"The Big Stuff": Major themes, design approach and choices
This post will deal with the major design ideas for the game. But it also tries to describe the process, and reasoning that led to them. As I'm unsure of what may interest you more, I put everything in their own sections, with spoilers:
- At first defining the core ideas, using aspects. A useful tool to focus on what's important.
- Secondly I'll give a rough sketch of how I imagine the game to go.
- Next I detail various sources of inspiration, along with some of the seed thoughts for the campaign.
- I then discuss "the 8 aesthetics of play", the relevant aesthetics in the campaign design, and how I intend to bring them about.
- I then touch on specific game design elements: Choice of system, choosing P6, Mysteries, and more...
Defining the campaign's core ideas:
SpoilerSo what is the game about? Well, a lot of stuff, but I will be using an idea from the FATE core rules system- Aspects, to help define the game. Not for their mechanical features, (No need to know the FATE core system), but rather it's meaning. An aspect basically means a short but concise summary of an idea. What's important about it. It helps to put emphasis on what MATTERS. As a DM, it helps me focus on the core and most important essential of an idea, before getting lost in detail and minutiae.
So, if I had to define in one sentence the entire Nature of The Beast Campaign, I guess it would be:
Nature of The Beast- A contained sandbox P6 game, set in Eberron's past, on the fringes of civilization, focused on dealing with the mystery and threat of Lycanthropy.
(Ok, so it's not THAT short and concise, but will do for now. )
To break it down in short, before getting to the why and how:
- A contained sandbox: The campaign, while played as a sandbox (Players drive the game, their choices, no set plot), it is also contained- contained to a specific region, to a specific time frame, with some limits on player's options.
- P6: The campaign will use the E6 concept (Basically, characters get up to 6th level, but from then on only gain feats), but with the Pathfinder rules. This greatly affect the sort of tone for the campaign.
- Eberron's past: The setting is Eberron, but not in the setting's default start time (998YK), but rather about 170 years in the past, a few years before the Silver Purge. (Around 830 YK). This changes some basic concepts about the setting (Before the Last War, before changes in dragon marked houses, before the Warforged, to name a few...).
- On the fringes of civilization: The region the campaign will take place is the western parts of Breland, what is known in the default time line as Droaam. Though claimed by The Galifar Empire, the area is mostly savage (It got the nickname "land of monsters" for a reason). The place boasts a few bastions of civilization, surrounded by a great expanse of wilderness, and more savage cultures and species (Gnolls, ogre, giants and more). This too, is a major theme and component of what the campaign will be about.
- The mystery and threat of Lycanthropy: Lycanthropy was a major force in Eberron's past. In the established time line, a short time after the start of the campaign, lycanthropy was seen as a major threat, and a crusade by the religion known as The Silver Flame came to wipe out the threat. This campaign deals with the period PRIOR to that. The campaign wishes to raise some moral, ethical and "practical philosophical" questions and dilemmas. Lycanthropy will be dealt differently than in the standard D&D/ PF material. (I will get to that later).
These are the core ideas. It focuses both me, the players, and you readers (Hopefully), and the core issues I'll deal with, and the main feel for the campaign. Having to define complex and big ideas using an aspect, (Sort to speak) is a great tool for focusing on what MATTERS. I will use it more in the future, for NPCs, locations and more.
How do I imagine the game to work out? Game's basic expectations and "plan"
Spoiler- Pre-game/ "Session 0": The players go over the wiki (Which will have both flavor and mechanics info, as well as expectations) and plan characters with me and the group together. The PCs are expected to be tied to the region (Most of them at last. I know that one of my players dislike heavy backgrounds, there will be an option for him for... simpler stuff). The PCs have lived in the main town or the smaller settlements. Part of the process will be to choose/ create connections in the setting (I will describe this later). These can be useful assets in the game, as well as tie-ins and plot hooks. Another major part of the process is to establish some level of the PCs knowing each other. Lastly, we shall discuss some PCs goals. Pursuing these goals and achieving them will be rewarded (Something similar to XP. I'll detail later). The emphasis on making the connection and personal goals mechanics rewarding, is to enhance players' pro-activeness, immersion and the sense of belonging and caring for the place.
- At the start of the game/ First few sessions: There will be A few more immediate concerns (A sort of "gold rush" situation, where a new resource has been discovered, which draws many opportunists, whose exploit also threaten to disrupt the tense cease fire with the wild tribes). On this situation there will be various plot hooks. Some of these neutral, some of them involving factions in the region, some of them will be tailored during the character creation to progress their goals. The main idea behind this is to get the party to get to know and experience some of the setting "first hand", and the feel of their main settlement, as well as a bit of exploring nearby.
- Medium and major factions plans kicking into play: After they get their feet wet, depending on their tastes and interests, I will try to move along the plans of some factions. Medium factions plans will probably be more prominent, while major, more secretive factions plans and actions may be harder to spot. I do intend to have some of the plans of the Lycanthropes faction come into play, as this is the major conflict the campaign seeks to explore, and the main unavoidable threat. This campaign section's main purpose is to introduce the PCs to the notion of "There are bigger things happening", set some initial relations with factions and groups, and develop the characters and their goals in the campaign further. As part of it, they will probably explore farther, into more major adventure sites, as well as race/ battle against the other factions proactive measures. A living world.
I imagine that by the end of this part, they will be close to 5th or 6th level, or their "Epic P" status.
- Development: I can't really say what will happen from here on... The players and PCs re supposed to be quite involved in the campaign, have their own interests, allies, enemies, and things they wish to explore, build upon, and so on... We'll run it from there. Ideally, their conflicts with factions/ explorations and so on, would lead to several climaxes, between which there will be more exploration, maneuvering, and build up. But... that's up to the players and me reacting as the world's forces. I don't have any set ending, just ambitions and drives for the various forces.
- Shocks/ "Shuffling the deck": If the campaign get a bit "stuck", or the players succeed or fail spectacularly, I intend to put in "Shock elements"- Events that deliver shock through the campaign, and make everyone think again- A major NPC dies, A new power enters, or a major power gets eliminated. And so on...
Inspirations for Nature of The Beast:
SpoilerFirst of all, Since this has been brewing for a long time in my mind, I may have forgotten some sources of inspiration. I never said I do anything that original, but rather mix and mash other ideas interestingly. But thinking about this log, I thought it would be important to try and look back at what inspired some ideas, and see how they developed, mutated, and what final form they will take.
1. What can change the nature of a man? A long time ago came a computer game, called Planescape Torment. The game has fantastic flavor, exploration, room for expression and it was one of the best gaming experiences I've had, from computer games. The game asks one main question, which is a repeating theme- "What can change the nature of a man?" In the game you meet past "personalities" of yourself, and can choose quite openly who and what you'll become. It raises some interesting philosophical questions, but the main answer to that question, in the end, is the one that you make for yourself...
I guess that stayed with me, subconsciously, for quite some time. I wanted to make a game that challenges the party, both at players level and at PCs level, about the party's personalities. I (And many of my players) have often been drawn to expression of their characters personalities, and some of our best moments happened in events/ scenes that posed quite difficult questions, with no clear answer, that the players and characters answered for themselves. No set answer... no "true' answer, nothing definite, but that doesn't mean it's less powerful or meaningful. But what sort of a question? (On a side note: If you haven't played the game- Play it! Seriously! Phenomenal game!)
2. Lycanthropy: When I first came upon the idea of werewolves, were creatures, lycanthropes in RPGs, I found it intriguing that by the default rules, the "affliction" changes the soul/ nature/ spirit/ alignment of the afflicted. So this wasn't just a matter of a physical change, but also that of change of one's... self? One's own core? Now, while D&D doesn't much delve into that, and treat lycanthropy fairly simplistically, I wondered if there are other views.
And they are- if from myth, from other RPGs (WoD and more), and so on... I was fascinated by the idea of an outer influence that also changes/ morphs the person. And there seemed to be more mystery and conflicted opinions about this, than agreement (As is the case with many myths). I wanted to explore it. But how? In what setting? I kind of forgot about this for awhile, till I started reading about...
3. Eberron's Silver Purge+ "Shades of grey": I am a fan of Eberron, I especially like the "shades of grey" approach to morality in it, that very little is black or white/ good or evil... Even the gods themselves are open to interpretation, and no one really knows if they exist- The religions are a matter of belief, similar to our own world in that respect. Sot groups, philosophies and approaches have better and worse qualities, they are quite... complex and intricate. I liked that, and need that for the tone of campaign, and exploration, that I wanted to build and play.
In Eberron there is a period called The Silver Purge, in which due to growing menace of the lycantrhopic spread, a crusade was declared against them. The crusade was long, and made more difficult by the difficulty to actually identify lycanthropes. A lot of the shifters population (An Eberron race descendant from lycantrhopes, but not suffering from the full force of the disease) suffered greatly at the hands of the Purge. There have been... many opinions, both in game and on various forums, about whether the crusade had stopped a fast spreading threat that was endangering all known lands, versus it being mostly an atrocity of massacres. I like to think that it, as with all of Eberron, is comprised of shades of grey, but mostly very, very, very difficult choices for the people on the field. Upon reading Fatihs of Eberron (The best book dealing with religions in a fantasy setting that I've found) I quite liked the following pic, that came ingrained an inspiration, for the sort of atmosphere I was aiming at. (Also, you if you want to learn a bit more, you can look up this small article. (I may bring other discussions and such while discussing the campaign on other sections)
Spoiler: Picture of The Purge from Faiths of Eberron
So... I wanted to have the party be involved in the situation where lycanthropes are a threat, but to what extent do you fight it? If it is so hard finding out who's a lycanthrope and who isn't, whom can you trust? What if yourself? In your efforts to stem the plague, of which you know little about, but which seem to change people, and it spread in secret, how do you fight it? And what if you find some can control themselves? And some can't? What, and Who, will you risk? How far will you go? What compromises will you make? What is the price?
The campaign's name- "Nature of The Beast", refers to many aspects of this time, and it's many moral conflicts- the nature of Lycanthropy (after my changes), and how it changes people, how it changes society, how it changes the PCs, war, and more... It is my hope that the game will reflect the many dilemmas, struggles and choices made. I have no answer of my own. I hope we'll find our own answer, in this game, one that may or may not suit us...
An important note! Though I play in Eberron's past, I do not, by any case, intend to "follow the canon history". If the players screw with it and take it in an entire different direction, so be it. It's just a starting point, but I'm VERY willing to diverge from the source.
4. That "Home town" feel: At first I thought to throw the players and their PCs straight into the crusade. But this posed 2 problems: First, they were most liikely at the start on this side or another, which takes some agency, and some of the edge, their choices. Secondly- Why would they care? Yes, the players can write some sob story of that sort or another in their background, but most likely they'll lack any more involved emotional investment. So I struggled with this, till I came upon Buffy (I tend to watch a lot of well known media material well after it aired. I get very little TV/ film time, due to RL. Heck, I haven't yet seen Game of Thrones. )
In Buffy (And probably similar shows) I quite liked three themes-:
- The first was the interconnections, struggles and changes within the core group of protagonists, but I was fairly sure my players will handle that, given enough opportunity and engaging situations.
- The second and very important feature was that it was all based in Sunnydale- season after season, it built upon the same place, the same NPCs, a history... The place enabled the PCs to get connected to the place, to people, and so on... They had ROOTS, they CARED about stuff there (To a degree). They made CONNECTIONS, which were felt...
- The third was that though each season had it's own antagonist, and a "main threat/ plot/ baddie to deal with", there were enough breaks for personal goals, "side quests" and other exploration. As such, it didn't focus solely on the end goal, but took enough "detours" along the way, which gave it great pacing.
And so, I decided to not start in the crusade, but rather focus the game on the time preceding it, when the lycanthropic menace was still mostly unknown, but started to become a problem, and to focus the PCs as part of a single region, and be part of the community there.
There will be one main town/ city, with a few other more minor settlements, and a single region to explore (No jumping "on the red line" to far reaching locations, such as Sarlona, Xen'dric, The Mror Holds, Demon Wastes and so on). This goes somewhat against the Eberron feel, but I feel it is essential for the campaign. the players will help create some of the places/ NPCs in their settlement, they will most likely make their own projects (And will be rewarded for them) in this region, have plans, goals and ties to the region and people within it.
I am not sure we'll go into the actual crusade and the Purge itself (If it comes to that)... The campaign might focus entirely on the time before it, or lead to it (There will be forces who's natural plans and progression will definitely lead to that eventuality). Will we lay the start of the actual purge? Not yet sure... to be decided. It will shift the themes and focus of the game quite drastically...
Yes, I'm leaving some options for players who want to be less involved, but having connections in the region will also benefit those who have them, and I think will lead to greater player involvement, and better play.
As the threat will take time to loom and gather, and will require quite a bit of exploration to tackle, I hope this will give the players enough time to explore venues not directly involved to the main threat.
5. Deadwood- The western town: Another excellent series, dealing with a sort of grittier "Wild west" setting. (Not an exact description, but will do). I very much intend the campaign to fill "on the verge of civilization", where the party is on the edge of the wild... (In this case- Western Breland, or future Droaam). The main settlement will be big, but not overly big, and things are smaller scale than the big capitols of the nations. This enables the PCs to know the major players sooner, more intimately, and have more impact on matters, as well as grant a feeling of "Danger zone- be alert!" As a lot of the game will feature exploration, a region of dangerous wild is necessary, and future Droaam features enough danger...
6. Star Control II- The Ur Quan Masters": Another ancient game, but a spectacular one, which involves a huge amount of exploration, done right. I've discussed it a bit in the "Why Hexcrawling?" thread by Yora, and may touch upon it again in the appropriate section. (If interested, you can check out The excellent fan remake of the game here)
7. Task based adventures: Another thread by Yora, which suggested quite an interesting approach, which I will adopt in my design for this contained Sandbox. I will touch upon that later as well...
8. Red Hand of Doom: I never got to actually play or GM this module, but have read sufficient campaign logs of it, as well s some of the handbook for it. The campaign introduced (At least to my knowing) the concepts of a time line for the enemy, a plan, and re precautions of the PCs. It is, in itself, a semi- contained sandbox, and I'll probably implement the time line and time pressure concept from the plans of the major factions.
9. The West Marches experiment by Ars Ludi: A game focused on exploration and danger. I'm using some of it's elements 9not all of them, but some) to plan out the wild regions that will be explored by the PCs.
What sort of game style does the campaign caters to? Or "The 8 Aesthetics of play" in my campaign
SpoilerA few months ago someone mentioned this game design concept on a thread (Unfortunately I forgot where). This intrigued me, and so I began reading about this concept, applying some ideas to my games analysis, and to approaching the design of this campaign as well. Basically, the concept says that there are some core aesthetics, sort of "gaming experiences", that different players like or dislike in certain games, and that different games offer different aesthetics. Many choices and/or problems with systems/ house rules/ gaming groups/ DMs/ Players/ Adventures/ Campaigns and so on can be better understood when thinking of aesthetics. It sure helped me understand my group better. So, with that in mind, I was thinking of what aesthetics my game will appeal to, and what not. And would they suit my group?
I suggest checking out the following for more info, if you're interested:
Spoiler: Articles about the 8 aesthetics
Spoiler: Nature of The Beast AestheticsUpon contemplating, the campaign will focus on 4 aesthetics (This is already a tall order): Expression, Exploration, Fantays & Challenge.
Expression: Probably the biggest one.
Spoiler- First, the very questions the game deals with are about difficult choices, morals, philosophies and such.
- Secondly, since there is no set plot, no set ending, and I just set the powers in the regions, and let the PCs handle/ change/ screw with them as they wish, then their actions MATTER, and will change the region, for better or worse (Most probably both?)
- Thirdly, he campaign aims to get both players and PCs involved in their region and care for it, along with making ties to NPCs, and forge personal goals (Make a home, a business, join/ make a faction, arise in power, and more) and will reward them for it. (Progression, a bit like XP but different).
- Last, but not least: There is a good chance that some of the PCs might get inflicted with lycanthropy as well. I intend to make the change more complicated than the D&D/ PF does, and it will involve a great deal of choices and struggle by the player, a transformation, and not a simple one (Most likely), but one that is greatly influenced by the PC itself, and their personality.
Exploration: Also a big one.
Spoiler- The campaign will hold a lot of mysteries (There will even be a "Mystery" mechanic of sort, which I'll explain alter on), Some of them complex, and the PCs may find all of them, part of them, but finding them all are not necessary to play the campaign, though they will reward the players greatly. The main mystery is of course the Lycanthropy (Which as I've said- I've changed), but also secrets of their home town, of major NPCs, of the history of the region, of specific entities and monsters called "Spirits of the land", of secret locations and more. The rewards are of many types- whether gaining a better understanding, leverage, loot, or even "unlocking" powers and options- new feats, prestige classes, powers and options. Some of which the antagonists will look for as well...
- The game will feature hex crawl exploration of the wild, which I'll touch upon later. There will be quite a few destinations for exploring, yet many of them are not "necessary" to play the campaign either.
Fantasy: The most difficult to plan and to run. (Probably)
Spoiler- I aim to make the game consistent, act reliably, and have recurrent, thematic themes, that will grant a feeling of verisimilitude (i think that's how it's called?) and greater immersion within the game. This will come into view in.... basically everything- Planning the geography, the people, the history, the cultures, a lot.
- The game will have some limits on what fits it or not. This applies both to the design of the regions, areas and more, but also to the choices available to the players and PCs. In order to create the "campaign feel", some races, classes and options will be excluded. I've tried something quite similar with a former campaign, where there were a few vastly different cultures in conflict, and each culture has it's own choices (Some of them overlapped) which enhanced the feel of the campaign greatly.
"But what if I want to play X, and X isn't allowed?" you may ask. Well, this will be discussed with the players way before the game, when explaining what the game is about, expectations, and the campaign rules (Will be in the wiki, once I get to it).
Doesn't this contradict "Expression"? Well, to a degree it does, but I think there will be plenty of room for expression within the frame and limits of the campaign.
- The world moves. The world changes, and it does not solely revolve around the PCs (Though they will matter greatly... hopefully). Each faction will have their plans, and unless hindered, they will progress as planned. Places change, people change, and the world both reacts to the PCs actions, and initiates actions on their own. It is very possible to come to a location that was visited by another faction and find it has been robbed of that precious loot the party was after, or find that a faction they've thought was not dangerous, is now very, very dangerous...
- Using P6 (A pathfinder version of the E6 rules): In D&D/ Pathfinder the leveling is usually very fast, and the PCs are shooting stars, that quickly unbalance their region, and have to keep moving to significantly tougher threats, often making previous threats laughable, and insignificant. This cannot work in a campaign that might run for quite some time, and need to keep some of the original threat still in place. Sure, a level 6 may not fear 1-2 gnolls, but a group of 10-15 gnolls is still something to be weary about. The Entire gnoll tribes would not be curb stomped as you reach level 12-13 half a year after the campaign started. It is essential to keep the game world feel fairly balanced, and the same region still dangerous.
Challenge: The joining aesthetic of our group.
SpoilerNow, my players have varied interests in terms of aesthetics, but if there is one aesthetic that is important to all of them, and that gets them thrilled, it's Challenge- To overcome obstacles, without "fudging/ adjusting/ saving dice" by the GM, to face an obstacle, and overcome it using their choices, wits, plans and more. For our group it's great fun. We've had some experience with that in prior campaigns, and I'll be using some of what I did there, but will add a few more things:
- As there is no plot, no end scene, I am fully prepared (And will let the players know), that failure, in parts or at the entire campaign, is perfect ably acceptable.
- "Players roll all the dice" house rule. We've been using it for many years now. I've discussed it on previous campaign logs, and will discuss it under the appropriate section. Mechanically, it had the single best effect on our games, and fits the aesthetic well.
- Not everything (In fact I think fairly few things) will be CR/ Level appropriate. Regions and places have their own dangers, and will not change just to suit the PCs. Info gathering, planning, and such will be major in success, not just "Jumping in" and expecting things to fit. I will be using some of the West Marches design by Ars Ludi to note either make the really tough places hard to reach or well known for being dangerous, but other than that it's up to the PCs.
- P6 enforces this Aesthetic as well: By limiting somewhat the meteorite rise of power, challenges are not met by "be more powerful" only tactic, but often require more clever, more tactful use of resources, allies, options and more. If you know a CR 12 dragon is guarding a place, you can't just say "Oh, we'll wait to level a few more levels". Now, You have to think about what you do.
- Some challenges are beyond just brute force/ killing everything. If the stone giants tribe of 40+ stone giants is angry with your place, facing them directly in battle may not be wise. Better think of other solutions.
- As the factions are "alive", react and initiate, this calls for another level of Challenge, which lacks from many "passive" enemy adventure designs.
What aesthetics does it not fit?
SpoilerAS the players guide the play, and with a lot of possibilities for failure, changing pace, direction and so on, maintaining a "proper" narrative structure (A beginning, middle, end and so on), is quite difficult. Most likely it won't be possible. For narrative there needs to be a certain amount of control, which I've purposefully receded to the players. It's not that the narrative aesthetic is impossible, but the campaign structure won't support it. If it will rise, it would be mostly due to how the players develop their story.
This worries me as at least one of my players does have a narrativistic desire, and many times so do I...
SpoilerThe campaign structure is awful for that. It requires a lot of planning, adjusting, and most importantly- player initiative and pro activeness...
Aesthetics that are fairly neutral:
SpoilerAs this is Pathfinder still, where the basic assumption is that you form a group that needs to work together to accomplish goals, the Fellowship aesthetic is supported by the system. That said, Nothing in the campaign structure itself will especially support it. There might be conflicts within the party (My group tends to have some on most campaigns, though not lethal ones), PCs could split, hiring/ allying with NPCs to fill roles (For example, if they are on time pressure, and seek to explore two sites at once). But the campaign doesn't hinder Fellowship either. This too I leave for the group.
SpoilerYes, there will be a map (Or maps?), which are in themselves an element of the sensory aesthetics. And yes, I will most likely add some music tracks for various regions/ places/ enemies (Those who've read my journals probably know that by now), and I might even find an artist to sketch some of the major NPCs/ locations/ items. But... the campaign does not focus on that, and can do well without it as well. There will be sensorial touches, but not as a major theme or investment.
Notable design issues and choices
SpoilerBy this point, if you've read the previous sections, many of the reasons for the broad themes of design have been touched. I will explain on a few more, and perhaps expand a bit on others:
1. Choosing a system- Pathfinder:
Why Pathfinder? Well, this is two part question- why the specific system, and why not others? Some of the reasons:
- Familiarity: My players already know it and the basic concept of the d20s system. This enables an focusing more on the play, and less upon learning the system. Besides, at our ages and time constraints, trying yet another system is a hassle. The campaign already has enough to deal with, I want the system itself to be easy and familiar.
- The PFSRD: All of us play with laptops. And frankly- The PFSRD makes using the system so much easier, simpler, and fun. Connections, interconnections, instead of pouring and looking through the myriad of the 3.5 books. A rules question? A simple search finds the answer.
- Why not 3.P? Well, the PFSRD (the 3.5 SRD is not nearly as good) and I prefer not to add similar/ contradicting/ confusing rules. (Wait, which version of power attack are we using? Wait, are undead vulnerable to SA or not?) Yes, I could do a list of house rules to say what we use from where, but I think it's more of a hassle than a benefit. Single, easy to use source. For our group, the options in PF are way more than enough.
- Customization: Both from the point of variant rule systems, to the customization of PCs, NPCs, monsters and challenges. The system is broad enough to enable us to expand what we want, and disregard what we don't.
2. Why P6?
Or in other words: Why not continue leveling?
- Keep the theme of the game, for a long time: I've touched upon this in the aesthetics, but with the meteoric rise of power in PF/ D&D, the very theme/ type of the game changes as the power levels increase. P6 keeps the progression slower, and limits severely some options that would severely disrupt the theme and atmosphere of the game. (Either just not enabling, or costing a great price).
- More manageable progression: The last campaign we played was Wrath of The Righteous, and the progression there rocketed. This was true also to previous campaigns that used theD20 systems. At some point it became quite ridiculous, and the players didn't fully even know what powers and capabilities their characters had, nd felt the characters power progressed far faster than their ability to master them, or progression of their character's story and so on. In P6 characters still progress, but after 6th level the progression slows down considerably, and then not"Over the board"- HP, saves, spells, feats and more, but rather by feats. The campaign will hold a few rewards that can increase power as well (In the form of connections, PRC option, powers, items and more), but these are gained not simply by "upping a level", but rather by very specific accomplishments.
- A different kind of challenge, "Keeping in lethal": In most D20 systems, the system encourages fights as the main default "conflict resolution", and many times that involves straight up fight. (Most challenges are CR tailored). Yet in the P6, one of the basic assumptions is that the PCs are still threatened by lower level threats (A big group of gnolls can still pose threat), and that soem challenges my require quite lot of planning, resource gathering, and "out of the box" solutions. (A CR 12 dragon is not something to just charge into, when you're mostly about level 6).
- Still mortal, and needing mortals: In many game worlds in the d20 systems (And Eberron in particular), at a certain power level the PCs are so far above the normal populace, that they become distant from them, and can mostly interact with others in their (Very limited) league, with the challenges they face. The PCs are at many times "The only ones!" that can save the situation, but they usually can rely on very few NPCs, if at all, to aid them, simply dude to the threat level. But in P6, even though they might be 6th level, they can still gain substantial aid even from low level NPCs, and that can strengthen the connections, and community interactions, which the campaign wishes to build.
3. A "Contained Sandbox?" Why contain it?
There have been very heated discussion about Player agency, railroading, their definitions and more. One might argue that by limiting the campaign to this specific region, that I'm infringing on player autonomy and freedom. I disagree, for the following reasons:
- Still plenty to do! First, the campaign will still have LOTS of things to do it. And the players will know the frame/ boundaries of the game, and as such they can prepare for them accordingly. I once heard a definition of railroading which I quite liked, and adopted: "Railroading isn't saying "There is a wall that way", but saying "there are walls everywhere but THAT way." There is still plenty of players agency, and they can try whatever they want within the initial campaign premise.
- End scene? What end scene? Railroading players usually stems from having a preconceived "end point/ result" for their actions, and forcibly trying to steer them towards it. Yes, I may have ides for locations, plans, actions of factions and adventures, but I've intentionally and pre emptively chosen to not attach to those, and be willing to throw them out, if they players do something that steers in another direction. I greatly enjoy when the players surprise me and take the story to a wholly unexpected direction. I don't know what the story will be, I'm playing with them, to find out!
- Grounding point:Providing a theme, and some boundaries, provides an anchor, and help coordinate some expectations, and a common understanding. It also helps to enhance the Fantasy esthetics. If the players know they will play in this region, with this and that level of technological and magical possibilities, and so on, it helps them define and fit their characters and actions to fir the game better, and provide a more satisfying experience for all.
- Pre game/ Sessions 0: lot of the problems with these issues stem from not talking with the players before hand, and clarifying out the frame of the game, enable them to ask questions, and discuss problematic boundaries BEFORE the game even starts. I will be doing that, and it will be it's own part of the design process.
4. Achievements and progression:
If we're discussing P6, I'd like to address character advancement. I'm ditching the classic XP system. Instead, we'll be using "Achievements":
- No XP, not in the normal sense:Instead of XP, the character needs 10-12 achievements points (haven't decided yet) to gain a level (less for epic feats).
- What for? Achievement points (AP) can be gained only for significant stuff: I will touch on that later, but not every bloody battle or such will gain them APs. It needs to be either impressive, risky/ dangerous (At least CR+2), costly (In time, effort, resources and more), or make a big change. These are not just by battles, but also solving mysteries, gaining significant advantages, good plans, and more. Why? To drive the players to be bold, to try for big stuff, in any way they think might provide a memorable and significant gaming experience. Different challenges will reward different amount of achievement points, by a sot of category. I'll touch on this later.
- Personal goals:Achievement points will also be granted for pursuing and achieving personal character or group goals: You manged to create your little organization? You've disgraced your arch rival? You've finally found how to make that secret nectar? You've managed to built your own business? You've married that girl/ boy you were pursuing for so long? Get awarded! And the rewards will be significant.
5. Mysteries and Knowledge skills:
At times, the discussion of "How much can a good knowledge roll reveal?" is asked, usually by the GM who worries that the skill will unravel a great deal of mystery and experiencing the adventures. In my campaign I'll be introducing something I've sort of used in previous campaigns, only unofficially, without calling it by name: The Mystery elements:
- Ain't no rolling stone:Basically mysteries are parts of the game that knowledge skills simply cannot explain by a simple roll. knowledge skills are deemed academic knowledge, what has been discovered so far, yet there are limits to that- Some things have not been discovered or known. In each game I designate specific subjects/ locations/ items and so on as "Mysteries". The knowledge on those is limited, and defined as I plan the Mystery element. The only way of learning about it is by... exploring it, by playign the game. In this game, the obvious example will be Lycanthropy. There will be some knowledge of it at the start, but for the most part, the party will have to solve it. There will be other mysteries (The secrets of the forming rulers, of some power groups, some locations, some cultural aspects).
- Am I not severely limiting Knowledge skills? They will still be very useful. They can still help find oout many enemies abilities, provide info on cultures, places, and more. More than that, while Knowledge skills can't directly find out/ solve a mystery, they would often suggest clues for further investigation. ("Hmmm... A lycanthrope? Damn, I don't know almost anything about it. But... The shifters are descended from them, right? Maybe go ask their chief? And history says tht the ruin of X had carvings of men beasts... perhaps we should check it?")
6. Social interaction and Connections:
The campaign will have lots of potential for social interactions, of many kinds (And my players LOVE them). unfortunately, the D20 social systems are some what lacking. So I'll be using several changes in order to make them into a challenge:
- Different diplomacy system: I'll be using Rich Burlew's diplomacy system. Our group has used it for a few campaigns, and it served us very nicely. Basically you don't alter the NPCs attitude, but rather try and persuade them to do something, with the modifiers coming mostly from two sources: Their attitude towards you, and what you actually offer (Cost vs. benefit). I'll detail on that later.
- Complex interactions: While simple interactions will rely on a single die roll, more complex/ intense/ important social interactions may rely on more. I'll be using something similar to the FATE core contest rules for that.
- Limit on what can be done: In Rich Burlew's system, each level of NPC attitude (They can like you, be your ally, friend, or intimate for example) affects mostly the modifier. But, I may implement also a limit at how much can you ask from a person. Either the limit is absolute, or asking beyond the "attitude/ connection" level may incur greater penalties. (Asking someone who just likes you to fight and die for you probably won't fly, no matter how good you are).
- "Tagging aspects:" Again, from FATE core, each NPC/ issue may have aspects that define what is important about them, for them, and their outlook. (usually 1-3 simple phrases. If important- up to 5). If a PC touches upon such an aspect, it can help them. Not all aspects are known of course. (Say... If they talk to the Sheriff, they might try to hit on his/ her dislike of the foreigners, him wanting to "just keep things calm", or might inadvertently sabotage themselves, revealing they are trying to undermine one of the nobles, who unknown to them has the sheriff on a a secret bribe.)
- An idea burrowed and adjusted from Shadowrun, about Connections: At character creation the player will be able to "Buy" (Using a separate "Point buy" mechanism) connections, either from the existing setting NPCs, or by simply creating them with me. Better connected NPCs, and more loyal/ close/ friendly ones, will cost more. This serves both as useful social resources, but also to connect the party to the setting, increase their immersion and involvement. The connections will be useful!
- Improving connections: will be done through roleplay, with a sort of "connection track", (A bit similar to "leveling" the connection). I'll detail on that later.
- Roleplay or rollplay? The social system seeks to incorporate both flavor and mechanical aspects, to enhance both the Expression, Fantasy and Challenge aesthetics. Though the players will not know all of the modifiers, it is important to us (And for the game), to know that the modifiers DO RELY on some mechanics, and not simply my own adjudication of what I think was the effect. I prefer to rely on rules, that take into account (Even in somewhat broad terms), the various influences in of roleplay, in a numeric way. It enables the players to plan better, know what to expect, and feel that their actions matter. ("You want to persuade him to do what?! I think it's risky. We're not on that good terms with him, and what you offer is as risky as it is beneficial... And we have no idea what he thinks on that issue. We need to change the equation somehow... Either get more on his good side, better the deal, or perhaps... perhaps we should snoop around about him more...")
7. On the fringes of civilization:
Why am I placing the campaign there? Well, for a few reasons:
- Civilization vs. the Wild: The old "Good vs. Evil" conflicts bore me a bit, (I won't be using alignments anyway), but "Law vs Chaos"? Where the party can sort of pick either? it's important to note that I'm not using the (Very lacking) D&D definitions of these terms, but rather the concepts of society vs. individuality, or "the needs of the many" vs. "the needs of the few"... (I think I've read something about this by DMofDarkness... Not sure). How far can society impose on liberties to preserve the needs of the collective population? How far would people go to preserve their individual rights in spite of society's needs?
While the civilized settlements and the wild do not so strictly adhere to either end of this spectrum, and at points blend, they do also collide at times, quite sharply. One one end the settlements at the edge of the Galifar empire, at the other end the wilder, more savage local population of the gnolls, the ogres and more... I think it would make a great contrast, from which a lot can happen, with the lycnthropes seeking to mess things up.
- Danger abounds! The edges of society offers greater danger than more centrally civilized places. Both in town, and in the wild.
- "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, and to boldly go...": Exploration needs an unexplored land, unexplored locations, unexplored secrets.
- PCs as major players: In the frontier, there won't be that many high powered organizations and individuals. Also, far less has been established, and new opportunities, new enterprises, new undertaking are more likely to take root! "When you're in a place where there is nothing, you can do anything!" A fertile land for imaginative PCs.
These are thee big design issues that I thought to touch upon, that will greatly affect the other, more specific, design elements. I hope it was clear enough? Yes, they are so far in broad strokes, but they are quite important none the less, and I hope they gave you (And me!) a better understanding of the core features of the campaign. I'll sum up with the core "aspect" that I described at the beginning:
Nature of The Beast:
A contained sandbox P6 game, set in Eberron's past, on the fringes of civilization, focused on dealing with the mystery and threat of Lycanthropy.
(Time to start detailing the rest! )