An Update on Gaming, Marvel Edition

It has been awhile, but only due to the rigors of academia and academic avoidance.  However, this journey back to blogging is not without its excitement, for I have initiated what I hope to be an incredible gaming event:  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying during the Marvel Civil War.  I am not going to venture into an in-depth discussion during this post since I am still ironing out the details for the campaign world, but my first impressions are quite promising.  Borrowing from a custom character creation system from another website, my players and I have created our own little setting within the setting and populated it with some rather interesting characters (4 PCs and 1 GMPC).  As I said, I am still finalizing the details, but I hope to use this blog to discuss the trajectory of the story and give some thoughts about a much more narrative-driven experience than we are usually up for playing.

Be prepared some character specs, scene development, and system musing over the next few weeks!  Cheers until then.

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Worldbuilding Chronicles Part I: My Date with Catastrophe Jane/Joe

Ninth Doctor and Rose in Doctor Who “The End of the World”

After spending a significant amount of time playing Civilization V this Labor Day weekend, I got the bug to start worldbuilding again.  My own world has remained dormant for several years now and it seemed time to return to the project.  The notes were scattered around, and while reviewing what survived several primary computer jumps, the history (or lack thereof) jumped off the page, and my mind centered on a question that has been bugging me for several years now during my numerous excursions through fantasy RPG land:

Why do most major fantasy roleplaying settings, as well as numerous homebrew settings, incorporate a major catastrophe, one which caused such massive destruction that it threw the world into a lengthy dark age?

Many fantasy RPGs (Pathfinder and Earthdawn are my personal favorites.) contain this idea of a significant event that eliminates the trajectory of the setting and represents some type of rebirth to an age where the game begins.  This framework is quite common and is becoming more ingrained in both commercial and homebrew settings.  My own setting contained a massive plague that had wiped out most of the world’s population (which is nothing like King’s The Stand) and where civilization was just clawing back to a state of normalcy.  I have encountered many variations of this framework over the years, but it seems to be defined by these stages:

  1. Colossal Catastrophe – An event of global proportions ruins the world’s current development.  This event comes in the form of a crashing celestial body (in both senses of the word “celestial”); a global meteorological event, possibly an ice age; a massive plague or illness, usually indiscriminate of fantasy race; or a magical event, often one that restricts or inhibits the ability to practice magic.
  2. The Loss of All History Prior to the Catastrophe – The history becomes either lost, buried, or guarded by some sentinel being or fantasy race.
  3. A Gaming World that Starts Numerous Centuries after this Catastrophe – The default game setting takes place at a time far removed from the catastrophe, and much of the default exposition and geopolitical systems account for only a small portion of the time being the catastrophe and the default time.

I am not going to take a critical stance on this trope, as it can be useful in fleshing out a fantasy world, particularly homebrew settings that require an extensive amount of bottom-to-top construction.  My question is what aspects of setting generation and worldbuilding prompt the use of this trope.  Why does it feel like a natural, often expected, convention to use when crafting ye old Republic of Old/Middle English Place Name?  More to the point, has it become a required element that must be present to address the audience’s expectation or assist in the suspension of disbelief necessary to engage with a fantasy setting.  I have some thoughts, but I would like to hear other opinions on the matter.

(Actual Play 4e) Episode 1, Part 1: Can’t Keep My Wagon on the Road OR Too Many Tampons Eaten*

This was a big night for me since I had not played a D&D 4e game in years.  It was a fun, relaxed game, which has been quite a change of pace given my other 4e experiences.  Rather than do a painstakingly in-depth blow by blow retelling of the evening, I am going to start off with the general tenor of the story, followed by some observations.

The General Set-Up

The set-up for the game was pretty solid for a fantasy tabletop opening session.  Three out of the four players were assigned to a traveling group of academics and hired guards charged with reclaiming a shrine before it succumbed to local mercenary groups.  The session started rather abruptly with a rather nasty ambush from said mercenaries who proceeded to slaughter most of the guard, sans my character, and drive the PCs away through the forest in our wagon.  As far as 4e combats go, this one went surprisingly fast, as it was a light introduction for those new to the system on how the basics of 4e combat worked.  The sheer number of adversaries meant that we had to execute a speedy retreat, which prevented the combat from getting bogged down.

The following scenes saw our group being chased through the woods by the remaining mercenaries, whose tenacious pursuit led to the destruction of our wagon and our desperate escape into the woods.  Taking as many muskets as we could, we proceeded toward a nearby campfire, where we were introduced to our fourth member, the only PC who wound up saving our collective asses.  After hasty introductions, we headed off to a nearby elven village, where in the next session, we will see how receptive they will be to helping us on our plans.

Thoughts

The session was quite entertaining.  There were a number of traditional fantasy tropes in the first session, but the homebrew world really offset them.  I am usually very nervous about homebrew worlds in the wake of adventures in Greek Tragedy World, which had a degree of immersion not yet replicated in another campaign in which I have taken part, but at the same time, left me feeling isolated and disconnected from a world with so much exposition.  However, in this campaign, much of the framework has been developed, but there is seemingly a lot left to pencil in throughout the campaign, allowing for more character connection.  I must also add that the use of Obsidian Portal has helped me engage with the world in a more accessible manner.

My character really does not have a distinct personality yet, but that is more due to the relative lateness of my character creation and the anxiety of RPing with a completely new group of people.  I modeled him a little after Dalt from the second half of Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, but I am going to spend the next two weeks fleshing him out a bit more.  This is also the first pure martial character I have played in quite some time, so it will be entertaining to see how I do with him.

Concluding Thoughts

With D&D Next creeping up from over the horizon, it has been rewarding, although briefly so, to have a chance to do more 4e.  It has been a contentious issue within many of my gaming circles, as well as across the internet, so gaming with a table full of players either new to the system or supportive of it will hopefully allow me the opportunity to dig into it more aggressively and experience it more fully than previous attempts.  The sheer prospect of being able to do some fast-tracking will undoubtedly enhance this feeling.  The next session is two weeks away, and I am already gearing up for it.

*The wrap-up discussion at one point revolved around dog shaming, so the secondary title ties into that conversation.