Let’s artificially divide the mechanics of a game from its setting, for a bit. This isn’t hard: I think it’s actually easier to assume they’re two entirely discrete entities, “crunch” and “fluff,” a pair of grumpy odd-couple room mates. Once the dice hit the table, of course, they have to blend, or else blow each other up–FENG SHUI presents itself as a game of hypercompetent violent action, that’s its setting, but if the mechanics had bungled that by making effortless victory impossible, it would implode and self-contradict. ‘S all I’m saying.

But let’s take it as read that HORIZON’s rules match the setting. In actual fact, it’s more likely that the way the rules shake out and shape up is going to help determine the feel of the game as much as the monsters and societies and other stuff I describe. But let’s get at the stated elements described by Yours Truly and where they came from.

In short, what is HORIZON about?

In my mind, I call it “fantasy science.”

In fantasy, technology is discarded, magic is embraced, and the whys and wherefores of magic are often handwaved or ignored. In science fiction, technology is embraced, and often thought through very carefully as a foundation for character conflicts. Then there’s science fantasy, where technology is name-checked and invoked, but where the details are handwaved or ignored. To forestall any potential arguments, I love all three of these, but they’re different things.

With HORIZON’s ‘fantasy science’ I want to take the presumptions of fantasy–that magic exists and that people can learn it and do awesome stuff with it–but think them through with the care applied to hard SF.  Consider the common trope of ’emotion-powered magic.’  HORIZON’s going to have that (that’s why ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ are numerically statted) but consider what it means to have physical effects based on feelings.  Suddenly, what is (in our world) a blurry and self-reported mess becomes quantifiable.  “Sorry,” the prince can say, “I know you love me — you used a love-based spell to lift up seventeen pounds of rock, after all.  But SHE used the same spell and lifted twenty-five pounds.  I’m forced to conclude that her feelings are almost 33% more genuine!”

This impulse arose from an internet discussion of modern day “hidden magic” games, like UA and the World of Darkness. There’s always some excuse for why the magic is hidden. “People freak out when they see it,” or “It’s just not as good as technology so you have to be a little bit crazy to prefer it” or the always beloved age-old conspiracy. In HORIZON, I want to take that issue seriously. I want the setting to start at a level of development that’s just a few steps above neolithic, both for technology and for the understanding of natural law. In this case, ‘natural law’ includes magic. As the game progresses, I want to see the future unfolding. I want scientific and occult revolutions and discoveries happening to the PCs, at the game table. I want the PCs to be the Archimedes and Marie Curie and Alexander of their setting. Then, as history moves forward (supported by more “fluff,” setting material) you can see the history unfold. I want a hinged history of the setting that covers centuries, so you can play a sort of Led Zeppelin version of “Blackadder.” When the Axe-Hands invade, your PCs rally the tribes, fight the strangers, and make it a short and nasty war? Okay, in a hundred years that means X. Or your PCs settle down for a siege, change the culture so that even after the war, the tribes are militarized and at each other’s throats for a century of low-intensity-conflict? That means Y. Which setting do you want to continue the game in, or do you want to stay at the early era and continue to shift the future?

A lot of this is influenced, of course, by Call of Cthulhu. I’ve played CoC games set in both World Wars, in the twenties, in the thirties, in the nineties and so on. It’s not a time travel game, any more than HORIZON is, but I want it to have that same sense of sweep. Also to have the PCs be really, really important people.

More later, on how HORIZON is set on a planet of disasters.