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Archive for September, 2012

Over The Hill

I am feeling very melancholy as tomorrow is my 40th birthday. I can feel it looming like a giant albatross of death and decay, harbingering a withering decline into that good night. It also has me reflecting a bit on my life thus far, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. Fantasy and rpg’s have been such a big part of my life and the basis for some of the fondest memories of my youth. I have also been pondering what the future holds and what memories are to come. My heart already bursts when my 3 year-old asks me if he can play Dungeons and Dragons or forces me to engage in life or death swordplay as the evil “Green Knight. The thought of sharing my passion for fantasy and gaming with my son overwhelms me with such raw emotion that tears of joy well up in my eyes and inoculates me against the inevitable day when he just thinks I am lame. Unless of course my son turns out to be some kind of fantasy realist and telling me that my play style ruins his verisimilitude well then he can go fuck himself 😉 In all seriousness though, I only hope that both my sons find something that sparks their imagination the way fantasy and rpg’s has for me.

My mother dropped off a bunch of clutter she uncovered while clearing out some boxes in her basement the other day. Sand wedged in between crap where these hidden gems from my youth and fit with the sickening degree of nostalgia I am feeling today. I remember when I got the World of Greyhawk campaign setting for Christmas. I was always excited to get D&D things given the visibility and accessibility of gaming stuff just wasn’t what it is today. It meant my parents had to work hard to get me something they didn’t understand but knew would make me exuberant. I was just so taken by the detail, history, and lore contained in the pages that it almost made it seem real, like I was reading something for a geography or history class at school. I would stare endlessly at he coat of arms on the inside cover, imaging which my mighty paladin would paint his shield with and hoist into battle. This product even came with a two piece full color hex map of the setting, which I thought was the coolest thing ever and would act as a gaming table cloth for years to come, even if the game had nothing to do with Grewhawk.

The other hidden gems were these Endless Quest Dungeons and Dragons story books. I can’t begin to tell you how voracious my appetite for all things D&D was, it approached an Aspergers like quality of fixation, so it is no surprise these things found their way into my home. I look back and laugh at how tense and “involved” I got when reading and re-reading these books. I would read them like I was playing chess. I would keep my finger on a page when asked to make a plot choice and then briefly skim the outcome on whatever distant page. If it even hinted at ending in death I quickly retreated back to the choice page standing firmly behind my conviction that it was allowable because I hadn’t taken my finger off the choice page and therefore the choice/move was not complete. Man did I ever win the hell out of those books.

Well enough sulking for today, I am off to Vegas to celebrate my ever encroaching march to death.

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This is a continuation of my previous post on LIM’s and will be outlining an example from my Dark Sun campaign utilizing that design. I apologize in advance for being “that guy” talking about his campaign, even though that is kind of what I do on this site, but this just seems way more out there on Front Street and with no dick jokes in sight. I also apologize for the roughness of the material as I mostly cut and pasted from my notes.

I centered the LIM on an oasis that backs into a natural outcropping of caves that is several days from civilization. One of the goals I had with this adventure was to give some spotlight time to the guys playing the Tiefling Psion and Thri-Kreen Warlord to allow for further character development; hence the title of the LIM “Muto Tiefling Beach Party” Quell is the psion that died a couple of sessions ago and who’s consciousness is currently subjugating an old, grizzled human gladiator. Clickk Sandflea is the party Warlord whose previous clutch was killed and has currently adopted the party as his new clutch mates.

Grimm Portents:

The party was traveling through the desert on the way to the city of Alturak. I had a trusted NPC that was traveling with them mysteriously fall ill followed by a not to distant conflict featuring powerful arcane magic. The opening scene was outside the oasis in the recent aftermath of a battle between the Mutated Tieflings and Thri-Kreen. There were scattered bodies of Thri-Kreen and mutated Tieflings riding Kanks (think Road Warrior). I started the action immediately with the players facing off against a pair of elementals summoned by one of the Thri-Kreen’s dying acts as they approached his body.

Factions:

Muto Tieflings

  • have been living in the caves for several generations, Dmongous arrived about 5 years ago and assumed leadership of the settlement.
  • within the last year or so members have started to become sick, or displaying mutations
  • group is tight lipped about worship, some are wary of Dmongous others are fanatically loyal
  • being hideously mutated by Dmongous through water and rituals (tainted by the abyss)

Dmongous, leader of Tieflings

  • well muscled wears a mask with horns protruding reddish hew to skin
  • arrogant, charming, charismatic
  • mutters to self at times like he is having a conversation with Someone
  • Worships Asmodeous

Tiefling Names: Sorrow, Abscess, Demonstrous, Muadeeb (abyssal for skin shifter aka Quell)

Motivations:

  • Release devil through ritual
  • Eliminate Thri-Kreen and gain entrance to Thri-Kreen tomb to get relic (could be used to open portal to abyss)
  • Expand cult
  • Sow destruction and anarchy

Moves:

  • attack party
  •  Try and get the pc’s to attack Thri-Kreen
  • Launch an attack at Thri-Kreen
  • Try and trick quell and others to attend sacrificial ceremony
  • Try and recruit Quell into cult
  • Try and kidnap/abduct Quell (could be used as sacrifice to open portal to abyss)

Thri-kreen:

The Torh-Kreen are a species of Thri-Kreen with bright red carapaces who tended to build and live in settlements. There are rumors of great civilizations north of the Tyr valley. The Torh-Kreen inhabited the caves at the oasis during the Green Time. These Kreen are descendants of the Torh-Kreen and have light reddish tinge to carapaces.
Pack leader has the key to tomb but unaware of its presence or function.

As Clickk approached the oasis I also had his character experience a psionic vision showing the Torh-Kreen living in the caves during the Green Time. I also gave another psionic vision when/if he entered the caves showing the Torh-Kreen placing some item in a tomb and sealing it followed by scenes of battle and use of defiling magic. I left it to the player to tell me what the vision meant and what the item could have been. Clickk felt that the item was probably something called a Seed of Life, an artifact from the distant past used for preserving and creating life.

Motivations:

  • Recover ancestral home
  • Cure leader who became sickened after meeting with Dmoungus
  • secure survival of the pack
  • struggle for dominance, hunter/prey mentaility

Moves

  • Attack players
  • Attack Tieflings in force
  •  Have land sharks attack players/trap
  • Change in leadership/coup, internal strife
  • Challenge players for clutch/pack membership

Thri-Kreen names: Krik Krik (pack leader), Chituk, Tic Tac

Thri-Kreen language:  Clutch of one, larva (insult meaning naïve), Send to the circle (kill someone)

I have been pleased with the LIMs results thus far. I have run 2 sessions and will probably eek out another 2 to 3 more from this location. I haven’t had to do much since the initial prep except to add some minor things based on emergent story elements. Next thing I have percolating, after chatting with one of my players, is making desert travel more of a lair assault type challenge, but will see.

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So what exactly is a Location-in-Motion or LIM for short? It’s a style of adventure design derived from Dungeon World (DW) concepts and hacked for use in some 4th edition games that I am involved in, although the concepts are generally applicable to most RPG’s.  Certainly these concepts are not new or revolutionary, and I can’t take any kind of credit for their development or implementation. I first became aware of the LIM from a cat in my home game that was playing a ton of DW and had decided to create a little one-shot 4th edition adventure utilizing some DW concepts.

The way I think about LIM’s is that they are essentially mini-sandboxes. The DM picks a location that is kind of closed and then stocks it with various factions. Each faction is then given some over-arching motivations/goals that drive their actions and reactions. Following this is a list of “moves” for each faction that suggests potential actions a faction could take depending on the situation or to drive the game forward. Moves can be really general or very specific based on personal preference and whatever would be most helpful to you. For a faction consisting of Mutated Tieflings (from my Dark Sun game) a move could be very general and abstract like “sow destruction and anarchy” to more specific “attempt to kidnap Quell”.  The idea is that if there is a lull in the action or the players do something you can look at your “moves” and either react to the players or use them to spur action.

The initial session starts with the players at the LIM and preferable in the middle of some action. This can be a good place to get some collaborative story telling going by asking the players what happened on the way or how they got where they are. Grim Portents is another concept that helps frame the setting and get the action rolling, usually a threat of some kind that may potentially happen without intervention. At this point the characters are left to interact with the location and factions as they see fit, prompting reactions from the factions in a very organic free flowing way.

Depending on the style of game you are running this frame work allows for a lot of narrative control to be given to the players such as adding motivations or goals to factions or adding story elements they want to see happen or accomplish. The DM is then able to build this into the story, perhaps even adding to the encounters and possibilities within the LIM. For example the DM in the game I was playing in mentioned that there was a temple with a hidden treasure on the island. The Githyanki warlock stated that the treasure must be a Spelljamer helm leading to the conclusion that there must be a ship hidden somewhere on the island that he could use to blast off to the astral sea. The DM was then able to incorporate this into the story adding encounters and motivations/goals to the factions that involved a starship. The “motion” part of the LIM comes not only from the fluidity of the collaborative story telling but also from the idea that the factions continue with their goals and motivations if left to their own devices which can have consequences (good or bad)for the players. If ignored a faction cam become a “front”, essentially a major pain in the ass that can continue in future adventures. For example, not stopping the cult who was planning on opening a portal to the abyss could have major consequences that could play out for a while or become a recurring motif in the game.

In terms of DM prep, this approach is frontloaded and takes some work to set up, but after that you can get multiple sessions out of that prep. With my Dark sun game I am looking at getting 5 to 6 sessions out of the initial prep which included creating factions/motivations/moves and generating a couple of maps and stat blocks. I think the discrete nature of the LIM makes it slightly more manageable than a full open world sand box style, although it is not that different from those types of games that start in a town then progress outward. The idea is that you can then string one LIM after another to create an ongoing campaign.

I think what spawned the LIM was some of the frustrations that can arise with plot-based linear adventures; namely railroading and lack of player choice and the associated awkwardness that can occur as players stumble around trying to find the plot or when the DM is invested in the outcome of an encounter/event in order to drive the plot/story forward. I think what is cool about this approach is that it’s not set in stone, in other words you can’t be accused of doing it wrong.  I picture it like a spectrum with DM/player style dictating where on the spectrum in terms of narrative/plot control the LIM will fall in.

This post is getting a little out of hand, nothing like trying to articulate abstract concepts to make you want to jab something sharp in your eye, so I will end this one and continue next time detailing the LIM I set up in my Dark Sun game.

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