by NPC Aaron.
Welcome readers! This is the first edition of a new article here on NPCcast.com detailing the campaign that we play with our group. My hope is to both provide you with some insight on how I approach running a game and also allow you to see a story unfold and characters evolve. This week I am going to detail the process I went through devising the premise and setting of the game, the world-building that we did in the first session, and the type of characters that the players have made for the setting.
I was inspired for this campaign by two different sources. The first is Inverse World, which is something we’ve talked about on the show a couple of times, once with the creator. Their setting really explores some new ground as far as how it is set up. It throws some basic campaign setting assumptions out the window and I wanted to do that as well.
My second inspiration was the Magic: The Gathering Ravnica setting. Ravnica is a plane that is entirely taken up by a city. I wanted my setting to be like that, a large unending urban sprawl, cut into countless districts. Obviously that would take a lot of work to fully design a big city like that, and some of you may love to put in that kind of work so I don’t want to discourage it, but I recommend that you only design things within the scope of the adventure.
When you watch a movie, what’s happening in the next town over, or even the next floor up is inconsequential. Only what is on camera matters, and I tend to treat my campaign worlds the same way. This way the players and I can engage in some world-building, focusing on the parts of the world we will explore immediately, and then there is plenty of room to creatively build outwards. If you knew what was in every area before even starting, you might feel stifled by all that structure and it might prevent cool things from happening.
Combining my two ideas I came up with the concept of The Ark: A colossal and ancient magical device that would allow people to escape a veritable apocalypse by floating up into the sky and becoming a refuge. I decided that the campaign world’s sun was in jeopardy to a force long prophesized as The Naux. The Naux is essentially a giant sphere of annihilation (think giant ball of anti-matter) that floats through space and obliterates anything it touches. In this case it collides with the sun and begins devouring it.
Luckily the ancient peoples of the world built The Ark, a device which would prevent this. Deep within The Ark is a device known as The Lantern, which is its own internal sun that allows life to thrive. The game is set 10,000 years later. Refugees of all races have carved out their own place onboard The Ark and a rough peace is maintained overall. The city is enormous, divided into hundreds of self-governed districts. The people of The Ark have not begun to explore the world below the clouds, assuming it is a dead and uninhabitable place. Whether that’s true might be something we explore in the game.
The nature of the Ark affects the campaign world in many ways. Water must be harvested from the clouds that/as the city passes through. The Lantern is technically below the world, meaning it is eternally night in the city, though the caverns below are lit by the Lantern’s intense light carried through veins of crystal called Luminite.
Since the city is divided into districts, I decided to have the players create the districts their characters lived or worked in. Wherever their character spent most of their time was something I really wanted the player to determine. This is an interesting angle to take in building character backgrounds, and I recommend using something like this for your players.
Honestly, a game concept of letting the players play in a giant sand box setting that was a huge floating megalopolis was not a hard sell. I decided to run the game in Pathfinder, because I wanted the granularity level that game provides in creating characters and NPCs. One of my goals for the game was to make the city’s many districts feel very fantastic and diverse, like different worlds in a science fiction campaign. Systems like Savage Worlds would have been great for this game too, but I wanted the characters to feel very different from one another right at the start and I thought that Pathfinder would be a good fit. I also toyed with the idea of running the game in 4th Edition but realized I wanted combat to be a bit more cinematic than tactical, and I also wanted there to be action that was faster and more intense than 4E tends to play out in our group. I also briefly considered Dungeon World, but I don’t know if I am comfortable enough with the system yet to run it, and I am not entirely sure yet how certain players in our group will react to the conversational nature of the game.
Pathfinder was a hard sell to my group. Some of them are fierce 4th Edition loyalists, and really dislike the flaws inherent to the 3.5/Pathfinder system. After a little bit of explanation as far as how I was going to make the game fun and why I chose the system, they relented. It also made me realize another big goal of the game is to make the action feel like the Pathfinder art makes action look. Nothing should feel still or tranquil during combat sequences, and I’ll talk about my approach to this in upcoming articles.
With my players on board, they set out to create characters. I allowed any Pathfinder material provided they ran it by me first, and I worked with them as they pitched ideas to really form the game into something we could all enjoy. Right off the bat we decided that the way the players knew each other was that they all frequented a tavern called Eaton’s Alehouse in the central district of Greenstreets. This district was named for the strips of wild and exotic flora that grew alongside the main roads, and it would be adjacent to each of the character’s home districts.
Played By: NPC Chris
Trace Fielder is a Linkloader. Much like Alaskan crab fishermen in real life, he works a very dangerous seasonal job. Instead of the high seas, he descends deep into the caverns of The Ark, attempting to harvest Deepcaps, a fungus that the nobles and wealthy merchants consider a delicacy. Unfortunately the caverns are fraught with all kinds of hazards and creatures that make the job extremely perilous.
The nature of the job also leads you away from home for long stretches of time. Due to this Trace has an estranged elven wife and a half-elven son he rarely gets to see. He has focused more on his job than his family, which he secretly regrets. While this means he is highly sought after by all the various Linkloading companies, it also means he is often left to drink alone at Eaton’s each night.
Trace’s district, Linxus, named after its founder, is built on the industry of Linkloading. The streets are built around the various tunnels and steam vents that stretch below the surface. Instead of gas lamps or enchanted crystals, the district is lit by mirrorvents: small tunnels where the light of The Lantern is reflected to the surface. The competition between the various Linkloading companies is cutthroat and often unsavory activity goes on between the crews once they are below, though so far Trace has managed to keep his hands clean.
Played By: NPC Del
What Jon Farrier lacks in conscience, he makes up for in ambition. Raised by two working class parents content to toil away at menial jobs, Jon saw where complacency got you. As such, he has always lusted after power and acclaim. He has ended up as a “Courier” working for the vampire lord Shindrogon, who is imprisoned in his district of Blackgate.
Since Shindrogon cannot leave the district, due to an enchantment placed upon the district’s namesake: two hundred foot tall black iron gates at the district’s ends, he has to use mortals as his eyes and ears throughout the city. In exchange for his help, Jon Farrier has been gifted with power, though how he uses it is always under close scrutiny.
So far Jon has worked largely in carrying delicate information and messages about the city, and though he lusts for more power, he is loath to be promoted to “Harvester,” the elite agents who carry out the vampire’s most unsavory tasks.
Played By: Josh
Faith is not common among the peoples of The Ark. Most of the population abandoned the old gods when they were forced to find their own escape onto The Ark. The district of Cajaer is run by elven priests of the deity Thystaur, God of Charity. Thrust into this district is the church’s ward Rhystel; a goblin who knows nothing of his past. Luckily any ferocity of mischief inherent to his goblin blood has been overlapped by the peaceful nature of the priesthood, but recently he has been given power of a less benevolent sort.
It seems some other divine body has seen fit to gift him with a shard of their power. Recently his (admittedly few) possessions have been moving of their own accord, and his attempts at healing and serving in Thystaur’s name have become twisted and sometimes dangerous. Because of this he has spent a lot more time doing charitable work in the neighboring district of Greenstreets, avoiding the judgment of his peers in the church.
The district of Cajaer is a modest but peaceful district. The denizens are almost all worshippers of Thystaur and live in humble single room dwellings. The people of the district gather to a large central garden where they break bread for a midday meal together. Even the temple is only as big as it needs to be, with little decoration or flourish.
Icantnam a.k.a. “The Retriever”
Played By: Brendan
Though Icantnam and his family make a home in the peaceful district of Greenstreets, he spends much of his time in Derrga, a district run by savage crime families like the Qarl Syndicate. The Vararen are a race of capricious and lighthearted people, resembling small apes. As such nobody would suspect that Icantnam is actually “The Retriever,” a mysterious figure the crime lords call in when they want an enemy to disappear. If one knows how, they can leave him the name of a person and payment for his disappearance, as well as a place for drop off. Then they find their abductee wrapped up and deposited on their doorstep.
Some might think that this would make Icantnam evil, but in his eyes he is merely an agent of balance. He helps the crime lords fight each other, and if the abductees meet their end it is never at his hand. If any of his deeds tug at his moral compass, he washes them away in the ale from Eaton’s Alehouse.
Played By: Chris 2
Class: Monk (Zen Archery)
While Derrga is run by crime syndicates, Haverhill is a district of wealthy merchants that has recently become victimized by a veritable rogue’s gallery of supernatural criminals. From mad wizards plundering the keeps of trading houses, to necromancers raising the recently deceased and using them to torment the denizens of Haverhill, there is no shortage of trouble within the district’s walls. The forces of order within the district are overwhelmed, but luckily a vigilante has begun to staunch the district’s bleeding.
Рyкa is a Halfhound, a race of doglike humanoids we came up with for this game specifically (statistically he is a dwarf though). He keeps his identity as Haverhill’s vigilante a secret by working as a bartender at Eaton’s Alehouse. Not even his patrons or his boss know of his secret, and the villains of Haverhill have yet to sniff him out.
Once we had the characters sorted out I wanted to try something I read about on Twitter. I said that during character creation we were actually roleplaying as oracles and prophets thousands of years ago, long before Naux and the ark. What we were really doing was divining the identities of important heroes in future ages. I said that as an oracle, each player could prophesize something triumphant to happen to their character, but that they must also come up with something tragic. In addition they got to also pick a triumph and a tragedy that would happen to another character in the group, though they did not know which one. It’s an interesting concept because the characters know some of the things that will happen, but since prophesies are vague they do not know how or why they happen. Meanwhile there is also prophecy that could land on them, or it could land on somebody else. I think it ups dramatic tension right out the gate. I won’t list the prophesies because I don’t think it would be interesting to read, but I will bring them up as they come into play in the game, and we will see just how this idea works out. If you have any questions, feel free to send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/npcaaron .