Saturday, November 26, 2016

Plot Points

Campaign planning. 

As a game master I have a story to tell, be that through running published modules or my own hair-brained story.  The thing is though, much like video games have taught us through character developing side quests, the players' characters have their own story to tell. 

I've run sandbox adventures where I just react to what the players do, or throw out hooks to see if they decide to follow.  A very organic way of playing that just meandered about, but never really developed to any epic over-arching storyline.

I've run modules that are supposed to take characters on epic quests, but by their nature kind of railroad the players to take the next hook, or give up the evening for deviating from the proscribed material.

One thing I've come across recently though is the Plot Point campaign by Pinnacle game for their Deadlands: Reloaded series.  I think it strikes a nice balance between the tow because it breaks up an over-arching story campaign into sections that can either be completed back to back or with other material thrown in between.  There is a nice feel to the part of the campaign being wrapped up with either a fairly obvious hook that the players can activate if whenever they wish to continue, or has a new set up to string the next adventure in pretty much anytime. This allows for characters to pursue their own interests and agendas while still getting around to saving the world in a timely manner.

They system works kind of like this the main campaign adventure is the plot point,  with each side mission being a short one session adventure in between.

1 Plot point mission
1-2 side missions
1 plot point
2-3 side missions
1 plot point
1-2 side missions
1 plot point
1 plot point
2-3 side missions
1 plot point finale

Side missions can consist of addressing background events in the world not directly related to "the quest"

They can focus on an individual character's background, goals or development, and you rotate though which character gets the spotlight each time.

The plot point pattern can be used as  pattern for string of single adventures:

Even without a detailed campaign, just a matter of having a re-occurring villain make an appearance, without every conflict being about them.

Weird adventures can be inserted into a game to keep the creepy feel without having it become mundane, because they have non-weird happening in between

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Product Review: Deep Carbon Observatory

Product Review: Deep Carbon Observatory

From: False Machine Publishing
Cost: 10.00 pdf 13.30 softcover B&W

Deep Carbon Observatory is very rich on atmosphere.  So much so that "the dungeon" of the adventure only sets up a slight portion of the adventure.  Combat definitely takes a back seat in this adventure, but this isn't to say that it is non-existent or that there is very little threat to the PCs.  In fact there is quite a lot of threat to the PCs.

The book is laid out rather organically. As GM you are introduced to things in much the same way and pace as the players are.  As a result it is a rather "fun" read that had me asking questions and wanting to keep reading to find the answers until the very end where a handy timeline of events serves to tie things together as a sort of "big reveal"  The downside of this is that it is not a quick and easy pick up and run adventure.  Even getting to see "the big picture" as a GM, nothing is outright told to you, you have to figure out a lot of the connections of things on your own.  This is definitely an adventure where as GM you are going to have to be taking notes before, during, and after the adventure. After? I hear you ask.  Yes, the adventure has some definite world affecting consequences.  On the bright side, most of these effects really only occur if the players choose to not be actively engaged in the adventure.  There are several really clever ideas here, but the big take away is that the adventure does not exist in a vacuum frozen in time awaiting the adventurers to awaken it.  The adventure is very organic and could very well resolve itself without any player involvement.

Art is some nice pencil work that conveys a lot of character, the maps have no scale which I feel is a failing.  The authors stress that it is very important to know how many days of food the players have, but provide very little guidance on how long it should take to traverse the various terrain.

From here on out spoilers.  You've been warned.

The adventure is broken into five parts.

The first bit throws the adventurers into the action, and keeps them occupied meeting several colorful characters.  This is a fun different way of introducing the area, and providing one of three hooks to continue on to the rest of the adventure.  Although not overtly stated, probably the most important part of this is to introduce the fact that the area is flooded, and everyone is in bad shape.

The next parts involve the travel up river, then the dam, and the drained lake. All these environments are probably very alien to the players.  The flood has radically changed the "normal" of the path up river.  Things from the lake now traverse the area.  Everything is flooded necessitating travel by boat or a very wet walk for a very long time.  The dam takes the normal dungeon crawl idea and throws it on its side because almost everything has been upturned by the water- traps are already sprung and locked doors are opened.  The drained lake again presents an alien atmosphere of an ecology turned on its head.

and then into the observatory.

I would hope that the PCs would take note of the fact that someone built a dam to keep this place inaccessible under water. Of course that won't keep them out.

Here is a great opportunity to explore the remains of the observatory and the dark elves that once occupied it.

Finally the adventure ends with a timeline of what happened in the past and what will happen if the PCs don't get involved.  So really you could throw this adventure hook at them and have them completely ignore it and then have it come back to bite them in the rear years later in your campaign.
The timeline tracks the progress of another adventuring party interested in the observatory as well as a witch that is an encounter earlier.  With the unfolding of these two parties without PC involvement is really becomes evident that the tracking of time is important in this adventure.  The ration tracking is just as important as there isn't an easy way to re-stock these items and a party may end up quitting the adventure or starving to death if not prepared.

Not every answer is given in the adventure, some  just don't get answered.  What caused the dam to brake, and where did the dark elves go is kind of beyond the scope of the adventure, but may be something to address in your own running of the game.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Killing a god

What did Deities and Demigods teach everyone?

We learned that it didn't matter who or what you were-  If you had stats you could be killed.  I heard more than one anecdotal story of high level players hunting down gods for sport just because someone thought it would be cool to take Mjolnir from Thor's cold dead fingers. 

So can you incorporate deities into games and not have them become a target?  Sure. Step one though is don't give them stats. Keep them on a completely different level of the game than the players.

This doesn't mean that the players couldn't or shouldn't get to interact with these supreme beings of creation and destruction.

Some ideas on different ways to approach having a god in the game.

Treat gods like environmental effects.  Much like when adventuring near a volcano, there will be different effects whether the players are at the base, on the rim, or within the lip of the volcano.  Is the volcano active or dormant, it is erupting?   Similarly, the god will have different effects depending on the proximity the characters have to it, as well as the mood of the god.  While the players may be able to directly affect the attitude of the god (of course this depends on the god...), if the god is angry, the best the player's can really hope for it to get out of the way.

Have demi-gods act as the gods proxies.  Here is an opponent the characters can kill, but in the end even if he is the "big bad" of the adventure, he is only a fraction of the power of the deity that spawned him.  On a similar tact, the players can encounter someone cursed by a god, that can act as a major foil.  Greek mythology is great for examples along this line.

There is no god.  That's right one answer might be that everything the characters believe is a lie perpetuated to make people feel better about existing in a cold bleak uncaring universe.  All those cleric spells are really just the other side of the coin as arcane magic.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Product Review: Death Race Fury Road

From Kort'thalis Publishing
Cost: Free

Death Race Fury Road is a simple race simulator for a race in a chaos filled world where getting there is half the fun.  This is pretty good because the chance of winning the race is slim to none.

The layout of Fury Road leaves a little to be desired as it starts referencing parts of the book that you haven't read yet.  That being said it is really short, so it doesn't take much time to scan and figure out.

The important thing to remember about Fury Road is it isn't about winning.  IF your racer doesn't die, then you have a 15% chance of placing and "winning the race".  You can only get worse odds from there.  While there are lots of ways for racers to die, and even to do each other in, this isn't much incentive if you stick strictly to the rules presented in it.  The booklet must assume that there are dozens of racers, as your ending roll gives you a fixed finishing place (i.e. rolling a 5 on a d20 means you finish 5th place), so no matter how many racers die, there are always 20 left, because you can come in 20th place (sucks to be you!).  A simple tweak that fixes this is to have the rolls for placing be relative with the racer closest to 1 placing first and the racer closest to 20 placing last.

What the book does well is give the feel of a no rules, high octane, murder race with ADHD In which  there is so much chaos involved, it might be more of an incentive for a racer to just say forget the race and come in last because they would rather hook up with that willing stranger they met on the side of the road.

I see some value in Fury Road, not for PCs but as a backdrop event that PCs can bet on.  They can roll for their racers and see the outcome of chaos.  It might present some interesting story hooks if players want to run down the racer who threw the race because of (fill in blank, but probably has to do with sex).

All told a decent piece of inspirational work, and you can't beat the price of free.