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Author Topic: Campaign Help Requested: the Dungeon War, and  (Read 6148 times)
Danny_K
Member

Posts: 198


« on: August 02, 2009, 03:43:08 AM »

Hi, Eero!  I've ordered the Solar System PDF and am looking forward to the World of Near book.   This has reignited my interest in TSOY, so I'm brainstorming a new campaign and I wanted to ask your opinion about a couple things. 

1) First, one of the ideas I had was for what RPG.Net calls "Fantasy F***ing Vietnam", the idea of a dungeon crawl as interminable war against a deadly enemy that won't ever give up because, hey, the dungeon is where it lives.  Lots of Apocalypse Now and The Things They Carried references got thrown around, but I like the basic idea.  I thought TSOY/Solar System might be a great game to use, because it really emphasizes character's personal motivations for the things they do, so instead of a generic platoon of paladins, you've got a bunch of disparate guys who are fighting for vengance, glory, money, for their brothers in arms, etc.  Also, ratkin would make great adversaries. 

I know the World of Near setting already has a colonial sort of struggle going on with Ammeni aggression for resources and land, so maybe I'd tie it into that.  But, my question is, how do you suggest one runs the kinds of conflicts that occur in such a situation -- ambushes, raids, fighting retreats, and so on.  After all, a big part of war is people who don't even know each other trying to frighten or hurt each other.  How would one handle the motivations in such a situation?  And what about the distinction between ordinary conflicts and BDTP?  My gut feeling is that I'd only use BDTP when the stakes got high or things were really tense -- i.e., the characters are fleeing a superior force and I as GM want to inflict serious Harm and consequences on the PC's.  Do you have any more specific guidelines to point to?

2) Secondly, more of a setting question -- I know that Near was partially inspired by Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories.  I've been interested in running a Thieves' Guild sort of game using Solar System, with the characters as young aspiring thieves in an ancient city, committing crimes and gaining respect as thieves and fighting off rivals and the authorities.  But after re-reading my old TSOY book, I don't really have a good sense of where to place the "ancient city of rogues and sorcerers" on the map.  I mean, every fantasy setting needs one Big Bad City, the Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar or Nexus.  I figure Maldor is the place for ancient crumbling cities, but do you have any good ideas of where to place it, interesting geographical features or border to place it near?  Near is full of fascinating geographical regions for the heroes to do their picaresque wanderings in, but I'd like a metropolis.  Any idea of where the original imperial capital was in the days of Absolon?  It could be neat to have it be a bit like Nessus in the Shadow of the Torturer novels, an ancient city with only a fraction of its former population, so you have a densely populated core living in repurposed palaces, and whole decaying districts further out.
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oliof
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Posts: 449

Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2009, 04:04:57 AM »

1) You could always make it a war against the Ratkin under the Aegis of a fanatical maldorian potentate who is convinced that he will prove to be Absolon Reborn after all the Ratkin are extinct. After all, they're the one thing that is now that wasn't then, right?

2) Which of the five or so maps do you look at? On a more serious note: It really is your choice, and may be tied into what the players are interested in. Have some Ammenite 'art traders' bulge into the city? Put the city more to the Ammeni borders. The same if you want to have an influx of escaped slaves, although you may go more away from Ammeni for that. Need a harbor? Either take Absolon's Road as a basis, or take to the coast. Need smugglers and strange magics? move towards Khale. And so on.

The true capital of Maldor may be as lost as are the records of succession and lots of other stuff. Recovering that knowledge may be part of an ongonig quest for power
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Nick the Nevermet
Member

Posts: 352


« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2009, 09:11:34 AM »

How would one handle the motivations in such a situation?  And what about the distinction between ordinary conflicts and BDTP?  My gut feeling is that I'd only use BDTP when the stakes got high or things were really tense -- i.e., the characters are fleeing a superior force and I as GM want to inflict serious Harm and consequences on the PC's.  Do you have any more specific guidelines to point to?

Remember, the GM doesn't decide when BDTP gets used, the players do.  This sets up a great dynamic, IMO, for the FFVN concept (the whole 'fantasy f*cking vietnam' name gets long :) ).  Generally speaking in TSOY, the GM shouldn't have NPCs have goals like, "I kill you."  NPCs should want to capture, maim, stop, rob, demoralize, kill other NPCs, etc, because this forces PCs to decide how much they're willing to risk in this conflict. 

For example: After a simple contest, it appears the NPCs are successfully preventing you from going through the mountain pass, or they are making off with your food, or they are taking 5 people the PCs were protecting.  Are the PCs willing to force the issue and bring down the pain, and in the process risk the enemy getting good & ticked and killing them?  It turns the D&D-style dungeon crawl of attrition inside out, because in TSOY, the PCs choose how masochistic they want to be.  Of course, don't expect dramatic success or your keys giving you XP if you just roll over every single time.

2) Secondly, more of a setting question -- I know that Near was partially inspired by Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories.  I've been interested in running a Thieves' Guild sort of game using Solar System, with the characters as young aspiring thieves in an ancient city, committing crimes and gaining respect as thieves and fighting off rivals and the authorities.  But after re-reading my old TSOY book, I don't really have a good sense of where to place the "ancient city of rogues and sorcerers" on the map.  I mean, every fantasy setting needs one Big Bad City, the Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar or Nexus.  I figure Maldor is the place for ancient crumbling cities, but do you have any good ideas of where to place it, interesting geographical features or border to place it near?  Near is full of fascinating geographical regions for the heroes to do their picaresque wanderings in, but I'd like a metropolis.  Any idea of where the original imperial capital was in the days of Absolon?  It could be neat to have it be a bit like Nessus in the Shadow of the Torturer novels, an ancient city with only a fraction of its former population, so you have a densely populated core living in repurposed palaces, and whole decaying districts further out.

I don't have much to add beyond what Oliof said.  Maldor has tons of potential, but it needs to be filled in.  Thats not a problem, really, because Maldor is designed to be all about ancient cities that are falling apart.  You could also put an interesting city in Ammeni, full of opium dens and stinking with corruption.  Throw in some urban keys & secrets to reinforce the feel you want, and you got a metropolis in Near.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2009, 08:18:52 AM »

The important part in keeping war fiction moving is to flat out not go into the unpleasant things. Not. The Story Guide is responsible for shaping the stakes of each conflict so that they won't break the game, so everything goes well as long as he doesn't put protagonist death and such issues in there. For example, typical and well-working stakes in war-type conflicts involve things like "forcing the opponent to retreat". You'll note that extras might die, but for important characters that sort of conflict is far from lethal as long as they don't insist on extending the conflict.

The important bit above is that you absolutely need to have a fine grasp for the difference between character goals and the stakes that are formed out of them when you run a war or other grim, inhuman situations. Read stuff like Commando Comics and notice how war is made a fun, dramatic affair by glossing over certain things. Accept that this is what you're going to be doing as well, whether you want to criticize the war or not - the only issue is a matter of degree, as you'll be choosing whether you'll depict war as fun, bearably grim or so grim that the game breaks down. Choosing the latter is usually not something that is done deliberately; rather, people get so caught up in realism and character vision that they break propriety to uphold them, ending up with a game they don't want to play anymore.

In practice: even if your characters just want to kill each other, the Story Guide is totally allowed to be arbitrary and downgrade the conflict into "whoever wins holds the field, the other party is forced to retreat with Harm level 3." This would be my basic assumption for a Solar System war campaign, the group would specifically need to tell me that they want abrupt, disjoined realism instead of a narratively flowing war story before I chose to use stakes like "as you're both armed and ready for combat and willing to risk your lives, I see no reason not to allow the stakes to include the death of the losing party". Doing the latter should be deliberate, not a thoughtless outcome of assumptions that don't hold for war movies or war comics or war novels, either.

The above principle basically covers all situations as long as you remember to only run conflicts for player characters and their antagonists. If it's a fighting retreat, have the stakes be "whether you are captured". If it's a siege, have the stakes be "can you hold the fort until reinforcements arrive". If it's pitched combat, do "whoever loses, their unit breaks ranks, loses coherence and retreats in disarray". You'll note that those do not concern character death, but rather the tactical objectives of the situation. It doesn't matter how murderous the goals involved are, this does not have to reflect on the stakes until and unless we are in the personal, grittily dramatic scene where real death is appropriate. (Note that in TSoY, specifically, this is always up to the players: death is only a possible stake in extended conflict.)

(I write about running war in TSoY in the new World of Near book. It's not everything I have on the matter, but it's a beginning; we'll discuss this sort of campaign more once people have had an opportunity to read about my approach in that book.)

About your other question, which is much simpler to answer: as Harald says, you can bend the geography to make it sensible and fun for your purposes. I do this in the new book, for example. Regardless, were I doing this, I'd go for one of three specific places:
  • I think somebody did the sort of campaign you suggest, they had a good setup - I think it was Dave M? Anyway, their city was situated at the very roots of the Poison River, up where the sulphurs color the water yellow. It was a Maldorite city with powerful Ammeni presence, as the Ammeni control the Poison River with their numerous plantations that follow the river through the Ammeni heartland.
  • If I wanted to riff from core of Maldor, I'd go for one of the ancient Circuit Cities, the imperial capitols of Absolon, who refused to hold court in any single place. They're all in Maldorite heartland, most of them abandoned, but some still hold as free or semi-free cities amidst the feudal reality most of Maldor has plunged into. They can be interesting places, especially when powerful pretenders are unlikely the break the peace of the Circuit, making the cities fine places for feudal diplomacy.
  • Finally: I originally added the city of Kalderon to my own play specifically because I wanted a specific, characteristic urban environment. I tell about the city in the new book, but the core idea is that it's a Maldorite city in the far north, near the western edge of the Sea of Teeth. The city still upholds the old republican constitution of Maldor, making it a sort of ancient throwback of a place. Despite their local, city-state-like power, however, the city is now a small shadow of its former glory, having been strangled by a lack of trade. There are Ammeni enclaves in the city, but most of the trade is conducted overland to and from Goren to the south, through the Oranide plains the city dominates culturally. I specifically wanted an urban landscape, so Kalderon has the bazaars, brothels and other fun things you'd expect of this sort of place. A thieves guild would be no problem, for example.
Also: if you put your city in Maldor, it's a good idea to consider moving Khale "into" Maldor instead of having them be far beyond Ammeni. Perhaps their great forests extend like a wedge deep into the feudal plains? Or perhaps all the places that have been conquered by wilderness have just been reclaimed by various vaguely Khalean tribes, even if Khale proper is far to the northeast. Wouldn't even have to call them Khaleans, they could just use the same crunch. I find that this gives a really tense civilization vs. barbarism feel.
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Danny_K
Member

Posts: 198


« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2009, 08:22:37 PM »

Thanks, these are really helpful ideas!  I think I will go with Maldor, since I'm struck with the idea of ratkin as natural gang-bangers, but I'll wait to get your new book to pillage.
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I believe in peace and science.
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