Recently since Unity started making rounds on the internet I’ve received questions on forums and via email about Unity’s setting. Some are really excited to learn more about it and others wonder if they can take Unity’s system and plop it into their own world.
I thought I’d create a blog post giving some insight into Unity’s setting and my intentions behind it. I’ll also touch upon how you can shape your own world around Unity’s game system and the parts where you might have to roll up your creative sleeves a bit 🙂
This will be a TWO PART series.
PART 1: What’s the Lore for?
Why did I attempt to create a unique setting and history for Unity? The reasons are both personal and related to design.
The honest truth is of course to indulge the creative child screaming inside of me for years and years to translate all of these “cool ideas” into reality. Now I totally get that my idea of cool might be your idea of cheesy, boring or uninspired and that’s totally fair. It is a deep hope that there are those who have similar tastes and will find something here to fire their imagination and immerse them in a world that they find exciting and mysterious. Without this hope we would probably never have any real stories to tell or the absolute staggering variety of creative works out there to indulge in.
Another personal reason has to do with sentimentality or nostalgia. I still remember the day I stumbled into a fateful garage sale. I was 9 years old. I didn’t have a clue what I liked aside from Sega Genesis and pizza. I remember begging my mom to buy me some games or some toys but she refused and told me I should go find a nice book to read. Angry and annoyed, I went skulking around the lawn and then something caught my eye. Yes it was a book but man it had a pretty cool picture on it. I picked it up and read the title aloud “AD&D Monster Manual”. After picking it up I noticed underneath it was a “Demi-Gods and Deities for AD&D” book as well. At a dime a piece these were as good as mine.
That was probably the most value I’ve ever got for entertainment in my entire life. I poured over those books endlessly. From the first time I cracked them open I was hooked. I didn’t know what half these things meant, what the hell was Psionic Ability and why is Armour going into the negatives?! I didn’t care, I loved the black and white sketch drawings, I loved the tiny little blurbs about the creatures or the gods and I loved comparing their stats to each other (oooh Thor has 399 hp and Loki only has 300, great, bad guys deserve to lose!) – it was all so very satisfying in some strange way. I probably read those books back to back more times than I have fingers and toes. I actually didn’t even know they were part of a game to be played. It was just all so fascinating and immersive.
It’s been a long time dream to recapture that feeling. Granted I’m much older now and the chances of an angsty 9 year old stumbling upon Unity are low but if I can impart even a fraction of the joy I felt as I read those books then I’ll be really happy. Also for those in the “know”, I’m well aware a small 9 year child should probably not have been exposed to the Succubus Monster Manual entry or the page on Hecate from Deities and Demigods 😉 Hmmmm…. Maybe that’s why I was so fond of those books.
From a design standpoint, I really believe that having a concrete setting can provide excellent storytelling fodder and also inform cool mechanics that can create a more unique and memorable experience for both players and GM. But I’m also cognizant that everyone has different tastes and some folks already have elaborate settings they’d like to adventure in and are looking for a solid system to bring that to life for them.
The setting in Unity is created for folks who want something ready out of the box to dive into. It’s created to facilitate the occurrence of interesting situations and the exploration of deep themes. Fortunately and unfortunately, this also leads to some mechanics that might be informed heavily by the setting but I truly believe Unity has enough merit in its more easily transferable components to still provide outstanding value even stripped of its setting.
Without typing up the whole history and setting here, there’s a short preview write up about it on the main site under the PREVIEWS section. Just click the picture below to be taken there.
Read it? Know what’s going on? Cool. So Unity’s story isn’t trying to break any new ground but what it does leave are a lot of threads open for the GM and players to explore. The purpose of the setting is provide rich tropes that can be used as storytelling fodder. There are themes about cultural tension, morality, tragedy, and redemption.
Cultural Tension: The tension between the races, especially with regards to what happened to the Afflicted can be used to add a dynamic element to the relationships with the party and in interactions with NPCs. There’s no right way to play it but overcoming that tension could be a part of the hero’s journey and a powerful development within a party or with a staple important NPC. Mortal enemies that come to care and love for one another, and eventually would die for each other – those are the type of stories I really enjoy.
Sentient Automatons: There’s a lot of interesting places we can go with regards to philosophical ideations and morality when it comes to some of the major players in Unity. Automatons and robots that were nothing but mindless slaves to their masters for hundreds of years finally gain sentience and the ability to feel. Some are of course rightfully angered and turn into flesh-murdering maniacs but others, the Iron Giants, the Johnny Fives, the Chappies of the world – what about them? Where have they gone? Their discovery or existence would be a momentous occasion. Their rarity and purity of heart could inspire players to be better, to do better. It opens up interesting possibilities for plot threads as well. What about a robot militia that seeks to liberate their “un-awakened brothers and sisters” from the tyranny of man? What lengths do they have to go to in order to repeat the freak occurrence that gave them life? Is it so wrong that some of these robots now just want a place to call their own? Are they still mindless tools or living beings that deserve a chance at their own life?
The Undead: The newly risen Dead also fall into the same camp as the sentient robots. But their machinations and desires are more shrouded in mystery. If anything their knowledge of their past life and their lifelong experiences of autonomy and therefore potential ambitions might make them more dangerous. I’ve so far purposely written them as fairly vague so that the GMs and players can decide where they want to take them.
The Crimson Horde: We then come to the savage Crimson Horde. A remnant of the Ivory Queen’s misguided attempt to mend her broken heart and save her children. They are now only just re-emerging from the great northern wilds. What do they want? Vengeance? Respect? It must absolutely do a number on a person to know that they were bred for a specific purpose. That they might have been a lesser copy of something else but it didn’t matter because they were created with the sole purpose to make the original better. Even though the Crimson Horde was designed to represent the familiar goblins, bugbears, trolls, orcs etc… of a fantasy world, their story is truly tragic. My intention was to never present them as completely mindless (well I guess every fantasy game needs its “kill 5 kobolds in a cave” fall guy) but to show them in a more humanizing light. The write up for the Akari was designed to represent this.
The Fell: What of the Fell? The demonic horrors from beyond the Drift that have swept across Unity like a black tide of doom. These guys are pretty much textbook bad guys. There aren’t so many questions swirling about them requiring philosophical and moral discussion. They represent the true nastiness of the world. They were meant to instill terror and be fearsome opponents. Even when everything around the players is going to hell in a hand basket, these guys are still the worst. They don’t just kill. They’ll drag you kicking and screaming back through a breach and twist and corrupt your soul until you become the very thing you hate. If you resist they might outright eat your soul and erase you from existence entirely, never to rejoin the Drift and be reborn. They represent an unstoppable force that requires not just the four main races of Unity to unite but perhaps all of Unity to come together. Now for me, that would be an epic story to tell.
A Golden Age Long Past: This is where we give the GM and players some dials to turn with regards to how crazy they want to get with the magic-tech that’s in the world. You are adventuring on the ruins of your once glorious ancestors and all the technological marvels they managed to accrue during the Age of Unity. There are secrets and items of wondrous power to uncover. If lucky, you might find an ancient Titan Rig — a colossal mech that your party can pilot in tandem. Picture putting your resident party Fell Hunter perched on the shoulder of a 100 meter tall robot. She’s got her long rifle locked and loaded and is scanning the horizon for threats. The crisp wind is blowing against her face and tossing her hair and hood back as her party inside is feverishly figuring out how to work the thing. The Rig’s large powerful legs are bounding across the land and very possibly crushing farms and livestock underfoot — better roll to find out. But if giant robots and having an array of advanced weaponry aren’t your thing, turn the dial way down. The party probably won’t stumble upon any of this and it would still make sense, after all it’s suppose to be buried or deliberately hidden.
Something Bigger Than Us: The premise of Unity is that you have been punished by the very hand that created you. All the badness in the world has resulted from the Skyfather’s wrath. But has it really? Or was it your ancestors’ hubris that set the wheels in motion? Or was it the Ivory Queen’s misguided attempt at creating the Crimson Horde? Or…. was it something much deeper and sinister that orchestrated everything leading up to this point? A connection to the divine is a theme throughout Unity and is also a core feature of a couple of the classes. How players interpret this connection is largely up to them. The game can spin out in different directions, do they go and seek vengeance against the now Mad God that sundered the world? Do they seek redemption? Or do they completely ignore the divine and strike out to make their own mark in the world? While all this is happening, does the GM decide take the idea of something hiding in the void somewhere while pulling strings and run with it?
There’s quite a few more entities at play in Unity’s history that add to the storytelling fodder basket but that would make this very long blog post even longer 🙂 I hope that gives you a bit of insight into why Unity’s setting exists and the kind of storytelling platform I’m trying to provide by leveraging the lore of the world. There’s no sign saying “You MUST use this” but they provide a foundation for those that don’t already have a setting in mind and also serve as kindling to fire the imagination. You could just as easily take a lot of the setting aspects and turn the “serious” dials down on them and create a sandbox campaign as a bunch of ragtag adventurers gallivanting around the land.
Stay tuned for PART 2 where I’ll discuss how the setting informs some of the unique mechanics in Unity and also how we can fit Unity’s system into a custom setting.
Do you have any favourite settings that inspire you? Or are you an unstoppable creative machine that loves to world-build? Feel free to comment below and gush about your favourite settings like a 9 year old boy who just found some D&D supplements 😀