Welcome Back to the Wastes!
I know I did an Introduction to the Wastes a long time ago. A lot of things have changed since then. I have recently started an online game with the Wastes and I think it deserves a little explanation. This will also be useful to the players for remembering certain important ideas about the Wastes of the West.
This is Plu, the lovable geramoose!
The Wastes of the West is a desert setting. This desert exists as an in-between place for many worlds. The sky changes colors, displaying different suns and moons and skies, as the whole world seems to pass through bits and pieces of other dimensions. This is an unrelenting place where barbarism is the norm and there is no hope in sight for those wandering the ever-changing dunes. Alien creatures from countless different worlds fall through the gaps in the fabric of space and time to find themselves permanently moved to this place. Little that ever comes here leaves. Player Character can have come to the setting from countless different worlds, meaning any setting you want.
An addition to the setting, I have recently made is the concept of Exile. Every Player Character sent to the Wastes has been exiled there for having committed a crime. The multidimensional Law Givers, brand each person and sends them through to the Wastes with a promise: any exile that can find three Triune Pieces will be granted their freedom, have al their sins forgiven, and return home at the exact moment they left. This means that every character has a backstory involving some terrible deed they have committed and that the quest in the Wastes is for redemption.
I have taken some inspiration from Pyre in giving the PCs a wagon of their own that serves as a mobile home and a vehicle to traverse the Wastes. The wagon is driven by the lovable, philosophically minded Plu, pictured above in all his beauty. Plu is a large creature, a hybrid between a horse and a giraffe and a camel with a lot of eyes.
Another important feature of the Wagon is the Arcanosphere. The Wastes are constantly changing. It might be better to say that they have magical geography rather than physical geography. To chart this strange geography, the Arcanosphere, is there to help, giving the gifted magical scholar insight into the dimensional workings of the Wastes.
Its the End of the World as We Know It!
The Wastes are the place where all worlds and all civilizations come crashing down, leaving behind broken fragments of what they were if they are lucky, and only dust if they are not. It is the place of absolute entropy and meaninglessness: a place at the end of time. Player Characters will get to deal with the ruins of corrupt and decadent societies that have fallen throughout history. They will also get to see the societies that have risen up out of the Wastes, made up of Exiles or peoples that have slid through the cracks of the universe, who have to deal with the absolute meaninglessness of their existence.
But is it the end? Must all things devolve into entropy? Only time will tell.
The Plot so Far
The story begins with the PCs already joined in a party. They are no a job to transport a huge skull, they found in the desert to Rayn, the Elvish Jester King. His rival, the lizardman Scar, has been searching for this skull and attempts to reclaim it with the help of his minions: sand-surfing bandits and giant reptile, riding lizardmen.
The PCs manage to fight off the monsters and return to Rayn where they are given a single Triune Piece plus some gold. He offers them another piece for three more jobs. They accept.
During the evening a PC, a halfling bard named Escha, is approached by a goblin, looking to woo her. She rejects him. Later that night, she has to fight him off as he comes at her with a knife, hideously greaving her rejection. Another PC, an elf ranger named Cerebirn, gets blackout drunk and thrown in a room by a bunch of rowdy orcs with a pretty sand-elf servant girl. He blacks out only to be drawn into the telepathic connection that the sand-elf serving girls have, manifesting itself as a duplicate of their old home before Rayn enslaved them. Cerebirn resolved to liberate these people as soon as the party was powerful enough to take down Rayn.
Next, the party was tasked with abducting Scar's wizard, Dradeeznak, and whatever the cargo he was carrying on a train. Yes, there is a train. Dradeeznak comes under attack by gun-happy orcs, think Warhammer 40k Orks, and a mysterious shadow wraith cowboy who wanted his gunpowder back. Dradeeznak was transporting this powder to Scar for an unknown reason.
The PCS escorted Dradeeznak back to Rayn and Cerebirn met with the sand-elves to gather information. One of the PCs, a half-orc ranger named Flank, had a one on one fight with an orc that he won, sparing his opponent's life, only to have the orc be killed by Rayn's wizard, Grem, a small elf-like creature of unknown origin and ability. Dradeeznak ends up agreeing to give Rayn everything he knows and the PCS lay down to rest.
Some Experiments with the Running of this Game
I have had the players make Write-Ups to earn XP. It is optional XP but a lot of them have opted to do it. I am an English Major with aspirations of being a Professor, so it really pleases me to see my players interact with my work to exercise their own creativity. My friend Sam has been putting them on his blog. Check him out here: http://samiamsramblings.blogspot.com/
This experiment has also given me a little understanding of the subjective nature of role-playing games. Players tune in to different things. Odd things hold people's attention. I have been surprised by the small details, like a lizard-man pulling an arrow out of his beefy shoulder, that appear in every retelling of the story.
Certain things have different levels of importance to different people. In most cases, the Player writing the piece has their character as the main character. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. Each of them has had a chance to interact with the world in a one-on-one way, giving them characters to look forward to and running gags to return to.
They even work off each other's tellings, making the whole subjectivity of the story that much more complex.
Some Serious Thoughts
I have given a lot of thought to T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland as I have been creating this game. Much like Eliot's Wasteland, mine is a place without meaning. His Wasteland is a world where people have been disconnected from their central stories and myths: the things that help us create meaning out of our suffering. He is talking about the downfall of Western culture after the demystifying of the world in the world wars and the destructive influence of Post Modernism.
His ideas there resonated with me. He said that meaninglessness results in apathy, oppression, and sexual perversion. All of these things have had an influence on my game. Slaves must fall back on apathy to survive the cruelty of their existence. Apathy drives one of the villainous factions. Since everything is dying and the world is ending, let's party! Apathy about life leads to oppression as sentient beings are made toys. Sexual perversion fits in when a goblin tries to make advances on a halfling of the group. He obviously gets rejected and he comes back: a tiny psychopath with a knife, crying and blubbering as he takes vengeance for his rejection. Sand elf slave girls are the sexual toys of the Jester King.
The desert is a place we return to when the world seems to have lost meaning. It is a Jungian archetypical image that steps out to us like a prophet from the wilderness to tell us our lives are empty.
As we feebly try to construct meaning, the cruelty of this world that is so drowned is emptiness, just rejects it, casting down our houses of cards for the sheer glee of it like a sick body rejecting medicine.
In such a world, the Player Characters become Quixotic. They can't help but try to make something meaningful in this world and they end up tilting at windmills.
It brings one to ask: is it all for naught? Maybe it is best to just give up and join the party.
I am reminded of an incredible line from The Man of La Mancha's Impossible Dream.
"And the world will be better for this: that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star!"
Meaning is not a trick of the light. It is a star shining in an empty sky. Out of the most terrible desolation, life can spring forth.
I am inevitably brought to this verse from Isaiah: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."