Saturday, February 13, 2021

Our new Game system and Trasler's Wealth, the campaign!

 Hey everyone!

I've decided to leave my post about end goals for the campaign, as I'm just about to start a new campaign as DM and really want to see what happens first. 

Together with some international friends I've been working on my own game system, based mostly on ICRPG, but classless and in my case it doesn't feature experience either. We're going to try this out in my campaign setting of Trasler's Wealth, a setting I've been building for a few years now and never found time or system to run it with. 

So let me first talk about my system a bit: There are only disciplines and three levels of proficiencies per discipline. You can mix and match as much as you like, but there is a cap of 12 proficiencies per character. So you could take 'journeyman bow' and 'master fighter' and spend 4 proficiencies. It will also take some time to learn new proficiencies, so you can't just always get to the trainer and you've learned it. 

We take the effort dice that ICRPG uses (every challenge has HP to overcome) and I've added some skills that are non-combat focussed. Every player may choose one of those (for now) to start with. I've asked them a load of questions like: what do you fear, what is your ideal, name 2 people who came before you to this island and one that you left behind.


Now about the campaign: I've been wanting to play it for a time now. It started out as a 100 hexes hexcrawl, but I got to hex 5 and quit. So now I made it a lot smaller. It's an island that was colonized 30 years ago but they've only inhabited a small part of it. It has a mineral called Dream Salt, which makes you dream lucid. Dreamwalkers can control their dreams and some can even control reality through dreams if they take the mineral. There are other effects, like dangerous magic, and rusty waters, which will be explained to the players soon.

Dreamsalt made the island super rich, as every court in the world wants it. The island is just too far away and well protected to conquer, and the taxes aren't that bad. Every nation in the world has a guild doing their biddings, and Treslar, the king and founder, sits back and gets rich. 

The island looks uninhabited by any civilization other than their own. Things will change soon though. I will start using timers and pressure for the players, although it might be hidden for them in the first few sessions, as they might not understand the consequences that things have. I'm trying to be very vague here, as my friends read the blog. 

I've now planned for the first three sessions. They can take several routes that I calculated, or they can do anything else, but I'll have to improvise. I know how the world revolves and what will happen, so as long as I know that, the games will be fine!



Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Ignited (a secret society) - Compatible with Mörk Borg

 Hey everyone, 

Last week I made a secret society of transhumanists that want to use magic to ascend to godhood. In this document I have spoiled their plans, made some ways of casting magic compatible with Mörk Borg and showcased some of the leader people in the society. It's downloadable at Itch.io here: 

https://caelinaraven.itch.io/the-ignited

I'm pretty happy with this publication. The idea of the Ignited has been in my head for years: first I wanted to put them into a D&D campaign where the players would unravel the terrible truth about the search for magical items. I think it fits better in Mörk Borg, where the nobles and wizards torture and kill the prisoners they have experimented on. The nobles will ascend to godhood, whatever it takes. Just so they don't have to be 'bothered' by the lies of Nechrubel.

The artwork is lacking in my publication, I'm only happy with the front page. I need to pay a lot more detail to design and learn how to handle that. I know there is a Mörk Borg design document out there, just haven't used it yet.

I think I might update the spell names later on. I think they are too bland and often used. If you look at the official Mörk Borg scrolls, they have very colorful names.

I also want to still expand on the roles of certain individuals in the society. I think some might have some more to tell us. I might add that later sometimes, in an update of the Itch.io page.

But even if I have my remarks I'm proud of the end result and glad that I finally written this idea down. Now I'm working on a set of dungeons that fit in the Galgenbeck Cathedral. I'm working on my second dungeon now. The first was a bit puzzle-y and not enough time pressure for my taste. The second one should be better and the third one should be best (I have no ideas yet for the third one). I'm learning as I go!

Here's still some legal information for the third party license of Mörk Borg (use it to write stuff for it!):

The Ignited is an independent production by Caelin Araven 
and is not affiliated with Ockult Örtmästare Games or Stockholm Kartell. It is published under the MÖRK BORG Third Party License.

MÖRK BORG is copyright Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell.

MÖRK BORG is copyright Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Timers and Pressure in a Campaign

 I haven’t posted for almost two weeks now, but I wanted to continue my story about campaign structure with a talk about Timers and Pressure.

 

I think pressure is very important in a campaign. If the players are too slow to react or go on their own side missions too many times, there should be consequences. These consequences could be mostly in the BBEG completing a part of their plan and succeeding in their goals. For this the BBEG does need a bit of a plan. I would say, to not make things too difficult for a DM, a loose one. You need an end goal and you could brainstorm some things they would need for that end goal. But working towards that end goal with the BBEG is a big part of putting pressure on for the players.

Next to that I think that taking the pressure away at key moments can also do a lot. If the players have just foiled one of the BBEG’s plans they might have a moment to rest and feast. This would be a gift for the players that have been in such stress all the time. Give them some time to shop, or to do their own personal actions in the world.

 

I was playing in a game of Maze Rats (now we play Knave) in Hot Springs Island, where we got a lot of freedom to explore, but we were also very squishy and afraid of any confrontation. There was a looming danger above us, but there was no pressure, as we had all the time to explore the island and make allies and enemies there. After a while pressure was introduced and with that a world timer in which we had to solve a puzzle.

In this case, I think we had too many sessions of ‘going nowhere’ with the game. Although I enjoy the game a lot, I felt without an end goal, it would be better to just leave the island the moment we could. Now the pressure is on and the game has become a lot more interesting again.

You could say the first sessions were needed to introduce the island to us. I think that would be a fair point, but still there would need to be a timer of some sorts that ticks away. Otherwise you’re just running without direction.

 

In my Frost Shepherds game, the campaign I DMed, I had a hidden timer. The Herald of Spring was captured by Winter Fey, and they would have killed him if the players took too long. This hidden timer didn’t work right, because it was hidden and I didn’t have much of a chance to unveil it. That the eternal winter was caused by the kidnapping of the Herald was one of the big twists. Next time, I want the players to make sure that they know things are at stake and time is ticking away.

 

Next to that I think it’s always fun to use timers in battle and in sessions. They really put the pressure on for the players when they find out. Examples I’ve used were:

-          Survive 15 turns and keep someone safe in those turns, no attack may land on the NPC.

-          Every few turns a new body part of the monster gets resurrected and the monster will grow stronger each time.

        In four turns of being in this mist you choke .

-         In 1d4 rounds ... happens.


Although this is different than a world timer, or putting pressure on for the campaign, I think they go hand in hand quite well together.

 

For my next campaign I want to make a bit of a calendar with things happening. Natural disasters will happen anyway, but some of the other miseries can be dealt with by the players. I’ll make sure the pressure is real and tangible and that timers will be out in the open, so the choices they make feel more difficult.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Getting acquaintanced with the world

 In my next few blog posts I’d like to think about campaign structure a bit. I’ll revisit the campaigns that I’ve ran and played in and see what I liked of the structure and what could be improved.

For now I’ve decided on three topics to write about:

-          Getting acquaintance with the world as a player. Starting as a player can be difficult in a world you don’t know much about. How do we handle this?

-          Timers and pressure. I want the enemy feel dangerous and this means pressure to put on the party. When and how do we start putting pressure on the party (especially when they don’t know the world yet)?

-          An end goal and how to get there. This will also go into ‘how do I prepare my sessions?’ and introducing a BBEG. Also, how do the characters fit in?

 

Today I want to start with introducing the world I built to the players.

 

Getting acquaintanced with the world

 

I often feel a bit lost as a player when I’m thrown into a new campaign. My character has lived there all their live, but I don’t know anything about it. What can we do as DM and as player to help this?

As a DM I think it’s good to tell beforehand what kind of world it is, but there’s often no time or space to go into the nitty gritty details. I think the least you should do as a DM, when players have picked their characters, is to say how usually the classes are portrayed in society. A wizard can, for example, both be high class in some games, and prosecuted in others. This is very important to tell players beforehand. Maybe the thieves guild has been falling apart and there are now two in the city that are competing. Important information.

 

A thing I did in my own campaign, but was not very happy with in the end, was to have several session 0’s in different games. We had a worldbuilding session where we played the Quiet Year to set up a continent. Then we had Do Not Let Us Die in the Dark Night of this Cold Winter to set up a village in the winter. And we ended the worldbuilding session 0’s with the villagers that were left over fleeing to the city because of a troglodyte threat. On their way they were rescued by the final party for the campaign.

Although the games were fun and definitely not a waste, it didn’t work out enough with pulling my players into the world. Even though they now knew some more things, even had come up with several landmarks, in the end they just forgot about it because they thought the games had little importance or because of the time between the games. At least there was little reaction when they finally came at the evil hide-out that they had come up with themselves.

 

I think it’s important as a DM to have some examples in your first sessions on how different people interact with the world. Almost as an exposé, it must show the hardships that the party can solve, but they must also choose a side at the same time.

I tried this in my campaign in one session by having a merchant become a goblin king, because he fed them for a while. Under pressure of the Goblins he was becoming more chaotic and evil though. He wanted to escape, but was held there under watch.

 

As a player I do like to be pulled into the world building process of the DM or at least give myself the freedom to come up with stories and tales that belong in the world. When I was playing a Cultist in Low Fantasy Gaming, I told some holy tales in a sermon that I had written myself. These tales eventually lead to an adventure, finding an old temple I told about in the forest. I thought that was very generous, maybe too generous, of the DM, but it was a lot of fun.

I could see myself playing a barbarian telling the stories of my ancestors too. How they roamed the plains but now things have changed. Or a wizard writing poetry about the world. In any case, I am a writer at heart and I love these additions to put into a game as a player if there’s room for it. The problem is that I don’t often feel the room to do so.

 

In the Hotsprings Island game I’m playing in now, we had a lot of introduction to the game. Our first 5 sessions or so were just exploring back and forth on the island. Although we had missions and there was a bit of time pressure, it didn’t feel like there was pressure. We just had to survive and that was difficult but doable. Around the 6th session we were starting to mingle with the factions of the island. I think this was a bit of a too long introduction where the world was basically in stasis.

It’s alright to have a long introduction to the world, but the wheels should keep moving.

 

I really recommend talking to the players and see if they want to be involved with the worldbuilding and in what way. Worldbuilding should go on during the campaign, I think, and I think it’s very fun if I have the room to come up with my own tales and experiences of the world (and also if other players do).

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Experience gain for my planned campaign

In my blogpost earlier today I talked about a list of ideals and beliefs that the players would hand me before starting the campaign, that would line up with the faction goals and beliefs, but also contradict with it, or itself, in some ways. I’m hoping that this gives my campaign a bit more direction, a bit more sense of meaningful gameplay, as you get closer to communal goals, and although drama in a party can be fun, also a bit more cooperation.

To extend this I want to talk about experience and how to gain experience in the campaign I am preparing. I want to tie this closely to the beliefs and goals system I set up.

 

There are many ways of experience gains in RPgs that I’ve played. Experience for gold you’re spending (AD&D), experience for monsters you kill (5e), milestone experience (5e),  experience for a set of questions you answer (Maze Rats) or experience based on your class (Blades in the Dark).

I really like the question based experience, but I would make a few changes to make it better fit my style. Where Maze Rats (at least the version I played) has a few questions that are the same for everyone and Blades in the Dark has questions based on your Playbook, I would like to suggest experience based on personal goals, ideals and beliefs.

I’d let the players set out to write their own personal goals and distill some experience gain questions from it. A belief saying ‘we need to root out corruption by having a revolution’ will grant experience when you are inciting a village to stand up against the nobles. A belief saying ‘The Gods have more power than any Earthly power’ can grant experience when you are performing a sermon for a village or invoking the power of the gods as a show of power. While ‘All cultists must be exterminated’ can lead into a destroyed cult being the source of experience.

 

This can lead to imbalance between players, but it’s up to the DM to give equal opportunity to have the same experience gain in the campaign. It shouldn’t be that one is level 5 and one is level 1, while they started at the same point in the campaign. But this is also a matter of sharing ideals between characters. If they are all set up to do about the same thing, it shouldn’t matter much.

Also getting faction goals should always reward with some experience gain for the characters, just like they must be rewarded with promotions or other rewards to symbolize the gain in ranks and trust.

 

This is how I’m planning my campaign, and although it is a bit different from other campaigns, I hope I will reap the fruits and have a more serious and meaningful  campaign.

Meaningful games, alignment and morality

 Although the word ‘meaningful’ can mean a lot of things and would differ for anyone you ask, I would like to open this blog with the topic ‘How can I get a meaningful game?’ as I’m looking at the games I DM and I seem to feel a need there to improve. When I DM I usually don’t feel that a game I came up with is meaningful or mattered to anyone, but if I continue this train of thought, I always have to say: ‘every game is community building and a social experience and therefor it is meaningful in some way’.

 

But what I’m aiming at, in my games, is a feeling and giving space for the characters to grow. Allowing growth to a character is quite difficult when you are in a West Marches campaign and there are around 150 players with characters that all change from game to game. I think that’s what makes me long for a game where the character growth is a bit more meaningful and feels more free.

The games that I played in had some growth of my character. At least some freedom to do whatever I felt like and what I felt like was often building my character. In Low Fantasy Gaming I played a Cultist who performed sermons to his goddess, after he had been exiled out of the city to a remote village. We used the village as a base, so I really tried to ‘settle’ there for a time and help the locals out with reading lessons and teachings.

In the 5e official campaigns that I played there was often not enough room for character development and I always felt like my character was just swept away by the adventure.

In the 5e West marches campaign where I am one of the DMs, my first character had some growth thanks to the friends he made in his first games. My acolyte Barbarian befriended paladins and clerics that served other gods, but still shared a bit of his ideal. We did missions together that really bettered the people from the campaign and there was never a question what we should do. We worked from our ideals and by sharing them we grew together. In the end my Barbarian even multiclassed into Paladin because of their friendships.

 

I think what is most important for growth for a character is the ideals and bonds systems you find in 5e, but also in other games. I would do away with alignment myself, in the next campaign I run. Instead, I want the players to write down 5 to 10 beliefs of which at least 2 contradictory believes to another, but that you are still able to believe in the same way.

Examples: ‘I’m hate war and would never want to see war again’ vs ‘I want a revolution to free the people from a mad king.’ The revolution would be bloody and war-like, so these are quite contradictory, but can still be believed in a same way.

Other example: ‘All cultists must be killed and exterminated’ vs ‘I hope we all can live in peace.’ Where the cultists are not taken into account that they could live in peace too, because cultists are notorious for murder and summoning ancient gods.

 

This would give me a morality and ideals to build upon as a DM. Character growth can come easier then. I think I’ll also say that they will serve the same faction and that this faction also has its beliefs and goals. That means there are no people that suddenly go on a killing spree (like I had before) or betray the faction.

 

I really want to organize a campaign that feels meaningful to players ánd DM. Where we all grow and benefit from. I’m currently in a brainstorming phase and these are some early thoughts.    

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Session Prep; two sheets to fill in


Some while ago I made an Encounter Sheet with a basic questionnaire to help me think about the encounters I was making. Back then I was very unhappy that most of my encounters didn't matched up with the wants I had in my head: using more of the environment in combat and putting more tension in my games. I made a basic sheet that I could fill in that would tick all these checkboxes and some more. The following games were better games in my view. I had thought deeper and more serious about my encounters. 

After working more than a year with this Encounter Prep document, I now decided to make a Session Prep document and also update my Encounter Prep with some new categories (NPC, and consequences).

Also noticing I have a Bachelor degree in Literary and Cultural Analysis that I wasn't using, I tried to put some of my favorite structuralist narratology tools in my document. I used the Actantial Model and the Semiotic Square of Greimas and pasted the 31 Russian fairy tale tropes of Vladimir Propp in there, to see if I can spice things up a bit in my games. I think all of these tools fit D&D real good. Then I made an easy questionnaire to fill in to uncover the story structure and help with improvising during the game (NPC names, things of interest to explore).

The prep document became 4 pages long, which is quite a bit, and should be printed double-sided to bring to the game. Here you can find the link to my google drive: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Dsc8bEa5Yv_0bOwZFX3xaWhwb1QIBxdo/view?usp=sharing


Session prep tools:

I feel like I should explain more about the tools I put in the first two pages of the document. The Actantial Model is maybe quite clear. It shows a story structure that can be filled in on lots of ways. 

The sender is in D&D often the quest giver, and wants and knows about an object (could also be knowledge, or somewhat more broader as 'life' and 'death of a monster'). They send the subject (the party) on their way to get it. The object is the desire of the party, it's what they are on the quest for. They are helped by some things on their way (equipment, but also followers/NPC's) and are opposed by some powers (monsters, traps, puzzles, villains). If the party, the subject, gets the object, who will gain from it? The receiver. Probably the party a bit, as in a treasure reward, but also often the sender. 

This will easily uncover which parts of the story are important and who is in which role of the story.

Then we have the Semiotic Square, which is  more difficult to explain why it's in my Session prep document. It's a brainstorming tool for me, to see if you can give a fun twist to some of the tropes that are often used. For example, you could fill in Life in the top-left corner and Death in the top-right as a binary opposition. Things are getting interested as non-life can also be Undead in D&D, and non-death (things that never lived) can maybe be Constructs. Now, if I was to make a session about the fountain of life, I could make this square and think: Maybe I'll put a Lich there that is also searching for it (maybe to destroy the fountain?), but I'm also placing some Constructs (Golems) there that protect the Fountain from any visitors. In that way the Semiotic Square creates new connections to words I wouldn't have thought of before.

Another example would be: Cold opposite to Heat. Non-cold could be something with water and non-heat could be a heartless thing (with free poetic associations). So maybe I'm sending my party towards a cold landscape, where they find a heartless thing, a water elemental, that can use the geysers in the landscape to send scorching bolts to the players. This example leans a lot of association, but it works for me, and I would like to use it.

Then we have the 31 tropes of Vladimir Propp, who researched Russian Fairy Tales in the 1920's and reduced them to several tropes that came back every time. I think this is useful because some of the tropes are almost never seen in D&D and some are put in there a lot. Basically the stories body part always comes back, until the point where the villain is defeated. But it might be fun to do something with the other tropes too.

Encounter prep tools:

This is my Encounter Prep Document, which is much clearer than the tools in the session prep.

 
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ewSoJRMJ7tF9nStwQ06huSZmBIyvLUCf/view?usp=sharing

Map just gives some room to draw a small map, Location, obstacle and goal are quite easy to fill is. Location is the place of the encounter (A cave, the forge, bridge). Obstacle is what the party needs to overcome (monster, puzzle, trap) and goal is what they need to receive (a magical item, a chest, a door).

Damage, duration and distortion control are tools from Runehammer on Youtube, measured on a d6. It basically points out how much control you as a DM have on the damage, duration of the fight and the distortion that is happening during. 

Treats, Threats and Timers are also a Runehammer tool, though I changed timer into Tension. There needs to be a tension to push the players, give them a Treat (treasure or something to help overcome the obstacle with) and it's nice if there is a Threat (a monster or something that pushes the party to the limit).

Then we have some room for one or more NPCs to be in the scene and write down the consequences of the party makes it or fails. Not every fail has to be death!


So far my session and encounter prep. Hope you enjoyed it, and continue reading my blog.