Posts

A Pause

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 Hi everyone - I'm putting this blog on hiatus while we're in lockdown. I've got an idea for a new RPG article series, which will start when lockdown levels drop and stress levels drop!  Stay safe everyone! Image: 'Doctor Beak.' Paul Furst, c. 1650.

Player Agency in Tirenia

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Giving players control over the story has always been a great interest of mine. Like many of us, I was raised on games like D&D which have a strict division of authority: one player creates the world, while the other players interact with it. However, over time I got to try different, more indie systems which distribute narrative control more widely. I played games like Doctor Who, which uses story points to give players limited control over what happens, and gives weaker characters far greater narrative agency than powerful ones for the sake of game play. There are games like Fiasco, which dispense of the narrator rule entirely, making all players equally responsible for what happens in the game. I decided that I wanted to try some of that in Tirenia. In the first Tirenian campaign, The Company of the Wolf,  I tried taking a page from Doctor Who. The players were part of an elite mercenary company who were routinely hired to do the impossible. I let them use Inspiration, gained fr

What's a Renaissance? A historical digression

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It's an odd thing to admit, when you're making a game about the Renaissance... that there's really no such thing. The popular conception of the Renaissance is that in the 15th Century, starting in Florence and then spreading across Europe, there was a time of great art and culture, as people looked back to Roman times to begin developing again after the squalor of the Middle Ages. Everyone can name some of the great artists, if only because they're named after Ninja Turtles: Leonardo da Vinci, Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, Raffaelo Sanzio da Urbino, and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.  The problem is that none of this is really true. Well, it is true that there were some great artists named after Ninja Turtles, and that they have really amazing art. But the Renaissance stretches over a truly immense time period: some people include Dante Alighieri in the early 1300s, to William Shakespeare in the early 1600s. It presupposes that there was no art or cultu

The Fall of the House of Della Squama

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 This weekend, I'm going down to ConVergence in Hamilton to run The Fall of the House of Della Squama! I thought that I'd take this opportunity to talk about the genesis of the adventure and how it evolved over time. The Fall of the House of Della Squama  is set in the city of Verrazza, heavily inspired by Verona. The red dragons of Selenizia are advancing inland, and your city is in the firing line. However, you've just discovered that your dragon Prince has died, and, furthermore, was never a dragon in the first place! Now you've got three hours in real time during which you have to keep up the hoax and either defend the city or escape it with enough money to settle comfortably somewhere else. One of the early problems that I found when creating Tirenia was that there were far more awesome Italian city-states than there were dragons to go around. I knew that I could always have the same dragons in multiple cities, but that never seemed like a good solution. Verona was

Making a Tirenian character

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5th Edition D&D is the first edition that has mechanics for roleplaying! I'm not counting alignment here; alignment was on your sheet, but it's always been vague, with no mechanical consequences and often ignored by players. No, I mean the personality traits, bonds, ideals and flaws which every character has, and which can earn a player inspiration for acting in accordance with. The only problem with them? They're so utterly anemic! I've played in many store games where players haven't even bothered to fill them in. For good role-players, they can be triggered so many times as to be overwhelming; for indifferent role-players, the reward they offer, advantage on a single dice roll, is so minimal as to be not even worth attaining. Some aspects of them, like bonds, are often never relevant; other aspects may be hammered. In one game I played in, we were given inspiration for acting to our self-detriment because of our ideals, leading to characters acting like idiot

How I write a Tirenia campaign

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Now that I've got a couple of Tirenian campaigns under my belt, and another about to wrap up shortly, I thought that you might find it interesting how I go about writing a Tirenian campaign! I prefer to run shorter games with a strong story arc running through them. with multiple mini-campaigns building towards the larger story. I'll use my Carnevale  campaign as an example. During Session 0, I'll hash out the idea for a story based on what I'm interested in doing and what the players are telling me. I'll be upfront with the premise, which might be as simple as just the setting for the adventure, or a simple scenario. Once we've negotiated the premise and the players are happy, they can create their characters, figure out how they relate to that initial pitch. For the session 0, the high pitch was just 'it's Fantasy Italy.' Nice and broad. The players liked Venice, so we set the game in Vanzenia (which has since been renamed Selenizia - Vanzenia was

Thinking outside the 5ft by 5ft box

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Dungeons & Dragons  usually cover a very small spectrum of human activity. There are, officially, three 'pillars' of activity - interaction, exploration, and combat. Two of the pillars (exploration and interaction) have fairly minimal rules, but there are exhaustive rules for killing things you don't like, and the vast majority of abilities improve your abilities in a fight. As I talked about last time, there's a place for that, but I don't think it's the be-all and end-all like many adventures would have you believe. I can understand why there's this focus though - fighting has the highest stakes, your character's life, so it's the one that everyone needs to be good at. But then if everyone's good at it, it becomes the preferred option. When you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. One of our goals for Dragons of Tirenia  is to have a wider range of genres and experiences in our adventures. One of the first ways I'm movi