A few months ago, I started a campaign with my Shattered Earth setting.  It was the product of some soul-searching about what makes a game fun for me as a GM, and what makes a game fun for the particular players that I have. As such, the setting is quite different than anything I’ve done before, and the restrictions I’ve put on myself have led for some interesting storytelling.  One thing that appeals to me is that I don’t see just one story here, or one campaign.  There’s more than I can do in this setting than a single game, and that makes me happy.

Constraints are wonderful things, and lead to a burst of creativity.  For SE, I had a few important constraints: I invited a lot of people, from all over, all of whom have fairly conflicting schedules. It was originally going to be an online game (and I could still do this in the future).  It would be easy for someone to be at one session, then never again for weeks when they’d show up for another session.  One of our players who has been regular since she showed up will be dropping in and out, I suspect, as her work schedule changes.

To accommodate this, I made two changes to the way I normally run things.  First, I calculate experience for everyone who was there on a per player basis, then I reward that to everyone.  It means everyone is always the same level, so those who can’t show up don’t fall behind.  To reward the players who are there, and for extraordinary play, I’ve added faction tokens, which can be turned in for favors from factions, or for a bonus for dealing with the faction.

I don’t have concrete mechanics for this yet, but the tokens represent influence with a faction, and that’s not always spent.  I’ll probably require that the players relinquish a token for something big and extraordinary, but that the total represents how the group gets along with them.  It hasn’t been used a lot yet, but we’re still in an introductory part of the adventure, where I’m putting things into play.

The other important thing is that whatever I run has to be done the day we start it.  There can be threads that carry over (and there are a lot of those right now).  But no stopping in the middle of a dungeon, or in the middle of the mystery of the week.  (I reserve the right to have a multi-session murder mystery sometime.)  This way there’s no hand-waving about where a character came from or went to in the middle of the dungeon.

In fact this requirement has largely done away with the large dungeon crawl, which I’ve come to realize is one of the things I have the least patience with as a GM.  They are fun to draw and set up, but they’re a bit of a bore to get through.  There’s no spontaneity to a dungeon — it’s all drawn there on your paper, and while you have plans that surely get wrecked by the party, often that’s not the case.

Instead, what I’ve been doing is borrowed form 4E, where I design encounters.  Those encounters are connected by plot, or a hallway, or whatever. I can make that up that day, out of several plans, and in response to the party.  I can say, “I like that” when someone says something at the table, and change the plot to make that work.  (Sometimes I forget to say “I like that”, but it does happen fairly often.)

A recent article I read talked about making combat go faster, and after timing it the author realized that he as GM was the main time sync, and had gone about trying to fix it.  I thought about that, and for the last couple game sessions, I’ve written all the stats for the main monster groups on a 3×5 card, and pre-rolled initiative in the upper right corner.  The players all have a card too, with their init on it, and I just work through the stack.

The only thing that doesn’t work well is HP counting as the NPC isn’t on a card in front of me when the player attacks, but otherwise it goes much faster.  I only had to consult the rule books twice on our session on Saturday. Once was because I thought I’d written something down on the card wrong (I hadn’t, but I could have been neater) and I don’t remember what the other was about, unfortunately.

The other thing he talked about was having a self-made GM Screen with the rules you need on it.  I don’t use a screen, but I did print out the rules on object damage, since that was a key to the adventure and something I was rusty on.  All in all, we ran 6 combat sessions (one, particularly the last one was incredibly short), but we’ve normally only been able to do 2. I was worried about time, and we were done right on time for dinner, which made me happy.

No one was frustrated, including me, and things went well.  I plan to keep working with this system,expanding on it as I go.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Zhenette focused her will and channeled her magic into the bit of stone in her hand. Magic flowed from the ether, through her crsystal-bound rune.  She shaped it with her intent and words, and then, just shy of triggering it, placed it in the stone.  She handed it to Lyp. “Now remember, it’s a touch spell, so..”

“Yeah, yeah,” the halfling said. “Just hand it to me.

Zhenette looked up at Ormond, who was changing a fire-protection spell, his hand on Lyp’s shoulder.  He released the spell and shrugged, giving Zhenette a half-smile.  “Next wave is incoming,” he said.  Magrite, the Dark elf sorceress who was working with them finished her own magic stone.

Lyp took it and dashed off to the traps they’d set.  The door at the other end of the small cavern shuddered as the magma monsters on the other side pounded on them.  Magrite picked up a new stone and began the chant again.  This would be the last one she could make before the fight would finish.

“Too bad these are so localized,” Ormond said.  “I could go for an ice version of burning hands.”

“You and me both,” Zhentte said.  “There used to be a spell that  sent out ice like dragon’s breath in front of the mage.  That would be perfect for this.”  To bad it had been lost, like so much else in the Shattering.

Magrite finished her spell, and Zhenette picked up the final stone of her own. The door visibly flexed, and started to catch on fire.  Lyp inserted the stones into the traps she’d built, and tumbled away, back to them. “I didn’t even know stone could catch fire,” Lyp said, her eyes wild with adrenaline.  Zhenette handed her the completed stone, and she bound off for the final two traps.

Ormond helped the two casters up, and they pulled out their weapons.  As Lyp placed the final stone, the door gave way, and two large flying monsters of stone and fire stepped through.  As they moved in the first two traps went off, releasing a burst of cold air on the monster, enough to freeze the water vapor around them.  They cried out, cooled off, but not put out.

A third monster, some sort of rock lizard stepped behind them, and let out  a gush of fire.  Lyp bound away just in time, and joined her friends, and the flying things seemed to glow with healthy warmth.

“I guess four wasn’t enough,” Zhen said, grasping her staff.

“I guess not,” Ormand said, he began to cast a spell of fire protection on the group.

The second traps went off, almost killing the two flying mephits.  Lyp let fly two daggers, knocking them down before the lizard could breath fire again.

“Lyp, can you tumble behind him?” Ormand pulled out his mace.  “I’ll try to keep his attention while you hit him with spells.  Zhenette and Magrite readied their ice spells, and nodded.

“This is so much more fun than farm duty,” Lyp said, bounding behind the fire lizard.

Foster stood leaning against the stone retaining wall.  Keelie stood on top of it, which put her head about even with Fosters.  She looked at him and laughed.  “Grass in your mouth and hat and everything. You really fit in here.”

“It’s home,” Foster said. “When I’m done I’m going to head back the family ranch and help run it.”

“Your family seemed nice enough,” she said. “Mixed household seems to work for you.”

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Foster said. “Your family not so great?”

“Oh, they’re fine. It’s just that Dad married someone new — a dark elf a third his age. It’s weird.”

“Elves live a long time,” Foster said.

“Not as long as gnomes, Foster. She could be my little sister, and I’m only 75.”

Foster raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know. I guess it’s not so strange to be attracted to someone of a very different age.”

Keelie looked at him, and arched her eyebrow. “Glad you didn’t say old. My grandmother was alive for the Shattering, She used to tell us about it when we were kids.  Now I think only the dragon remembers.”

“I’d love to hear those stories sometime,” Foster said.

“It’s a date.” Keelie looked out in the fields, the horses were returning from their daily run. “About time to get to work,” she said, hopping down from the fence.

Not that the work was hard. There had been one guy from that caster’s guild who muttered something about funding and water, but they’d sent him on his way, and warned the other ranch hands about him.  The horses came into the corall, and settled down for the night

“So,” Keelie said. “The ranch send you into the League?”

“Yeah,” Foster said. “Took us a while to save, but it means less ties when I’m out? You?”

“Minos Mercenary Guild. Better than being a miner, anyway.”

“Why do you need a Mercenary Guild?”

“Because we don’t always have the Adventurer’s League around to fight off magma monsters,” she said.

“So the real reason you came with me was –”

“–so I wouldn’t have to do the same ol’ same ol’.” She grinned at him.  “I get so tired of fighting fire and rock elementals, and magma mephits.  Plus, here I can have a quiet bite to eat and drink.”

“So you’re saying the rest of our team is not having such a restful time?”

“Not at all,” Keelie chuckled. “Not at all.”

Note:  These Adventurer’s Leauge posts are some idea of what sorts of things we might be doing near the beginning of our adventure, if you’d like to join us. We are still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

Commander Bess Nightingale addressed the Silverwings. “We’ve got a couple of assignments for you to pick from. Normal rewards apply.”

The Silverwings settled in, their goal was to complete as many missions as possible, and pay back their debts so they could be full Citizens sooner, or at least make a little money out of this Adventuring thing. There were stories about some Citizens who never had to work again once they were done, and others who just barely made their time.

“The first is an easy mission, the Druids Alistair and Nessa need someone to watch over them while they join the Horse Herd in Coyn.”

“They’re doing what?” Ormond asked.

“Joining the Horse Herd,” the commander said. “That’s what it says right here, and all you or anyone else needs to know.”

“What do they need from us?” Foster asked. The half elf ranger was always interested in going to Coyn; if nothing else there were trees there.

“Guard duty mostly, not that they can’t handle themselves,” Commander Nightingale said. “It’s a bit hush-hush.”

Zhen looked away from the commander and caught Lyp’s eye. She arched her eyebrow at the halfling, who returned a half-smirk. “The other job?” Ormond asked.

“Fighting magma monsters in Minos,” she said. “There’s a dark elf sorceress, named Finistra, who has some ideas about using cold spells in traps, and needs some magical and stealthy advice.”

“That sound interesting,” Lyp said. “How much fighting in that?”

“Only a little,” Commander Nightingale replied. “It wouldn’t take all of you, if that’s what you mean.”

“Lyp and I would be up for that one,” Zhen said.

“Ormond, why don’t you go with them,” Foster said. “The druids will have their own healing. I’d like to go to Coyn, see my folks.”

“I’ll join you,” Keelie said. “So I don’t have to see mine.”

The group nodded, this would work. Splitting up would get things done faster, with more return. Pluse, it sounded easy.

“Okay,” Commander Nightingale said. “Form up in the portal room in half an hour.”

Note:  These Adventurer’s Leauge posts are some idea of what sorts of things we might be doing near the beginning of our adventure, if you’d like to join us. We are still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

The Edge Bar and Grill wasn’t technically on the edge, as it was inside the safety fence. Adventurer’s League Silverwings Troop was on the outside of that fence, looking down.

“I don’t like this,” Foster said. The ranger scuffed his boot against the side, knocking a stone down in to the abyss beyond.

“I thought you liked wide open spaces,” the wizard Zhen said. “I thought you’d be used to this, growing up on Coyn.

He looked back at Haven City which sprawled out behind him on the head of the Scepter. He let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding — the city wasn’t much better, but at least there was ground. “I like the ground,” he said. “And growing things. I always stayed away from the edge and the hole there, too. Even so, what we’re doing is insane.”

Keely walked up, carring a huge box, that was easily three times her size. “Gotta feed the dragon,” she said. “Plus, it sounds like fun.” She grinned at Lyp who was making sure the ropes were ready and felt strong.

“I’d feel better if we could check the ties,” Ormond said.

“Owlbear troop is checking that,” Zhen said. “They’ve got our back.”

“They better,” Foster said. “Now go over this for me again.”

Zhen chuckled. “We put on these rope harnesses. We throw the box and jump off at the same time.”

“And then we fall, really fast into oblivion,” Keelie said. Foster blanched a bit.

“We fall down to the gravity line, sure. and then we start rising, and the gravity slows us down. The ropes are tied at the center of the Scepter, and so they pull us back in as we slow down.”

“That’s when we shout ‘wheeee’ and you shout ‘oh shit,'” Lyp said.

Zhen coughed, and arched her eyebrow at her short companions. “By the time we’re stopped, we’ll be in reach of the pommel, near the Dragon’s spire. Then we do our business.”

“We make sure Petracalifax’s box lands safely, and the nice ancient dragon is happy,” Foster recited, as he checked his harness. “We pass along our requests, and she does the same.”

“Then she tosses us back,” Ormond said morosely. His shield was strapped carefully to his back, and his weapons secured.

“Whole thing shouldn’t take more than half an hour,” Zhen said. “Barring accidents.”

“Just be ready with that healing spell,” Foster said. The cleric nodded once, his expression grim.

“Okay, time for that jump,” Lyp said. Keelie tossed the box over and Lyp jumped on it as it fell.

“You coming?” Keelie asked as she jumped too. “Got to take the dragon her din-din.”

Note:  These Adventurer’s Leauge posts are some idea of what sorts of things we might be doing near the beginning of our adventure, if you’d like to join us. We are still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

What D&D campaign doesn’t have the party fighting a rat swarm or dire rats sometime early in the game?

As they approached the place the farmers said the rats were, Foster called a halt and sent Lyp on a head to scout.  As the halfling disappeared in to the tall wheatgrass, Foster turned to look at Keelie. “Now remember, the Druids won’t let us kill them all.”

“Do you have to spoil my fun?” the gnome groused, and pulled out a greataxe almost as as big as she was.

“So long as they aren’t psychic rats,” Zhen said, brushing her forehead where her wizard’s glyph twisted and flowed.

“Psychic rats?” Ormond scoffed. His white cleric’s glyph pulsed, too, in readiness for what was about to happen.

“Yeah, psychic rats,” Zhen said. “I was reading about them in the vault. Some sort of pre-cataclysm monster.  The more of them there are the smarter they get.  A full swarm was a powerful wizard, not to be trifled with.” She glared at the cleric. “Like most wizards.”

Ormond chuckled, and waved dismissively.

Zhen was about to respond when the wheat rustled Lyp stepped through.  “Huge swarm,as well as several larger rats around the perimeter. And Zhen, ” she paused. “They didn’t seem to be casting any magic.”

She sputtered a bit, “You heard that?”

“All I can say, ” Lyp replied, “is that when we’re facing intelligent opponents, maybe you could be a bit, I don’t know… quieter?” Lyp drew a quick outline in the floor, and Foster bent over it.

“Keelie, Lyp, you flank and take out these two big rats.  I’ll shoot the one on this side.  Zhen, you know what to do.”

“Burning hands the whole lot,” she said holding out her hands and wiggling her fingers.

“What about me?” Ormond asked. “Stand back and heal?”

“That and make sure she doesn’t catch everything on fire.”

Ormond laughed.

Zhen shook her head.  “I’m never going to live that down, am I?

Note:  These Adventurer’s Leauge posts are some idea of what sorts of things we might be doing near the beginning of our adventure, if you’d like to join us. We are still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

The sun’s rays shown up through the water disk, as it prepared to rise.  Jaxom, special assistant to the Druid Guild Council Representative, spoke quietly to his companion.  “I still think it was a bit of a cruel joke, Roslyn, putting that fake flavor spell on their water.”

“They mishandled the crates,” she replied. “They are required for the trees and our survival.”  She patted the roots of the tree they nestled in.  Most druids spent their times in the branches of the two trees, not here where their roots tangled together.  It made a good place for the two to clandestinely meet.

Roslyn thought for a moment, and leaned in closer to her confidante, her lips brushing his ear with a whispered kiss.  Her nominal boss, the Baobab Citizen representative needed this information passed on most discretely.  “Arturus is at it again, ” she said. “With his studies.”

Jaxom let out a bark of a laugh, “What is it this time?”

“He’s calculated the volume of water we have, and how long it will last the Alliance before it runs out.” Jaxom went very still, but Roslyn slid her hand along his leg, and he, for a moment, only pretended to be her lover.

“He knows,” Jaxom said.

“But he can’t prove it,” Rosalyn whispered. “That’s why he’s asked the council for funding, and many of them want to give it.”

“We can’t vote on this,” he said.  “They’ll know.”  He didn’t say what — that they had something to hide, that the special assistants colluded together despite council rules.  That they were secretly lovers, and had been through many elections and officials.

“The Farmer’s Guild has a bill they want passed. I’ve let them believe we oppose it, but that our vote can be bought for an exchange.  We’ll recuse ourselves of this vote, since it involves Baobab.”

Jaxom nodded, relaxing, they’d done this before, bartered votes in secret.  He turned and kissed her for real and not pretend. “I know a dark elf who needs a similar favor.”

“The sun is coming,” she said.  They turned and looked as the sun broke over the water disk. The sun’s light below refracted and the light above reflected, turning the whole eastern disk  bright gold.

“A moment of balance,” Jaxom whispered.

“A moment of beauty,” Roslyn replied.

“That then concluded this business?” Jaxom asked.

“Indeed,” Roslyn said, and kissed him soundly.

His hands went to her robes, and her’s to his.  Now they could get down to the real purpose of this meeting.

Note: We’re still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

Annie watched from the shadows, waited to see if he’d be back today. If so, then good news for her and the old man. People distracted were easy marks, and a bit more ration meant things would be a bit easier for a day.  The rich folk who came through the market always seemed to have a bit more to buy ration with, anyway. Not like they’d starve, unlike Annie and the old man.

She spotted him then: the preacher was tall and thin, mostly skin and bones.  Instead of picking up his ration in the market like everyone else, he used the time to preach to everyone else there.  He’d found a box to stand on, and put it near the center of the roundabout, where a tiny garden grew under the light of sun and stars.

“Fools!” He cried out.  “All of you, shuffling on in this false life after what she did to us.  She denied us our right to an afterlife, and you are just glad there’s a bit of bread or meat to eke out your day.”

Annie watched the preacher and the crowd around him. “Petricalifax didn’t save us! She doomed our ancestors and all their children to roam the empty void forever.  Death is no outlet for us, there is no Heaven waiting for us when we die. All that is barred from us, when we could have gone on when the Gods left us all.”

He was gathering a crowd now, and Annie slipped out.  A coin bag here, a bit of bread there. It all went in her shirt, hidden from view.  The preacher had worked into a froth now, and people were stopping and watching him.  And not watching their purse strings.

“You say she is on the side of Law and Good, that she’s and ancient gold dragon and remembers what is right and honorable.  I say she is alien to us, more so than any dark elf or orc, human or halfling. What is Law without Hammerforge to beat it into shape? Where is Good with Ardent to champion it passionately?

They are gone, and with them any idea of Law or Good or even Evil.  Perticalifax stole that from us when she locked our forebears in her spell.  And why? Why? I ask of you? To save us? Or to play with us?”

The crowd was full, and riled up. Annie shirt was full, too, and she slunk away.  The preacher would be back tomorrow, for another sermon, but she and the old man would eat well tonight.

Note: We’re still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.

Okay some people have said that it’s a bit confusing what I’m asking from players for the Shattered Earth game, and as I’m still looking for responses and players, let me clarify:

The idea is to mimic table top role-playing style over the internet, in real time.

So, the most important thing is the time commitment, which is 2-4 hours every other weekend, probably on Saturday or Sunday afternoon EST.  We can make it a little later, but I don’t see us starting after 4pm EST, as some of us have to get up early.  If we can get enough players, it’ll be possible to miss a session, or drop in occasionally as my plan is to wrap up short story lines each session, with a longer arch storyline that ties sessions together.

You’ll need a couple of tools, which are free and multi-platform:

First, RPTools. RPTools, particularly MapTool, is a java-based program that shows a map, and has some basic IRC-like chat in it.  It’ll handle those moments where we have combat, allowing us all to see the map and move ‘miniatures’ around on it.  I don’t know how much of this we’ll do — it depends on how the pacing goes, but it’s hard to do D&D without any combat. (If you were doing this, just play something other than D&D, I think.)

We’ll use Skype or some other group-based voice chat to talk, or at least the chat section of RPTools. I think voice is an important part of pen and paper gaming, and adds a lot to how things work. If voice makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t work with your setup, but you still want to play, let me know, and we can talk.

That’s pretty much it.  A willingness to play, a desire to set aside some time, and a couple of basic tools that are negotiable and I’ve gotten running, so I can help with, technically.

If you think you have any interest, comment here, or on any of the Shattered Earth posts — or contact me directly — and I’ll be in contact with you.

Two dwarfs, Harriet and Lottie, lay in the magicite field, the purple glow of the crystal trees surrounding them.  Mining tools were placed carefully nearby, out of the way and orderly. Their clothes lay in various piles, strewn around them, discarded in haste a half-hour ago.  Now they lay intertwined, looking up at the Minos floor above them.

“Them’s the dark elfs,” Lottie said pointing to a section above them where it was mostly dark.

“Darkvision,” Harriet responded.

“Yep,” Lottie said. “Had to go there once, forgot my torch.  Wound up breakin’ off a chunk o’ crystal to carry around.”

Harriet laughed.  “Serves ’em right for keeping it dark.”

“Turned out some rogue mage had attuned hisself to it,” Lottie said.  “He was mighty upset when his ritual failed when some lowborn dwarf accidentally saved the day.”

“What happened, then?” Harriet asked.

“Got me a medal, and an extra meal ration that week.  Oh, and them dark elfs is matriarchal, y’see.”  She chuckled lowly.

“And when was this?” Harriet pulled away.

“Months afore we met, dearheart, don’t worry. Y’r the beneficiary of that sweet vacation.”

Harriet looked up at the interior of Minos, the cities and houses bending up and around, pressed against the inner egg of the island.  As a dwarf it never bothered her that things were upside down and all that rock and metal and crystal was out there, pressing in around them.  She was more concerned with all the people those houses represented.  “You ever think they’re watchin’ us when we’re out in the fields like this?”

“Not really,” Lottie said. “But gives a bit of spice to the whole thing, don’t it?”

The two dwarfs rolled to face each other.  Harriet giggled and kissed her lover.  They had a bit more time before they had to return to the magicite mines, after all.

Note: We’re still looking for a Few Good Adventurers.