Chessenta

One of the best things about my Bazarene Circuit campaign is the different cities that my PCs get to explore and that I get to create. Heppra is an ancient city transported from another continent and steeped in magic.  Duvamil is a big village with a large mill, but more importantly it is at the intersection of two moving cities and a major river.  Dwarmarik is an ancient, dwarven city with all the history and intrigue that comes with being an ancient, dwarven city.  There are others, but I haven’t worked on them as much.  My PCs got to explore the city of Chessenta last game. Chessenta is my latest creation and I have really enjoyed building it.

Ever since I first read the name Chessenta in Old Empires (a Forgotten Realms setting), the name has called to me. It just rang of images of a town filed with chess imagery. A town with life-sized chess pieces scattered throughout and village greens with living chess games being played out.  That is what I got in my Chessenta.

The map of Chessenta is set out in many ways like a game board. You can see what it looks like here. I made it out of this one, this one, and this one. I based it around this painting by Denis Beauvias. I was a lot of fun to set this map out before the players. I, also, used the painting “in game.” It was a secret door that lead into the tunnels below Chessenta.

Looking for images of fantasy chess games, I came across this wallpaper. It became a sight the PCs saw on their way down the Olt River to Chessenta. It did a great deal to set the mood for city, especially when I set the map down in front of my Players.

Long before my PCs arrived at Chessenta, NPCs kept telling the PCs two weird facts about the city. Firstly, an NPC would know of someone who went to Chessenta and never returned, but whose headless body was later discovered near the city. Secondly, the PCs were told that Chessenta was city of “gamers” and whoever won the most games became the mayor of the city. The Players went to Chessenta to investigate the murders, but couldn’t help get invovled in the “politics” the city.

Chessenta has a very odd political system; it involves candidates be successful in games of skill and chance and be talented in contests of strength and mental acuity and quatloos. Every three years, any being in Chessenta may nominate him, her, or its self as a candidate for Mayor. The Mayor of Chessenta is autocratic ruler and may make and enforce any laws desired, except those that might impede or alter the election process.

Everyone in Chessenta is required by law to go the Registry and choose a Faction (Blue, Red, or Yellow) and exchange all their gold for quatloos. Quatloos are hexagons about the size of a US quarter dollar and are made of a translucent green material that bears no resemblance to metal or wood. A quatloo doesn’t just have value equal to that of a standard gold piece; it can also count as 1/333 of a vote.

Chessenta is a city of games and gamers. The law requires each game played be taxed. Each player places an ante at the beginning of the contest and the winner claims the pot and pays 3% of the total won or 1 quatloo (whichever is higher) to the city. During an election cycle, each business is required to keep a running total of each Factions purchases. Every 333 quatloos spent counts as 1 vote for that Faction’s candidate.

An election cycle in Chessenta starts one the first day of third month every third year. It runs for three months. The first month is The Eliminations, the second month is The Primary, and the third month is The Election.

During the first month, each would be candidate must claim a Faction and win more contests than other candidates in his Faction. At the end of that month, the top contender in each Faction enters The Primary.

During The Primary every contest or game played in Chessenta must be played between opponents of different Factions. Each win is counted a vote for the winning Faction’s candidate. During this time, every quatloo spent for any service or good is added into aggregate total and that total is divided by 333 that final whole number counts as number of votes for a particular Faction’s candidate. At the end of the month the two candidates with most votes enters The Election.

Each day during the month of The Election, the final two candidates face off in a game or contest in the Arena. The businesses of Chessenta continue to track votes through sales and services of all three Factions. At the end of the month, the candidate with the most wins is the Mayor. If there is a tie, then the candidate with the most votes is elected Mayor, even if the winner is the candidate from the third Faction.

My PCs joined in a few sanctioned games and a backroom game, while they visited Chessenta. They discovered at least one of the serial killers operating in the city and explored one short way of one of the tunnels below the city. The slightly luminescent brain matter that coated the ceiling of the tunnel, along with the intellect devourers, and one of the PCs getting mesmerized by an alien intelligence convinced them to leave the city. They exchanged their quatloos for gold, resigned their Factions, and headed up Windshape Mountain toward Sanctuary.

So, what do you think? Until next time, Game On!

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To Mod or Not to Mod (or Why Gregory is Bad at Running Modules)

The Games Librarian recently posted about a Game Master’s desire to revisit places in his or her games in which his or her Players invested their time and effort. This was in response to Admiral Ironbombs’ post about Player vs. Character Buy-in when running Adventure Paths or Modules. Both are good reads and I encourage you to check them out.  Mike Mearls of WotC talks about the new Starter Set for 5E and the emphasis they are putting on the included adventure in his Legend and Lore Column. Together, they really got me thinking about how I build and run Ryllmorrin and why I don’t use more Modules.

I have owned or borrowed an untold number of Adventure Modules, since I started gaming. I even ran a few of them.  Any decent Game Master will tell you that unless you are running a One Shot Game, adapt the Module you are running for your campaign.  I did that.  I used NPCs in my game to fit the roles presented in the Modules.  I used my cities and villages in place of the settings in the Adventures.  I did my best to fold them into the World of Rilmorn and make the Modules seem to be part of it.  Yet, I never seemed successful in running an Adventure that I didn’t design. Things always go wrong and I have to throw out the Adventure Module and improvise.  I think I know why I run modules so poorly and I’ll try to explain why over the next few paragraph.

When I began GMing, I possessed the Basic D&D blue book by Dr. Eric Holmes (just the book, not the rest of the boxed set), a borrowed Dungeon Masters Guide, a Monster Manual and the module B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  With that, I began building my campaign.  I did not have a lot of examples to use in my design process, so I made it up as I went along.

I’ve talked about my first games and Mythgold the Underground City of Wizards. When I first ran it, Mythgold was not a complete map. I would fill in the areas I thought I needed, leave the rest blank, and fill in more before the next session. I do not remember when my players decided to go off the map section I had completed and head into the unknown, but I’d bet it was fairly early on. I had to jump through some hoops to keep the game going.

When my players went off map, I would describe what the person making the map would need to know to continue the map (because making the map was a BIG part of D&D in the early days) and while they drew in the map section I had just described, I would pretend to check my notes and fill in what I had just described. Every time from that point on, when my players decided to talk among themselves, I’d draw a bit more on my map and make notes as to what was therein. I did everything I could to keep up the illusion that I had everything planned out and that my players couldn’t catch me off guard. I guess I did/do the same thing when I run Modules/Adventures.

I know I run a very sandbox-style of game and that may predicate my aversion to running Canned Adventures. I, also, have had a number of players, who want to “make the plot train jump the tracks.” They are the players that when presented with a plot hook of “Save the Princess and You’ll be Gifted with Titles and Lands by the King,” say “Why should we do that? We are adventurers and can claim lands and keeps from the monsters we defeat in the wilderness, so what else will you give us? Make it good or we might go help the kidnapper.” So, when these Players know there is a Module being run, they try to break out of the rails from the word “Go!” These are two things that make running Modules difficult for me.

Another thing that makes running Canned Adventures and Adventure paths difficult for me is the fact that sometimes I think what the Module says is supposed to happen is stupid or unfair. My latest complaint of this nature is with the 4E Adventure Revenge of the Giants.

 

SPOILER BEGINS (Highlight to see Spoiler)

On pages 154-155 of Revenge of the Giants, the Adventure sets up the ultimate fight between the drow priestess Lolestra, as she attempts to free the primordial Piranoth, and the Heroes.  There is way for the PCs to defeat Lolestra before she releases the primordial.  Here’s where I get upset, if the PCs defeat Lolestra, then her goddess Lolth steps in and frees the primordial, so the PCs then have to defeat the Primodial, too.

SPOILER ENDS

That is unfair. If the Players come up with a way to circumvent the Big Boss Fight, then they should be awarded the Experience Points for that fight for thinking outside the box or getting lucky and doing all the things they needed to do right to prevent the fight from happening.

In addition to “Rail Buster” Players, I’ve also had really good “Lateral Thinker” Players (sometimes, they are the same Player). I like it when my Players come up with ideas outside the box and I know good GMs always go beyond the Adventure Path or Module and let the unexpected idea work, because it is the good GMing thing to do. But what does a GM do, when the Players take such an idea to a logical conclusion? Admiral Ironbombs describes this exact scenario in his post. I understand why he did what he did, but when I encounter this problem, I leave the Path.  When I’m running a Module and my Players get caught up in a subplot or tangent, I rum with it. I use as much of the material in the Adventure as possible and fill in the gaps as I go. I guess the final answer, as to why I run Canned Adventures so poorly, is I’m more interested in what my players are doing, than I am in what the Adventure Path or Module is doing.

Tony Powers over at Epic Heroes is gearing up to run the Pathfinder Adventure Path Skulls and Shackles.  Here is his post about prep. (2014.07.21)

The GM Behind the Screen also has a post about players Riding Off The Rails. (2014.09.10)

 

Until next time, Game On!

World Engineer

Hello, I’m Gregory.  My wife, Christina (Please check out her blog), has told me to not over think this and just write…so, I’m trying.  This blog will be my attempt to share with you what I do in gaming.  I started gaming with Basic Dungeons and Dragons on a Sunday afternoon in late March 1979(it was cold and rainy).  Now, I’ve been running games in my world of Rilmorn for over thirty years.

My blog address is GameEngineer.worpress.com, because WorldEngineer.wordpress.com was already taken.  I don’t think I’m really a game engineer.  Game engineers are people like Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell.  I think I’m a world engineer.  I build societies and cities for my players to explore.  I design natural terrain, both mundane and fantastic in which my games reside.  I embody non-player characters (NPCs) with which the player characters (PCs) interact.  I weave plots and bait story hooks.  I act out wild scenes to engage the people at my table.  Sometimes, I create mechanics to facilitate the workings of the world, but most of the time, I just build a setting and use the game engineered designs of others.

Boy, that sounds dry and stilted to me.  Hope it is not so much to you, good reader.  Until we meet again, May your days be filled with dreams and your nights with wonders.  Game On! (2014.10.04)