Monday, September 28, 2009

The Gathering Storm by Kate Elliott... Part Two!

"You would even teach the common-born folk?" Bertha demanded. (p. 692)

In a pseudo middle ages fantasy role playing game, the assumptions about class and status, outside of the players, are fairly woven into the standards of those eras with a lot of equality spread around.

But what if the players want to push those boundaries? What if they want to make of the campaign something different?

As the old quote goes, "So be it young Jedi."

Let them change things around. Let them showcase new abilities and new methods. Let others come to them to learn. Let them have an active effect on the campaign.

Now in a campaign that has a definate start, middle, and end, that's pretty easy to do. Regardless of what happens, the campaign is going to have some type of ending and the players will be able to look back on that campaign and indicate where they made their mark. In an 'open' campaign that needs to have a certain level of... same old same old, like a television show, you should think long and hard about what the changes the players are trying to make to the campaign will mean.

It's not that the players methods or motivations are wrong, but if it's an open campaign that's going to continue to host characters for long periods of time, what will the long term ramifications be? It's one of the reasons why Marvel and DC, despite having characters smart enough to create interplantary and time travel, still use gas in their cars. The further you get away from the 'root' of the game, the further the 'connection' to the game gets.

On the other hand, it's always fun to take what the players are teaching others and use it against them. One of the best moments of the original Squadron Supreme limited series back in the 80's is when Nighthawk is explaining that the only reason the Utopia project of the Squadron is working, is because the Squaadron is so good. But this machine that they've set up is easily prone to abuse and those that come after the Squad may not be so pure of heart that they can be trusted with so much power.

"If the children hadn't explored here, none of the othersm ight ever have noticed." (p.735)

How are old ruins discovered by those in the 'modern' era? How do old horrors come to light? Often, one old staple is having the characters awaken something that man was not meant to know about. But there are other individuals in the setting whose intentions are far more innocent than the characters. In addition, if the Game Master uses a little elbow grease, he can turn the discovery of such ancient ruins into an adventure in and of itself as the players now have to go and find the children who haven't returned.

"The lapis lazuli ring Baldwin had slipped on his finger winked blue." (p.776)

In this instance, Ivar is about to be attacked by otherworldly elves. However, a ring given to him by a friend glows. The ring may or may not be magical, but the important thing is that the elves recognize it and allow him safe passage.

What are the signs and sigils of the world that people in power recognize? What tokens of friendship pass between kings and nobility? What wizard marks indicate that the bearer of such a mark is not to be triffled with.

When desinging adventurers, have players note elements of those they come across that could be taken as them having some sort of royal protection. Have them receive such gifts and call upon those lords who offered them such friendship in the first place.

"To go against OldMother was beyond him. He bowed his head, knowing he had lost Alain and the hounds. He had failed his brother." (p.876)

Here, Stronghand, a ruler among his people, was set a task, to find Alain, his blood brother. Yet now he has a new mission.

If the party is floundering, give them direction. If they don't know what to do, use a vision, a sign, a divine inspiration, an NPC, something to get them moving again.

And to challenge the party, don't be afraid to throw multiple elements at them at the same time. Throw quests at them that have a limited time frame open to them that are all vital and allow them the decesion of which quests they will follow. By doing so, you'll not only see the party in action, but you'll get a taste for what type of adventurers their more interested in.

There are more passages I could quote but in the end, the Gathering Storm is another huge novel with a huge cast that tries to cast realistic aspirations onto its many characters whil thorwing many hindrances in their way. Game Masters looking to move beyond the world of hack and slash and dungeon crawls should remember to keep the NPC list full and connected to the characters even as they continue to add things that the players enjoy to the game.