Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Campaign Brainstorming: City of Ocean

A couple weeks back I posted the campaign postmortem for my old City of Ocean campaign. That was before my overly long examination of the VTM game. Anyway, a recycling day for my blog posting. For high weirdness, here are my brainstorming notes that I wrote up before I started that game. They're scattershot, stream of consciousness, and lack coherency. However hidden among the various ideas there I found some gems, and it kind of shows how different the game ended up being from some of my original concepts.

I recall being emails by someone who was thinking about running Unknown Armies. I'd posted about the campaign on the forum for that game since I'd borrowed heavily from the setting for what I did. He asked for some advice and how I'd approached my campaign. So I sent him these notes. I never heard back from him and I assume he decided I was insane.

Brainstorming for City of Ocean
Notes About the Building
The building they’re inheriting has been abandoned since 1983, 23 years. Although a number were invited, some not available at the reading. Four chairs are present there. Evidence from the papers or envelopes that originally six were invited. Of the three names not there, at least one was killed outside the building.
The building has a small one floor parking garage below ground. There is an atrium in the central . Office Space (complete with cubicles). Electrical Contractor five years ago. Security firm…security system. Several not attending (eight? Chairs here…three here?). All “property”…actually destroyed; exception one warehouse of materials (garbage cans, desks, etc., actually stolen). Fund for replacement materials. Sophisticated ambient sound system. Basement storage area. Lock boxes. Large safe. Lawyers: if the characters have lawyers or accountants, they will forward the information to them. Evidence of gunfire not cleaned up. Dining room/Ball room. Luxury suites/apartments. More continental rooms. Entry area (lobby: walkway around). Limitations on sale of the property. Area as a Feng Shui location

There are Devil Wrestlers.
“Style” as very important to the ethos
Shrine University, the best East Coast School on the West Coast. Includes Britishisms such as Houses or Colleges. Don’t make it sound like Potter. The Sea Station: the Trench. A rift in the Ocean. Rubbertire fire: sometimes the smoke of it hovers over the city. Mountains and the high places. The suburbs? Forested preservesThe Slimey underside of the City of Ocean

# of actual psychics
Horace-Rabinoff testing
Several Unpleasant families
Children’s’ Book
Forty Footsteps in the Bag of Saints
Pine Razor
Site and Logic
Translated materials (write it, translate it and then back)
Three steps
Not letting one* go (*demon/devil)
Four elements (plus) represented in Ocean City. Consider if that or some other thing…like virtues or characteristics. [motion versus stasis…etc]
Would be good to get away from the classical elemental thing

Question: how much of the Unknown Armies conceit do you want to use. Let us say that we use this fully…then the goal/objective of this within the [“sub-projects”???/”sub-pockets”???] could be the ascending of these people. Families could be aware. Entry from these places through ritualized areas (White Lodge?)

Here’s a point…how does God and the Angels fit into this concept of the archetypes? Is it merely a device to keep us trapped in. Is all of this a kind of game from the Demiurge (or something a lot like him).

Two or three kinds of devils: they lost the world?: would there be a place where they didn’t
The twelve pieces of the Invisible Tree: Multi-accessible
Passage Upwards to be the Adversary
Here would be the joke…to be as God and yet one might simply become the Demiurge, a trapped figure which holds the world in check.
Some Families?
Some Groups?

(Did the PC’s already do something? Consider that ala Persona. With that would be a series of visions about what they did the first time. They can follow that alternative or they can avoid it. The more they move away from those choices presented, the more fallible and thin the precognition becomes. Eventually, they won’t even be anywhere near where they were the last time and the visions will stop entirely. The first several visions should be concrete, clear and specific. That should fade over time.)

Question of reincarnation…what separates these “exalted” , the players, in the “game” (not the RPG, but the metaphorical game in the game) from other people. **Christ, haven’t we already done this before** I fear that I’m retreading over areas I hit before. Certainly we’ve seen this competition in the Thursday night game and the RMSS game. I have a solution for this.

What is the connection between the agents here and the people in their “slivers” of Ocean City? On that point what is the role of the PC? Different patrons or the same? I hate to retread in a really obvious way, but it is also a really fertile set of images…especially if it never resolves who this guys is. [What if he just magically put himself into these lives, these roles?]…a fallen angel, a betrayer, a self-indulgent goof, god? Those are all possibilities.

Crucial conflict ought to rest with our world: control over this place…keys to the Empyrum? A thought I had the other night that may or may not work with this: Our world was once the cross path for these other places…the only way they could get from point X to Y to Z. Then someone invented a way to go from one place to the other without the middle. Lasts for a long time…however, recently (how much?) this has collapsed. I think I’m moving away from this conception of things; however, it might be useful for something else.

Have to make it interesting to keep them compelled. Have to keep in non-linear to keep them on their toes. Have to keep it manageable for myself so that the jumps made make sense. They should be able to draw conclusions from their own mapping of the flow chart.

So our own world as the primary battlefield. That elemental conception? Does it work? Various factions locked in a struggle of corruption. To what end? How do they move between? So what are the positives?

I think the UA concept serves as a useful gauge here: (1) Magical Groups trying to gain ascendancy, (2) People from the Slivers—the great souled ones keeping their reality intact and gain power---trying to stop people from ascending, (3) many of the Devils from a whole ‘nother level of this reality, (5) the Angels and the House of Renunciation trying to play this thing out and keep people in the great trap of the Ascending, (6) The evaders who seek the Invisible Tree—the gnostic tree and the potential it has for getting out of this cycle one way or the other, (7) somebody who is going to do something really bad which most of the others won’t see for the game which they are playing.
What are the Angels in this equation?

God Squad…figures from mythology? Ragnarok? Reborn from the very vapor of things.
OK…these other realms, what the hell are they like? Given that I want to stick with conventional shit (rather than terrestrial shit) that shouldn’t matter for a bit.
Isn’t think about who they are here…illuminati-esque?
Third Book of Enoch: translations

Again…assembling the Body of God. At least one VR session or just a shared dream. Something that gives some insight…loyalties, characters and archetypes. [Typed up last session’s notes…character sheets in envelopes]
Seven: Allen, Allyn, Alan, Alaine, Elaine, Elwyn, Ellen.

Need to plot out the first half-dozen investigations and their motivations. Actually write out scripts to walk over.

Here’s a point:
You need to weigh down, bathe in the grimy, stupid, awful, gutterdrawn mundane details of the everyday experiences and characters.

Only by starting from that point can I/we move on to the Fantastic. Start little…make sure the players are unsure of the reality of things…the WTF factor…

Recognize that there is an upper limit of recognizeness,
Binding so what is the Devil’s story? If they do catch em then what?

Three realms: Colors of Power. The Great Souled.
So what are the propelling circumstances…a variety of episodic moments which point to a larger force/aim?

Asking/forcing people to dream certain things. Drawing the powerful and the psychic, the strange and the susceptible to OC. This place means something great and eternal: God’s Footprint, Lucifer’s Fall, Garden of Eden, Something resonant. Consider where it would have been at the time of the proto-continent. Did Atlantis lie in the sea/ocean beside it?

So what is the point/purpose of the Oceanographic project?

I’ve rambled off the point now.

The idea is that this is a crucial place sensitive to thought, feelings and rumor. They are trying to get people to think, react or believe in certain ways or things in order to affect things. They don’t even necessarily need lots of people, just crucial people—key players in this; that’s why psychics, sensitives and the great souled are important in this.

Consider Sources of Belief:
Music Corporate Training Television Cults Conventional Spirituality Books Advertising
Posters Magazines Comics Newspapers Video Games Movies Sports Self-Help Stuff
Underground Culture Internet PDAs Schools Colleges Textbooks Museums Coffee Houses
PPV Object Design Extension Courses Radio PSAs Junk Mail Comedy Shows/Clubs
e-mails Chain Letters Philosophy
Pets? (Do I mean pets and fads or what?)

Trying to think about the various groups and their goals. Some people may be acting without full knowledge. No, not exactly for this. Consider what I want as the message for this game. Assembling “Adam Rihari”…each has a different book for assembling the eternal.

So we know the building itself is protected. Blood as a bond. That’s why they couldn’t get in.

(Draft of crucial idea) Here is the deal…there are five Ocean Cities…there are pathways and bleed throughs. Right now our world has the central focus. Five worlds:
Frontier Steampunk (Threat is the Gremlins), Exhalted area, Noir City/Barren Realm/Chinese Renaissance, power in their command…several kinds of power.


So we know that the PC’s and some of the bad(?) guys are of the Greatsouled, meaning that they are split over several people. Either that is a form of the Nephilium or it means Angels who have given up their “divinity”. In any case, the previous group fought against mystical forces of all kinds, particularly those which would disturb or damage the sleeping peoples. They died (?) fighting the incursion of the most recent Splinter back in 1983. They were Greatsouled of another “being” other than that of the player characters.

So this is what I imagine. The Scoobies passed away or got turned or something…perhaps one of them accidentally ascended or got taken to the House of Renunciation. The Survivor, the one who can track the Greatsouled, knows who might be. He seals up their building…including a timelock for the proper time on a particularly potent weapon. However, he cannot see what will happen because of the nature of the weapon itself. With that in mind he is loathe to leave too much information. In any case, the group is called together.

Consider how the plot begins. Obviously there are some who want the item, but it has to be given freely. So the group may become involved. There are several track for this. First they can investigate those who contact them and want this thing. Second, they may try to track the Scoobies, who they were and if any of them live. The chain of contact there may lead them on. Third, of course is general strangeness which comes from their contact with this strangeness. Recursive isn’t it?

The battle is about reality. Some people want to control, it by ascending…some people want to get out of it. This is the status quo of things. The reason for having the two forms is to keep a level of confusion going. In and of themselves, these goals are not evil. What is evil is much of the methodology. The big evil…lost and ignored in all of this…is that someone is doing something which will spell the end of all existence/release a pretty horrific evil. The basic idea is this (I will vary this depending on how I want to integrate the demons). Bottom line: one of the Thrones…the big guy or someone down the line is a psychic. Perhaps he was possessed at some point in his life and his family found a way to remove his curse. In any case he is a psychic and he is subject to the seizures which create a sense of divinity in people. He is not always in that state. However, while there, he is able to create a sense/ manipulate long term, the people around him into sharing his sense of being god. He believes in a gnostic vision of the Universe, that the demiurge has trapped him in the flesh. He believe a number of other tings about his own association with Christ and being made flesh.

He has learned about the 333 and the archetypes. He believes that he has a powerful solution that will allow him to become the last man and return to his state as God to fight against the Demiurge. He has been carefully investing in organic computer technology for some years. He is going to make AI’s from the brains of dead people (possibly from the brains of people possessed) and program them to be the archetypes. This will be horrific. The demons…most of them…who know about it are in favor.
There, that is my big plot.

More information:
Review of one of the Scoobies’ books on the controversy over 3 Enoch.
A look at the Throne family.
A webpage devoted to the VR reality stuff.
A consideration of what the Scoobies fought back in 1983.
How does Atlantis fall into this…the rift found the following year?

Corporate Post Epoch: Clockmakers
Question Authority.
One of the Switches (slivers) happened in 1880s. Some kind of switch.
Was there a split or rather a turnover?…an original reality split?
Our world plus four
Frontier Steampunk
Exhalted Area: Chinese Rein-e-sance
Dark Technology: biological alchemy
Canals, bridges, Hindu mysticism, feng shui?
Duelists, Guns, Contracts, and Mysticism.
Limitations to these shadow realms…closed
The Phantom Mile: Sate Wars-esque Sci-Fi: nearly archetyplal
Methods for passing between.

So what might be good, interesting or useful scenarioes for the group.
Group Based Precipitating Actions
VR based Visions
Getting the Building
Finding and Opening the Safe
“Time Travel” to the Event
Atlantaen Lives: Past Lives
All Things are possible: the Fantasy realm as the MMVRPG

Consider the gnostic idea of the Nephillium.

Again, although I’ve already said this…need to work something more episodic and contained than I’ve done before…building up the tension and the challenge.
So, beyond the obvious things, what will they investigate and how will they come to decide that they want to investigate those things?

Different kinds of power each shadow limited in form and effect of their power: do not function in the other “?” (need better term than shadow…sliver). That power has become solidified. In the “prime” there is more power and it is much more flexible (i.e. it is much more malleable). So all things function in the hub. NO.
What to reduce it all down to a manageable level…having all the bits and pieces is good, but pointless in that there are too many points.

Using the core concepts from UA. Need to consider which of these pieces work. Some of them don’t fit so well. For example, MaxAttack is just silly.
Should be a long, long time before they can see anything behind the scenes. Several stages removed from this: consider
Can we maintain this kind of distance?

The original idea of Moriarty and the “Web of Crime” or conspiracy is someone anonymous who sits at the center pulling strings or somesuch cord. THE PROBLEM IS THE DESIRE TO SHOCK AND STARTLE…SUBTLE…WE DON’T NEED TO SEE THE VILLAIN OR EVEN NECESSARILY KNOW THAT SOMETHING IS GOING ON FOR A LONG TIME.
The “other realms’ should exist only as visions or hint early on. Take a long time before bringing these things to the fore. Ideally they will pick up hints early on…build up their own picture of what these places are all about (VR leakage, metaphor, prophecy, other possibilities that weren’t, someone’s plan to unhinge them).

When (and even more importantly IF) they actually go to these places, it should be a qualitatively different experience…i.e. these visions assume the characters have an intimate knowledge of these areas and ideas. However, people’s reaction to them will be different when they go there as themselves. Possessing someone else…parallel to demonic infestation (maybe even hint at this early on to make them think that is what is happening *THIS IS A GREAT RED HERRING WHICH MUST BE CAREFULLY WOVEN IN*). When attended in person, that does something to their host?
Broadcast (as a drug?)
What goes in 3 Enoch…does it reflect a gnostic message. Reality shifts…artificially inducing significant paradigm shifts.
What kind of background details/ guidelines for character creation should I give to the players? Almost don’t want to write a question for fear of the igniting question mark. Look at how system described before.
Where do they live now?
Who are their three friends…(not nec. Closest, but they ones they interact with the most…)

Public transport, subway, light rail, car pooling, requirements during certain parts of the day.
What else makes OC distinctive. Hot concrete on a warm summer night…goth play. Much shared public space.
This world is the crucible.
Those things are slivers left over from the other place.
They all have their game going.
However, there is something within this fucked up game which threatens it all…something bad.
How soon do we make this clear?
Need to outline in the broadest strokes what the history/background is…
Crisis in the 1880’s
Second Atlantis
What other events? Battles in Prague in the Dark Ages…don’t want too much WoD.
Certainly whatever happened with Atlantis Omega.
Consider the circumstances.
Scoobies die in 1983.
1950’s OC Earthquake.
Discovery of the Triton rift in 1984.
The Event? Tied to Scooby passing.
Threat through implications of a threat.

While the whole of this thing is screwy, the real threat should be a threat not to some constructed thing or to “balance” in the world. The eventually threat ahs to have a real, physical implication.

***Being heroic is a virtue not a sin***

As for PC’s again I’m drawn back to the Nephillium…Great-Souled…reborn…split souled. Resonance..activation of the souls based on proximity.
The first incident should have a complete immersion narrative that gets thrown back. Fourth person…Barry (or Sharon) taking an immediate dislike to? Then absent (actually in the Throne circle?)

The first session: inheritance: lay this out. Outline what they’ll get…
Called in…uncertain of how they were chosen. Just know they have the names.

Need to flesh out who they were: six of them
Paulus St. Paul
Pauline Paolo
Paula Pavel
Paul Pablo
P. Something

Evangelina St. Paul
Pavel Vadren
Pauline Trillow
Paul Shanus
Jeffrey Paulo
Consider the time frame for these peoples.

Should they have access to something which can hurt the “angels.” Should be odd and something different than you’d expect. Cigarette Lighter. Bobby Pin? Swiss Army Knife? Rare or blessed materials.

For neighborhoods need to come up with a list of names…take a look at the picture and come up with some sections. Make sure to reference places named in the orphan myth article…a number were given.

Sketch a generic map…
Imagine what
Northern California Winery
Outline the evolution of revelation in the campaign.
We know tow of the three main characters:
Courier involved with bands
Orphan…profession uncertain
City of Ocean Urban Rapid Transport
Consider what “ascension” specialists are operating in OC. What are their aspects? Are the Slivers opposed to them on principle…what got left out to make them? The Dream begetters…how do they fit it? Archons? The Great-Souled being versions of them.
3 Enoch…triumvirate or single person left over…duality m/f.
Nephillium: PC’s how does this fit in?
Need to take a little time to look at the cards. If they are done in PSP, then they can be centered. Image on the back.
Need to look over the UA stuff and consider which of these elements…which of these major archetype guys.
Fake Celts
Darth Sidious
Throne family: father or son figure…goal is becoming or returning?
Truly to establish the ideal for the archetypes: Programming souls
Object in question
Sans Frontieres (without walls?)
Time Lock
Stone Sandwich Layers
Times? 1983.


  1. What's frightening is just how many of these things the players actually did encounter. We rarely sewed the meanings together correctly--but we saw a lot of this flash by.

  2. It's all made of triangles...

    It's really useful to see how you write out your brainstorming notes. I generally make lists or flowcharts, but I like your ongoing narrative, building on it as you go.

  3. Wow. For the record, reading that post felt -- in a very surreal kind of way -- much like actually playing the game. A whole lot of "Whaaa?" and a few flashes of "Oh! I get it!"

    Throne's divine aphasia was truly scary, for the record.

  4. I think that whole thing was really interesting, especially as he wasn't the obvious person behind it-- rather it looked like a couple of the other Thrones were more likely really wicked and awful folks. When you guys finally put some of that together and Lizbette got him on the phone and it melted in her hand...it was a goofy image, but really powerful and sticks with me.

    I did get that from a PBS special where they were interviewing this normal guy, but when he'd have seizures he'd be absolutely convinced he was God-- an absolute feeling of divinity and wholeness. And then he'd come out of the seizure and he'd feel like he'd been pitched out of Heaven. And his parents, who he was living with, had tried to come to some kind of understanding, because when he wasn't in this state, he was pretty normal and certainly not made of egomania.