Monday, November 30, 2015

Villainous Scum - Star Wars Across Two Systems

A Time to Celebrate

Like many of you I've been counting the days since that very first teaser hit YouTube.  Finn on the sands of a faraway world.  BB-8 rolling at top speed.  The first glimpse of Kylo Ren's lightsaber burning bright.  The Falcon in flight dueling with TIE Fighters.  I was thrilled yet anxious.  Would this be the amazing film I craved, or Star Wars in name only?  Admittedly I had my doubts, and reserved judgement until I could see more.  

Of course, when the second teaser dropped, and I saw Han and Chewie, I was fighting back tears of joy.  

Since the April release of the second trailer, I've gone into Star Wars overdrive.  We celebrated a magnificent Star Wars day with friends and family.  I purchased way too many Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures much to my wife's delight.  I picked up Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Role-Playing Game and read that entire book cover to cover (of course it took me half the year to do so.)  I even had the chance to play a few games of Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, enjoying myself thoroughly.  

So when Thanksgiving was over, and I started to seriously count the days to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I knew that I needed to celebrate with some kind of role-playing extravaganza.  But my first instinct wasn't to open my new RPG books.  I'm already  in the middle of enjoying several "non-Star Wars native" game systems right now.  

What if I tried running Star Wars in a totally unexpected system?  

To Choose the Dark Side… or the Light

While on Facebook last week I saw a question pop up asking about people's favorite Star Wars RPG systems.  Obviously whenever something like this gets posted several games come to everyones' minds, and their fans race to throw in their support:
  • There are those who first explored the universe of the original trilogy with West End Games' original d6 System, and have never left. 
  • Following the D&D 3E renaissance, the D20 System Star Wars game had some popularity, and there are still a few out there slinging their Revised Edition Rulebooks.
  • About the time that D&D 4E showed up, the Saga Edition was born, with some modified rules, and new squarish books.  I often see Saga Edition games posted on G+.  
  • Fast forward to present day and you have the Fantasy Flight Games series: Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny.  There are quite a few players for each of these, and I have been hounded by my good friend Andy to get an EotE campaign started.  

I realized that most folks posting on this question would offer up one of these games, so I decided to go outside the box and suggest something completely different:  running a Stormtrooper-themed game using Dungeon Crawl Classics.   

Speaking from my experiences in the Spring, I had an absolute blast running players through the Stormtrooper-themed 0-level funnels that I hastily threw together.  The games were fast, campy, and a lot of fun.  Now, I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you that DCCRPG is the "perfect system" for running Star Wars themed adventures.  But I can say that I enjoyed running those few Stormtrooper adventures more than all my time running Saga Edition combined.   

In a similar way, I really enjoyed running the Star Wars themed sessions of The Strange  earlier this year.  Turning Knights of the Old Republic into a recursion, I had the chance to come up with some quick house rules, select relevant foci for character generation, and experience the Star Wars universe with the Cypher System's nimble game mechanics.  This was all pre-Gen Con and the Cypher System Rulebook had not been released yet.  My only way of running a complete Cypher Star Wars game back then would have been to hack Numenera and The Strange.  Thankfully we live in a post-Cypher System Rulebook release world now… 

… boo yah.  

So I want to do some Star Wars RPG'ing, and when it came time to pick the system I was torn.  While I enjoyed the West End Games d6 System, I gave away almost all of my books several years ago when the D20 System came out.  Completing the cycle, I ditched many of my D20 books when Saga Edition turned up on the shelves.  I didn't particularly enjoy running the Saga Edition, and finding the books is a pain, so that game was out of the question.  Finally, I was left with running Edge of the Empire, which I enjoyed, and want to play more, but I didn't feel that I had enough mastery of the system to do something "special" for my celebration.  

I wanted to experience Star Wars a bit closer to home.

So I chose both the Cypher System and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  

The Villainous Scum on board Chris West's Dimensional Timeship

The Villainous Scum

This time last year I was preparing for Quattro con Carnage, an exploration of old-school fantasy role-playing across four different RPG systems.  For this Star Wars experiment, which I'm titling Villainous Scum, I'll be doing something similar.  Over the next several weeks I'm going to craft a pair of Star Wars adventures featuring a band of bounty hunters in service to the Empire.  As I develop the characters, adjustments to game mechanics, and adventure details, I will share the information right here on my blog for anyone who wants to follow along.  

The cast for Star Wars: Villainous Scum is currently as follows:

  • Commander Dragoon, an Independent Operative in the service of the Empire with her VT-49, "The Last Dance."
  • Gann Arrok, a Slicer and Tech Specialist who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Mist, a Clawdite Bounty Hunter who has taken on so many faces and mimicked so many personalities that they no longer remember their original self.  
  • L-7S "El Sevs", a Droid Pilot assembled on Nar Shadaa from the parts of over fifty poor and unfortunate droids.  
  • Seraph, a Dark Side Devotee and ex-Swoop Ganger discovered by the Empire in the hive-like slums of Coruscant.  
  • Rondi, a corrupted Force Adept that learned of the Dark Side on her own while enslaved in the Outer Rim. 

Here's what I can share from my plan right now:

  • The Villainous Scum are a motley crew of six hardened operatives in service to the Empire.  These will be pre-generated characters, complete with backstories, connections to other characters, and dark secrets that they would prefer to keep hidden.
    • It's important to note that I've gone with pre-gen characters so that I can showcase how easy it is to throw together Star Wars characters in just about any system with minimal effort… I'm all about the "minimal effort!"
    • This also means I'll be ready to go for convention season!
  • I like to think of the Villainous Scum as Star Wars meets the Inglourious Basterds.
  • I will be featuring my quick conversion notes for both the Cypher System and DCCRPG as their own blog entries.  I'll be posting links back to all the materials that I draw in to create these adventures.  
  • Each member of the Villainous Scum will get their own blog post, complete with game statistics for both the Cypher System and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, as well as all other relevant information.
  • I will be running the Cypher System adventure, Between the Rocks Waits the Hard Case, at a live event here in Pittsburgh on December 19th.  Incidentally this is the same day that I'll be watching Star Wars the Force Awakens!
  • Our Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Wrath of the Gungan Horde, will take place at a special Norwin Game Knights celebration on January 2nd, and may have completely different players (but the same six characters, along with a few Stormtrooper 0-levels… just in case.)  
  • Depending on the feedback I receive, I may run both of these adventures again in mid to late January as On Air Hangouts so that they can be shared on YouTube.  

For a special "bonus feature", I'll be developing a pair of Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures scenarios for Commander Dragoon's VT-49 Decimator, The Last Dance.  These scenarios will play out between my daughter Evie and myself, and will both be posted as separate blog entries.  

All in all, I'm looking at about fourteen separate Villainous Scum posts between now and early January.

As always, I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback regarding this little experiment.  For those Edge of the Empire devotees, I'm betting that Andy will get his way and I'll be giving in to his demands by the end of the month.  But for now, I'm really excited to see where this goes.

May the Force be with me!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Gobbler Road: Beyond Gravy Dome - A Thanksgiving Game of The Strange

Happy Thanksgaming!

Last year we embraced a new tradition in our family: Thanksgaming!  After hearing of other friends and family participating in similar engagements, I jumped into the celebration head first.  We played Dungeons & Dragons on Thanksgiving Eve, Gloom'd it up on Black Friday, and on Saturday invited the hardcore RPG aficionados of the family to join in a special game of The Strange.  With its Turkey-theming, and over-the-top plot, our adventure, "All Gobbled Up," was a memorable experience… 

… something worth repeating this year!  

Several weeks ago I started making plans for another Turkey-themed, Thanksgiving season game of The Strange.  For a second year in a row we would be in Smyrna, Delaware to celebrate the holiday with my parents.  My cousin Rachel planned to join us Saturday for an evening of The Strange.  The books were packed, the dice organized, and the adventure written.  We were all set to travel to Delaware Wednesday…

… and then Evie barfed!  

Stricken with a stomach virus, Evie wasn't up for traveling, and we didn't want to expose the rest of the family to an illness over the holidays.  So we cancelled our plans, and stayed home.  For Thanksgiving dinner I cooked a big batch of vegetable noodle soup and roasted tofu strips, while Jen made a batch of biscuits.  

We entertained ourselves by kicking off an epic, four-player game of Diablo 3 on the Xbox 360 and made plans for our next holiday trip to Delaware.  

Oh, and we still played The Strange!

Carrie and Cooper

We were not about to let a little stomach bug stop our role-playing!  Since we weren't going to have any other family members come to the game, it would be no problem running the Thanksgiving game on the holiday itself.  So when everyone else we knew was enjoying pie and ice-cream, we set up the table for an awesome game night.  Even little Evie dragged herself to the table to roll some dice!

Jennifer and Evie

I knew that it would be challenging to make this year's Thanksgiving-themed adventure more over-the-top than last year's fun romp.  I enjoyed making turkeys the antagonists, and wanted to do the same this time around.  But I also wanted an excuse to create a new recursion for The Strange.  I've been playing a lot of Fallout 3 lately (yes, I'm a few years behind in my Fallout), and earlier this year I became obsessed with Mad Max: Fury Road.  

What would a Post Apocalyptic Thanksgiving recursion look like?

Baster Town map

Gobbler Road

No one knows how or why the recursion of Gobbler Road came to form.  Some say the savage fury of Americans devouring millions of turkeys on Thanksgiving created the initial seed for this recursion.  Others, especially the official chef of the Estate, Alton Brown (yes, "that" Alton Brown from Good Eats), believe that some of the sentient turkeys that have come to Earth from other recursions have had their own legends and tales become reality.    

Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, eventually Gobbler Road came to exist

Gobbler Road Attributes
  • Level:  3, Juvenile recursion
  • Laws:  Mad Science
  • Playable Races:  Human
  • Foci:  Fuses Flesh and Steel, Build Robots, Explores Dark Places
  • Skills:  Gravycraft
  • Connection to Strange:  Although Gobbler Road seems to go on endlessly, its actually one big loop only 2 miles long.  But if one were to drive on Gobbler Road for two hours (the approximate run-time of Mad Max: Fury Road), on a butter-laden War Rig, they will end up floating in the Strange itself.  
  • Connection to Recursions:  The only known gate between Gobbler Road and Earth is behind a storage closet in the back of the New Stanton, Pennsylvania Cracker Barrel.  
  • Size:  A 2 mile long road loop.
  • Spark:  5%
  • Traits:  Moist and Tender, all humans take 1 additional point of damage from any stabbing or slashing attacks.  
Gobbler Road consists of the long, never-ending stretch of dilapidated highway that bears the recursions name, as well as a few tiny communities of feral humans.  At the center of the recursion is Baster Town.  Ruled by the great, Turkey overlord Immortan Tom, and protected by his powerful and fanatic soldiers, the Warbirds, Baster Town is a nightmarish construction of iron and bone… human bone.

Immortan Tom has declared that there shall be an annual holiday: the Thanksculling.  Each year, he sends out his Warbirds into the wastes of Gobbler Road to bring back humans for the harvest.  The strange quick of Gobbler road is that every day is Thanksculling.  

Now I apologize for the hastily hand-drawn map above, but if you take a look there are some unique structures in Baster Town.
  • Gobbler Road:  There is a dirt track leading straight to Gobbler Road.
  • The Tent City:  Surrounding Baster Town are dozens of small tents.  Most of the Turkeys live in these tents, as the walled structure is only inhabited by Immortan Tom and his Warbirds.
  • The Moat:  A deep trench full of water, runoff, waste, and sage gravy.  There are several sewer pipes that lead from the base of Baster Town into the moat.  Each are easily accessible, so long as one has no problem swimming through human-based gravy.  
  • The Wall:  This twenty-foot tall structure rings Baster Town.  An armed Warbird stands atop each of the ten towers at all times.  
  • Wing Shop:  The mechanics of Baster Town, specially trained Warbirds, work on the cars and trucks in this building.  
  • Tom's House:  Immortan Tom's residence.
  • Warbird Barracks:  Exactly what you'd think.  
  • Pens:  Here are where the captured humans are kept.
  • Gravy Dome:  Every Thanksculling evening, Immortan Tom and his Warbirds enjoy a massive feast of human meat and human gravy.  All the cooking is done by the Gravy Master, an old and grizzled Warbird who has one wing, one drumstick, and has lost his gobble.  

Immortan Tom 
  • Level:  6 (18)
  • Motive:  To rule over Baster Town and extend his Thanksculling festivities to Earth itself.  
  • Environment:  Gobbler Road, Mad Science.
  • Health:  24
  • Damage Inflicted:  8 points
  • Armor:  3
  • Movement:  Short
  • Modifications:  Drive as level 7.
  • Combat:  Immortan Tom fires his blunderbuss in combat, but if he is surrounded he will use his Wing Flap Attack.  This causes all creatures, friend or foe, in an Immediate Range to get knocked down.  
  • Interactions:  Immortan Tom is a terrible individual who hate everything, especially humans.  He has little regard for his own Warbirds, and will spend their lives easily.  
  • Use:  Immortan Tom is the only Turkey to have the spark, and so if he is crossed he could potentially be a long-term villain in a campaign.  
  • Loot:  Immortan Tom carries a special blunderbuss filled with nails, ball-bearings, and fork-prongs.  This Heavy, Short Range weapon causes 8 damage instead of 6 when used by a player-character.  

  • Level:  3 (9)
  • Motive:  To serve Immortan Tom without question.
  • Environment:  Gobbler Road, Mad Science.
  • Health:  12
  • Damage Inflicted:  Spear attack 5 (this includes +1 for the Moist and Tender recursion attribute).
  • Armor:  1
  • Movement:  Short
  • Modifications:  Perception as level 4.
  • Combat:  When a Warbird is killed, they get one final action which is almost always an attack.  As soon as the death blow lands this action is carried out.  The Warbird takes a small container of aerosol cranberry sauce out and "sauces their beak."  The Warbird then screams out "WITNESS ME, GOBBLERS!" and then makes the attack as a Level 5.  If the attack succeeds, it causes 7 damage.     
  • Interactions:  Warbirds will attack humans if they are armed, but if unarmed they will choose to try and capture first.  
  • Use:  Minions for Immortan Tom, Warbirds are only encountered on Gobbler Road.
  • Loot:  One in there Warbirds carries a random Cypher.

Agent P!


  • Crystal Cosmo, a Strange Paradox who Builds Robots, played by Carrie
  • Agent P., a Clever Spinner who Fuses Flesh and Steel, played by Cooper
  • Jackie Dingo, a Skeptical Spinner who Solves Mysteries, played by Jennifer
  • Arianna Cosmo, a Graceful Vector who Explores Dark Places, played by Evie

Beyond Gravy Dome

Four agents of the Estate were perched on a large dusty hill overlooking the sun-scorched, sheet-metal walled nightmare known to all in Gobbler Road as Baster Town.  Three of the agents, Arianna, Crystal, and Jackie, had worked together on several missions over the past twelve months.  The fourth agent, Agent P., was a sentient spy-platypus from the Tri-State Area recursion.  The team was on a mission of the utmost importance for the Estate... a rescue mission.

Several days earlier, Estate Chef and Chief Culinary Agent Alton Brown went missing.  After much investigation, it was revealed that members of the Beak Mafia from Crow Hollow had captured Alton Brown, as well as many other prominent American chefs.  The Beak Mafia quickly handed these chefs over to the ruthless overlord of a post-apocalyptic wasteland: Immortan Tom.  It was Immortan Tom's intention to roast the chefs in the Gravy Dome for the annual Thanksculling celebration.  The Estate Agents would have to work quickly…

… because on Gobbler Road, every night is Thanksculling!

Jackie Dingo carefully led her team into a nearby tent just outside of Baster Town.  The residents of the tent were missing, but they had left some soup on a stove.  One look at the soup and Crystal nearly screamed.  It took Agent P.'s metal hand covering up the Paradox's mouth for the team's cover to remain secure.  Crystal commanded her new robot attendant, Axel, to push the soup pot to the ground.  The contents were horrifying: human hands.  

These turkeys had to be stopped!

Arianna scouted the perimeter of Baster Town's wall and came up with several possible ways to enter the fortress.  The team could try to sneak through the front gate or over the wall.   A third, somewhat gross option would be to climb down into the moat surrounding Baster Town and then enter the sewers.  

The team chose the sewers.  Arianna used her Lift Cypher to carefully assist each agent into the water, and then they all quietly entered the tube.  The liquid leaking from the sewers was a mix of water, sewage, hot butter, and sage gravy.  Perhaps it was their collective disgust, but soon the team was hopelessly lost in the sewers.  Unsure of which path to take next, Agent P. decided to climb up the next available ladder.  

Using his innate danger sense, Agent P. carefully lifted the grate at the top of the ladder and took a look around.  Two Warbirds patrolled the central Baster Town yard, and the pen keeping all the humans was only a couple dozen yards away.  Agent P. quietly slipped from the grate and then used his toolbox to unlock the cage.  One by one, the other agents slipped into the pen holding the humans.

The human chefs inside were incredibly thankful to see the Estate Agents.  Agent Alton Brown gave the team a quick run-down of the goings-on inside Baster Town, and noted that the time for Thanksculling was soon approaching.  The other chefs and cooks were eager to leave Gobbler Road, but it would be difficult sneaking everyone out of the town through the sewers.  Needless to say, once they would escape through the sewers, the humans could be run down by the Warbird cars and trucks.

Jackie Dingo took a look at the parking lot adjacent to the Wing Shop and saw the massive War Rig ready to go.

Jackie Dingo turned to the chefs.

"Do any of you know how to hot-wire a big rig?" the skeptical spinner inquired.

One cook stepped forward.  He was a pudgy man, with frosted hair, wearing a stained hawaiian shirt. 

"We need to hightail it out of here and head straight to Flavortown!" the man announced proudly.

So Agent Dingo, Agent P., and Guy Fieri snuck past the two Warbird guards and got into the War Rig.  True to his word Guy Fieri was able to hot-wire the truck, but in his excitement, the Food Network host started hootin'.  He then sounded the truck's horn, alerting everyone in Baster Town that something was amiss.  

Jackie Dingo punched Guy in the mouth and dragged him out of the drivers' seat.  "What the heck, Triple D.?" 

Improvising, Jackie put the War Rig in reverse and ordered Agent P. to climb on top of the truck.  She backed over one of the nearby barracks, causing a half-dozen Warbirds to explode in giant bursts of blood and feathers.  The two Warbird guards jumped out of the way of the truck, but soon found themselves burning courtesy of one of Agent P.'s grenades.  

While roasting, the Warbirds were still standing between the War Rig and the escaped chefs.  Arianna charged forward with her sledgehammer, striking one in the head.  The blow should've killed the Warbird, but instead it grabbed a container of aerosol cranberry sauce.  Spraying its beak, the Warbird screamed out.

"Witness me, Gobblers!"

The dying Warbird charged with his spear, but Arianna tumbled out of the way.  The remaining Warbird started charging towards the graceful vector, but Crystal called upon the power of the Strange and used her Exception power to lob a metal fist at the creature, knocking it unconscious.  Agent P. ordered the chefs into the War Rig and Jackie Dingo drove the massive vehicle out onto Gobbler Road.  

Only minutes after leaving Baster Town, Jackie Dingo realized the team wasn't out of the woods yet.  Five hotrods trailed the War Rig, each crewed by raving Warbirds.  Immortan Tom himself had come out to play, in an ominous black car covered in spikes resembling fork tongs.  

Agent P. grabbed Crystal Cosmo and headed for the back of the War Rig.  At the back of the truck was a large pod full of liquid hot butter.  Perhaps they could dump the pod, and grease some of the vehicles.  

Immortan Tom and two of his vehicles drove up along side the War Rig.  They were preparing to take out the tires!  But before they could act, Agent P. and Crystal unlocked the butter pod.  The hot butter exploded onto two of the vehicles, causing them to crash and explode!  

Jackie Dingo had her own plan in mind for the great Immortan Tom.  Forcing Guy Fieri to take the wheel, she climbed into the passenger's seat and lobbed a Glue Cypher at the tire of Immortan Tom's hotrod.  The packet of powerful glue covered the left front tire of Immortan Tom's vehicle, causing it to crash into the side of the War Rig and then flip over.  

With two cars remaining, Agent P. climbed to the top of the War Rig and let out a terrible war cry in the hopes that it would intimidate the remaining War Birds.

"I will grab you and I will throw you in the oven!" Agent P. screamed.  

The Warbirds took this threat seriously, and they peeled off.  The road was finally clear, and it was smooth driving

… straight to Flavortown.

Cooper's Intimidation roll.


- Carrie:  "What's in the pot?"
- Dad:  "It smells like ham."
- Carrie:  "It's probably not ham!"

"I'm gonna scream… wait…" - Carrie

"Oh yeah, bro harder!" - Cooper rolling

Looking Forward to Next Year

As I glanced through social media last night I saw that we weren't alone in our gaming exploits.  Far from it!  I hope that all of you had a great gaming evening, whether you were celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. or if you were just having a good dinner and gaming in other parts of the world.  

As Thanksgaming comes to a close, I can set my eyes on something far, far more twisted and sinister…

… #SantaGaming2015!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Small Worldbuilding

Home Grown Campaign Settings

Now that I'm a boring, grown-up gamer with a job and a family and responsibilities, finding time to create campaign settings from scratch can be difficult.  Sure, I can throw together a small village and surrounding region and let it grow organically over time.  But I'm talking about massive, globe-spanning settings where every piece of the map is detailed and the history can be traced back for thousands of years.  

The days of cooking up my own Athas or Krynn are far behind me.  

I have no problem throwing together the maps for these kinds of campaigns.  I can knock out a pretty decent map over the course of a week, full of kingdoms, natural wonders, and dark secrets.  Tossing in a village, town, or even a city isn't usually very hard for me either.  There are plenty of awesome city maps to find online.  All one has to do is Google "fantasy city map."  No, the challenge I have when I'm building my own setting is coming up with a somewhat coherent, marginally logical world history.

Personally, I have a hard time immersing myself in my own campaign settings unless I have some kind of idea about how the world came to be.  I want to know about the ancient kingdoms, the conquerors, and the powerful entities that remain hidden in ancient crypts.  This is probably why I'm such a fan of published settings; there is so much for me to discover as a game master, that I feel like one of the players during the game.  All of the hard work has already been done for me, and all I need to do is sit back and read.  When I try to write these histories myself I usually get slammed by writers block.  

But I believe I may have found a solution...

It's a Small World After All

A few years ago my family discovered Days of Wonder's legendary game, Small World.  We first learned of this terrific board game of fantasy conquest by watching Tabletop on YouTube, and it didn't take long before we had our own copy in our hands.  Small World is both easy to learn as well as fast to play, as opposed to other conquest games.  I've had games of Risk last all night, and I can't ever remember finishing a full game of Axis and Allies.  Small World can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a full hour-and-a-half.  

But those are some action packed minutes!

During a recent game, I watched as each turn played out and started talking about the world's "history" to my two other players.  Evie has been playing Small World with me since we first purchased the game, but it was Cooper's first game.  I soon learned that Cooper was more interested in the fun stories that came out of each turn rather than how he was doing with respect to points.  So I started thinking...

... could the legends and histories created in Small World flavor an role-playing game campaign setting?  

It was worth a try!  

I set up a four player, nine turn game with the intention of capturing information from each turn.  I took some pictures and some notes from player interaction, and from the game I chronicled the world's history.  The goal would be to have everything from the Small World game find its way into the mini-campaign setting's history.  

Now I'm not going to bore you with a long, drawn-out history of another game-master's setting.  Rather, I wanted to share how quickly and easily a GM could create something for their players on-the-fly.  Perhaps this is an exercise you could do with your entire gaming group, with everyone showing up for a big Small World game several weeks before the start of a glorious campaign.  

So open up your fantasy history textbooks, and read along as we learn the secrets of this dark and war-torn land.

Norwinia History 101

Let us begin with our world - Norwinia.  Norwinia's tale begins with the Lost Tribes.  These small villages of neolithic humanoids dotted the landscape of Norwinia from the northernmost forests to the southern mountain valleys.  For millenia the Lost Tribes existed in peace and harmony...

... and then the invaders came!

The Mage King was the first to arrive in Norwinia, leading his army of wizards and warlocks from the desolate wastes into the northeastern frontiers.  These wizards were fond of grand castles and stout keeps, and used dark and forbidden magicks to create these structures wherever they went.  

Around the same time, subterranean tribes of Amazons rose from the ground and started to conquer the northwestern coastlands of Norwinia.  They laid waste to the poor Lost Tribes in their path.  

Perhaps the wars of the living made the souls of the dead jealous, for the southern reaches of Norwinia were soon infested with the walking dead.  Skeletal, bivouacking monstrosities and alchemically infused ghouls erupted from their graves by the thousands.

This first age of Norwinia would be defined by the Mage Kingdom and Amazonia. The former controlled enchanted lands imbued with arcane power, and were content with their conquests. The Amazons had their eyes set on more land, and chose to stretch out across the coast.

It should come as no surprise that eventually the Mage Kingdom and Amazonia would go to war. There was fertile land on the eastern frontier of Amazonia, perfect for the Mage Kingdom's new capital. Quickly a massive force of wizard-soldiers took these lands, and almost as quickly the Mage King constructed a grand fortification at the center of a cosmopolitan wonder...

... it came to be called Carinaria!

But while the Mage Kingdom created Carinaria, they would not enjoy their prize for long. For a mysterious race of people sought to come forth into the lands of Norwinia from their small nooks below the earth. 

The Spirit Halflings, once seen by the Amazons as just a nuisance along the central sea, arrived on the scene in great numbers. Tens of thousands of sling-bearing, wardog riding little-folk began their own series of conquests... starting with Carinaria!

From Carinaria to Central Amazonia, the dog-riders crushed all beneath their mounts' paws.  Just before the end of their respective monarchies, the Mage King and the Queen of Amazonia forged a short-lived alliance.  But both monarchs would die of old age long before the miniature menace would fade into obscurity.  

The Age of the Halfling was at hand!

For several centuries the little-folk ruled their territory justly and fairly.  Free trade continued in the lands of the conquered, and halfling warriors lead excursions into the undead-infested lands to the south.  But hungry eyes were starting to gaze upon Norwinia's wealth.

The orcs would invade Old Amazonia from the Great Western Sea.  Their slave-driven galleys carrying thousands of bloodthirsty brutes.  

The mountain-born giants would pillage starting in the south, their warband leader finding the ancient, decrepit skeletons and ghouls to be no match.  

Finally, from the east, the forest native Ratmen set out to capture the grand castles of the wizards.  While the orcs to the west and giants to the south were fierce raiders, bent on conquest at all costs, the Ratmen were shrewd diplomats.  In exchange for the lands of the old Mage Kingdom, the Ratmen would gain the assistance of some of the remaining wizards so that they war against the undead in the south.  

By the time the halflings went into a full decline, the Ratmen were warring not only with the skeletons and ghouls, but also with the pillaging giants who now possessed all of the southern mountain regions.

Eventually the Orcs came for Carinaria and all its riches.  The halflings, no longer able to protect the city from the backs of their mighty wardog mounts, retreated into the hills and forests.  

The Age of the Orc was at hand...

... or was it?

Just as quickly as the Orcs had taken control over Amazonia, the humans of faraway Shriekland plunged into lands long under the horde's control.  Perhaps it was the lure of lush farmland, or of great Carinara itself, but one thing is for certain...

... the humans are here to stay.


This is what we came up with following a ninety minute game and about a half-hour of conversation as a family.  A quick snapshot of the map, and perhaps some photoshop, and we could have a source for a great campaign.  In just a few minutes I thought up a few fun plot-hooks:
  • The player characters are Shrieklander scouts, trying to unite longtime enemies, the halflings and Amazons, against the Orcs.  Perhaps the Shrieklanders faced the Orcs ages earlier, forcing them to leave their own land for Norwinia.
  • The player characters are arcane mercenaries working for a wizardly order in the swampy wastes to the east that still declares allegiance to the Mage Kingdom.  The Mage King has been dead for centuries... or has he?  Perhaps the order wishes too return their old monarch to unlife!
  • Carinaria is under the control of the Orcs, and yet Amazons, Humans from the Mage Kingdom, and Halflings still live within the city walls.  What would life be like in this city for player characters?  How could they try to make a living under Orcish oppression?  
These are just a few ideas that popped into my head after a quick game.  Although I'm not starting a new campaign at the moment, I'm certainly placing a few of these ideas in my memory for future use.  

If you've ever designed a world using a conquest style board game, I'd love to hear your stories!  Did this kind of world-building help generate player "buy-in?"  What other tools have you used to allow players to aid in crafting a new setting?

*     *     *

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my five-year old son won the game with his Bivouacking Skeletons and Pillaging Giants.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Platinum Rule

This moment of seriousness brought to you by Jim …

… yes, I am capable of writing something serious… 

I took a break tonight from my gaming-related blogging to comment on the real world.  I have a blog, so I'm allowed.  

There's a lot of awful stuff going on in the world right now.  I don't need to detail it out, and I'm not trying to start a debate about the "why" or even the "how."  I can see plenty of that in my social media feeds right now already.  Not that I don't have a personal viewpoint and perspective, but I'll leave that to private conversation to discuss.

When something terrible happens in the world, anger and outrage always follow.  This is totally natural, and even understandable.  While much of this anger is about "what" has happened, I think a lot of it has to do with the feeling of being helpless.  Something major just happened in the world, and more likely than not, we have no direct way to make a change.  So we turn to our friends and colleagues, or to family, or to social media.  We proclaim our points of view, snarl at these friends and family, and turn our backs on people who don't share our viewpoints.  Perhaps this makes us feel less helpless.  At least we're doing something, right?

But we're not helpless, even if we are thousands of miles away from the horrible things going on in the world.  There is something completely unoriginal yet surprisingly difficult, that we can do, something that will change the world…

… oh, and by the way, we can do it at no cost!  

Be kind.

Seriously, that's it.  

Be kind to everyone.  And not just the "smirk" and say "hey" to a cashier kind of kind.  Go out of your way to make someone happy today.  I'm not the first person to suggest this, but I'm seeing a lot of folks who are not being kind… which is why we all need a reminder.  

So there's this thing called the "Golden Rule" right?  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Not a fan.  

Seriously, I'm going to come right out and say that I'm not a fan of the Golden Rule.  But give me a second to explain.  

In this day and age I think we need to go beyond the Golden Rule.  The Golden Rule is a terrible goal line.  No one is perfect, so even if you try to follow the Golden Rule 95% of the way, there's this 5% gap.  Ultimately you are treating people 5% less than you'd like to be treated yourself.  

Do the math.  Or don't do the math, this is more or less just an analogy.  I'll take suggestions for better comparisons.  But I'm getting away from the point.

Platinum is worth more than gold… I learned this by playing Dungeons & Dragons.  So I propose a new rule… the Platinum Rule.  "Treat your fellow humans better than you'd like to be treated yourself."  See that word "better" that I added in there?  I like the sound of that one.  Or perhaps, "Treat everyone around you 150% better than you'd like to be treated."  See, that one has a number, so maybe its a better target.  

Let's all try this today.  Not tomorrow, because tomorrow is always too late.  Also, since its always today and never tomorrow, tomorrow technically doesn't exist…

… mind blown, right?

If you are kind to someone, they will be more inclined to be kind to someone, and then they will be more inclined to be kind to someone, and so on and so forth.  It's like that quarter-drop game at the Wildwood, New Jersey boardwalk.  You drop a quarter hoping that it pushes another that pushes another and you get cheap tickets that you can trade for cheap prizes…

… but with the Platinum Rule you don't get cheap prizes… 

… you make a positive impact on someone else's life.