Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GM Questionnaire... the Answers May Surprise You!

Since all the cool kids are doing it:

(from here)

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I really liked the necromancy-practicing were-owls I came up with for World of Darkness: Changing Breeds, though I have no idea if anyone ever used them in their own games.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

Way back in Dec. 2, 2011.

3. When was the last time you played?

Jan. 9, 2012 -- I played Hugo le Bâtard, and we ventured into Michael Moscrip's Castle Nicodemus. Vampire books, man. Vampire books.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

Bookhounds of Sigil -- you're all skeevy book-trade types dealing with murder, extortion, and rare volumes in a city that's a multplanar nexus point.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Jot down little notes to myself, offer unhelpful suggestions.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

It depends on the time of day. Lately, I've just been playing over G+, so I might have a snack in the evening, or an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee if I'm in Jeff's game at insane o'clock in the morning.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

Not usually.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

Co-opening a tavern/cabaret/den of ill repute on the grounds of a manor house in Cornwall.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

It's usually a mix. There's the inevitable injection of occasional silliness that occurs whenever a setting is exposed to actual players, but in the past, I've had players do the opposite. I had a character start out as a Skaven captive, which I played fairly lightly, but the player took it to some very dark places indeed.

10. What do you do with goblins?

I haven't done anything with them yet. If I did anything with them, I'd probably use GURPS: Goblins as a source, with the goblins being of variable shape and size depending on their environment/abuses suffered. At one point, I thought it would be interesting if they needed a human to act as their king (I'm thinking of David Bowie in Labyrinth), and they'd find (and abduct) the new king based on a grotesque version of the tests Tibetan monks run through when trying to find the new Dalai Lama.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

I watched Zardoz again the other night, and swiped several elements from the movie (Zardoz himself, the exterminators, the vortex, etc.) for my campaign setting. The effete, self-destructive Immortals are informing the way I'm handling elves in my game.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

The one that jumps out at me first is from my EPT game. Matthew Miller's character nimbly scales a wall, only to be fried to a crisp by multiple laser beams. The subsequent conversation between the party sorcerer and Matthew's character's ghost made things even funnier.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

Carcosa, because it had just arrived in the mail.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

It really depends on the game, setting, tone, etc. That said, Gustave Dore' was pretty flexable. He could do comic, absurd, creepy, and awe-inspiring -- sometimes in the same illustration.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

I've been told I've creeped players out before (in a good way), but I dunno about genuine fear.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

Probably The Great Pendragon Campaign, though it unfortunately died before we even got to Arthur's conception. The players were so into the spirit of the thing -- going on quests, fighting Saxons, fathering bastards, etc.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

Up here in the Appalachian mountains -- outside on a large table after food had been cleared away. It's a crisp early autumn or late summer evening, and there's a few beers and a couple bottles on wine on the table.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Unknown Armies.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

William Blake, James Branch Cabell, and Hollow Earth theories.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

Clever, easy-going, with a good sense of humor.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

When I was a Classics student, we translated, analyzed, and discussed a lot of Latin poetry. I was in an experimental free-form play-by-post Planescape game once where we took turns GMing in a variety of styles, formats, and POVs. One of my segments was a parody of those exercises and class discussions, with the action of the story being the poem being translated and (erroneously) analysed by students.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

I want a Call of Cthulhu sourcebook on occult LA -- especially Hollywood -- say from the Silent era to the early '70s.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

I don't really talk about RPGs with people who don't play, as I think I'd bore them senseless. My wife has played in the past, and probably will do so again in the future, but it's more of a thing she does with me than something she has a strong interest in for its own sake. But I bounce ideas off her and ask for suggestions all the time. She's a sci-fi/fantasy writer.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

[Psychedelic Warlords] Starting Campaign Setting: the Planet Oriax

So I've been giving some thought to the actual setting for this thing.  The idea is to start out on a central hex on one planet, and then expand from there as the players see fit.  This limits the scope of the campaign at the beginning, but I find that narrowing down your options at the very start allows for a much easier "buy-in" from players.  This way, their options and opportunities for adventure can expand in response to the players' actions and interests.  Also, I don't have a huge amount of time for prep, and I'm chronically indecisive.  This takes a lot of the burden off of my hands by presenting me with fewer decisions to make over a longer stretch of time.

Anyway, here's what I've come up with so far:

The Planet Oriax, at various points in its history, has been:

- A poisonous, chaotic hellscape - the screaming, malformed, botched abortion of a degenerate star.  This rather overheated description can be found in the otherwise sober planetary historian Yivok the Lesser's Lives of the Planets.  He maintained throughout his life a particularly violent and irrational dislike for the planet.  He would never mention its name directly, referring to it as either "that spherical blasphemy" or, more cryptically, "the bloodshot eye of the anti-Father."  When near death, he reportedly asked to be carried out to an orbital observation deck where Oriax could be observed by long-range telescope.  Peering through the screen, he excitedly made an obscene gesture in the direction of the planet before expiring, a smile on his withered lips.

- The plaything of a generally irresponsible pantheon of Kirbyesque alien space gods, some of whose descendants exist today.

-  The capitol world of at least two galaxy-spanning empires

- A penal colony -- a dumping ground for all manner of criminals, heretics, and madmen.

- A pilgrimage site, famous for its monumental reliquaries, within whose gem-encrusted frames were housed the calcified bones of martyred titan-saints, standing in eternal vigil.

- A hedonic paradise of glittering palaces, calm oceans, and lush pleasure-gardens, serving a technologically and socially advanced society.

At present, it's a blasted, post-apocalyptic wasteland..  There are still forests, seas, jungles, and glaciers, but much of the planet's surface has been given over to desert.  The planet's littered with ruined cities and monuments, and the bones of massive extinct beasts bleaching under the harsh sun.  Warp-storms crackle across the landscape with alarming frequency, tearing open temporary holes in the fabric of space-time, and leaving madness and mutation in their wake.  The great, continent-spanning civilizations of the past have fragmented into small, isolated communities, whose eccentricities have only become more pronounced in isolation.  The immortal descendants of ancient Sorcerer-kings spend their days in drug-induced reverie and petty intrigue.  Some of these forsake their immortality and leave the safety of their hermetically-sealed crystalline palaces to seek adventure and death in the lands beyond.  Rival warlords jockey for position.  A few would-be conquerors have attempted to form empires, but so far, the largest political entities are independent towns and loosely-allied city-states.  The lands between are filled with strange and terrifying creatures, treacherous geography, fanatical cults, bands of predatory mutants, and the laboratory strongholds of mad wizards.

Oriax today is far from the center of interplanetary politics and trade, and its relative obscurity, dangerous reputation, and lack of many modern amenities make it an unpopular destination for casual tourists, though a few thrill-seekers arrive each solar year.  The bulk of off-worlders are adventurers of some description, lured by tales of vast, half-buried wealth, or with ambitions to carve out their own petty kingdoms in a savage world, far from the confines and strictures of life on the core planets.  Along with these trickle in a disparate collection of fugitives, refugees, exiles, explorers, spies, heretics, archaeologists, missionaries, and the sort of dangerous eccentrics who can find no employment in civilized space.

NEXT: The Free Town of Pazuzu: part Deadwood, part Tangier -- smack dab in the center of the starting hex.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Psychedelic Warlords: Appendix N in Pictures

So I'm working on a home campaign of my own for ConstantCon.  I plan to do Galbaruc eventually, but with that one, I think I often get bogged down in "getting the tone just right," and developing it as an internally consistent setting.  For right now, I thought it would be fun to throw logic and internal consistency out the window and go with something that's been lurking inchoate in the back of my mind for a while.

Here's what I'm going for: