Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part One)

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
I've you've played in my fantasy campaigns, you know I have three continents, but you might also have noticed there's little contact between them-- I keep them separate. I've gone back and forth, allowing some exchanges and then shutting them down, depending on my temper. The First Continent focuses on personal Will, an idea which has shifted over time and even now I've been working with yet another conception of. The Second Continent is more Material-- classic fantasy, with classic magic. The Third Continent focuses on the Divine and the mythic. Those conceptions have evolved over time. I know I've done some entries with more detailed overviews of the campaigns, but I want to write out a chronology of all the campaigns which have taken place in that shared world, even as I run more games set there there.

The very first game that actually took place on what would become this shared world as a little Rolemaster game in high school. I had a real breakthrough because despite having drawn a large continental map, I focused in one one region and came up with some structures and cultures for that area. I'd played in Paul's RM modification of the Harn setting and I'll admit that heavily influenced me. It had a richness and continuity that made play there interesting. While I'd been telling complicated stories before this, my settings had been more chaotic and less logical. I ran that for a bit and then forgot about it. In those days we stopped and started campaigns at the drop of a hat, so it maybe went ten sessions or so. I should mention too that even this game had some continuity to my previous games-- the continental threats of Murkavan and Damizier came out of character conflicts from the AD&D campaign I'd run for a couple of years.

The real breakthrough came in two parts. The first was the four sessions I ran of a fantasy game where people played without character sheets. I wanted something more improvisational. So I quickly drew up a map, filled in names and made up the background mostly on the fly. The game was interesting, but had a group that was hard to assemble consistently. However, I'd thrown enough off the cuff details in there that I began to try to figure out more of the backstory for myself. Who really was this big bad, the Thonak, that I'd mentioned? Why had the amnesiac PCs been in the position they were? I went back to the map. At that time I'd picked up a number of fantasy rpg sourcebooks-- Known World, Talislanta, and even Warhammer FRPG. I began to pencil some things in where I still had blank spots on that crappy map-- thus we get Caldumar changing, Ylaruam, better definition of Aoniae and so on. I borrowed quite a bit for my first versions of places. I've always been fascinated by the divine stuff in fantasy games so I took the Lythic pantheon from Harn and also had quite a bit of real world (Norse, etc) pantheon material-- the latter would eventually get excised out and the former would change greatly over time.

The campaign actually started with just two people, more as an experiment. It went well and eventually I expanded that. I had at one point nine players at the table. That settled down into a more regular six or seven players. The campaign traced the efforts of Simlain Glantri to gather forces to fight against the Thonak. I used quite a bit of the Warhammer sense of Chaos in that. That created a real sense of dread in the players, but I also borrowed from elsewhere. The campaign lasted two+ years, wrapping up in a pretty epic fight that saw a couple of PCs buy the farm. A couple of others had died over the course of play as well. I'd established that resurrection wasn't cheap-- and the PCs ended up using up some of the few items I had for that purpose. The campaign finished up, in part, because I was going overseas, but more because I wanted to be able to deliver the full arc of a story. We'd had some many campaigns that had started and stopped, and I was more pleased that we had a conclusion.

In Cairo I eventually found a group who wanted to play some kind, any kind of rpg. I set their campaign about fifteen years after the last one. They walked around in the fallout of the destruction of the great evil. That always struck me as a reasonable question-- and one a good deal of fiction later dealt with-- what happens after Sauron's destroyed? What are the political, cultural and economic implications of that? The group heavily interacted with old PCs and ended up causing pretty potent political upheaval. That game went for about four months with regularly weekly+ play.

When I got back for my senior year of college, I had quite a few things pulling me in different directions-- not least of which was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college. I still wanted to run and after a time I started another RM campaign. In my head I had this happening five or six years after the last campaign, meaning that again the PCs of the Cairo campaign served as important NPCs in this one. That would become a real sense of continuity-- and a chance to give the players' former characters a chance to have the spotlight, briefly, again. For this game I worked mostly in the west of the continent, where I hadn't done as much work. I heavily adapted the Far Harad material from MERP and some other concepts from ICE products. The game started in one system and then I tried to move it to another, with mixed results. We had some weird switching around of PCs, people's schedules not matching up, and inter-party tension. Some of my favorite game stories game from that campaign, but at the same time it didn't hold together as well. We ended up with the last session revealing that one of the PCs had betrayed the group more than just a little, but with that particular thread unfinished. That was about nine+ months of gaming.

I had a gaming-free year when I went off to graduate school. The only group I found at Hopkins seemed focused on Shadowrun LARP. I worked on various stuff, mostly with the idea that I was done with the Second Continent. I wanted to do something different and felt that having adapted so much stuff into that world, it really wasn't my own. I wanted to start again from scratch-- but not totally. I'd established a little that there were more continents, but I'd only just made that jump in my head that the first campaign world I mentioned was connected. I drew up a new map, with more islands and separate areas. Religion and the pantheons had been in the back of my mind so I knew I wanted to do something where religion would matter seriously. However I still stuck closely to the Harn/Lythic model for the gods-- imaging the various cults and subcults of those gods battling it out. When I got back to South Bend I hesitated for a time about running. However ICE had put out a number of supplements for Rolemaster and I'll admit that lured me back in.

That led to the first game on the Third Continent, and the strange fact that none of the continents have names other than that. I've never been able to come up with better names, and I've tried. In any case, that game saw the players running bad guys, servants of a fairly evil wargod, Agrik. It went well until it blew up in my face from inter-party combat. Despite that, along the way I managed to develop some things I was pretty proud of-- the interactions of the various cities, the large scale combat system we used, and the sense of no one being neutral about faith and worship. Oddly enough, I started out with the group escaping to Pavis, from Glorantha. At the time I took that as a fairly neutral and easily adaptable setting, mostly because I hadn't read much of the Gloranthan background. That meant I missed many opportunities.

I hadn't realized it at the time but Glorantha's essentially built on that idea of the centrality of faith and cult worship. Later when I'd go back to work on the Third Continent, I realized my mistake and how rich a resource that could be. I spent hours working to reconcile what I'd presented in that original Third Continent campaign with the new vision I had for how the continent operated. In part I was able to justify myself that the PCs had a particularly monomythic vision of the world and had ignored all of the crunchy detail. However it again demonstrated the difficulty of adapting material and using your own conceptions together. Over time I would work to remove outside stuff from the Second Continent campaign even as I more heavily adapted the Glorantha stuff for the Third Continent.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Libri Vidicos