Before I started this blog, I used to play MMO’s, the gateway back to pen and paper in my case. I played a good deal of City of Heroes, a superhero MMO released in 2004 and now about to be shut down by its owners unless somehow the players get someone else to step in.
I don’t see many similarities between MMOs and RPG’s, but my recent forays back into COH have highlighted something that I would like out of RPGs as a player: a sense of place.
When I launch City of Heroes and my character spawn in Paragon city, I know where I am. The streets I’ve run on (and flied over) since 2004 are places with memories.
I can remember the northwestern corner of Atlas Park that is a sort of walled off area with warehouses. It used to be populated with the Clockwork, but now it’s controlled by Arachnos. It’s easier to get in and out and slightly more survivable than it used to be. I don’t know why or when they changed the mobs there but it’s not how it was back in the day and that is EXACTLY how it happens in real places.
I’m getting nostalgic, but what I’m getting at is this: City of Heroes managed to pack a lot of adventure into a small area, one that had its own inconveniences and idiosyncrasies. Because MMOs are an audio and visual medium, I don’t need to imagine the path from Steel Canyon’s southern subway station to the northern station. As I moved, I saw where I was going and heard the incidental music that played as I moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, avoiding the outcasts.
I’m in a 1e game where I’m the only PC from the village nearest the dungeon. To save money, the party crashes at my character’s parents’ barn. Since there’s never been a map, drawing or description that I have heard, I am sure we are all imagining this place quite differently.
What I am wondering is how we can (or do we need to) create a sense of place in a pen and paper game. Do you use maps, illustrations, descriptions? Do your players even revisit the same places often?