I ran the second game this Memorial Day Weekend. It was great, but it turned out a one-shot deal. Next time we get together will most likely be sometime in October. We played the game over the course of two day between watching reality TV, bouts of drinking, BBQ, and action movies.
My character generation and introduction are story-games. I think that someone has defined role-playing as consensus reality building, and this is what it turns out to be, a process, where DM and the player mediate and come turn with the setting, the player's desire and the die roll results.
Not only have the characters turned out to be amazing, but the older vets playing pushed the game way in the different direction. I thought that they would all want to be warriors, but behaved otherwise. The Alpha remained a warrior. I told everyone to come up with a basic character story that would fit in with the Alpha. Alpha rolled first and ended up with a STR 16 fighter, who had most scores over 12 and the lowest was 12. I told Alpha that his father was a full time house warrior and that his PC spent his life (short 17 years) practicing to be a warrior. Alpha immediately set up the group - Red is a best friend for life, they work out together, Wraith is the kid always getting into trouble (wink and a nod, a thief), Stephan is the kid whom Alpha defends from bullies (a bookish Magic User or a Cleric, anyone?), and the last player was the kid he practice archery with.
After much conversation, die rolling and picking of cards a la fortune telling, I ended up with four dynamite player characters. Leader if the pack was Solla Tere, baptized into Christianity as Exavier, known as SAVIOR, because he rescues people from bullies. This is a well-off fighter, son of a sergeant at arms, who believes himself to be a descendant of a legendary half-elf mercenary, a character in the fantasy novel that the player is writing, and indeed, THE SAVIOR is a striking 5'7" 200 lbs. strapping youth with natural platinum blond hair and steel-grey eyes, who can dance with girls, and is skilled with the long sword, long bow, dagger, and weapon and shield fighting style. He uses chain mail armor, like a typical man at arms and is skilled in Outdoors survival and Horseback Riding. It seemed to me, and thus became part of Midlands canon, that the parents (themselves of humble origins) spent their lives preparing THE SAVIOR to be a squire at the Baron's Court.
RED, Savior's best friend turned out to be of humble origins, a laborer's son. A tall and skinny youth with shaggy red hair, who decided to live by the sword and that he will never work in his life, and who sees violence as a means to that end. A dark character, but a straightforward fighter.
STEPHAN was a surprise. This was a natural 18(85) STR character with all other stats above average and a social standing slightly above Savior's. Now, how does someone like that get bullied? Answers came gradually from other rolls. There was a miniscule chance, but Stephan's father turned out to be a high-level adventurer. His random non-adventure skills were Gardner and Cook. I decided that Stephan was born out of wedlock to a local woman, sired by a fencing master from another and culturally different warrior house. The father never abandoned his son, but he set him up a good six-hour ride away from his own home. Stephan's father is well regarded as a go-to fencing instructor by the local men at arms and thus Stephan started getting trained by them as well as by his father, who trained him as a 2 Handed sword specialist and prepared him for Plate Mail Armor. When not practicing, Stephan helps his mom and grandma in the Garden and helps his grandfather, who is the Chief Cook at the local manor house. Stephan is another blond beast, also tall, who was bullied by others as a child, because he was different, also because he was shy, soft, and a fatherless bastard, according to some. Stephan grew up into a withdrawn squire, who writes poetry, practices martial arts, and lives Chivalric code and courtly graces.
WRAITH turned out another fighter, fascinated by demons (Midlands is essentially a frontier bordering on alien and demonic), and with a low charisma of 6. His random non-adventuring trade was animal husbandry. I was thinking, maybe, life-energy, Necromancer (a big deal in Midlands - Assassins, Slavers, and Necromancers), but the player was nice and not really a dark type. Then he picked Chaotic Neutral for his alignment and the die was cast. WRAITH was getting into trouble not because he was stealing or being a bad boy; he was getting into trouble, because of his abrasive personality and talking weird stuff. Here was a guy, his hands stained with the blood of farm animals and horses that he helped deliver, talking demons and obsessing about cleanliness! That was the source of his problems, and I made the character a Fighter/Self-Taught Magic User, an Abjurer (protective spells), practicing traditional White Magic. Player had no clue as to any of that, but I had him pick a protective spell and told him that he wants to advance any further as a Magic User, he will have to dedicate gamin, time, gp and effort in pursuit of that goal.
WOLF turned into another dark character. He had to be superior in Archery to Savior, and he rolled a natural 18 for DEX. He wanted to be an Archer specialist, so I made him into a Fighter/Thief. His background dovetailed naturally into Outdoorsiness - a Forester's son. Player picked short-sword and spear as his other weapons, and a bunch of outdoors skills. Other players assumed that WOLF is an outdoorsman and a fighter. WOLF is the only outsider in the group. he is 22, but he is passing himself as a 19 year old, to better fit in with the 17-19 other characters. Based on player's inclinaton and if the game went in that direction, I think that the player would have joined the Assassins Guild. Players have caught the hint, that there is more to wolf, but they aren't familiar with D&D concepts, and none of them, really cared.
Anyway, this older group rolled better and produced more colorful characters, that my regular group. Players too, pulled this game into an unexpected direction. I was going to run them through the Journey to the Rock Module. Sort of Outdoorsy, nice, but also D&D kitsch from 1984. I had to make it fit into Midlands. I decided to keep the corny names, such as the Krayzen Mountains and the Wizard named Arkayz, which sounds suspiciously like a 1980's chain of movie theaters. So, I decided that Out West in Midlands is a kingdom called MLODY AVOT, an anagram of Tom Moldvay, where all of the Basic D&D Elves and Dwarves and corny names and modules from 1980's are going to live. I wrote the City of Tuma into the setting and added a new nation to Midlands Campaign - a nation of Greckland (Old English for Greece) that sits south of 'Avot.
I wrote the module into the setting and further developed the different types of terrain that players will cross during the adventure, to make the outdoors adventure more vivid and to enable characters to explore off trail. I also created an end-of the line frontier large village cum town of Vilna.
Essentially it is a sprawling prosperous village that grew into a large town or a small city. I needed the place with all its interesting venues so that the players can recruit a Cleric and a Magic user for the adventure. They forgot about the Thief, but there were a couple of clandestine thieves as it were. The Patron of the adventure needed some fresh and unknown faces to recover the objective of the module, and so he contacted a wealthy merchant from a land a month's journey away by horseback. If the patron can resettle the City of Tuma, locked in a dimensional warp of sorts, he would be able to claim the region as an instant landed baron, the area will become a colony of Midlands and the Baron Of Blacklands will become the overlord of the area. To make that possible, he provided the merchant with the most promising future squires and men at arms that he could find - SAVIOR, RED, STEPHAN, WRAITH, and WOLF. He also made the merchant aware, that the merchant need not return should anything unfortunate befall the four.
The essence of the Midlands campaign is that it is a frontier region to an alien world. On this side of the world, the humanity is holding the alien tide back for the corrupt and oppressive Ancient Realms of Humanity. On the other side of the divide, in the areas being colonized by the human settlers, the humanity adapts to the alien world it finds itself in by becoming a part of it. To give the frontier its spirit, I developed a bunch of intricate and detailed tables to give any NPC encountered and willing to talk, a point of origin, from all over the fantasy world, and a motivation. There are adventuring NPCs who are explorers, raiders looking for easy gold, people on personal quests of enlightenment, philosophers, missionaries and others. They total less than 3% on the encounter table, but they are there. They define the frontier. Also, there are delusional people. An NPC might think themselves a Ranger, but only be a Fighter with outdoorsman's skills, or they may fancy themselves a warrior, but only be a 0 level Normal man with a sword skill.
The players went to town to look for a Cleric and a Magic User to join their party. They had one of the adventure patron's NPC's act as their guide. The day was running late, and they entered a place called Asseghai, a high-level adventurers' brothel (picked from a dozen or so other venues). Of course, it wasn't just high level; adventurers there, just as there are Magic Buffs hanging around the Magic Shops, there are rich merchants, landowners, noblemen and their retinues, spending their gold at the asseghai. Players spent 45 minutes real time checking out the patrons and dancing with the local girls, before taking them upstairs. SAVIOR spent time conversing with a randomly encountered 9th level monk, who was sitting at the bar dressed in foppish finery. It was an interesting role-playing encounter. First one player, then the others started scanning the imaginary dance floor looking for the type of girl that they like. Most found what they were looking for, role played the dance and the small talk before taking them upstairs.
Next day they went to the Magic shop, where there was a lively crowd of eight patrons. They waited for someone to break away from a crowd admiring a newly arrived magic ring on display. The first person that broke away was not a charlatan or a zero level magic buff, as I hoped. it was a lower level Journeyman Wizard at the Guild. In practical terms, this meant more than the average number of spells in his spell book. I rolled the dice, drew his cards, and decided that this was an ambitious wizard, who joined the party and charged them a really bizarre contract, written in such a way as to satisfy the Wizard Guild's pay scale and make it affordable for the (largely) penniless players to hire him. His real motivation was that he wanted to work with a great wizard (the adventure patron).
Things got interesting thereafter: Players told him that they were looking for a Cleric to join the adventure. QUINT, the Journeyman Wizard told them that je knew a Priest who might be able to help them. The players encountered a Cleric, who ministered to their needs and they let him join. I was thinking a 3rd level Cleric, however, the dice decided otherwise. What I got was a delusional catholic priest, someone, who might function well in our world, but without any spell-casting ability or Clerical abilities. Oh, he could minister to the needs of the players and adventurers, and he even has the healing and herbalist skills to stabilize the wounded and speed the recovery, he just can't cast a Cure Light Wounds Spell or turn the undead. It was a brilliant roll of dice to complicate the game for the players.
Players also spent some time at the Magic Shop finagling a Healing Potion without having any money to make the purchase. After some decent role-playing, they dropped the adventure patron's name, and got themselves three free Healing Potions in case the Cleric gets hurt and could not cast the healing spells. SAVIOR insisted om giving the merchant all of his money and stating that he will pay fully for the three potions once they come back with some treasure from the adventure.
Just as the real adventure was about to start, the players called it a night, and we went to sit in front of TV and watch Jack Reacher. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I don't force anyone to play. I did as much with the wilderness setting of the module as I did with the town. I described the forests and the rest of the terrain in terms of topography and geographic features to give the unique feel to the wilderness, and I will run the adventure with my regular group at some later point. The Magnificent Five too, will be featured prominently as NPC's in the upcoming gaming. The one thing I am working to explain, is how the regular group and the Five have never come across each other previously. The regular group consists of a Fighter with an epic Strength of 18(00), of noble blood, and the rest of the players are his friends of humbler origins and poorer means, middling first level characters, a power gamer's nightmare. The Five, by contrast, are the ambitious, talented, and popular group of future men at arms and squires. I suppose that the characters in my regular group always were aware of them, but paid them no attention.