Campaign Report 3: Exploration & Narrative Railroading

Hey, folks! It’s been about a month since our last campaign update, and I’ve got four sessions to recap as a result. That’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to break this up into two posts. Expect a follow-up later this week. A lot has happened for the PCs, and as a GM I’ve done some good and some bad things, all worth talking about. I don’t want to skimp on too many details!

Anyways, let’s talk about exploration—and bad GMing.

Recap

For those keeping track at home, I’ve written about three sessions so far. Here’s a recap of the next two.

Session 4

Ball's Pyramid (North)So after exploring the ancient monastery and clearing it out, the various colonists moved in (somewhat) and started settling down in earnest. After a day or two of helping with various chores, the PCs decided to explore and try to find an easy way to the top of the cliffs they had settled in front of. They went south, following the coastline, and found a sizable bay there that might one day be a good harbor, though the current colony location is a bit far away to use it themselves. In the distance, well to the south-south-east, they also spotted a sharp, solitary spire of rock jutting out of the ocean. (The picture I sent them to illustrate this was of Bell’s Pyramid, a pretty amazing natural wonder in the ocean between Australia and New Zealand.)

After about half a day of travel, they eventually found a place where they could get up the cliff face. They found a sub-tropical forest at the top, along with a few high places they could get a better view of the inland terrain from. That gave them a glimpse of a bit more geography—a tall, volcanic mountain in the distance, a plateau sloping away from them … and a thin, barely-visible plume of smoke rising in the distance to the west of them, suggesting that someone might live there.

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Episode 94 – Epic Monsters 1


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Grant and Peter are back with a whole host of things to talk about! We start with a bit about the Pugmire campaign Grant just started playing in. Then we answer a surprisingly tricky question from Patreon backer Jim Nanban, who asks us for our “elevator pitch” for RPGs as a hobby. We remind everyone that Save Against Fear 2016 is coming up very quickly (and that you should go if at all possible!) And finally, we reach our main topic: Epic monsters. What do we mean by an “epic monster”? What role can and should they play in your campaign? Why do they sometimes fall flat? And what little tricks and additional details can you add in to really make them stand out to your players? And most importantly, what’s the best story about an epic monster from your own gaming career?

Mentioned in this episode:

Scripture: Job 3:8, Revelation 13:1


Unfinished Stories 2

Listeners to the podcast have probably sussed out that I enjoy digital RPGs about as much as tabletop ones, albeit in a different way.  Some of the first games I ever played on a computer were the old Sierra King’s Quest games, and in particular, the third entry in that series sticks with me. In King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human, you play an older teenage boy named Gwydion as he seeks to survive and ultimately escape from his captivity to the cruel and vastly more powerful wizard Manannan. I remember many evenings of wracking my brain as Gwydion, sneaking around, trying to amass the components necessary to turn my evil master into something less threatening, and once I finally managed that task, the story felt complete to me. And that wasn’t even a proper RPG, but a text-based adventure game.

From what I understand, there’s a fair bit of game left after you turn Manannan into a cat and escape, but I never really pushed myself to see it. That has happened many more times over the years, and the fragments of unfinished stories, both interactive and non-interactive, both digital and tabletop now form something of a metaphorical trail behind me. There’s my paladin/detective in service to a neutral good death god whose tale of investigating a mysteriously-immortal noble class (and the implied sinister forces behind it) in his world will never be told. There’s my Pillars of Eternity party, stuck on a late-game dragon fight I could never get past. My poor courier in Fallout: New Vegas was stranded in a deathclaw-infested part of the Lonesome Road DLC the last time I played it. There’s a party of GURPS 3e characters in a fantasy alternate history setting that I ran that never discovered that one of their number’s arranged fiance was an ocean-spanning crime boss. My playthrough of The Witcher 3 is stopped before either of the DLC packages start. I’ve got about a third of Hyperion and about a third of Night Watch to read, and haven’t been back. I still haven’t watched the final seasons of Flash Point or The Shield. And then there’s our Shadowrun party, who were just starting to make the shift from being entirely mission-focused to a proactive force in their neighborhood when the campaign ran out of gas due to PC paralysis, GM burnout, and The New Shiny.

This trail of unfinished stories is part of why I started my backlog project and yet even that hasn’t seen any progress since May (probably not so coincidentally right around the same time I started my new job). Still, it’s something that tends to gnaw at the back of my mind, and lately I’ve been trying to get to the end of some of those stories, to finish the ones I can so that I only have the ones I can’t left.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that at least one of the most famous and well-known of Jesus’s parables ends on an unresolved cliffhanger! In the parable of the prodigal son, we never do find out whether the old brother eventually relents and joins the party. That’s not the point of the parable, of course, but that doesn’t mean the story is neatly tied off, either. I think perhaps that may even be part of the usefulness story – its sudden ending leaves those who hear it with the lasting knowledge that there’s more to tell, and invites comparison to countless unfinished personal stories.

Which ultimately means even the unfinishable stories have some merit. Our Shadowrun campaign may rise again, the opening part of King’s Quest III remains one of my favorite digital memories, and the wall I hit in Pillars of Eternity has recently inspired me to restart the game from scratch and push through in a more slow and deliberate fashion, savoring the experience as I go rather than charging through to the end. And, in a more concrete sense, I still have time to do better, to tie up my own loose ends and seek or grant forgiveness, to reconnect with people I’ve lost connection with, to find new ways of living out the commandments Jesus left us with.

And when I do finish or even just continue one of these stranded stories, there’s a feeling of satisfaction that’s not always present for ones I punch through on the first go around. Sometimes putting things down for a while just makes them that more enjoyable to pick up. Sometimes the treasure that you lost feels more precious when you find it.

 

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Questions for the reader:

Since this is something I’m sure I’m not alone in, I’m going to conclude this with some direct questions to you.

1. What stories do you have still sitting around in an unfinished state?
2. What use, if any, do you still get out of them?
3. Are there any stories that you’ve decided to leave technically unfinished, but complete enough for you like I did with King’s Quest III?
4. How do you look at those unfinished stories? Do they hang over you, or do you put them aside and move on?


Episode 93: Anti-Heroes


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Grant and Peter handle the first of two topic voted on by Patreon backers: Anti-Heroes. After tackling another great Patreon backer question, the hosts dive in, and as it turns out, this is a more complicated and controversial topic than you might think. The episode covers everything from Biblical figures to Sherlock Holmes to Rincewind to The Punisher with some advice (and cautionary notes) for gaming along the way.

Scripture: Judges 3:15-21, Luke 22:55-61

Links:
Anti-Hero page on tvtropes.org
Save Against Fear 2016
Two Types of Paladin
Episode 25


Campaign Report 2: The Ancient Monastery 1

It’s been a couple of weeks since I updated everyone on the status of our Dungeons & Dragons game. Not to worry, though—there’s been plenty of action to generate both blog posts and episode content. Plus, we’re trying something new by not missing sessions, and I’m pleased to report that this seems to be working surprisingly well!

But seriously: Last week, the party wrapped up the first dungeon crawl of the campaign. This was kind of a major milestone for our gaming group, on both sides of the virtual GM’s screen. My wife had never actually explored a proper ‘dungeon’ before, since she’s relatively new to gaming. I’d put maps together for the Savage Shadowrun we played a while back, but those were mostly floor plans I’d filed the serial numbers off and turned into heist scenarios; this was a properly-gridded dungeon, which the players had no foreknowledge of, and that was a first for our group. And for myself, this was a bit of a personal milestone: My previous D&D game was a terrible Eberron game, where I’d focused so heavily on making pretty maps that I completely neglected to put together a coherent plot. So just by virtue of entering a dungeon at all, we were off to a good start.

Good thing, too.

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Episode 92 – Generalists and Specialists


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Grant’s back from Electric City Comic-Con 2016, and it was fantastic! We recap the show, including some specific people and organizations Grant wanted to specifically call out (check the full notes below for links.) Then Grant and Peter answer a Patreon backer question from Jim, who asks about demonstrating the difficulty of doing the right thing in game without being obvious or annoying about it. Finally, we cover our main topic: A discussion of generalist and specialist characters, with a focus on an issue that came up in the pre-game prep for our current D&D campaign.

Scripture: Exodus 31:1-6, Colossians 3:23-24

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Campaign Report: Supplemental Content: Meet the PCs

Grant floated the idea of doing a post introducing the player characters for our D&D game casually to me in a Facebook message earlier, and any other ideas that were half-formed in my brain immediately got stuffed into a metaphorical drawer. The idea is just too perfect to let go. So, without further ado, the player characters!

(Well, okay, just one quick ado. A word from Grant on stats: We rolled stats since that “felt more like D&D”, using the “4d6, drop lowest” method. Since I don’t mind characters actually being competent, if anyone had two stats less than 10 to start with, I let them re-roll one of those bad stats once more. Dealing with one “bad” stat is a fun little challenge, and it can give a D&D character something unique to remember them by. Dealing with more than that just gets frustrating.)

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Episode 91 – Creating a Moral Universe, Part 2 (with Kris & Katrina Ehrnman-Newton) 2


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(Part Two.) Kris and Katrina Ehrnman-Newton, hosts of the inimitable Gameable Saturday Morning Podcast (and its previous Gameable Pixar and Disney iterations), join us for an episode so monstrously huge we had to make it a two-parter! This time, we’re talking about design considerations for a “moral universe”—the assumptions built into a fictional setting about the consequences and decisions that affect characters’ moral efforts. We start with our Patreon backer question, this time about potential real dangers of gaming. Then across two episodes, we cover the design aspects of a moral universe in great detail, and wrap up talking about the challenges and opportunities these present at the gaming table. Thanks again, Kris and Katrina—we’re looking forward to joining you to talk about Saturday morning cartoons soon!

If you missed the first half of Episode 91, click here to listen to part one.

Katrina previously joined us for Episode 58, “Prophecy”, and Kris joined the three of us for Episode 67, “Breaking Canon”. Grant and Peter have also appeared on the Gameable Saturday Morning Podcast for a bonus episode on The Prince of Egypt.

We hit on a wide and strange variety of other things this episode, including but not limited to: Depression Quest; Genesis 18; Batman; Longmire; The Crow; Mouse Guard; Jessica Jones; fighting hummingbirds; The Care Bears Movie; Sailor Moon; L.A. Confidential; Dogs in the Vineyard; Pillar of Fire; and a May 2016 blog post from Peter, “You Must Be This Treacherous To Ride The Story“. Phew!

Scripture: Genesis 3:22-24, Amos 2:6-7, Matthew 5:44-45


Episode 91 – Creating a Moral Universe, Part 1 (with Kris & Katrina Ehrnman-Newton)


Download this episode (right click and save)

(Part One.) Kris and Katrina Ehrnman-Newton, hosts of the inimitable Gameable Saturday Morning Podcast (and its previous Gameable Pixar and Disney iterations), join us for an episode so monstrously huge we had to make it a two-parter! This time, we’re talking about design considerations for a “moral universe”—the assumptions built into a fictional setting about the consequences and decisions that affect characters’ moral efforts. We start with our Patreon backer question, this time about potential real dangers of gaming. Then across two episodes, we cover the design aspects of a moral universe in great detail, and wrap up talking about the challenges and opportunities these present at the gaming table. Thanks again, Kris and Katrina—we’re looking forward to joining you to talk about Saturday morning cartoons soon!

Once you’re done with this half of Episode 91, click here to listen to part two.

Katrina previously joined us for Episode 58, “Prophecy”, and Kris joined the three of us for Episode 67, “Breaking Canon”. Grant and Peter have also appeared on the Gameable Saturday Morning Podcast for a bonus episode on The Prince of Egypt.

We hit on a wide and strange variety of other things this episode, including but not limited to: Depression Quest; Genesis 18; Batman; Longmire; The Crow; Mouse Guard; Jessica Jones; fighting hummingbirds; The Care Bears Movie; Sailor Moon; L.A. Confidential; Dogs in the Vineyard; Pillar of Fire; and a May 2016 blog post from Peter, “You Must Be This Treacherous To Ride The Story“. Phew!

Scripture: Genesis 3:22-24, Amos 2:6-7, Matthew 5:44-45


Campaign Report 1: Playing Sharks and Daggers 5

Any time I blog instead of Peter, you know it’s gonna get weird. Today, I’m giving everyone a rundown of the first session of our D&D campaign! This game’s been rattling around in my head for years—a game heavily inspired by the Roleplaying Public Radio “New World Campaign”, but tweaked to fit our group and my own sensibilities. I’m also running this in D&D 5e, which is … well, significantly better so far (but I’ll get to that.) I’ll go over the events of the session, and follow that up with an analysis of key GMing moments.

I’m not going to give a rundown of the characters in this session, except a very basic race-and-class. I’ll save character writeups for another time, because they deserve a post all their own.

Recap

I started things off with a bit of narration to set the scene: A colony ship laden with people and goods, about fifteen weeks at sea. It’s en route to a distant archipelago believed to be rich in land, goods, and magic—the last being a rare thing indeed in the “old world”. Unfortunately, this vessel (which I still need to name!) has been separated from its sister ship, and has been driven before a hurricane for several days. It’s just run aground, and the morning light and clearing weather shows that its hull is badly damaged, and that the storm surge and winds have grounded the ship on a low barrier island.

After deliberation and a little scouting, the settlement’s governor and captain decide to unload the ship and, using her longboats and manpower, move to the “mainland” across the lagoon created by the barrier island. There’s a series of sandbars that protect the space between the barrier island and the larger landmass beyond—shallow enough that a man could walk across it in water up to his chest, and with several places only ankle-deep (at least, at low tide.)

I’m leaving out a lot of detail, of course, but that should be enough to set the scene. Enough talk—time for action!

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