Friday, May 8, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Scion (Part Two)

My review for the new Witchblade Annual's up at Fantasy Magazine. Also, I plan on going to alternate days blogging so I can work on my book.

Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part One 
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Two
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Three
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Four

Part of what I want to do here is give a sense of some of my approach and thinking about campaign building. In the case of the Scion campaign, I had a number of advantages and structures in place at the beginning. First, I knew I would be borrowing heavily from Powers' Last Call novel. That provides a set of ideas and themes which would compliment the main story. Powers' novel revolves around a mythic card game for the power to control the archetypal power of Las Vegas. I could easily tease out some of the characters and ideas to use in this game. Second, I'd eventually chosen to focus on a single city. That would allow me to focus the game and give me time to build up a nice set of NPCs and themes. Third, by placing the game in Vegas I had a nice real world reference point I could explore. I'd been there a couple of times-- but always just to the strip. I had a passing sense of the place from that.

To research I tracked down a couple of books Weird Las Vegas and Nevada and The Last Honest Place in America. The first had some interesting images I borrowed, but wasn't as useful as I'd hoped. That's been my general reaction to all of these Weird (America) books, though. The other book had more interesting ideas-- beyond a general history of Vegas it took a look at the lives of people operating in the transition to the more modern family friendly Vegas. He had some stories about people and places that informed what I wanted to do. Gene also sent me a copy of Mario Puzo's look at Vegas that examined more of the Vegas that was. I found a decent and lengthy PBS documentary of Vegas and watched that as well. From that I drew some interesting ideas about the connection of Vegas to the advent of happy picnic-time Nuclear testing and also to the everyday lives of the people working in Vegas. Of course I went back and watched a bunch of CSI as well to see if anything interesting popped up for me. Finally I started to watch the news more closely for stories about Vegas. This was about the time the bottom began to fall out of the mortgage market, so I put that in-- especially the detail about one of the current casino projects suddenly being in limbo, leaving a great half-finished mammoth on the strip.

My general approach when doing all of this is to keep my notebook close by and just keep writing down details and ideas that pop into my head. I ended up several pages of lists of ideas. Example: Neon, Customer is #1, How Flamingos get Their Colors, Take or Get Taken, Buffet Feasts, etc. I don't usually write down specific campaign plots or ideas in the same place. I use this list as a reference point later-- when planning and between sessions to refresh my mind and give me some color details to bring to bear.

I should mention the other source I picked up at this point in planning. I was bouncing some ideas off of Gene, who is an amazing sounding board for concepts. He mentioned Bill Willingham's short-lived Vertigo series Proposition Player. In it, the main character starts betting people for their souls. It begins as a kind of joke-- how seriously do people take the concept of a soul? Are they willing to gamble for an abstract concept? He begins to win these souls and suddenly he finds himself in charge of a kind of new realm-- with various gods and other forces coming to him since he's suddenly encroaching on their territory. Given that I would be dealing with close themes, I decided to borrow some of that for the game. Or at least I planned to borrow the telephone-game version of it as told to me by Gene. I still haven't read the actual book.

I had some plot details, a set of definite adversaries (Prometheus and the Rival Scion band), and a general sense that it would end in a big fight. I wasn't sure where to move next in planning so I fell back to my old standby: generating characters and having them come up with the story as I did so. Scion has an interesting device in that mortals who interact with the Scion's end up “Fatebound” to them, which means they get caught up in more stuff. That's an interesting double endged-sword and I knew one I wanted to bring out. Therefore NPCs would really help shape what I wanted to do. I used my Tarot based system to generate sets of character notes, split those into two sets-- male and females and then just sat down and went through each, coming up with characters. Below you'll see the first set I made up and the elements I drew to create them. I've put their names and then what I wrote on the original sheet (to show the minimal details) and then some comments on how they got used.

The Men

Kodiak Jones-- Dangerous and well-placed fixer. Good at putting 2+2 together.
(The origin; a productive, creative birth--- Failed or false rebellions or revolt---Temptation, the dark side, renunciation)

I had in mind a middleman character who could facilitate things for the PCs. I popped him up in the second session with a phone call to Alan's character, saying that he'd heard he was in town and offering to get him anything he needed. We didn't follow up on that, but significantly later in the campaign when they wanted to arrange a meeting with a local character they used him.

Paris Harrison-- Informant of all things not quite right in Vegas. Tells himself it is another game. Vampires at buffets, ghost gangs, black-eyed children. Scared shitless.
(Indirect experience, self-deception--- Collectivity; gatherings, partnership---Watchfulness, wariness; knowledge with use)

A character we never got to nor needed. They found their own way around and their favorite character, Jet Jaguar, often filled this role.

Willis Chen-Rogan-- Fate-bound scapegoat, gave the wrong advice one and got lopped for evil.
(Nullity, ignorance, stupidity, lies--- Descent, decline, fall from grace--- Force outside, interference, intrusion)

I'd imagined this guy as an entry point for the group to contact with the rival Scion band. Since we only ever got to that very late in the campaign, I never introduced him. I liked the idea of a guy fatebound to someone else who comes serves as a sympathetic foil.

Raz Iggers-- Fallen sufi-- card worshipper and follower of the Slavic cards.
(Faith, worship, loyalty, morality--- Open self, honesty; naiveté--- Lust, rape, seduction)
This entry was the starting point for me to start to put a couple of ideas together. I'd come up with the concept of the cards/tarot being important and then that perhaps a pantheon had been put into the cards as a way for them to survive. I did some hunting around online and found that much of the oral tradition of the Slavic gods has vanished. I could make a legitimate case for the Tarot having originated in the East, and so I put two and two together. Originally I envisioned him as an adversary-- but a later character in my list ended up taking that role much better. So he became a hunted crazy man who filled the group in on some of this particular plot thread.

Vadimas “Jack” Trask-- The Proposition Player
(Mastery, skill, command--- Foolish choices; mistaken identity--- Laughter, amusement, joy)
This character had to serve a couple of roles. I wanted to model him on the protagonist from Last Call but I also wanted something from Proposition Player. I joined them together on the basis of both of them being haunted by ghosts. I already had a lot of ideas from those two books, so I just slotted this NPC description into that role.

Katsuo Cardinas-- Fights against the secret ways. Provides support and information-- iconoclast
(Rebellion, struggle against tyranny--- Collectivity; gatherings, partnership--- Self-protection; perseverance)

Another character we never got to. He has a fairly vague set of notes there and I never felt the need to think harder about him, so he got left on the drawing board.

Augustyn Bolek-- Gluttony-- Gangster servant of the Titans. Used to be important but screwed up through overindulgence.
(Power turned to a positive end; authority with responsibility--- Greed, overindulgence and empty seduction;hatred of men;facile lies and betrayal; pleasure for pleasure's sake--- Betrayal, disloyalty, impiety, agnosticism, amorality)

I think it was here that I first got the idea that Prometheus' servants would each be taking the role of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. That's a classic cliché, but I wasn't too worried about it. Vegas is about certain kinds of sin and I wanted to play off of that. Plus there's the ironic element of Prometheus having originally brought enlightenment to the world and now doing the reverse. I had a backstory in mind for this guy, and the rest of the Deadly Sins, but they ended up just being straight and uncomplicated adversaries for the group.

Bart Beringar-- Rebel player scam artist. Now become a fagin-type hero.
(Mockery, laughter at one's expense, pranks--- Hero, the leader; a call to cause--- Lashing out, reactions; rain of blows, frenzy)

Don't know what exactly I meant by those notes. I never used him. Those are interesting traits I drew, but he wasn't really need and never saw play.

Denzo Ferenc-- Kings Servant. Big Guy with bad powers. Nearly mute-- shiny. Smells like meat.
(Breaking-off, non-communications, turning away--- Wealth--of money, contacts, etc.--- Control, domination)

Borrowed more than a little from a bad guy in Powers' novel. I'd decided to play fairly straight with my adaptation of his idea of the evil version of the Fisher King. I decided he's be a kind of paradox mage, like from Unknown Armies. When his weird fetishes would grant him certain powers. Can't remember if they ever really dealt with him.

Next part-- the female NPcs and final thoughts on the campaign

Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part One 
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Two
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Three

Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Four


  1. Ooo! How cool! I don't read Witchblade but it was still interesting to read your review.

  2. I like reading how you used the tarot cards. I feel some frustration or you when cool NPC's, with very cool names, don't get followed-up on by the PCs.

  3. I'm interested in hearing about the campaign itself, but I also liked hearing about your prep for a Vegas game. I've always wanted to run a Kolchak/X-Files-type weird mystery game set in LV. So much potential there in a city that constantly reshapes itself, literally.