Go Big or Go Achievable

When it comes to running campaigns I have to admit that for a long time I’ve had a problem when it comes to scale. Simply put as a GM I tend to think big and long term, with multi-part story arcs that will take dozens of sessions to complete. Part of that stems from my introduction to tabletop gaming, brand new to RPGs I joined a new Torg campaign run by an awesome GM. The campaign followed the official storyline that was published when the game first came out and while I only played in it for the first year it ran for over four years right up until the final confrontation with the Gaunt Man himself. When I left the game I did so to start GMing for the first time, with my first campaign returning to what I knew, the very Torg adventures I’d played in the year before. While that campaign did reach a conclusion it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for, though it was epic in nature.

Since then I can think of only a handful of campaigns which have wrapped up satisfactorily and of those that haven’t most have fallen apart after 6-10 sessions due to players conflicts. Almost every time those campaigns have fallen apart with little of the world and larger campaign revealed to the players. The most recent example of this is the Legends of the Five Rings campaign I was running, while the game had completed a short self contained adventure (the first part of which is detailed here) the adventure ended with the party learning only that the events had been orchestrated by an outside faction. They never learnt who or why and more importantly they never got the chance to stop them.

So with my current Dresden Files campaign I’m taking a different approach, that of Go Achievable and running it as a series of discrete adventures each for around 3 sessions in length. Most importantly I’m aiming to make each adventure almost entirely self contained, so should it fall apart there shouldn’t be dozens of hanging plot threads left. The most difficult bit though is trying to be concious of the pace of the game, knowing that I need to reach a conclusion within a short time period.

It’s a bit of a challenge at the moment but hopefully it’ll work out in the long run.

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D&D 5th Edition Basic Released

So after their protracted open playtesting WOTC have begun their release of D&D 5th Edition, or D&D Next as it’s been known until late. The Basic rules, which include the main system and a core set of options for the classic class / race options are available for download, for free, from the WOTC website. Doing so is a bold move and one that’s probably required in order to push interest in the release, especially given the rise of Pathfinder since it appeared on the scene.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really a D&D fan but having skimmed through the rules the first thing that struck me was simply… this is just D&D. Sure there’s been some streamlining but really the only thing that strikes me as new is the advantage / disadvantage mechanic. Everything else is just the same old same old, which I guess is fine for the target market but I think I was just hoping for something a bit more of a radical departure from the d20 formula. Something that brought in more of the ideas and approaches that have developed in gaming over the last decade, let alone the last couple of years.

All in all the release of the new D&D can only be a good thing, especially given this initial release makes it look like they’ve learnt from the mistakes surrounding 4th Edition. In the end though this first release just reinforces one thing for me, that D&D isn’t the game for me and probably never will be. Yes I’ll probably play it, but it’ll never be my go to system or even on my top list of games.

I just hope somebody does, D&D started this hobby and it would be a shame if 5th Edition was its final iteration.

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Mark Hamil: The Joker meets Luke Skywalker

I don’t really have anything I can say here other than that you should watch this.

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Miya Tomoko, Imperial Herald

Miya_AnzaiAllegiance: Imperial
Age: 32, Honour: 4.8, Status: 3.2, Glory: 2.1, Insight Rank: 1
School: Miya Herald (Page 230, core rulebook)

Attributes

Air: 3, Awareness: 3, Reflexes: 3
Earth: 2, Willpower: 2, Stamina: 2
Fire: 2, Intelligence: 2, Agility: 2
Water: 2, Perception: 2, Strength: 2
Void: 2

Skills

Courtier (Rhetoric): 1, Etiquette (Courtesy): 3, Lore (Heraldry): 2, Investigation: 1, Sincerity; 1, Athletics: 2, Defense: 2 Horsemanship: 4, Hunting: 3, Iaijutsu: 1, Kenjutsu: 2, Kyujutsu: 3, Animal handling: 1

Background

Miya Tomoko, the Imperial Herald for the Fallen Mountains, serves in the post that has been passed down by her ancestors since the Unicorn Clan reclaimed their territory in the region, triggering frequent skirmishes with the Lion Clan and necessitating the need for a dedicated Imperial presence. Like all heralds she serves the Emperor two fold, delivering missives and declarations to the citizens of Rokugan while constantly observing all that transpires within the region. Due to the numerous small villages and treacherous terrain associated with the Fallen Mountains Tomoko spends little time within Shirayama Toshi, a situation which suits her temperament and desire for a simpler life. As could be expected the numerous samurai of the city court see Tomoko’s position as one which can be politically exploited and during her limited time in the city she is frequently petitioned to endorse their positions or to carry worthless messages on their behalf. Only the Governor makes little effort to influence her actions despite the fact that as an Imperial appointment he could easily arrange for Tomoko to serve him directly.

Tomoko’s desire for a simpler life extends beyond that of merely wishing to avoid the distractions of court. On more than one occasion she has found herself trapped within villages due to snow or landslides, during which times she has been forced to live amongst those beneath her in the celestial order. While most of the samurai caste would find themselves appalled by such conditions Tomoko found love in the embrace of a peasant who was not immediately cowed by her station or Imperial heritage. While such romances are the source of numerous pillow books across Rokugan if anybody were to discover it Tomoko’s position and perhaps even her life would be forfeit. More dangerous, perhaps, would be for a member of court to discover her secret. With it Tomoko would become just another pawn in the never ending game of political maneuvering, subject to the whims of those accustomed to trading the secrets of others.

Plot Hooks

  • General: As a herald Miya Tomoko travels the region extensively, spreading Imperial edicts while also gathering news and rumours. In this position she could easily serve to alert PCs to unusual goings on or movements within the Fallen Mountains, though much of her knowledge is based on little more than hearsay and idle chatter.
  • A secret to protect: Tomoko’s lover has become known to a member of the court and she begs the assistance of the PCs in gaining leverage over those who would blackmail her, all while trying to prevent the PCs from also discovering her secret.
  • The last ride: Peasants from a village on the shores of Lake Ishi summon the party, having found a mortally wounded Tomoko on the shores of the lake. Before she died she called herself Miya Ishi and spoke cryptic messages of “the legion, cannot stand unforgiven.”

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QuicFic: Blue Sky

Blue Sky was inspired by a short Apocalypse World campaign I played in last year and is a possible epilogue for my character Farley. The apocalypse that has befallen the world is one of an apparently endless storm powered by a psychic maelstrom. The endless rain of this storm has wiped away the surface of the world, with survivors scraping by in small settlements nestled in mountain ranges or in convoys that travel the surface trading supplies for food and shelter. While the rain may be endless it all flows to the same end: the pits, gigantic circular holes that dot the planet. Their purpose, like their connection to the storm, is unknown.


 

Blue sky.

For almost a decade people had laughed at the concept, that the sky could be anything other than a faint and menacing glow. Farley couldn’t blame them, that there was something beyond the endless grey sky was only marginally less implausible than saying the rain would stop one day and the one time he’d brought that up had gotten him and Wisher driven out of the convoy they’d joined. Not that it mattered, not really. They’d both seen the truth, that the world was slowly but surely changing. The first time after leaving Erzen, they’d been circling the mountains, searching for evidence of another mine or bunker that might hold clues about the Before, about the fates of Lemma and Mencken. To be dry, even for a few minutes had been startling enough but to bodies accustomed to shadows and dampness the light and the warmth was nothing short of painful. That was the only time the sky had opened that first year but it had been enough to revive their flagging spirits and finally convince Wisher that her uncle hadn’t been broken by isolation or what had occurred in the mine. Not that times had been easy since those early days, spent drifting from settlement to squalid settlement making the runs that nobody else could or would. Farley, not quite sure what he was looking for, had ensured they never stayed in one place long. Doing so had forced Wisher into the life of a Driver and while she wasn’t quite the mechanical genius that her mother had been the constant travel had honed her reflexes and focused her intuition. While he knew it wasn’t the life that she’d have wanted Farley was sure that his sister would have been proud of Wisher none the less.

“Farley it’s time, the engine’s charged. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be and the storm has passed” said Wisher as she stepped in through the airlock, her suit drenched to a degree that was becoming increasingly rare. Her arrival was enough to snap Farley out of his reminiscing, it was time to replicate the stunt that had got him driven out of his home all those years ago. That first time he’d been lucky to survive, insane recklessness and the broken flow of the water under the car had let him skim the edge of the pit. Shan, his main rival in the settlement, hadn’t been as lucky and had plunged his car into the depths when he’d tried to emulate the act. By nightfall Farley was on the run, the first of many journeys that would bring him to Mencken, then Erzen and finally here, to an abandoned settlement only a mile from the nearest pit.

“Yeah, I’ll be right with you kid, just… give me a moment.”

Nodding Wisher headed back outside, a minute later Farley grabbed his own gear before cycling through the airlock into a dry and bright world that made him pause. Lemma, I don’t know if you’re up there but if you are could you dial it down a bit? My eyes just aren’t meant for this sort of light, doubt even those from the Before could handle it. Snapping on his goggles he breathed a sigh of relief as he scanned over the small convoy they’d assembled by calling in every favour they’d built up over the years. If they were going to confirm what he’d seen before Wisher was going to need to skim the edge of the pit for longer than Marlene’s hover engines would allow. Solving that problem had meant dragging Bridget, Satan and the tank out of retirement just to provide a sturdy enough anchor to tie Marlene to. All to get a glance into the abyss, to confirm that he’d once glimpsed a secret of a world long forgotten.

“Can’t shake the feeling that this is what Mum built her for, no other car could make this run,” Wisher was checking over Marlene one last time as Farley approached, talking to herself as she did so. It was a habit he was sure she’d picked up from him.

“I know what you mean, same way as no other driver could make it. Lemma always talked about how we were all cogs in a bigger machine, guess this is just them coming together at last.”

The trip to the staging point was mercifully quiet, broken only by occasional check ins as the spotters reached their vantage points. If it looked like Wisher was in trouble they’d be able to call it in while the tank could still pull her in, before she plunged into the darkness of Farley’s nightmares. He said nothing as she went through one final set of checks, he didn’t need to. A simple nod of encouragement as she settled into the drivers seat said more than his words ever could. Then he retreated to the tank, pulling a pair of headphone on as she started her run.

“Hover is at 80… 90… 100%. Anchor is secure, speed.. 45… 53 and,” there was a thunk, “we have tension. Here goes nothing…”

Silence. Inside the tank nobody made a sound. 10 seconds passed, then another, and another before Farley grabbed the microphone, panic seeping into his voice.

“Wisher… Wisher… whats happened… WISHER!”

“It’s ok Farley, everything’s ok. I’m fine, I’m just… it’s beautiful. You were right, the entire edge is metal, section after section of it, all riveted together. I’m turning on the camera, you should see it now.”

The image that fed through to the tank was exactly what Farley had hoped for, a metal edge that had clearly been constructed during the Before. The pits had a purpose, the pits had meaning. Then the image started to move, Wisher’s voice barley above a whisper as she repositioned the camera.

“There’s something else, I can… I think I can see the water level, it’s not that far below me. There’s something in it, a ship or boat.”

As the image came into focus Farley found himself staring at a ship he’d seen only once, through a portal into the maelstrom of the storm. It dwarfed even Erzen, its vast angular deck flat apart from the vehicles that moved across it. Their purpose became clear moments later as one raced across it, diving not into the depths of the pit but soaring upward into the sky. The thunderous noise it made was deafening, but Farley knew what it meant.

Mencken. Mencken, the Rainwalker, had returned.

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Adventure Seed: Burning Faith (Part 1)

Burning_of_monastery2

Burning Faith is an adventure set in and around the Fallen Mountains and is deliberately designed to present PCs with a situation with no clear course of actions. The adventure was originally written for a group of Unicorn PCs and works best when at least one of the members is from that Clan, for reasons that will become apparent.

Introduction

Kyufoki no Shinden, the Thunder Monastery, has been burnt to the ground. Coming across the still smouldering ruins the PCs must find and confront the perpetrator before navigating the political ramifications and determining the truth of what has occurred. The adventure can be broken down into three sections: discovery of the massacre, confrontations and investigation.

Everything after the cut contains spoilers.

Continue reading

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MAPS! 20,000+ of them!

Apparently I forgot to hit publish on this post, oops.Europe
RPGs are no strangers to the use of maps, many systems utilise them during combat while adventures often employ them to provide players with a feel for the regions they’re exploring and acting in. One of the downsides of maps is the amount of time that can be required for their construction, especially if you want something that incorporates a substantial amount of detail. Luckily for us then that the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library has released 20,000+ historical maps under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication (which basically waives their copyright to the fullest extent possible). The maps are available are high resolution downloads and while the majority are focused upon the New York region of the USA there are still hundreds if not thousands that span the wider world.

The freebies don’t stop there however. As part of their attempt to digitise the maps the library have also released a tool called the Map Warper which allows the public to align and overlay the historical maps with the location as it exists today using. The merge of historical and present day maps can be exported as basic images or even as Google map readable files, allowing GMs to then add game related details before making them available to their players (see this overlay as a basic example).

Already I can see it’s potential in games such as the Vampire Giovanni Chronicles that Mike has talked about in the past where the action jumps across multiple time frames. Or alternatively how about a modern Cthulhu game where the players come across an old manuscript from the 1920′s? You only need to look at the classic gamecube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem to know how awesome that could be. So if you run a game set in the real world then I would encourage you to check out this amazing resource and if you do let us know about your experience with it.

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Demon Hunters Ride Again

Demon HuntersI’ve writen many times before about the Demon Hunters setting from Dead Gentlemen Productions which has formed the basis for many great games in the past. For quite a while however the world has been left in limbo while DG focused on The Gamers movies and Journey Quest, their most recent webseries.

Until now that is.

That’s right, Demon Hunters is back but this time in the form of a webcomic which you can find over at www.demon-hunters.com and which will be updating weekly with new strips. The comic reboots the setting entirely and is going to focus on the aftermath of the Vancouver Disaster which turned Gabriel’s life upside down (the events of the movies originally occurred some time after this). There are only 2 strips and some character profiles up at present but I’m already digging the art style, especially that of Gabriel and I can already hear the voice of Nathan Rice (who played Gabriel in the movies) speaking the dialogue. But enough of me telling you it’s worth reading, just go and read it.

In the words of Gabriel… We Ride

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Sci-fi Shorts

While fan made movies and short series have existed as long as people have had the ability to shoot them the combination of high speed internet and readily available special effects packages have allowed amateurs to create and share content in ways that have never before been possible. The sci-fi genre is one of the best examples of this, with some of the best fan made productions showcasing special effects that would have required dedicated production studios only 10 years ago. Every so often I get around to catching up with interesting or intriguing pieces, a few of which I wanted to share here.

First up we have the fan made human Revolution – Deus Ex based on the most recent Deus Ex game featuring the unwilling cybernetically enhanced Adam Jenson:

Next is The Gable 5 featuring Eliza Dushku (of Buffy and Dollhouse fame amongst others) focusing on the ordeals a woman is put through as a subject in a secret neurological experiment. While a standalone short there’s the potential that the episode could be followed up with a webseries exploring the experiment in greater detail:

 

Finally we have Prospect, a short film following a girl and her father as they explore an alien jungle. I’ve linked to the Verge article for this one as in addition to embedding the film itself the article provides an interesting insight into the development of the film and the choices that were made during its production.

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March 31, 2014 · 9:30 pm

On games not having to be fun

I’ve written in the past about the fact that I appreciate stories which build an emotional connection in order to create a compelling experience, even if this is done so at the cost of ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. With that in mind it’s heartening to see that the concept is starting to gain ground with mainstream, triple AAA developers as evidenced by this recent article over at IGN regarding Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry. While I’ve only dabbled with the Assassin’s Creed games so far the fact that the writers of the game have deliberately included aspects they knew would leave players conflicted is, to me, a big step forward.

One of the missions that the article discusses is a deliberate no-win situation, where the player is confronted with a sinking ship full of slaves and is unable to rescue them all. In doing so the writers aimed to strip away player agency in order to make them feel what the character is feeling. While this approach works when the players are receptive in similar situations it often backfires, with players instead feeling cheated by the fact the situation was set against them. The problem is that players have come to expect that the game will show them what they can do and then expect that every situation put in front of them can be solved in that manner. Or to put it another way when all you have is a hammer everything begins to look like a nail.

The problem though is that not every problem is a nail and even when it is not every nail needs hammered. Especially when that nail is in your foot.

Ok that analogy didn’t quite work. But you know what I mean. Hopefully.

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