Archive for the ‘setting’ Category


4E: Lost Alliance Set-up

June 29, 2011

Concept: Heroic 4E Essentials game set in a non-european culture – a balance of combat and skill challenges, with players self-directing goals.

What Players Need to Know:

1. Lost Alliance- core setting and class. Read First! Conceptually classes and culture is very different than vanilla D&D. (I’ll need to do a write up of the other classes and races later).

2. Human-centric. Dwarves and halflings are minorities in the Masara, Elves rarely heard from. No other core races available as PCs, initially.

3. Sometimes there may be places/random encounters with monsters beyond your ability. Good time to run!

4. Mearl’s Damage Hack: Don’t roll for damage- normal hits do average damage, crits do full damage.

5. PC death? Create a new character 1 level lower than party average.

6. Normal XP awards, Quest XP, personal Quest XP, and bonus XP for good tactics, stunting, or creative actions in Skill Challenges. This may cause the party to diverge in levels- which is fine by me.

7. Monsters will have reduced HP and probably different powers. Encounters will have more monsters to make up the difference.

Same Page Tool expectations:

Play to win? Yes.
Win conditions are making Masara a safer, better place and are rewarded with XP per the Quest xp rules.

This can be fighting back monsters and helping settlements expand, it can also be stabilizing the political groups within Masara or making alliances with other groups/peoples. By sword or by diplomacy, whatever works.

PCs are expected to work together, conflicts are mostly for show

The GM preps a map with NPCs and/or monsters. The players have their characters travel anywhere they can reach on the map, according to their own goals.

The players’ roles are to to set goals for their characters, and pursue them proactively.

Doing the smartest thing for your character’s survival sometimes isn’t as important as other choices (see win conditions above.)

The GM’s role to the rules is follow them, come what may. (including following house rules)

After many sessions of play, during one session, a player decides to have her character side with an enemy. This is something that shouldn’t even happen. This is someone being a jerk.

This one is actually a bit more tricky- given that I expect politics to play in this game. That said, if it’s at the point when people are drawing swords, sides are usually pretty clear – it’s not Dogs in the Vineyard or Burning Wheel, so I’m not going to be having ultra-deep moral issues, so this shouldn’t be coming up often, and where it does, it’s probably time for a Skill Challenge.

DM’s Role

1. Create a map with local things of interest. Start at one settlement, spread further as the campaign evolves.

2. Create 6-8 NPCs with interests and goals. Don’t need to stat them, really, just use them as personages, allies, obstacles, etc. (Build with an eye towards setting and PCs)

3. Create a backlog of monsters using Monster Hack rules maybe 5-6 for an environment type/area, cover 3-ish areas or so for some variety. Steal power ideas liberally from videogames for interesting tactical aspects. Skip statting out attributes and stuff you can make up on the fly.

4. Follow the players’. Set up/Offer Quests according to player goals and NPC motivations. Set up Skill Challenges as you go, encounters as you go as well.


4E: Lost Alliance

June 21, 2011

A fun little setting idea for 4E Essentials.


The Masara people have carved out more than simply “points of light” in the darkness- theirs is not a great empire, but it is a nation, prospering through hard work and courage, and that is much these days.

Over 3 centuries of work, they have fought back the monsters and beasts, and left the land relatively safe- safe enough that in many places, there are towns and villages without walls, merely a simple watchtower to serve as warning.

Imagine a mix of the architecture of Thailand with Moorish Spain- intricate carvings, expert engravings, beautiful plazas and courtyards. The wealthy have water gardens in their compounds, the less wealthy build their clan houses in a circular pattern facing inward – to a common yard where fruit trees and small gardens sit.


Your mother and your aunts hold council for your clan, they make the decisions. Your families live near by, more from tradition than need at this point, and the traders and travelers are the few who live distantly, though alliances hold families from generations ago, which allows you a network of connections should you travel to the outer settlements.

Your clan, your status and your deeds are worn openly with colored patterns of beads in your hair. Women may wear them in any direction, men only wear theirs on the back (they are not allowed to sit facing forward – usually only to the side, so their beads are always visible at gatherings.)

When you pass, your hair will be cut, and placed on the ancestral shrine with your beads on display – this will be the altar through which your family prays for you, personally. If the beads are lost, prayers cannot be made to you, or for you specifically, but only for the family as a whole.

Mask Keepers (Fighters- Knights)

The mask is a tool for summoning- with a mask, you can bring the spirit or a god into your body for dance and ritual. With armor- you have a mask and full suit – you bring them in for war.

The Mask Keepers are the warriors who keep the land safe from the most dangerous threats, though fewer people study the old ways, and the mask-makers also dwindle in numbers.

The tradition was a marriage of customs- the mask rituals of the Masara and the armorcraft of the Dwarves. The Exile Clans of the Dwarves who still live among the humans, they consider themselves the last defenders of that alliance long ago.

Trance Fighters (Fighter- Slayer)

The other tradition of defense are the Trance Fighters, who use a combination of chanting and mudras to bring their minds into the appropriate state for war. It’s said that their arts come from the Song of the God of War, and each stance and chant is but a part of it.

As the peninsula has become safe, their ways are forgotten around the older towns, but further out, by the frontiers, you can find the masters in the wild, practicing their arts with their disciples and fighting the beasts without.

Divines (Clerics – Warpriests)

The High Temple has 888 Divines at work at all times. During initiation, their name is carved on a tree trunk, which is planted in the Temple Grounds- the tree lets the temple know of the Divine’s life force- when they die, the tree falls.

Then it is time to initiate a new Divine.

As grim as that sounds, they are the relentless mystic warrior-lawgivers who travel the lands aiding the people and driving back evil spirits. They are a major reason the Masara have survived the times of Evil and the monsters.

The Night Blades (Rogue- Thief)

They came to Masara during the time of Evil- their own lands destroyed and corrupted- a mysterious order of mystics and warriors – and they swore fealty to the Queen. They are the hidden society of justice, who have helped keep Masara from falling into disunity and destruction throughout the generations.

They take lives to save life itself- “Many must die so that all may live” is their words of assassination, and their words of sacrifice.

The Mystics (Wizard- Mage)

Before the age of Evil, there was a book with the Knowledge of the World, all the Gods’ knowledge, which the High Mother held and passed down from Queen to Queen. When the Last War broke out, the book itself was shattered, and it’s pages flung across the worlds.

Someone found that page, someone wise, someone who knew their duty was to protect it’s knowledge, until the day the Book would be reassembled. Though the pages are hard to find, the finders would copy the knowledge, and pass it down from adept to adept, each person learning a little bit about the magic of the universe and it’s creation.

A spell is not just a set of words- it’s several ideas changed to the moment and the exact situation- doing the same spell twice entails doing different movements, different words- a mage doesn’t cast the spell as much as line up exact forces of stars, celestial bodies, elemental influences, and ideas, which revolve around a compass always moving.

The spell book doesn’t “teach” you the spell, it teaches you how to calculate these complex forces- the time isn’t memorizing spells as much as checking the times of sunrise/sunset, tides, the exact position of the sun to your current location, so when you actually need to cast the spell, you’ve worked out a lot of the major factors and only need to figure out the finer details in the moment.


D&D: Eternal Lunar Lich War

October 24, 2010

There’s an thread, innocuously titled, In 4E, can you still live on the moon? where the question is asked, can you put together enough magic to live on the moon?

Someone points out that you could become a lich, thereby ignoring that whole oxygen, hot/cold, food, water thing.

Then someone else points out, if you can do it, others can too. Which… leads to premises too metal to consider without some portion of sanity loss.

Go. Enjoy!


Shadowrun World

July 16, 2010

I’m thinking I’m going to have to do a Shadowrun Hack of Apocalypse World at some point.

The grubby desperation to keep fed and housed, the “I know a guy who knows a guy, but that guy works for the other gang-oh shit!”, and just cracked out action of Apocalypse World seems like a perfect fit for Shadowrun. One of my big sticking points for Shadowrun was the clunky system (and fucking up Seattle, and sketchy race shit…).

I could see keeping the moves, but adding in Moves like, “Going Wireless”, “Calling Spirits and Daemons”.

The interesting twist is that AW doesn’t have a social structure- power is pretty much you, me, us, them, nothing above gangs- while Shadowrun is basically about the us vs. them under the heavy shadow of the corporations crushing everyone underfoot.

In half the cases it’s going to be dealing with folks after you because they’re dealing with a scarcity, and the other half would be dealing with folks after you because they’re just fucking greedy.

Having a rival gang push you out of your territory because they’re going to set up a giant neo-meth house out of your entire apartment complex is just as messed up as having everyone in the building get arrested in a surprise police raid because they want to knock it down and put up a mall in time for next month’s World Cup game.


Wonder Woman and the Amazons

July 3, 2010

Across the world, people have been developing strange, superhuman powers. Some focus these abilities towards excelling in a field – music, art, sports, finance, disaster relief, etc.

But some choose less beneficent paths – all around the world one can find corruption, strife, wars ready to break out – and with these powers, it’s too easy to find work, or even just an outlet for violent minds.

As tensions mount and these “superpowered” disasters (terrorism?) strike more and more frequently, governments are scrambling to restore order.

But only one group is ready to handle it. From the small island nation of Themyscira, the Amazon Team is sent around the world led by their captain, Diana “Wonder Woman” Prince.

They alone know the reasons for these powers, and what is truly at stake.

The Titans have been reborn in human bodies, and it’s only a matter of time before the wars of old return to the land. So, they must be stopped, before they fully awaken to their powers.

Game idea

I’m seeing this as probably a PTA game, with Diana as the lead character and the various Amazons as spotlight characters as part of the team, each episode fighting a new threat – with overarching issues being the global politics.

In terms of the superheroics- less supers running around than the DC universe. But, yeah, full fucking superpowers- Wonder Woman can fly, she can knock people throw walls, she’s got a magic sword that cuts through tanks, her lasso makes you tell the truth, and she blocks bullets with her bracelets.

The Amazons would also be doing some pretty awesome stuff, though I’m thinking lower level powers- like the Outsiders (you know, where people are ONLY lifting and throwing motorcycles, not tanks and trucks). Maybe every location in the world has a local Amazon agent, who has the inside knowledge of the area and the politics.

The Titans would be “supervillains” on the low level, but more powerful? Let’s think freakish disasters- like Akira. They just become bad to exist, sort of like the Aberrants from Trinity. The big problem would be dealing with governments and folks trying to protect/use these things for their advantages and the horrible crap that comes down with that.


Avatar the Last Airbender via Sorcerer

March 16, 2010

I’ve been in an Avatar the Last Airbender mood lately – and I think I’d run it using Sorcerer. Why? Basically the kids are caught in a lot of Humanity-testing kind of situations, and Sorcerer does a good job of emulating the Bender powers and with the martial arts rules in Sex & Sorcery, the fighting as well.


Humanity is dual defined as in Sorcerer’s Soul:
1. Empathy & Connection with others
2. Self acceptance of one’s feelings

Consider Iroh as being pretty good on both accounts, Zuko on neither, Aang being strong in the first and struggling with the second, and Azula being strong in the second and simply not giving a damn about the first.

Special Humanity Rules

Any character can sacrifice a point of Humanity to prevent another character from going into Humanity 0. (Iroh does this a lot. Katara does this a bit.)

Damage Rules

Avatar being a kids show, means normally deadly things like fire, swords, or arrows rarely make contact and actually cause harm. All damage is automatically assumed non-lethal unless specially noted (such as lightning). If you incapacitate someone, you can choose to inflict lasting damage.

Any attacks against helpless or incapacitated living beings incurs a humanity check.

Any scene in which you choose to attempt to inflict lethal damage incurs a Humanity check.


As mentioned, Bending isn’t Sorcery. All trained Benders have “Martial Arts” descriptor under Stamina. Use Benders’ Will for their Power.

All Trained Benders start with:
– Special Damage (non-lethal, element)
– Ranged
– Warp

Learning additional powers (techniques) requires time, and rolling Lore vs. 5 dice for each power. If you have a teacher, they can roll their Lore vs. 1 to give you Bonus Dice to your roll. If you fail, you have to wait until your Lore or Will rises before you can try to learn this again.

Available powers:
– Hold
– Armor
– Lethal Damage (lightning! see special damage rules above, though…)
– Protection (Iroh’s Lightning redirection)
– Transport
– Travel
– Vitality (healing)
– Command (Blood Bending, only in Full Moon, Humanity check)
– Boost Stamina (moving faster, lifting stuff, etc.)
– Cover (moving earth-trains, sandbending sand-skiffs, etc.)
– Perception (earth sense, ala Toph)

Special bonuses

Element is abundant +1
Moon/Sun is visible (water/fire bending accordingly) +1
Special event (Full moon, Solstice) +2
Eclipse? – cannot bend
Rare event (comet) +3


Martial arts (a must for all benders, but many others use it as well)
Good Living (“Have a cup of tea! Let’s play music”)
Hard Living (“Nothing but hard work and discipline. I don’t need luck.”)
Big (“The Boulder takes offense at that comment.”)
Just Healthy (Sokka)
Soldier (“They used to call you the Dragon of the West…”)
Arcane Regimen (“More banana garlic juice please”)

Zest for life (Aang, Tylee, Iroh, King Bumi)
Responsible (Katara)
Aristocrat (“You were never even a player.”, Azula)
Angry (Zuko)
Manipulator (Jet, Azula)
Leader (Jet)
Goofy Appeal (Sokka)

Naive (Mostly everyone, 1-2 Lore)
Scholar (the scholar who found the Library…)
Cracked (King Bumi)
Secret Society (“The White Lotus Gambit?”)
Encounters with the Mystical (Learning Firebending from Dragons)
Studying from Nature (“I learned earthbending from badgermoles”)
Learning the Hard Way (“Fire. So easily threatens to go out of control.”)
Inhuman (Wan Shi Tong)

Lore, Sorcery, Demons

Sorcery includes the Spirit World, but also the wider ability of mucking around with the metaphysics of the world itself:

– Iroh’s mixing Water & Firebending to make the lightning defense
– Admiral Zhao’s attempt to kill the Water Spirit
– Pacts with Hei Bai, Wan Shi Tong, Ko the Face Stealer

Basically, most of the world lives with only Lore 1-2, with a lot of hard work towards learning new Bending techniques. Going beyond that requires very lateral thinking and even dealing with the dangers of the spirit world or seeking out lost societies.

Aang, Sorcerer

Classic Sorcerer-style Bindings are rare- people wisely fear the power of things beyond their ken. But here’s the most obvious example:

The Avatar State
Need- extreme danger or emotional trauma to the host, or to those the host cares about.
Desire- Divine Retribution (Mayhem)
Stamina 9
Will 10
Lore 9
Power 10
Abilities: Special Damage (non-lethal, all 4 elements), ranged, Travel, Warp, Hold, Boost Stamina

The Avatar State typically uses all of it’s powers until it’s burnt out, forcing the host to be in danger before being able to activate it again…

The individual incarnations that Aang deals with, like Roku, also are considered Bound demons by the rules. Their needs are usually not as dire- “Be in the Spirit World, or the Fire Temple during the Solstice” but still are a bit of a hassle to meet.

Nearly all of them have big Power levels, which is why Aang has such a hard time commanding them (he’s got penalties on the Binding rolls, and also why he only can get cryptic and partial answers most of the time).

Later in the series, Guru Pathik leads Aang on a series of Humanity gaining meditations to finally undertake a ritual to basically trade Humanity for Lore and attempt to re-Bind the Avatar Spirit. Aang bails out on it and the Avatar Spirit rebels… refusing to offer it’s powers.

You could easily say that thematically, in Sorcerer terms, Avatar is about a 12 year old boy who is the world’s biggest sorcerer…


Fictional Setup and Narrativist Play

December 25, 2009

I’ve been slowly turning a setting idea over and over in my head and realized what I was missing with it:

For Narrativist play, this is what you need in Situation for play:

1) Fictional reasons for the conflict (A struggle for the Throne, kids trapped in a podunk town, demons eating your soul, whatever)
2) Characters with motivations based in human nature or ideals that drive them further into that conflict (Patriotism, desire for freedom, unrequited love, a struggle with addiction, etc.)

This is why stuff like Lady Blackbird and con demos can work really well with minimal Setting – the immediate Situation and Character are already clicked together to work this combo. As it stands now, most rpgs use really in-depth Setting to try to provoke and inspire groups to design good Situation and Character.

Although a lot of 90’s game design started doing a good job with that (one thing Whitewolf excelled at- using splats both for conflict and to epitomize ideals and thematic stances), the payoff of the setup is in play- what the character chooses and faces and becomes.

If the game which you are playing isn’t set up to accept those choices and changes, eventually players stop bothering even trying to have their characters have meaningful changes.

It atrophies and falls away, much like Vincent’s comment on decoupled mechanics and fiction. All the cries about “How do I make my players create ‘good’ characters?” is moot if the gameplay doesn’t allow those characters to be expressed.

Anyway, just make sure when you’re putting together settings, to include both the fictional source of conflict AND hooks for players to develop characters with motivations and ideals about that conflict. And when it comes time to play, make sure everyone at the table has that going on with their characters.