Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Paradise Island -- Why a Mundane History is Vital

Some information for the players of my next likely LARP, Paradise Island, which I'm posting up here for both ease of reading and because my regular readers might be interested in some of my explanations.

So I've received a few character concepts for my likely upcoming rules-lite cross-genre campaign involving werewolves, vampires, mages and more.  Everyone plays either a mortal investigator into the supernatural *or* a brand new supernatural with little understanding of their kind.

While I've informed people that the supernaturals must have rather ordinary human histories while the mortals can have more exciting ones, a fair number of players have submitted some pretty epic concepts.  I understand why they have done this ... typically a bigger back story gets you more fun gameplay.  Unfortunately this won't be the case for the Paradise Island campaign.

The epic skills and specialties likely won't come up, fighting styles will lie dead on your sheet, and that epic history will only serve to further distance you from the more mundane characters in the group and the game itself.  Not the setting, but the game.

You see, this is a game about the ordinary brushing up against the extraordinary.  It's about exploring the sudden transformation of a normal person into some strange creature and finding ways to work that into your life as well as involving yourself in a pretty interesting setting.  It's about personal psychologies, social dynamics and interacting with the world around you in a simpler way than experienced in my previous campaigns.

There won't be a big meta-plot.  There won't be epic combats.  There won't be terrible political conflicts.  It will be about social interaction, mundane problem solving and the exploration of otherworldly locations simply for the sake of seeing them for the very first time.

If you take that campaign and play a supernatural with an epic back story, you will overshadow much of the present situation with equally big (or even bigger!) scenarios in their history and that's hardly much fun.  Plus it can be harder for your average person to relate to a Special Forces character or be wowed by their supernatural transformation, so you'll feel distanced from much of the story.

So let's talk plot using the example of a sullen teenage werewolf on holiday with her parents when she had her First Change.  Check out the following plot lines:
  1. Kid sister rocks up at the supernatural gathering to see what Big Sis is up to.
  2. Parents call partway through the game, wondering when she's done.
  3. Mother drops her off, checks in with whoever is in charge of the "youth center."
  4. Awkward flirty talk with the hot changeling.
  5. Deciding whether to come out to parents.
  6. Deciding whether to return home to an unknown situation or convince parents to move here.
  7. Figuring out how to fight spirits when you've only been in a few fist fights in your life.
  8. Realising that you can't eat chocolate anymore!
  9. Deciding to get drunk for the first time, throwing up and not being able to transform for the rest of the night due to health risks.
Now if we take the elite special forces guy, sure, we can give him an existential crisis about their future of never ending violence, never being able to retire and the like, but those are very Big Questions that few of the other characters can really get involved in.  Sure we can give him plot through a mortal husband, but those challenges will be the same even if he were working in insurance so why go with the Special Forces history?  Especially as you won't have the experience points behind it.

So here are some banned concepts and some reasons why:
  • Special Forces / Mercenaries: Your deadly history overshadows current story.
  • Private Investigators / Detectives: Some of the simpler mysteries will become too simple for someone with actual crime solving experience plus it will encourage the sorts of plot lines that focus on only a few individuals.
  • Amnesiacs: Brilliant for a solo game but terrible in a game based on different people interacting with each other.  If you have no history, you have nothing to tie you into the experiences of other people.
  • The Famous: While playing an aspiring musician can work just fine, if you're already famous you're going to have bigger things to worry about than anyone else and that will distance your character from them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fires of Creation: Initial Exploration of the Caves

Our last session involved Nathaniel leading everyone to meet with Val after they received her request to meet with them was passed along at the spot with the extinguished Torch by Kathy. Kathy is a ten-year-old girl whose greatest goal is to become the next generation Whispering Tyrant. Our lovely Blackfire Adept, Bort, thought Kathy was terrific and there was much talk of possible cohorts at later level. They reached the Foundry Tavern and heard Val's scream as the robot left there by Khonnir Baine lurched to life and attacked her. No one managed to hit it but the android who took it down in one very lucky and precise (i.e. critical hit) swing.

They then had a chat with Val where she recognised both the android, Maxx, and the Blackfire Adept's Mendevian accent and revealed some of her past journey near Mendev. They swapped a little gossip, Bort mentioned the Wardstones were down, and then they moved onto the issues of Khonnir Baine.

I ran Val as a very strange young woman of around fourteen whose time spent journeying along the Sellen River left her a bit peculiar. A mixture of off vocal tone, blackmailing Nathaniel into having lunch with her rather than darting off, offering to lie to the brothel to cover up Nathaniel going missing for awhile (since his mother wouldn't approve) and using apple and rhubarb pie as a bribe to ensure Bort brings Nathaniel back alive (others preferred, but optional) certainly ensured she'd be a memorable person. Especially when after she felt the conversation was done she ushered them out the Foundry Tavern to go and rescue Khonnir and barred the door behind them.  They discussed her a bit on the stoop, so she told them to hustle off through the shuttered windows.

And then they headed over to the Weeping Ponds to meet Joram Kyte who would cast Water Breathing on them all (four hours for the five PCs + owl familiar). There was already a crowd there, and someone placing bets (72 to 1) that they wouldn't make it alive. Our dear amnesiac took the bet with a gold piece as did Maxx since if they were to lose the bet they wouldn't need the gold anyway.

Finally they dove into the pond and everyone had to roll Swim checks since that skill never comes up and can always be amusing. They each made it in the end, though the Tiefling had to be dragged along by her summoned creature because she rolled a 1 and therefore plunged down too deep and was getting confused on which way was up. They enter the caves and reach the greatest obstacle of all -- a five foot wall.

 Eventually they all get up there and as Maxx is pulling Nathaniel up onto the ledge (after first disinfecting her hands with tea tree oil), three fire bugs attack! The amnesiac alchemist (whose name eludes me) harvested their glands which now hang in a tube at her belt. The Tiefling dropped down off the shelf to check along the water-logged tunnel and spotted a few moulds on the deceased Halfling party but surmised that they won't come after them if they don't get too close.

Upon heading further into the caves, they face the Blindheim and all but Maxx and Nathaniel are blinded in the first round. Naturally Bort simply freaks out and tries to retreat through the stalactites, wailing. They manage to take it out and retreat to the entrance of the caves, but Bort's loud whining attracts the attention of the moulds which are easily slain as they try to make their way up onto the shelf.

After an hour of waiting out the spell, they start to continue before being attacked by all four skulks who kept darting off again, luring them into traps (used Sef's gear to make traps). It was only when I re-read their section that I see there was meant to be a diplomatic option. No matter. I'm going to have Sef be a fifth skulk who is….

 No, you'll see. And that's where we left it.