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Author Topic: Afterglow  (Read 12836 times)
Sean
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« on: April 19, 2004, 08:49:09 PM »

It looks like I may actually be running a Sorcerer mini-campaign in the near future, which is a source of great delight. I'll follow this up with some setting teaser stuff in a little while; in the meantime, here's my one-sheet.


Afterglow
A Sorcerer & Sword one-sheet

Idiom: Post-apocalyptic science-fantasy: this is a place of savage wilderness, incomprehensible ancient technology, bizarre and lethal mutation, extreme communities, and general decline. Humankind and nature alike walk a razor’s edge between extinction and obsolescence. Apparent everywhere are the terrible, twisted consequences of the biotechnological experimentation and radioactive error of the ancient world: the magic of the ancients.

Lore and Sorcery: Among even the greatest adepts, the surviving lore of the ancient world is well over ninety percent nonsense, a mixture of animistic intuition, primitive religion, and pseudoscientific theorizing. Though players may interpret the sorcery they perceive as rooted in mutation or technology, their characters will for the most part have a strictly magical understanding – which is to say, by and large, a false understanding – of what they are doing. Many with no sorcerous ability, especially in cities, have some mastery of this cant. However, two features, possibly connected, separate the genuine sorcerer from the pretender. The first is that their lore is actually effective when dealing with the devices of the ancients – these devices will speak to and communicate with them, and will respond to their experimentation and command, if not always in a predictable or controllable manner. The second is a kind of (at least) low-grade psionic ability, which allows the shaping of bio-radioactive energies. These two abilities taken in conjunction, to greater or lesser degrees, open up the possibility of making something of the world your sorcerer is given – if you can avoid being consumed by the forces of the very past which created it.

Sorcerers: Wandering sorcerers in this setting might be nomads armed with ancient weapons, mutant outcasts from their tribe, immortal survivors of the cataclysm, or quivering epileptic psychics. Other sorcerers will be more connected to their community, leaders, priests, heroes, and outlaws of their fragile homes, all bound in some way to the terrible energies which destroyed the past.

Demons: Inconspicuous demons might be tiny buzzing drones which whisper the secrets of the ancients to the sorcerer who binds them, or terrible apparitions lurking in the mist, psychically bound to their controller. Object demons might be giant, impossibly sharp and light swords with ‘governing spirits’, or baroque and lethal energy weapons, or other sorts of artifact – but always imbued with a controlling intelligence of some kind. Parasite demons will often be dramatic physical mutations, the use of which constantly threatens to undermine or transform the mutant’s character and personality, or cybernetic replacements of lost body parts. Passing demons which really pass might be android avatars of the ancients, using the sorcerer for their own obscure ends even as the sorcerer uses them; the more obvious ones are bizarre mutant beasts psychically bound with the sorcerer, or vehicles, or robots. The most common sort of Possessor demon is perceived as a spirit, which seizes the mind of the psionically gifted, driving her into an epileptic fit so that it may exercise its power directly on the world around it. Many other ideas are possible, so long as they are consistent with the general science-fantasy idiom.

Humanity: Afterglow uses a dual definition of humanity. One axis might be called individual humanity, positively defined by ego-assertion, independence, and self-mastery. The other might be understood as social humanity, positively defined by empathy, altruism, and positive contribution to whatever community one is involved with. Aside from clearer negatives defined by the absence of these, demons are by their very nature opposed to the former, and often opposed to the latter by way of their desires and needs. Physical mutation, personality-consuming psychic energy, and dependence on ancient technologies or mutant beasts undermine one’s integrity and self-reliance and give one over to the powers that destroyed one’s own world and threatens constantly to destroy you. Furthermore, the desires of these demonic creatures are at best orthogonal to the interests of surviving human communities, and often inimical if not carefully shaped and tended to.

Zero Humanity: The nature of falling to zero humanity varies somewhat with the character. A mutant may become a demon in his own right; a cyborg might become a slave of some vast computer intelligence. In such cases, humanity zero represents loss of individuality. On the other hand, compromises to social humanity push one towards sociopathic behavior and loss of empathy. Keeping in mind that the intended use of this setting is for ‘short story’ style play, hitting Humanity zero within such a story arc is to be resolved in one of two ways. The first is simply to turn the character into a demon, playing it as such for the remainder of the session, as per listed desires and needs, and removing it from play. (This option is only suited for characters who have succumbed somehow to some kind of taint.) The second involves some reconsideration of player goals: from the time Humanity 0 is hit the character’s role in the story changes somewhat, wherein all the players collaborate to produce (a) a maximally painful and disturbing resolution of the character’s original kicker which (b) involves the humanity zero character becoming at least a peripheral ‘villain’ relative to some other aspect of the scenario (probably at least one other character’s story). If the character survives this, it may be considered for future story cycles pending the first GM rewrite option listed in The Sorcerer’s Soul.

Community: When conceiving your sorcerer, it will be important to decide what kind of community he hails from, and what his relationship to it is now. Does she come from a vast, decaying city, built around ancient ruins? A roaming band of nomads or outlaws? A caravan of gypsies and traders? A primitive village submerged in tribal myth? Or is she an immortal survivor of time beyond reckoning, freshly emerged from an enclave of the ancient world? There are other possibilities as well, of course, but where your sorcerer comes from, and what his relationship to that place is now, is important for figuring out who she is now.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2004, 08:08:09 AM »

Oh my God.

Next steps:

1. Pirate a cool large-scale map from one of the RPGs out there. I suggest the main map in Tribe 8, or perhaps some of the stuff from Dark Sun.

2. Do web-searches on images using appropriate keywords, as well as combing some SF/fantasy art books. Download & photocopy into a kind of collage.

3. Come up with a variety of situations, mostly quite vague, and do not in any way dictate what role a player-character might have in any one of them. Maybe pick one of the situations as your favorite (very helpful for first-time Sorcerer players), but do be prepared to let the players decide how their character is involved.

Armed with all this, you are so ready for the character creation session. I can't wait to hear about it.

Best,
Ron
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RaconteurX
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« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2004, 07:26:54 PM »

Very cool, Sean... Gamma World all grown up.
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Doyce
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2004, 05:50:38 AM »

Quote from: Sean
When conceiving your sorcerer, it will be important to decide what kind of community he hails from, and what his relationship to it is now. Does she come from a vast, decaying city, built around ancient ruins? A roaming band of nomads or outlaws? A caravan of gypsies and traders? A primitive village submerged in tribal myth? Or is she an immortal survivor of time beyond reckoning, freshly emerged from an enclave of the ancient world?


I swear, this could be the one-sheet for the Clicking Sands game I ran last Friday (there's an Actual Play post about it).  This provides an excellent bit of inspiration for the prep-work I need to do before we play again (which I should have already done, natch), and is great encouragement as well.
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Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
Sean
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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2004, 07:06:24 AM »

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I've sort of been waiting to have a complete list of situations to post on this again, but I thought I'd put in a brief message now.

Doyce, thanks. Feel free to use this in current or modified form as your one-sheet, and if you do make changes, I'd be interested to hear your ideas. When you posted on your game I didn't know whether to be happy (to see a kindred spirit) or envious (because someone was beating me to the punch!). Who knows, if enough people are grooving on the post-apocalyptic angle (note also Clinton's old game, not to mention, of course, the Clicking Sands themselves), maybe eventually some subset of us will develop another Sorcerer mini-supplement out of this stuff. I think there are enough potentially interesting variants from the base rules in this type of setting to warrant it. Right now, though, I'm really interested in concentrating on actual play - one step at a time.

Michael, thanks to you as well. Gamma World, a game which I only played in its first edition, frustrated what I wanted to do with it - most people I knew who played the game played it as kind of a comedic post-apocalyptic slaughterfest - but it is an inspiration, along with the earliest episodes of Thundarr the Barbarian (as with The A-Team, that show wussed out later). My Dying Earth-influenced homebrew and its sources in turn are also a source of inspiration, but I really have to give primary credit to Ron's recommendations of M. John Harrison's powerful Viriconium novels and short stories and David Jarrett's curious book Witherwing - not what I'd call well-written or well-paced but full of haunting and evocative imagery nonetheless - as what got me off my ass to want to do this.

Ron, many thanks to you as well - that's excellent advice. I'm not a very visual person (or a person who has, say, a comic or magazine collection, and all my art books have names like Caravaggio and Rothko on them), so I made #2 something of a group project - everyone (including me of course) should try to find images that inspire them and fit with the setting. That way we can all collaborate on picking out the most relevant kinds of Color, within the broad umbrella I've provided.

As to #1, I'm going to go to the hobby store sometime in the vaguely near future and peruse maps - I have a few ancient ones that seem vaguely pirateable (the Valley of the Ancients map from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, or the areas of Tekumel east of Yan Kor and north of Salarvya, come to mind), but I could definitely use something more obviously relevant. If my hobby store has the Tribe 8 book in maybe I'll buy that next time I go, at least if I like the map. What I'll probably do is start with someone else's and then redraw it myself, and then redraw it further in response to player input.

I'm a little confused about your #3 recommendation though. Don't the situations have to evolve from the character's kickers and communities? I've got some vague ideas like these:

- A great inland sea, lethal roseate waters fringed with pink salt. Nothing grows there save a ring of pale fluorescent green tube-like rushes, about twenty feet from shore. None know what lie on its farther shores, but recently a prophet with a cracked bronze wand was heard speaking of black ships crossing it in the invisible distance.

- A city encased in glass, mounted like a mushroom-cap atop a pedestal of ancient metal, three hundred feet high. Nothing has emerged from it in living memory, until...

- A vast wasteland of particoloured shards of glass, utterly devoid of life. Yet when you stand at its edge, voices seem to call to you...

- A limestone tower, stewn with the silk of spontaneously generating cocoons. Whenever one opens, the same milky-white humanoid emerges...

- In a ramshackle city of driftwood huts and tents, built in the shadow of nineteen golden statues, ranging from sixty-two to one hundred and thirteen feet high, an angry priest has risen to challenge the informal consortium of bandit-gangs that rule the city's districts.

- A feral, chattering necromancer, with brown spots on his bald pate and cracked yellowing teeth, sends his demon-centurion to capture sacrifices for the god BHZH. He awaits the Sign of the Plague to unleash his terrors on the land...

Plus the usual hordes of mutant ghouls coming out of the wastes, etc. With one or two exceptions though these are mostly scenery/antagonist ideas though. I guess what I've been thinking is the following: I need to build situations forward from (a) kickers, (b) what the players decide about their characters and community, and (c) what sort of Humanity tests are going to be relevant to resolving those kickers given the kind of character they have, etc. So it seems like the situations should emerge from what the players want to be facing, and the way I weave all that together, rather than giving them a set of choices up front. (Plus the first play is going to be about two weeks after we do the group character creation session, so I've got some time to think about that in a more informed way.) But maybe you could give me some guidance on what sort of situations would be useful at the chargen session if you think that's going to be helpful.

Here's a couple of other things I've been kicking around:

I'm thinking that characters who are born mutants, or immortal survivors of the past, must trade down at least one point of Humanity, and that Humanity trading must involve a past use of their Demon in some way which implies psychological ownership of it. (Not only does Humanity trading fit for such characters, but it is a way of enforcing the 'deliberate sorcery' motif even when some sorcerers may not have actually chosen their condition. The humanity loss here represents an act which makes it clear that they came to 'own' their condition in some way.)

Also there's this idea:

Necromancy: Necromancy in Afterglow relies on the actual use of radioactive or biotechnological energies to achieve effects, as opposed to binding demons which rely on them. These energies twist and mutate the world and contribute to its further destruction, making them utterly anathema to virtually anyone with a Humanity score over zero and to most Demons as well.

(I've got to figure out how exactly to work this in to the various functions of Necromancy - maybe the machines which you might use to become a lich, hide your guts, or resurrect your dead girlfriend all just turn out to require the release of such energies into the landscape in some way. Murderous necromantic rituals to create Tokens might be reinterpreted as the psychologically necessary component of further contributing to the destruction of your world.)

Best,

Sean
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2004, 07:47:49 AM »

Hi Sean,

Quote
I'm a little confused about your #3 recommendation though. Don't the situations have to evolve from the character's kicker's and communities?
...
I guess what I've been thinking is the following: I need to build situations forward from (a) kickers, (b) what the players decide about their characters and community, and (c) what sort of Humanity tests are going to be relevant to resolving those kickers given the kind of character they have, etc. So it seems like the situations should emerge from what the players want to be facing, and the way I weave all that together, rather than giving them a set of choices up front.


All the details of what you say are correct, but overall your conclusion is not. I'm talking about situations they need to know about before coming up with Kickers and communities (and what's all this about communities, anyway? sounds HeroQuest-y). As for Humanity checks, I suggest not front-loading them except through some vague examples in communal discussion.

Read the section in Sorcerer & Sword concerning the Howard story Rogues in the House, and how the young priest frees Conan from his cell - it contrasts between old-school set'em-up and new-school player-authoring. However, I'm now drawing your attention to the point in the text where it says the players are working with the information provided by the GM. Before they say "I'm in a cell" and "I'm getting you out of the cell," the GM has already said, there's a priest who runs everything in this city.

Read the section in the final chapter of Sex & Sorcery, about our game set in Azk'Arn. It's a big deal; I came up with several "what if" situations with all expectation of what player-characters would "have to do" excised out of them. They decided which one they liked and how their characters were involved, which they absolutely needed in order to come up with their Kickers.

We conducted long discussions of this sort of play-prep back in the Sorcerer forum at the Gaming Outpost, which is now unavailable. Those discussions gave rise to storymapping in Legends of Alyria by Seth ben-Ezra, which in turn led to the first discussions about Universalis between Mike Holmes and Ralph Mazza.

Do it like this (and I have an image of me looking very narrow-eyed and threatening):

1. They read the one-sheet and you all have a Humanity/sorcery confab. [check]

2. They come up with sketchy character concepts. Sketchy! Very sketchy! Don't let Tom start thumbing through the demon abilities yet.

3. You all decide where on the map to be and what's basically going on. That's what I'm talking about here, and - I'm afraid people just miss this - it requires serious leadership on your part. Sorcerer is not a "No Myth" game at the session-prep level. Especially for the first few sessions, you as GM must demonstrate that you can, if necessary, provide overwhelmingly relevant and urgent material they must deal with. At this step, it means that you should be prepared to say, "We're playing at this tower out here in this wilderness." It'll open up to more consensual approach with further adventures; right now, that firmness is what people need. See my comments in the Art-Deco prep about this: the GM is not merely the humble Do-Toy Boy in Sorcerer.

4. Character creation, hard core. Kicker writing. Demons.

5. Now you prep your Bangs, and make up NPCs, and come up with relationship maps, and any number of other heavy-prep acts that provide maximum meat but don't require railroading.

Does that help at all?

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2004, 08:19:41 AM »

Communities are actually a big part of the new edition of Gamma World by Bruce Baugh. Might have been an influcence. Makes sense, too, as things like cryptic alliances had no real weight in the original editions, and I think Bruce wanted to highlight that part of the backdrop by giving them mechanical emphasis (I believe that you rate them with a system similar to D20 characters).  I think that the "rebuilding" concept is important to this sort of game (as opposed to the clicking sands game), making the community backgroud decision very important. Are you onboard with rebuilding or not? If you are, what kind of society does your community envision building towards? Are you onboard with your community's particular vision, or at odds with it? How do you feel about the visions of foreign communities? All neat meat to base character concerns upon.

Mike
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kwill
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« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2004, 10:48:14 AM »

ron,

steps 5 is clearly away-from-the-table GM prep; are steps 1-4 a single at-the-table session of discussion (between all players) and clarification (from the GM), which means GM prep is certainly required beforehand, or might there be, say, two sessions: one idea-generating and one GM-clarifying & finalising

I suppose both are valid options depending on the group, what triggered the question is the apparent disconnect between

> You all decide where on the map to be and what's basically going on.

and

> At this step, it means that you should be prepared to say, "We're playing at this tower out here in this wilderness."

is this: being able (prepared) to finalise things if discussion can't, or deciding (preparing) the fact beforehand? or might there be certain inalienable facts, and the rest is group-generated?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2004, 10:56:39 AM »

Hi David,

Steps 1 and 4 should definitely be done as a group, and 2-3 can be done separately or together as people see fit.

There isn't really a disconnect in my mind between

> You all decide where on the map to be and what's basically going on.

and

> At this step, it means that you should be prepared to say, "We're playing at this tower out here in this wilderness."


The second sentence provides leadership that is a very positive and often necessary contribution toward accomplishing the first. People often mis-read the first sentence to mean, "Everyone sits around and waits for the Angel of Consensus to arrive," and leadership is often required - especially when beginning a Sorcerer & Sword game. As I say, after that, things become a lot more group-based.

Best,
Ron
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kwill
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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2004, 11:25:26 AM »

excellent, thanks Ron (& Sean for bringing it up) - although my current Sorcerer campaign has been postponed I'd reached a point in preparation where I was wondering where the Angel of Consensus was going to come from
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d@vid
b_bankhead
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« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2004, 02:43:18 PM »

Words cannot express how much I love this thread ,mostly because my first attempt at doing online Trollbabe, (after my present Paladin series), Was going to be a 'Gamma World' type variant I dubbed MutieBabe, and you are doing all my work for me!
Mutiebabe was essentially Trollbabe with different color. Instead of (necessarily) having horns your big bad babe has some obvious cosmetic mutation. Instead of magic, she has Power and it comes in three flavors

Ancient Technology-she posseses, and is sympatico with bygon tech
Psi-the classic list of mental powers Telepathy,Clairvoyance,precog etc...
Mutie-speaker -can communicate and relate to mutant life forms

And that was about it, Trollbabe looks like a natural for this kind of game, again thanx for doing all my work!

Now if you want to make it easier for me , any advice on the Trollbabe subtleties of this kind of game? It seems to me thought that Trollbabe like sorcerer needs a pretty deep well of color and situation to get people moving....
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2004, 03:19:40 PM »

'Immortal' Survivors -these are characters who remember the world before the big blowup and may know what caused it. Some of them have actually lived since then others have woken from some kind of stasis to find themselves in a quite alien world, the obvious example from rpg's is "Morrow Project", these characters tend to be the most sympatico with ancient tech and are usually centered on premises relating to how the present world relates to it's past.

Wild Talents-these are people with the various range of psychic powers. One of my favorite examples of this is S. King's 'Carrie',psi's in these kinds of continuties are often the target of both para-religious awe, and Salem witchhunt type escapades depending one which of the many isolated (and often wierd) communities they happen to pass through.
They are generally involved with the human communitie's feeling about how it is evolving in response to the new world.

The "Mutiespeaker'" is someone who lives at the interface between humanity and whatever mutant ecology/community has developed. Gifted with the special power of understanding they are at the hinge of stories relating to how the human world relates with its surroundings....whether hostile,symbiotic,separatist, etc....
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Sean
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« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2004, 03:34:41 PM »

Hi, Bankhead -

Thanks for the kind words. I will continue to post on this as things progress, and I'm glad you're getting some use out of it. I can't necessarily speak to the ideas you're working with, but I was planning on dealing with the psionic stuff pretty strictly through Possessor demons, at least for the most part. That is, if your character has access to 'psychic abilities' (beyond the minimal psychic energy that 'justifies' fudging simple forms of in-game causation, or maybe hypnotism a la Sorcerer and Sword), it's because when your character is using them, it's not really your character. That seems to fit with the whole 'power tradeoff' aspect of sorcerer.

That reminds me of an idea about Possessors I had in general actually - how about letting the whole group collaborate on deciding what a Possessor does based on Desires and Needs, including the player who is Possessed? This seems like it might be fun, sort of 'first cool idea (as the GM hears it, I suppose) wins' for action decision.

Also, with the whole 'immortal survivor' bit, there are fantastic examples in Witherwing and The Pastel City, the novels I mentioned earlier.

Now I have to go re-read S&S I and III to reply coherently to Ron. As of now I'm halfway there - I partly get what you're saying, and I partly feel like I'm being asked to believe two contradictory propositions. Or maybe the kind of leadership you're asking for is something I do automatically anyway, so I can't see it. Also, what does 'no myth' roleplaying mean?

Is it like this: we sit around, do 1 and 2, and then start on 3. If they have clear ideas about Situations they want to deal with, great, roll with it. If not, don't wait for something to magically appear, start talking about necromancers and strife-torn cities and ancient ruins and hordes of mindless mutants coming out of the wastes and the old tribal chief dying and whatever else I can think of until something sticks? And have a list of better-developed versions of those kinds of things ready to go if the players don't have their own ideas? And be vaguely ready to improvise plugging them in into different places in whatever map we wind up using?
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2004, 03:53:53 PM »

'No Myth' is a style of rollplaying which systematically rejects the premise that is is possible to prepare in advance for every aspect of the campaign world. It says something 'exists' when it comes into play and not before.
The idea of the GM with everything that can possibly happen already written down imposes an impossible burden which resorts in practise in undesireable force techniques to keep the players on track with what he has prepared for.
The No Myth style empasizes improvistion and keeping the plot moving rather than working everything out it advance, No Myth tends to be associated with plenty of author stance for players but not always, a classic gamemaster could run 'no myth' just as well.

There are a classic group of threads dealing with this , anybody remember, them? My search fu for this site is pretty weak....

And please if my statement of the theory isnt perfectly 'Forge approved" please dont pile on me ,I dont feel like getting in a 50 post Texas cage match defending the above utterances....
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Sean
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« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2004, 11:53:17 AM »

Cool, Bankhead. Hey, if all your "Mutiebabes" are mutants anyway, just leave the 'mutiespeaker' specialty under Social, and have them pick between Tech and Psi. That's my 2 cents worth anyway.

Ron, I read the Azk'arn prep stuff again, and what you're saying is both straightforward and crystal-clear. It's just a matter of being able to respond to the players with some leadership - do you want to do this or this or this? - when they stall, if nothing else. So I'll work up some thisses.

(If you wanted to think about it in terms of published products and older-school type play, it would be like this: the GM shows up with the world he wants to run in and tells the players something about it. They come up with rough character ideas. The GM asks them what kind of adventure they want to run through - stop someone from killing the king? ancient tomb full of traps? explore uncharted waters in the south seas? slog through hell to find an ancient artifact? The players find something that grabs them, get plugged in to the map, and commence designing in more detail, while the GM starts designing the relationship map and NPCs and Bangs (or, hell, I guess if I'm back in the old school for my analogies he just picks out a module to run based on player preferences). Then you play. This technique is pretty generalizable, I think, assuming the GM is ready to rock.)

Progress on the map front too. I bought Vimary for Tribe 8 and Wasteland: Beyond the Outposts for Obsidian, and I think the map (tho it's nominally F rather than SF) for Midkemia Press' Heart of the Sunken Lands may come in handy as well. So I'm off to work on visuals...thanks so much, again, for your help with this. I think it would have gone reasonably well even left to my own devices, but I'm striving to learn some new tricks here.

In re the 'community' issue: it just occurred to me that one kind of tale that makes a lot of sense in the setting is the whole 'community on the edge of extinction' theme. It's not mandatory that you think about your character too strongly in terms of where she's from - note that the first options I list in the one-sheet are 'wandering sorcerer' options - but I thought that since the community types were so very diverse and so very definitive of the setting (roving bands, primitive tribes, up-and-coming citadels and fortress towns, old decaying cities, and enclaves of the ancients - all very different 'feels') that I ought to say something about them up-front in the one-sheet.

Definitely no 'Zoopremists' in Afterglow, though.
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