Category Archives: Microsetting

Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 4

Fourth part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

You can find Part Three here.

Event

An Event kickoff begins with some big happening that has long-lasting consequences, and that the PCs are intentionally part of one way or another. If the PCs are all contestants in a bloodsport that determines the fate of the world (or just has prize money they all want), that’s an event set-up. If they are all arriving in the Big City for the World’s Fair, Queen’s Birthday, Anniversary of the End of the Z-Wars, Inauguration of the Jack of Graves, or Battle of the Planar Rock bands, and plan to partake of those happenings, that’s an Event setup.

An Event can often be tied to other setups, as a lead-in to a longer-lasting framework for the campaign. If the annual Demigod Trial Festival is a continent-wide celebration the PCs are all attending, with various chances to get up to mischief, and at the end of the first adventure the PCs are all going to be accepted in the Demigod Academy, then it’s an Event leading into an Organization.

An Event can be particularly useful for new players if you can have their participation in the events help showcase individual elements of the rules. If the PCs are all young adventurer-hopefuls attending the Adventure Academy Admittance Trials, those trials can highlight the game’s various systems (a mock combat, a lockpicking speed trial, tightrope walk, insult-duels, riddle contests, and so on) allowing the players to see how their PCs do in those situations and how the rules world while the stakes are fairly low.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time

The difference between an Event and Wrong Place/Wrong Time is largely intentionality of both attendance and what spawns the adventure. It can be on a large or small scale. If a dragon (or kaiju, alien starship, floating castle, demigod, zombie hordes, tank battalion–whatever is genre appropriate) attacks a city that is home to all the PCs, or is hosting a major festival the PCs are all attending, turning it into a ruin from which they must escape, that’s a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup. If the PCs are on a train headed west when it’s hijacked by teleporting snakemen, that’s also a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time is a great way to get quickly and directly into some action. All you need is to have all the PCs in one place, and then the adventure can come to them. This works best if the action that occurs naturally leads to more adventure, so the PCs don’t just go their separate ways when the first adventure ends. For example, if the PCs are all on a fantasy-themed roller coaster, and it warps them to an actual fantasy realm, not only do they have to deal with whatever is waiting for them when they arrive, they now have to figure out how to survive in this new realm, and make a living, or make it home.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time can be a good addition to a longer campaign setup. Even if you are doing Family, Organization, Patron, or Tavern as on ongoing setup, you can start with a Wrong Place/Wrong Time to get the PCs into the action, together, quickly.

Right Place/Right Time

The difference between Wrong Place/Wrong Time and Right Place/Right Time is that while the former is about misfortune arriving wherever the PCs are, the latter is about something good (in the broad scheme of things) occurring and leading to adventure. If the PCs are all hanging out at the Taco King parking lot when a Dark matter meteorite bathes them in cosmic radiation turning them into superheroes, they have been thrust into a world of adventure by being in the Right Place/Right Time.

Right Place/Right Time can later be revealed to be Destiny, if you want. While it may seem the servants of Sir Gerginald got lucky by being present when he was slain by a dragon, bathing them all in martyr’s blood and anointing them with eldritch magics, that may in fact have been the fulfillment of the Blood Guild Prophecy. Or perhaps Mr. Cellophane has been injecting hospital patients with experimental super-serum, and the PCs as survivors of a train wreck were just the first recipients to survive his efforts (which, obviously, they find out when they see right through him).

Right Place/Right Time doesn’t automatically assume the PCs are going to agree to participate in the adventure those events open up for them, so it may be useful to combine it with anther setup. It’s easy to have Right Place/Wrong Time blends by having the triggering event be random and a mixed blessing. Perhaps the PCs were in the same hospital as the Ghoul Outbreak, forcing them to fight for their lives against bloodthirsty undead, but as a result they also have immunity to the ghoul virus, and develop various necromantic powers. The outbreak forces them to deal with the Wrong Place/Wrong Time survival threat, getting the campaign started, but it also gives them powers which are going to make survivors in the ensuing Ghoul Apocalypse turn to them for help and leadership.

Obviously there are LOTS more kickoff setups you can use, but hopefully this short list will give you some options and help get you creative juices flowing.

Game On!

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 3

Third part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

Organization

Using an Organization for the setup of your campaign kickoff can make things extremely easy at first, but may come with hidden work for you later-on. The simplest form of Organization setup is that the PCs are all members of the same Organization, and it sends them on missions that create adventures. This can be a military organization, a knighthood, an NGO, Star Fleet, a mercenary company, adventuring guild, thieves guild, wizards guild, the Honorable and Holy Order of Sewer Guardians, SpecterBusters, a newspaper, the FBI, a Lady’s Sewing Circle, insurance claim investigators, doctors without dimensional barriers, CDC field team, the Imperial Diplomatic Corps, starship crew, space trucker union, Lamplighter’s Guild, Library Overdue Asset Network and Interdiction Team (LOAN IT)– whatever fits the genre and tone of the campaign, and that the players are all willing to be members of.

Of course just because you start a game with players as part of an Organization (or even just trying to get in — a first session that is the Admission trials of the troubleshooter’s Union could be a lot of fun) doesn’t mean they have to stay in it. Here in my experience the two most important issues are player expectation and current player satisfaction. If you have proposed that a game is the adventures of the Stellar Alliance Battlecarrier Valorous, and you plan to have the characters all cashiered out over something that isn’t there fault by session 3, you may have a lot of unhappy players who were excited to be part of a big starship crew. OTOH, if the players end up hating how Stellar Alliance regulations hamper their desire to help non-member citizens and want to go it on their own, forcing them to stick with the organization they dislike can also be a big problem.

One good way to subvert expectations in an Organizations campaign is to have sub-organizations, perhaps secret ones, that the players can find out about and choose to join (or not). If the Lamplighter’s Guild has a secret “Bump in the Night” department that handles horrific things their lights sometimes illuminate (an awesome idea I am stealing here from my friend Carl), the players can work with that group, or look to join them, or even work against them if they think the Bit-N are actually traitorous vampire spawn.

Patron

The idea of a Patron setup is that the PCs are working for, or at least aided by, a powerful Patron who can direct them to adventures, and help them gain access to resources and/or people when it might otherwise be beyond the PCs’ reach. A Patron setup can be a nice mid-point between Organization and Wanted Posters — the PCs need not be as wantonly mercenary as an entirely Wanted Post campaign might suggest, nor as beholden to a set of rules as is common in an organization-style campaign.

A Patron might be just a wealthy or well-connected individual, but there can be other interesting options to. A Patron could be someone unable to operate in society easily on their own — a sentient magic item, or a strong AI, or a member of a marginalized group the culture won’t take serious or treat with respect. Or they could have legal or societal limitations based on standing and position — Commissioner Gauthier can’t be seen operating outside the law, but instead makes a deal with a group of vigilantes that as long as they play by his much looser rules, he’ll feed them intel and not pursue them himself.

One common trope is for a Patron to actual be evil, and planning to betray the PCs, and/or destroy them. While this is pretty well expected in some genres (noir detective stories especially, and things inspired by those tropes), I am personally not a fan of that “twist” unless it’s actually a stated part of the game’s assumptions. I find it much more interesting to do things like have the Patron trust the PCs more and more, in time setting them up to be independent or even take over the patrons wealth and power, because betrayal is no fun in real life, and when it comes in my entertainment, I like it to not be a huge surprise or have a big impact. YMMV.

Mysterious Patron

The big difference between a Patron and a Mysterious Patron is that there’s some big element of the Mysterious patron the PCs aren’t aware of. Perhaps they only communicate through a speaker in an office, send coded messages through the bottlecaps of daily milk deliveries, or meet the PCs in the back of an abandoned opera house while wearing a all-concealing cloak that suggests they have a massive hump… or maybe wings and horns. In my experience it’s much harder to get players to trust a Mysterious patron (which can be fun), and they almost always want to Solve the Mystery, which means only use this setup of dealing with those issues seems likely to be fun for you and your players.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 2

Part two of the series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

Family Ties

This setup is a lot like the Organization, but you may not have any choice about being part of it. The campaign is driven by PCs’ ties to a family, which they may all be members of, or may have some different connection to (such as all working for the same noble clan, or all having been infected as hosts to related strains of the same sentient fungus). At their simplest Family Ties can drive forward a campaign through familial connections, ranging from helping out other family members to working to expand and protect all family holdings.

Family ties can be little more than an excuse to be in the Wrong Place/Wrong Time, such as if the reading of a family scion’s will brings all the characters together into a haunted house (or onto a secret seabase, into an exclusive club, at the lost keep, in the big boardroom, or around the meadhall fire, depending on genre). They can also come with duties that are hard to refuse (such as being the nobles who oversee a territory, or being the only bloodline that can activate the planetary defense grid… or the bloodstone altar, or whatever). Family ties can also come with enemies who don’t care if the PCs want to be involved in family business or not, from demons sworn to end all descendants of a great champion (or great champions sworn to end all descendants of a given demon), to rivals for a familial claim to a throne–whether the PCs have any interest in claiming it, or not.

One great way to subvert this is to make it family of choice, rather than blood or marriage. In a session 0, players can all be asked to create one NPC that is close friend and beloved companion to them all, even if the PCs do not themselves know each other (or do, but don’t like each other much). This gives players power to help define their driving force, and no player will be a bit surprised if that group-generated NPC is kidnapped, or needs help dealing with blackmail from the wererat mafia.

Wanted Posters

At their simplest Wanted Posters are literal posters offering a reward for some deed to be accomplished, from bringing in known criminals to coming along on time travel expeditions. Players can all be told they are answering the same Wanted Poster, or get caught up on some NPC’s attempt to make good on on. The format can vary as needed, from the town crier to personals columns in newspapers, late-night public access shows, spraypainted messages on underpasses, online forums and electronic bulletin-boards, or Dark Curve InfoSphere Sites.

Many fantasy and scifi settings have formalized versions of Wanted Posters, and assume a self-employed persona can make a living answering one call after another. There may be a big Notice Board just outside the city’s biggest auction house where offers of rewards for quests are posted, or a Bounty Hunter’s Guild that passes out tracking fobs for specific freelance reacquisition jobs. If there are enough such tasks, an Organization may evolve to bond and insure the best adventurers to answer such offers, but it’s perfectly possible for individual middlemen, fixers, and “Agent Johansson” underworld figures to connect employers and for-pay-troubleshooters on an ad-hoc, if frequent basis.

The less common way to use Wanted Posters to drive a plot is for the faces of the PCs to appear on them, turning the mercenary community against the characters. This can be a subplot at any time, but if the PCs are all selected by some nefarious force to be blamed for a crime, it can kickoff a campaign to have the unknowning character all wonder into the new town on the same day, and discover they have a collective price on their heads, even though they’ve never met. This can become a variant of Wrong Place/Wrong Time.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 1

Kicking-off a ttRPG campaign can be tough. You need a setup that gets all the player characters in the same place, working toward the same goal, and in most cases you want that setup to both not take a lot of time to explain, and have long-term impacts on the ongoing campaign so what time you take explaining the setup remains useful as the campaign moves along. Setup is connected to, but separate from, the plot, theme, and tone of a campaign. Some setups remain the backbone of the campaign for its duration, while others are mere starting points that are discarded once the PCs are comfortable working together and have their teeth in the meat of the game’s adventures.

Basically, anytime you think “That’d be a cool way to start a campaign!,” you’re considering a campaign setup.

Over the course of this week, we’re going to look at some common (and less-common) kickoff setups, including Tavern, School, Family Ties, Wanted Posters, Organization, Patron, Mysterious Patron, Event, Wrong Place/Wrong Time, Right Place/Right Time, and maybe a couple more.

The Tavern

It’s a well-known trope, and overused, but that doesn’t mean there’s no utility to it. The idea is that there’s a gathering place where you can go to get into an adventure. It may be the home of your Patron, a favored hangout of members of your Organization or the School, or the place where Wanted Posters get put up.

I actually think the most interesting idea for the Tavern as a campaign kickoff is to look at Lloyd’s Coffee House, which lead to the creation of Lloyd’s of London. What began as an effort to have reliable news for maritime patrons turned into a global insurance market. It’s not hard to see how a popular tavern (or meadhall, cafe, diner, or intergalactic truck stop, depending on genre) near areas that need adventurers might work to have news of potential adventures and people hiring same.

You can subvert this setup in a few ways. One is to lean hard on the Lloyd’s example, and have “taverns” have simply evolved over decades from primarily places to get drink and lodgings to primarily places to do adventuring-related business (or maybe the evolution of function means those places aren’t called taverns anymore, but Hire Houses or some other term you introduce to the campaign). Another is to make a tavern itself the primary site for early adventures–perhaps a famous and massive tavern was abandoned after some horrific tragedy, and now new owners need the stables cleared of dire rate, the stockroom cleaned of psychic fungus, and the zombies in the basement dealt with.

The School

Whether it’s Backrazor’s School of Berserking and Skulldudgery, the Starknight Academy, Eerie Indiana’s Stranger High School, or Miskatonic University, the idea behind the School setup is that all the PCs are students of the school, and that is what’s going to get them into the adventure.

If the school is training people to BE adventurers, or something similar (military academy, space knight squire class, witches and wizards community college, whatever), it’s easy to see how both minor adventures may be part of the standard class and exam methodology and lead to bigger adventures. For schools with less esoteric curriculum, adventure may come in the form of a locational threat (your school just happens to be at the center of the zombie apocalypse, or the hellmouth, or where the aliens land, or where the Queen of Love and Thorns sets up her fallback command post), or the secret headquarters of an Organization, or again as the home of a Patron.

School can also be easily blended with other setups. If the PCs are all AbHumans with superpowers, learning how to control those abilities at the Kenson Academy while participating as members of the Young Crystal Knights hero team, the academy is obviously also part of an Organization, and may even have a Patron in the form of Professor Kenson. If the school is ground zero for the Dragon Invasion, then being there put the PCs in the Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

One way to subvert this setup is to make the “school” something very different from a big building on a formal campus. Perhaps all young nobles of the realm must spend one full year with a touring knight-magistrate, learning about their lands and its problems. Maybe there is a specific starship for training cadets, and easing them into their final roles and duties. You could have a French Foreign Legion-like group that operated airships with sign-on-mercenaries (no experience needed) to patrol the Diesel Mountains, facing off against Sky Pirates, Wand-Runners, and Panzerdemons.

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Random Idea Generation Methods. 1. The Reverse and Twist

Sometimes, I just need an idea to play with. I may need a starting point for a new project, or some color and side-thoughts for a bigger ongoing work. Often I just generate new random ideas as a palate-cleanser when I need a break from something I am grinding on. Other times I want to throw ideas out to other people, either for fun or to jump-start their creative processes.

Now if I am lucky, a random idea just comes to me when I need it. Or, if one comes when I don’t need it, I can jot it down with just enough detail to come pick it back up later.

But more often than not, i have to generate an idea, and when i have to come up with dozens at a time, I have verious methods I use to do that. Here’s one”

Reverse/Twist The Starting Point

This is one of my favorites, and it’s a good way to use inspiration without turning everything into a pastiche (or rip-off). The basic idea is to take the core premise of an existing setting or story you like, and make a major change to it. Then, you follow the permutations of your new set-up.

For example, take Moby Dick. It’s a captain’s obsession with getting revenge on a whale. It’s compelling, but it’s also been done and redone hundreds of times. So, what if we reverse a number of elements.

Our Captain is still a whale hunter, but he has not a care in the world. The Red Demon, which may or may not be a whale but is certainly a sea creature, seeks to destroy the captain as revenge for the captain slaying the Demon’s mother. We still have stories of obsession and revenge, but now our focal human point is ignoring the risks, his arrogance convincing him that even if the Red Demon is real, it’s a brute animal, and he has all the advantages of human civilization and intellect to overcome it if it ever finds him.

Now, the inspiration for that idea are pretty clear. That’s fine–the starting place of a story, setting, or even writing prompt is only a small part of the work of making something. But once you have that nugget, you can twist and add/alter as you see fit. Instead of a whale-hunting captain hunting you could have a famous ivory poacher, clearly a villain and an up-and-coming local warlord–who does worry about human threats (and perhaps kidnaps a journalist to tell “his side” of his story, giving us our narrator), but ignores local legends of a Red Demon elephant out to get him, even when other poachers are slain by it.

The further we get from the trappings of the original idea, the more our end product will be clearly its own thing.

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Otherworld: A Mode for Wayward

One of my Shower Projects recently (things I only spend time thinking about while showering, making lunch, and so on) has been what my Modes (pocket parallel worlds that overlap with the “normal” world of the Ecumene may look like in the  Wayward campaign setting I hope to eventually release (as a private individual) for Modern AGE through the AGE Creator’s Alliance.

I’ll want my Modes to be distinct, different, yet feel like they belong in the same sets of stories. Two have already suggested themselves to me.

The first of those is Otherworld, a mode where creatures from various afterlife mythologies (Valkyries, angels, devils, ghosts, and so on) live and interact in a version of the modern world where every town, or every neighborhood in big cities, has a single distinct character. Svanrcroft is tall stone buildings, broad, tree-filled lanes, and massive rock municipal buildings and concert halls; Latssvin is another neighborhood in the same city across the river from Svanrcroft, and is entirely rusting steel, cracked concrete towers, and brutalist sprawls with homes and businesses and offices crammed in with little rhyme or reason.

Each of these distinct neighborhoods is controlled by one afterlife group that serve much like some combination of street gangs, neighborhood watches, local beat cops, organized crime, and community centers. Major otherworld creatures mostly believe they are agents of divine beings, getting their “orders” from what appear to be entirely random sources — the Valkyries of Svanrcroft believe they receive orders from Freyja in the form of messages written on Brísingamen-brand food and drink packages, but to anyone else they just seem to be random, common commercial quotes.

Common citizens of the Otherworld are shades of Ecumene folk who have died, living agelessly in very much the condition they were in shortly before they died (though obviously ways to get better if sick, or younger if old, will be major potential plot drivers for Otherworld adventures featuring shades). The status of shades within Otherworld influences how they are remembered in Ecumene — a great writer whose shade has suffered misfortune and poverty within the Otherworld slowly loses their place of relevance and fame in Ecumene.

When major forces from Otherworld influence Ecumene, they tend to be voices heard by Ecumene commoners, who are driven into zealotry. A single Otherworld creature may be occasionally whispering to dozens of Ecumeners , or be spending vast amounts of time influencing a single person. Those affected are encouraged to perform acts, rituals, or influence world events in Ecumene that grant an Otherworld faction more prestige, power, and territory within Otherworld. Left unchecked, Ecumeners under Otherworld influence become Zealots, and begin to actually be able to bring tiny bits of Otherworld (and its Mode rules) into corners of Ecumene.

Within Otherworld, heroics are commonplace and easy, spellcasting is hard. This will be handled with some combination of special rules for stunt points — something like, whenever you reference the value of the stunt die (including when you roll doubles and need to determine the number of stunt points you get) you use the highest value die of your roll, rather than the stunt die–and special hindrances for spellcasting.

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Appendix O: The Ladies’ Sewing Circle

This is a group I have put in a few ttRPG homebrewed worlds, brought forth from the old files of my hardrive.

The Ladies’ Sewing Circle is, on the surface, simply a regular gathering for women of different backgrounds and social classes to get together and sew. Officially, the purpose is to trade sewing tips and tricks, and perhaps combine efforts on larger projects, and the cross-class nature of the circle is promoted as a way to ensure the important skill of sewing is not allowed to degrade within a culture, and to act as a back-channel for issues to be shared from member to member. Usually any woman of good standing may attend, picking up sewing skills if she doesn’t already have them, and gatherings are hosted by senior members. Where those members have space under their control, such as a dressmaker with a shop or a lady with a manor she can use, the meetings are private. In other cases, they occur in public meadows, or the town square, or a barn borrowed from a farmer in return for one new quilt a year.

But beyond that official and public purpose, the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is actually a powerful equalizing force with society. The senior and full members can communicate through stitch-speech and sewing patterns kept secret for generations, allowing them to talk secretly while in full view. And when the Sewing Circle comes to a consensus that an issue would be solved by someone dying, that person is assassinated.

Most Sewing Circles have a few different assassins working for them. Often these are members of he Circle itself, with a few women usually trained in slitting throats and choking foes, as well as stealthcraft. Less commonly, the Sewing Circle may outsource their killing, generally to a trusted ally (sons, daughters, brothers, aunts, and uncles of members are all common choices) who may have had their assassin training and gear paid for my the Circle. In cultures where some specific method is seen as a woman’s way to kill (such as poison, summoning magic, or archery), that method is least-used by the Circle just to ensure suspicion doesn’t fall on other women inappropriately.

Most Sewing Circles keep their assassination rate quite low, less than one per year, though in more dangerous or higher-population areas they may well feel comfortable doing more. When extrajudicial killing is not needed, their resources turn toward spying, exposing secrets detrimental to the public good, and information gathering. Since each ladies’ Sewing Circle is self-government, their methods can vary wildly. Some never resort to assassination, depending on rational discourse and gentle cultural pressure to achieve their ends. Others prefer to used late-night warning visits to push public figures towards more desirable behavior. Others ruthlessly kill, and main and steal, as needed to carry out their goals.

In all cases, the Sewing Circle is publicly well-insolated from all its actions. It’s commonly known that the members talk among themselves, and thus their opinions are spread to multiple households. Wise local authority figures see a Circle as a place to make announcements and receive feedback, even without any inkling that the members may be actively engaged in shadow actions. But any hint that a Sewing Circle is some kind of politically active group that has resources beyond needle and thread is considered laughable.

It’s important to note that this concept can be applied to any group that isn’t normally already gathering to make law and enforce their will, and have some excuse to do so that the powerful members of the culture approve of. In an absolute monarchy, you could have the Noble’s Hunting Lodge, where nobles gather to arrange hunts and other entertainments for the Royal’s amusement. In a rigidly hierarchal church you could have the Incensor’s Affiliation, where the lowest-ranked acolytes discuss incense-management and cleaning. In a totalitarian nation you might have the Rulekeepers, common folk who specifically get together to go over how the government wants them to behave. In High School you might have the Extra Study Club, where students gather to tutor one another in a display of self-motivation.

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Appendix O – Ragabonds

I originally presented the idea of Ragabonds, a form of fantasy migrant culture not built directly off any real-world society or group, in a series of Twitter posts. But some people asked if I had compiled them, so here they are. 🙂

Ragabonds

No one knows the Ragabond Rules’ origin, which state that Ragabond kithpacts must be allowed to travel freely. While many kingdoms that follow the rules allow nearly anyone to travel freely if they didn’t otherwise cause trouble, the Ragabond Rules are respected by numerous tyrannies, totalitarian theocracies, even dragons and devils.

The Ragabond Rules predate the elven empire of Te Astra, the Pact of Akkesh, and even the Tarsian Palatinate, but are not as old as the Jotunlaw or Drakkenjar. Further, while no divination can reveal any reason why, rulers who violate them tend to come to bad ends.

Thus for centuries, Ragabond Kithpacts have wondered freely through lands blessed and cursed, rich and poor, bright and dark. If they interfere in local matters individual Ragabonds lose their protection, but are still excellent sources of trade and news. Of course the Ragabond Kithpacts also have restrictions imposed by the Rules. None may band themselves in armors, gather in numbers more than 120, or be in sight of the same drop of water, green of plant or pinch of earth for more than 90 days or each year. Freedom costs stability.

Each Kithpact addresses these needs in their own way. Some form caravans of pachyderm-carried houdahs, or horse-drawn carriages, or well-laden mules and horses. Others travel in small fleets of nimble boats, or exist as walking nomads, carrying all that they own on their own backs or in travois.

Most Kithpacts have a route they travel over 2-3 years, ensuring they never risk overstaying their time in one place. Even so, these often take them through many different lands, leading each Kithpact to pick up some notes of multiple societies and cultures. A Kithpact is likely to have drawn music, art, language, mysticism, religion, stories, crafts, lore, and traditions from many lands–some from their current route, others from lands traveled centuries ago. Only adherence to the Rules themselves unite all Ragabonds.

Every few years, numerous Kithpacts will gather in a land that allows such things, sometimes called a Pactdom. this is a time of great celebration, but also a risk. As soon as more than 120 Ragabonds are in one place, the Ragabond Rules no longer protect them.While each Kithpact is unique, those of one Pactdom are often similar, and may answer to a single Ragabond Matron, or a Council of Caravan Masters, or the Bishop of Rags. These governments are separate from the Ragabond Rules, but no less rulers of their citizens than any landed nobility.

Most Kithpacts are made up of the same peoples as the lands they travel, and recruit new Ragabonds when their numbers are low. Multiple ancestries and ethnicities are often found within one Kithpact, and their bloodlines are as intermingled as all their culture. Freedom is crucial to all Ragabonds, and the willingness to give up nearly everything to be free is the one thing that is common to all of them. A Ragabond that lacks that drive eventually leaves their Kithpact, and settles down in one place.

Ragabonds are often misunderstood by the cultures they interact with, but not more or less than other foreign lands. They may be seen as flighty for not setting down, or shameless for having little room for modesty, or evil for mixing multiple traditions and religions together. For some Pactkiths, these things are largely true. For others, they aren’t. For many, it depends on the Rangabond. But Ragabonds all have advantages in wide perspective and eclectic training, because they move freely through lands where others dare not, or cannot.

The Rules

The Ragabond Rules state that Ragabonds must be free to travel, trade, talk, sing, craft, perform, and be free of harm or harassment.

These protections last only as long as the Ragabonds themselves do not violate the Rules, requiring them to wear no armor, gather in no number greater than 120, and to take to action to harm the bodily person, wit, or livelihood or any they encounter unless the Ragabond believes doing so is mandatory to keep their own body, wit, or livelihood secure, and even then only in even and minimal measure. This doesn’t mean Ragabonds are all pacifist or vegetarian (though some are). A hungry Ragabond is free to hunt if needful to nourish themselves, and free to study fighting and use it whenever threatened if they fear there is no hope for peaceful safety.

The Ragabond Rules also require Ragabonds to shun for a year and a day any of their own they find to have broken the Rules willfully or foolishly. Those shunned spend that time unprotected by the Rules, though they may (or may not) still travel with their Kithpact.

Ragabonds are treated with suspicion in major towns and cities in Merothia, but seen as trade and news lifelines in smaller towns and villages–though if local youth choose to become Ragabonds themselves rather than aid in their parent’s farms and shops, that can breed ill-will with the abandoned families. Older empires tend to see them as annoyances–not a danger, and not worth struggling against, but not a group you are happy to see walk down the road. Less established groups and marginalized people often welcome Ragabonds as kindred in their lack of towns and walls, though this feeling isn’t always reciprocal.

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Formatting the Drop-In Town, Part 1

A lot of ttRPG projects I am working on right now call for a way to present information on a town setting designed to be dropped into any game. Most publicly know is “Little Hamlet of Villago” for the soon-to-be-rebranded-as 52 x 4 subscription service. There are also some Age Creator’s Alliance stuff I have in various hands with similar needs, and then things on the list off entirely-theoretical future projects.

So, I have been trying to figure out how I want these settings to present info for the GM. The idea is that these can be used as bases of operation for PCs, or waystops that anchor adventures, or as places to explore, or just items in a big sandbox. That means they need to have enough detail to be useful for GMs just wanting details to play off of and offer enough ideas for a GM and/or exploring players to interact with, but also flexible enough to fit other story ideas and worldbuilding elements in with the town’s material.

When I’m trying to create game information formats like this, I find doing some practice builds a useful form of outlining.

So, visual elements can help things like this a lot, so I’d want each Drop-In Village to have a village-scale map. For purposes of a test case, here’s one available for free commercial use from Dyson Logos, “Appletree Pond.”

Map of Appletree Pond by Dyson Logos

It’s a great map, and it would need a scale, labels for road names and numbers for the buildings and locations of note, but that’s easy to add. It’s also useful to think about, because linking those tags to the text they match is going to be important.

Ideally, key buildings would also have both a map of their layout, and art of their exterior appearance. Obviously that would be more expensive than most projects can justify, but let’s pretend we’re doing it for the moment. Again, for this example I’ll grab a Dyson Logos map of an appropriate building, though it may not perfectly match my map outline.

Map of Twin Norkers by Dyson Logos

Both exterior and interior art can help give the feel of a place. I’m not going to order custom work for a test case, but you can do a lot with stock art. Here’s a good exterior art piece to use for Twin Norkers, even if it’s not a perfect match of the map’s details.

Art by ratpack223

I don’t think I’d ever want to give a interior map, exterior art, and interior art of the same location unless there was some good adventure-driven reason to do so, but let’s pretend I would. Here’s a shot of the Twin Norker’s dining room.

Art by Unholy Vault Designs

So, before I even get to the text, I can see if I use all these options I’m going to be looking at 2-3 pages of info for a single location, which may well crowd out the setting and game information a GM needs.

One thing learned, I’ll leave this thought experiment here and talk about presenting text info next time.

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Guest Blog: Darrin Drader Talks Rathorn

Heya folks!

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. The first one is by Darrin Drader, who I have known (and occasionally worked with) for around 20 years.

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

Introduction

Owen has invited me here to his blog to talk about my new Patreon project—Rathorn: Savage Adventures. In the interest of brevity, I’ll get the link out of the way right now: https://www.patreon.com/Rathorn Also in the interest of brevity, I’ll specify that it’s pronounced Ra-thorn, not Rat-horn. The entry tier for patronage is $3 a month, and what you get for backing is a monthly novella, or episode, consisting of a minimum of 50 novel-length pages. There are higher backer tiers for those who are interested. The first payment will come out on June 1st, at which time the first two episodes will be posted. You will have access to both at that time, and then you will gain access to one new episode per month.

Origins of Barbarism

Early this year, Jason Eric Nelson of Legendary Games invited me to write a 5e compatible supplement called Battlemasters & Berserkers. It just so happened that this aligned with a fiction project I was already working on. The two went together perfectly, so of course I accepted the offer. The fiction is Rathorn: Savage Adventures, a novella consisting of six chapters and about 20,000 words, or roughly sixty novel-length pages, and it was made available as a Kickstarter add-on. It did pretty well too.

The cover of Rathorn: Savage Adventures

An alternate “collector’s” cover.

That was never intended to be a standalone piece. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story first.

One of my best friends introduced me to D&D back in 1984. I was eleven years old at the time, and to say I was absolutely blown away by the game would be an understatement (I would later work for Wizards of the Coast, and work on several titles for D&D, including the Book of Exalted Deeds, Forgotten Realms: Serpent Kingdoms, Forgotten Realms: Mysteries of the Moonsea, and more articles than I can remember). Rathorn was a barbarian character dreamed up in the fall of 1988 shortly before a gaming convention in Spokane, Washington. By that time I was already reading and being heavily influenced by D&D tie-in fiction, so I began writing stories about him and his half-elven sometimes companion named Whisperfoot. By the time I graduated from high school and moved on to other things, I had filled a three-ring binder with stories.

Now obviously, those stories weren’t publishable. I’ve worked on my fiction for my entire life, and I didn’t publish any of it until about ten years ago. It’s a skill that takes a long time to develop, and in all honesty, a lot of people who try their hand at it find it much more difficult than expected. Anyway, I’ve always rather liked the characters, and sometimes considered doing something more with them. I made a Facebook post a while back, and none other than Peter Adkison chimed in and encouraged me to lean into it and do something new with the characters (I mean, who am I to argue with the man who started Wizards of the Coast?). What I ended up deciding to do is rewrite those stories from scratch—and I really mean scratch, because that three-ring binder ended up not making a move several years ago. In truth, these aren’t going to be faithful replications of the original stories. I’m thirty years older now than I was then, so these will be reimagined from a more mature and experienced point of view.

The Barbarian Sub-Genre

The promotional blurb for the Patreon reads as follows:

He came from the northern barbarian clans to claim vengeance against those who stole from his village and killed his best friend. But once entered, leaving civilization is far from easy. A hundred years removed from the fall of the Androsan Empire, fortunes are forged on the plunder of ruin, while lords from across the lands plot to reclaim lost glories, and death is merely is one blade away. These are the tales of Rathorn (Ra-thorn). Warrior. Barbarian. Adventurer.

If the premise sounds a bit like another barbarian from the golden age of pulp, you aren’t completely off-base. Then again, there’s something timeless and universal about that character archetype, which is one of the reasons Barbarian is a class in the Player’s Handbook. Currently, that famous  mighty-thewed warrior is making a comeback via Marvel comics, and a new TV show in the works for Amazon original programming. But there are other barbarian characters in fiction, such as Skharr the Death Eater by the excellent Michael Anderle, who will soon be releasing his sixth book in the series. Others include Wulfgar by R.A. Salvatore, Cohen by Terry Pratchett, Fafhrd by Fritz Leiber, Stoick the Vast by Cressida Cowell, and of course Khal Drogo from George R.R. Martin. In other words, barbarians are a full sub-genre of fantasy literature unto themselves.

The Patreon Model

The Patreon model of fiction challenges both readers and writers to reimagine fiction as being more like a TV show than a movie. Traditional novel publishers used to restrict authors to one book per year, even if the authors are more prolific than that. In that way, novels are sort of like movies. They have high production values, they come out at a slow pace, and they tend to do things you can’t do in TV (though due to higher budgets and more affordable special effects, this is becoming less and less the case all the time).

By comparison, the short story can best be described as a tempest in a teacup. They’re so short that they’re meant to be read in one sitting. They are often published in magazines or anthologies, which means they don’t get their own covers. Also, due to the fact that they’re submitted to multiple outlets, the same author’s stories often have little to no continuity. In other words, while they’re their own art form, short stories aren’t the best type of vehicle for telling a continuing story. They aren’t like a TV show or a movie. Maybe they’re best likened to a short film.

The novella is a bit of a hybrid between the two, and it’s what an episode of Rathorn is. At 20,000 words, most people aren’t going to read the whole thing in one sitting. In fact, each novella is about a quarter the length of your average novel. Each one tells its own story, but it’s easy to string them together to tell a larger story over time. They can have unique covers, but like traditional TV shows with reliably consistent opening credits, they might all share one cover, each only differing in the title of that episode.

I first experimented with the continuing six chapter novella when I started writing Star Trek fanfic (yes, professional writers do sometimes write fanfic. Sometimes they even do it under their own names). The idea was to imitate a single episode of Star Trek in terms of scope and content in prose fiction. I ended up being very pleased with the final result, as were my readers, who found it to be long and meaty enough to be a satisfying read, while not being so long that they might give up on it because it’s too long or something new catches their attention.

As it turns out, the novella is the perfect length for Patreon because unlike a novel, it’s entirely possible to do the writing, get it through editing, and release one on a monthly schedule. Don’t get me wrong. It’s also possible to write a novel in a month—I wrote Nuclear Sunset: Legacy of Ruin in three weeks—but doing that consistently every month is very difficult. In fact, the only person I know who managed a schedule like that is Matt Forbeck, who ran a Kickstarter, earned enough to take a year off of his day job, and released one novel each month.

The World

Rathorn doesn’t exist in your typical Howard inspired sword and sorcery setting where civilization is almost always wicked and magic is inherently evil. Rathorn is very much a part of The Cobalt Kingdoms, which is a 5e setting I’ve been slowly developing over the past several years. While it does draw on some ancient world motifs, it’s closer to your baseline D&D setting. In fact, the setting itself is one of the important features here.

This is a sneak peak of the current unfinished map of the northwest corner of the Cobalt Kingdoms

As someone who used to greatly enjoy Forgotten Realms fiction, I was pretty disappointed when Wizards of the Coast decided to mostly stop publishing tie-in fiction. My goal with Cobalt Kingdoms is to create a new shared world. In other words, once the campaign setting is out, it will be open. Other writers and publishers will be able to create their own gaming products and fiction royalty free. If they follow the content guidelines and it’s of professional quality, their works can become recognized as canon.

The Puppy Dog Close

For those of you who have never done sales, the puppy dog close is where you basically beg the customer to buy the product you’ve been demoing. You say things like, “Hey, I really need this sale because I’m under my sales goal for the month, my boss is threatening to fire me, I have a kid at home and I really need to pay the rent. Whether that was actually true varied from salesperson to salesperson, but it is a remarkably effective closing technique.

So here’s my story. Three years ago I started my own small business in my hometown which happens to be seasonal. Covid has completely shut it down. In fact, there’s a very good chance it’s not going to reopen at this point. Our finances are not looking good. I have a wife and kids at home, including a five-year –old daughter, and an autistic stepson who is extremely low on the spectrum. Right now, writing is the only source of income I have, and because I’m a freelancer, it varies from month to month. This Patreon is my attempt to achieve a steady, regular income from the one thing I’m good at—writing. If you’re reading this and you can spare the cost of one cheeseburger a month in exchange for a regular dose of fantasy fiction, I would be forever grateful to you.

Patreons!

You can support Darrin Drader’s Rathorn Patreon here!

And, as always, you can support Owen K.C. Stephens’s Patreon here!