Thursday, January 29, 2009

Campaign Prep Brainstorming

I mentioned in the previous post the two campaigns I've been brainstorming on. The high fantasy one I mentioned is a little easier on the story side than the mechanics side. Once I start looking at doing a straight fantasy game, any number of questions arise: how am I handling magic so it is flexible and interesting? what level of combat crunch am I looking at? are we talking a more realistic or cinematic kind of play? what level of system details do we want-- weapons heavily lumped together or very grainy-- if the former then how do I distinguish magic weapons? if the latter then how do I go about writing up a weapons chart. I'm not happy with most of the existing fantasy systems I've seen. d20 and Rolemaster (and RM's bastard children MERP and HARP) are too over the top. Gurps I like but not the magic system and not for handling higher level things. Fantasy Hero is more crunch fest with the bonus of having to point evaluate every little thing. True20 has some merits and on the surface would be appealing given how much I like Mutants and Masterminds by in play it feels thin and limited. Burning Wheel I disliked intensely-- the same with this new Anima rpg I picked up recently. Exalted has some good base system things, but everything is so wedded to the setting and the powers therein. That's not entirely a knock against Exalted as it does work well for that world (I wrote up a full convert for L5R for one campaign). Anyway, I want something flexible and interesting without my having to spend a hundred hours getting the rules together (or modifying them to where I want them).

On the other hand, the other campaign I'm working on, I'm not so worried about the rules. That I expect I'll either wing, use my Action Cards homebrew, or maybe a Storyteller light system. Essentially this will be a modern fantasy game, with my niece having requested a school-based setting. I can do that, but I'm going to go smaller scale than the other times I've done that.

I imagine she'll be among wards taken in by an odd academy after she displays some power. I want to have something of a tease there that it isn't clear if these abilities are mystical, mental or super in origin. There'll be a small staff and the sense that this facility has recently reopened after having been abandoned for some time. I'm imagining a class of no more than 8-10 fellow students. That's enough characters to create some dynamics. The Academy will be situated outside the sleepy East Coast town of Arkham Harbor (a place I've used before in a different context for an oddball supers game). We'll begin with the obvious mysteries for her to explore: what are my powers? what is this place? what is the agenda of the staff? set against the background of high school social dynamics. Eventually questions will arise about the secret history of this location and of the staff themselves. Of course they'll go off grounds at times, at which point I might insert a Twilight-Hour world, perhaps which can only be entered by persons with their powers. That could set up another group of mysteries as well as new NPCs.

Now what I'm imagining in the background is that this is a hybrid of the concepts behind Mage: the Ascension and Persona. M:tA has a modern world where mages battle over consensual reality. Persona has individual characters who summon "Persona's" (drawn from myth, folklore and just plain weirdness) who cast spells and cause effects. M:tA has mages broken into several several groups based on both a philosophical outlook and a casting style. I imagine that Persona-using could be just another style in that universe. They can represent a character's inner emotional state, their outlook, what they're hiding, etc. So in that sense I get another tool to express/demonstrate what a particular NPC is like.

I'm still not sure about all the details here-- that's just a rough sketch of what I'm thinking. Originally I'd considered a more isolated setting, but (at least at this point) I think I need to have a close by backdrop of the real world they can interact with. I like the strange urban setting stuff and making it only accessible to the PCs adds to that.

Still very rough yet-- I have to work out more of the details in my head, but at least I'm making progress on it. Originally I'd thought I might use a setting that I'd been developing in a shared email exchange/story Shari and I had been doing, but the more I think about it, the more I eventually want to go back and work on that thing as it stands, rather than reworking it for something else.