24 May

Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk

What?!? Yeah, I know, the last time I posted about what our next fantasy campaign might be, we were voting between Caladon Falls, Hellfrost, and Shaintar. Hellfrost got the cold shoulder from the players in our next round of voting…not because they don’t like it but because they want to try something different. So Caladon Falls and Shaintar were the finalists in our Setting Survivor spoof. The final round of voting resulted in…

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14 May

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

It’s not a frog or Underdog either. Nope, just another reference largely unrelated to this actual post.

As part of our ongoing discussion about a new fantasy campaign, it seemed like a good idea to establish a few definitions for the purposes of our discussion. For example, “high fantasy” is often tossed around but not everyone necessarily shares the same definition of the term. So I laid out a few definitions. None of these are intended to be exhaustive or as the “end all, be all” of a definition. Just some working definitions to help us establish some expectations about our new campaign.

Epic Fantasy: The player characters, although they may start off as “farmboys,” eventually become movers and shakers in the world or, at a minimum, a small part of it. More often than not, the player characters play a significant role in saving the world from destruction and/or the evil machinations of some sort of big, bad guy. A non-epic fantasy campaign would be one of simple survival, greed, or the like. It would lack the world saving or the heroic element.

Everyone wants a heroic, epic type campaign. As that tends to be my preference as well, it is nice that the players feel the same way.

Adventure Path vs Plot Point vs Sandbox. For our purposes, this is essentially a continuum of how structured the plot is going to be in the campaign. At one end is the Adventure Path, epitomized by Paizo’s Adventure Paths, in which one adventure follows another and each is at least partially dependent one what happens in the previous adventures. The player characters typically have to complete specific adventures in particular order because the plot is already scripted out and is dependent upon them doing exactly this. The Plot Point is less structured than the Adventure Path but there is some sort of overarching plot already laid out. Gee, kind of like the Plot Points in many of the Savage Worlds campaign settings and nicely explained here. There is a background story going on that unfolds during the game but the adventures (or even that background story) aren’t already scripted out. The Sandbox has no structured plot or even a background story going on. Instead, the world is simply there for the player characters to explore.

With that crude continuum, I asked each of the players what they’d prefer. No one was interested in an Adventure Path type campaign. One liked the idea of the Sandbox and the other two are keen on the plot point type of approach. This makes me happy. My favorite campaigns have always been ones where there is some sort of background story or plot going on that slowly unfolds but not everything is related to it. Even better are the ones where that background story is driven as much by the actions of the characters as by the general framework or ideas that I’ve established. The Company H campaign pretty much took this tact. Actually, most FRG campaigns are like this…which is why I’m happy that’s what the players picked. It fits my GMing style.

High vs. Low Magic: This refers not to the power or magnitude of magic in a setting but, instead, to the availability or commonality of magic in the setting. In a high magic setting, magic is a fairly common thing regardless of the relative “power” of said magic. In a low magic setting, magic is a relatively rare thing but could still be quite powerful. The Lord of the Rings, for example, is more a relatively low magic setting in comparison lots of other fantasy literature from this definition. Magic is rather rare thing. You can almost count the number of “wizards” in the setting on one hand and the number of magic items on the other (as long as you don’t count all the rings).

In a “higher” magic setting, wizards and other spellcasters are common as are magic items. Most of the typical D&D campaign settings are relatively high magic settings; actually, most fantasy rpg settings are high magic. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, and Eberron are all settings where you can’t shake a stick without hitting a spellcaster or explore a dungeon without finding magic items. A good example of a non-D&D setting that is “high” magic by this definition is Glorantha. Almost everyone can cast spells of one sort or another and magic items, even if not overly powerful, are pretty common.

Two of the players want a more high magic campaign while the third didn’t really have a preference, feeling that the pros and cons of each were pretty much equal. I’m okay with doing either so still all good.

Fantastic vs Realistic Campaign: A fantastic campaign setting is one that has elves, dwarves, and other typical fantasy fare as standard races that can be played (if not even stranger or more fantastic things). A realistic campaign is more like the real world with fantasy elements added on. Player characters are human and the more fantastic races are things of myth or, at the very least, exceptionally rare. In other words, a campaign with demi-humans being both common and playable races or one in which they are rare and, most likely, not playable races.

Everyone wants to play a more fantastic campaign. I’d be good with either so still all good.

Setting vs Campaign Centered: Some campaigns put the setting first and foremost where others put the campaign itself at the forefront with the setting just being something of a backdrop on which to play out the game. A Setting-Centric campaign has a very detailed and rich setting and the players need to have at least some basic knowledge of the setting to play. It is even better if they are well-versed in the setting and characters are expected to be deeply embedded within the setting. A Campaign Centered campaign focuses much more on the PCs and the interactions that they have with NPCs and the various situations/adventures the GM tosses out. The setting is there (or not) but it just provide some flavor. It tends to not be highly detailed and characters often are not deeply embedded within the setting.

Another pretty crude continuum of sorts. All of the players want the campaign to be focused on the campaign but they also want the setting to be important too in terms of providing some context and background (but not to the point where they can get into arguments about the finer points of the setting’s history). Again, fine with me. While I greatly appreciate a well-developed setting, I don’t want one that is so developed that if I make a change (or don’t remember some detail), it will freak out a player because it doesn’t fit “canon.”

So, all of the players seem to largely be on the same page. They want an epic, high magic campaign with many options for races and fantastical elements where the “plot” hasn’t been scripted ahead of time but there is some sort of ongoing “metaplot” that can be influenced by the actions of the player characters and the spotlight is on exactly those actions.

Sounds good to me and all three of the settings that are still in the running (Caladon Falls, Hellfrost, and Shaintar) can be used for such a campaign. πŸ˜‰

13 May

There Can Be Only One…

…or something like that.

Nope, despite the reference, this is not a post about Highlander. Instead, I’m just sharing how our group has been deciding on what future games we’re going to be playing over the summer and, hopefully, into the fall.

I suppose I could have been quite autocratic and dictated what we would be playing but I elected to soften my iron fist with at least a veneer of velvety democracy. I laid out some basic boundaries and then allowed the players to vote for what they want to play.

The boundaries were pretty simple:

  1. we would be using Savage Worlds as the core system;
  2. we’ll be playing a Deadlands campaign (which was an easy sell since our recent, and only, Deadlands session was one of the most enjoyable sessions we’ve had in a long time);
  3. we’ll be switching between Deadlands and a fantasy setting;
  4. and there are five options for the fantasy setting (all published settings for Savage Worlds) which include (in alphabetical order):
    • 50 Fathoms from Pinnacle Entertainment Group
    • Caladon Falls from Savage Mojo;
    • Hellfrost from Triple Ace Games;
    • Shaintar previously from Talisman Studios and sometime to be Reality Blurs (I think)
    • Sundered Skies from Triple Ace Games

We took an elimination approach for voting. In each round, we’d “vote off” one of the settings. For the first round, I provided reviews of each setting from Kurt Weigel of Game Geeks…assuming I could find one…to give a consistent perspective across settings. Hellfrost, Shaintar, and Sundered Skies each had such a review. I couldn’t find one for 50 Fathoms or Caladon so I gave a written review of 50 Fathoms and the video “intro” to Caladon Falls.

Each player then got to vote (myself included) and the results were three votes for kicking out 50 Fathoms and one vote to kick out Caladon Falls. To be fair, my vote was for Caladon Falls and I just rolled a d4 to see which setting was voted out since it was already a unanimous vote from the other players. My vote didn’t really matter and I was happy to see that none of my top choices got the initial axe.

For the next round, I shared the “initial blurbs” for each of the remaining settings…you know, the first few paragraphs from the beginning of each setting book which gives an overview of what the setting is all about. For full disclosure, we’ve all played quite a bit of Hellfrost and so I didn’t need to give a blurb for that.

The voting wasn’t quite as unanimous this time. One player voted to kick out Hellfrost! This player loves Hellfrost but decided it would be nice to try something new. Plus, since this was turning into something of a Survivor spoof, Hellfrost would probaby have already melted away on the tropical island. πŸ˜‰

Two votes were for Sundered Skies. Was there some sort of conspiracy against Triple Ace Games? All three votes were for their settings!!! Sheesh people…where is the love?!? Wiggy even named a town after our group in one of the Hellfrost Region Guides and this is how you thank him?!? πŸ™

I’m just playing with the voters so don’t let this influence any future votes…at least not too much. 😯

Grabbing my trusty d4 again, I rolled and voted to kick out Shaintar. So with two votes against it, Sundered Skies, as one of the players put it, failed to take off with the group and got the boot.

Again, my top choice(s) survived the cut which, of course, continues to make me happy.

For our third round of voting, I have provided sample characters for Shaintar (Heroic Archetypes which used to be a free download at RPGNow but I can’t see to find there now) and Caladon Falls (The Milltown Irregulars freebie from the Savage Mojo website). Again, we’ve all seen characters from Hellfrost (a few players have played more than one character due to deaths) and so we’ve got a good idea of what they’re like already. The players have also had the opportunity to take a look at the first chapter of Shaintar and the first part of the Caladon Falls Player’s Guide. Oh, I also shared the Travelogue of Tavish Thorne…a piece of free fiction from Savage Mojo for Caladon Falls available from DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. They’ve all read the Hellfrost Player’s Guide previously as well.

Voting for the third round hasn’t finished yet. Hopefully, we’ll wrap it up by the end of the weekend. I’ve got my fingers crossed that my favorite(s) is/are still around…no one likes a pouting GM after all. πŸ˜‰

I’ve enjoyed the process so far and I’ll post the third round results next week.