I've been on something of a survival / woodcraft / bushcraft streak lately, and it got me thinking about gaming. Doesn't everything?
Common literary theory boasts that there are essentially a Big Four of conflict in story: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Society, and Man vs Self.
Man vs Man is of course, the easiest to import into a role-playing game. Man vs Society can be slightly more obscure, but depending on how you want to handle it, it can be imported either through deliberate conflict, or by a motivation-based system, like Spiritual Attributes (The Riddle of Steel) or Beliefs (Burning Wheel). Similarly, Man vs Self can be explored as a theme through those motivation-based reward systems.
But how does one make use of Man vs Nature? Sure, you can be as direct as dropping a grizzly bear in front of the party and making them fight it, but that doesn't come close to capturing the feeling involved, or making that struggle a meaningful one.
For a long while, I've wanted to set up a campaign in such a way that exploration was an important part of the story: Charting uncharted lands, coming across the ruins of lost civilizations, the whole thing. While ruins and dungeons and whatever else are a way to make things interesting, is it possible to make man vs nature itself an interesting and vital aspect of the journey? It seems to largely be either hand-waved away, or worse: devolve into a series of rolls for fatigue or travel speed.
I seem to recall Mouse Guard had a mechanic that actually allowed you to make opposed rolls vs abstract concepts (I remember an episode of The Strand Gamers in which someone was rolling Weatherwise vs Spring? Or something), but I can't recall the specifics. Does this make things more evocative? I'm not sure. How do you make it impact the character - the player - beyond some rolls to resist fatigue, or cold, or whatever else.
Feel free to leave comments on this one. I'd love to know if there are any systems that do this well, or is it simply something that doesn't translate? I suppose it is hard to be cold, starving, soaked and annoyed at the rain when the player in reality is warm, dry, comfortable, and eating potato chips.
Until next time,