October 14, 2011

A Look Back at Korad: II: The World

Last week I talked about the process behind Korad. Now let’s examine the content.

The risk with any creative collaboration between a large group is of a plunge into the mushy middle. If the hallmark of superlative work is individual vision, crowd-sourced creation threatens to settle on bland consensus.

Yet Korad is anything but bland. It sidesteps trad fantasy tropes: for example, by choosing as its major inhuman races discorporate “body snatchers” and a refreshingly sympathetic take on the ghoul motif. Though its general vibe is more ancient than medieval, it eschews the influence of any one identifiable earth culture. Koradi culture has the depth and internal contradictions of any historical empire, without owing too much to any one of them.

It’s certainly not a world I would have come up with on its own. The unpredictability of its creation lends it the lived-in feel, the paradoxes that lend it believability.

In any vote-based project, a pattern soon makes itself apparent. Decisions tend to fall on a sweet spot in an emergent spectrum. Where a particularly brilliant or engaging choice comes up, the vote result may fall outside the sweet spot, serving as a distinguishing exception.

For example, in the old Angels and Operators play-by-blog game, the continuum was between caution and heedlessness. Instructions for our delusional-or-is-he protagonist showed a marked preference for seeking more information over other choices. Because this was so clear and obvious a choice, I learned to write the choices to take it out of consideration. After that, voters arrived at a collective compromise between risk and inaction.

Here the ends of the continuum were the practical and the whimsical. Votes generally clustered at a compromise point between these two extremes. Anything too prosaic lost out, as did the most far-out or absurd choices. The many-headed voter preferred a fantastical world anchored in an accessible logic. But not too logical—collective wisdom wanted their magic stones fungible and poetic, rather than basing them a rigorous extrapolation.

A secondary tension arose for Koradi culture. The brief was to create a strong-seeming empire with a glass jaw, one on the verge of a centuries-long ideological collapse. Ultimately the group chose to make Koradi culture largely unsympathetic to a modern audience, in its austerity and opposition to frivolity. Yet a strong faction worked to make the crumbling empire somewhere their fictional protagonists and player characters would like to live.

Although a changing blogscape promises diminishing returns for a continuing Korad experiment, we made a pretty cool world along the way. If you contributed ideas or voted on those of others, now’s the time to give yourself a pat on the back. Or perhaps toast yourself with a fine Winecoast vintage.