Thursday, May 30, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Meet The Factions

When I first ran the Mar Tesaro campaign, there were a few major factions running around.  There were the three racial nations comprising the island:  Dwarf, Elf, and Human.  By the time my players showed up, the Elves were pretty much in control of everything, although with civil wars there can be significant lag time between the end of the war and various participants admitting it's over.  There was also the cult of Mordan, which played the active role of "bad guys" for the campaign.
Civil war doesn't seem quite as scary in comparison.
My goal for the return campaign was to have a much greater variety in the groups who made up the sociopolitical landscape.  I also wanted all of my players to be natives of the island, not visitors, so having a variety of factions for them to incorporate into their personal story would really help integrate the characters with the setting, as well as providing resources and contacts for the players.

Below is a list of the major factions I decided would be a part of the setting, as well as a brief description of each:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Community Blog Topic: What is wrong with WoW?

I don't think I've written about playing World of Warcraft on this blog more than once, but I'm always willing to give topics their due.  Over at WoW Insider, this week's community blog topic is about the players' complaints about the game.
Sit back, m'boy.  This is gonna take a while.
So, what is wrong with WoW?  Given the amount of time I put into the game, you wouldn't think I'd have much of anything to complain about.  Truth be told, a lot of the complaints about the game tend to be more about rose-tinted nostalgia, looking back at the game when players first fell in love with it.  Sometimes it's best to keep a project out of the hands of those who love it the most.

For my criticism of WoW to make the most sense, first I need to talk about what there is to do in WoW.  (On a side-note, none of this applies to PvP.  That game really doesn't change too dramatically.)
See the rest below the jump.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Setting the stage

When I was dreaming up the campaign that would bring players back to Mar Tesaro, my goal was to update the setting.  While I could always just run that same story again, it wouldn't really be mine.  I wanted to keep the island, keep the key events and characters, but move time forward so that it's effectively a different place.

In order to set the stage, it probably helps to look at the state of things when the first campaign ended.
War is hell.  Unless you're playing games.  
Then war is awesome.
Mar Tesaro is an island nation with a lot of problems.  The most prominent feature of the place is a mountain that dominates the southeastern portion of the map, which is home to an overprotective nature spirit, Fiore.  Some time in the past, that spirit was locked away so that people could mine the vast deposits of gems and minerals from the mountain in a wrath-free environment.  Wars came and went as people fought over the mountain.  Eventually a lich took the throne and threatened the global balance of power.  Three nations (human, elf, and dwarf) came together to knock him off and took control of the island for themselves.  More wars came and went, this time of the internal variety.

When the first campaign started, the players were strangers to Mar Tesaro.  A civil war had just finished up, and the elves were the grand winners.  By the time the campaign had ended, the players had freed (and re-imprisoned) the lich-king Mordan (not to be confused with that other guy), released the trapped mountain spirit Fiore and restored balance to the force.  Well, most of the above.

Since I want to advance the setting several years after these events, what are the premises from that campaign?
  1. The primary economic engine for the island is now defunct. With Fiore released, it is no longer possible to mine any minerals or gems from the mountain.
  2. The military might of the island is mostly depleted.  The elven forces crushed the humans and kicked out the dwarves.  Then Mordan returned, taking a chunk out of what remained.  
Clearly, the victorious Queen Alessia has some issues on her hands.  So, what would any good leader in a fantasy setting do?  Hire adventurers.  (See the rest after the jump.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Prologue

As I've said in previous posts, I've been running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the last several months.  Since writing typically helps me to organize my thoughts about topics, I thought it might be worthwhile to start a series on the setting of my campaign.

Back in 2006, I'd never played a tabletop RPG.  I was introduced to Shamus Young's website via his webcomic, which lead me to his synopsis of a campaign set on the island of Mar Tesaro.    Reading his stories made me want to try the games for myself, so I went to my friends with a proposal that we play D&D.  "Sounds great!"  they said.  "What are you going to run for us?"

Instant campaign.  (Some assembly required.)

This was a pretty daunting prospect.  It wasn't just that I hadn't played an RPG before, much less run one, or that I knew almost nothing about the game itself, but the fact was that I didn't really know what to do for a story.  I certainly wasn't about to write a new setting myself, and I didn't know anything about the established D&D settings like Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.  Mar Tesaro, however, looked perfect.  I was familiar with it, there was just enough detail available to provide for a campaign, and the story was already provided; all I had to do was plug in my players.

I've written about how that campaign went.   In retrospect, I made a lot of "new GM" mistakes. I treated Shamus's campaign too much like a script rather than a guideline.  I expected my players to interpret the clues and come to conclusions the same way Shamus's players did, and that's really just asking for trouble.  With a few notable exceptions, I basically presented Shamus's setting with only the thinnest veneer of personal touches to it.  Half the time I used his NPC dialog verbatim.  This wasn't a sophisticated effort, but everyone cuts their teeth some way or another.

In the years since that game ended, I've learned a lot about the finer points of running and playing games, both from having more experience and from listening to others tell their stories.  One question I kept asking myself, though, was how to take that Mar Tesaro campaign and do it right, make it mine, apply all the ideas and lessons I'd absorbed since the first game.

Last year, my players returned to Mar Tesaro.  This series is going to be about how I turned that beginner's effort into a mature setting and story.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Heeding the Whisper - Epilogue

This post comes about five months late.  Part of this is because working on a D&D campaign has left me rather apathetic about writing in other arenas.  A significant part of this, however, is that I was also reading Frank's dissertation, the source of the entire series, and I wanted to finish it before I wrote this addendum.  I'm not that slow of a reader, just a lazy one.

In any case, the dissertation was a real eye-opener.  It's interesting how something can transform from the original, academic document into the Bible-study style product that resulted.  Frank indicated an interest to do more with the project; I do hope he turns the dissertation into a book, it's very well written.

Looking back at the series as a whole, an interesting picture begins to emerge.  The problem we have, not just as Christians but as a society, is that we idolize work.  It becomes a locus of identity, we expect it to be meaningful and fulfilling, both financially and personally.  We extol the pursuit of passion and denigrate labor.  We spend years of our lives and accrue incredible debt in the pursuit of degrees which facilitate work.  Any efforts to change that path and pursue a new career seems daunting, enough to invoke indentity crises.  On top of this, the people who are there to offer spiritual guidance frequently have a very different view of what it means to seek a career than those in other professions; a pastor describing how and why he chose to go into ministry is going to tell a story that sounds surreal to someone explaining why they chose to become an interior decorator.

It's really no wonder to me we have a screwed up perspective on vocation.  We expect much of it, and yet treat it as an entirely separate category of life from faith.  We frequently expect God to bless it as a venture without treating it like a consecrated activity.  If this entire series could be summarized in one point, it would be that our career, our job, is supposed to be an extension of our faith.  It is a powerful vehicle for serving God and loving our neighbor.  When we forget this, we turn our vocation from a means to an end.

This is the very heart of the struggle I had in college, and I suspect many people feel the same way in that situation.  You're trying to figure out what to do with your life.  You expect the clouds to open up and a divine proclamation reveals the answer.  There's a very real fear that missing out on this will not only mean you have missed out on God's intent for you, but that you are not truly serving him as you were meant to.  How much of that thinking stems just from the way we talk about "calling?"  It completely misses the point.  It's not about what  you are doing, but why, and how.  A quote from the series, whose attribution I can't remember anymore, said, "God loves adverbs.  He doesn't care how good, but how well."  (Google tells me it might be Charles Taylor who wrote this originally.)

When this series started, I was cautious.  In the aftermath of it, I'm thirsty for more.  The entire approach helped me think about calling in ways I wish I would have ten years ago.  I'm eager to explore it further, and I can't wait to see what Frank does with the material.