To get a familiar reference of scale for my own maps, I created this Hex map of the Savage Frontier region of the Forgotten Realms.
If you’re interested in it, you can get it at full size here.
A version without any map icons can be found here.
I recently noticed that I havn’t been watching Star Wars in quite some time, and having been thinking a lot about running a Star Wars campaign, it felt like the time to do it once more. In these days, that always raises the question in what order you should watch them. There’s the Release Order (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3) and the Narrative Order (1, 2, 3, 4, ,5, 6). By now a few years ago, someone sugested another order, that you could call the Flashback Order (I think it has gained an actual commonly used term, but I can’t remember it now), which is “4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6”. The main issue with the movies is that Episode 3 spoils Episode 5 (Anakin becomes Vader and is not killed by him), and Episode 6 spoils Episode 3 (by telling us that in the end Vaders turn to the Dark Side will be reversed and the Emperor defeated). Not only does the Narrative Order solve this problem by putting the prequel trilogy between Episodes 5 and 6, it also makes quite a bit of sense. After the end of Episode 5, Luke has to come to terms with the revelation of Vader and wants to better understand how that situation could have happened. Then Episode 6 comes along and it seems that Luke has put the shock behind him and becomes stronger in the process. The prequel trilogy are basically an elaboration on the short talk Luke has with Obi-Wan after Yoda dies at the beginning of Episode 6. It’s not a perfect match, but for the rest of the movies Luke could have learned from Obi-Wan what happened in the prequels, so it makes sense for the audience to get that knowledge at roughly the same time.
Now some guy at No Machete Juggling suggested a variation of that order, which is known as the Machete Order, and goes 4, 5, 2, 3, 6. It’s skipping Episode 1 completely, on the grounds that it’s not a good movie and doesn’t actually contribute anything to the rest of the story. All that really happens and becomes relevant is that there’s a seperatist uprising (which we are told by the opening crawl of Episode 2) and that Anakin and Padme once met each other for three days or so when Anakin was a kid (which Episode 2 also tells us, and doesn’t really matter).
When I started working on the Ancient Lands, I wanted of course to create a world that contains many of the things I already love in other settings, but would wish to be more explored or developed a bit differently. Not all the things I love, because that doesn’t really lead to consistend and belivable world, but rather to a mess of randomly thrown together pieces. But still a selection of a good amount of things from my favorite settings that I have come to love a lot. Here, I want to provide an overview of the major geographic areas of the Ancient Lands and the works that inspired them. These don’t cover the whole world, or even the whole continent, but are the selection I made for those regions I want to develop in detail, while leaving the rest simply untouched. There’s something there, of course, but I don’t know what it would be either.
One thing most GMs will realize probably quite quickly is that you can’t really start a great campaign with “You are all meeting in a tavern” (unless you’re going for a pure treasure-hunting dungeon crawl, I suppose). Even if you have an overarching story in mind, it’s often difficult to slowly build up to the really big issues that will define the campaign. At first you get to kill some rats in the basement and then slowly work your way up until you eventually get to explore a goblin lair where the actual hook for the major part of the campaign will be found. And as easy as it sounds, it’s quite difficult to make it work well and be exciting and enjoyable for the players.
Fate presents an interesting take on this: Every new campaign should start with at least two big issues (though don’t overdo it or it gets too cluttered and confusing). These can either be current issues or impending issues. Impending issues are the things I just mentioned. The definitive story with a clear villain and a specific goal for the PCs. But something that seems to be usually overlooked in RPGs are the current issues. Instead of dropping the players into a world where everything is mostly fine until they run into the plot hook, you can (and I think should) also start the campaign with some kind of major conflict or other problem already in place. It’s something that is very common in fiction and in many videogames as well. Take for example, once again, Star Wars, where there is already dissent against the new public order and rebellion brewing in secrecy before Luke and Han get involved in the actual plot at all. It’s the background environment in which the specific adventure of delivering the Death Star plans and saving the princess takes place. It’s the context for what they do and makes that simple delivery run matter, even before they end up joining the rebellion and taking up the goal of defeating the Empire. The game Skyrim is also a good example. You get the Dragon storyline as an Impending Issue that slowly builds up during the first three or four hours of the game, but there is already the Stormcloak uprising against the Empire as the Current Issue, which has been going on for quite some time before the players character gets drawn into the story.
Now I really wish I had been thinking about this a week ago, so I could have made use of this simple method to start my new Castles & Crusades game, but with only the first session played so far, it should be easy enough to do this retroactively.
While I was pondering whether the new Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games might be something worse purchasing instead of sticking with Star Wars Saga Edition (the FFG game require three $60 books, of which only one has been released yet; but SE is a d20 game with all the baggage that includes), I considered giving another chance to the generic class-less games that are out there. There’s a lot of praise for Burning Wheel and Savage Worlds, but Fate Core brings with it the huge advantage of being entirely free for download.
I have to admit that I am still not a big fan of Fate Points (Action Points, Bennies, Force Points, Luck Points, whatever you want to call them) and I can say outright that I think using Fudge Dice only has the purpse of selling special dice to me (though the game appears to be perfectly playble with 2d6 instead), but there’s really a lot of ideas in that game that frankly should be in every pen and paper game ever published! It’s not even strictly mechanical stuff, but really just some basic ideas how to approach the creation of character personalties, campaign setups, and encounters. Things that can be applied to probably every RPG that exists.
One thing that I really, really like – as someone who thinks miniatures have no place outside of tactical wargames – is to define the battlefield for encounters as a number of zones. The idea is, that you come up with a location for an encounter and divide it into a couple of zones that represent different kinds of environment. For example, an attack of a small hut could have the zones “Inside”, “Front Porch”, “Back Porch” and “Roof”. On each characters turn, they can move from one zone to another one and still get to take one action. In the first round, you could enter the “Front Porch” zone and then throw a smoke grenade through a window, and in the second round you move from “Front Porch” to “Inside” and try to tackle the enemy. The effect from the smoke grenade would now also affect only the “Inside” zone.
I am starting a new campaign set in the Ancient Lands tomorrow, and as so often I find myself a bit doubting about the setting really being something different and not just another case of generic european middle ages fantasy. So kind of as a last moment effort, I sat down once more, going over notes to remind myself of some special features I’d fallen in love with over the last years.
These are not things that are going to feature in any significant way in the first adventure of the new campaign, but by mentioning these things every so often while describing what the PCs are seeing, I am hoping to get the players to see the world as more than just Europe with orcs and dragons.