The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘running the campaign’


Session 9A: Gold

Tee must have made some sort of noise, because the woman suddenly whipped around, “Who’s there?”

When, where, and why should you roll to resolve NPC actions?

This is one of those areas where most people seem to assume that the way they do it is the way everyone does it and that there’s really no other conceivable way that you could or should do it, which tends to result in a lot of gnashing of teeth and bloody tears when these preconceptions suddenly collide with a different gaming style/preference/methodology.

One thing that is universally true: You can’t always roll for the NPCs.

“Oh yes you can!”

No, seriously. You can’t.

About 75,000 people live in Ptolus. (And that doesn’t even count the monster.) At any given time, the absolute maximum number of those people I’m actively tracking is maybe 75. Even if you were a hundred times better than me (and, thus, actively – and absurdly! – actively tracking 7,500 people simultaneously), you’re still only engaged with 1% of the population. At any given moment, therefore, there are vast swaths of the campaign world for which you are assuming activities and outcomes based on various degrees of common sense and creative instinct.

And here’s something that most GMs hold to be true: You roll for the NPCs at least some of the time.

“Whaddya mean most?! You have to at least roll for attacks, right?!”

You don’t, though. Some GMs fudge those outcomes. Others use aggressively player-faced mechanics in systems where the actions of NPCs are only mechanically resolved if they’re directly engaged with and opposed by a PC.

The vast majority of GMs are going to be somewhere between these two radically opposed poles, however. At the beginning of this session’s campaign log, you can get a decent glimpse at how I generally handle things (with some variation depending on both circumstance and the system I’m using).

Ptolus - Linech's Burrow

First, using dramatist principles, I decided that having Linech’s mistress (Biesta) searching Linech’s office for shivvel during the PCs’ attempted infiltration would make for a good scene.

Second, using simulationist principles I set up an initial condition that looked like this:

  • Guards (2) – in area 4
  • Guards (2) – in area 8
  • Guards (4) – at gate
  • Linech – in area 7
  • Oukina – in area 7
  • Ruror – outside area 7
  • Biesta – approaching Linech’s office, she arrives in 3d6+5 rounds (looking for shivvel; shivvel in area 3 is gone; she isn’t wearing her armor)

(This is a pretty basic example of an adversary roster.)


In creating these initial conditions, the first thing you’ll note is that I haven’t tried to simulate the entire nightly schedule for Linech’s burrow. For example, I haven’t said, “Biesta will sneak into his office and steal shivvel between 12:00 and 12:15 AM.”

Why not? Primarily because, at least in this particular scenario, that’s a lot of wasted prep. The PCs are unlikely to see more than one specific slice of the burrow’s schedule. Secondarily, because missing the dramatic interest of Biesta’s presence in the office because the PCs didn’t happen to show up in a specific 15 minute window isn’t a desirable outcome for me (and is also wasted prep).

Those who prize simulationism above all other concerns may balk at this. But I refer you back to our previously established truism: You can’t always roll for the NPCs. And, in a similar vein, you can’t perfectly simulate the daily schedule of all 75,000 inhabitants of Ptolus. At some point you are making an arbitrary decision about the initial conditions of any locale that the PCs begin interacting with.

Because you can’t simulate all 75,000 inhabitants of Ptolus, there is always some degree of compromise, and that means that prepping eighteen different sets of initial conditions doesn’t make any sense: No matter how many you prep, the PCs will never encounter more than one set of initial conditions (by definition).

(There are exceptions to this: If a scenario is likely to feature the PCs putting a location under surveillance, then you will, of course, want to set up the typical daily schedule for that location. Maybe mix in a few random events to vary it from day to day without needing to hand prep every day if it’s likely to be a lengthy surveillance.)


With all that being said, the second thing to note here is that I’ve inherently built uncertainty into the initial conditions.

One thing to remember is that I actually have no idea how the PCs are going to approach this scenario: They might sneak in. They might fight their way in. They might come up with some completely different solution I couldn’t even imagine.

These initial circumstances are designed to create interesting complications for the PCs, which they’ll either need to avoid or interact with in order to accomplish their goal. How will they avoid them? How will they interact with them? I don’t know, so I’m not going to waste a lot of time thinking about it. Following the precepts of Don’t Prep Plots, these are all tools in my toolbox; and I’ll improvise with them during actual game play.

Which is what you see play out at the beginning of the campaign journal:

  • As the PCs arrived onsite, I rolled 3d6+5 to see how many rounds it would be until Biesta arrived.
  • Because Tee waited behind the chimney “for at least a minute” to make sure she hadn’t been spotted climbing up, it meant that Biesta arrived in the office before Tee did.
  • We roll a Move Silently vs. Listen check to determine whether or not Tee is aware of Biesta. (She is.) But we also roll a Listen check for the nearby guards to see if they hear Biesta. (They don’t.)

Let’s stop there for a second, because this is our primary topic today: I rolled for the guards because I did not know what the outcome of Biesta’s snooping in the office would be. And that was true even if the PCs didn’t interfere at all.

For example, a completely different possibility is that the PCs try to break into the compound from a different direction; while they’re performing their infiltration, however, Biesta gets caught snooping and there’s a whole bunch of new activity flowing to and away from the office that they now need to deal with. Or maybe Biesta sneaking back out of the office creates a timely distraction that allows the PCs to escape. Or maybe Biesta walks in on the PCs while they’re trying to leverage Lord Abbercombe out the window.

The point is that Biesta is a dynamic element which, once set in motion, even I don’t know the consequences of.

Other GMs might want to get a little more specific in planning out Biesta’s predetermined course: They might know, for example, that (barring PC interference) Biesta will reach the office, find the shivvel, and leave without alerting a guard. In other circumstances, I might do the same thing. A lot depends on the specific needs of the particular scenario.

Think of your scenario like a billiards table: You set up the table and you let the players take their shot. Unlike a normal billiards table, though, a bunch of the balls (NPCs, etc.) are in motion when the PCs show up, and will remain in motion (probably cyclically so for the sake of easy prep) until the PCs take their shot.

(Some GMs will take this even further and ignore the interference of the PCs. I’m going to refer those GMs to the Railroading Manifesto.)

  • We roll a Listen vs. Move Silently check to determine whether or not Biesta notices Tee. (I probably also rolled for the guard, but given distance and walls his success was really unlikely.) She does!
  • We now roll a Hide vs. Spot check to determine whether or not Biesta spots Tee when she comes over to the window. She doesn’t, but in coming over to window and saying, “Who’s there?” she’s made enough noise that…
  • We roll a Move Silently vs. Listen check for the guard to once again notice Biesta. And this time, he does!

As a result, we’ve discovered that Tee’s presence — despite being quite subtle — has resulted in Biesta being discovered by the guard. This has long-term implications, because the guard then takes Biesta to Linech: Which means that the guard closest to the office is no longer present, making the additional Move Silently checks for actually extricating the statue substantially easier for the group to succeed at. But also creates a ticking time bomb at the end of which Linech is going to come to his office to find out what Biesta was up to. (In fact, if it hadn’t been for Ranthir’s clever use of feather fall to speed up the extraction, it’s likely that Linech would have gotten back in time to catch them in the act. Careful planning is important in D&D, folks!)

This is, as I said, a rather minor interaction. But I think it offers a rather nice window into my general methodology as a GM, and also highlights the fascinating and rewarding outcomes that can result.


Session 8B: Meeting Tor

During Session 8, the party had its first interactions with two very influential citizens of Ptolus: Malkeen Balacazar of the Balacazar crime family and Lord Zavere of Castle Shard.

At this point in time, the PCs were either 2nd or 3rd level (depending on whether or not they had earned XP in the prelude sessions). Malkeen was 14th level. Zavere was 20th level. Obviously, in terms of puissance, the PCs were completely dwarfed. If they’d decided to pick a fight with either one of them, they’d most likely have been crushed like bugs almost instantaneously.

“Don’t antagonize someone who has a fang-faced, void-mouthed guy to order around.” – Elestra

This, of course, was entirely intentional. In a zero-to-hero game like D&D, I think it’s really important for the PCs to have interactions with the very powerful. It gives them something to aspire to and is also integral to establishing that the world they inhabit is a large and complex place with concerns which extend beyond their daily lives. Doraedian is another prominent example of this, as are any number of denizens of the common room at the Ghostly Minstrel.

In some ways, this is kind of the inverse of Revisiting Encounter Design: Just as you want to increase the dynamic range of your encounters by designing them with a wide variety of creatures of varied powers, you also want to make the dynamic range of your entire campaign as broad as possible.

Agnarr cracked a sunrod and observed that they were now doing the same job (retrieving the girl) for three different employers: Zavere, Linech, and the man with the star-tattoo.

Ptolus - Malkeen BalacazarThis high level of power is not, of course, a necessary quality for a patron. (During these same sessions, Linech is an example of a patron on par with the PCs’ power level.) It’s obviously not a requirement for every villain. But these characters allow you to open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

On the other hand, this liberty must be carefully balanced against the inherent threat of the disparity in power: The ability to squash the PCs like a bug is not only problematic because they might actually end up getting squashed; it’s also problematic because it can make the players feel helpless, manipulated, and coerced. (That can be okay some of the time, but in most campaign it becomes a major problem if the players feel that they’ve become completely de-protagonized or that the GM is railroading them.)

The precise way you accomplish this balancing act is always pretty heavily dependent on the specific circumstances of the campaign. But there are a few general principles you can keep in mind:

Balance the Interests of the Powerful: Counter-intuitively, you can often reduce the PCs’ sense of powerlessness by including even more powerful people. These powerful factions can be used to checkmate each other. You can see an example of this with Malkeen Balacazar and Lord Zavere: The PCs were being sent up against a really powerful crime family, but they were doing so at the best of a very powerful patron. If things got dicey, they should be able to fall back on their powerful ally to provide protection.

Keep the Distance: You can have the powerful get involved with the PCs’ lives without them constantly invading the PCs’ personal space. Lord Zavere, for example, reached out to them through the intermediary of Mand Scheben. Malkeen Balacazar, on the other hand, was not actually supposed to directly interact with them: At the first sign of trouble, he was supposed to clear out under the mistaken belief that someone was bringing the hammer down and he would be in person jeopardy. (Allowing the PCs to perhaps glimpse him during his retreat.) The campaign obviously went a different way than that, of course.

“Tee! I was just writing you a letter!” He crumpled the paper and shoved it to the side.

You can usually tell that you’ve been successful in striking the right balance, however, when you discover that you can’t keep the powerful at arm’s length because the PCs are actively seeking them out. You can see evidence of that in this week’s campaign journal with the “crumpled letter” gag: I hadn’t actually anticipated that Tee would actively seek out Mand Scheben or Doraedian that morning, so I’d actually prepped letters that they were supposed to have delivered later that day. (I literally crumpled up the props and tossed them aside.)

Making the PCs Vital: If powerful individuals are taking an interest in the PCs, it means that the PCs have something to offer them. Crank that dial up. Make the PCs vital to the interests of one or (preferably) more of the powerful. This not only serves as a layer of protection (“I can’t kill you, I need you!”), it also, by definition, prevents the PCs from feeling powerless or irrelevant: Their choices matter. What they do matters.

The importance of this last point, in my opinion, cannot be over-emphasized. The reason to bring the powerful into the PCs’ sphere isn’t so that the PCs can goggle at the amazing antics of the powerful. It’s so that the PCs can get tangled up in their affairs.

And as the PCs seek to untangle themselves, over time they will slowly discover that they have become the powerful and the affairs are, in fact, their own.


Character Background: Tor

Adding new players to a successful campaign can be really tricky. It doesn’t take much to muck up the strange alchemy that makes for a great group, and that doesn’t even take into account “real world” concerns like discovering that scheduling which was previously hassle-free has stumbled into a nightmare of subtly conflicting schedules that form a real impediment to actually playing.

Auditioning players can help weed out some of these problems. I know some groups will “audition” the new players by just adding them to the existing campaign as a trial run, but I’ve found that this generally causes more problems than it solves. (Even if you manage to cleanly break with a player who’s not working out, you still end up having to deal with the jagged edges of continuity left from introducing a new PC and then, even more importantly, writing them out.) I prefer running a one-shot completely separate from the campaign (although perhaps set in the same campaign world) or even a short mini-campaign that lasts two or three sessions. It allows you to assess how the chemistry of the group will work out, without disturbing the primary campaign in any way.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, of course, an open table is a big help here, largely because a successful open table will leave you with a surfeit of qualified candidates who you’re often eager to play with in a dedicated campaign. There’s no guesswork in determining whether or not someone is a good player because you’ve already seen them play; in fact, you’ve probably already seen them play with the other members of the campaign.

Keeping the difficulties in mind, however, in practice, I just don’t do it. Most of my campaigns sit five players. I generally don’t like going above that number, and if I lose a player (for whatever) reason I’m generally more comfortable letting the number of players slip to four or even three. (This is particularly true with more typical campaigns of 15-25 sessions. Usually easier to just power through to the end.)

Nonetheless, in this session of my Ptolus campaign I found myself adding two new players. I’ve described the reasons for this previously. In brief: Due to the events in Session 7, one of the original long-distance players (Agnarr) had decided to quit; the second long-distance player (Alysta, who had already been having scheduling problems) decided it was a good opportunity to also drop out; and the third long-distance player (Ranthir) had become more-or-less local.

As we regrouped in October 2007, two new players would fill the empty chairs and bring with them two new characters: Tor and Elestra.


Let’s start with the more traditional addition.

Although I didn’t “audition” either of the new players, I had literally auditioned one of them: She played the role of Abigail Adams in the 2007 production of my play John and Abigail. If I recall correctly, she had not played RPGs before, but was intrigued by the whole concept after chatting about the campaign after rehearsal one night.

I offered her the option of picking up either of the characters who had been abandoned, but as this was her first time at the rodeo she was interested in getting the full experience by creating her own character. Thus was born Master Torland Mank.

This actually ended up being, unintentionally, a great thing for the campaign. Introducing a character who was not directly tied into the mystery of the group’s lost memories ended up pulling the campaign in directions it otherwise would not have gone and anchoring it in ways that, in retrospect, were absolutely essential. Without Tor, it’s likely that everything else the group encountered would have continued playing a second fiddle to the overriding concern of what had happened to them, and much of value would have been lost.

And because Tor’s player was, in fact, fabulous, the roleplaying revolving around Tor’s introduction to the group was amazing (as you’ll see over the course of the next few campaign journals).

So, that’s lesson one here: When looking to add a new character to the campaign, try to find a new dynamic. Add something that the group doesn’t already have — a different perspective on the world, a different social class, a different set of goals, a different set of problems. (At a crude, mechanical level, a different set of abilities.) All of these things should obviously complement the existing group, but in adding a new character you have an opportunity to make the campaign richer than it was before, so take advantage of that.

This applies just as much to a new character created by an existing player.

(We’ve all seen those TV shows where an actor leaves and they replace them with a “new” character is actually just filling the same functional role as the old one, right? And we know that never works, right? The new guy is always just the slightly suckier version of the previous character? Right. So don’t do that.)

Another tricky thing to consider when adding a new PC is the hook: How do they get introduced and (even more importantly) how do they get pulled into the group?

In most cases, even if you completely screw this up the metagame will paper over the gaping cracks: Everybody knows that this is Peter’s new character, so they’ll just kind of “naturally” accept him as part of the group. But it is, in fact, this sort of “go with the flow” tendency which, for me, makes it even more important to not have it be that simple; to have the new addition to the group make sense in character.

(This is also something you can fiendishly invert: Next time Peter needs to roll up a new character, instead ask him to take on the role of an NPC that’s planning to infiltrate the party and betray them for one reason or another. The eventual revelation may do irreparable damage to the group’s metagame trust of the next PC to show up, but it’s worth it.)

In the case of Tor, as you can see in the campaign journal, I was able to take advantage of the PCs’ lost memories to just literally have them hire him. This tied him loosely to the central mystery of the campaign, obviously, and (now that I think about it) kind of hung a lampshade on the whole “of course we trust this guy, it’s Sarah’s new character” thing.

(In point of fact, as you’ll see in the next journal entry, they did not fully trust Tor and ended up concealing their lost memories from him. This is all for the good. A little intra-party friction is good stuff.)


Elestra’s player was also new to the table, but her character was slightly more unusual. I’ve discussed this in greater detail in the past, but basically Elestra was originally a character named Alysta. And I retconned the campaign so that Alysta was written out and Elestra had been there all along.

I’d never done anything like this before, haven’t done it since, haven’t heard of anyone else who has done it, and will probably never do it again myself.

The reason I did it was relatively straightforward: I’d designed a mystery basically starring these five characters — Agnarr, Tee, Dominic, Ranthir, and Alysta. There was no logical way for Alysta to decide to just… leave. (For a similar reason, Ranthir’s player took on the role of Agnarr and has played both characters simultaneously ever since.)

The existence of a detailed campaign journal actually made this relatively easy: I spent an afternoon or so rewriting the existing campaign journal, replacing all references to Alysta with Elestra. This not only created a new “canon” for the campaign that everyone could agree upon, it also made it easy for Elestra’s player to catch up on all the things that “she” had experienced.

This worked surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that the group basically forgot all about Alysta. I think I speak for all of us when I say that when we think back to the early days of the campaign, we think of them as if Elestra had been there. Until writing this essay, in fact, I don’t think I’d thought about the name “Alysta” in close to a decade. Even Elestra’s player discusses the events of the first seven sessions of the campaign as if she had actually experienced them.

Beyond that, I don’t really have any general lessons to take from this, though: It was kind of a wacky idea. Despite the fact that, against all odds, it somehow worked, I wouldn’t really recommend it as something you should try.


Session 8A: Waking in Chains

In which unfortunate bargains are made in caverns deep beneath the city, and our intrepid heroes learn not to look a gift mobster in the mouth…

This session begins with the PCs waking up in chains after a disastrous battle.

There are several ways I could have handled this particular moment:

  • I could have had all the characters wake up simultaneously.
  • I could have arbitrarily chosen the order in which they would wake up.
  • I could use some sort of mechanical resolution to determine how they would wake up.
  • I could have had one of the character(s) get woken up by the bad guys.
  • I could have the character(s) wake up by themselves.

Seems like a relatively simple crux — and I don’t want to suggest that I spent a lot of time staring at my navel on this one — but the ways in which you resolve moments like this can have a surprisingly large impact as the consequences of that moment ripple out.

FettersFirst things first: I felt it was more interesting for the PCs wake up on their own. Why? Well, if they wake up on their own they have an opportunity to take actions (or choose not to take actions) which would no longer be available to them once the bad guys engaged with them. Conversely, anything interesting that might happen from the point where the bad guys wake them up would probably end up happening even if they did wake up first.

When in doubt, go for the option with a larger number of potentially interesting outcomes. (Particularly if you’re not giving anything up to do it.)

Beyond that, I decided to turn to fictional cleromancy: I made a mechanical ruling and let it determine the order in which the PCs would wake up. (In this case, margin of success on a Listen check with a relatively low DC. As the characters woke up, they were then allowed to make Bluff checks to keep the bad guys from realizing they were awake.)

Couldn’t I — as the GM — have made a better decision myself?

Different, certainly. But better? Probably not. If I had arbitrarily decided for myself, I’d probably have chosen Tee to wake up first (since she would be the best positioned to stealthily slip her bonds). That would have potentially given a big, splashy scene. But when the cleromancy selected Dominic, the scene instead gave a quiet opportunity to spotlight a character who often just “went along with the group”. And although the choice to patiently wait and see what would happen might seem like a “non-choice”, it was actually very revealing of Dominic’s personal character (both to the table as a whole and, I think, to Dominic’s player).

Which is why I encourage GMs to trust the fictional cleromancy.

It’s important, of course, to properly set the stakes for any mechanical resolution and to make sure that you (and the rest of the table) will be satisfied with the possible outcomes. There’s no reason to let the mechanics drive you into a wall.

But, in my experience, games are much, much better when you set them free and see where they’ll take you. They’ll surprise and amaze you and create moments you never could have imagined happening in a thousand years.

You can see a couple other examples of this general sort of thing in the current campaign journal. First, resolving Agnarr’s Sense Motive check to notice that his friends had been brainwashed on a graduated scale led to his hilarious attempt to conspire with Elestra.

Second, in the back half of this session, Agnarr attempts to locate a stray dog to make his own… and abysmally fails his Animal Handling check. (Resulting in me describing him giving the dog iron rations, which the dog did not like at all.)

Why not just Default to Yes and let him have the dog? Gut instinct more than anything else. Getting the dog seemed important to the character, and I felt it would be more appreciated if it had to be worked for. It paid off: Failing to attract stray dogs became a running joke for several sessions, and when Agnarr finally did find his dog, the moment was more meaningful for the path that had been walked to get there.

All of this is an art, not a science.


Something else to note in this session, particularly in the wake of the near-TPK in the previous session, is how the group adjusted their tactics for underwater fights. Most notably, they made a point of making sure that they stuck together even when disparate results on Swim checks would have driven them apart. And you can see the payoff as they mopped up a whole sequence of combat encounters.

They learned from their mistakes and they learned from their failure.

There’s a branch of GMing philosophy which is basically terrified of the PCs failing at something. And I don’t just mean avoiding TPKs: They can never lose any fight. Every quest must be a success. No clue can ever be missed. No mystery can ever remain unsolved. No personal goal can be frustrated.

There are a couple of major problems with this philosophy.

First, you are eliminating a huge swath of the human experience (and drama!) from your games. Go watch a movie. Read a book. Reflect on how often the main characters are thwarted; suffer setbacks; get stymied. Look at how those failures are used to raise the stakes, drive the story forward, and frame new scenes — scenes that can’t exist if failure isn’t an option.

Second, when you never allow someone to make a mistake, they never learn that they’re doing something wrong.

If you spend any amount of time in RPG discussion groups, you’ll perennially come across GMs complaining that, for example, their players always rush headlong into every fight even when they’re clearly outnumbered and outgunned.

Do you ever let them lose those fights?

Of course not!

Well… I’ve spotted your problem.

Here the group had a problem with underwater combat. They suffered horrendous consequences. And then they fixed the problem.

This is a general theme you’ll see throughout these campaign journals: Not only characters (and their players) refining their strategic and tactical choices, but also figuring how to approach problems from new angles and with alternative solutions when their first options don’t work.

Failure is, in my experience, the root of creativity.



Interlude: Visions on the Edge of the Void

In which lost memories return as the party lingers on the edge of oblivion…

Snape's Flashback

As I mentioned in the last installment of Running the Campaign, the near-TPK in Session 7 led to the lengthy break which resulted in the campaign’s Retcon.

When the campaign started back up, I decided to kick things off with the visions described in this installment of the campaign journal. If I recall correctly, I e-mailed these visions to the players a few days before the session to gin up anticipation. I also printed out individual copies so that the players could review them at the beginning of the session, with the joint-but-separate cliffhanger at the end of each vision leading directly to the first moment of Session 8.

In addition to simply getting people excited about playing again, I also wanted to make an experience which had ended up being unexpectedly traumatic and significant to the group in the real world an equally significant milestone for the characters, and I hoped that these visions would help drive home how close to real and meaningful death the PCs had come.

The actual visions themselves, however, were not created for this particular moment. They had been designed before the campaign ever began.


The campaign began with the PCs experiencing a period of “lost time”. I took extra efforts to make sure that the players really felt this missing gap in their lives, because the things which had happened to them during that time were really significant.

The next step was to make sure that this missing time continued to be significant to them throughout the campaign, so that it wouldn’t just fade into “something that happened awhile back and isn’t really significant any more”. One way of doing this, as I’ve described previously, was to create a meta-scenario featuring a mix of investigating the past and also consequences from the past coming back into the oblivious lives of the PCs.

The other way I decided to keep the “lost time” as a pervasive factor throughout the campaign was through the use of flashback visions: Glimpses that the PCs would have into their lost memories. These visions were carefully excerpted from the “secret history” I had prepared regarding the period of lost time, and would hopefully also tie-in with the various meta-scenarios revolving around that lost time. (The idea was to create synergy between multiple tracks running persistently throughout and behind the other adventures of the PCs.)


The triggers for these flashbacks were intentionally designed flexibly. (And most flashbacks had multiple triggers.) They generally weren’t things like, “During Adventure #5 when X happens, the PCs receive this vision.” Instead it was, “If something kind of like this happens, it’ll probably cause the PC to flashback to this moment.”

I also never hesitated to use a flashback — or create a new flashback! — if something that felt dramatically appropriate happened which I hadn’t anticipated. By and large, that’s what happened here: There were some flashbacks that had “near death” as a trigger; others that felt thematically appropriate. (I was also trying to strengthen the relationship Elestra and Dominic had before the lost time, since I had identified that this had not really been as deeply invested in by the players as the Agnarr-Tee relationship had been because the Elestra-Dominic prelude didn’t actually happen at the game table. It still didn’t really take. Things that happen at the game table are just more “real” than things that are only written down in character backgrounds.)

You’ll also note that the flashback visions are static. I’ve talked in the past about using playable flashbacks, but in this case I didn’t want the players to feel authorship of them or the ownership which would come with it. I wanted them to be alienated from these experiences; for these experiences to feel as if they had “happened to somebody else” even while they knew that it was, in fact, something that had happened to them.

This would not remain invariably true as the campaign progressed, although there were some unique twists which accompanied their first opportunities to “live” these memories. That, however, is a tale for another time.



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