Saturday, 22 February 2014

Blight-Thorn Campaign

In the leadup to playing my first game of D&D 4E I thought I may need to prep a starting point for a campaign if we are feeling up to fleshing out our own world. I do have Keep on the Shadowfell and other players/GMs other intro adventures. My idea was to fashion a simple world that would inspire a series of adventures to come. So I have a set of emotive text and then some Out of Character notes as well...


This entire region was once completely covered in a dense forest known simply as the Stone Woods which featured areas dominated by various species of trees, plants and wildlife of every kind. When the old kingdom of Theria was at its height large areas of the forest were cleared, but these patches were hard to maintain and remained constrained to those areas that could be tamed. To watch over the land - a series of huge towers was built to look out over the forest and quickly get word of threats to the main seat of power - the port city of Flagsmarch.
Many of the towers are now ruins or infested with unpleasant forces, yet some stand tall above the canopy still, such as the Tearhold Tower at the Western edge of the Tower Stands.

Tearhold is relatively self-contained and built to protect the residents in dark times. While it can wall up the lower ramps and shift all operations inside, there is a sprawling enterprise of farming, milling, composting and training around the base of the tower. Some people live around the tower, even though they appreciate the protection it offers, they don’t always like the rules that it brings. The main authority in the tower is the Tearhold Warden who appoints and delegates people and groups to various responsibilities.

The party has growing renown and their skills for patrolling and protecting will surely be tested in times to come. Reports have been coming in over the last few months of changes in the forest, creatures fleeing in terror from safe areas. Corruption of the trees themselves is rumoured along with a disease of thorns called BlightThorn by the town crier.

A vast plume of black smoke has been rising from the forest north of Three Pond Grove - a day from the tower by the tracks. The party volunteered to investigate and bring back any useful supplies as usual having not taken this track for several months now.



The BlightThorn disease is rising up from deep in the earth, through the caverns and root systems below. When the corruption takes hold it manifests as dark veins with spiny thorns piercing the bark, scales, hide and flesh.
The Tower has a sealed off dungeon section.
There is a vast network of caves beneath the forest
The city of Flagsmarch is … lost (fallen into the sea), consumed, walled up??
There are many other towers that could hold allies against the threats
The other civilised inhabitants of the forest could run or be wary of contact
Some areas of the Woods are lost to the Blight already
Source isnt known
Cure isnt known.
Infection causes evil tendencies in the being
Transmition is not automatic.
How - flowering stage?, spores, cut by thorns, thorn embed

Friday, 21 February 2014

MultiGM Campaign Inspiration and Logistics

A little sub-group is forming from our tabletop boardgaming cluster to start some roleplaying. Some of the group are old hands and others trying this RPing out for the first time. One of the things we have been looking at is sharing around the GMing duties as we are all keen to do some and it also lessens the load on any one person at the same time.

We are looking at starting with D&D 4E as we love the fantasy setting at it is a good starting point for roleplay gaming on the table. There is a strong desire to try other things as we go along though which may mean other fantasy systems or ventures into Star Wars EotE or FATE.

This is all very exciting and my enthusiasm is nice and high - but that doesnt stop my analytical mind from going to work. Concepts like shared GMing are covered briefly in things like the 4E Dungeons Masters Guide by James Wyatt but they seemed to cop out a little on resolving some of the logistics. So here is my attempt at looking at the idea and some solutions that hopefully could work both for the players and the characters.


So here is Oinkfrog's stab at some
MultiGM Campaign Inspiration & Logistics

I have tried to use some emotive text in these descriptions to get away from this just being about technical solutions. So the more flowery names and descriptions should be taken as inspiration, a way to flavour the specific option to a campaign be it fantasy as these examples are or something else. The best solution will be one that inspires all the players not just solves things. I saw we seemed to have two, call it three things to work out:
Faceted Threat
A world/threat that allows multiple threads to run concurrently by various GMs, that can grow with the party and allow the pieces to wind together for an eventual conclusion. Could have a peril that can generate new and varied threat/s.
Party of GMs
An in-world logic for how the composition of the party changes around (handling the current GM's character). Hopefully without needing to keep track of which PCs know what in a complex way and allowing the composition to change mid journey if needed.
The Shared Home
A place which the party cares for and protects together. The shared NPCs there should ground things and allow for more logical episode transitions.

Invasive BriarThorns
A mutation is spreading like a disease transforming its victims to match its nature. The Tearfall Woods are now a tangles mass of briar thorns, all the trees are twisted and covered in the thorns. The wildlife, bears, spiders and elves that lived there are mutated with the briar burrowing through their flesh and minds.
Corruption of the Stone
Something is happening to a basic element of the world, the corruption not only changes the elements form but slowly turns life that touches the it to evil. The element could be bone, stone, water, fire, metal, wood or blood. The very stone of the world is turned against us, its hate for life is fueled by something unseen and unfriendly.
Shards from the Sky
The meteors are coming more frequently now, ploughing through the atmosphere before thundering into the earth with devastating force. The meteors arent ordinary chunks of rock, they could be tears, crystal shards, bone splinters, golems or seeds. The mystery of their nature and the source must be solved.
Waking of Varthians
The long dead civilisation of Varth is waking up and it was spread all over this land, the culture is seeping through, the personalities and violent events are imposing themselves on the present.
The Portals
Gates are opening between our world and another, this other world is different and the clash is wreaking havoc. Different races, cultures, materials, magic. The gates could be ancient gateways, newly summoned magical portals or violent upwellings that are tears in the normal fabric of our world.

PARTY OF GMs ----------
Staff of Gates
The staff allows the party to portal through one of the special gates in the far off Shadow Mountains. The staff demands that one of the party stay inside the crystal at the top of the staff to ensure the staff's return at the end of the adventure. Thus the GM's character is there and can see everything that happens but cant participate.
The Orb of Eiris
One member of the party stays behind in the tower to safeguard the people there, they are linked to the Orb which follows the party on their adventure - magically relaying what happens back to them. Magical floating CCTV.
Glow Home Lantern
A small magical lantern the light from which is generated by a small glow-imp. Those inside the tiny lantern home can see and hear everything outside, but nothing gets out from the lantern but light. The imp needs to be awake to create light and so a PC needs to 'go inside using the magical handle and keep them company. Perhaps the light protects the party in some way.
Mistlink Cloak
The party is sponsored by the Council of Mist, the leadership of the township. On each mission they demand one party member wear the Mist Cloak at all times. The council monitor the ebb and flow of magic currents through the feymist and the cloak is linked to them. Whoever wears the cloak become insubstantial.
The Playbook
This last one (inspired by the Sami lunch) requires the GM's character to have a well understood way of acting and participating in combat. The character's MO exists as a playbook that helps the rest of the party run the hero as a sort of cool NPC. Ideally the character could have an MO that allows them to take on a secondary role in the group but have all their basic skills, attacks, options and such clearly laid out for the party.
One advantage of this model is the party isnt left with a capability hole - they still have it even if it is at half capacity.

THE SHARED HOME ----------
Village of Halfhill
Your classic fantasy village or town - can be quirky or thematic (lots of dwarves, hidden in the mountains, at an oasis) but is basically a simple place where the heroes are its only hope.
Farlook Tower
A landmark location, the tower or fort is like the town or village but has presence and importance of some sort and perhaps lost history. The tower may be part of a tower network, the fort could hide hidden catacombs. The place has some skilled people as well as the party but will rely heavily on them to bolster its defences and to solve the broader threat.
Fearhold Pass
The location is something of significant strategic importance (passage through the mountains, bridge across the chasm, special mine, ancestral grave site, portal to the great city of High Haven, wall between the realm and the dark wastes. The location can be marked by a fort or a sprawling village that benefits from the location, but it needs defending and the threats will come.
Order of the Glaive
The party are part of or working directly within a highly structured organisation that is the focus of their location. The Knights of Elmfire or the Order of the Glaive etc. The party will have superiors (at least at the start) and slot into a political or military structure. This can be as simple as the city watch or have the grandeur of a brotherhood of monks handing out quests or a noble set of Knights and Paladins who are sworn to protect the land.
The Order of the Glaive can be layered atop the Farlook Tower or Fearhold Pass.
The Majestic
The party calls this vast ship of the line home, its hull and deck sport an array of interesting characters who end up with cargo or duties that bring them adventure. The same logic could apply to a caravan (nomadic village) or a more magical thing (immense transport golem).
The adventurers call the vast city of Goldport home. It is resplendent with guilds, neighbourhoods, lords and the underworld. The party will need allegiance to the city, but more specifically to a smaller piece of it as the factions present will not always agree and the politics of the city will be a significant part of the campaign as the adventurers find their way and are called upon to protect the city from greater and greater threats.

Oh and the image is a quick Photoshop doodle done on the Surface Pro 2 (a cool piece of kit)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Figures on the Table

Before I get into this post a shoutout for the super blogging of friend Mikhail on D&D 4E, revelations, solutions and deep thinkering abound. His Retrospectives on D&D 4E part1 and part2 are gold.


Now, one of the genuinely lovely aspects of tabletop gaming is the physicality. The board, the cards, the tokens, miniatures and dice. The arrangement and tactility of these elements is part of the joy of this game format. Just look at these examples of how the table transforms for us into the game with artwork, models and elements drawing your eye and emotion into the game:

So what does this mean for roleplaying? The current trend is very much towards combat and adventures with no physical tabletop components, to everything resolving in the minds of players. Games may still use some cool dice or a rough map guide as with Star Wars Edge of the Empire, and maybe these two elements are sufficient to keep that tabletop appeal rich enough.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) is an interesting game (keen to play) that brings tactical map-based combat and roleplaying together. As long as all the players (including the GM/s) are up for such a hybrid experience then it can be a wonderful thing. Bringing together the tabletop gaming systematic fun of combat and the sweeping heroic storyline that will grow around the party of singular individuals is a great premise for any game.

Does D&D 4E do these well is clearly open for debate, but one thing it does have is a lovely sense of the table. If people have ok maps, miniatures or other means of representing the various players on field of battle we have a concrete foundation for all the action and the flavour to tie onto. If everyone loves to hear "roll for initiative" then you are onto a great thing!

There seem to be 4 primary ways to represent the key characters on a D&D 4E battlefield, requiring investments of varying degrees.

  1. Miniatures
    Actual physical 3D miniatures like the D&D plastic ones or others from various games. This is the ultimate form, they can look simply wonderful.
  2. Pawns
    Stand-up cardboard figures complete with inspiring artwork of friend and foe.
  3. Tokens
    Have the artwork lying flat and you get tokens, hopefully still with wonderful artwork of course.
  4. Custom
    Many folk use all manner of other elements to represent things from dice to Lego to jelly babies.

Here are some good examples of just how nice the table can become in this format...

As for me, unless I could find a horde of DnD minis super cheap, I think I would probably go for the Pathfinder Pawns as they are kinda stand up and look impressive and I could make custom ones pretty easily.

Check out the Mighty Meeps post on such things as well...
ps. Hero Forge custom miniatures and their kin mark a new way forward for such things. I can see games allowing us to print out our own 3D minis in the future.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Fantasy and media

When I started drafting this post it was a look at the different media (film, tv, comic, novel) and how the high fantasy setting is represented (or not) in these forms. I was looking at the exemplars like the Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Conan the Barbarian, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brave. I thought I had some interesting points about how barren comics are for fantasy content of the chainmail, spells and beasts kind. I had nice examples of things that cross the boundaries like Harry Potter, Spirited Away and Twilight. But the sheer number of examples that started to come to mind on the fringes meant I lost my way as Pirates of the Caribbean, Narnia, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Snow White and the Huntsman, Eragon, Merlin, Robin Hood, 300, Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia, Willow, Troy, Beowulf, Narnia, Van Helsing, Excalibur, Stardust and more all wanted a mention.

Soooo, I decided I would just use the rest of this post instead to a little gallery of images from some of these films/shows to be thankful for the inspiration they do indeed bring for us that like the fantasy genre be it in novel, screen, comic, video game or tabletop adventure. Plus with visual effects now so superbly bringing our beloved superheroes to the screen - I see a great future for fantasy as well (beyond the computer game)...

Monday, 17 February 2014

CryE 3.5.7 and a wonderful house

Earlier in Feb Crytek released CryEngine 3.5.7 to the community to keep doing the amazing things they do. This new release adds a few more things to the kit of parts, but nothing too dramatic. Looking at the Forest level just now, it is still gorgeous.

I am expecting we will see some more amazing work from the first-year Architecture students here at UNSW as they bring some early design concepts to life in the engine.

But the reason for this post is the work of Ryan Benno who crafted this wonderfully detailed and subtly atmospheric house scene for us all to enjoy. Just check out these sample screenshots, there are more on the site... (wish I could run around in there)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Shared Storytelling

I am sure I could find an armada of references to games and improv that rely heavily on the concept of shared storytelling. It is the topic of this blog post because it has been on my mind as we look to fire up our new roleplaying sessions. The traditional vision we have of an author is a lone figure hidden away, hunched over their typewriter surrounded by paper and half-eaten sandwiches.

This concept that writing is a solo venture is reinforced by world of the novel, it is a rare book indeed that has multiple names on the cover. There is a certain (slightly egotistical) appeal to being THE author of a piece of work, other people cant mess it up if you have the only pen. That said, if you have a way to build a story as a partnership or with a group, you have access to ideas from multiple minds. Screenplays seem to more often have multiple contributors, maybe because the movie/stage industries are generally far more collaborative in nature.

That brings me to tabletop roleplaying. Here we have a hobby that brings together a group of friends to participate in a group narrative informed by the players and the GM as things unfold. There is a strong leaning here towards the GM/DM as they need to create new content for the PCs to explore, mysteries to solve and threats to overcome. But any good game of this type relies very heavily on players bringing their own creativity to their characters and the world. The more input the players have, the greater the world becomes - particularly if the GM runs with things. That is an interesting effect and I have participated in a few collaborative world, character and party creation sessions that have been super fun.

What might this mean then for multiple or rotating GMs in a roleplaying game. At first the idea would seem to limit the ability to have a strong coherent plotline or set of threads that are leading somewhere. But maybe that is the exact challenge that would make it all the more fun. You can obviously default back to the 'episodic' game type that is even covered in the D&D GM's Guide (4E p13) - but I feel we could/should aim a little higher - build a logic into the game where the threads are able to evolve as a real world might between the various GMing contributions towards a greater and greater threat the party will need to deal with. The GMs leaving hooks and exposing possibilities that they and/or the other GMs will run with as things progress. Equally having several threads that nobody knows how they all relate yet, but we 'know' there is some common underlying peril that is driving things forward towards a final endgame.

It seems the common way to deal with the GM's character when they are GMing is to have them 'missing' from the adventure. I dont like the narrative implications of this myself and would like to brainstorm with a group some alternative. Off the top of my head we could have a magical solution. Maybe the party has the Staff of Doors which allows them to pass into the Shadow Mouintains. The staff however demands that one player stay inside the crystal at the top so they can return after each adventure. Thus one character is there and can see everything that happens but cant participate.

Before I finish this long ramble, I just wanted to share a campaign concept from quite a few years ago now where our D&D gaming group created an underground monastery that held the brothers, initiates and a population that lived and worked with them in a network of caverns. The quirky array of senior brothers would call upon groups of the more skilled residents to do 'jobs' or 'quests' that would involve going out into the wilderness or defending the lower halls from the dark portals that would open there. Each of us created 2 characters and the players for that 'session' would randomly choose between them to see who the fickle brothers had selected for the mission ahead. This made rotating the GMing fun and playing a mystery each time as well.
There were a few times we had to change the party because there was no brawn and the GM that session really really recommended that the party bring some along. I recall some fun GMing and some fun as a player. When Hexmark my thief/mage died (failed lotsa saves vs an illusionary fireball) it was a sad moment, but I still had my other character for the next session. If I recall at the time we also had the tradition of bringing along one of a pair of clerics as we didnt like just playing the healer. These NPCs were carefully crafted to not need to much input from us as players but were still interesting - they were run by the party collectively. I recall one was a very dim blonde who apart from her healing talents was a complete ditz.

[images are just cool D&D art from the wild internet]