Monday, November 26, 2018

How I Build My Campaign Storylines

On Reddit someone asked "What is your way to make an interesting storyline for a campaign?"

Here was my reply with the hopes that it may help other GMs who are new to the hobby and looking for answers to this question as well...

I read a lot of Science Fiction, and Fantasy, but mostly old world stuff that my friends may not have read... I glean ideas from those sources, and play mix-n-match with background concepts a lot. What if Mars had an underground ocean which the Martians had retreated to long ago when their atmosphere got blown away in a huge war? I will often start with a premise like that. I then sketch a map and some basic blocks of important information. The two main societies located are North and West. One is warlike the other are mental giants, but few in numbers, who survive because the ocean is difficult to cross (no idea why yet), and the Mentats are very smart about defending their land. I then sketch out main characters. The Warriors are ruled by Throknar, a grizzled veteran with a taste for brutality. The Mentats are ruled by a Quorum of 9 who all excel in wisdom and the arts. Among the Quorum are 3 Shining Stars, named Eloaim, Sarasaz, and Ninya. I will sketch their personalities, and then assign them stats based on their classes. I also give them each a Motivation. Throknar hates Eloaim because she refused his hand in marriage, and so he wants to destroy the West and capture her for his wife. Eloaim is motivated by the wish to re-establish life on the surface of Mars, and as a scientists is working towards that end. Sarasaz is a wise ruler intent on protecting the West, and seeking new ways to cultivate food. Ninya is an artist who loves the sublime, and is well loved by the people. His goal is to foster kindness in the world, and put an end to warfare. Once I have this, and a rough map of the terrain, I will work on some additional details by answering questions about the environment. Underground ocean is teaming with sea monsters. There are several underground tunnel and cavern systems that lead between the North and the West but these are often occupied by tribes of wild Martians, and a collection of all sorts of monsters. Ok, at that point, I select monsters for the caverns. Lastly I want to include sources of riches ... on Mars there are certain stones which are rare and serve as a kind of currency. They are energy stones, named Alamir, and come in a number of colors, from red, to blue. They have different levels of power based on the color, and can hold potent energies which can be used for psychic powers. I place some of these at a few places on the map, and at that point I'm ready to start playing. After that I wing things according to what the PCs do, and glean ideas along the way based on their actions, comments, and from any other source I can get my hands on. And that's how I do it, more or less. I hope this helps.  Best wishes.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving on Mars

So I got invited to to my friend's house for Thanksgiving. There were 7 of us. Her 3 children, ages 14, 17, and 21, and the middle son's girlfriend and her brother. Whole Foods has a wonderful Hickory Smoked Turkey Dinner for 8, and with some peach pie, ice cream and cookies for dessert, it was wonderful.

After the dinner the boys asked me to show them how to play my game, Elthos RPG. Now, I should mention that I've known them for a long time now, since they were little kids, and the whole time I've been talking about how I'm working on my game system. In the past few visits Xianda, the middle son, asked me if I would show them how to play, and tonight he asked again. None of them had played any Role Playing Game before but Xianda's girlfriend's brother, Hudson, had heard of D&D and was into the idea. So I told them all it takes is one six sided die, a pencil and paper, and we could give it a go. I explained the basics: one person creates a World, and the rest of the players generate Characters in that world and play adventures as those Characters. Xianda, who has never played any RPG at all, decided he wanted to Gamemaster. So I ran with it. We rolled Characters and co-created the World with Xianda, and then he took the reigns. What follows is the story resulting from our game.

The red dust of mars fills the long smooth corridors of the ancient Martian city. Only a small portion of the city is occupied by the last of the Martians. They have evolved minor telekinetic power over the eons, and this is a measure of their mental power.

The Two Colonies on Mars
Across the barren red wastes is a human colony run by Elon Musk. He has a space ship which transported the humans from earth, and has a Wormhole Tunnel through which he can transport non-organic materials to and from earth. He has a small colony run mostly by AI-Robots.

The humans, unfortunately, had used up the last remaining reserves of water from the region, and now both the humans and the Martians were starved of water. Things had gotten desperate. The Martians, played by myself, Vincent and Alica (Xianda's girlfriend), were not happy with the humans who had upset the balance of nature on mars. The humans for that matter were interested mostly in extracting raw materials from the planet for transport back to earth.

However, with his advanced technology and boring machine Elon (played by Xianda) discovered an underground river the size of the Hudson River 500 kilometers below the surface of the planet. This discovery sparked a rivalry between the two colonies. Both the Martians and the Humans wanted complete and total control over the river. We overheard a rumor that there were several renegade Martians who had sided with the humans and had plans to help them win the River War, which at this point was brewing, with harsh words between the leaders of both colonies.

I played Marius, a brilliant but physically feeble Reddit leader with a small but loyal following. Vincent played Priest Jack, an Outlaw-Priest (religion had been outlawed on Mars) who started the game in prison, having been previously convicted of "Criminal Religious Behavior". Alica played Marsia Steel, a very strong and very dexterous Fighter-Thief, who had plenty of smarts to go with her physique. On the other side Hudson, Alica's brother, played Mike, a tremendously strong, but incredibly stupid human. And then there was Elon Musk, played by Xianda, whose best friend in the world happen to be Mike.

The Martians went first. We learned from our underground sources on Reddit that one of the Renegades was a member of the Martian Senate, but we didn't know who, but the rumor was that he was in the Capital Building. First order of business was to free Priest Jack. Marsia disguised herself as a prison guard and used bluff to free Priest Jack from prison.

The 5 Characters
Meanwhile at the Human Colony, Elon was hanging out with his best friend, Mike, the super strong moron. Mike decided he wanted to go down to see the River and take a walk there. He was hoping to find a Martian so he could punch him to death. Elon, who didn't really like this plan, but consented, secretly placed a GPS camera on Mike, and down to the river he went. While there, he saw a Martian on the other side of the river, and not liking the look of him, tried to swim across so he could give him a punch. Unfortunately, he fumbled. and was carried downstream by the fast moving current. Elon, seeing this via the GPS-Cam, sent a team of Rescue-Robots down to save him, but Mike had already slipped far down stream and they couldn't find him. It looked like Mike would drown, but his great strength gave him a lot of Life Points so it seemed he might have a chance.

Having been freed from prison, Jack now prayed to the Gods to learn who the renegades were, and had a vision of one in a bar in the center of the city. Marsia headed there with Jack to apprehend him, and with her great strength and dexterity she was able to accomplish it. She brought the renegade back to Marius' Tower in the center of the city and we interrogated him. Marius used his powerful mind, Jack sprinkled holy water on him, and Marsia menaced him. Finally we got a confession, and were informed that the second Renegade was on his way to the Human Colony with some sort of information, or something. Marsia was sent to apprehend the man if she could find him. Marius got on Reddit and told his followers to keep an eye on her and provide help if she should need it. They replied that they would be ready. Luckily, Marsia tracked the Renegade to the shore of the river on the Human side. But across the way were Elon's Robots searching for Mike. They spotted both the Renegade and Martia, and so they asked for help searching for Mike, which was Elon's primary concern at that point. The Redditers, who were summoned to help Marsia in this tense situation, refused (a bad reaction roll) and so Elon's Robots took some potshots at them (another bad reaction roll). A skirmish began across the river. Meanwhile Marsia captured the Renegade and took him back to Marius's Tower. He was interrogated but tried to claim he was the only Renegade. Under the force of more holy water and interrogation, he confessed and gave up that the third Renegade as none other than a high ranking Senator named Boba.

As this was happening, Mike emerged on the Martian side of the river, down to 2 Life Points (from 12) and surrendered to the Redditers who transported him back to Marius's Tower as well. When Marius found out it was Elon Musk's best friend, he realized he had a decisive bargaining chip. He went to Mike and offered him rest, food and comfort, and said he would take good care of him because he was their guest. Mike liked this and so he adopted a friendly attitude.

Character Stats
Elon Musk         Human 
ST: 6             Level: 2
WS: 6             Life Points:   12
DX: 3             Mystic Points: 12  
Marsia Steel      Martian 
ST: 6             Level: 2 
WS: 5             Life Points:   12
DX: 6             Mystic Points: 10   
Mike              Human
ST: 6             Level: 2 
WS: 1             Life Points:   12
DX: 2             Mystic Points:  2  
Priest Jack       Martian 
ST: 2             Level: 2 
WS: 4             Life Points:    4
DX: 6             Mystic Points:  8  
Marius            Martian 
ST: 4             Level: 2 
WS: 6             Life Points:    8
DX: 1             Mystic Points: 12  
Marius then tried to arrange a meeting with the head of the Senate, but there was no hope of that because as a captain of the Redditers Marius had no credibility. So Marius extracted written confessions from both of their Renegade captives, and Marsia bribed a local celebrity to try to make an arrangement to meet with the head of the Senate, but that failed, and we wound up without any money (another unlucky reaction roll).

Meanwhile, Elon, who found out that Mike had been captured by the Martians, declared open war on the adjacent colony and was preparing his troops, and beginning to transport heavy weapons through the Wormhole Tunnel.

A last ditch effort - Marius called Elon on the phone and asked if the rumors of war had to do with his friend Mike. Elon at first denied it, but after some further conversation admitted it was, and Marius offered to return Mike in exchange for stopping the war before it began. Jack, however, mentioned that this seemed like it might turn into a problem for them because the Senate had not been informed. Marius, on the other hand, argued that getting the Senate involved would be sure to turn into a political battle, and thus their chance to stop the war would be ruined. Marius had this conversation with Elon on the line, and then mentioned to him that the real problem is that both sides want the River for themselves, and that this greed was likely to get everyone killed. So in exchange for Mike, he arranged to stop the war and got Elon to agreed to share the River, and also confirm the Conspiracy of Senator Boba.

They then took the signed confessions via the Celebrity to the head of the Senate, and once this happened Senator Boba realized that Elon betrayed him, and his two co-conspirators were captured, and so he fled the city with his small army of loyal retainers, among whom were a top tier group of Champions. He planned to take over control of the river himself. After this happened, Marius explained the entire story to the head of the Senate, who then gave Boba's Senate seat to him, and so Marius was in a position to negotiate with ex-Senator Boba. He argued that Boba should accept an Amnesty and in exchange abandon his plan and return to the city. He agreed.

However, his small army decided that things did not bode well for them, and so they went to Elon Musk and offered their services to him. Elon, suddenly excited to have an advantage, accepted them, and launched a small tactical nuclear weapon at the Martian City. However, the Outlaw Priest prayed for the bomb to be diverted, and the Martians were granted the extra Telekinetic Power to force the bomb to veer off course. It landed between the two colonies, exploded, and destroyed the river. And so both colonies perished of radiation and thirst.

The End.

Well, we almost saved the world. :p

What a lovely Thanksgiving treat that all was! Everyone had a great time, there were a lot of laughs, and my Elthos RPG rules turned out to be light weight enough to wing this entire game without any problems at all. Sweeeeet. :)


Monday, November 19, 2018

Quick Primer on the Mythos Machine

When it comes to using the Mythos Machine ... it's kind of like Lego Blocks for RPGs ... you can build whatever you want. But some people have looked at it and said "Gee gosh, where do I start?" So here's some advice.

Once you have a World go to the Characters Screen and generate a Character or two. This will show you how the Things you can create in the Things section get used by Characters.  Try adding an Armor, and a Weapon.  Take a look at how the Mythos Machine does the math and calculates the Armor Class and Attack Levels.  In the Select Armors (or any other Thing) you will notice a Edit button, and if you click that it will take you to the same Edit Armor screen you use to create and modify Armors (or whichever type of Thing you're dealing with). Notice that you can change the properties of the Things right there, and they will instantly get reflected across your entire World.  Or you can create a New Thing and it will get added as a permanent Thing for use by your Player Characters and/or NPCs.

Basically, you use the Mythos Machine to define and configure the properties of the Things you want to create so that the Mythos Machine knows how to crunch the numbers for you. So for Armor, let's say you wanted to create a new kind of "Golden Platemale" that is better than normal Platemale. You could create a new Armor, name it "Golden Platemale" and give it a Damage Absorption of 5 and an Armor Class of 6. This would be super hefty Armor indeed! For each of the Things (Weapons, Armors, Equipment, Races, Classes, etc) you can create new ones or modify existing ones.

To start out with you should get a handful of Things based on the genre of the World you created (Fantasy, or Western at the moment, but there will be many more genres added as time goes on) that you can use to just start gaming. After a while of playing you might think to yourself "You know, self, my World could use some awesome new 'Golden Platemale' (or what have you)" and you can jump in, quickly create it, and add it to your world. It would then become instantly available and integrated for use by your Players or your NPCs.

The Mythos Machine is your butler and accountant.  It lets you create any kind of world you can imagine, handles all the number crunching, and keeps your records nice and tidy for you.  I have found it invaluable for myself.  I hope others will find it the same.  Give it a try and see what you think.  Enjoy!
Click the card to go to the Mythos Machine

Friday, November 09, 2018

On the Invasion Isms in the World of Fantasy

I tend to not want to discuss the topic of -isms in RPGs, frankly. I consider it a kind of bear trap where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. This is because there is so much polarization out there now at the political level, and a lot of people seem perfectly happy to drag all that into the world of Fantasy (ala RPGs). I'm not all that happy with it, however. I'd like to explain why.

I'm a believer in Escapism. The real world has become a very disappointing mound of crap in many ways for many people. Being allowed to retreat, even temporarily, from it is a human right in my opinion. It is one of the purposes of fantasy and has been a human activity for thousands and thousands of years, starting with shamanistic journies to Tir Na Nog and resulting in the amazing epics of the Gods that we have received from the ancients. For a group of people today to pooh-pooh on all of that and insist that everyone kow tow to their modernistic viewpoints (as if those will never change because they are "Eternal Truths" or some such) strikes me as ill-considered, fraught with moral perils, and destructive of the human condition. Games have been played, and stories told, for umpteen generations to sooth the human soul. I'm of the opinion that what happens in an RPG world can be considered to have taken place in the realm of Fantasy. And as such should be considered off limits to real world intrusions. So in this I side with Tolkien who once wrote:

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter."

The issues that are being raised in the RPG community, in fact in every community, by those who wish to focus all attention on the politics of identity, sexuality, race and class are important. We should not blindly accept these -isms when they are destructive to the happiness, prosperity or lives of our fellow creatures. We should be willing to stand up for the oppressed and stand with those who seek to end oppression. I do agree with all of that. But where I draw the line is when the desire to right the wrongs of the world becomes a motive, or excuse, for disrupting things which are innocent ... that which exist in the realm of Fantasy. It seems to me that when the impulse to "spread the word" and "shape the narrative" and "guide the world to a better place" becomes positively evangelical, it is then that it has crossed the line from "living a good life" and setting a good example, over to forcing others to do what some insist they ought to do. I disagree with this approach. I think it smacks of Totalitarianism, the worst of all the -isms in this world. And I think that the realm of Fantasy should not be subject to it. Ever.

Children live a great deal in the realm of Fantasy. Off in their otherworld they parley with unicorns and dragons, and have adventures, and live and frolic and enjoy life as children should. I don't believe we should be trying to inhibit them from doing so. In the same way I also feel that people regardless of their age should have the right to continue to escape to that other world when they can find the time, so long as it does not impede on their ability to uphold their responsibilities in life. Even if that realm includes such anti-political ideas as "The Good", and "The Evil" (which it most certainly does). Even if in that world Orcs are "Evil beings", and High Elves are "The Good Ones". These idealizations are part of what the world of Fantasy is about. To cast aspersions at this, and to attempt to deny people the right to experience such journeys is to deny them a means by which they can grow and evolve as spiritual beings. It is to lock them into a single, and rather harsh, view of the world, and to insist that they never look at anything else... anything "other"... anything beyond this world. It is, in other words, to place them in a prison of Ideology and tell them they are wrong and immoral for ever wishing for and seeking an escape from it. I disagree with this view.

As for how to handle when some players abuse others at the RPG table (a charge that often gets tethered to arguments for restricting the hobby's many and varied expressions)? My rule of thumb is pretty simple and straight forward: don't play with those people. But do we need to be told that because of that tiny abhorrent handful we're all supposed to change our own play preferences and styles and forego the Fantasy that we have been enjoying escaping to? I think that's rather unfair, and so I simply reject it.

I prefer the realm of fantasy to remain sacrosanct and beyond the reach of those who demand that their political imperatives be complied with at all times and in all places. While I well agree with the goal of improving the world, I don't agree with their methods, or the ferocious zeal with which they pursue it. Let children enjoy their childhood. Let those who wish to contemplate fantasy worlds contemplate them in peace. And let people enjoy their elf-game hobby as they feel inspired to do so.  That is my way.