The Great Library
An Ancient Egyptian RPG
A historical fiction narrative with surprising mythical elements. The game opens in the moments before the burning of the Library of Alexandria. Someone is trying to destroy a piece of knowledge housed in the library. As librarians, it is the players’ job to stop them while uncovering the secrets of the library for themselves.
World Introduction: A Diary Entry
48 BC. Alexandria, Egypt
The sun rises in Alexandria, the gem of Egypt. Master Plutarch has sent me from Rome to explore and record the new royalty and their effect on the populace so that my fellow Romans might learn about the new land they want to annex. Little did I know that soon after my arrival, a civil war would erupt between the royal siblings.
I have not had the honor of meeting the queen, Cleopatra VII, nor the pharaoh, Ptolemy XIII. I hope master Plutarch’s connections and symbol will allow me an audience with the pharaoh soon. Though I am not sure I would like to, considering that he murdered the general Pompey the Great. Now, Cleopatra VII has gained the favor of Julius Caesar as an ally in her civil war against her younger brother. As a Roman, I pity anyone who has to face the great general.
The people of Alexandria, in all their wisdom, are afraid by the war. Today, Ptolemy’s fleet has been seen on the horizon of Alexandria’s marina. The siege has begun. I have heard from those with whom I am staying that Julius Caesar can save us, though I am not sure that city’s citizens are comforted by this news. Their lives are in the hands of the gods.
Progression of Play
Players’ characters are woken up by their old, blind professor Anen. He urges them to follow him and his assistant, Aelius, to the Great Library of Alexandria. Once in the library courtyard, they see that the city has been overrun by Roman soldiers. The soldiers surge into the courtyard, and group flees into the library.
Once inside, they see that the library has been ransacked. Through the debris, they notice a mosaic on the floor. The players analyze the mosaic and see that it is a map with an ankh symbol in the middle. The professor moves towards the ankh on the floor and places his amulet at its center. He tells the players that past headmasters have hidden other pieces throughout the scrolls in the space.
This was intended to motivate the players to explore the stacks. Instead, the players remain within the center chamber and continued to analyze the mosaic pattern on the floor. Beyond the ankh symbol, they learn that the mosaic depicts a map representive the four coners of the Mediterranean Sea. Once they are certain to learn nothing more from the mosaic itself, they began to search the stacks.
The players learn to use their skills to progress, witnessing the second and third levels hidden beneath the library, emerging with the blessing of a long-lost Egyptian goddess.
Discussion and Takeaway
The main obstacle was motivating players internally, giving them something they would want to work towards, without allowing them to languish and get bored due to a lack of pressure. Upon reflection, this web of dynamics feels to me like a kind of “Push-Pull” system. The “push” component refers to the forces the game master marshals to lay pressure on players, forcing them to make certain decision and begin certain paths. The converse component in this system is the “pull” component, a force or influence that draws a player towards a certain goal or result.
These work in tandem but have key distinctions. While the two forces might be considered similar, the difference lays in the emotions these forces key into. While curiosity or passion may pull players, a push component will more often be associated with fear or pressure from an exterior force, pressing the player to make decisions they might not have otherwise. As such, I found that creating this RPG was, in fact, primarily about systems of emotional play, rather than for strategic or chance value.
A role-playing game deals with the essential elements of game design itself. This exercise showed me that an RPG strips out the non-essentials and forces both designers and players to contemplate the fundamental elements necessary for an immersive and enjoyable experience.
Based on this project, it seems that two critical elements for an immersive RPG are a balanced push-pull system and a firm world foundation. With a strong basis for a world, the game master and players are better prepared to improvise and extend the world themselves. At the same time, the push-pull system becomes a mapping device for the game master, offering an emotional structure that helps guide players through the world in an internally motivated, compelling manner.