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I've run, I consider, about six "excellent" RPG campaigns -- excellent from the point of view of both me and my players having loads of fun, telling interesting stories, seeing interesting characters develop, and just generally raising the tone to something that sometimes approaches the mythic.

I'm reminiscing, well, because someday I want to surpass these. I have many more games to run -- I'm starting one next week -- and one day I want to have replaced most of what's on this list with even better stories.

Many of the campaigns I've run don't make it to the list of excellent campaigns (the D&D one I'm running right now, for example, is perfectly adequate, but is unlikely to belong on a list like this).

The top six goes like this. (The number of players listed are the average number I had in the game at any one time; some games cycled through several more during the course of the campaign).

6. Rhodri's Folly [Ars Magica], 1998-2002. Five players. An elderly Tytalus brought young magi into a covenant that he'd arranged to be in the most pressure-laden and inconvenient place possible, then promptly vanished into Twilight, leaving the youngsters to fight off political opponents, make peace between the fey and mundanes, and incidentally realize it was up to them to save the world. An experiment in making a totally absent villain, and it worked very well at that level. A live-action Tribunal that I wrote on my own featuring 15 guest stars was both a high and low point; the Tribunal on its own was wonderful, but it left detritus in the game we had to agree to disregard. Petered out early, but had some very good times first.

5. River of Cradles [Runequest], 1995-2000. Eight players. I ran nearly every published adventure on the River of Cradles, only missing the Cradle scenario itself (we moved on into D&D 3E and didn't reach this natural climactic scenario). While everyone had reached Rune level and exposed the limits of the RQ system, it was still my longest-running and favorite Gloranthan campaign to date.

3. [tie] Caer Glamorghan [Ars Magica], 1992-1996. Six players. My first and by far best Ars Magica campaign. Also Welsh, quieter and more contemplative than Rhodri's Folly, with several long-running story arcs. Walked through many published adventures; I did extensive amounts of adaptation to make the stories flow into one another and involve the characters personally. Very family-oriented, probably partly because Mike and Susan, and Sherilyn and I, were newlyweds at the time. Some of the most memorable characters I've ever had the pleasure to GM -- Sionna the witch with eight-and-a-half children; Meredydd the faerie and her straight-laced German Criamon magus husband; Tristan the shuffling, nearly diabolic Criamon... I was very proud of some closed time loops and regio work throughout this campaign.

3. [tie] Donner Prep [Champions], six players, 1996-2001: Easily the most pure-fun game I've ever run -- I eclectically and shamelessly stole from everywhere. Consciously intended to copy early New Mutants, set at a superhero-training school a few miles from Lake Tahoe, the teen heroes fought a forest fire, traveled dimensions, took a four-stage time travel journey that saved the world (and their school) twice over; visited a Dyson sphere... all while debating philosophy with their Heinlein-inspired professors and dating members of the Sacramento-based paranormal-mercenary group (inspired by Before Breakfast).

2. Toiyabe Caern [Werewolf: the Apocalypse], four players, 1993-1997: An intensely melodramatic game. The best single moment I've ever GMed for came in the White Wolf Vancouver setting... where the pack of werewolves, for the sake of a friend they had no reason to believe could ever be saved, stayed and fought instead of walking away, knowing it would destroy the truce between Kindred and Garou that made Vancouver unique (and peaceful); also a star-crossed Romeo-and-Juliet doomed romance, and an Umbra-spanning search for Native American spirits and elder Garou allies to establish a new caern.

But it's obligatory -- the best RPG I've ever run has to be:

1. Nora's Home For Wayward Youth [Mage: the Ascension], eight players (1992-2001): Jeremy was the one who made me realize how special this was, when he described another game he was in at the same time: "Well, it's fun, and I'll keep showing up, but it's not like it changes my view of what roleplaying is." I am privileged to have guided this story -- I often didn't have to do much but sit back and interject comments into the cacophany of the players debating, in character, the nature of the reality I'd helped them develop. Earl was a tremendous help throughout, since he played a character who seldom left their chantry home; as a story would weave from scene to scene, half the players would be talking with me developing the scene, and the other half -- their scene having ended -- would be gathered around Earl, trying to figure out what had just happened. Some episodes were exquisitely roleplayed: the incomplete rewrite of history that erased Martin; Slade's coat-quest; Scooby Doo In Tyrolia (the discovery of the tomb of Ares); the Love Boat In the Bermuda Triangle (a farcical boat ride with every sort of paranormal imaginable); the introductions of Chryse (walking through the lands of the dead) and Christy (the best job I've ever done at keeping a horror-movie atmosphere); and several more great stories. Not every episode was so magical, but many were, and the way it clicked was at times beyond what I thought roleplaying could be.
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Most of the interesting things in my life end up in Sherilyn's journal in any case, so it's not like I don't have a record of what's going on.

Lessee. Catching up is basically futile. Most of my previous journals were gaming-related, so I'll talk a little about gaming...

Still running D&D for a group of eight 12th-level characters. Trying to include a plot is really really hard; they want to kill things, get treasures, and make items, and don't really care about the world. Not their fault -- heavy combat plus eight players plus no supplemental source material about the world equals a pretty lean universe. The kind of one-on-one clue-laden meaningful conversations that I love to pepper games with are almost impossible to do without boring the heck out of half the players (at least).

Ars Magica died. The same group tried to do a D&D campaign but it only lasted a few months -- I really can't (a) have this job, (b) run two weekly games on the weekend, and (c) be the kind of father I want to be. Gaming had to give.

Which isn't to say I might not start something up on Wednesdays in the bay area, or plan ahead for when D&D reaches the end of its run... Glorantha beckons -- it has been a couple years, now -- and it competes with the idea of running a space opera (something like Andromeda, or Battlestar Galactica, or something similar... equal parts fermented milk and real storytelling.)
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Two sessions of Ars Magica, tucked behind a link...

Read more... )

Gaming log

Jan. 21st, 2002 04:10 pm
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D&D: The party went up into the dungeon again, sensibly deciding that however unpleasant the huge scorpions would be to take out, they had better crawl into their lair and beat them or they'd have to face them on the way out when they're weaker. Good idea, since judging from the fight the two scorpions would have opened a can of whup-ass on the party if it were not at full strength. Gunthar, Cashel, and Hogarth -- the three front-line fighters -- got grabbed, picked up, squeezed, and/or stung, and Raven's attempt to tumble past the scorpion (we figured she ran across its back) failed, since the DC for her tumble roll was 30. Nevertheless, once she reached its back (and poisoned to STR 6), she proceeded to abuse the scorpion -- and the game system -- as only a Rogue7/Ranger1 can, her pair of d6-2 short swords doing a measly 52 points of damage in a single round.

Cashel got to show off his new 2nd level sorcerer spell Ice Knife that the authors of Tome and Blood felt it important to include in the game system. The spell does three different sorts of damage, explodes if it misses, has a gratuitous adjustment to the ranged to-hit roll, and has two different saving throws. But at least it's not unbalanced for a second-level spell, just absurdly complicated.

After beating the two scorpions, they found some generic money treasure and scooted to lick their wounds and neutralize a lot of poison.

Climbing back up the destroyed staircases, they found a deserted hall which Afon indicated he'd come through -- though he clammed up when he was asked to fill in details of his past ("Just where are you from, again?"). While the party was intrigued by rumors of a hydra, they decided to poke around in the direction the hill giants had come from, reasoning that there was probably surface there eventually -- besides, there were rooms and signs of traffic, while the hydra was hundreds of yards away at least, so the same argument applied to the nearby rooms as applied to the scorpions (don't leave potential enemies between us and the way out). Tesla, however, remained suspicious of the corridor the other way, and stood guard at the corner.

First door was blocked on the far side by fallen masonry. Hogarth ("mere matter does not stop me") shouldered in anyway and, in the dark moment before Gunthar ("Torch? What torch? I just cast light on my armor") followed, encountered someone or something that apparently tried to turn him, took a free action to say "um", and skittered away around a corner. Hogarth pursued only to find he/it had leapt through a hole in the wall ten feet up. Hogarth popped to the other side just as Cashel trotted up behind, and the hole slammed shut with a disturbingly rugged piece of wood as a makeshift door. Attempts to break the wood were fruitless; Cashel began to suspect an Arcane Lock. I asked Hogarth to make a Will save and smiled evilly as he rolled a 2.

Hogarth's player blinked a lot as we went through his place in the initiative order twice without him being asked what he was doing.

Meanwhile, some of the cleverer metagamers figured out from the latter room Hogarth had entered (okay, he had had time to shout roughly what the size of the room was, handwave handwave okay so this is a board game) should be connected to another door down the hall, so Whitefire gave it the old wizard's shoulder, followed by the old wizard's bruised groan.

Meanwhile meanwhile, in the shifting light Afon spotted motion that didn't show up on his darkvision, yet further down the hall. He ran after it, with Raven behind him as backup and Theodosia puffing up the rear in her full plate. Afon reached the spot where he'd glimpsed the motion, upon which a spectre emerged from the wall and forced him to demonstrate that druids have excellent Fortitude saves. A moment later, during which both Whitefire and Cashel called for help getting through their respective arcane locks, Theo reluctantly turned the spectre (reluctant because, of course, this would just make it melt into the walls and recover; she wanted to kill it!) and then turned back to make her way toward Whitefire.

Just then, Whitefire's door opened and Hogarth emerged. Whitefire's excellent Spot revealed a pair of large spider legs slamming the door shut right behind the barbarian, who announced to the startled wizard that his new best friend had convinced him he had to go defeat the undead down the corridor, and then took off at his Boots Of Striding And Springing-enhanced barbarian movement right past the startled Theodosia and toward where the spectre had vanished. Hogarth didn't reveal who his new friend was because, of course, most humans wouldn't understand...

Not much happened in Ars. I informed people we Really Needed personality traits for characters (they grumbled suspiciously; if they only knew) and let them have two seasons of study. With Jonah's kids helping ours produce entropy and decibels about the house, the only other gaming that got done was an extended list of paranoid steps taken to keep the covenant safe from the presumed upcoming demon attack. Next time we'll see just how well this works...

Gaming log

Jan. 14th, 2002 11:55 am
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Both games went reasonably, though I was terribly rude to Sherilyn during D&D.

The Shatterlands group beat up three hill giants and their six pet dire wolves, and acquired some l33t l00t. They also found out that their boat is now floating on water a mile above sea level, and they figure it's an inland sea. Afon, the new elf druid, used unorthodox tactics against a hill giant, and managed to keep his odd powers from all the characters and most of the players. James knows, though -- some of it anyway.

Still exploring the obviously worked and finished underground complex that the hill giants had taken refuge in. Some giant scorpions are still unfought, and the rogue at one point got a voice in her head asking 'What are you? *silence* Okay, fine, be that way.'

Note to self: even x2 crits can be nasty when you do 2d6+10 damage normally.

The Ars Magica group is finally clearly heading for a culmination of the Manannan mac Llyr storyline, as they freed Cerunnos from the Wormtongue-esque demonic lackey that had been keeping him from wondering where his Hounds have been these fifty years. The lackey demon was permitted to leave, but vowed vengeance upon the magi.

Before being thrown out of Cerunnos' hall, the demon derived from PC surface thoughts that there was something of interest to the Hierarchy stored in the covenant, which he didn't know about before, and boasted that they would not stand against him.

An attempt to read the demon's mind astonishingly succeeded (probably because Cerunnos, who is old as mountains and powerful as seas, told the magi they should 'learn what you will of him before I release him') to the extent of seeing, from the demon's POV, what it's like to receive instructions... from inside a pentagram... inscribed upon a cavern floor... in Blackthorne Covenant. Unfortunately, one of the aspects of this experience is that it's impossible to recognize the voice giving the commands.

The demon gave some cryptic warnings about making the wrong decision and about the Dragon being the lesser of two evils, and the Hunt -- and the decision to free it -- being a fulcrum by which one will move the world. But then, demons always lie.

Ack. I wasn't going to do that saga in this campaign, and suddenly I find myself introducing it. Well, maybe the demon was referring to something else.

Anyway, Cerunnos (or Coffa as the demon called him) is recovering his strength (he's old, and throwing out the demon exhausted him for a while) but he promises to go to Llandovery for Samhain, to see about these old ways that the magi have been encouraging (which they did to maintain the faerie trod, so that the girl who grew up visiting the local faeries each full moon can still do this while living with her husband fifty miles away). Cerunnos feels the pull of the Hunt and an epic adventure to free it is promised... assuming the demon doesn't successfully obtain the Solomon sphere first.

Freeing the Hunt will stop one ticking clock, as the black dragon will stop trying to get free. But another clock is still ticking; in a few years the faeries will run out of patience and start collecting all the tourney winners of the last decade to restart the firbolg-fomori war, unless Manannan mac Llyr is freed first -- but the PCs have now gotten close. Once the Hunt is free to roam, they need only acquire MmL's Spear, since they have the rest of his arms (his Steed and Harp) and they just need to have 'all Prydain's greatest warriors call' for him. Current thinking on their part is that this can happen easily if they let the faeries gather together all the tourney winners for them first.

But it might be a good idea to find the Stone of Pwyll first, since that's where Manannan mac Llyr will rise.
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That weekend certainly seemed longer than a mere forty-nine hours. Sherilyn has capably described the trip, so I don't have to -- but it was indeed a day. She doesn't mention the difficulties I had staying awake driving home, but that's because she was zonked out in the car most of the way.

TooMUSH has a really bad effect. People change aliases just often enough that my already-severe engineer name-mapping disability kicks into overdrive. I had yet again lost the mapping of tara-laura-mony-angie-alice-soula-darkness-tenshi-air into the correct number of humans, and there were one too many of them at the party, and no one else was bothered by this. But the nice part is that I finally got to differentiate Soula, whom I think I've only met ftf once before, if that. She's awfully nice, and very good at sitting there and being abused by my offspring for hours and hours.

Like Sherilyn, I also saw far too many people I love to see, and wish I could have spent hours talking to each one.

Sherilyn pointed out later that taking Bobby out of the party when he was misbehaving might have been a tactical error, since it humiliated him and made him feel far worse; talking him down where he was would have been easier. I agree as far as that goes, but I think it was the right move anyway, since Cera was in the middle of opening presents and he was already disrupting the room by tormenting Soula to the point of causing her to complain at him. When you behave that badly, it's not a bad idea to be made to feel bad about it afterward for a while, even if it also makes the parenting job harder. I think it's a good lesson for him to learn.

On Sunday -- James showed up for gaming an hour and a half early (James lives in Grass Valley but stayed in Marysville and... well, it's complicated), so we gathered the others and tried to get a slightly longer session together. Unfortunately, we didn't play to D&D's strengths much, as it became a long conversation with an NPC and then some fact-finding, and only after a couple hours did we have some gratuitous fighting.

The Ars Magica session was entirely talking-heads, but for that crew talking heads is much more rewarding, because what they want most is answers, and they got some -- though it just raised more questions, of course. I got to play the characters Chrisber and Cera portrayed in the LARP, which was a lot of fun.

This morning I have to get some proposed test plan documents prepared for circulation among the engineers, so I should wrap the journal up and write more.


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