Thursday 20 August 2020

Framing Weirdness

Bastionland has a lot of weird stuff. The closest thing to an introductory adventure has, among other things:
  • Dirt and worm worshipping teenagers
  • A hedgehog judge with other animals as servants
  • Slugs piloting mechanical bodies
  • A lonely whalebone mech
That's quite a lot of strangeness to throw at your players in game one, not even factoring in that the characters themselves might be a bunch of pretty weird individuals.

Some groups will lap this up, it can help some groups to consider how they present the weird elements. Remember that, at large, Bastionland is deliberately designed to be somewhat more mundane than a typical fantasy setting.

That is to say that for most residents of Bastionland, life doesn't look all that different to life today. Most people live in the city, they have a job they applied for, they buy food from the shops, they listen to their music collection and indulge in hobbies with their friends at the weekend.

This might seem like I'm stating the obvious, but in a more medieval-style world none of the above would be taken for granted by an average person. 

So I wanted to present a few tools for framing the weirder elements of your Bastionland if you're finding it a touch too much to take neat.

Dilution Reveals Flavour

Going hard on the whisky analogy here. Fancy drinkers will tell you to put a few drops of water into your whisky, even more if it's cask strength, which lets the flavour open up. Think of weirdness like your alcohol content here. It's got a lot of flavour, but too much and you only get the burn, or in this case weirdness-overload. 

Yes, you can make your entire Borough head to tail bonkers, but it might be tough to stomach. Sometimes reining it back in is the right way to go. 

I'm aware of the hypocrisy here, as I'm normally more of a "Go big! Subtlety is overrated" sort of GM, but it's really about reading your group. I'd still advise things like big, impactful consequences for actions, and strongly defined, memorable characters, but for your setting as a whole it's sometimes nice to have...

A Solid Foundation

Cities are already weird and confusing. Don't be afraid to just let Bastion be a city. Yeah, you can turn it up to 11, but it's a familiar song. 

If your campaign centres around an alien world where gravity is tidal and everybody is telepathic then you're on uncertain ground from day one. Rely on Bastionland's solid foundation of something that the players can relate to. Even if you don't want to go for the city route, Deep Country should hold elements that are familiar to anybody that's spent time in rural areas.

For this reason I wouldn't really advise a game set entirely in the Underground. For me it works as a new level of weirdness that you descend into, before returning to that solid foundation in Bastion or Deep Country. 

Weird Empathy

Incomprehensible alien intelligence can make for appealing antagonists, but I like to make even the weirdest characters relatable. Give them a good, strong drive or emotion that we can all sympathise with. To use the example of ABYSS in the Prison of the Worm Queen, he's lonely. The actions he takes are hopefully different to how we would react to loneliness, but the core is the same.

I don't go into too much detail in the actual document, but when I've run the game I do everything I can to make the players feel that loneliness. It might feel strange, like this is the "boss monster" right? If you make the players empathise too much won't they just refuse to fight it? Well, yeah. That happens quite often, and in my eyes it can lead to much more interesting situations than a fight.

Cloak of Mundanity

A common trick with modern-weird and alternate-history settings. Keep the surface level of everything relatively normal. Push the Mockeries and Aliens far into the background. Leave the machines in the Underground. Bastion is big and messy, but mostly has familiar elements.

It's definitely not how I'd run the game, especially for one-shots, but if you're still getting to grips with your idea of Bastionland, and your players are perhaps less exposed to weird fiction and fantasy it can be a good way to ease them into a longer campaign where they gradually discover the strange elements of the setting one by one. 


  1. Thanks for the advice in this post. I’m about 8 sessions in to an ItO based game set in Bastion, and from some of the stuff I’ve seen on the discord and from the bastionjam it seemed like my Bastion was a bit conservative by comparison. However, I am aiming at a mini-campaign at least, not a one shot, so I think a slow burn suits me and my players more.

    PS: a quick look at the Bastionjam shows some very imaginative and creative stuff. Brilliant idea to hold this. It shows how many different directions you can take this game.

  2. I can respect the "less is more" approach to Weird, but I prefer the "more is more" approach :p. The bar is higher, but if you can pull it off, that, to me, is the pinnacle of excellence. Something so well conceived that even as a raw, powerful, ungrounded thing, it can be communicated and understood (or not understood, but felt). Like a good steak, it does not need to be seasoned to be palatable, because it has been aged and that bit of rot and fermentation is so balanced it works without you even thinking about the fact that what you're consuming is a rotting carcass.

  3. Print Version is needed on DriveThruRPG!

  4. Reminds me a bit of that scene in Man in Black II when Will goes to the post office and once you peel the curtain all the employees are aliens in disguise