Category Archives: The Beginning of the End

The End Of The Beginning Of The End

The last few hours of January 2012 tick away, and with it goes our monthly theme: The Beginning Of The End. We spent most of our efforts this month working on a post-apocalyptic mini-setting called 3GATE, and we didn’t produce much beyond that. I thought I’d sneak one more in under the wire.

Take a look at the theme: The Beginning Of The End. We have two concepts that we’re trying to mash together: The Beginning and The End. Worse than that, they actively oppose each other like the parts of any worthwhile oxymoron.

But bringing opposites together makes for a great story and a great game.

I remember reading somewhere that it takes one idea to make a book but two ideas to make a good book. This holds true for games as well. If you put all your effort into a single plotline, your players may end up bored with limited choices. If you have two plotlines that lead in different directions and your players invest in those choices, then you have the beginnings of doubt and tension which can help build some really cool in-game scenes.

Mashing ideas together has been on my mind since I edited the forthcoming module The Tribute. In it the PCs need to prioritize the rescue of captives and defeating a magical assault on the town, and hopefully have the time to do both or innocent NPCs get hurt. The choice of paths and the consequences of that choice came up as something the players loved in early playtests.

The Tribute effectively contains two complete adventures running simultaneously – the PCs focus on one adventure and let the initial conditions of the other deteriorate. The players must choose between two ideas, and the tension of leaving the other path untrod shows through constant reminders to the characters, making them doubt their choice. That one device adds a delicious tension to the adventure. It’s a beautiful thing, and I highly recommend either playtesting it or picking up a copy when it’s available. Or both, if you’re so inclined.

What’s the point? Give your players juicy choices with consequences and generally you’ll have happier players. The best way to set up a juicy choice is to provide two conflicting ideas and let the players debate the best course of action in character. Better yet, give them several ideas with deadlines to worry about, as the title of this article suggests.

I’ve done this to great effect in past games. The next trick involves working out how to get your players to bite on the ideas you dangle in front of them, but that’s a post for a different day.

Now let’s all raise a glass to The End of The Beginning of The End.

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3 Generations After The End: The Races

Borderline Biennale 2011 by Abode of Chaos on Flickr

This article is part of 3 Generations After The End, a post-apocalyptic setting suitable for any role-playing system.

3 Generations After The End (3GATE) is designed to be a primarily human-centric setting. That’s great in a lot of ways. Humans are the dominant race in most RPG settings, and are certainly the stars of most modern media. It’s easy for us to relate on a common level with them, as well as imagining them competing in a fantastic world.

However, many systems also support the idea of multiple player races and 3GATE is easily expanded to include those.

After humans, the Beastmen are the most prominent race. Created by the early wizards after the great apocalypse, the beastmen are powerful men and women infused with bestiality of nature. Some are still under the control of wizards but many still escaped to the wilderness, forming their own tribes. Many races are naturally suited for beastmen as they already represent creatures who are part man, part animal. Minotaurs, lizardfolk, shifters, and thri-keen are all excellent choices. If you want to get creative, take a good look at the mechanics for the race and re-skin for different animals as needed. Gnolls are an excellent template race when playing D&D 4E. They get bonuses for hunting in groups, and their feats allow them to become excellent trackers or gain a natural claw weapon. These traits could be used to represent any number of animals in the world.

Beastmen are also naturally suited to working in a mixed party. Some are already allied with the wizards, while others have a natural reason to oppose them, so humans from either area could find reasons to work with them. They’re less naturally suited to the cities of the techno-priests, but in fantasy your characters are already exceptional. They could be converts, prisoners working toward release, or maybe they were an experiment left behind and freed by the priests.

Hayden Panettiere is a Cyborg by J (mtonic.com) on Flickr

Depending on the level of artifact technology you want to play with, the techno-priests offer another great race idea, that of the robot, cyborg, or android. The warforged of D&D, the gearforged of Midgard, and the giant robot of Big Eyes, Small Mouth are all great mechanics to use for these races. You could be a new creation, an experiment of the techno-priests and the ultimate representation of man’s worship of technology. Perhaps you were found and only recently reactivated. Many high tech labs would be outside of the city and in secret locations, leaving you to ally with the first willing humanoids you can find. You may even have been around since the apocalypse, remembering the old world. Talk to your GM about this option first. Many things from the past may need to be a secret to allow proper exploration and discovery. Maybe your character was a simple worker drone before, and never learned of life outside a three block radius, or it could be that years of poor maintenance have ruined your memory, giving you glimpses of the past in short, confusing bursts, making you a modern oracle.

Finally there are the deepest areas of the wild, where technology ceases to function, and the beastmen roam with unforgiving savagery. Few dare to tread here, and even fewer return to speak its tales. Since magic returned with the apocalypse, the secrets held here could be the source of the most fantastic racial options. Perhaps technology doesn’t function here because of magic’s rich veins. Fey lines could emanate from these zones, and perhaps their hearts are portals to other planes. One might stumble into cities of humanity’s mythic past: the mines of dwarves and gnomes, tree-top elven villages, or roaming tribes of goblins and giants. Like humans, members of these races may feel compelled to brave the unknown and explore the wastes outside their hidden sanctuaries. What happens when they leave, though? Does their magic change? Do they themselves become warped by the apocalypse? What grand creations might come into being if dwarven master craftsman were to work with the techno-priests?

Whatever you decide, use it to build the lore of your world, and have a grand adventure.

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The Inevitable Apocalypse

'Apocalypse' by Francis Danby

'Apocalypse' by Francis Danby

When we play RPGs, we usually follow the same route as books and movies: we move towards a climax.

In the nerdy, fantastical worlds typical of role-playing–quasi-medieval fantasy, cyberpunk, space opera–this usually means apocalypse. The end of the world (or the worlds). And the players’ characters have to stop it.

What if they can’t stop it?

Travel with me back for a moment to the 1990′s, and a TV show called Babylon 5. It revolutionized television. It had a firm story arc that progressed in each episode, the first non-soap opera to do so and gain wide critical acclaim. It ushered in the modern era of The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Lost, and Battlestar Galactica, of long-form stories told on television.

Moreover, Babylon 5 showed you its future. Early episodes showed the death of certain characters. Indeed, the station’s commander is told that he will go to a place called Z’ha’dum, where he will die.

Viewers became fascinated by the the process, by the story of the characters and how on earth they’d get there. Who in their right mind would go to the place of their death?

Imagine using this in a role-playing game. Imagine if the players are shown an apocalypse that they can’t stop, but that they can change.

What if two races are warring, and the players’ characters must choose which one survives?

What if the PCs must choose which disease or corruption or system that the world will live with?

What if the PCs are told that one of them will die? But they get to choose which one?

If you’re going to threaten apocalypse, make good on your threat. Then see what happens.

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