I Back-flip Into Holes

I’ve always envied you Emily.  You have maintained a focus on yourself and your goals your entire life.  You’ve been falling down holes for years.  And luckily its usually the same hole!

My hobbies shift with the times.  I get really into various things for like a year or two and then I move to something else.  Well recently I sold off the majority of my Magic cards.  I also traded in a huge portion of my Batman comics because I just couldn’t keep up.  Last year I was in an in between phase when I decided to run a Rogue Trader RPG campaign.

Its probably my only solid hobby right now.  I am reading for entertainment less, I’m not getting through my video game backlog, and I have essentially stopped watching shows.  I fancy myself an ‘immersive GM,’ so I spend my time writing what I hope are interesting settings, quests, and enemies.

I bring all of this up not to brag but to emphasize how much time I spend on this.  I’m always thinking about it, planning for it, and writing down ideas and quest lines.  Most evenings after work I probably sit down and write at least a little bit.  I agonize over it, but I really love it.  It’s fun and satisfying!

But Emily, I back-flip down holes.  I throw myself into whatever my current hobby is hard.

So I decided I’m going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign for my work.  Some of my coworkers will get to be players in their very first campaign.  I’m going to have to write a campaign that’s not only exciting, but introduces these people to the campaign setting.  On top of all of that, the quest line needs to slowly teach them how to play the game.

One campaign was sucking up a huge portion of my time.  Now I’ve agreed to two!  I’m going the distance.

Did I mention I’ve never officially run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign before?  So I need to learn how to GM it like a boss.

But fuck it, ya know?  I’m enjoying writing.  So much so that I am considering writing an official book.  So to keep my writing muscle flexing and getting swole, you and I are starting a brand new blog in which we will write a story back and forth, 500-ish words at a time!  Starting next Friday?!

BUT FUCK IT, YA KNOW?  I’m going to start my own writing project on my own goddamn blog.  I have been playing with the idea of writing a motherfucking prequel story to the Killian Rage from my goddamn Rogue Trader campaign.  It would be my first semi-serious online novella series.  Just to see how it goes, fuck it.

You may occasionally trip and fall into a hole Emily.  And its refreshing to see someone so dedicated to their self and their hobbies.  But I’ve never been known to trip.  My hobbies go too fast and hard for me to nurture them appropriately over the course of years.  So if I’m going to full enjoy a hobby, the only way I know how is to overload the machine and shove the whole damn thing into a hole.

And then I’m falling; surrounded by the elements of my work.  Running two campaigns, and potentially three blogs at one time?  Sometimes you see the the ground rushing up to meet you and all you can do is point and scream:

“ROLL INITIATIVE!”

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

We moved to Washington in the year 2000.  It was a rough journey for me because I had just found my stride in school.  Then we moved and I had to start over.  At this time I was reading a lot of books because I just couldn’t be arsed to try and make friends again.

In 2001, our family drove back to Wisconsin.  On the first day we stopped at a Barnes and Noble.  This was fortuitous, because I had just crushed the current book I was reading.  There was one of those tables near the fiction aisles with ‘recommended picks’ on it.  And front and center, with a vibrant red cover was Gardens of the Moon: a Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson.

I liked the blurb on the back, and the introduction inside on the dust jacket, so I asked mom to pick it up for me.   I dove in hard, and the book smacked me around.  It was nothing like anything I had ever read.  Up until that point I had only been reading young fiction.  I powered through series like Tamora Pierces Circle of Magic series and the Song of the Lioness.  Quick little books that tackled stories such as growing up and being the most possible special.

Arguably Gardens of the Moon was my first adult series.  The writing was complex, the story was rich and vast, and characters were defined by their actual character instead of the arbitrary arc of the book.  I think it took me an entire year to finish it originally.

The core series finished in 2011.  It’s ten books in its entirety.  It stands as my favorite series to date.  Pretzel and I are currently listening to them on audiobook.  And they are as good as I remember.

Currently Steven Erikson is working on finishing a new trilogy that is a prequel to the core series.  And its a pain to read.  Several times I’ve considered putting the book down and reading something else.

Civil war has broken out in the land of the Tiste, a noble people who have been introduced to gods and magic.  A rift is growing between the highborn Tiste nobles and the lowly soldiers that fought their wars.  Read the book for the full story thus far.

The current book, The Fall of Light, starts out with something close to 350 pages of talking.  Steven Erikson loves to expound at length about expectations versus reality.  And its a big part about why I love his books!  But 350 pages of people talking about the civil war that’s brewing, the cause of war, why humans war, the sides of the civil war, the philosophy of war, cause and effect, life and death, bravery versus survival.

Fucking shit dude, shut up!  Let the war begin before you bog me down with the intellectual stuff.

You, dear reader of this lonely blog, might recognize 350 pages as the length of other goddamn books.  I just got to the part where real things are happening.  When I say they are talking and expounding at length, I don’t mean like they are on a battlefield spouting philosophy at their enemies.  They are literally sitting around the citadel in the capital city, sitting around campfires, sitting around temples, sitting in front of a hearth, sitting around mansions, et-fucking-cetera.

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Sorry I nodded off there.

Its so annoying to me that this book starts off so dry.  Like a big bowl of steel cut oats served on a hairdryer.  His books have this quality to them that’s hard to explain, and this book is not delivering what I’m looking for.  I look forward to his books, and it bums me out because it took him approximately 3 Big Bang’s ago to write this one.

Steven Erikson loves to subvert expectations normally found in high fantasy.  And that resonates with me so very deeply.  He creates his own races with their own cultures.  His pantheon is vast and varied.  His books don’t rely on existing tropes to come flesh out his narrative.  There are no elves, and there are no dwarves.

Tolkien fantasy is still fine, I don’t hate it, but so many novels use it as a crutch.  Elves are ageless, beautiful mystics.  Dwarves are hardy, drunk Vikings.  Orcs are ugly, stinking, cannibalistic warriors who respect strength.  Seeing a book, or idea, or setting that uses Tolkien fantasy always feels so assumed.

Why do the elves use the bows in your book?  Why do dwarves use axes?  You know dwarves all live in mines, so of all the tools they could use as a weapon an axe that is used to cut down trees in a dark, deep cave makes senseElves use a weapon that traditionally needs great visibility and lines of sight over a battlefield.  You know what place doesn’t typically have those things.  A forest.

I mean- it’s a very contrived argument to have against this stuff.  Tolkien fantasy is classic and established.  People can use the setting as a backdrop for a quest line or a story and the rest sort of fills itself in.

Its not the only way Erikson subverts what the reader expects.  Characters aren’t all dashingly handsome or strikingly beautiful.  I’d say a majority of his characters are intentionally described as plain or ugly.

Some personalities are grating.  Some hobbies are disgusting.  There is a dude who frequently spits phlegm into his hands to smooth his hair back with it.  There is a character who wears and unwashed shirt made of his dead mothers hair.   There is a dude whos nose was mutilated and has to constantly wipe snot away with his arm.

The way Erikson describes events is equally unexpected.  People don’t die on heroic manners.  There are no characters that have a graceful, glorious death.  You know the scene with Boromir from Lord of the Rings?

A heroic death.  He slays orc after orc, takes arrow after arrow, but he is filled with such magnificent purpose that he fights until he cannot stand or hold his sword.

Characters in Steven Erikson books don’t die like that.

Death is ugly.  Its bloody, smelly, and is a wholly singular experience.  You don’t die surrounded by friends.  You don’t die fighting and struggling.  War is random.  Battle is unforgiving.  You are lucky if anyone remembers your name.  Soldiers are a number.  Thousands get sacrificed for a different regiment of a thousand faceless soldiers can have the chance to achieve the greater goal.  War is never noble, and the results are never worth it.

Its this divide between being beautiful and being hideous, or being heroic and being no one, that Erikson loves to play with.  He creates this negative space in his books; so when a character is beautiful, or when a death is heroic, you take notice.  Granted, its fewer and farther between, but it makes you appreciate the beautiful moments.

Not to mention there is a lot to explore in the interim.  Soldiers understand their grim purpose and lo, we get some of the best gallows humor I’ve ever read.  The dialogue isn’t sad, its not happy, its a completely believable comradery that Erikson manages to capture in these snapshots of marching soldiers.  It makes you feel.  It makes you understand.  Sometimes squad mates don’t like each other, but they are all they’ve got.  You’ll get characters bickering for chapters and chapters but then in the end they absolutely work together, or grieve for the other.  Its an army of brothers and sisters.  War isn’t about glory.  War is about survival.  You fight for that next dawn, and that is what makes it beautiful.

Will I convince you to read these books?  No.  Would I recommend them to everybody?  No.  Hell, I’m currently reading one of his books and I’m struggling with it.

Listening to the books again reminds me of what I appreciate in the literature I read.  It helps me understand what I should be looking for in a book.  It gives me a sense of direction of the types of things I want to write myself.  I have played with the idea of writing a book, and just as soon as I have an idea I’ll get started.  The Malazan Book of the Fallen series stands the test of time to me because it doesn’t walk the paths of other fantasy books before it.  It doesn’t rely on tropes.  It doesn’t rely on what’s expected.

And I love it.

Except the parts of the book I’m currently readying that suck.  Fuck those parts.

-DTM

Total Party Kill: How Did We Get Here?

This past Saturday I had to kill all of my players.

I was very worried because it was going to suck.  They had gone to a planet the previous session and then they were beset by a colossal creature from the clouds.  The Creature on Rain.

It was a perfect storm of unpreparedness, bad rolls, poor choices, and differing priorities.

As always: from the top.

When I had unleashed my party on the Koronus Expanse several of the players had interest in just sailing out into the infinite void and finding amazing things.  No matter how I explained it they never quite figured out that they can just sail into the void and discover systems.  So instead they took to information gathering: looking for rumors and discoveries that they could go and plunder.

As the GM I pointed out some “well known” planets.  These planets have legends surrounding them.  One was Burnscour, a planet just impossibly chock-full of shit that will kill you.  The expansion known as the Koronus Bestiary talks about vicious xenos creatures you can encounter, and a good chunk come from this single death world.

Another I posited was the planet Rain.  It used to have a settlement on it, but eventually a message was received from the planet.  I abridged the message to: “they are coming.  They are coming from the Rain.”   The planets colonies and population all vanished.  The book itself gives one paragraph as to what happened, enough to get a proper GM going.

I took what I found and created a monster fit to kill everyone who ever came to the planet.

The players weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to go, but they definitely made the comment that they want to eventually.

Back to the players.  Every time they were on Port Footfall, the character Zarko would search for information regarding alien worlds with valuable artifacts.  Befitting of his backstory, I would start to seed in some hooks.

Enter another player, Brute Wang, had helped the player look around for rumors, maps, or coordinates.  Over the course of a couple sessions Brute rolled well enough to forge a map that led to Rain.  Not by name, just by location.  Rain is a pretty infamous and feared location in the Koronus Expanse, and with the help of an NPC Chaotic was easily able to glean the coordinates.

Eventually Chaotic planted this map on a hooker.  The hooker eventually encountered the Rogue Trader in the party and gave him the map, who he then gave the map the Zarko.  They both rolled to see if the map was legit, failed spectacularly, and the map was deemed trustworthy.

They took the map to their Navigator who said he could take them there.  I prompted everyone to roll Common Lore: Koronus Expanse.  The coordinates are fairly well regarded since no one returns.

Not a single players who could have learned that lore by now bothered to take it.  I guess they were all concerned with getting their stats higher.

So they went to Rain.  And the very moment they entered the Warp to travel there I knew I was going to have to kill them.

Kill-Them-All

They arrived at the planet, gave it a cursory scan, and landed near three abandoned research posts.  They had all been torn apart during a previous attack as everyone tried to flee.  The players reactivated three vox communication arrays and the final message was relayed as an S.O.S.

“They are coming.  They are coming from the Rain.”

In between relaying that message and the attack itself I had to prepare for the next session.  A session where they would all die unless they were tremendously lucky.

I wanted it to be drawn out.  I wanted to evoke hopelessness and futility.  I definitely did not want this to be fun.

I can’t say too much about the Creature, but it vastly overwhelmed them.  It had the ability to send out smaller versions of itself.  They manifested as flyers, or the slower husk forms that were humanoid in appearance.  The players promptly made a break for it, but their ship was low enough in orbit to be sensed by the Creature.  Half the party made it back to the ship and blitzed for the command deck.  They all started individually being pulled down and suffocated- with the pilot and the navigator finally succumbing near the deck itself.

The second half of the party made it onto the ship but were overwhelmed by the smaller creatures that spawned.  They all died.  Zarko was the final one to succumb.

I had them all one by one turn their character sheets face down.  I wanted to have a discussion.  A talk about what they are doing and how they ended up here.  The party isn’t working together.  There are no discussions.  Half of my players just sit idly by while the other half makes decisions for them.  Decisions that got them killed.

Granted some of my players aren’t present all the time, but as the GM it did not look to me like this party should even still be together.  I had wrongly guessed that I could unite them with a rescue job when we started, but none of my players seem to have made any effort to really learn or interact with other characters.   Hell, one of the players had forged the damn map.

I’m sure that if I voiced this to the players many would protest, but talking about your characters as players is not the same as characters talking with other characters.  I falsely believed that we could have a party where there was no established leadership, but it was brought up that it was likely needed.  I had thought my players would be willing to speak up, deliberate, plan, and work together.  They don’t do this that often.  I have a couple of serious roleplayers, a couple of wannabe-power gamers, and couple people who are just there to hang out.

They lack self preservation, aren’t taking skills they could be using, and are presently aware that they are just numbers on a page.  I’m not going to sit down and chide them for playing how they want to play but they dove in headfirst into a TPK without research or preparation.

They asked no one on port whether they recognized this map.  They failed their checks yes, but even if I say “the map looks legit” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do more research.  That’s where the “its a game” aspect comes into my players minds.  They don’t need to research.  Its a game so self preservation is worried about when its needed.

I’m debating having a structured conversation about this with them.  I think having all died once will make them take more deliberate steps with things.  We shall see.  Hopefully the TPK is a shake up and gives them a banner to unite under.

I ended up saving them.  One of their NPC’s had unparalleled connection with the Warp and used her own life force to push the Creature’s daemonic consciousness away.  She ended up dying as the cost of bailing them out.

-DTM

The Meaning Behind Bat-cow

I ain’t joking.  Also major spoilers inbound.

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That is a canon event that took place in Batman Incorporated written by Grant Morrison.  It documents the return of Batman after he returned from his temporal journey.

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This happened.

The events of Batman Incorporated follow the Bat family and Bruce Wayne’s announcement that Wayne Enterprises will formally be funding Batman.  This will allow Batman to “franchise” heroes around the globe for a crime fighting initiative.

Read the comic if you want the full story.  What I want to focus on is Damian Wayne and Bat-cow.

Damian Wayne is Bruce Wayne’s son.  His conception depends heavily on what comic you are reading: a non-canon appearance takes place in Batman: Son of the Demon, while Damian’s official unveiling was in the Batman and Son arc.  Bruce did not know about Damian until Damian was approximately 10 years old.  He was raised by the League of Assassins and trained to kill people in the name of justice.

Damian’s biological mother is Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul.  She brings Damian to Bruce for what was the pairs first meeting.  Damian famously quips to Bruce (who is in full Batman getup no less), “I imagined you taller.”

An interesting duality has always existed between Batman and the League of Assassins.  They both want justice in the world.  They identify what is and is not just in similar manners.  The main difference is: Batman believes in the criminal justice system, while the League of Assassins believes in killing criminals.

The events of Batman and Son have Damian dawning a makeshift Robin outfit and fleeing into the city to fight crime.  This was the birth of the 5th canon Robin.  A Robin that kills villains.

Shortly thereafter, Batman dies during the events of Final Crisis when he solo-tanks Darkseid’s Omega Beams and is thrown backwards in time.  Damian Wayne becomes Robin to Dick Graysons Batman during the events of Battle for the Cowl.  

When Bruce Wayne returns we finally see Batman and Robin as father and son.  We also see that grinding of philosophies.  Bruce Wayne not only has to be Batman, but he also has to be a father.  Controlling Damian is difficult because Damian is very skilled at what he does and he is impulsive in the beginning.  He is too arrogant to admit he is wrong about anything, but his eternal struggle will always be to reject what he was trained to do.

During the events of Batman Incorporated, while on the trail of a group called Leviathan they end up having a conflict in a slaughterhouse.  Coincidentally, they save the life of a cow.  They go to leave but Damian declares they will save this cow instead.  They deliver Bat-cow to the Batcave, and to a bemused Alfred.

Many fans that I’ve talked to play Bat-cow off as a joke.  But when you think about it- writing a comic isn’t something you frequently improvise on the fly.  Grant Morrison wrote this beast into the story for a reason, even if it is amusing.

When Damian saved Bat-cow in that slaughterhouse, he didn’t surreptitiously pluck the cow from the jaws of death.  He saw himself in that cow and rejected its life’s purpose as preordained.  Damian wants to believe that he more than how he was raised.

Damian was raised in a laboratory; in a false womb.  He was birthed in a cold, calculated environment.  He was carefully bred from what Talia considered the highest pedigree.  His life’s purpose was selected for him.  Damian was trained to become a bloodthirsty assassin.

Then he met his father.  A paragon of justice the world over.  He loves his father and wants his father to be proud of him.  So how do you reconcile your life up to that point?  How do you just change who you are?  How do you reject what your life’s entire purpose was?

Damian saved Bat-cow because he wanted, no, he needed to believe that things can be different.  This cow was raised on a farm, for a purpose it had no choice in.  Its entire life was preordained from birth and Damian needed to know that these threads could be cut.

The events of Batman Incorporated end in Gotham City.  It is revealed that Damian’s mother was the one behind Leviathan.  Her great warrior Heretic, who had been hounding the heroes throughout the volume, was revealed to be another clone of Damian.  A genetically modified one.

We see it one more time, that duality between the Bat-family and the League of Assassins.  Damian Wayne goes to fight Heretic.  Heretic was another child that was bred to kill in the name of justice, and Damian- who has realized the good there is in believing in justice.  Damian faces the monster he could have become had he not met his father.

At the end we see what Damian believes in, and he dies for it.

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Damian rejected his upbringing.  He rejected his mother.  Talia al Ghul saw him as useless at that moment.  A son that had been raised with a purpose, refusing to become what he was raised to become.

So she had him slaughtered.  Slaughtered like cattle.

Damian Wayne is my favorite Robin, and he is high on the list of my favorite comic book characters.  His arc is a complex and subtle one.  Over the course of the comics we learn so much about who he is and who he wants to be.  Damian talks a big game about being the next Batman, but inside he is a scared child.  Scared of disappointing his father, and scared of failing in his role.

There are a ton of poignant moments in the New 52 run of Batman and Robin.  We see him balancing being a hero, being a son, and being a kid.  He is young.  And for his age he has to deal with some hard shit.  Rejecting who he was before Batman is a continuous thing Damian deals with.  Throughout volumes of comics.  Is he doing the right thing?  Will he ever live up to the Bat-families standards?

Or was he just cattle?

He chose not to be.

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-DTM

Murder Hobos to a New Extent

It’s almost fitting that this post follows my previous one debating what to do about my players inaction.

So Pretzel just glanced at my screen and burst out laughing.  So for those who do not know: murder hobos.

Murder hobos is a slang term for Dungeons and Dragons adventurers.  You are a murder hobo because traditionally the players go from town to town killing people.  A vagrant that walks into town, kills the local problem, and rides off into the sunset.

My players killed approximately 100,000 people in one stroke.  So my players are winning this unspoken competition.

As always: the explanation.  My players were sent to a planet owned by another Rogue Trader.  A queen from one of the kingdoms had recently been kidnapped and she wished to return to the feudal world kingdom to save her daughter.  When she attempted to return to the planet herself her reemergence from a space ship sent the populous into an uproar.  So she hires some intrepid explorers to go in and retrieve her daughter.

Stuff happens.  They manage to infiltrate the capital city where the castle is located (and presumably the princess) but the problem came when they had to escape.  The riotous mob had located them and it was a long, dramatic gunfight through a dense city.  Seven explorers doing combat with approximately 50,000 angry civilians.  It was a very tense ending to the session.

When my players returned to their ship, they silently agreed to destroy the city entirely.  They lowered their 8 kilometer ship into orbit and blasted the city into a black smear ala Rogue One.

I was really enjoying the session!  My players, for the first time, we’re working together as a unit.  They understood the risks and we’re working to make sure that everyone passed tests as a group.  I was very excited.

Then they committed genocide.  Now- it makes sense.  It was an emotional reaction to what they had just escaped.  The session was supposed to end on a juxtaposition of a reunited family against the burning capital city below.

What I found curious, and on some levels worrisome, is that they all just allowed this to happen.  There was no deliberation over the event.  There wasn’t a discussion about what the super advanced race of people should do.  They showed up as angry gods and delivered an apocalypse from the sky.

So an emotional reaction- which is fine.  But without anyone asking questions are debating what course of action should be taken, will they understand any repercussions I deliver against them in the next session?  I don’t jump in to remind them of things when they do discuss action together because I want them to ask questions.  I cannot expect them to know the universe, but on some level their characters do.

Should their be a penalty for them not asking, “What would happen if-?”

Realistically here’s what should happen:

The players failed to scan the system so they did not notice the reclamation satellites in the system, and more importantly the Aquila Magnificus located on the planet.

They knew that the planet was owned by another Rogue Trader.  They did not investigate who owned the planet at the time and did not ask what this Rogue Trader might do with a feudal world.  Things that some of their characters likely know, but they didn’t think to ask I suppose.

Now in their defense they didn’t know the city would rise against them and chase them through the city.  Killing civilians in self defense would not have warranted more than a miffed Rogue Trader.  Which I’m sure is what they thought when they vaporized the city.  But they also didn’t ask me, “Will they know?”

So given the circumstances.

Do I give them a break as the GM and gloss over this or do I do what should happen.

So killing approximately 100,000 people is obviously a cruel retribution.  And there is no way that the crew of their ship will be quiet about this when they return to Port Footfall.  So word will get out.

The Aquila Magnificus is a dedicated beacon that summons the Ecclesiarchy.  The Ecclesiarchy are the arm of the Imperium that spreads the Imperial Creed.  Similar to religious missionaries..  And a mysterious ship came and destroyed a huge part of their flock that was promised them.

So the Ecclesiarchy will be furious, and the Rogue Trader will essentially be out a lot of money.  Word gets out on Port Footfall.  Rich people grease some palms and the party will be discovered probably within 3 months.

It will likely be a much shorter time before that Rogue Trader knows.  Days I’d bet.  I know this because of super secret GM stuff, but the players will be finding out in the next session.

I’m not sure yet what I should do.  I don’t want to seem “unfair” because essentially to many of my players it will likely feel like I’m abusing my power as the GM to promote my agenda of not killing 100,000 people per session.  They didn’t ask me questions so they did not have a clear vision of what would happen.

Will they blame me for not telling them ahead of time?  Is it my duty to tell them ahead of time?

But at the same time the universe should feel like it has a real world feel to it with real repercussions for player actions.

So Emily.

What do I do?

-Agonizing GM

“We’re done. We’re ready for whatever…”

That was said to me by some of my players last session.

Maybe not verbatim but definitely that meaning.  They were done doing stuff and were ready for whatever I had in store.

This really disheartened me.  And in some ways it confused me.

During my last post I talked about how they finished the first quest and they were free to roam the Koronus Expanse.  And I was really excited about this because it means I didn’t have to railroad them.  I didn’t have to explicitly control what they do.

I wanted them to feel slightly underpowered in the beginning.  I gave each of them a boon (kinda like a wish) and they each got some totally bitching archeotech (analogous to magical items) equipment.  So now they are powerful, they are much richer, with a spaceship that they had to work together to protect.

It also meant that I could slow down the missions and take more time to write them since my players have the option of fucking off around the Koronus Expanse.  I prepared a lot of star systems to explore so that there were real things they could encounter.

I wrote missions and populated a job board for them with options.  Quests they could take to represent people coming to the party and looking for explorers to hire.

I prepared a lot for the first session of freedom in the Expanse.  We sat down and I presented them with their badass equipment.  I was eager to see what they wanted to do.  After most of an hour they all sort of just looked at me.

“We’re ready for whatever.”

I-

What?

You can do whatever you want?  I’m taking my hands of the wheel for the first time.  Does no one have anything they want to do?  I think in the moment my façade broke and my exasperation showed.  Not a single player in seven had something they wanted to pursue.  The players talk a lot but I was hoping this was the moment that character building moments and events could take place.

After I prompted them they finally decided on a mission.  But I’ve been thinking about that moment all week.

Maybe the issue is that the world is too big?  The ‘blue sky’ problem definitely comes up.  When someone comes up to you and says, “You can do whatever you want!” you get far more intimidated and stumped than when someone says, “Choose A or B.”

A bit of it must be that the people aren’t familiar with the Universe.  And there isn’t shit I can do about that.  The lore is all available but I’m not going to demand that they read it all.

Also the fact that its a sci-fi universe is more difficult as well.  Dungeons and Dragons should just be called “Familiar and Safe Tolkien Fantasy Tropes.”  Its way easier to function in DnD campaign because its much smaller in scope.  A sci fi universe typically involves spaceships and galaxies.  You don’t have magic to rely on, you have to get clever with your thinking and how you use technology.

Part of the opening missions was teaching them about the various things that can be done.  How to information gather, negotiate, evaluate stuff.  I was hoping that would carry over but maybe they thought the only reason we were doing this was for a specific events.  I suppose I can still be explicit about what needs to be done but I want to put currency back in the players hands by pitting them against interesting challenges.  If I write the challenge and then prompt them on how to beat it its less satisfying for them.

I think in my effort to teach everyone first and let them free second I’ve accidentally set up a standard of “you don’t need to do anything because its all preordained.”

On another level I think that some of the players aren’t really fully invested.  No one asked me to run a campaign because they wanted one.  I decided to run one and asked who wanted to play.  And that distinction is important.

Ellis is going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5.0 campaign and some players seem to be much more excited.  They are really diving into the rule books and looking at how their character is going to develop.  This is a campaign that people asked Ellis to do, so they are far more excited.

This isn’t a bad thing but I think my Rogue Trader campaign isn’t necessarily a huge deal.  Saturdays (when we play) isn’t necessarily “we play Rogue Trader on Saturdays” as much as it is “we all hang out on Saturday and play Rogue Trader.”  It seems the same when its written but the difference is that for some of my players they don’t care if we play or not.  Hanging out is what we do on Saturdays.  They don’t look forward to playing Rogue Trader, they look forward to hanging out.

Hell, one of my players brought board games to play when he came to session on Saturday “in case we didn’t play.”

In the end we have fun and that’s what I prioritize.  I have fun and I think most of my players do.  Their personal engagement might not align with mine but in a group of seven players its probably hard for all of them to be on the same page.  Writing for Rogue Trader has been a fun and unique challenge.  Learning to manage my players and expectations will just be a new challenge.

And don’t get me wrong, some of my players get really invested in certain scenarios and that’s so much fun for me to write for.  Its a mixed bag but hopefully with time everything will be sculpted into a deep, rich campaign.

I just wasn’t ready for, “We’re done.  We’re ready for whatever…”

-DTM

 

 

 

Flee to the Koronus Expanse

Rogue Trader is an RPG system set in the 40k Universe.  The primary setting is the Koronus Expanse; a vast region of space beyond the Halo Stars.  It sits behind two great Warp storms: the Screaming Vortex and the Void Dancer’s Roil.  The gap between the two is known at the Maw.  What makes the Koronus Expanse the primary place setting is that until recently it had been lost.

Faster than light travel involves entering an alternate dimension known as the Immaterium, more commonly known as the Warp.  A realm made of emotion made manifest and an infinite number of daemons.

The route through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse was re-discovered within the last two or so hundred years.  It’s an entire segmentum of the galaxy with hundreds of millions of planets for the taking.  The players play as a party of explorers under the helm of a person known as a Rogue Trader.  A Rogue Trader has been granted the right to represent and claim planets and territories in the name of the God-Emperor of  humanity.

So go explore and have fun!

So naturally I did not start my group in the Koronus Expanse.  I started them in the Calixis Sector.  I have seven players and five of them have never played Rogue Trader, it’s a brand new d10 system they need to learn, and the classes do not translate straight across to fantasy (i.e.  there is no designated ‘tank’ or ‘healer).

I wanted to start my party in the Calixis Sector because its a much easier place to introduce the world.  It’s a part of the galaxy under the influence of the Imperium of Man.  I never liked the “you all meet serendipitously” method of starting a campaign- so I like to start them in a “you’ve all been hired for X” plan.

Writing the ‘Opening Mission’ was the most difficult thing I’ve written by far.  Mostly because I wanted to introduce almost all of the mechanics of the game to them.  Combat, Space combat, interaction challenges, exploration challenges, covert ops challenges, space travel, warp travel, investigation, purchasing personal things, outfitting the ship, entering and exiting port, etc…

So I wrote an escort mission.  My players began on the Hive World (industrial/labor planets) of Gunpoint and they commandeered a ship that was provided for them and they set off.  A lot more happens in between missions but the short hand goes like thus:

The players were assembled on the planet Gunpoint.  They were briefed: they had to go to a penal planet of Sheol XVII.  They needed to escape Gunpoint, however, because there were armed men hunting them.  They were promptly ambushed but managed to escape.  Once upon their ship they fled the planet.  The first mate aboard the ship was named Havoc, and he explained a little more of the situation.  They made their way to Sheol XVII.  Having duped a pair of ‘police’ ships, they got inside the planets perimeter.  They picked up a man named Killian Rage.  Havoc and Killian Rage go way back, having known each other for several decades.

Killian explained that Sarvus Trask, a prominent Rogue Trader, was hunting him.  Sarvus betrayed Killian; he used him as a scapegoat for a political deal and had him imprisoned as a sign of good faith.  So now Killian Rage is attempting to return to the Koronus Expanse and Sarvus is trying to stop him.

Once they escape Sheol XVII they go to the feral world Endrite to raid a facility belonging to Trask.  They successfully make it planetside, make their way on foot to the facility, and raid it for all of the supplies.  Unfortunately though, the supplies that were supposed to outfit their ship were merely cleaning chemicals.

They then went to Thical, a prominent hive world near the Maw.  They went to fence the stolen goods but they were met with a counter proposal from their agent: retrieve my stolen valuable thing and I’ll pay you well.  The players expertly infiltrated the facility and found the relic, but had to chase the men down to retrieve it.  They returned it to the agent who paid them and re-supplied their ship.

As they were about to leave Thical Sarvus Trask found them.  In the final days of the re-supply he encountered and captured Havoc in the city.  Amassing a fighting force, he appeared suddenly, murdered Havoc in front of them, and stormed the players ship on the dock.  It was a fight for their ship and their freedom.  It also turned out that their one time ally had been paid to turn on them and dealt a serious blow to the ship.  During the battle several players were critically wounded including Killian Rage who had his left arm completely chopped off.

They escaped after repulsing Sarvus Trask and fled to Port Wander, the final stop this side of the Maw.  On Wander they got their ship re-supplied, hired a new crew, and fixed their broken components.  Once ready, they plunged through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse.  Port Footfall is the stop on the far side of the Maw.  Once on port, Killian introduces them to his old flames father, Zulfikar Raheem, who pays them handsomely.

And then Killian leaves, unsure whether he’ll ever see the party again.

So a lot of this mission was a “connect the dots” sort of mission that allowed me to teach my players the various components of being alive and in the 40k universe.  A lot of this was just me being like, “Hey, this could be totally cool.”

But a small portion of the missions were me reconciling my last campaign that was a failure because I had never GM’ed before.  My first campaign as GM was fun but it got super duper turbo derailed because I didn’t understand how to tell the story.

Killian Rage was an NPC pirate lord in my first campaign.  For me, and I think for my players, he was one of the popular elements in the campaign.  So I began having him show up just to keep interest high and to give them a “Team Rocket” sort of half-antagonist.  He was eventually killed by the party.

Killian Rage represents me in the campaign they are currently playing in.  I gave him no voice, I made him very Mary Sue, and he didn’t talk much but he always knew or had just what the party needed (because I am the GM).  His plan to get them to the Koronus Expanse was a representation of my first campaign and how it goes terribly wrong.  Killian assumed it would be really easy since he knows everything he needs to but doesn’t consider that others will act in ways he can’t predict.  My players behaved in ways I didn’t predict.

Sarvus Trask kills his blood brother Havoc in front of him and Killian becomes ‘disarmed.’  He literally lost his left arm when Sarvus Trask cut it off, a nod to my loss of control from the first campaign, and his brother  Havoc was killed in front of him, a nod to Killian dying in the first campaign.  And when Killian lost Havoc he was lost without him- a feeling I felt when Killian was killed in the first campaign.

So the ‘Opening Mission’ ends with Killian introducing the party to Zulfikar Raheem.  Zulfikar agrees to pay the party when he learns that Killian lost Havoc.  Zulfikar had a daughter once, but she fell in love with Killian and left with him to go on adventures.  She never returned, and Zulfikar blames Killian for her absence.

So when Killian returns asking for a favor (that he knows he has no right to ask) Zulfikar only grants that favor when he learns that Killian is experiencing the same grief that he is.  He pays them, but as a mockery to Killian.  As Killian is leaving the facility, unsure of his future in the Koronus Expanse, he dons Havoc’s blood stained cloak and leaves.

The mockery and departure of Killian, and generous payment to the players, is a reminder to myself that this campaign is happening because of the mistakes I made in the first one. I learned from my experience and here we are now.  My first one was a confused mess but it makes me a better GM for my players now.

My players are here, they’ve earned their wings, and now I don’t need to escort them anymore.  

I feel like this campaign is already way better than the first.  For instance, people actually liked Killian as an NPC.  I even had an instance of a player conversing with him in character.  That last session where they make it to Footfall and Killian leaves- I have been told was a really good session by a few and in one instance a players favorite they’ve ever been in.

That makes me smile to think about.  I think I have a lot of room to grow as a GM in this campaign and I look forward to it.  So yeah, I feel better about this campaign.  Especially now where we get to the point where its really easy to lose control.  But I’m ready.

And don’t worry.

Killian will be back.  Eventually.

-DTM