We're finally back in campaign mode. It's weird, I thought that after the first Cha'alt campaign ended that I'd be relieved to go back to one-shots and mini-campaigns involving other RPGs... but nope. Turns out I really missed both Cha'alt and the joys of campaign-style play.
So, back we are. I really want to invest in this new campaign and use the material gathered during Mysterious Qada'ath in book 4 of the Cha'alt trilogy (which is why I've postponed kickstarting the 4th book until December of NEXT year).
I spent the last 3 weeks compiling my thoughts, notes, random tables, lists, sub-systems, crude drawings, and mechanics into a fancy spiral-bound sketchbook that I got cheap at either Michael's or Hobby Lobby. I'll be honest, I felt a little bit silly at the start, when I only had 3 pages of this giant blank book completed. Like, why on earth would I need 160 pages? That's so overkill.
But now, I've got about 20 - 25 pages filled and one session in, it makes sense. If this sketchbook is going to be my campaign bible, I'm probably going to need at least 100 pages of it so I have everything all in one place. The disparate in-game notes, adventure summaries, random tables, explanatory lore, and just all of it spread out over several notebooks, loose pieces of paper, and written on the back of envelopes was insane. Everything pertaining to the Mysterious Qada'ath campaign is going in this sketchbook.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, session one, which Colin and I almost immediately started referring to as "the pilot."
Even though I invited all 6 players, two last-minute cancelations got us down to 4... which I feel a little bad about only because another guy from my gaming past (and he played in exactly 2 of the previous campaign's 17 sessions) asked if he could join us for yesterday's game (with the caveat that he probably couldn't make it most Saturdays - I think because he has his kid(s) on the weekend) but I told him the table was full. Which it was, until... yeah.
Call it self-indulgence of the Game Mastering variety, but for whatever reason I wanted to tie the previous investigative horror two-shot into this new Cha'alt campaign. So, there was a strange and possibly awkward segue from 1929 Chicago detectives to Cha'alt natives. I'm actually going to incorporate that into the campaign later, so there's a method to the madness. But from the players' perspective, it probably just seemed like a long way to go for the veneer of showy transitional competence.
While the Two Jacks Detective Agency employees were enjoying a nice dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant, the Golden Palace or something like that, they got a phone call telling them they'd been accepted into a coveted spot of this enigmatic game. Meet at Swan Point Cemetery that very night.
The PC investigators went and saw a chartreuse effulgence [Venger reluctantly puts the thesaurus down] in a crumbling mausoleum. They go in and see masked diggers breaking through the floor into a subterranean tunnel. A masked overseer urges them down through the tunnel to an attendant maintaining some giant machine with built-in chairs in the middle of this cave. The attendant serves them each a vial of glowing chartreuse liquid. He hooks them up to the machine and then weird lights and sounds go off until everything went black and the PCs wake up in the desert under a fuchsia sky with twin suns. Not as themselves, but other people... individuals who the players generated before we actually started playing.
So, 4 players and the 4 basic classes in Advanced Crimson Dragon Slayer. Groups don't always take one of each when faced with such a choice, but they usually do. And this case was no exception...
- Drogan - half-orc priest
- Nix - demon thief
- Talis - droid warrior
- Ha'agly Morningwood - pixie-fairy sorcerer
This session report is already running long, so I'm going to get right to it.
The new PCs are wandering the desert and soon come to a barrier, something like the Great Wall of China, except more high-tech. I didn't actually plan for that, that just sort of came to me during play. But I like it. I mean, how else would the Federation get to have checkpoints where they could ask for your papers, frisk you, question, hassle, and insult you, and probably solicit a bribe?
I needed a pejorative slang word or phrase that the Federation would have for Cha'alt natives and didn't have anything at the tip of my mind, so I asked around the table. Drogan's player came up with "sandies" which I really liked, so we went with it. I'll need more before too long and was considering possibilities earlier today while shoveling snow off our driveway. I was thinking about Police Academy and Mahoney being called "dirt-bag" by one or more assholes. Then I came up with "silt-bag." Sand-bag didn't seem to work, plus I'm already using sand for sandies. So, now I've got two good ones for when Federation soldiers want to be offensive.
I assume woke SJW GMs and players don't spend time coming up with in-game offensive terms, but they should. They really, really should. Being purposefully offensive is part of the human experience.
Anyway, the Federation checkpoint was nearby. The party's pixie sorcerer flew over the wall to survey the area. Just a couple of workers on a lunchbreak, two Federation guards and a third in a sand-speeder about 100' away.
Two other NPCs were in front of the party, being subjected to Federation scrutiny. Eventually, they went through, after one of the soldiers took the NPC's crystal-rimmed jaccard (everyone laughed at the in-joke because such a weird device surfaced multiple times in the previous Cha'alt campaign).
Next, it was the PCs, minus the pixie-fairy who was still flying out of sight. The Federation were about to confiscate the assassin-droid's retractable vibro-blade when the droid instinctively decided to blast the shit out of him, instead. After seeing that violence was the way to go, Nix took his twin-daggers and stabbed the other Federation soldier in the back, killing him.
The third was in their sand-speeder, but the droid aimed and took his shot at Disadvantage because of distance. He managed to hit and did quite a bit of damage, so all three were dead before the second round. They gathered up blasters and valuables, got in the sand-speeder, asked the two NPCs if they wanted to come along for the ride (they did), and started heading south to the mysterious city of Qada'ath.
Before reaching Qada'ath, they arrived at a settlement filled with tents and adobe-like structures. They parked and searched around for answers, local intel, and a cool drink. I believe one of the NPCs mentioned that getting inside the city would be tricky since it was surrounded by something called the orange labyrinth.
The PCs found a cantina and put the word out that they were looking for work. The bartender put them in touch with someone at the outer settlement's Quick Stop convenience store who had a job for the adventurers. Assassinate a politico from Qada'ath who was making life hard for the outer settlements and who was only going to be here for a limited time.
While Talis did the lion's share of finding gainful employment, Nix eavesdropped on cantina patrons to see what was happening. Turns out that a swanky caravan had just slithered into town in order to pick up some purple. "Purple... what's that?" Nix inquired. He found out that the outer settlements was famous for it's manufacture of something called Tyrian purple - a unique shade of purple fiercely desired by lords, ladies, aristocrats, nobles, sorcerers, royalty, and priests. For many, Tyrian purple was worth more than gold!
Meanwhile, more Federation troops moved into the outer settlements area where the PCs parked their sand-speeder. Some thief had taken the communicator belonging to one of the dead Federation soldiers. So, Feds were questioning people, getting leads, rounding up the usual suspects, putting up wanted posters, etc.
At the Quick Stop, the two NPCs thanked the adventurers for their help and hoped they'd all eventually meet up again in Qada'ath but decided they couldn't follow them down this path of assassination-for-hire. They were going to find their own way into the city.
Nix already used his natural demon ability of persuading people to do things in his best interest for the day, but I ruled (and this is going to carry forward henceforth in the campaign... and beyond) that a point of Divine Favor can also be spent to (re)use a limited special ability that had already been expended.
So, the PCs are between going in and blasting this little pink squidgy guy named Kra'ang or convince him to hire the PCs to be his new bodyguard / entourage, thus getting them into the city and living on easy street.
Nix uses his persuasion to get past the guard and into the administrative building, which they do. They barge in and start talking to Kra'ang who rides around in a "convertible dalek" surrounded by bodyguards. Talis does his best to convince Kra'ang that he's the best assassin droid this side of the galaxy. And Kra'ang says, "Prove it." So, Talis shoots Kra'ang in the face, nearly killing him.
It was such a perfect set-up that no one, even Kra'ang looking back on the situation, could hate on the assassin droid for taking the shot.
As the PCs dealt with the bodyguards, they heard a flushing sound (wondering aloud if someone had been in the restroom the entire time). Talis distracted one of Kra'ang's goons to get a free shot, but missed. All three other PCs killed a bodyguard, and the last one left was on Drogan, but he missed, and had already used his Divine Favor. So, he had a choice (assuming he didn't want to just wait another round)... he could Fuchsia Burn or stimulate a Cha'alt X-Card.
He chose the "HUMOR" Cha'alt X-Card and stimulated it, suggesting something with the toilet flushing since that had already been established and would be ripe for additional humor.
I could have said, "Ok, let's put that on the back burner while I deal with the combat at hand." As you can see, the GM isn't forced to create something in that specific moment when a Cha'alt X-Card is stimulated... he's well within his rights to take his bloody time and let the Cha'altian trope inspire him on his own terms - something which many critics don't take into consideration.
However, whenever possible, I like to combine the various story strings together, tying them into a narrative knot of interconnection.
So, Drogan uppercuts the last bodyguard who slipped on the neon-pink toilet water where Kra'ang was sitting in his convertible dalek. Boom, cracked skull! But that flushing sound had been Kra'ang escaping somewhere. Only one person in the party was small enough to fit down there - Morningwood the pixie-fairy. So, he went down on the urging of the PCs. I had him roll to not drown in the neon-pink toilet water, but the rolls were not kind. After exhausting the last Divine Favor, the other players convinced Morningwood's player to roll a die corresponding to the lavender moons of destiny.
"This is exactly why the infernal destiny dice were invented," Colin stated. And I could not disagree. So he rolled with one of my specialty custom-painted dice that I had on hand for such occasions, and rolled a motherfucking SIX! He made it through, landing inside a low-ceilinged smooth black pod; Kra'ang at the miniature controls. Being a pixie-fairy sorcerer, his bow and arrow only did one point of damage, so I had him roll a d4 to determine how many times he shot him before Kra'ang managed to press the eject button and send Morningwood flying out of the ship. FOUR!
After being ejected, Kra'ang's black ship went over the orange labyrinth and into the city, just below the hovering Great Old One that covered Qada'ath. Now, because those moments in a character's life are meant to reverberate (creating outward ripples that keep going), I have something special planned between Kra'ang and Morningwood, based on that critical-success of the destiny die. But that won't be revealed until next session.
Before the end, the other PCs ransacked the administrative building and then went into hiding among the outer settlements.
Now, there was one last thing to do. I came up with something for downtime between sessions over here, and wanted to give it a go. Below is what each PC chose...
- Nix wanted to find a secret way into the city, which he had overheard was a possibility.
- Drogan sought understanding of high-tech medicine used my the Federation [after the last fight and Talis was wounded, we learned/decided that priests using their supernatural gifts can't heal droids].
- Talis wants to hunt the hunters, taking the seek-and-destroy to the Federation, instead of waiting for the Federation to get the PCs.
- Ha'agly Morningwood also wanted to keep an eye on the Federation and find an alternative into the city... so, basically assisting Nix.
At the beginning of next session in 2 weeks, I'll roll to see how well everyone did, which will push the story forward. As Roger suggested in a comment on that blog post, it's a way of making narrative sense why a certain PC isn't around if that player can't show up for whatever reason. Let's say that Nix's player can't make it. Well, his search for that hidden way into Qada'ath is a perfect reason why he's not with the rest of the group for the subsequent adventure.
At the end of the day, we should ask ourselves... was PSYCHOCOSM achieved? And if the answer is yes, the game was demonstrably successful because immersion is key to roleplaying games and PSYCHOCOSM, the willed blurring of lines between fantasy and reality, is key to immersion. It's a process you can plan for, hope for, set yourself up for success, but first and foremost, it's about you. PSYCHOCOSM is in your tender hands... or tentacles; manifested by your willpower.
That's all, folks! It did feel like the pilot episode for a new TV show - airing now on skin-a-maxxx! So, I'm looking forward to seeing how everything develops. So far, all the groundwork put into the ruleset (Advanced Crimson Dragon Slayer) and world (all 3 Cha'alt books + the previous campaign) and new stuff (all my sketchbook stuff, downtime thing, etc.).
I do want to take the time right now to WARN MYSELF OF POTENTIAL IMPENDING DOOM if I have too many wild threads loose and going all over the place. I have a tendency to do that, I've noticed, so want to consciously reduce the amount of threads and tie up some loose ends (at least to the point where I know where they are, where they're going, and closure is within reach) before introducing a whole new bundle of open-ended, anything goes story threads. It's fun to pile on more (like buying new miniatures before you've painted the ones you already own), but I won't allow myself to be reckless about it.
Now, we put it all together and see what works. We're running this campaign on a session by session basis, but also per campaign-length stride. It's not about anything as abstract and unattainable as "perfection" but what kind of remarkable juice we can get out of each momentary squeeze.
Thanks for reading,
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