For the sake of convenience, I call each sequence of 10 sessions a “season” as in seasons of a TV series. Even though there is no pre-conceived idea of what will happen or whether that arbitrary breakpoint will produce a unit, it has often worked out that we hit some of the most dramatic and climactic turning points as the seasons turn, and session 50 was very much like that.
For the first 6 sessions, we were playing LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG.
After that we switched to LotFP-flavored Freebooters on the Frontier, a Dungeon World variant by Jason Lutes, based on player feedback. Basically, two vocal players pushed for Dungeon World, and the rest were open to playing just about anything in the vein of “D&D”. I also found one pain point with LotFP, but if it was just that one thing I would have been happy to stick with it. I would love to run LotFP again!
I offered to run Freebooters rather than Dungeon World vanilla because it removes some of the features of DW that make the characters feel like epic heroes—such as Last Breath, rapid healing, and lightning-fast advancement—and reworks the game to offer a more human-scale adventure game where surviving a trek across untamed wilderness could itself be desperate. That was in line with some of what I wanted when I offered to run LotFP.
Re-skinning and customizing Freebooters to make it coherent with the established fiction made it play very different than a typical Freebooters game, I think. Part of the need to customize came from the desire to match the way magic looks and feels in LotFP, with a lot of influence from D. Vincent Baker’s supplement The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, but we found other sublte revisions that suited us too. Here is our current slate of common “moves”—the rules that expose the expected adventure situations and tell you how to resolve them.
Another departure from “standard” dungeon fantasy role-playing was introducing domain-level play from near the beginning.
The players developed intense political ambitions for lowly freebooters, ambitions that promised to be matched by a vivid and complex machiavellian backdrop of warring clans and diplomatic intrigue.
Trouble is, I didn't trust my brain to create enough differentiation between machinations of the dozen-plus factions in play (which was already established). Hearing the hype about the faction mini-game from Stars Without Number by Kevin Crawford (from this video, maybe?), I began to wonder if there was an easy way to graft that into our weird fantasy setting.
Early on, someone pointed me to another game by Kevin Crawford, An Echo Resounding, which provides a framework for faction development in the vein of SWN with a sort of “feudal orient” backdrop instead of spaceships.
I jumped in with both feet. Instead of taking on the faction game as a GM prep exercise (too much work), I decided to crowdsource it by letting strangers online play each faction—setting their own diplomatic agenda, stirring up their own schemes, and launching their own wars. They also developed a lot of setting detail for the factions they controlled, including in some cases vivid characters who have played roles in the tabletop game.
As a consequence, one player started calling it “Game of Khans” (echoing a popular HBO series). The response of the players in the tabletop game was stark: As they discovered the outflowering of each faction’s actions in the domain game, they all grew to appreciate the game in terms of what Tolkien called a subcreation: Knowing that most of the factional politics was out of my hands gave them an immersive respect and enjoyment of the world as a persistent and concrete virtual reality with its own integrity. And a few of the tabletop players have been very active in domain-level diplomacy and scheming.
Those two interlocking systems—Freebooters on the tabletop level, supplemented by an asynchronous game of An Echo Resounding to flesh out the backdrop—has produced an immense amount of drama that cascades back and forth across the different scales of play. I wouldn’t want to make this kind of supplemental Diplomacy-type play a standard feature of my role-playing, but I would definitely try something like this again one day.
For sessions 33–37, we took a break from Freebooters to play the new Usagi Yojimbo game by Sanguine, using the same setting as a backdrop but seeing (and mostly shaping) events through the eyes and roles of different characters. After that, we returned to the Freebooters characters, one of whom was rescued by the Usagi Yojimbo crew.
Events in the tabletop game and the domain game suggest that we are approaching the end of the run. There seems to be no limit to the political ambitions and intrigue the tabletop players may be willing to explore, but this campaign has answered most of the questions and resolved most of what we wanted to find out. This game was, after all, framed as a prequel to a previous Dungeon World campagin that spanned ~30 sessions.
Another thing is, we can’t count on the central players being able to schedule games together indefinitely, even if we wanted to spin up one adventure after another without any conclusion. I’d like to wrap it up in a satisfying way before we have to cut the game off due to inevitable life and schedule changes. If that leaves further mysteries to explore in another campaign, I’m okay with that!