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Posts Tagged ‘collaborative storytelling’

When it comes to genre blending in film, books, and rpg’s I tend to become very OCPD’sh in my need to have everything organized and separated out into their proper places; firm boundaries all around. It’s kind of the like the guy who can’t tolerate the different food groups touching or co-mingling on his plate, although in real life, I would bludgeon you to a bloody pulp Thunderdome styles for some chocolate smeared with peanut butter. I don’t know what to say, I just dislike guns in my fantasy worlds and vise versa swords in my sci-fi worlds (lightsabres being the obvious exception of course as I could accept and rationalize their presence in any and all genres. Hell I am playing a born again Jedi in my next D&D adventure). All of which makes it a little surprising that I have mixed in some superhero/comic book content into my Dark Sun game.

How this all took shape is actually an interesting example of collaborative story telling. The groups Thri-Kreen Warlord decided to sacrifice himself at the end of the last LIM. He hurled himself into a portal to the elemental chaos after defeating the BBEG (who was using it to summon his master from the 9 hells) before it closed. His reasoning being that he was taking the seed of life (recently acquired Thri-Kreen artifact and what he had established was the treasure hidden in an ancient vault) into the abyss where it would ignite and become the catalyst for a new Green Age on Athas. He then established that the area around the “muto” oasis began to grow lush with vegetation.

With Clikk Sandflea’s heroic sacrifice the player needed to create a new character for the game.  This is when he told me that he was going to make Green Lantern. I was like “..oh…okayyy, sounds interesting? (voice rising a few octaves at the end). He then described how the spark from the beginning of the new green age had awakened his character’s green wood ring (a family heirloom) and unlocked new and amazing powers along with a vision for the future. It sounded cool so I was interested in seeing where it would head. At the same time the player of “Nori”, the party’s female Mul Warden, established that his character had a connection to the next city the group was heading to. The player stated that Nori was a famous gladiator who ran afoul of a crooked templar for failing to throw a fight in the arena.

I took these bits of emergent fiction and decided to go balls deep into genre blending and embrace the comic book motif as I crafted the next location. I know it’s not as blatant as Gandalph shooting the Balrog in the face with a 12-gauge, but you know…baby steps. I decided to flesh out this crooked templar a bit. I modeled the city of Alturak on the series Deadwood and made the crooked templar the de facto ruler of the town. Then I was pondering about what to do with this new “Green Lantern” and I had an epiphany and thus “Sinestrago” and the Yellow Templar Corps was born, complete with yellow power rings.  I set to re-skinning and altering monsters to build the corps and narrated their powers as creating constructs. The guy playing Green Lantern upon hearing all of this decided to tie his background to Sinestrago by being a former student of his.

I think this highlights some of the benefits collaborative storytelling and how engaging it can be for the players to see the stuff they create come to life in the world. You can take a look at Sinestrago, he is essentially a re-skinned Beholder. I created a voice for him that is a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Jesse Jackson; he is pretty amusing to play. I added a fear aura too him that will represent the Yellow Lantern Battery that is located somewhere in the town and drawing power from the populaces fear, even enhancing and creating it, and which the players might want to shut down before a final confrontation. Although that might be in a while as another player decided to have his character join the Yellow Templar Corps….did I mention he is the brother of the new Green Lantern 🙂

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“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” …Yoda

I wonder if my players would find any more comfort in this statement than Anakin did as three of their characters shed their “crude matter” in a recent session. I know what you’re thinking…awesome job right, teach those players whose boss. I am kidding…sort of as I do suffer from the occasional bout of bloodlust at times. The deaths came over two encounters, with 2 coming in the first major showdown of the campaign. The players decided to track down and exterminate with extreme prejudice Mr. Sultan Griss, their former slave master, who also happens to be a member of the Merchant House Shomm.

I tried something a little different with this encounter. It started off as a run of the mill bad guy encounter with various hurled insults and soliloquies, followed by bad guy’s underlings attacking. After about 2 rounds things got a little freaky as I had Sultan Griss use defiling magic, sucking the life force from his goons and killing them all, to summon a fire demon from the pits of the abyss and facilitating his escape. Now this was one tuff mofo. I again took a page from Frothsof 4E and his Savage (you can check it out below) concept and made the demon essentially a solo monster with elite defenses and hit points. I re-skinned a 3rd level white dragon from the monster vault and tweaked some of the powers to make them more fitting of a fire demon. I may have over-shot a bit as the demon tore into the party like a tsunami of whoop-ass leaving 3 players making death saves with 2 eventually succumbing to their wounds (well I did coupe de grace one character as the survivors dragged the others to safety).

There were a couple of things that I think led to this outcome. First, the demon was a brute and put out a lot of damage and did so quickly and when added to first 2 rounds of battle (my dice were smoking hot) with the henchman made for a bloodbath. In hindsight I should have had one round of combat, especially after the opening salvo by the henchmen did a ton of damage, and maybe toned down the damage of the Savage a bit. I also should have made it clearer earlier that the party could have used arcana/religion to damage the ritual that was binding the demon to this plane. Secondly, the main striker was absent from the game that night and the other spent multiple rounds unsuccessfully trying to revive the fallen characters with a non-existent heal skill (we actually envisoned him causing harm in his ineptness). This resulted in the fire demon taking no damage. The demon didn’t have a lot of hp to begin with and I think had things gone slightly different they could have pulled it out.

Death is not the end only the beginning….I think this is where the campaign really began to shine as I have adopted the attitude that if a character dies it is up to the player to decide if they are truly dead. It was pretty interesting to watch as the group engaged in some collaborative story telling to craft the next chapter of the characters lives (all decided to stick with the same pc’s). In true Dark Sun fashion the dwarf warden decided to comeback as an undead banshee for failing his life focus. Dead Kord, as we have begun calling him is now a revenant assassin who’s new focus is to kill Sultan Griss after which he will fade away into the ether (unless I manage to kill him again—edit-oops I did it again, he died again the next session–end edit). Next up was the Tiefling Psion Quell which we decided that the trauma of his dying awakened a hidden psionic potential that allows him to project his consciousness into other beings ala Wrath of Khan. He initially joined with Dead Kord but has recently subjugated Iman Fasile (human ex-gladiator).  These acts of collaborative story telling have really opened the campaign up to different pathways and possibilities allowing for an even greater investment in character development. I even stated up Iman Fasile with a monster stat block in case he is ever allowed to surface. I guess what was most pleasing is that death didn’t derail the game but enhanced it.

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