Friday, October 31, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: Court Intrigue

The players ride hard through the day, arriving in Woodhurst after nightfall. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, they sneak into town and drop their prisoner off in a safe house.
There was a brewing discussion about where to hide the prisoner. Although the town is loyal to the Brotherhood, parading one of the Queen's lieutenants through the streets would draw too much attention, as would grabbing rooms at the local inn. I didn't want the game to grind to a halt over the issue, so I told them the Brotherhood had provided a small home for just such an occasion. Never be afraid to 
They see to Fariba's comfort before going to confront the Brotherhood's council.  The council meets in a private hall; the players being the group's top lieutenants, their entry is welcomed warmly, but the Hawk has no interest in mincing words.
"All right you bastards, time to politick."
(See the rest below the fold.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Men

It's been utterly bizarre to see the riots ripping across Ferguson, the massive protests, and general mayhem all around. I grew up in the St. Louis area. These are the sorts of things that happen elsewhere. St. Louis has its problems, but it's always seemed like a rational place, a safe place. Perhaps that was naivete on the part of a sheltered youth.

Nevertheless, the firestorm all began because of the actions and death of a man, Michael Brown. At this time, here's what we can say with certainty: On August 9th, Brown stole cigars from a convenience store, using his imposing figure to intimidate the proprietor, even shoving him around. A few minutes later, he was stopped by a police officer, Darren Wilson, leading to a confrontation that prompted Wilson to fatally shoot Brown. We learn more about that confrontation as the days go on; a lot of people have already reached conclusions as to whether the shooting was justified or not. My point actually has little to do with that.
(See the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: City Folk (Part 3)

Marcus, aka The Hawk, has been occupying his time, albeit nervously. Early in the morning, before the other players have split up, he receives a Sending from Tralene. 
Fantasy settings tend not to have cell phones, so long-distance communication requires magical work-arounds. Among the various solutions are Sendings, magical rituals which send a telepathic message to the recipient of limited length. The recipient can also respond in a limited fashion. 
"Good morning, sir. Is your refrigerator running?"
It's a careful balance determining how common such communication should be in your setting. Making them exclusive to the players, or the few rich and/or powerful people in the world, can leave the setting with a feeling of isolation. The world will feel imposing, but establishing any lasting connection with the places you've been will be next to impossible. If those communications methods are too common, the players lose any prestige in having access to it themselves; keeping it from them in any way becomes an artificial hindrance. The same can extend to other magical substitutions for modern technology; overuse can lead to thematic muddling, raising the question why you didn't simply play in a modern or sci-fi game in the first place.
 (See the rest below the fold.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: City Folk (Part 2)

In the last installment, Traster, Ronan, and Zeus found some ways to keep themselves occupied in the city, meeting interesting people in the process. While they were busying themselves with trading useless treasures for useful gear, Glabrous and Hawk opt to tackle some errands of their own.
Plus, these places never have amulets in your size.
The Temple of Avandra
The city of Sar Diga is home to the chief temple of Avandra in Mar Tesaro. Glabrous announces his intention to visit the place, in particular to have an opportunity to convince its leader to support the Brotherhood in its mission. Marcus politely declines, wandering off to explore the city; being a druid, most temples make him uncomfortable.

(See the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: City Folk (Part 1)

Up to this point, the players have been adventuring at a steady pace: Killing horrible monsters, rescuing the captured operative, and rooting out the traitor to the uprising. The players have some items stacking up on their agenda they'd like to attend to, such as spending the filthy lucre they've attained so far.
"What do you mean  you don't accept enchanted gauntlets as payment?!"
The players split up to deal with various issues.
(See the rest below the fold.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Intermission: Edge of the Empire

It's been more than a month now since the last entry on the Mar Tesaro game. Writing took an unexpected hiatus, first for a much needed vacation, and then so I could properly prepare a couple of one-shot games for Charm City Gameday. Things have still been busy, but it seemed like there would be time to discuss a game I played at CCGD, the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG.

In case you didn't know how to click a link to figure out what I'm talking about.

The actual session was a mini-adventure put together by Fantasy Flight, the company that produced the game. The story elements of the session aren't really important, although it was fun. It was definitely made for beginners, as the players are gradually introduced to the various elements of the system, such as the dice, skill and combat mechanics, space combat, even character advancement.
(See the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

World building, granularity, and the long payoff

When I wrote about the introduction of the Patriarch, I mentioned that he never spoke for himself, but had a red imp familiar who sat on his shoulder and spoke for him. This was an attempt at world building that never came to fruition, and it's a pretty common problem for GMs.

This is a perfectly reasonable arrangement.
There's a principle for dramatic narratives known as "Chekhov's Gun," which says that you generally remove any narrative or contextual elements that aren't necessary to the story. If you point out a gun on the wall in act 1, then it ought to be fired by act 3, otherwise it never should have been pointed out at all. You could reasonably extend that idea to RPGs, cutting out the unnecessary fluff and narrative clutter, but it's not the same process as with a novel or play.

The way I understand it, there's two general ways this plays out at the table.
(See the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: Family Matters

Following their rescue of the captured spy, the players make their way to Sar Diga to help The Family deal with traitors in their midst.

I've written at least a bit on Sar Diga before. It's a well-connected hub of commerce: It's not terribly far from the capital, it's a hub of fishing off of Lake Kheldram, and it's sitting on the coast. Merchant and passenger ships coming from the east make their first stop here, so there's a lot of commerce that passes through the city. The gothic aesthetic of the city distinguishes it from the others. It's the perfect place for a crime syndicate to make its headquarters.

Like Thief but replacing technology with magic.
The Family isn't really familial, but the ranks in the group are organized by lineage. The head of the group is the Patriarch, an elusive figure whose true identity is known only to his inner circle, the Brothers. There are five Brothers in the organization, each in charge of respective fields of crime: Prostitution (Thalia Cyanal), gambling (Haneth Tsalaxa), black market goods (Imre Levalle), and organized theft and protection schemes (Kahveh Harandi). The fifth Brother, Dimos Seeren, acts as liaison between The Family and the Boland Brotherhood. After that, the organizational breakdown goes through nephews, then cousins, then various levels of "friends of The Family."

The players don't know how to get in touch with their liaison, but they do know how to find the Greeter.
(See the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: The Lion and the Unicorn

As the players prepare to leave Dockhouse to further their adventure, their host, Colton, gives them a warning. As a man privy to rumors, he's heard talk of a traitor within the Family, prepared to sell them all out to the Queen. Although rumors like this circulate frequently, the threat of a crushed rebellion certainly raises the stakes. Colton tells them to keep an eye out for things in Sar Diga and bids them farewell.

In Hillstead, the players quick meeting with Glabrous and their next Brotherhood contact, and the players are off and on their way to Fol Thron, capital of Alessia's empire.
Fol Thron would later be fleshed out a bit more, but at this point it was just a generically large city with a few interesting land marks. This is one of the challenges of using your own setting. You usually have the time to flesh out one location really well, or you can design a broader setting, but any given location is by necessity less interesting. Of course, that's assuming you need every street named and every building assigned. I've found it to be most useful to give the important details and let imaginations fill in the rest. 
The players have to figure out what happened to the spy, with only half a letter and a hastily scribbled riddle. It turned out to be a lot less complicated than you'd imagine.

(Read the rest below the fold)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: High Stakes

After the players, agents of the Boland Brotherhood, finished dealing with the kraken in Lake Kheldram (because krakens are clearly freshwater creatures), they made a brief detour to Hillstead on their way to Fol Thron. While here, they retrieved the half-letter in the hopes of deciphering the missing agent's clues, as well as to meet up with their fellow traveler, Glabrous Emerald-Eye.

Why were they meeting Glabrous in Hillstead? Aside from Glabrous's player being absent for the first session, Glabrous was in Hillstead convincing the leaders of other churches to support the Brotherhood's cause, for it is in need of allies.

Of course, most revolutions start this way. The Brotherhood needs allies, and the players will spend a great deal of the game recruiting for the cause of unseating the Queen.
Actually, this is one of the things I tried to bring in early to make player agency matter. If the players are plotting a civil war, how will their actions bring it to a favorable conclusion? I wanted them to be thinking about how their actions would direct the outcome of the war, rather than simply having events unfold around them.
To make sense of the sides, we have to travel back to the past.
(Read the rest below the fold.)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: The tale can now be told

It's been roughly six months since this D&D campaign ended, and nearly as long since I last wrote about it. There are several reasons for why this series has been on hiatus for so long, and just as many for why I'm finally starting it again.

Since it's been a while, a recap might be good (or you could just start here).

The land of Mar Tesaro has a troubled and storied history. The current queen, Alessia, fought tooth and nail to get recapture this land from a supremely powerful lich, consolidate her power in a devastating civil war (culminating in the return and defeat of said lich), and then rebuild in the aftermath. Along the way, she made friends and enemies. One particular group of enemies wouldn't forget the civil war, determined to overthrow the queen and restore the previous ruling order, calling themselves the Boland Brotherhood. The players cast their lot with the "Rebel Alliance."

It's a lot like this, except instead of space ships we had wizards on gryphons. Otherwise, exactly the same.
The telling of this story will be interspersed with commentary about actually running the game. Those bits will be in block quotes.

Speaking of which . . .
(Read the rest below the fold.)