Thursday, July 23, 2009

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

Sorry, lost a day there-- I'll try to get an extra post in to keep my every-other-day schedule relatively intact.

Blogging may be sporadic next week and even this weekend though. I have three games to run this weekend, and my mother goes in for her surgery on Monday. She'll going to be in the hospital after that for at least three days, so my sister and I will be spelling each other on keeping an eye on here. We'll see how things go.

My best wishes go out to Dave and Chas in hopes of a positive result from the invetro procedure.

We also need to say that Brandy kicks ass, all the time.

Lastly, before I get into this-- if anyone has rpg questions-- about a particular game you played in, about gaming in general or about how I go about what I do, I'd love to answer those.

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
Part IV
Part III here

I'd taken a break from running for a time, but eventually I couldn't take that anymore. If I don't have the creative outlet of game prep, I find myself becoming frustrated and more irritable. Even doing other writing doesn't help-- there's something satisfying about the creative process and large scale construction that goes on in campaign creation that I really love. I'd begun to think about doing another fantasy game on the Second Continent, since something like a year had passed since I'd done anything in that game world. I had conversation with Barry at that time in which the topic of Steampunk came up. While the genre concepts for that had been around for a while, they'd just begun to permeate out into the wider culture. “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” had just started to be shown on Sci-Fi channel, and I'd read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Barry convinced me I should run and try to get back in some players who I hadn't game with for a while.

The problem, however, was twofold in adding Steampunk elements. First, I'd had gunpowder eliminated from the setting some time before. Once once in the entire course of the many campaigns have I ever handed out wishes. One of them landed in Scott's lap and he wished away black powder weapons. So, I couldn't use any of that stuff-- instead I'd use Volters, based on magic crystals, to simulate that. The other, more major problem was that if I really wanted to have Steampunk be a major element, society and history would have to evolve. I probably could have simply dropped things in, but I think that would have bothered me. So I decided to advance the timeline for the continent forward about 300 years. That was a radical decision and I worried about it for many weeks-- going back and forth before finally deciding to go for it. I think part of my worry would be how that would affect the timelines on the other continents. But I wanted the genre to feel whole and real, and I did a good deal of research about the 1700 and 1800's-- of which this new world would be a hybrid, a kind of combination of Swashbuckling of Dumas and the Steampunk ethos which we would call Steambuckler. I actually called the campaign Arcane Rails at first because I had a vision of magical railroads and travel, but I ended up not going in that direction.

The game went very well-- I went back to Gurps for probably the last time. There's much I like about the system, but the magic just doesn't work in the way I want it to. That's a real problem in a fantasy setting. I'd hoped that the new edition of Gurps might solve those problems, but instead the system took a step backwards-- becoming more opaque, more mechanical, and doing nothing serious to fix the problems of the original magic rules. System aside, I was pretty happy and the campaign ran 2+ years, moving through a complete arc that made some drastic changes. We gained and lost some great NPCs and we despite the significant move forward, we had a number of connections between the PCs of the campaign and those of previous ones. I was particularly pleased with the identity reveal of the major patron as being a former PC of Rob's from many, many campaigns ago.

At some point in this timeline, I also started running another Legend of the Five Rings campaign, this time adapted to Storyteller. In retrospect I'm not sure exactly why I went with Storyteller, since I'd only run a little of it, but I knew I didn't want to use Rolemaster or Gurps for this, and I hadn't yet come up with my Action Cards system (which would have been great now that I think about it). In any case, I set the L5R game in continuity with the previous game, which meant that it was in continuity/connection with the First Continent and therefore with the shared world.

Then it gets weird-- so bear with me. We played the L5R game for some time before I revealed that in fact the players weren't in that setting-- they were in a variation of Rob's HCI premise of shared VR worlds. However, they soon discovered that even this wasn't entirely true-- the company didn't actually have a VR Samurai world-- and the were supposed to have been in another portal game entirely. Long story short, they would eventually discover that the various portals and worlds of the VR had become connected to magic, in fact had become a battleground for Mages (ala Mage: The Ascension). The world they'd been to had been real, but it was as if they'd become like demons-- dropping in to possess these “characters” in the portal, while still retaining memories, motivations and skills of the bodies.

I need to sidebar here for a moment, and then I'll come back to the HCI stuff and its connection. In the middle of this extended campaign, I also ran a short campaign set in the heart of the First Continent-- away from the L5R portion in the southeast corner. I'd built up an elaborate cosmology and history which I'd intended to use for some kind of campaign in the future-- breaking the areas down into several regions, writing up about thirty+ pages of background. For this short run campaign, I kind of put a shotgun to that and blew away the existing structure. That is, I had the players undo the existing power structures that united the various kingdoms. It was a pretty interesting game-- seven sessions using a high improvised Storyteller system, and in the end I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the First Continent. I had good material, but I didn't like it for that context-- in some ways it felt too much like other things I'd done.

Back to the HCI-- step two, and we increase the weirdness. Just to demonstrate the meta-level strangeness of this, the HCI game was set in the same modern world in which I had run two previous World of Darkness games, both Vampire, one before and one after Gehenna. However the HCI game took place in 2036. So that builds a bridge between that world and the shared fantasy world. They went to other “portals” some of which were real and some of which were strictly VR simulations. They returned to Rokugan several times, ending with the big climax of the campaign. The walked into the middle of the Scorpion Clan Coup-- a game changing event in the L5R Continuity. However things began to fall out in the different way from the original events-- in part to take into account the world differences, in part a response to the PC's actions, and in part to throw off Will who knew the history well. In the big climax, massive magical forces from the various worlds collided-- changing things radically. The PCs were, in a sense, split-- their souls returning to the “real world” of 2036, their Rokugani selves continuing on, but also a portion of themselves going back to the original founding of Rokugan and becoming the Kami who had originally fallen from the Heavens and founded the various Great Clans. However, these would be very different Kami-- the same names for the lines, but very different temperaments for the Seven Great lines. The campaign as a whole ran for a little over three years.

How does that fit in? That's the Rokugan that presently exists on the First Continent. Their interference with the timeline, plus some earlier fallout in terms of elemental time from a previous campaign has drastically shifted the events of the First Continent. It still works, but things happened very differently, at least in the timeline of that continent. For example, the actions of dealing with the two big bads occurred in the distant past there, and the short term campaign forms a portion of a kind of prehistory. Again, I'll come back to that. The bottom line is that the timeline of the First Continent became shifted backwards several hundred years from where it had been connected to the Second and Third Continents.

OK-- jerry-rigged enough for you?

That leaves four other campaigns set or connected to this shared world left to discuss. And we'll finish that out soon.