Sunday, April 20, 2014

The King is Dead: Plot "Points"

I'd rather have players invent the fully automatic crossbow than buy it off the shelf.

One of my ambitions for The King is Dead is to provide a proper Savage Worlds Plot Point campaign.  For those unfamiliar with them, Plot Point settings straddle the line between old-fashioned sandbox settings and newfangled adventure paths; they are meant to provide a lot of room for player agency and GM improvisation while at the same time providing a tour of the setting that is also a plot with a beginning, middle, and end.  I've read some Plot Point settings that I really like (50 Fathoms, Slipstream), some I enjoy but find problematic (Evernight, Rippers), and some I just don’t like.  I've been struggling for a while just how to approach a Plot Point campaign for The King is Dead, and I think I've had a couple of epiphanies.

One is coming up with a title.  Most of the classic Plot Points are intimately intertwined campaigns and settings, and many end by “breaking” their settings in some way.  They’re usually about confronting the Big Bad of the setting and “healing” the setting; some radically change the setting while others end the “season one” villain while setting up new adventures.  50 Fathoms ends with the magical flooding of Caribdus stopped and Slipstream ends with the defeat of the evil space monarch, but both Evernight and Rippers include major “gotcha!” moments that really screw with the players.  The Rippers Plot Point campaign especially effectively ends the setting.   Giving The King is Dead’s Plot Point campaign a title designates it as a discrete entity from the setting itself; a title promises that no matter how much the campaign might change the sociopolitical structure of the game world, the setting and characters continue on regardless.

(That title, of course, must be “The King Must Die!” because there’s really no way you can do a campaign in Malleus that doesn't end with the defeat of King Wilhelm.  Just because the players have freed Malleus, however, doesn't mean they've either ended the plague of vampirism or saved the world…)    

The other epiphany is something that’s still a bit murky in my brain: actual plot points.  As in, giving out points to the characters that they can spend on the plot.

Plot points (plot point$?) would be a way of enabling player control over the metaplot.  Nothing happens in a vacuum, but no player likes having her character overshadowed by NPCs.  I imagine plot points as a way of buying change in the greater campaign setting without having to play out every scientific breakthrough or political rally.  Points might be gathered for achievements in play or between-game Dramatic Tasks and/or Interludes.  Points might be spent to introduce a piece of steampunk equipment into the world (“I've just received a word from a learned compatriot that he has perfected his Magnetic Divinometer, and he's willing to lend us the prototype!”) or cashed in for plot contrivances (“Our allies in St. Goliath’s will stage a mob uprising to distract the Watch while we break into the armory.”) or even discover new vampire weaknesses ("These long-forgotten tomes tell me the ancient Pariah worshipers once knew of something called 'holy water.'").  

Or something like that.  I’m not sure of the details yet -- I just had this thought a couple of days ago and I'm still working out the details -- but my instinct is that this would be a fun way for players to literally invest in the setting.  There's some genuine fun to be had in spending all the imaginary gold you earn in an old-school dungeon crawl, but that money-grubbing approach really doesn't feel right for a game about revolutionaries.  I've been thinking about expanding the unique abilities of the secret societies (maybe granting a free Edge or imposing a specific Hindrance); maybe every society could have a unique menu for spending plot points.



Friday, April 18, 2014

Well, This is (Bleeding) Cool!

Just in case you didn't catch the news yesterday...

I've been following comic book and entertainment news site Bleeding Cool ever since it was just Rich Johnston's rumor column at Comic Book Resources.  It's one of my favorite places to keep up with the insanity at Marvel and DC and get actual news I can use on movies and TV.  Surprisingly, they've recently started running RPG articles as well -- and the latest spotlights some of the craziness of the do-it-yourself end of the RPG blogosphere!

Self-Publishing Roundup: Three Fantasy RPG Supplements You Won't Find in Game Stores by Dorkland! blogger, Battlefield Press co-publisher, and fellow Google+ user Christopher Helton  puts the spotlight on Trey Causey's Weird Adventures from his From The Sorcerer's Skull blog,
the new The Dungeon Dozen book from Jason Sholtis' The Dungeon Dozen blog, and friend-of-the-blog Jack Shear's Planet Motherfucker quasi-Savage Worlds setting from his gloriously warped Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque.  My totally unscientific impression is that Bleeding Cool is kind of a big deal, so I hope this publicity brings a gajillion hits to three very deserving bastions of DIY creativity.

This is not the first gaming article on Bleeding Cool and it won't be the last (but I can't find any tags on the site so I can't link to any other examples).  Helton has stated on Google+ that this particular article is intended as the first in a series on RPG self-publishing, so I really need to get my act together and get a book published.  I can just imagine the thrill of seeing The King is Dead on the same screen as rants about Dan Didio ruining yet another character or spoilers about Michael Bay's Ninja Turtles...

No, seriously.  That would be awesome!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The King is Dead: The Benevolent Association

There is a truism in RPGs that if you want the players to do something, you should design the game to make them do that something.  I want The King is Dead to be about plots and skullduggery in the alleys and parlors of pseudo-Georgian Malleus, so why the heck did I put a hybrid pirate/highwayman guild in the core secret societies?!

“I’m a respectable landowner who is secretly a mad scientist.”

“I’m a Clavish valet who is secretly a deadly assassin.”

“I’m a disaffected noblewoman who has turned to magic.”

“I’m a pirate!  Arr!”

Yeah, why deliberately create a situation where one player is going to have a character who doesn’t fit with everybody else – who is yearning to be off gallivanting about on his ship while everybody else built their character to fit into the society of mainland Malleus?  Presented below is the new “thieves’ guild” to replace the Red Brotherhood.

The Benevolent Association

They say there is no honor among thieves.  The Benevolent Association of Highwaymen, Pickpockets, and Second-Storey Men is the exception that proves the rule.

The underworld of Malleus is a treacherous maze of constantly-shifting loyalties and alliances of convenience.  The innkeeper that’s been your fence for years would sell you to the thief-takers in an instant if he knew you were schtupping his daughter; the old man who taught you everything you know has ratted out a half-dozen apprentices before you.  It takes a thief of true honor to resist the siren’s call of easy money.

The Benevolent Association is comprised entirely of those brigands who have proved themselves loyal to their friends and allies.  They’ve got a safehouse in every town and village where you can rest easy without fear of treachery; they’ve got the manpower and money to stage jailbreaks or bribe guards at all but the most secure fortresses.  They’re the shining knights of the underworld -- paragons of the simplest of virtues -- and they will enforce that code of honor with steel and shot, boyo.  

Don’t screw with them unless you want six inches of steel in your gut.

Archetypes: gallant highwayman, quixotic gentleman, smiling cutthroat, young burglar.

Membership in the Benevolent Association grants one die in Streetwise and one die in either Riding or Lockpicking.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia Development Log -- Woo-hoo!


I've finished the first draft of the outline for the chapter and sent it off to Four-in-Hand Games for their approval.  I expect some changes will be ordered, but at least I have a lot of the research done and a lot of ideas swimming in my head.  Plus, the process of breaking down the beats of the chapter into a formal outline gave me some really good practice that I can use for The King is Dead; I've always been a very improvisational writer, but this more focused approach should prove really helpful in getting my book done.

To celebrate, here's one of the most awesome (and Meiji Era) fights in anime history: Himura Kenshin versus Saitō Hajime from Rurouni Kenshin!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia -- More Wagakki Band

Hey! Some fan actually subtitled this one!

I am determined to plow through the last section of the Steamscapes: Japan outline tomorrow.  I've outlined up to the arrival of Perry and skipped ahead to the aftermath of the Boshin War, but that section between the Black Ships and the establishment of the Republic of Ezo is where the alternate history happens and I'm not sure how much depth I need to go into. 

In Steamscapes: North America, a lot of weird stuff happens but a lot of history runs parallel to the real world despite itself.  The main difference seems to be a fragmenting of the United States of America into smaller republics.  I'd originally thought that the Tokugawa Shogunate should win the Boshin War, but further study leads me to the conclusion that the shogunate was too deeply flawed to last.  There's just no way a despised military dictatorship can win in the long run if it opposes the basic religious beliefs of the nation -- plus the Republic of Ezo is amazingly weird, so I think the setting would benefit from including it as an ongoing concern. 

There's a fine balance to be maintained between "alternate" and "history."