The game began as the PCs (level 1, half of them never played rpg before) regained consciousness tied up in the glacier to the sound of a prisoner’s throat being slit noisily, as a goblin waved a page in his face. It turned out the goblins were trying to find a literate prisoner among the group and were using this page as a test. Anyone who failed to convincingly read it got their throat cut. Why were they doing this? Because deep inside the glacier the goblin tribe had recently uncovered an ice-encrusted ancient warrior skeleton holding some wicked magic sword, but they couldn’t get to him unless they spent hours hacking away at it. That’s no good! They don’t have that kind of time! Luckily, a clever usurper goblin released a bunch of the shipwrecked prisoners out onto the ice, and the Norse berserkers went off to chase them down and slaughter them on their dogsleds. This gave them to chance to break into the Norseman’s private stash, grab his saved up “Magic Flame Scroll”, and use it to melt the ice, retrieve the magic sword, and seize power! The only problem is, that none of the goblins can read. Thus we need a literate PC. This was really all a way for me to introduce the main plot of the game, in that buried in the hold of the ship were hundreds of “Wanted” posters describing a young woman who has been “kidnapped”. These were the pages the goblins were using as a Reading-Test. In reality she was not just any young woman, but the grandaughter of the Kaiser, who is due at her own royal wedding to the (gouty old) Duke of Grunwald in 5 months time. The problem is that she wasn’t kidnapped – she is pregnant by her foppish courtier, and they have traveled to the Devoured Lands to abort it before the wedding collapses and causes a war. She is of course now wanted by the PCs, random bounty hunters (the reward!), the Kaiser (my reputation!), the Duke (the royal marriage alliance!), the Pope (embarrass the political head of the Empire and gain power!), some Witches (a ritual!) and the Witchunters (the princess is clearly a witch!). Finding out the ins and outs of all of this took quite a few sessions and player deaths, but finally they have entered the Devoured Lands to find her at level 4-6 for most of them.
It is Christmas Eve, 1567. Mary, Queen of Scots has abdicated the throne and fled south to England, leaving her one-year-old son James to inherit Scotland. In my game, the players are traveling to Edinburgh, hoping that the uncertain political climate means available work for ne’er-do-wells.
An evening snowfall finds the players marching through a pine forest, whiting out the deep green-blue of the trees and blanketing the mossy undergrowth. Just as further travel becomes impossible, they emerge to find a sorry castle against the horizon. At least it’s shelter.
The plots are roughly ordered in terms of their difficulty and scope. Roll 1d10 for a simple plot, 1d10+10 for a medium plot, and 1d10+20 for a master plot. 1d6+10 for plots against rival guilds.
Foreboding is a difficult emotion to evoke, but amplifies the enjoyment of having wandering monsters in adventure games. This is a procedure for using them in old school D&D. I used a variant of this procedure in Emern, but this is the cleaned up version.
So when not sleeping or at work what is a monster to do? Roll this to find what monsters are doing during their downtime when you sneak into their barracks like a murder hobo.
I was going to make a list of adventure hooks to steal, but I decided to delay it. It needed a preface. Adventure hooks are the sort of thing that never get good explanations in guides for aspiring dungeon masters, so I’m going to try my hand at it.
Perhaps the key to Mr Murray’s unorthodox hobby can be found in “Zombieland” (2009), Ruben Fleischer’s undead comedy. Playing a fictionalised version of himself, Mr Murray explains why it is that he potters around a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, disguised as a reanimated corpse, instead of staying barricaded in his mansion. “Suits my lifestyle,” he shrugs. “You know, I like to get out and do stuff.”
Be kind to one another. For fuck’s sake. It’s not that hard. Just be kind.
(from the comments)
(It’s funny, because I was drawn to sandboxes and away from D&D 3/4-style scripted-combat games precisely because of my growing distaste for narratives of heroic violence. From my perspective, it’s new-school D&D which is really wedded to the idea that the One True Way is to kill everyone different from you!)
So what I’ve recently switched to is a quasi-normal distribution, in which the majority of men are Neutral, and only the exceptional outlier has some ethical commitment, thus: 1: Lawful, 2-5: Neutral, 6: Chaotic. This seems to give a better flavor to my background campaign. Most men are merely self-interested, mercenary, and incurious; as seen, for example, in a Vancian or Leiberian work. The Lawful and Chaotic types are more rare and surprising (and the Chaotic one thus easier to hide themselves unexpected and unrecognized).
Whenever a player fails a roll they receive a Luck Token (poker chip, coin, die, etc). Luck tokens can be spent at any time to increase the result of any roll by 1, even after the die has been rolled.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)