[RPG Blog Carnival] Pimp a Game: Northern Crown

rpgblogcarnivallogoIn this carnival of sharing our under-loved favorite role-playing games, I’d like to talk about Northern Crown.

Picture a history of the world mostly as we know it, but painted with the palette of d20 Dungeons & Dragons. Amid the hardworking artisans and farmers of Uropa stride adventurers: trained soldiers, paladins of God, wizards and more.

The powers of western Uropa have turned their gaze to the west, where a massive, uncharted land, called Northern Crown for the distinctive constellation in its night sky, has been found by explorers. Those Uropan nations have unsurprisingly taken to the prospect of new, open lands with alacrity, settling all up and down Northern Crown’s eastern coast.

Of course, Northern Crown isn’t empty of inhabitants at all. Wild, fantastic beasts dwell here: catamounts, horned serpents, stony elementals, fairies and more. Moreover, people live here. The nations of the First Ones span the landscape, blending into the existing environment that most Uropan settlements don’t. As you can tell, it’s a match for the ages as the First Ones struggle against foreign interlopers in their lands.

Northern Crown stands out from other fantasy settings in several ways for me, who’s accustomed to most fantasy settings being “Okay, it’s pretty much standard Dungeons & Dragons, but darker!”:

  • Anachronistic alternate history. Part of the world’s charm is it’s not only an alternate history of the world as we know it, plus magic, fell beasts and all that, plus it’s the greatest hits of renaissance/reformation Europe and colonial America. Fantasy Thomas Jefferson and Wizardly Ben Franklin lead a nation of freethinkers in the 17th century, while exiled King Charles plots against the half-fey Gloriana reigning over Albion.
  • Humans only. The dominant sentient species in Northern Crown are humans. There are fairies and outsiders, but they start off as non-player races. There are no elves or dwarves, etc. Replacing the racial axis in the Cartesian grid system of character creation is culture. Players choose a culture in which their character grew up and receive feats and abilities based on what that culture values. Albions learn minor glamer magics, Vinlanders train for the life of a sea wolf and Sophians prize education and reason.
  • Straddling the divide between medievalism and industry. True to its historical roots, Northern Crown incorporates advances in technology from the default pseudo-medievalism of Dungeons & Dragons. Firearms are relatively common, though the rules as written make them more of a pain than they’re worth, which is how I think the designer wanted them. The apex of melee combat is fencing, more intricately developed than the art of swinging a greatsword. Natural philosophers have begun to categorize and plumb the depths of phenomena observed in the world — they’re mechanically a kind of spellcaster that relies on specific tools, but the process and effects are wholly scientific.

To the goal of getting Northern Crown into the game-playing public’s eye, in December I began the project of extracting the setting’s declared open content — so wonderfully much of it; indeed, nearly everything — and updating it to Pathfinder, presenting it in the style of d20pfsrd.com. You’ll find Project Boreas, currently a work in progress, available for perusal and populated with ever more material for exploring the lands of Corona Borealis.

Updating the source material to Pathfinder has been interesting. So far I’ve focused on things that don’t need a lot of change. But I’m coming to the point where Northern Crown‘s unique classes — agent, natural philosopher, rake, raider, soldier and witch, namely — need attention. Sometimes, there’s a Pathfinder class or archetype that does most of the job, or there are already written class features that can transport over pretty well. The question is: when is it worth making a change to something already written?

My own inclination is to change as little of the source material as possible. Let GMs and players make their own decisions. Some things, like upgrading a class’ hit die, are no-brainers. Northern Crown‘s unique classes also need level 20 capstone abilities. Other things, like the fencing rules, perplex me. They were written before the codification of combat maneuvers into CMB and and CMD rolls. How does one gauge the utility of a hilt smash or rondo against the venerable charge and bull rush? Plus, there shouldn’t be a feat to gain access to fencing moves. So either all the classes that get Fencing for free either need a new free feat, or that Fencing feat gives a CMB bonus to fencing maneuvers; CMB bonuses are reportedly rare as hen’s teeth in Pathfinder, outside the cad. I may like Pathfinder, but I certainly don’t have the level of system mastery to know when tugging on a string knocks down a load-bearing column on the far side of the rules complex.

Fun questions, right? That’s what I’ll plug away at as I can for the next few months. Spending more time observing conversation on the Paizo forums has proven very instructive in getting a read on things that are considered vital, over-powered or lackluster in the eyes of forum-going players.

All this game mechanic work is in service to running a Northern Crown game someday, of course; hopefully after we finish Carrion Crown. Picture it: the hard-set Free Republic of Vermont lies in the nebulous marches between Nouvelle France and Nieu Amsterdam, antagonistic Uropan powers, sharing that contested space with First Ones bands and the fantastic fauna of Northern Crown. After a rough winter, its citizens — some of whom may not agree that they “belong” to any such republic — need new leaders to succeed the aging Ira Cole, chief of the Green Mountain Rangers. Leaders who ought to be handy with swords, flintlocks and spells to defend their lands and neighbors.

[RPG Blog Carnival] New Year, New Game

It’s fitting that the first RPG Blog Carnival topic of 2011 is about new games. That’s what I’ve been jonesing for, after all.

So what role-playing am I going to commit in 2011? A new game could be a freshly published book as much as it could a traditional campaign or even a one-shot. In true Yankee style, I’m going to take what I’ve already got and make it work for me.

Ghostbusters International Will Expand Its Operations

Running Ghostbusters convention games is slowly becoming my thing. I’ve only done so at Carnage so far, but that’s fine, because that will always be where a GBI adventure premieres. I’ve got two in my archive and an easily modified BPRD adventure to put to the cause. At some point, I’ll get on the New England / northeastern gaming circuit as a GM and I’ll have a stash of material ready to go.

For 2011, my plan is to maintain the course with Ghostbusters. I’ll write a new adventure to debut Carnage, maybe break out an older one at a game day if called for. And certainly it’ll become obvious that it’s time to open a franchise in Vermont, rather than trucking in from Massachusetts every other week.

The Time War Comes to Earth

Maybe not precisely, but I do want to run a Doctor Who game as an on-going campaign. I’ve got premises in mind, I’ve got candidates for systems and I’ve got some people in mind to play. By the time this post hits, I will have asked them and I hope more say yes than don’t. There are still questions to answer, like how often could we play, where and how can we avoid being straitjacketed by attendance requirements, but I’ve got hopes and some confidence in making this work.

And That’s It

Really. I’m being realistic about these New Year’s resolutions. There’s other stuff going on in my life, like helping put on Carnage and the Green Mountain Game Days, contributing to Geek Mountain State, plus my professional and other personal endeavors, that I think I can handle just this: running a frequent periodic campaign and a convention-grade adventure.

So that’s what I’ve got for the new year. Stick with me to see what happens.

[RPG Blog Carnival] How Far Will You Travel to Game?

This month's theme is travel and games and travel in games.

How far will you travel to play a game? The answer has varied for me over the years. I have, on occasion, found myself on the road alone or carpooling for two hours for a roleplaying session. That was back in the days of an exceptionally engaging Stargate: SG-4 campaign that wandered from St. Johnsbury to Johnson to Montpelier as needed. It was a phenomenally fun game, but ultimately the travel involved put me off staying enaged. Add an hour or two of travel to an evening game that may break up late, and then go to your early morning job a couple times and it’ll take the shine off any recreational activity.

That has since become my rule of thumb for gamers in general. People will travel an hour or two infrequently, but even the energetic ones willing to sign on the long haul often find themselves wanting or having to bow out. It may have something to do with the geography of Vermont and northern New England. Vermont’s a fairly small state, but it can take a bloody long time to get anywhere because we’ve only got two interstates, both running north-south, and a plethora of state and local roads in a wide range of states of decrepitude. Add to that the rough and winding ways so many people live on and it’s no surprise everybody’s so eager to host the weekly game.

Conventions, on the other hand, tend to act like gravity wells. The bigger they are, the greater the draw. TotalCon, based in central-eastish Massachusetts, can draw people all the way down from Burlington; I knew one fellow who, with his regular gaming group, used TotalCon as their annual road trip. The reverse, however, doesn’t hold. I would be greatly surprised to see a high volume from southern New England come as far north as Burlington, even if the Burlington convention scene somehow contrived to rival the scale of a TotalCon or Unity Games. Regardless of scale or quality of offerings, Burlington’s just out the way, tucked in the northwesternmost corner of New England, with a big old lake to the west preventing easy access from that direction and a single high speed corridor connecting the valley to the more populous regions of the southeast.

Similarly, I’ve heard tales on podcasts like Role Playing Public Radio and All Games Considered of eight and ten hour road trips from across the midwest to attend Gen Con in Indianapolis. One of the perks of being the mother of all conventions is all the Mohammeds very cheerfully come to you. Eight hours from Burlington would put one somewhere in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, which works for the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster. But then you find yourself up against that New Englander tendency to avoid travel again.

Game Master Mistakes: Not Really Listening

September’s RPG Carnival topic — I’m a little slow on the uptake — was that of Game Master Mistakes. It’s a subject on which every GM can comment. We’ve all made mistakes. I, personally, continue making mistakes every time I GM; my saving grace is rarely committing the same mistake more than once.

Take, for example, my old Mage: The Suppressed Transmission campaign, the actual play reports of which I’ve been posting on what I’ve informally dubbed Actual Play Friday. I made a ton of mistakes in that game, which doubtless contributed in some degree to a number of original and prospective players’ independent decisions to stop playing.

Very early on, the first session or so, in fact, I made a classic blunder, all while telling myself I wasn’t. To get the group together, I concocted some vision or other of oncoming darkness. This piqued one player’s interest in particular, and every time he brought it up, I — foolishly — waved it off, saying, “Oh, I just made that up to get you all together. This game is really about what you all want to do.”

Thing is, that is what at least some of them wanted to do: find and push back this oncoming darkness. I ignored the very plain signs telling me what interested the players in favor of following their lead as expressed by what the players chose for their characters to do.

It was very silly of me, when I look back on it in hindsight.