It’s been a long time since I’ve had more than one game running at once. There was a time, back when I was but a lazy bachelor, where I’d have multiple games running. This was during a time when I thought a 30 hour a week job was basically full time. Since becoming a husband and father, it goes without saying that I became busy.
Now, however, I have three bi-weekly games running. I run games for my local gaming store, as well as a game for my own players. When this started, I decided to try something a little different. Usually, when I run games for multiple groups I do one of two things. Either all groups are in the same campaign, at different parts of the map, or each game is a separate game system. Partly to cut down on work, and also to see what would happen, I wrote up the same adventure and used it for each group. I was curious to see how different the game would end up.
The game takes place in my homebrewed world I’ve been running since I started playing 20 years ago. There’s an island in the sky that the people of the world believe to be evil. One kingdom has discovered a way to the island and recruits a group of adventurers to discover, what’s up there. The group is to explore and create relations with any people they may find up there. They are ambassadors of their kingdom, and must represent the kingdom at all times.
At first I thought running the same game for three groups would cut down on prep time. The groups, however, quickly took radically different paths.
THE FIRST GROUP (THE EIGHT)
The first group, made up of eight players, traveled to the island, saved the life of a soldier, and were granted an audience with a man who called himself the emperor of the island. They met with the Emperor, a warrior who briefly attained godhood and now rules the island with an iron fist. Daily beheadings, immediate execution of anyone of faith, and a casual discontent with his people, the group quickly learned to distrust The Emperor. They eventually traveled to a city under attack by a band of goblins, and it wasn’t long before they learned that each city on the island was being attacked. The Emperor had recently executed an entire race of goblinkin, the bugbears, and so the goblinkin joined together to take his cities. The group battled and parlayed their way into a peace agreement with the goblins, promising them safe passage off the island and into their kingdom.
Eventually the group went home and gave their report to the king. They warned the king of the Emperor, and recommended that true ambassadors head to the island next to handle talks. After they turned over their Ambassador status, they went back to the island to explore and are now on the path to kill the Emperor before he finds a way off the island and takes their homelands.
THE SECOND GROUP (THE TEENS)
The second group, made up of younger players, also saved the life of a soldier and were granted an audience with The Emperor. Most of them decided to align themselves with the Emperor, going so far as to behead a bard the Emperor didn’t like. They learned more about the island in the bard’s library and decided to leave the goblin invasion alone in hopes of finding an ancient imprisoned druid known as The Mad One. They fought their way through the forest and slaughtered the Dryads that tried to warn them of the dangers of The Mad One. Once they found his prison, The Mad One explained that he was a victim and that his body had been taken from by the Druidic Council, leaving him a disembodied essence. The group pledged themselves to him in exchange for power, and became the targets of a Helmed Horror that served as The Mad One’s jailer.
Eventually the group, having contracted lycanthropy and nearly killing each other, found their way back to the goblin invasion and sought the help of their spirit-walkers. They discovered the spirit-walkers were attempting to open up The Dungeons, extradimensional prisons that kept the worst creatures of the island from running rampant. The group decided to help the spirit-walkers break open the doors in exchange for a few castings of Remove Curse. Afterwards they left the island.
Now the group is back, They’ve told their king the only way to save the island is to trust in The Mad One and return his body. Now, they are on the run from their kingdom, a second kingdom that safeguards dangerous magic, and the Helmed Horror. They are about to enter the Druidic Council to rescue the body of the Mad One.
THE THIRD GROUP (THE VETS)
The third group, made up of friends and family, most who’ve been playing for years, traveled to the island, saved the life of a soldier, and were granted an audience with the Emperor. After learning a bit about the Emperor, they decided to explore another kingdom to the southeast, the Desert Kingdom of Bastok. They discovered that the king of Bastok was missing in the mining tunnels. The group went after him but were caught by the dark dwarves that had taken over the tunnels. Stripped naked and forced into slavery, the group eventually broke free and released the slaves in their area. Arming the slaves and then leaving them behind, the group eventually gained a meeting with one of the slave-drivers, a minotaur. One of the players charged the beast, but once he fell in the first round, the others refused to fight. They were saved by the king of Bastok, a warrior and former adventurer who was escaping the tunnels at the same time. Once outside the tunnels, the king and the group got equipped and went back into the mines, where they were swiftly overtaken by mindflayers, the true ruling force of the mines. In a moment of desperation, the group used their teleportation item to take both them and the king of Bastok off the island and back to their homeland.
The king of Bastok was to speak to all of the leaders of the continent, but at the meeting, a robed creature made of mists came in. With a list of True Names he absorbed all of the leaders into his robes, and while the group defeated him, they were unable to stop him from turning to mists and escaping. They decided to rest up, leave the castle full of dead soldiers, and quickly try to save the leaders before anyone noticed. They went to the capital, where they learned that a large circus was in town. Learning that the robed creature was part of this circus, they went to observe him. Before anything could happen, they were confronted by another member of the circus, a swordsman who offered them information and gave them a difficult choice. The kingdom that safeguards dangerous magic has made a move to take over the other kingdoms. It’s people were on the way to take the dwarven kingdom, and he warned the group that the dwarves would rather die than bow to another leader. The group had to decide: help the dwarves and become enemies of that kingdom, or help maintain order and be forever hated by the dwarves.
The group chose neither. Instead, they went to the caravan where the robed creature was sleeping, called it out, and battled it in the streets in front of it’s allies. Unfortunately, the robed creature defeated them in battle. Two of the players are now dead, and the third has been captured.
Needless to say the groups have taken different turns. It was only about two game sessions before the campaigns took wildly different directions. I’ll report back as the games continue. The Teens are about to confront the Druidic Council. The Eight are fighting their way through one of The Dungeons, looking for an artifact powerful enough to kill the Emperor. The Vets have been defeated, and the last player will learn his fate in two weeks.
Wish them all luck!
When it comes to the backdrop NPCs of my games, I always worry that I’m not making them unique enough. I don’t have that concern when it comes to the movers and shakers of the campaigns, but if it’s just a bartender or shop owner? I try really hard to make sure they’re not just copies of me running around my own game. I guess we GMs are all guilty of it in some way though, right?
Actually, come to think of it, I know where I’m the most guilty of it. Whenever there’s a cop or a guard in a game, I can’t help but play them as hard-hitting grizzled detectives who mercilessly interrogate the PCs. I myself love to debate and discuss, and so even when I have guards that aren’t too quick-witted, I can’t help but play them aggressive if a player gives me an opening. I’ve had well-meaning cops show up in a modern-day game like Hunter: The Reckoning just for routine duties, and before too long, if my PCs aren’t careful, one of them will be down at the station getting grilled by a detective without a lawyer.
I’m a lot better than I used to be, I promise.
In other news, I was really excited to do a Halloween story this year, but as you can see, it wasn’t in the cards. I didn’t have much written down for the story, but i did have a general idea. It was going to revolve around CJ’s store, followed by a party at Anna’s house that she didn’t know she was throwing. I’d like to put that together still, but I’m not sure when that would be, so I figured at the very least I could show you Howard’s costume from the story. Enjoy!
I can’t remember a game in the last few years that didn’t have the kind of conflict Quincy’s facing in today’s strip. Maybe someone brings a violent wild card to a group of stoic, focused adventurers. Sometimes it’s someone of a different alignment. Other times someone’s magical in a group that distrusts magic. Every once in awhile it doesn’t happen in the beginning of the game, but it quickly emerges once the party has to make a big decision, such as choosing when to save a world. There’s something intrinsic in the fabric of my groups that requires someone to be the opposite of everyone else in the group.
Some of it could be considered my fault. I’ll take some blame. I tend to like slightly grittier topics. Whether it’s something huge, such as the world being on the brink of destruction, or something smaller scale, such as one race not being trusted, it could be argued that I inject elements of tension from the start, and that’s the reason the groups don’t have the cohesion I want. Here’s an example. The elves of my longest-running campaign world were part of an empire bent on world conquest. Trapped inside their own forests for centuries, they found a way to break out, and begun destroying or conquering anything in their path. As a result, elves were not trusted in my games for a long time. And if ever a player rolled an elf, one or all of the group would treat them like a hostile force. Instead of dramatic tension as a side effect, it would become the focus of a least one player’s character. Every time.
The funny thing is, this sort of thing never happens when someone plays a monster race. Monsters are welcomed into my groups with open arms. They’re celebrated even. A guy wears a hood and bandit mask? The group doesn’t trust him. A small elven child is found on a different continent and has no memory of the conflict raging elsewhere? The group may have to kill her. A goblin with a raspy demonic-sounding voice wants to join the group? He seems trustworthy.
It didn’t used to be like this. In the days of D&D 3.5, group cohesion was stronger. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but overall the groups had a more classic, we’re-in-this-together vibe to them. Even when a group wasn’t exactly sure what should be done, they would back each other up. I don’t know that 3.5 exactly was the reason for this, just that this was the time when group cohesion was the strongest. We’re playing with the Cortex system now, and I have to admit, group cohesion is stronger than it was previously.
Come to think of it, this only really became a problem when we started playing Pathfinder. We’ve gotten a lot of good games out of Pathfinder, but for some reason it did also give us some of our most tense groups, in-game.
While I have actually been married for almost two years now, last weekend was my wife and I’s actual ceremony, and I have to say this: it was worth the wait. People came from as far as Utah to help us celebrate here in Indiana, and I will never be able to thank my friends and family enough for all of the love and support they’ve given us.
I love the presents too, of course.
My wife actually had me draw something for the front of the envelopes. I also drew the RSVP cards as well, and my wife laid everything out and printed them at her job. Conveniently she works for a printing company, so that worked out very well. We had way more people RSVP than we thought we would, and we like to think people couldn’t resist all the adorbs we wrapped up in the invitations. Probably it was the catering though.
No one warned us how much food we’d have left over. Even after giving away generous portions of each type of dish, we still have a giant aluminum tin of chicken, two plates of delicious cake, a vat of vegetables, and a tub of bottled water and various sodas. I’m excited at the idea of no grocery shopping for awhile, but I’ve been assured we can’t simply eat chicken every day. I’ve not been given adequate reason why, however.
In other news, I’ve jumped headfirst into Final Fantasy XIV. If you’re following my Tumblr you’ll have seen a few of the screenshots of my character Izmo, a name I’ve used in most every game I’ve played, starting in D&D 3.5. I’ve tried a few classes now, but I’ve settled on the Arcanist, mostly because I can’t stand to be away from Carbuncle. He and I were pretty thick back in the days of Final Fantasy XI, and now that I’ve got a chance to ride or die with this stone-cold G again, I can’t possibly say no. I plan on moving into Scholar and Summoner once I hit 30, and I’ve already got the classes leveled up that I’ll need to do this, so I’m looking forward to that. I don’t have a lot of time to play, and as such most of my friends have already moved into the Jobs of their choice, but I’ll catch up eventually.
My wife also surprised me with Grand Theft Auto V, but I have a love/hate relationship with that game right now so I don’t pick it up as much as I should. It’s funny, because the way I play a game like FFXIV is completely different than the way I play GTA V. Here’s an example:
Last time I was playing XIV, I was having a conversation with some people in my Free Company (XIV’s version of a guild) when I got a message from somebody asking me if I could give them a Raise. I quickly summoned my Chocobo (Rupert, a steadfast companion if ever there was one) and took off towards his location. I jumped from the back of Rupert and quickly got to work resurrecting this fallen soldier. He was a Summoner, and we got to talking about what I have to look forward to. We quickly became friends and I asked him to send a message my way if there was anything I could ever do for him. I made my way across the world via an expensive Teleport, and a few minutes later my new friend sent me a message. He’d fallen again in battle and needed my help! I announced to my friends that I was needed elsewhere, jumped off Rupert as he rode away into intangibility, and quickly Teleported as fast as I could, as close as I could, to his location. From there I rode as fast as I could towards the Summoner’s body again. Before I could get there he apologized in another message and let me know that he’d already gotten a Raise. I laughed, told him I was just glad he found help, and wished him good luck. All was well and I was happy that he was simply on his feet again.
Flash over to my time in GTA and you will see a different story.
I walked out of the hospital, having just been shot down by cops in a vicious shootout that I was convinced wasn’t my fault. I walk by a gentleman who might have made a rude comment towards me. I turn around and bring chest-to-chest on this punk and stand there, waiting for him to say anything. He tells me he doesn’t want trouble, and I actually shout at the screen “then why you all up in THIS?” and I punch him to the ground. After a thorough foot-stomping I walk out into the street, pull a shotgun out of my pants and shoot wildly in the air. A car drives at me, attempting to play hero, and I shoot the driver in the head. The car spins out of control and crashes into a building, hitting a few pedestrians on the way. The cops show up and start shooting at me, even though I’ve put away my weapon and am trying to play the peacemaker here. It doesn’t work, so I jump into a nearby car, drive it into the cops, jump out, take cover, and shotgun the rest of this Police Academy squad down before I take a cop car and become the Law of Los Santos. Twenty minutes later I have a three star warning, a pile of dead bodies on my conscious, and I’m barreling through the countryside on a stolen crotch rocket, cursing at the clear racism these cops are displaying at the moment. Another ten minutes later and I’m driving through pedestrians, turning sidewalks into cemeteries, while Phil Collin’s “I Don’t Care Anymore“ fills my heart with a tribal calm that lets me transcend from common criminal to an artist working in the medium of Genocide. It doesn’t end until I take a wrong turn into an inflexible wall that sends me flying headfirst into literal street-justice, as my body bounces off the pavement, giving me the long-overdue message of “Wasted” as the screen fades out.
I guess I like each game for different reasons.
One of my favorite parts in an RPG book is the “Source Material” section, where the writers of that particular book list a number of outside resources in which they drew inspiration from or feel would help one grasp the feeling of that particular book. Today, I’ve decided to do that here. What follows is a list of things that have given me inspiration in one form or another. This list only includes things I have seen or read myself, or know about enough to give it a good recommendation.
1: Fate/Stay Night (and Fate/Zero as well)
Also known as: “That shit Frankie won’t stop talking about”, Fate/Stay night is a visual novel from Type-Moon. The story revolves around a conflict known as the “Holy Grail War”, which centers around seven mages who summon Heroic Spirits (people from myth/legend) to fight/kill the other Heroic Spirits/Masters (mages who are participating in the war) in order to claim the Holy Grail, and have one wish of theirs granted. Emiya Shirou, however, doesn’t know a thing about this conflict, but finds himself quickly swept up into it after being nearly killed by a Heroic Spirit.
The Take-Away: Aside from just enjoying the ride (and holy hell, what a ride it is), notice the amount of world building that goes into the story and setting; it’s much more than just “Wizards fighting in Japan”, it’s own world with it’s own rules. The Visual Novel is a hefty read in itself, with three routes to go through (though you do have to read through the first to unlock the second, and then the second to unlock the last), so it will last you a good long while. Be warned though, that this does have adult content in it, and if that kind of thing is enough to deter you (it’s done in pictures and text only), then consider watching either Fate/Zero (the prequel to Fate/Stay Night, which you should watch regardless) or the Fate/Stay Night anime, which…is kind of okay, but pales in comparison to the visual novel.
One more note: The visual Novel was never released in the states, so you’ll have to download it and find the English patches. If you know/can read Japanese you can simply order one of the console versions (I’d suggest getting the Vita version, as the Vita is not region locked and you wouldn’t have to go through any hassle of modding your system). If you would like to learn more about the Fate/Stay Night franchise, please refer to this FAQ.
2: The Dark Tower, by Stephen King
The Dark Tower novels are not a quick read. Numbering 8 books in total (though Wind Through The Keyhole is optional), this is the epic tale of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, and his journey to the Dark Tower. He is the archetypal gunslinger, heavily inspired by Clint Eastwood’s character in “The Man With No Name” trilogy, a hard man with a no nonsense attitude. Together with his companions (second book onwards, anyway), they slowly make their way through Mid-World, a world that has “moved on”, with anachronistic technology scattered throughout the landscape.
The Take-Away: If you ever wanted to play a gunslinger in Pathfinder, or anyone who lives by the gun, you owe it to yourself to read these books. Other than basically being a mandate to all who want to play a gunslinger, the series is top notch example of a long winding story with multiple story arcs woven throughout. This setting has everything you’d want in a tabletop game: Kingdoms, lost technologies, world hopping, and talking psychopathic monorails (that last one might just be me, though).
3: The Myst Trilogy, by Rand and Robyn Miller
The Myst novels tell the story of D’ni, an ancient civilization centered around art and creativity. Their crowning achievement was The Art, which allowed them to create whole worlds within special books that allow travel to said worlds. The overarching theme throughout the books is the effect of hubris and pride, as the D’ni were a proud people, and it led to their downfall (not really a spoiler, don’t worry). The first book deals with a young boy named Atrus, who is taken by the father who abandoned him back down to D’ni to help him excavate the once great city and to teach him the D’ni ways. The second book is a prequel that shows how D’ni fell apart, while book three centers around a group of D’ni survivors who managed to escape into an Age before everything went to hell in D’ni.
The Take-Away: This series is a great example of a culture that is not centered around capitalism, but instead around creativity and art. D’ni feels like an actual place instead of the name of a city. The concept of traveling to different worlds via books is a pretty awesome concept that can be adapted into a game easily. It’s also great for giving you ideas for your egotistical villains who have delusions of grandeur.
That’s all for this week. I may come back with some more recommendations some other time (maybe a monthly thing? Who knows!). If you have anything you’d recommend, drop a line in the comments!