I most often throw down
some sort of tidbit or observation on rules and tinkering with them on
GURPS-Day, but today, my mind is on campaigns.
I’m starting to get the
itch to GM one again. Not out of disappointment with the three in which I’m
playing, but it’s a good way to ensure familiarity with the system, exercise
creative muscles, and generally ensure some proactive social action on my part.
So, with that, what
would I run? Not sure, but some possibilities in no particular order:
Krail’s Folly
The concept of “go
north and conquer the wilderness, and you get lands and title in exchange”
was hashed out a while back, and the game concept carries as much appeal now as
it did then.
I’d vacillate a bit, but
likely come down to using Dungeon Fantasy as the core basis. It is, quite
simply, the best supported part of GURPS, with tons of cool stuff. I’ve also
got a direct line into +Nathan Joy‘s pool of players, far more
experienced in playing this genre than I am. Of course, +Peter V. Dell’Orto is no slouch either, and
since he and I collaborate on stuff on a regular basis rather well, there’s a
monster pool of talent I can go to. Not to mention rules-authors and tinkerers
such as +Antoni Ten Monrós.
What would I bring to
the table? Well, I’d still use Divine Favor for clerical powers, since I
really do love the feel of it. I might tweak out a few things, since as Peter
points out in today’s post over at Dungeon Fantastic, there are a few
potentially fun-killing/fun-reducing aspects of Divine Favor’s Learned Prayers
that could use some tampingdown.
I like the granularity
of the Low-Tech armor and weapons and whatnot, but I am right there with Peter
in thinking that it’s a bit too fiddly. GCA can be used pretty well to design
kits of armor, even very complicated ones. But there’s something rather nice
about NOT having to get crazy with it, and fine tuning each piece gets
complicated.
What about my own rules?
The Deadly Spring for bows is a behind-the-curtain thing. So all that work is
done ahead of time, and won’t interfere with the game much . . . but “realistic”
bows in Dungeon Fantasy? Meh, what’s the point? So I might bypass that in favor
of ridiculous levels of smackdown. More fun that way.
Magic? Ah, there’s the
rub. From what I’ve seen of Ritual Path Magic, I like the feel of the system
but it seems every bit as fiddly as the armor-building issue I talked about
above. I’d be tempted to try a Divine-Favor inspired magic system, but then, really, that’s not that different in fiddly
than Divine Favor or RPM – you’re still creating “spells” based on some sort of
metasystem, and as long as you ruthlessly quash “let me design a spell while I’m
sitting at the table” behavior, it’d probably go fine.
I’d definitely bring on
the Setup Attacks I introduced in Delayed Gratification. I might even eliminate
the RAW Feint entirely. Not sure about that, but likely.
I would probably try to
use Technical Grappling too, since it would be way easier for me to answer future
questions about that book if I’d had experience playing it and adjudicating the
rules!
Would I also do
long-term fatigue and action points, from The Last Gasp? Grar . . . might be
nice, but that would make a LOT of new rules to swallow, and both TLG and TG
require characters to be built with those rules in mind. So I’d probably skip
the Action Point rules this time.
Monster Hunters
This is probably my
favorite genre of all time. It combines creepy horror and magic with a world
that we’re more or less all familiar with, and has the over-the-top  Black Ops feel that I loved when I GM’d that
campaign years ago, without being 1,000-point characters.
I feel like it’s got a
nice combination of swords, guns, and monsters. Action Points and TG would fit
in here pretty well, I’d not have to worry about Low-Tech fiddliness (though I
would have High-Tech fiddles, but that’s rather well defined due to the nature
of it being right-here, right now).
This also lends well to
being an episodic campaign that can see players come and go without too much
pain. Given the variability in modern adult life, I think that would lend
itself well to my needs.
Modern Special Ops
I was Lead Playtester on
Tactical Shooting for a reason: I’m pretty familiar with this trope, and I love
laying out tactical challenges. I could also see doing this as a variable tech
level science fiction setting, Colonial Marines style, and near-future (TL8/9)
Sci Fi is pretty familiar to most people. Hell, given how much fun I had
playing the game, GURPS X-Com would rock on toast.
Parting Shot
I’d obviously see who’d
want to play in each campaign, how often (but no more  than twice a month, but no less frequently
than once every three weeks, I think) and if someone says “hey, wouldn’t it be
cool to run X” and I get inspired, I’m in.
But I really do kind of
want to run a game, and I’d love to get my wife in on it; she’s gamed with me
before and we’ve both enjoyed the experience.
One thing I would do,
however, is have to learn MapTool or Roll20 way, way better. I would also insist
that all players use webcams, because my experience is that the camera experience
is simply better (for me) than the
chat-based games. It’s faster, more social, and for me, more fun.
I’m getting that itch,
though – and it might be time to run something again.

A few days ago I put out a challenge to come up with maps suitable for +Jason Packer‘s campaign. While I got some really neat submissions from some of my regular readers, plus a lame-ass PowerPoint sketch by yours truly, a new reader (at least that I know of) rose to the challenge so well I wanted to break his comments and submission into their own post.

ZukePrime  stepped up to the plate and gave us three maps. The first was his own creation. He took the basic description, and created the map to the left. There was a broken coast (check), a huge area of swamp (check), a massive mountain range to the north. Presumably one of the towns/cities/villages in the west is presumably Frostharrow.

The darndest thing about this is that it was supposedly his first effort. He “only” used black and white to keep it simple.

Jeez. I’ve had and attempted Campaign Cartographer for some years now, and not once produced anything even remotely this cool. This map deserves to be used in someone’s campaign.

But nooooo . . . that wasn’t good enough. He had to go and do more. He modestly comments:

I’ll be redrawing the map as a fun project…this time in color. Here’s the thing: I’m brand new to CC3 and mapmaking in general, so this is my official “first attempt.” CC3 is definitely hard to master. I think the best place to start is Joe Sweeney’s YouTube page, where he has a whole bunch of tutorials as playlists. I just follow along. 🙂 The key to CC3 is working in a logical, layered approach. If you have the product, it helps to follow the tutorial pdf’s they provide as well. You always start with the landmass/coastline, then add your significant terrain features, then rivers/lakes. After that you “populate” it with towns and features. The biggest difficulty for me is editing out mistakes and trying to get the right sheet effects to kick in. I’ll try to add more with my follow-up submission in color. What I love about CC3 is it allows noobs like me to produce cools maps in minimal time.

OK, so other than this being his first time frackin’ ever with the package, no problem, right?

Anyway, so then he saw Jason’s actual map. So, naturally, he changed his design, and started crackin’ away with the same outline that Jason wanted for his own campaign. While he published two iterations of it, I’ll only show the second one, which is more complete. Zuke comments (I”ve strung them together from previous comments).

 This is the basic landmass outline with a 25 mile grid. The map is 500×400 miles for reference. The “unnamed sea” is set into position, and I’ve added some rivers/streams to fix the area of the Gray Marshes. The effects you see around the landmass (highlighting etc) are the default settings in CC3. Next up, putting in the Granite Halls and Gray Marshes.I’ve been playing around with the sheets, so it’s taking me a while to do this properly. I’ve just added some river courses and laid in the Verdant, Gray Marshes and Granite Hall areas. I don’t like the default color symbols as much as the B/W symbols…so I’m experimenting with mixing/matching. Note the foothills are just a test. This is fun!

Clearly, there will be further iterations as he refines his technique. No matter what, this is a very impressive offering, especially given his proclaimed lack of experience with the program!

Notionally, I should be able to follow the tutorials and get the same thing done. Right? Right? We’ll see. I am going to have to schedule some of my next vacation or not-home-with-the-toddler time to work through the tutorials, read the manual, and follow Joe Sweeney’s advice, to determine whether I’m just missing a few key concepts, or I’m just a no-talent hack. Maybe both.

Anyway, by the time I finished this post, Zuke had populated an entire album with maps. His closest-to-finished entry is below.

So, kudos to ZukePrime for great work. Surely no one could do better than this.

(Hear that sound? Gauntlet meeting concrete? I super-secret double-dog dare someone to do better.)

A few days ago I posted this sketch of the local area that will become the Krail’s Folly stomping grounds.

I think it’s a relatively compelling little map. But powerpoint just sucks as a graphics tool.

Fortunately, I have two other tools at my disposal. ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer 3, and Fractal Mapper 8.

Unfortunately, I suck at both of them, and need to crawl up the learning curve for both.

So, I will. But I’m also inviting anyone who likes maps to try their hand at it as well, as a fun challenge. I’ll post all responses, and ones that particular suit my ideas of the setting can expand on what they did, how they did it, and why in a guest-post. Woo hoo, exciting, eh?

Edit: Luka Rejec dropped by on Google+ and dropped off a link to his work. It’s spectacularly good. I was thinking to aspire only to “better than powerpoint,” which is a low bar. But if something that cool shows up, well . . . ain’t gonna complain now, is I?

Here’s a submission by +Jeromy French, who annotates his map as follows:

 My idea of a place called Frostharrow should be a more northern area where it can be legitimately cold. Thinking an area enclosed by mountains with a frozen forest sounded cool. I agreed and copied your marsh idea. When I immediately read the word Granite Halls I thought of an abandoned city carved out of stone. 

This one has the key geographic features all in a line, instead of demarcating a box within which the adventurers will bounce around. It labels the Granite Halls as a key landmark, and he had the same thought I did about the Gray Marshes: big-ass river flowing through it. This probably means from a crop-growing standpoint that if the PCs at least start from the Marshes and north, they’ll have coastline, a breadbasket, and a constant threat from the mountains and hills in the west, assuming that the Granite Halls are still occupied.

That being said, having the Granite Halls be a place instead of a region is really interesting, and bears serious consideration!

Zuke Prime over on Google+ just sent in a new entry, and it’s a doozy. He used Campaign Cartographer 3 in black and white mode. It’s a very, very pretty map.

I’m brand new to CC3 and mapmaking in general, so this is my official “first attempt.” The key to CC3 is working in a logical, layered approach. You always start with the landmass/coastline, then add your significant terrain features, then rivers/lakes. After that you “populate” it with towns and features.The biggest difficulty for me is editing out mistakes and trying to get the right sheet effects to kick in. What I love about CC3 is it allows noobs like me to produce cools maps in minimal time.

However! I’d probably change it a bit in certain ways. I think there’s too much forbidding terrain and not enough inherently desirable about the area that adventurers would want to carve out land there. But maybe not. There are a few places on the map that would make great landholdings, and the scale of the place – that bar is 100 miles – means you can get 10,000 square miles of freehold in three different places that aren’t swamp or mountains. So perhaps this is just fine. As always, I’ll invite him to comment on why he made his map, and in this case, how! That may well be a post of its own, since lessons in CC3 are independently valuable!

Of course, we can’t leave out the actual author of the campaign, +Jason Packer . He has been working on his own map, of course! His campaign will be called The Taming of the Eastlands, and you can follow his progress in campaign design over at RPGSnob. Maybe I’ll sign up to play!

In a previous post, I linked to +Jason Packer‘s concept for a Dungeon Fantasy sandbox campaign. In it, he posits a royal command, given by someone named King Krail, to reclaim an area bordered by some pretty distinct geography.

In short, he sketches out a sandbox, evocatively enough that it begs many questions, some of which are always relevant to any game, some of which may be a bit too rich for a stereotypical Dungeon Fantasy campaign. That being said, my experience is that while it is possible to run some sort of mindless hack and slash game, DF supports quite a bit more.

In any case, let’s start with the geography:

Describing the Sandbox of Krail’s Folly

I picture a large land area. The geographic features that Jason describes don’t always or necessarily coexist. So I want something that would take quite a while to travel across, perhaps weeks to months. So if I give people a walking pace of 2mph, and assume travel of 8 hours per day, taking two to four weeks to journey across this land gives something like 250-500 miles. That could be something roughly as large as the state of Montana, which might be a bit big. Maybe Maine would be a better example. A very large area (coincidentally, about the same land area as Portugal) that can be geographically distinct and diverse.

That makes it theoretically possible to cross on foot in about two weeks or so if you’re really focused on getting from A to B.
What else can we tell from the writeup? Let’s recap what that is:

“By decree of King Krail II, all lands east of Frostharrow, from the Gray Marshes in the south to the Granite Halls in the north, and as far east as the Broken Coast are to be reclaimed and purged of bandits, brigands and any fell creatures of The Blight. Any person who can carve out a portion of this land for him or herself and hold it against the forces of chaos and predation for a period of one year shall be granted possession of that land, for him or herself and any future heirs, in perpetuity, with appropriate title bestowed by the will of the king, with all rights and responsibilities attached thereto.”

So, to the North we have the Granite Halls. That sounds mountainous and forbidding to me; a natural geographic barrier. If you have Dwarves in your campaign, they’re going to live here, if they are sterotypical miners and dwellers. For some reason, though, they don’t live in this region. Or maybe they do.

To the south we have the Gray Marshes. OK, cool. Lots of standing water, maybe an extensive river delta. This makes some sense to me, since to the east we have the “Broken Coast.” So this monster land area borders a large body of water, probably an ocean or large sea. Maybe something like the Mediterranean. Warm (thus swamp) and fertile, and thus valuable. That it’s not under “civilized” governance means there’s something actively preventing it, likely.

Mwa ha ha.

We also have something called Frostharrow. Well, that sounds cold, and it’s the west, or maybe northwest, presumably. Maybe it’s another mountain range, or a glacier coming off of a range. Yeah, I like that. Maybe a glacier that extends south from the Granite halls. So maybe we have something like this:

Who’s this Krail guy, and why do we care?
OK, so we also have someone named King Krail, who is offering up this territory. What’s his deal? Well, if this land is so valuable, why isn’t Krail going after it himself?
Perhaps he tried and failed. So he’d like to do it himself, in an organized way, but he’s failed. So he’d rather go to volunteers, in the form of PCs, to do what he and his army can’t.
Perhaps he would like to try, but he’s unable. His army is small, untrained, or unwilling. Even more interesting, he would do this in a cold second, but some rival is holding his attention and power elsewhere in his realm. So his most experienced troops, the hardiest fighters, the mages most deeply steeped in arcane lore are all otherwise occupied to the southwest. The PCs are needed because no one else in the King’s direct employ is available – though if the PCs become troublesome, part of the problem (they turn bandit themselves), there is recourse for the King to deal with them.
Another point to consider is why Krail wants this area cleared out. 
  • He is trying to create dutiful nobles because of factional politics
  • His great-great-great-great grandparents were rulers or nobles in the area, and it’s a family legacy thing
  • The monsters and bandits are disrupting his ability to rule his current area
  • There is a legend or reality of great power or riches in the area – but he personally won’t be getting them, it’ll be the PCs. 
  • +Peter V. Dell’Orto makes a great comment below, so I’ll edit: Maybe Krail just wants to conquer this stuff, because he likes to conquer things, and this area is available. Hell, it may be fully inhabited by a functioning civilization, but one that’s just other enough to look like ‘creatures from the blight.’
  • Another variant that comes from the more scheming version of Krail is that he’s giving those most likely to give him trouble an excuse to trouble someone else.
What did this region used to be like?

One thing that makes this all kinds of fun is if this area used to contain some mighty civilization. Rome at its height or something. So there are tons of ruined fortresses, mines, dungeons, and ruined (or partially inhabited) cities. This gives all kinds of excuses for small “dungeons” occupied by all sorts of critters.
What’s this Blight thing?
Ooo. A source of nastiness. Maybe it’s a particular locale, like the Blight in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Maybe “the Blight” is delocalized. It’s a connection between this world and some other realm, plane, or dimension from which foul creatures spring. That’s your Wandering Monster right there.
Net/net
This simple one-paragraph description that +Jason Packer provided leads rapidly to all sorts of plot-rich thoughts. 
Really fun stuff.

Thursday is GURPS-day, and +Jason Packer just threw down the gauntlet. In one paragraph, plus some short supporting details, he sketched out enough of a compelling sandbox game intro to make me want to start running this exact setting in a game of my own.

I love it. I love it so much that I will repost the first paragraph (with Jason’s permission) and make adulatory comments.

“By decree of King Krail II, all lands east of Frostharrow, from the Gray Marshes in the south to the Granite Halls in the north, and as far east as the Broken Coast are to be reclaimed and purged of bandits, brigands and any fell creatures of The Blight. Any person who can carve out a portion of this land for him or herself and hold it against the forces of chaos and predation for a period of one year shall be granted possession of that land, for him or herself and any future heirs, in perpetuity, with appropriate title bestowed by the will of the king, with all rights and responsibilities attached thereto.”

OK, why is this awesome?

  • It immediately sets the boundaries, geographically, of the campaign. The GM has just said “I’m going to give you a map of the area, and if you want to explore beyond it, you’re dumb.” The King has offered estates and title to anyone who can take and hold land in this area, but no other. There’s simply no reason to leave the sandbox. 
  • Part of the genre convention of DF is a very Munchkin-like “kill the bad guys and take their stuff.” This Royal Dispensation tells you that all brigands and foul creatures in this area are “Other” by law, and it’s not just genre convention but your Solemn Duty as a Subject of the Realm to kick ass and take names
  • It sets up that “Fell Creatures of the Blight” are involved. So, look, monsters exist, no surprise.
  • There’s built-in continuity. Once you take land, you have to hold it. 
Seriously: I want to run this.