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Grey Raven: The Ruined Temple - Conjure Now!

About a week or so ago, with so many folks having issues going into quarentine quietly and needing relief, I started organizing some online play. There are about 50 people in the group now and thankfully other folks are stepping up to run, lol. Most of them will be familiar with D&D 5E or somethign equivalent, so I threw together a map on Inkarnate of a region with some trees, a river or two, and some settlements. Also a few ruins. Last Friday (US time) I ran the first session for a group of four. Games are first come and first serve and kept to four players. 

VTT: Roll20 with Discord audio - the reason for this is that D&D 5E lends itself to the grid. I am not saying its good or bad, I like tactical play and some don't, but this system it works. Dare say it is mandatory. 

Setting: I am calling it a Chaos Marches game but it is modeled on the West Marches style of game, just with less structure even than that. (If you do not know what West Marches is, Matt C explains it pretty well.). The setting is a region known as Grey Raven. Why Grey Raven? Because hawk and its variations have already been done to death.

The armies of chaos had invaded the year before. Invaded from where? No idea. Who are they? Well each is led by someone on a dragon. A little Dragonlance and Young Kingdoms mashup. That gives me someplace to work from. 

Characters: Elf Rogue, Dragonborn Cleric, Aasimar Celestial Warlock, Warforged Druid. 

How it went. I let the grroup choose from three locations. I only had maps for the locations on Roll20; I had no story, villain, denizens, or other tidbits. They chose Ruined Temple. No one in a tavern offered them money; I just said the ruler of the town of Grey Raven needed folsk to check out things in the area. Here, expectations helped to propel the call to action. It took all of 30 seconds and we were at the Ruined Temple. Very much like a con game might go. 

And I met those expectations. They asked about details, I let them roll and made up details on the spot/ I would note down some more details on my notes, fleshing it out slightly, but I realize I only need as much fine detail as the players know. I do not really need a grand plan. I need enough to conjure now! And then I make sure I keep those details, which frankly may or may not be true. But they are true now. Facts can be inviolate, but truth can be flexible. 

The temple turns out to be a temple to Odin. Who is Odin? Well the cult (thanks Runqequest) of Odin is one of many in a pantheon of many pantheons. Some invaders, I do not think I used the word barbarians, brought Odin worship a few hundred years ago. This is pretty basic stuff really, all pulled from my own experience as a GM over the years. And as a reader and consumer of ideas. 

The temple has a graveyard, which they asked about. I told them it was consistent with what they knew about the cult of Odin. That establishes Odin having its own death rites. But there were no undead. That broke expectations a bit, which is fine. They did fight some goblins. They fought some bullywugs. There was a locked door. Later on there will be a poisoned needle trap on a treasure box. Mainly because I like the idea of Black Dougal (or some thief) failing a save and gasping "poison". 

They did discover that members of the Red Dragon army are in the ruined temple. Why? Even I do not know yet. The session ended with the group resting in a deep room under the ruined temple. 

Conclusions & Thoughts

1. Setting As You Go. Setting and Backdrop have been on my mind of late. Part of that is through discussions on Empire of the Dragon-Lotus and stuff discussed here on this site. And with a group of 50 people, some of whom are new players and some who don't give two craps about Greyhawk or Krynn or Eberoon or Glorantha and so are not here for that. What they need from setting is to create a framework, a backdrop, upon which their improv show plays out. 

2. Conjure Now! Conjuring ideas on the spot works in this kind of environment. The Druid had remarked that he was looking for one of the other players to have been his creator. Turns out the warlock is that creator or her warlock master was. But I threw in a quick idea that means something to me but not to the others.  The druid is going to focus on shape changing, so I said the druid was "Cauldron Born".  I took this from Welsh mythology and just dropped it into the game. They are not entirely sure what it means, and frankly neither am I. But both players now have some myth to play with. 

The same with the cult of Odin. I am defining it as we go, as religion in D&D is not as front and center. In many ways the cleric has been made generic again. Gods are less important now. The cleric of the group follows Paladine, a Krynn reference. But as a dragonborn, his Paladine will be more like Apsu (Apzu and other spellings), who was Tiamat's consort in Near Eastern mythology. At least sometimes. 

3. Expectations & Experience. This is where the zeitgeist prepares everyone for play. Some will (understandably) push back against all the pop culture references that RPGs, and D&D in particular, that invade a given game. But there is a time and place for that invasion to be relevant. In the right circumsatnces it can propel play and short cut around tedious processes. We are here to have an adventure and so can rely on that other memory. It would not work as well for say, Forbidden Lands or Symbaroum or Coriolis. It would work for Dungeon Crawl Classics and may or may not work for something like Rolemaster. The point is sometimes a familiarity with what the D&D zeitgeist entails can support good play. 

..And the next group to play won't get the choice to go to the Ruined Temple. Because the Ruined Temple is being played at the moment. As groups progress across the land, each location will gain details. Until then I won't worry much about what is there. 

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
D&D 5E

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Thoughts on spot-creation cumulative setting, backdrops, D&D-"ish" as a positive, reincorporation as medium ... all that is great, but Five Oh people? As in, ten little piggies five times?

How did you do that?

I'd like to know more about the organization, especially managing vs. not micro-managing. It looks like there are multiple independent sessions (groups) and GMing processes involved. Are you kind of a super-over-GM or has it all been flung across the waters for others to pick up and use? Is content consolidated or vetted (I tentatively assume not)?

I don't want to mess it up by forcing answers, in case any or all of those things are a work in progress. But even getting to this point is miraculous to my eyes. Obviously there is much here to learn.

Sean_RDP's picture

It may be a few more now. 

In terms of specifically the D&D, I have not handed the backdrop out to others yet. What other GMs are doing is their own thing. One person ran a DCC death funnel on Sunday. There is a Savage Worlds East Texas U in the works. Another GM has a D&D / Pathfinder. Currently other folks have been discussing some other games. 

I will be uploading the backdrop to the group this week. And I do not intend to vet the content except as a reminder to talk about everyone's comfort level. 

All I do as the manager is put up the Game Session post in the group. I let the GM's handle their own business. Now as I am friends with most of these people and they see me as the organizer, I do get pulled into conversations. 

Ron Edwards's picture

OK - if I understand correctly, it seems like the lightest touch possible, with the benefits of actually being a touch. Check me on this.

  1. Provide a group venue for organizing play sessions. Oh: question here: what did you use to unify or state "the game?" Just the generic term "D&D?" Anything more specific?
  2. Run some of your own along with everyone else doing the same, independently.
  3. Distribute a backdrop, or in Sorcerer & Sword terms, a setting-aesthetic rather than a standard map and detailed history
  4. Play continues - presumably people adapt what they've done into the backdrop, and the sense of shared setting is established and maintained among the collective without bugging anyone particularly about what they should or shouldn't be doing.

Also, in practice - because I assume it can't be mandated - how much participation is (or do you conceive) happening among groups? If I play in your game, can I go play in that other guy's game? Is that a per-group decision, and whatever it is, was it mentioned in or part of the initial organizing step?

Sean_RDP's picture

1. Yes that is spot on. I used the generic term D&D for the Pavlovian response :) That may sound mean but basically, it draws people in, experienced and new.

2. Again, yes. I am running D&D in the Chaos Marches backdrop. Which is just West Marches with a candy coating of Young Kingdoms and Dragonlance.  Others have run D&D, there is a Pathfinder in the offering now, Dungeon Crawl Classics (got to play it), and Call of C. Some interest has picqueed for Cyberpunk and Symbaroum.

3. For my money none of the sacred texts do "Just meet up and jump into the middle of the action" the way Dragonlance does. Takhisis would like to oppress you or better have you join her. Now. And the Elric tie in brings multiverse and chaoskampf stuff I like.  Combining them makes for an interesting aesthetic. While I do have a map, I may not even deploy that. The town and valley are known as Grey Raven. Its got monsters, dungeons, and dragons. Now go forth! Whether anyone else does, remains to be seen.

4. Right. This is has not evolved much yet, but then I have not really explained that to them. Right now the shared aesthetic is we all need distractions. Some people are playing a game every day. I am hoping over time those running Chaos Marches will begin to share their stories.

(Sacred Texts of D&D: Greyhawk, Realms, Krynn, Dark Sun, Planescape, and Spelljammer. Plus Mystara I guess.)

 

  1. Provide a group venue for organizing play sessions. Oh: question here: what did you use to unify or state "the game?" Just the generic term "D&D?" Anything more specific?
  2. Run some of your own along with everyone else doing the same, independently.
  3. Distribute a backdrop, or in Sorcerer & Sword terms, a setting-aesthetic rather than a standard map and detailed history
  4. Play continues - presumably people adapt what they've done into the backdrop, and the sense of shared setting is established and maintained among the collective without bugging anyone particularly about what they should or shouldn't be doing.

I had suggested at first, to make life easier on the DM/GM, that we go with 4 players at most per session. That is out the window somewhat now. I had also asked folks to sign up for only one game at a time; I felt that this rationing was fair. But its a soft rationing and people are behaving well that I can keep hands off. Players can play in whatever they want, I just dont want one player taking up spots in limited seat games. A bit cynical perhaps. 

Right now I also do my best to promote others games and encourage folks running

Ron Edwards's picture

This is providing a really good model for what I am (just now) trying to do with Champions Now over Discord.

Sean_RDP's picture

Group 1 had their second session last Friday. Group 2, had their first session last Thursday

Group 1, which is Ruined Temple (of Odin) group. Warlock, Rogue, Druid, Cleric and we added a Sorcerer (Half Orc) and Artificer (Gnome). 

Group 2, which is Wizard Tower group. This session was shorter. Dwarf Cleric, Human Fighter, Warforged Fighter, and Tiefling Bard (totally new player - she did great, btw). We may be getting another high elf cleric as well.

Group 1 - Ruined Temple (of Odin)

Zombies attacked the new players and the original players came to their rescue. The players took it in stride they would adventure along together. They discover a fountain in a room with two other doors. They go through the doors... at the same time. Triggering two encounters. The players handled the hard fight well. They also learned some lore about Odin and the temple itself. They follow along some recent digging and find a lone woman, whom the Rogue attacks. She was meant to be a friend, but not anymore. The Rogue retreated and I had the woman run away. Their curiosity lead them into the tomb of a servant of Odin. I have not decided exactly what it will be yet. Likely something akin to a Spirit of Vengeance from Glorantha.

Group 2 - Wizards Tower

Again I hand waved the tavern meeting. They appear on the edge of the tower and fight some bullywugs. The players are suspicious they are not the first group to arrive here. They discover a dead elf rogue with a rune on parchment in his hand. They search and this aligns with a circular basalt stone in the ruins of the tower. 

Where does this lead? We shall see :)

Ron Edwards's picture

In both cases, and related to our conversation in the Seminar section, it seems like you're staying as open to possible for situations to change based on what the players decide. Now - critically - I'm not talking about changes to the backstory ("They're interested in the basalt disk, so it's important because ...") but instead about changes in what NPCs will do next, i.e., playing them as responsive characters.

It's most obvious for the woman that the rogue attacked, and I am very interested in what happens next. Here are some possibilities based on implications and outright statements in many of the published adventure scenarios that I own, published over several decades:

  • "Run away" is a synonym for "removed from the adventure," because her intended purpose has been obviated.
  • She returns as a second chance for her intended purpose, this time presented as a more obvious and straightforward opportunity for alliance.
  • She returns as a resentful nemesis later, or her absence is sternly demonstrated to cause some disadvantage later, because the player "must learn from their mistake," i.e., to become more receptive to the plot threads and opportunities that are presented, so that the story can proceed.
  • She is retconned to have been a menace or problem all along, as will be narrated in detail upon her reappearance.

I trust that none of these are in your current toolbox. I suggest that it's a bad idea to tell me in these posts what you have planned, but instead, let's both pay attention to what you do with this character, how it's implemented, and what happens, in the upcoming sessions.

Sean_RDP's picture

I have some ideas, but I am waiting for the discussion to come up. I want to see what the players do and how they react and what they want. I will not say her original goals will change, but how she reacts to the players will be entirely on them. 

Is it possible to post a file here? I have the Chaos Marches backdrop and for those not on FB I thought it might be interesting. I could even do it in another thread so as not to derail this one.

Ron Edwards's picture

You can attach files to posts but not cirectly to comments. You can upload them somewhere and provide a link if you want. Also, whenever you'd like, start a new post to continue the conversation. Your endeavor is active enough to justify a series of posts rather than extending these comments. Again, doing so, and if so, when, can be done as you desire; I don't have a fixed standard for it.

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