Woo-hoo, the writing on the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions is going briskly! (If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’re probably tired of seeing me repeat title and publisher, but there are always first-time readers, so I try to provide context.) Today I was writing on campaign creation, modelled after the process in Fate Core, and I thought I’d share excerpts in the next few posts.
The GM has many responsibilities, such as presenting the conflict to the players, controlling NPCs, and helping everyone apply the rules to the situation in the game. Let’s talk about the first of the GM’s jobs: to help the group build campaigns.
A campaign is a series of games you play with the same characters, where the story builds on what happened in earlier sessions. All the players should collaborate with the GM to plan how the campaign will work. Usually this is a conversation among all of you to decide what sort of heroes you want to play, what sort of world you live in, and what sorts of bad guys you’ll have. Talk about how serious you want the game to be and how long you want it to last.
Campaign Creation: The 30-Seconds Version
1. Decide on a premise
2. Choose the scale
3. Identify the big issues
4. Create faces and places
5. Make player characters
The world of Agaptus and the War of Ashes are based on a “grimsical” aesthetic, a word coined by its creators at ZombieSmith to meld the grimness of brutal conflict with a whimsical, humorous attitude. When you plan a game you know you’re going to be working with the following elements in your premise:
- Fantasy setting.
- Unpredictable magic and inept gods.
- Warfare and conflict as at least an important backdrop, even if your particular storyline concentrates on other aspects.
- Technology and tactics levels comparable to early Middle Ages, around the world—not just Europe—and no cannon powder or firearms.
- Lost knowledge of the Ancients and marvels that can no longer be replicated.
- Characters and societies that are blind to their own silliness, treated in a humorous way.
- Despite the humour, real danger, drama, and death.
While there is nothing that prevents your group from removing or altering these elements, they are part of the scope of this book. Make note of anything you want to change, and we’ll talk more in a little bit about how you can customize the setting to your preferences.
Within this framework, your group should discuss some the fundamental questions about the stories you want to build, for example:
- What tone you are hoping for: Do you want to place the accent on humor, drama, danger, heroism, friendship, politics? Is Agaptus a doomed world, one on the cusp of change, or a place of hope?
- What level of violence you are comfortable with: Does your group want only humorous violence, “realistic” gore, or some point in between?
- What kind of PCs and PC groups you want play: For example, will your player characters be champions writ large, unlikely allies, scoundrels, Chosen Ones, reluctant heroes?
- What kind of adventures you will have: Does your group expect quests, political intrigue, dungeon-crawls, mysteries, con jobs?
Ask the group whether anyone has other such questions that should be discussed up-front.
Example: Kim is going to be running a game for Ben, Sharlene, and Ian. They decide that they want a feeling of high adventure, and to visit a lot of the world rather than centre their story in one place. Ben wants to play a Big Damn hero but Ian feels like a bit more of a “grey area” character, and Sharlene just doesn’t want to play a completely amoral character. They agree to use this to create some dramatic tension, but stay away from making characters too close to the extremes. They won’t shy away from brutality if it shows up in the story, but they don’t want to focus on it as a primary element.
Play in the War of Ashes is possible on a wide range of scale, from small local campaign featuring young villagers to world-spanning campaigns where the (inept) gods of Agapta themselves intervene. In fact, if your players feel really ambitious, they can play gods themselves!
Decide how epic or personal your story will be. In a small-scale game, characters deal with problems in a city or region, they don’t travel a great deal, and the problems are local. A large-scale game involves dealing with problems that affect the entire kingdom, all of Agaptus, or even the rest of the world beyond.
Example: Kim, Ben, Sharlene, and Ian decide that they would like to participate in world-changing events, but they would also like to start small so they can get a bit of a Hero’s Journey feel.
A small-scale game will turn into a large-scale one over time, as you’ve probably seen in long-running novel series or television shows. We’ll talk about re-scaling a mature campaign under Expanding the World.
Finally, scale can also refer to group size, especially in conflict; we’ll talk about this in Connecting the Games when we see how the War of Ashes RPG can connect with other games set in the same world but dealing with a different scale of play, such as War of Ashes: Shieldwall.
(To be continued tomorrow.)
Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.