Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nouveau Regimes

Continuing yesterday's themes, these are some of the campaigns that I have run over the years.

The Weird Games

-An airplane based drama (!) set in an ever more surreal Mormon Utah populated by personified holes in reality itself. Flame-shirt wearing otaku favorite Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind was my main influence for this. Who would have thought that you could really base a good d20 game around airplanes?

-A company of actors is practicing in Prague, the city of ghosts, during the Great War (WWI) but so many have died within such a short span that the afterlife has overflowed like a clogged sink. The dead return to life, and their spirits haunt the living. And what is this about the mysterious Dee family? And will Bohemia shake itself loose from the Kaiser?

-A generation ship is headed between solar systems, populated by people that do not even realize that they are traveling. First contact is made with an otherworldly alien species that seems intent on destroying the "angelic intelligences" that run the ship. Initially informed by Sikh culture, I ran a redux of this with Soviet chic in which the players were cybernetic hit men. Good times!

-A game set in the modern era based around the characters being exorcists for hire. It ran like a cross between Ghost Busters and A Confederacy of Dunces, or the incredible book by David Wong, "John Dies at the End". Think dogs possessed by demons that won't stop barking at wall crucifixes.

-A Colder War, Redux: The players are paranormal CIA liaisons dispatched to various international locations to deal with the threat of supernatural terrorism. From Kiev to the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, this story was informed by Charles Strauss' amazing story A Colder War, that juxtaposed the Cold War with the Cthulhu Mythos in a really charming way. My game was more Russian oligarchs learning to control shoggoths and using them as weapons of mass destruction, less Cold War era. One of the characters was one of those deep cover Al-Qaida operatives that was secretly working for the US government --this kind of alternative perspective is the kind of stuff roleplaying was invented for.

Many Terrible Modules

There were other games less worthy of mention. I've attempted various modules over the years, but they are rarely worth it. When I usually attempted to run them, I'd resist completely re-writing them to my taste since it would be about as much work as making my own module, but that led to miserably-paced, unimaginative boredom festivals as I'd try and run some bland schlock cranked out by an unpaid T$R employee or Monte Cook's latest "boy wizards are cool do you like wizards" self-congratulation event.

I did enjoy trying (and failing) to run the 2e Rod of Seven Parts boxed set, even though this typified the worst of TSR's products from the interregnum, before Wizards of the Coast bought them. It had some really slow, boring parts, and for whatever reason at the time I felt that it was best to run the adventure as-is, with as little modification as possible.

The 2e planescape adventure Fires of Dis worked quite well, and showed off what the Planescape setting had to offer. A lot of the boxed sets have preluds that run for weeks, I enjoyed running the Dragon Mountain megadungeon and The Night Below, but it took a dozen sessions in each set to even get to the dungeon. Even then, it didn't feel like it was well-paced.

Two of the best adventures released for 2e were also amongst the last products released: The first was The Apocalypse Stone, a transitional module designed to end your campaign world in preparation for 3e. The second was Reverse Dungeon, a conceptual take on playing monsters as the adventurers come to you. The latter may be the best module ever published. It's that great. It's like this metacontextual exercise in examining dungeons from the other perspective.

There was not a single worthwhile module published. A good example of the uninspired problems with 3e is Monte Cook's Temple of Elemental Evil. Nothing interesting happens in the entire book, and Cook goes off on his evil lovecraftian god tangent for the umpteenth time without it making for a fun or dynamic module.

I tried running a number of the Dungeon magazine modules available for the game, including some epic-level journey to a demi-plane inside a spinning cube that exemplified just how terrible the epic-level play rules were.

Speaking of, I have mixed feelings about Andy Collins. He wrote the excellent yet antiquely named Oriental Adventures, featuring excellent mechanics for feats, monsters, and prestige classes. On the other hand, the Epic Level Handbook was so badly conceived that it was unplayable. The classes were just mishmashes of epic-level feats that were often worse than non-epic feats. The spell system failed, and was a super example of 3e's attempts at using math to extrapolate rules instead of inspiration. I suppose he had his hits and misses.

The Porphyry (or whatever it was called) was also published in Dungeon Magazine, using the lamentable Vile Darkness rules, was amusing in that it enraged stolid social conservatives like the otherwise talented Tracy Hickman, but otherwise lacked gris-gris.

None of the 3e modules produced by third party publishers took my fancy, either. That Freeport one that happened to be the first wasn't especially good. The White Wolf adventures were hurried out and lacked imagination. Necromancer Games' Rappan Athuk series were a complete waste of time.

In short, 3e was bad for modules, and 2e had some high notes. I haven't ever run a 1e module, aside from the Tomb of Horrors, but I have the feeling that their virtues lie more in their originality than in their conception or execution.

Next: Parceling out useful/inspirational byproducts from my games.

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