I’m working on some Factions for Maximum Recursion Depth, specifically for New York City where my current campaign takes place, which will play a role in the next session of my campaign tomorrow. I’m also working on it as a blog post, but I’m genuinely concerned about certain things with these factions, so I would really appreciate advice as it pertains to cultural sensitivity and tone. I’m going to start by explaining my thought process for the factions in MRD, and in subsequent posts in this thread I’ll describe the factions (for now I’m only writing two or three, but there will likely be more down the line). Today I’m mostly focused on just getting the factions set up, and tomorrow I’ll probably focus on game-hooks for a hopefully sandbox-y game tomorrow evening.
Unlike most of my Weird & Wonderful Table-style posts, I want to break down in greater detail my thought process for these factions, and my approach to factions in MRD more generally (don’t worry, I’m only writing a few anyway!). This is because MRD is meant to take place in a world that is mostly like the world as we knew it circa 2019, and while these factions are all fictional, they tie into real-world elements (to varying degrees), and so I want to make sure people understand my intentions.
I love New York City. I’ve wanted to live here for many years, and despite Covid, I am glad to have been here for nearly two years so far (holy crap!). A lot of life goals have been accomplished here, it’s been fulfilling in ways that go beyond the scope of this post. Normally, I prefer to play in entirely Weird, unconstrained settings. But in mid-pandemic world, I am finding it cathartic and inspiring to play my campaign in New York City, a version that simultaneously reflects the real place that I love, but tints it with the magical Weirdness that reflects something more authentic to how I actually feel when I walk the streets of New York than the objective reality. There are so many cultures and subcultures either unique to New York or born here; not hiding per se, but drowned out from the sheer mainstream noise. There is a reason why so many stories of Magical Realism are set in New York and other cities- because that magic truly does exist, in a fashion. A MRD campaign does not have to be set in New York City, but my current campaign is set here, and given how much this setting is an expression of my personal beliefs, sensibilities, and feelings, it seems fitting to focus on New York for this setting, at least for now.
New York is diverse, and Weird, in all the best ways. There are cultures from around the world, and those cultures intermix and transform and become something unique unto themselves. It’s not a melting pot- a watered down, dumbed down, flavorless homogeny of cultures, nor, and I can’t stress this enough, is it a “wonderland”, a fetishism of the “exotic” and “other”, that exists for the amusement of a white American like myself. The factions in MRD are meant to reflect the diversity of New York, in all senses of the word, to play into some of the themes and tropes of New York’s history and media representations such as crime dramas, pulp adventures, noir, superhero stories, and so on, to reflect various aspects of the real world as it exists today, and to express the almost magical realism I describe above, but also to express that these cultures don’t exist in a vacuum. There is no one Italian Mafia or Yakuza in this setting- it isn’t the Black gang in one neighborhood and the Mexican gang in another. There’s the faction of Black Twitter - Seneca Village activists - Mindan Korean Japanese Americans, and another faction of TikTok Gamergate White Nationalists - countercultural European Mormon Punk Extremists - Uruguayan American Conservatives. It’s a mix of things that do exist (or a version of them), and things that don’t exist but one could imagine existing- that seem strange but have an internal logic to them which is as much due to chance as anything else. They are decidedly fictional, but demonstrate how Weird reality and culture can actually be.
But, again, I’m a white American, so I want to be very careful about appropriation, about misrepresenting real cultures, or being insensitive in any way. So I hope the above sufficiently explains my thought process, I hope it succeeds at expressing the magical realism I am describing, and I hope it does so in a way that is generally reasonable and decent from a liberal perspective.
Also WARNING there are some heavy topics explored in these factions, especially in the links, so trigger warning on that. I personally want MRD to be more of an escapist experience, but also, it is core to the idea of MRD that we have to face the bad things- both in ourselves, and in the world. So these factions do reflect that, to some extent, but that doesn’t mean that these issues have to be at the core of a MRD campaign.