Monday Musings: Exposition and Campaign Structure

As I continue thinking about the shape of my next campaign, I know I want a strong central hook. This doesn’t have to be a level 1-20 campaign, and I’m really looking for something that I can finish running in about four weeks. (Why four weeks, you might be thinking? My group has a round robin gm style, and that is about the length of each turn.)

In the first session, I want to introduce the City of North Harbour, the main villain (who is in North Harbour and planning to corrupt the city), the conflict (something to do with the natural capacity for evil), and … a plot. As the expository session, I also want things to start as close to the action as possible, not a situation of “shoulder we save the king,” but “you’re fighting back to back through the halls of the castle on your way to save the king.”

Some ways to use exposition include: setting or campaign primers, having a big NPC (non-player character) information dump, creating a short power point presentation, or reading some pre-written text. In a novel or short story, this can be written into a narrative at the beginning or something that works throughout the text. In an RPG campaign, player attention span matters a little more and ideally even the exposition should be more interactive.

The question is also WHAT to highlight. There are a couple of things I definitely want to hit on: the Moonfall, the capture of the rival city’s witch-king, the factions in North Harbour, and some nod towards an external threat.

Looking at The Three Musketeers, the protagonist witnesses his father killed in a duel with one of the main servants of his antagonist, grows up, travels to Paris, challenges each of the Musketeers to a duel, sides with them against the Cardinal, and is enmeshed in the larger geopolitics within a few efficient chapters. He doesn’t necessarily know everything, but because he is an outsider, can explain it to the audience as it happens.

Similarity, Hamlet opens with a scene that describes everything going on in and outside of Denmark, so that when we meet all of the characters in the next scene we have some idea of what’s going on.

So, my challenge is to think of a way to inform my players while not dumbing things down for their characters, and also getting the plot moving as quickly as possible. Next week, I’m thinking that I’ll discuss complications. Happy gaming!

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Favourite Thing Friday

This week, my Favourite Thing is Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, a weekly podcast produced by Kenneth Hite and Robin D Laws. These veteran game designers group their discussions into a number of “huts” including the Gaming Hut, Trade-Craft Hut, Elliptany Hut. Topics discussed revolve around game design, game mastering, how to write well, what occult forces might be at work in apparently mundane events, and other gaming tropes. The segments are generally well presented and well researched, and deal with a variety of game genres including “F20 Games,” specific projects Ken or Robin are writing (mostly, but not exclusively Gumshoe Engine games), and a whole lot of Cthulhu Mythos, historical, occult, and espionage related goodness.

Ken and Robin’s banter is good, and this is one of my weekly favourites. I highly recommend this podcast to game masters, aspiring designers, and anyone who enjoys alternate history, horror, or weird science.

Ysoki in Pathfinder Second Edition

I had the chance to play a one-shot of Starfinder recently, and created a Ysoki technomage I’d really like to play again; however, we’ll be playing Pathfinder Second Edition for the foreseeable future, so here’s my conversion. The text below is open game content.

Ysoki Mechanics

Hitpoints: 6

Size: Small

Speed: 25 feet

Ability Boosts: Dexterity, Intelligence, Free

Ability Flaws: Strength

Languages: Common, Goblin. Additional languages equal to your Intelligence modifier (if it’s Positive). Choose from Draconic, Dwarven, Gnoll, Gnomish, Halfling, Orcish, and any other languages to which you have access (such as the languages prevalent in your region).

Traits Ysoki, Humanoid

Darkvision: You can see in darkness and dim light just as well as you can see in bright light, though your vision in darkness is in black and white.

Check back next week for Ysoki heritages and ysoki heritage feats.

Monday Musings: Sequel Campaigns Part 2

After writing some background material, I’ve decided not to start writing up backgrounds just yet. Instead, I’m really trying to get a sense of the whys and whats of the upcoming campaign. Here is where the classic five stage plot model can come in handy.

For reference, here are how I adapt the five stages for gaming.

  1. Exposition: in which the heroes are introduced to the setting, and receive the necessary information to understand the conflict. This often takes the form of a setting primer or campaign player’s guide. In my case, I’m divorcing my campaign from the published setting I used for the first game, and locating it in something of my own design instead. This is mostly accomplished through a cataclysmic event known as the Moonfall. (Quick version: the moon got smashed by an ascended player character and parts of it fell to the earth below while the tarrasque went on an extended rampage.)
  2. The Complication: in which the heroes are introduced to the conflict which will drive the plot of the campaign or session. I’ve already ruled out the Yellow King as a primary villain for this campaign, and know I want the focus to be more on the natural rather than supernatural evil, so I’ve created a main location with an external enemy. Drawing on Hamlet, I further suggest that since there is an apparent external threat, that a certain level of paranoia is present in the ruling class of the main city. Once I’ve settled a few more details, I can then break down the major phases of the plot into their own cycles for further development.
  3. The Crisis: at this point the heroes should know everything they need to know, but the villains are also initiating the final steps in their plans for whatever villainy they have opted to do. This event, whatever it is, will lead into the climax.
  4. The Climax: in which the conflict is brought to its final resolution. It’s boss fight time, or treaty signing time, or performing the ritual that ends the complication time, or some other high point of conflict in which the tension is all resolved.
  5. The Resolution: in which a new status quo is established. In my last campaign, I gave each character an appropriate send-off about their further adventures. In a session, the resolution might take the form of a temporary reprieve or incomplete victory. On the final season of Game of Thrones, mild spoiler warning, there were effectively two resolutions: the first, following the victory against the Night King in the North, and the second, with the election of a new king in Westeros.

This model is something I use to outline every session I run, and have found that it helps to strengthen the sense of continuity, drama, and enhance the plot. I’m thinking next week might be a step towards completing the exposition phase, with a short campaign primer, but am not going to make any promises.

Favourite Thing Friday

This week, the favourite thing I’d like to share is Know Direction, the Pathfinder News Reviews and Interviews podcast. A couple of big highlights: interviews with Paizo staff, great hosts, and interesting topics. In the last year they’ve been pretty focused on covering the Pathfinder play test and the launch of Pathfinder Second Edition. You can find their site at Knowdirectionpodcast.com and if you podcast at all I recommend checking them out.

One of the things I appreciate most about these guys are their seminars recorded from Gencon and Paizo Con. Covering topics as diverse as how to write for Paizo, creating a new planet, using the beginner box, or how best to add ambiance to your games, there’s something for everyone.

In the last year or so they’ve started a couple actual plays and added a Starfinder podcast. If you’re a Paizo fan there’s no reason not to at least try this one out. Their discussions are also of use to general gamers, as they are not constantly focused on Pathfinder mechanics.

Check back Monday for the next instalment in Sequel Campaigns, and have a great weekend!

The Half-Dwarf

Pathfinder Second Edition contains rules for half elves, half-orcs, and even mentions the possibility of other halves, noting:

By default, half-elves and half-orcs descend from humans, but your GM might allow you to be the offspring of an elf, orc, or different ancestry. In these cases, the GM will let you select the half-elf or half-orc heritage as the heritage for this other ancestry. The most likely other parent of a half-elf are gnomes and halflings, and the most likely parents of a half-orc are goblins, halflings, and dwarves. (This italicized text is open content.)

This lets a player create – with GM permission – a half-anything as long as one of the halves is either woven or orcish. But what if I want to play a half-dwarf? Or a half-halfling? Or a half-gnome? With a half that isn’t elf or orc?

The easy solution to this is to take the approach done with the other half-races and give the option of additional heritages which allow a character access to ancestry feats from both heritages.

I’d not that based in previews I’ve heard listening to Know Direction, that assimar will act something like this, essentially bolting on to the base ancestry allowing anyone to be planetouched.

Building a half-breed character, then, comes down to these steps:

1) selecting the base ancestry, and applying ability boosts, flaws, speed, hit points, etc as though you were a member of that ancestry

2) adding half-x as the heritage instead of one of the existing options, where x is one of the heritages of the other ancestry of your choice (this should definitely be done in consultation with your GM, as some options might be off the table)

With all this in mind, I’d like you to meet my dwarf/halfling hybrid Jaffa. Jaffa is searching for the perfect Halfling War Muffin, and won’t rest until they have tasted it.

Jaffa (The rest of this statblock is open content.)

Dwarf alchemist 1 CG, Medium, Dwarf/Halfling, Humanoid Perception +5; darkvision

Languages Common, Dwarven, Halfling, Sylvan

Skills Acrobatics +3, Arcana +7, Crafting +7 (+9 when Identify Alchemy action on an alchemical item you have the forumla for.), Medicine +5, Nature +5, Occultism +7, Performance +2, Stealth +3, Thievery +3, North Harbour Lore +7

Str 12 (+1), Dex 12 (+1), Con 14 (+2), Int 18 (+4), Wis 14 (+2), Cha 8 (-1)

Other Items studded leather, studded leather, club, club, dagger, sling (20 sling bullets), alchemist’s tools, backpack, bandolier, basic crafter’s book, bedroll, belt pouch, belt pouch, caltropss (2), chalks (10), flint and steel, formula book, formula book, lock, simple, manacles, poor, rations (1 week)s (2), rope (foot)s (50), sheath, soap, torchs (5), waterskin, purse (1 sp) —

AC 15; Fort +7; Ref +5; Will +5 HP 20

Speed 20 feet

Melee [1] club +4 (thrown 10 ft.), Damage 1d6+1 bludgeoning

Melee [1] club +4 (thrown 10 ft.), Damage 1d6+1 bludgeoning

Melee [1] dagger +4 (agile, finesse, thrown 10 ft., versatile S), Damage 1d4+1 piercing/slashing

Ranged [1] club +3 (thrown 10 ft.), Damage 1d6+1 bludgeoning

Ranged [1] club +3 (thrown 10 ft.), Damage 1d6+1 bludgeoning

Ranged [1] dagger +3 (agile, finesse, thrown 10 ft., versatile S), Damage 1d4+1 piercing/slashing

Ranged [1] sling +3 (propulsive, range increment 50 feet, reload 1), Damage 1d6 bludgeoning

Feats Alchemical Crafting, Alchemical Savant, Pickpocket, Unburdened Iron

Other Abilities advanced alchemy, chirurgeon, hillock halfling, infused reagents, quick alchemy

Monday Musings: Designing a Sequel Campaign

I just wrapped up a year-ish long campaign with what was intended to be the complete wrapping up of all the storylines: an awakened terrasque, the release of the Yellow King into the world, and a haunted house that just wouldn’t go away. The PC’s experienced fear, triumph, and I gave each one a fitting denouement, but they used a wish spell to temporarily rather than ultimately win.

The players wished for the Yellow King and the terrasque to be be teleported to another world for ten years. After ten years they will both return-what happens next?

Neither I nor my players want a retread of the previous game, so after talking with them and thinking about how to answer what happens next, I’ve decided to advance the timeline by a hundred years. I’ve also asked that each character have a link of some kind to the previous campaign.

The last campaign had a fairly strong focus on the Yellow King and the effects of its presence on reality, so for the sequel I’d like to start by thinking about what might have happened afterwards. The Yellow King’s plan included inscribing the Yellow Sign on the surface of the moon, but in the interim period, someone has smashed the moon into a large number of fragments that orbit the planet. It was, however, enough for a period of madness to bring about the downfall of most civilization. My sequel campaign is technically a post-apocalyptic game; however what I’m missing is a clear sense of who or what the villain might be. I know that I don’t want it to be the Yellow King. One of the other game masters in my group is launching a Strange Aeons campaign shortly, so we will be very much done with his shenanigans.

The other part of my initial idea was to have a villain who can’t be stopped with escalating levels of violence. In this case, prior to the star of the campaign, the big bad will have been captured and is operating in the community the campaign revolves around. The antagonists methods of operation will be more along the lines of corrupting the leadership of that community. For the antagonist to be valuable, there needs to be a real or perceived external threat. Two of Shakespeare’s plays seem like good sources of inspiration: Hamlet, and Henry IV parts 1 and 2. From Hamlet, I get the basic situation: there’s a new ruler who is attempting to cement their power while the heir of the previous king is still at court and a rival kingdom threatens to invade. Henry IV has a usurper trying to consolidate their power while their heir has a reputation for carousing rather than being ready to rule and their transformation into a worth heir who will end us the protagonist of Henry V.

To start my actual preparation, then, I need the Elsinore and Denmark of the campaign. This capital should be a walled fortress. I’ll need to explain how it survived the cataclysmic events of the previous century. And I’ll need to come up with an interesting set of NPC’s. I think I’ll keep the party connected with the centre of power by involving them in the court. I’d like the antagonist to be mysterious for at least a while, and I think I’m going to include some inspiration from Dumas’ Three Musketeers.

This campaign will be my first for Pathfinder Second Edition, so I’m going to see what I can do with the new mechanics that will support character development and player agency. I’m going to try and keep the conflict less covert, and I think I want guns and gunpowder available.

Next week, I’ll look at the background mechanics, and start mining my source texts for mechanics.

The Lost Muse?

The name “The Lost Muse” alludes to Shakespeare’s Henry V for its inspiration. We seek to add rules and options that are missing from existing games, adapt older open gaming content to new systems and uses, and draw inspiration from myth, legend, and folklore to create opportunities for exciting play in our games and yours.

Thanks for checking out our blog. If you’re new here, you’ll find game mechanics and story suggestions intertwined in each post. Each post will also specify which content is Open Gaming Content. And now, once more unto the breech my friends.

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