matt_doyle: (Default)
So, before I go forward in this explanation, I need to go back.  The following is crunchy with worldbuilding, character backstory, and a recap of a few sessions I didn't describe.
Brokenhills and Blood Magic )
matt_doyle: (Default)
So.  How did our band of intrepid guardsman wind up knocking on the doors to Hell?  It's been a long road, and so I will summarize as succinctly as I can.
The Broken Road: A Summary )

matt_doyle: (Default)
In the kingdom of Antarion, known to the vulgar-minded as The Allotment, in the Barony of Endworld, there is an island that once was called the Marrows, or perhaps (because only a shallow strait separates in from the mainland) the Narrows.  Little more than a rocky promontory, it never held any importance until Narerrant, gens-lord of the Ligurian gens Nar, decided to build himself a second castle there.

Narerrant's family was small and unimportant, as the lineages of mage-lords are counted, but Narerrant himself was a potent sorceror.  His staff, it was said, was so full of spells of wariness, vigilance, and warning that it could sense threats hidden in the hearts of men, and react before its master to defend him.  This was the greatest of his accomplishments, but it was only one of many.  He laid the foundations for his castle himself, a substantial feat of earth-magery, and directed its construction according to strange and exacting standards.  Then, he shut himself in it, and none but his family and his servants saw or heard any trace of him for many months.

Secretly (but not so secretly), Narerrant was a wicked mage.  His powers of command and conjuration, his skill at crafting, all of these he derived by a subtle mastery of necromancy unlike any other magus of his Age.  He knew, of course, that he was an evil soul, and that he had strayed far from the path to apotheosis the Winged Ones dictate -- the path that leads noble souls safely through the Misty Hells and ushers them into Radiant Glory, where they may collect the prayers of their descendants until they join the Winged Ones as one of their number.  The sins that weighed on his soul would draw him astray, lure him into  false paths, mire him, maze him, and lose him forever in the Hells.

As no sane man would wish this, and Narerrant was, perhaps, still sane, he sought a terrible alternative.  Beneath the foundations of his castle -- wrought of Mist-stone, the very substance of the Hells conjured into our world and persuaded to pretend that it was mere rock -- Narerrant built himself a model of Hell.  He summoned and imprisoned demons; he drew Mist through portals, he consulted dark texts and cast sinister spells, until under his home was a very near replica of the Misty Hells.  By studying this model and interrogating its damned inhabitants, Narerrant hoped to gather enough information on the dangers of his passage through the afterlife, so that even without virtue he could dodge the dangers of the Hells after death and worm his way into a reward not intended for souls such as he.

It was a clever plan, and a devious one, and perhaps it would have worked.  But while he spent day after day under the earth, someone in his castle grew nervous.  They had learned that Narerrant could open the Gates of the Hells; they knew he was obsesses with building something, and from this they drew a fearful and misguided conclusion:  that Narerrant was building a door to Hell, one which he intended to throw open once it was complete, and rule all Antarion with powers devised from warlockery and demonology, subjugating the living with minions ripped straight from the torments of the damned and the dead.

When word of this was brought to the Queen, along with some small proofs of necromancy, she wasted no time, but assembled her armies, her pyromancers and storm mages, her artificers with their siege-lightnings and silverbolts.  Straight to the coast of Endworld they rode, and rained devastation over the strait, crashing Narerrant's great castle down upon its foundations in a single blazing hour of spellwork.

Of Narrerant, his underground works, and his staff, no trace was ever found.  It is recounted as a bitter irony that he could have stopped any threat in the world from touching him with his wondrous staff; but he was so concerned with matters of the next world, so immersed in them, that his staff was too distant to sense the oncoming army and give him warning.

Now the island is called Narrer's End, and none live there.

But some two centuries after Narrer's demise, a princess, an apostate, and a renegade band of Royal Guards, concerned more with justice than with law, are seeking the staff once again, and if their luck runs terribly awry, it is possible they may find it.
matt_doyle: (Default)
So.  For a game I'm running, I'm designing a very large, elaborate house for an adventuring party to explore.

Think of it like an Elizabethan Gothic version of Bag End that's been the home of a secretive and slightly incestuous clan of nobles, alchemists and sorcerers for four hundred years.  Before that, it was the badger set of the Faerie Lord of Badgers.

It has over two hundred rooms.

Tell me in the comments what sort of rooms you think should be included, and why.  From the mundane to the esoteric, the fantastic to the horrifying, the straightforward to the baroque.  There's room in there for all of them.
matt_doyle: (Default)

Dramatis Personae

Previously, on The Broken Road...

Session Two

In the morning, Eustacious and his manservant are gone. Eustacious has left behind a rambling letter stating that he was unavoidably detained, but sharing some pompous, biased, but surprisingly shrewd deductions about the murder investigation Ensign Richgrave sends Vitenthia to find, assist, and retrieve him before they move on to the next Barony, and sets Anthia, Justika, and Adrastus to focus on the investigation of horsetheft and murder.

Because Andrastus' triaged shortlist gives two suspects, but both are elsewhere (location unknown) and cannot be questioned, they try a different tactic. Both their own reasoning and Eustacious' suggest that the horsetheft and murder may have different perpetrators. Investigating the people whose horses were stolen, they find one – Taskent Drakesbury – whose elder brother Taspiron is on their suspect list for a suspicious social absence the night of the murder. Interrogating Taskent, they find his brother was allegedly wyvern-hunting with friends – a pastime explicitly forbidden by their father the Baron – and so Taspiron discovered his horse missing, borrowed his brother's, and sent his brother to report the teft. Furthermore, one of the brother's close friends has been previously acquitted of blood magic – four times.

Investigating this friend, Lord Darivell Stargaze, on suspicion of having murdered the groom to punish a theft, they receive massive support from the municipal guards, frustrated with prior failures to convict. They discover hidden areas in his laboratory, suspicious materials, exsanguinated animals, illegal texts in trapped safes – ample proof of blood magic, but no connection to their murder. Stargaze comes peacefully for arrest, but asks the names of his arresting officers – among his legal rights, but also something which makes it easier to target a curse. Anthia lies about her name. The Brigadier of the Guard congratulates them, and, no closer to a solution, they ride to the next barony, constrained by schedule.


Character highlights:  Adrastus repeatedly found excuses to search alone, as he was using transformative magic to heighten his senses.  Justike discovered this at least once, but pointedly ignored it.  Anthia lying about her name while Justika told the truth was also a nice touch.

matt_doyle: (writing)
Tha patrol assembled at the Royal stables at dawn the morning of April 2nd.  Eustacious' manservant arrived a few minutes early to inform the Lord Ensign that Eustacious was running late, but apart from that, everyone was close enough to being on time that it caused little fuss.  Lord Ensign Richgrave, not being much given to inspirational speeches, informed everyone that while they had nine months to travel eight hundred miles, he still intended to keep a rigorous schedule, and be back in town in time for his seventieth birthday and the ensuing retirement.

They rode a grand total of about three miles, to an Inn on the edge of the city -- the Sign of the Burning Oak, apparently a regular haunt of local guardsmen, judging by the clientele and practical decor (a lot of local maps, mostly).  While the Long Circuit is meant to focus on the concerns of the neglected outer Baronies, there are always a few cases referred to them while they travel out along the Spoke Road -- in this case, two before they even leave the barony of Applered, and one of them within city limits itself.

The first case, a nine-day old murder and horse-theft, was referred to them by frustrated city guardsmen unable to find a lead and assuming that another murder in a different Duchy is connected, thus making this a case for the Crown to avoid jurisdictional issues.  The second case, one of petty poaching in a private game preserve, was sent to them by the local Baron himself, believing his own guards not up to the task.  Lord Richgrave informs his team, somewhat sourly, that they will be paying most of their attention to Baron Applered's case, as his rank gives it precedence.  He does, however, split the team, so that for the first two days on the job, each of them gets a chance to investigate each matter.

(GM note:  yes, I deliberately split the party, the way one always does in a police procedural.  rapidly shifting from scene to scene meant no-one spent too much time idle and bored, but all in all it was probably still a bad idea, and I don't intend to repeat it soon or often).

Over the course of two days, some basic facts were assembled in the murder case:  a Madrigal stableboy was horsewhipped to death in the alley behind the hostelry where he worked, and afterward three Madrigal-bred stallions were stolen, along with the ledger recording whose horses were within.  Between examining the scene, questioning both the local guards, their reports, and witnesses; and looking at the body (on ice in a local butcher's shop), the party determined that no-one saw or heard anything -- despite the murder occurring on a night when there was considerable local traffic and a great many late-night parties in the area -- and that the victim remained standing until he died of blood loss.  This suggested magical assistance in the murder, implicating a noble.  The wounds also seemed consistent with someone who had used a whip to train animals, but not as a weapon, and between the clumsiness and the number of strokes, considerable fury or passion was suspected.  Querying the local socialites, almost two dozen conspicuous absences were noticed from local parties that night.  Deductive reasoning produced two suspects who fit the criteria and evidence better than the rest... but one's whereabouts are unknown, and the other was last seen halfway across the kingdom from the second murder -- where a Madrigal singer was asphyxiated with honey while standing in a public courtyard late at night.  So there is no definitive proof pointint at anyone... not even the longer list, really.  But solid investigative technique was used, and it was consistent with the beliefs and methods of the time -- so kudos to my PCs, even if they still have a ways to go on this one.

The poaching case was resolved by the second night, however.  Despite the Baron's paranoid fantasy of local peasants depleting his prized herds of deer, the party suspected a large predator was responsible almost from the first.  Ruling out the wyverns of Drakesbury as culprits, an initial pet theory, they found evidence of a burrowing creature by the water -- something large, with a distinct musky scent, like a ferret or weasel might have.  Setting a local huntsman to plant snares near the burrows and scrapes and watch for the beast, they retired for the night -- only to find upon the following morning that the deer were all accounted for, but the huntsman was gone.  Digging into a hidden burrow from above, they found not only suggestive tracks but the bodies of deer and huntsman -- decapitated and dismembered, but with their torsos largely uneaten.  Piecing together the tracks and the signs that this creature had hands with woodscraft and old folklore, they identified it as a Face-Eater, a wickedly intelligent beast from over the Wall with the face of an ape, front paws of an otter, legs of a dog, body of a weasel, and a human hand upon its tail.  Assembling the party in full, they rode out at night to ambush it, suspecting it would come for the corralled deer.  While it lured them away from their ambush spot, they were still well-prepared, and though Adrastus took some nasty bruising, they brought the beast down without serious injury.  Some unanticipated bright lights revealed that Adrastus' combat magic gave him the posture, ears, and eyes of a panther -- and transformative magic, in the Allotment, is considered one of the hallmarks of either blood magic or faerie magic, both of them taboo.

Like most first sessions, the party is still finding their balance with one another, as am I, but I thought it was a solid introduction with some excellent character moments, such as Eustacious summoning his valet and producing a spade the moment they found the burrow to dig into, or Vitenthia refusing to eat meat for two days after seeing the dead body, while Justika ate with indifferent aplomb. 

matt_doyle: (Default)
So, tonight I run the first session of The Broken Road.  I've discussed what I was doing with the game here, but as a short summary:  5 rookie members of the Royal Guard and their officer-mentor go on a long patrol through the hinterlands of their kingdom.  Bad Things happen.


Lord Guardsman Eustacious Searoad -- Lord Eustacious is a snobby, foppish swordsman extraordinaire with a hedonistic streak, a neurotic fear that peasantry might be contagious, and a tendency to start duels at the drop of a hat.  His family has gently nudged him into the guard, suggesting that it's a career where his talent for violence with edged weapons might be put to productive, socially acceptable uses.  While in many ways a caricature of an effete, self-centered decadent noble, Eustacious' shallow surface has the potential for some surprising depths and currents.

Lady Guardswoman Justika Cradlegate -- a magically talented Madrigal orphan adopted into a noble family, Justika is a combination of useful tool and potential embarrassment to her adoptive family.  Her talent for telepathy makes her an ideal spy... as long as she doesn't hear too much.  And they never expected her talent to outstrip that of her adoptive brother, the heir-presumptive of the Barony.  A career in the guard should either shuffle her out of sight long enough for her brother to become impressive, or gain enough respectability to become an acceptable heir despite the disadvantages of her common birth and bloodline.

Lady-Calator Guardswoman Vitenthia Willowwhite -- daughter of a cadet branch of a noble family, Vitenthia suffered lasting brain damage after her near-drowning as a child.  Since then she has exhibited an unwholesome fascination with water, and with water fey, one of whom may have been responsible for her injuries.  The anxiety and distress she caused her family were manageable, but her need for constant supervision  was less so, and so she was sent to a career in the Temple of the Winged Ones, to study religion and the healing arts.  While her gifts were prodigious, her vocation was repeatedly questioned -- was her affinity for water truly the same thing as devotion to the Winged Ones who oversee the waves and storms?  A chaplaincy in the Royal Guard was secured for her, and Vitenthia was sent off yet again.  Cheerful but emotionally vulnerable, never quite perceiving or understanding the world the way those around her do, it remains to be seen whether Vitenthia can channel her energies in useful directions and maintain discipline, or whether she will end up drowning herself and her companions.

Lord Guardsman Adrastus Brokenhill --  The Brokenhill family are reclusive, secretive, and cliquish, maintaining certain family traditions since before their exile to the Allotment.  Adrastus certainly lives up to his family's reputation for unarmed martial talents and a withdrawn mystique, but it is rumored that his sudden admission to the guard was his family's way of deflating some potential political embarrassment he caused.  Thoughtful and intense but seemingly apolitical, almost hiding within a suit of heavy armor, Adrastus has yet to make either close friends or committed rivals with his fellow guard.

Lady Guardswoman Anthia Thornrose --  A beloved daughter of a cadet branch of this powerful, politically savvy family, Anthia is charming and friendly.  Her admission to the guard seems, on the surface, to be a canny career move -- a way of teaching her about the people and nuances of life in every barony in the Kingdom, an invaluable networking opportunity.  In contrast to Eustacious', she is approachable despite her rank, and shows both an over-active social life and a keen interest in nature -- she keeps a domesticated fox as a pet, and has studied woodscraft enough to be a major asset to any far-ranging patrol.  While Eustacious is a genius with a rapier, and Adrastus with a mailed fist, Anthia prefers a whip -- an atypical choice for a guardswoman, but she is more than talented enough with it to justify the eccentricity.


Lord Ensign Inomin Richgrave -- an aging officer, with conflicting reputations -- said to be too honest to rise higher in the ranks, but also known for his impeccable discretion and attention to detail.  Horseman, archer, healer, detective, and chaplain himself, Inomin has been a training officer in the capitol for years -- because an old injury to his leg pains him constantly, tires him swiftly, and makes him unable to travel at any reasonable speed except on horseback.  This will be his final Long Circuit Patrol before retirement, and the cranky old perfectionist will most likely spend most of it in the nearest inn, directing his subordinates to bring their cases and findings back to him, rather than riding out in search of mystery himself.

Lipol of Fingershoals -- Eustacious Searoad's valet and musician.  While the Crown provides the guard with a stipend for room and board on their travels, it does not stretch to accomodate personal servants, but Eustacious dipped into his own pockets rather than be without his long-suffering manservant.  Lipol is deliberately a cipher -- while he certainly has a life beyond his master's whims and pretensions, he is very careful to be an impeccable professional when around his social betters, and keep himself to himself.

I am very interested to see how this will develop.

(Note to PCs -- if you feel my summary here has done any of your characters an injustice, let me know and I will amend their description to suit).

matt_doyle: (Default)
The basic ruleset I am using for The Broken Road is D & D 3.5, because it is most familiar to me and to the players.  But because the Allotment is focused so heavily on mage-lords, who are obviously spontaneous casters, the world is changed to revolve around them in any number of ways.

Classes I am encouraging aristocratic players to focus on:  bard, sorceror, favored soul, shugenja, artificer, and duskblade.  So far there are no commoner PCs, and I think there are unlikely to be any.  Some mage-lords may have exceptionally weak magic:  these would likely take non-casting classes but take a few of the feats that allow casting of cantrips or low-level spells a limited number of times per day.  A wizard would be someone who has learned the ancient forbidden spellcasting techniques of Septicollum.  A druid would be someone who learned their casting from the fey -- doubly forbidden!Details cut for those who do not care... )

matt_doyle: (philosophy)



So, this fall, after my now-epic-level Eberron game concludes, I'm starting up a new campaign. It's set in the Allotment, because I have had a lot of success before running games in worlds I have written about. On the one hand, the setting gets a lot of passion put into it, a lot of logistical detail that often escapes game settings, because the world-building has already been set up to support a narrative. There seems to be a kind of verisimilitude that players relate to very well. On the other hand, if there are holes in my world-building, a group of four or five dedicated, inquisitive, exploitative characters are almost sure to find them, which is a great help to the writing and to fleshing out odd details and twitches of setting.


The trick, of course, is chronology. When do you set such a game, to be certain that it doesn't interfere with the demands of your story? The two choices are after the novel or novels reach conclusion, and the story is safely finished... or far enough in the past that novel characters are unlikely to think or chat about campaign events, and the weight of history can shove any egregious hero-inspired changes back the way the author wants them.


I tend to choose the latter, both because I am then not left with the feeling that my PCs are fiddling with things just when I got them sorted out, and because it's a more concrete help to world-building to explore the past than it is to explore the future. In this case, my upcoming campaign, The Broken Road, is set two centuries before The Hellion Prince, during the long, prosperous, and decadent reign of a King whose subjects jokingly call him The King of Oats and Honey, for he is a major political force to be reckoned with, as autocratic as the Sun King, but immensely fat in his old age, and has sired children (in Antarion, all magically gifted children are automatically legitimized if their parentage is known) across the kingdom.


The party will be a patrol unit of newly-minted Royal Guardsmen. The Royal Guard is one of the few egalitarian, meritocratic institutions in the nation, permitting enrollment and advancement by both commoners and mage-lords . As the game begins, the party is about to embark on their first Long Circuit patrol, a sink-or-swim tradition that takes them out of the comfortable capital on a nine month tour of Outer Baronies, spreading the uneasy influence of central judicial authority to arbitrate legal problems and catch criminals that the local Barons and Baronesses cannot handle.


Given that The Hellion Prince is an England-analog with a roughly early-Georgian society (or if you prefer, since I always joke about it being a “regency romance,” Regence France), rolling it back 200 years gives me the England of Shakespeare and Queen Eilzabeth to work with, which pleases me to no end. One of the most important things for me in the Allotment is to have proportional world-building when it comes to my history – if the Allotment was settled 800 years before Hellion Prince by what were essentially exiled Roman rebels with sorcery, the society at time of settlement should resemble 1000 AD European cultures, and their development should have rational reasons for running along vaguely parallel lines and giving me an 18th-century Britain-doppleganger to work with. Obviously some handwaving is required, but I prefer to actually patch my history together as plausibly as I can, piece by piece, and so it will be interesting to explore the happenings of “The Elizabethan Allotment,” since that's a period of British history that interests me greatly. I'm not sure that I can get my players to declaim their dialogue in Shakespearean blank verse, but I can certainly dress them in period fashions and draw in tropes and situations from Elizabethan romance and drama, and I intend to.


Generally, though, this campaign is an attempt for me to take what I have learned about running a game, and apply it in new ways – hopefully both telling a more organic, character-driven story, and allowing me to learn something new. While I have a very vague outline, I do not yet have anything resembling a full plot for this game – nor do I want one before my four players have created their characters and back-stories, a process which we will all do together, exploring their psychology, their motivation, how and why they will mesh as a team, and making certain they have fully realized 'lives' outside the demands of plot. The Allotment setting has a lot of potential darkness and horror that I want to exploit, and to do that I want a party who values role-playing above expedient, mechanical triumphs, and who can act as a support system when other characters are dealt serious emotional wounds. I also want to know what the players most want out of a game, so that I have a better chance of delivering it to them. Politics or action? Crime-busting or creature-slaying? Faeries or Unfallen? Not that the options are binary by any means, but the more I know their goals and their kinks, the deeper I can draw them in, the more thoroughly I can satisfy them.


Originally I was also planning a lot of blather about the technical tomfoolery necessary to make third-ed D & D mechanics adapt themselves to the demands of the world, but I figured that post was more likely to bore my readership, so unless someone expresses an interest, consider it omitted. 

For that matter, is this game in general, as my players create their alter egos and as the story unfolds, something people would want to hear more about?

As always, I'm eager to hear from you.


matt_doyle: (Default)

January 2014



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