopting a more enlightened world view to maximize the safety and enjoyment of our players. As a creative endeavor we understand that this can make a game setting more difficult to navigate. Please take the time to read through our world design to gain a better understanding of our pulp horror, weird western setting.
First and foremost, Calamity is a story about a frontier territory. We want to run a much smaller scale story than the last few Ro3 games have been. Eclipse is a space fantasy that spans the known (and unknown) universe. Kings Gate and Dust to Dust spanned continents and regularly involved characters traveling across great distances and interacting with world leaders. These traits were intrinsic to the story those games wanted to tell. With Calamity we want to tell a story about a valley that is approximately 200 miles long and 20 miles wide. At the end of the day the story of Calamity is the story of the town of Carrion Creek; everything else is a distant backdrop.
In the initial design of the world we asked ourselves if we wanted to use a completely made up fantasy world or an alternate history. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Ultimately we decided on alternate history, here are some of the reasons:
- Game world. There are iconic elements to the west that we were afraid may be lost in a fantastical world. Additionally, there are historical ideas that we wanted to be able to play with that would not have the same impact in a fantastical setting (origins of the pyramids & cave paintings, use of existing authors & historical figures in alternate or secret roles, and secret societies for example).
- Character mentality. In most fantasy games, characters are “Epic Heroes”. They may start out as the village pig keeper, but through the heroic journey they become bigger than life. For our setting and rules we wanted a game that was less “Epic” and more “Real”. By this I mean characters are less like Commander Shepard, or Aragorn, or Roland and more like Jack Burton, everyday people thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
- Fear factor. From our perspective, it is more frightening to face horror as “Sue the Pinkerton”, than as “Sue Killmob the Space Marine”. The thought was that a real world setting would reinforce the “pulp horror” feeling and hopefully make the “Weird” aspect of the game Weirder.
Wikipedia defines alternate history: Alternate history or alternative history, is a genre of fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently from reality. These stories usually contain "what if" scenarios at crucial points in history and present an outcome of events alternative to historical record. The stories are the product of conjecture, but are sometimes based on scientific fact. Alternate history can be seen as a subgenre of literary fiction, science fiction, and/or historical fiction; different alternate history works may use tropes from any or all of these genres.
Once the decision was made to go Alternate History, the next task was to look at major points of history we wanted to change. Alternate History by definition is a game of “what if”, and ours is peppered with “what if this historical event did not happen/happened differently” coupled with “and this supernatural thing influenced events instead.”
We wanted to maintain a certain level of actual history to make the world seem realistic. On the other hand, Calamity is a LARP, and we did not want to limit players from playing concepts, professions or game cultures based on race, gender, or sexual definition. In order to accommodate this, we had to make some core changes to the world.
1. The Supernatural
The first element of our alternate history is the strong supernatural presence in our world. We have altered the history of our planet back to creation and have chosen to provide supernatural explanations for many historical occurrences.
Pre-Calamity, magic and mysticism was viewed very differently by different cultures. Regular interaction with the spirits of the dead will be common in some cultures, while in others speaking with the spirits of nature is an everyday fact of life. In many cultures “magic” is something everyone believes in (in an abstract way) but nobody actually expects to see something supernatural occur in front of them.
Rather than using “magic” for these elements of the game we have decided to create religions or belief systems that we feel better represent the game world. Calamity is committed to not using real world religions, though some of our belief systems may bear superficial resemblance to real world counterparts.
“The Calamity” itself is a supernatural apocalyptic event that has torn the veil away from the eyes of many in the world, especially in the territory where the game is taking place. We'll be releasing in-game newspapers soon that will allow our players to follow along as the Calamity itself unfolds.
Our second deviation lies in technology. We want a “Steampunk” element to the game, but really wanted to take that in a different direction. Lightning power is a prevalent theme with the technology in our game world and many inventions that historically used steam, coal, or electricity may be written to use Lightning in our world. We like to call this “Stormpunk”.
3. Separation of Race from Culture
Third, we determined that, in our world, people of all races are found across all cultures and have been integrated as far back as written history. The goal was to remove the racial component of cultures, so that players could freely explore and play the culture that most appealed to them. This completely removes any racial association with any of our world cultures.
Additionally, English is a universal language spoken the world over. We may use some non English words that represent names from cultural antiquity, but all players first language is English so there are no “broken English” accents allowed.
Thus an African American player can be from the indigenous Iron Nation, a Caucasian player can be from the Tsung Empire, and an Asian player can have their family origins in the Holy Roman Empire. We are playing a grown-up game of make believe and do not want to limit anyone’s in-game culture based on out-of-game race.
4. Gender Equality, Sexual Orientation, & Gender Identity
The fourth major change is our alternate version of the Constitution. In Calamity, the Constitution declared that all people were created equal regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Additionally, the Constitution abolished slavery in the new world (see below).
Regardless of attitudes in the 19th century, we are living in the 21st century, and want an environment to reflect our more enlightened age.
5. Abolition of Slavery Before the 19th Century
The fifth decision was to remove slavery from the active game world. We wanted any references to slavery to have happened long enough in the past that it would not affect any of our player characters. Slavery was a terrible thing and we could not imagine a scenario where this could be played out in a game that did not diminish the real horror that was slavery in America.
Let me stress that we are not writing a revisionist history or pretending that slavery never happened. Our goal is to remove an element from the game that we felt would make players & staff feel uncomfortable out of play. Similarly, Ro3 has policies against the concepts of rape, incest, and sexual assault being included in our games. These are real horrors that exist in the real world but as game designers we have the freedom to create a world that does not include these concepts.
This is not to say there is no conflict in the world, we do expect conflict over cultural differences, belief systems, land, money, living vs. undeath etc.
Ultimately with items 3, 4 and 5 we wanted a world where people are not judged by their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Conversely we do not want a world where players felt like they had to be bigoted to be “true” to history.
6. The Civil War
The sixth major change was to extend the duration of the Civil War. Referring back to our core conceit with world design, we wanted the game to exist in a frontier microcosm. Having the Civil War still ongoing provided an environmental condition to encourage people to go West and discourage people from wanting to go back East.
Based on the world changes in items 3, 4, and 5, slavery could not be the root issue for the war. We felt that characters from each faction should have defensible views as to the cause of the conflict, with the truth being based on a mixture of historic economic issues, some alternate history curves and some mystical elements (that will have to be learned in game). Ultimately we see our Civil War more akin to World War 1. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys” with this alternate setting, just two sides with their own interests.
Let me state for the record that the Calamity staff firmly believes the American Civil War was fought over slavery. Regardless of any other factors, it was about one group of people believing they could enslave another because of the color of their skin. Our research into Calamity has done nothing but further reinforce this truth.
Symbols of the American Civil War carry with them implications that do not apply to our game world. As such, no Confederate or Union iconography will be allowed within Calamity, including flags and associated symbols. As we further flesh out our Setting pages and Culture Packets the full level of our Alternate History, naming, and iconography will be made available.
Respectfully Representing Cultures through LARP
Almost every LARP pulls inspiration for its game world cultures from real world examples. Because Calamity is an Alternate History game, it is much easier to see the real world correlation between our game world cultures and real world analogs. We draw upon the most common western tropes for our culture choices, again want to stress that our game cultures are fantasized, and reiterate that race is not indicative of any culture in our game world.
Based on our long experience with the Ro3 community, we sincerely believe that these cultures can be represented in a respectful manner. Anyone intending to play Calamity should read the following article. The author has done a great job of defining what we can do with LARPs to respectfully learn about and portray elements of real world cultures versus disrespectful representations or caricatures of the same: https://peterwoodworth.com/2013/12/28/badass-larp-tricks-race-culture-larp/
To begin we asked ourselves “Are we using parts of a culture that will add to the game in a meaningful way, or do they encourage the perpetuation of stereotypes and caricatures?” We are adamant that all cultures be represented in a respectful and meaningful way and believe that our player base has the respect and maturity to do so.
If a player takes one of our cultural analogs in an offensive direction, for example, showing up in an outlandish caricature outfit and speaking with an offensive accent, what will we say to them? When drawing on real world analogs, we realize that sometimes players may miss the point, take it too far, or otherwise cross the line, and we’re ready to handle the situation if it arises.
- Post rules about inappropriate material, and a discussion points about real world analogs.
- Let players know that real world elements are there for inspiration, not caricature and stereotype, and provide a proper method for expressing concern if they feel that something has crossed a line.
- Have strictly defined policies surrounding the costuming, culture and in game representation of all cultures. For example, broken English or accent stereotypes are not permitted. Players that violate these will be given a Sportsmanship Warning and repeat offenders will be cordially invited to find another game.
- We require Staff approval to play from any culture except for Settlers. All character histories require Staff approval.
Our game cultures include:
Loosely defined as “people that are adept at life on the range”. Regardless of where you hail from, if you have spent a portion of your life living off the land, you are probably a Settler.
This is a catch all for any character that comes from the big cities “Back East”, New York, Boston, Charleston, or New Orleans as well as London and Paris.
Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya? As part of a second pass over the world design, we will be releasing a more in depth look at Europe, Africa, Asia, etc and how the history has changed the world as you know it. Players who want to have a background from one of these cultures are encouraged to work with us to flesh out their origin in a manner that fits our game.
It should be noted, as stated above, our world setting is in Carrion Creek. While we welcome diverse character backgrounds, the predominant story points of the game will revolve around happenings in this tiny frontier town.
During the mid to late 19th century there was a tremendous amount of Chinese immigration to work on the transcontinental railroad. We wanted to encapsulate aspects of that in the game world. The Tsung culture is not a “catch all” Asian culture but a fantasized correlation to the Chinese immigrant culture in America. We want a “Big Trouble in Little China” element to the world (especially Lo Pan and Egg Shen’s sorcery). In order to achieve this, we used the Tsung (or Song) dynasty for our cultural inspiration.
For the historically inclined, the Song Dynasty began in 960 and continued until 1279. The Song were defeated by the Mongols in 1279. In the Calamity world, the Tsung Emperor defeated the Mongols and created a dynasty that has lasted until the game time period.
Native Americans are a staple in Wild/Weird West settings and we felt that it was an important aspect to include in the game. Native American or First Nation is a broad term for hundreds of tribes and nations, each with their own unique customs, religions, and modes of dress.
Our intention is to approach our Native American inspired cultures like Tolkien did with Northern Europe, with a re-imagining of the cultures colored by a fantasy paintbrush. We will not be using any real Native American or First Nation tribal names, spiritual iconography or ceremonies. Our second pass on the world will clarify the alternate history of our native peoples and their relationship to the greater world in our game context.
We have created three tribal cultures that exist in our world post Calamity:
- The Iron Nation – This is the only indigenous culture from which players may create characters. In our world this nation has reasons for positive relations with the rest of the character cultures.
- The Windsong Nation – This nation is neutral to the character cultures and subject to change based on character behavior.
- The Hollow Nation – This nation is hostile to the character cultures and irreparably changed by the Calamity
People are people regardless of where we come from. Some are good, some are bad, most of us are somewhere in the middle. We wanted ALL of our cultures to reflect this universal truth.
Please remember the Golden Rule: Don’t Be A Jerk
We are excited about the opportunity to run a game with our friends, for our friends and hope you will join us on this weird western adventure.