My group is using D&D Next as our main system for our new campaign. We did a bunch of cooperative world building and in discussing things, it turns out that they wanted more of a commerce and intrigue based campaign. We threw out a number of ideas but most people really wanted airships.
With their input, I decided to make the start of the game about the development of a new type of ship, basically an air-based clipper ship. For those who don’t know, the development of shipping in general and the clipper in particular changed the course of history. In Europe, we had the rise of merchant cities such as Venice and much of early US history and fortune is tied to trade. Shipping also caused a fair amount of disruptions to the status quo and played some role in the development of the middle class.
Clipper ships led to the development of markets for goods that are light and more perishable, such as tea and opium, as well as for passenger travel, given their faster speeds. As such, I think they’ll lend themselves nicely to many types of adventures, everything from a time-based run (like Smokey and the Bandit) to transporting contraband (Dukes of Hazard) to important matters of state, both known and unknown. Can the PCs deliver the peace treaty before the general’s planned strike? Can the spy get back in time to stop the assassination of the queen?
Once I felt confident that I could do something fun and interesting with the story line, I had to figure out how the PCs would build such a ship. Would I have them design it themselves? How would they fund the building? What I decided was that one of the characters, someone who had taken the charlatan background, won the last notebook of a noted shipbuilder during a card game. He looked it over, saw the applications of such a ship, and found some friends and acquaintances who might be interested in such an endeavor. This gave the PCs a reason to be together (and to look out for one another’s interests) and made sure no one character had more power than any other one.
Then came the decision for how to pay for the building. For that, I figured out how much they needed (20,000 gold pieces). Instead of making the rolls binary, there was a scale of money they could get with different DCs. Since there was some randomness to the amounts each round raised, the feeling is a bit more organic than saying, “I need 5 groups you borrowed money from and reasons why they lent you the money.”
I then had each of them decide who they would approach and what skills they would use to convince that group to give them money. So one PC comes for an old money family in the town who is currently involved in building ships. She had the nobility background for her character, making it reasonable that she could borrow a bunch of money. Another was from one of the rising middle class families and when the player rolled a 1, she determined that her character’s family wouldn’t have given him any money, probably saying something like “We had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, you will too.” Another character owns a tavern in town (he’s a brewer) and has connections to the underworld. He used both legitimate and shady connections to raise the funds.
What I love about this is that one day, these groups are going to want to ask favors back. Since the players decided which groups they wanted to involve and they knew in advance that favors would be asked for at a later date, they’ve been given some control over the types of stories they want to tell. They decided that the legitimate business interests were going to be tea growers and they even want to visit some of the tea plantations to see what the deal is there. When it comes time to figure out who in the underworld provided the funds, I’ll be asking the players for their input there as well.
Also, this meant a lot less work for me. I didn’t have to come up with all of the ideas of where the story should go but I still have the opportunity to throw in a few surprises. While I realize that this won’t work for everyone, it works for me and seems to work for this group. One thing to keep in mind is that some people play D&D in a more competitive way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but since the story evolves as we tell it and the players build the world instead of competing against it, it may be less satisfying for those players.
This weekend at Carnage, I wanted a way to store the monster stat blocks without printing them out. I decided to save them as images to my computer using the print preview and grab utility on my mac and then save the files in a special folder on my Dropbox account. Then I went into Dropbox on my iPad and made sure each image downloaded. During the game, I had a set up like this:
As long as you name the files something easily recognizable, it's easy to jump between the monsters during combat. While this doesn't help with things such as hit points or conditions, I found it quite easy to just write that information down on an index card during the encounter. (While I didn't do it this weekend, I often finding adding damage together easier than subtracting it from the HP pool, your mileage may vary)
It's also possible to do this with the Photos app but the issue there is the names aren't given and it's harder to jump between monsters.
I'm tempted to create a folder with other commonly used information, such as the DCs and damage by level. I'd love to see more products that supported tablets such as the iPad because I personally much prefer this to carrying around lots of pieces of paper, which I inevitably get scattered during the game.
I'd also suggest creating a folder full of level appropriate basic monsters to use when your players decide to do something you didn't expect. For instance, both groups this weekend decided they wanted to talk to someone at the clock factory instead of just barging in. Since I didn't want them to get to the person they were after right away, I added a butler named Igor on the fly. I just reused the stat block for the skeleton, making a few appropriate modifications.
You can also include other goodies in the folder, such as images to set the mood and pictures of the NPCs and monsters. The dropbox app easily hides and shows the folder contents list so you don't have to risk showing your players what they are about to face. Or you can just put them in a separate folder.
This past weekend I was a special guest at a great convention in VT called Carnage. The crew there, including Christine Crabb, were kind enough to invite me and I had a blast.
Things to do
There was so much to do, I feel like I missed some things. For games, people had their pick of tabletop rpgs, wargames, board games, and larps. Diplomacy seemed to have a huge crowd and the Pathfinder Society room seemed to always be busy. For those who needed time away from the table, there was lots of space for socializing, a theater room with movies running around the clock, and the convention itself was held at Lake Morey Resort, with lots of outdoor trails and places to see.
Highlights of the Trip
Running two games of "Dream a little dream of death" was a ton of fun. I created the scenario for DDXP two years ago and it never disappoints. There's nothing like obvious injustice and a mystery to figure out. I need to figure out how to write it up for other people to run it but none of the current adventure templates seem to work well for it.
Another big highlight was just sitting around and chatting with people. The convention is very family friendly and I believe about 20% or so of the attendees were women. The people I met were very interested in making sure everyone felt welcome. Whatever they are doing worked because I felt at home right away. Everyone was friendly and I had lots of great conversations about games.
If I recall correctly, the convention has been around for about 15 years. They celebrated their 10th year at Lake Morey and next year they will be at Killington, VT. If you live in the New England area, I recommend checking it out.
It's been a while since I've written about the Prismatic Art Collection here and I wanted to share some of the cool stuff that's been happening.
Backer and Donated Art
We offered character portraits as a reward to some backers and other people have been nice enough to donate some artwork they own. We expect more backer art over the next month or two, but here is some of what we have so far.
Concepts, Sketches, and more
Once I had the backer art requests to the artists, I was in a place to start commissioning our own art. We're not far along yet, but I'd like to share what we have so far.
Farewell to Fear
Finally, we were able to work a deal with Machine Age Productions to release all of the art developed for Farewell to Fear to the collection (and into the Creative Commons). As a warning, some of the images in Farewell to Fear have naked breasts, much in the way you might see them in National Geographic.
My friends and I have been working on getting a new gaming group together. Our old group split up a bit, two of them moved away around the same time the third welcomed a baby girl to our awesome world. Those of us left kept talking about getting a game together but no one felt the fire to get it started. Recently that changed for me and I’m now planning a new campaign.
I realized a few things about myself from the last one. I much prefer to play an episodic campaign, with more in common with say Doctor Who than Lord of the Rings. The stress of making sure I can hold up my end of an epic tale that rivals the struggle in Mount Doom gives me too much anxiety. Plus, I really enjoy both not railroading players and interacting with their characters’ stories more than my own.
One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is making their choices matter as much as I think they should. I’ve done my best, doing things like showing them the spriggan whose life they spared went on to follow his life’s ambition and start a bar in the middle of the woods with an eclectic, but friendly, clientele.
I recently played a simulation game called Dungeon Village. I frakking love that game. Essentially, you are the planning manager for a small village near a number of ruins and monsters. Your job is to make the town as appealing as possible to adventurers, getting them to not only spend money in your town but also hopefully get them to settle down and make it their home. You do this by building various shops and attractions and throwing events.
While I loved the concept of town building as part of the game, I wasn’t sure how to make it matter in terms of an RPG. Then I read the Flatpack RPG by Machine Age Productions. Now that game has a few other elements that I’d love to borrow (such as using other puzzles and games to simulate in-game challenges, more in the future), but for this, it’s the Flatpacks themselves that have me interested. In this game world, you play young or young-at-heart WRENCHes in a post-apocalyptic world. Before the big apocalyptic event, people had invented various types of buildings that folded flat for easy storage and movement. WRENCHes find these buildings, bring them back to their hometown, and set them up. As they do this, they gain resources they can use for future challenges, including access to specialists.
What I’d love to do in my new campaign is something similar. I want to set this game during a war, giving the PCs the job of protecting an important part of the supply route, most likely a ferry. They might play soldiers, medics, or even regular townspeople being asked to pitch into the war effort. They may have volunteered or be forced to serve. But all of them will hopefully be invested in improving the town. I’m using a lot of the research I’ve done on what happens when war is local. Think M*A*S*H but in a fantasy setting.
We’re likely to use D&D Next for the main portion of the campaign. The backgrounds, and especially their traits, should work pretty well for this. A number of the traits require access to something like a library or a temple for there to be a benefit. I’m also thinking of linking specialties to improvements that can be made to the town. Want to add a new skill, such as Planar Lore? Perhaps it’s time to requisition new books or find a way to entice a specialist to move into the town.
Also, since it’s war time, resources overall will be fairly constrained and they may be expected to get what they need or want on their own. Perhaps they decide that there’s too much traffic through the town for the ferry to keep up. They could build a new ship or perhaps design and build a bridge. Both need wood and some study. Want to make the work go faster? Find a way to provide enough nighttime illumination to have additional shifts (fire beetles might help with that).
By linking this to a town setting during a war, we should have a variety of stories to tell and a variety of characters we can use. This means some sessions can be closer to a more traditional playtest experience while other sessions can play with the rules a bit. It also means we can use other games some nights. For instance, characters that can be NPCs during the D&D Next sessions could be PCs for another system such as Dungeon World or 13th Age. We also could create Fiasco playsets to use on the nights when we can’t quite get a full group and play out some crazy shenanigans (I sense a play or talent show to raise morale in our near future).
I realize it’s still a rather loose idea and needs to be worked out quite a bit more, but that’s where I am at these days.