Guest DM: Andrew One-Shot Pt 3
As always, listen to the ep here before you read this if spoilers are a concern. There will be one more post that has the bare bones adventure for you, if you want to run a group through. There’s a lot in it to play with.
So as we pull back from our adventurers….and the flaming keep, no one seems to have survived.
But as we hear the howl of an angry creature receding into the night one wonders whether or not another adventure party might fall prey to the thing from beneath the earth….
So…… that happened.
It’s funny, because this series was supposed to be dark, and then Erik Cheski suggested a few things and it took on a lighter tone in general concept.
At its heart, though, it was always going to be dark. You don’t adapt a movie about an alien shapechanger and paranoia without it getting dark (or at least I don’t). I suppose you could have made this a comedy - and certainly we had some of the usual yucks - but ultimately when everything started popping off at the end of the second episode, the train was on its tracks and running towards the destroyed bridge.
There was a lot of flailing about after Mac’s turn - including by me, the guy who forgot Cuprum had so little strength that she did no damage on an unarmed strike.
One other thing I didn’t mention before was how detailed - or not - my planning is for an adventure.
In the old AD&D/2Ed days I was meticulous. I would draw a map on graph paper, write down everything in just about every room and know what the end point was.
Most people, including me, don’t dungeon crawl like that anymore. Certainly not with this group. So these days my tendency is to write a lot less and outline a lot more.
In this case I knew what was in most of the rooms around the Keep, especially the ones with key info in them. There were no monsters running around outside of the Things and they were focused on stealth and infection - combat wasn’t happening, so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of stats. Unlike my Middle Schooler games, none of the gang on W&L are super treasure happy, though Rule’s “money interest” is a running joke. Evon isn’t that gold hungry though.
I really didn’t even plan out the details around the basement/subterranean area, as I was never sure they would get there.
In my opinion, given how DnD has become far more narrative than dungeon crawly, less is more. Know what is where, know where the important treasure, info or creatures are and know where the borders of the adventure is in case you need to move the players on track.
By and large though, I think it behooves you to not be too tied to too many things because as we discussed last time, the players are going to muck it up anyway, which is half the fun.
DnD 5e has let me know that I love improv a lot more than I ever thought I did. Frankly, it would be true of any RPG setting now. For example, in the holiday one-shot (Tiny Dungeon) and the Sci Fi one we did a while back - the systems, while important mechanical things, weren’t the point. The story was.
A friend of mine in Los Angeles used to run various games for us on occasion (this was easily 15 years ago) - never DnD, always some system I didn’t know of. His style was narrative and, having been a DnD guy, it was odd and uncomfortable and took me a long time to get used to it.
I now realize how awesome it was and in some ways, how ahead of its time.
See...what happened was…..
I spent most of the last episode winding the party up - now it’s time to just let them go.
Let’s rip the bandaid off and recap who is a Thing:
That’s basically an even split, and in fact with Kid out there, slants in the party’s favor. Unfortunately for the party, pretty much any cut on an unarmed strike is going to infect them.
Yup, there’s no way around it. You get clawed, bit, spit on, sneezed on - hell if you get breathed on - you are infected. It’s just a matter of whether it is quick or slow based on a Constitution saving throw roll.
That was the mechanic, by the way. If you get bit or otherwise are exposed to the pathogen (FANCY WORDS YALL), you roll a CON save and if you fail you are instantaneously infected and if you pass you are infected more slowly.
Basically, if one of the cast got a message from me asking you to roll CON, and then a follow up message that was, essentially “Hey you are infected with an alien virus which is going to turn you into a murderous shape changing plant monster CONGRATS, go infect people” with a brief explanation of that, well, you failed your roll.
If ten, fifteen, twenty minutes went by and THEN you got it, well, you passed your CON, congrats you are still hosed.
I sort of handled it a bit differently depending on the narrative at the time and the character. I let Gray and Rule do whatever and move at his own pace. I knocked Virgil and Zhula unconscious. Conri got a slow infection and jumped into a flaming pit after tossing Zhula in too.
There was a method to it, but I don’t know that it seemed that way to anyone but me.
Anyway, yes this was always going sideways and ending badly. In some ways, rigging the game like that is unfair, I will definitely admit that.
And look at the baddies Cheski created.
These guys are dicks.
Again though, I was hamstrung by the time constraints, so the Things they fight aren’t really these Things.
For the most part, we used the normal character stats (which we touch on in the episode), with a few exceptions. Hence Cuprum not being strong enough to do damage, while the melee attack of the Little Thing would have done a 2d6 + 5.
When I post the actual adventure you’ll see that, especially in the lab and the warehouse, there are clues which would give a party an edge towards survival. Some things - like Quincy running off - wouldn’t happen in your party, and I would imagine if I were running this for fun, not entertainment, I wouldn’t have any Chaos Agents or inside men.
Which means a really slow burn, more time to find stuff and a chance to develop a way to discover the Things among you, as well as destroy them.
Plotwise, there really wasn’t much I was trying to do, save perhaps throw everything at the party and probably achieve TPK (Total Party Kill).
I had originally thought I could give myself an out on that, but honestly, I was kidding myself. This was always going to end badly.
As we launched into this fight, my plan at the end was to have one or two party members unconscious but not definitively dead. Then I would have had in my back pocket a character knocked unconscious, waking up post fight with no clear idea what happened and not knowing they were infected and wandering into the snow in a true bleak 1970s cinematic “to be continued…..?” and Zhula/Evon was the choice after she went down.
Then Conri/Cheski started throwing bodies into the flaming pit and well, that was that.
In retrospect, that’s a good reminder to always communicate with your players. Yes, most of the time you aren’t actively working with a player to sabotage the party, but occasionally, players have side stuff going on for their characters which they may not share with the group. As GM, if you know this, it behooves you to make sure you are on the same page and setting any borders which are appropriate to what you are doing.
I’m not mad at Cheski at all - it was a spot on character moment - I just had an expectation I didn’t share with him or Sophia.
Having Sophia as my Chaos Agent was something I almost didn’t do and I would have been an idiot. I think any of the cast could have done it, but when I first conceived of the idea, I thought of her.
I second guessed myself because I love playing with Sophia (we met and play in the same local Sunday game Cheski runs at a local comic shop, shout out East Side Mags in Montclair NJ) and so she is my go-to-gal for DnD stuff. So I thought I might be missing something by going with her, but Cheski immediately echoed her and after we talked through everyone on the cast, we just went with our gut.
I don’t think I could have made a bad decision here, to be honest. Nobody would have expected Evon to be a devious plant (pun….intended?), Jo is really good at hiding what’s really going on with her characters (though very up front when Zhula hits her breaking point with annoyance) and Serviss relishes stirring shit up. All of them would have brought something great to the table, as proven by the greatness they bring to the table every episode, and the fantastic work they did with each other’s characters during this intermission.
As it stands, I thought Sophia did a really nice job with infecting people and just lowkey stirring shit with Rule. I think there were a few moments where she was pretty clearly up to something, but I don’t think it ever tracked for anyone.
Again, trading characters provided cover for a LOT of nonsense.
Also, bringing Gray/Serviss down was a major pain in the ass. He just wouldn’t die and took a fireball to the face and shrugged it off. That’s my character and for some reason I didn’t realize what it would take to kill him. I suppose I could have just let him go and let it be that kinda bleak. Why did I resist that? I actually have no idea, and writing this (and listening to the episode) In retrospect, I could have had Gray wander into the snow and disappear, freezing until spring thaw and that would have achieved something like what I wanted with Zhula. Ah well, sometimes hindsight is 20-20 right?
I mean, if we were going bleak…..
Anyway, it would have been fun to have an open-ended “what if” finish to the show, but there’s a little of that anyway.
There were possibly a few things which don’t add up, and may have stood out to you in this episode:
Brimley - Cheski and I both imply that the Warlock has been infected and yet he shows up in the end to blast Gray with fireballs. Well, that was one part “me not keeping it all quite straight” and one part “I am not letting Gray leave.”
So the result is: Brimley was infected, then he wasn’t because my brain said “No let Gray go bye bye” and I needed a Warlock Ex Machina. For those not reading this, it probably is just one of those things where they realize we didn’t know everything because we didn’t SEE anything.
And also, consider that Brimley could have been infected but made his saving throw, and therefore had a slow burn infection.
Whispers - This is another on the fly retcon, kind of. Rule/Sophia spends half an hour breathing into Whispers’ face so naturally they HAD to be infected, right? That was the intention, but when shifting numbers around, I realized with Brimley, Cuprum and Whispers all infected, our group was completely hosed. Again, here’s a character who could have been infected but made their saving throw.
Ultimately, I wanted some confusion with these characters - I went back and forth as to whether Cuprum or Whispers would be infected, and went with Cuprum, which also served to remove the heal-bot from the equation.
Kid - I don’t think Kid’s actions are hard to explain, though where he went is a mystery (and maybe worthy of a short story, I don’t know). Serviss did point out that he showed up and got to act out of initiative (more than once) but to be fair, I was just going with the “rule of cool” at that point and letting the narrative happen. I kept a loose initiative order but as you could tell, it was very loose. Like so loose it was untied.
Kid was my Ace in the Hole and I always had plans for him to launch himself and a bottle of something into the Large Thing once I realized the final battle would be in the courtyard. He was never infected and never going to be infected. He had +5 plot armor.
By the way, if you are wondering who each NPC represents for characters in John Carpenter’s The Thing:
Mack - RJ Macready (the helicopter pilot, played by Kurt Russell who may or may not survive the end of the movie)
Cuprum - Doc Copper (Cuprum is Latin for Copper)
Kid - Childs (the only other potential survivor in the movie, played by the amazing Keith David)
Whispers - Windows (the radio operator, so bard seemed to fit)
Brimley - Blair (the Biologist, played by the Quaker Oats/Diabetes guy, Wilford Brimley)
Garrald/Garry - Gary (Commander of the Artic Research station and somewhat incompetent)
Another thing I want to touch on when it comes to the episode is sound editing. If you’ve ever edited anything, you know you can get stuck in the weeds, noodling all day and never finishing. I will admit that, on top of Audacity issues (the last two eps were largely done in Adobe Audition), some late arriving sound files and life being utter chaos while I was editing, noodling until everything was just right slowed this way down.
And yet I still screwed up the initial cut of Ep 2.
I think this finale hits everything perfectly, and the sound editing is pretty good. A few too many clicks of mice, and we need to (as a show) be better about not rolling or rattling dice while we talk because it is impossible to edit out.
I kept the wind howling the whole show because I thought it would help be immersive. I wish I'd had the time to add in more sound effects and I feel like I need to do a better job of noting during episodes what might need it and continuing to build my SFX library.
Overall, I think the wind works, the other small SFX work and while I didn’t quite find a creature sound I loved (the drop from the movie of the Thing howling has too much soundtrack on it and I am not a good enough audio engineer to pull it apart), overall it sounds good I think and the last episode sounds the best.
One last thing, and arguably this is the most important - I don’t think I did a great job installing safety tools.
We’ve been playing together for a year, and I know everyone pretty well, so I made the assumption they would let me know if anything didn’t work for them.
However, we didn’t really talk about it, especially in terms of potential outcomes and that is shaky ground to be on as a GM/DM in my opinion.
Especially for something like this, and in particular as we entered the end game and bodies were going to drop.
That’s on me, and it worked out fine, but live and learn. I’m getting more and more “professional” Games Master opportunities, and I have to be on top of that, no excuses.
So that’s it for now. I will post the actual adventure (maps, Thing stats like above, NPCs, Room description) sometime next week, and I might have some reaction from the cast beyond what you hear after the finale.
I hope this has been enjoyable and helpful to read, and if you’d like more of this, let us know.
Guest DM: Andrew One-Shot Pt 2
When last we left our intrepid band and DM, they were in the cold, Virgil was talking (what, how shocking) and something odd was going on in the keep.
Today we will take a look at some of the second episode, what I was planning and how it…. Didn’t go as planned.
Mike Tyson once said “"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Never have truer words been spoken and much like “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” or “plans are worthless but planning is everything” it speaks to any number of things in life, not the least of which is being a games master.
Sidenote: I don’t LOVE the second quote as it pertains to RPGs because players are not the enemy. You aren’t competing with them, you are telling a story with them.
It still applies, just perhaps altered as “no plan survives first contact with the Chaos Muppets” instead.
Lots of DM/GMs think they are the Joker in the scene above this paragraph - just winging it and throwing bombs at their players - but in reality, Heath Ledger’s Joker was a massive planner but what was always key with The Dark Knight’s portrayal of the Joker was how no matter what happened, he was ready.
That’s because what he, and Tyson and anyone else who quotes one of the above phrases is really talking about is flexibility.
So when I say that 99% of the second episode (and third, to be honest) didn’t survive contact with the cast, I am not kidding.
So let’s talk about the plan…. And how it got lit on fire.
As always I say listen to the second episode before you go further, especially today as I begin to spoil some things.
So by the end of the episode, it is revealed that at least one NPC is not what they appear.
Spoiler: Lots of individuals are.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because my concept was adapting John Carpenter’s The Thing for a DnD game. If you are paying attention, some of the NPC names echo that and I’ll break that down in the last installment of this series..
What I really love about that movie, even if some of the SFX has aged badly, is how tense it is. By the time we hit maybe the midpoint of the film, nobody knows who to trust. Everyone knows the creature they are “fighting” - in quotes because it’s not much of a fight - can replicate anyone. Ergo, anyone can be the Thing and not even know it.
I wanted some of that feeling in the game.
So some of the second episode is set up, with characters moving into positions where they can be infected and creating some doubt.
Problem is, that’s a slow burn and I have maybe three hours to do it.
So I make Garrald/Garry a bit paranoid and pompous. I make Mack competent but a bit blind. I give Whispers a little cold. Or is it a cold? Cuprum disappears. Brimley feels sick. I try to up some of the confusion by having Mack and Kid argue constantly.
From the moment I first came up with this, I was absolutely sure of something else: I needed an accomplice. And if possible more than one.
The obvious first choice was Cheski, which was a little TOO obvious. So there had to be someone else in addition to him. Having Cheski as a player with two characters - Conri and Quincy - helped muddy that water but I needed someone else.
I won ‘t reveal who until part three of this, but suffice to say they did an excellent job. Cheski had his role as well, and it’s likely clear what it was, but both the second “Chaos Agent” as I called them and Erik’s role will be things we talk about when the third ep hits shortly.
So - I have my “Chaos Agents” and now it’s just a matter of sowing some discord and, if possible, infecting people, both PCs and NPCs.
The first two episodes were recorded on the same night, so in terms of outlining my setup, I could only do so much but I wanted:
Quincy running around to draw people away
Folx of both parties to explore the keep
Discovery of the keep history and log books with background
Keep everyone suspicious
If the Thing is revealed, have them figure a way to counter it (in the movie, via a blood test and fire)
Continue to have a Blizzard
Only the last one went as planned, which is because it was the only thing I really controlled.
Cheski and I figured out a general ratio I wanted to hit where the Things would reveal themselves. We were looking at around a 2:1 creature to humanoid ratio before that happened, anything more and there wouldn’t be anyone to root for.
Anything less and it would be too easy. Kind of.
One last thing, which I don’t recall if I said last time: I was not opposed to a party wipe. In fact, given the adaptation I was doing and the adventure being a bottle episode sort of, it leaned that way. I wasn’t opposed to a death, multiple deaths or no deaths.
The opportunities afforded by the “alternate reality” thing are wide ranging though, which was one reason I really went with Cheski’s idea.
The biggest speed bump I ran into was honestly the time. We aimed for two episodes, but from jump I was pretty sure three would be the magic number. Episodes two and three were both a tad longer than 60 minutes, which is what we are aiming for nowadays on the show, but things like the ads and my intro and outro lengthened them anyway.
I also spent a lot of time on FX and eliminating clicks, which is easier to do in Audition, but time consuming.
Quincy wandered about but, especially in the first episode, it took too long to catch up to him. Once Cheski hooked him back up with the party, lots of things happened, including Cuprum’s disappearance, which is where we start the episode.
The first version of the episode, well, I flat out cut something I shouldn’t have. So if you have time, go back and listen to the first 20 minutes, as it explains Cupbrum and a lot more.
I think the distrust by our gang of the other group worked well, even if I hit the same notes a few times.
Unfortunately because of the group, and because Cheski/Sophia were off looking for Quincy and then Cupbram/Jo were in the library that first episode, we never really explored the keep until late into the second episode.
There is a lot of lore that was laid out there that they weren’t seeing, but it was critical stuff.
So I had to move things around a bit - not too much as they did find the things I left in the office to the northeast and the library. But there are a few things they never saw - there were rock/eggs/things in a room in the northwest corner and a bunch of stuff (besides dead bodies) in the room Zhula, Gray and Conri opened, as well as a hatch to an underground chamber and lair. Also, the marks on the inside of the door would have helped tell the tale of that room - how some of the occupants of the Keep had barricaded themselves in to survive, but how they discovered - much like the group by the end of the episode - that their own number contained danger.
Ditto with the (un)stable, as Cheski dubbed it, in the middle of the courtyard. That had a small grate which covered a tunnel to the lair of…… something.
The second floor also got no real love, where the lab for the Duke was located, as well as the main chambers of he and his wife, several adjoining bedrooms and a few other rooms. Most of them weren’t all that critical, but the lab and bedroom had stuff in it I had to move and there were a few things which would have led to ways to defeat the Big Bad or explain more about it.
In a longer adventure, I would have leaned into the paranoia and drawn everything out a lot more. If you’ve seen The Thing, you know they go through a whole effort to come up with a test to figure out who is infected and who is still themselves.
Of course, in a three hour game, unless I was going to jettison most if not all of the NPCs, we weren’t going to have much time to do, say, research.
It’s funny because in making a two-story Keep I thought I was being super-clever. Limited rooms, no monsters to fight until the end - how could things go off-track?
Which is the wonderful and also frustrating part of running any game.
By the way, SPOILERS but at some point Gray/Serviss is infected. The best part about this is Serviss was playing Gray sort of batty to begin with, so I don't think really anyone thought much of the various things he was doing. And when he started acting MORE suspicious, I think people still didn’t pick up on it, or if they did it provided cover for my other Chaos Agent and Cheski - who by the way, did an exception job of serving two masters by running more than one character, both of whom had, for all intents and purposes, completely opposed aims.
This is a great reminder of how you should never hold too tight to an idea. Be open to the players. Trust them. I trusted Serviss and was rewarded with a great performance which did what I needed it to. Better than what I intended, in fact.
Listen, it isn't always easy to do it, but it's well worth it.
It is also worth noting, this episode is a mashup of part of the second recording and part of the third.
Last entry, I mentioned that I really didn’t pay enough attention to how I decided to stop recording, so the first recording was short, and the second recording ended up being able to be split into two audio files, and combined with the third.
So if I’m being honest, from a pacing standpoint, it could have been better. I think it plays well, from a show standpoint, but I could have done a lot better job in watching the clock and moving things forward according to plan.
By the same token, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Unlike getting punched by Mike Tyson though, the players doing it is more fun or can be if you are open to rolling with it.
I like to think I rolled with it.
The part, for me, when everything started to coalesce was when Quincy, Garrald and Mack came running into the courtyard, with Garry and Mack telling much different stories.
There’s a lot to unwrap there - we will do some of that in the next post (he said for the fiftieth time in the current post) and some of it won’t line up - which is what happens when you aren’t scripting an episode, of course.
Serviss took the opportunity to amp up Gray’s general aggressiveness, and maneuver into position to cause trouble in the next episode. At times in the second and third episodes I felt like maybe Serviss was a little too over the top and heavy handed but it worked - and also distracted the rest of the party from some nonsense I was setting up.
Often, when shit goes sideways and spins out of the GM’s control, it ends up better and ultimately I think that’s the case with Serviss/Gray. Also, Jo played Virgil to a “T” as she played peacemaker (or tried) between Garrald and everyone.
Bonus props to Evon who tapped the “Wisdom of the Tribe” - the headbands we got back in Serviss’ one shot which is a reason why Cheski wants nothing to bleed into the main quest from the one-shots. I’ll be honest - I was leaning towards fudging the die roll to let them have those anyway.
Both that AND Virgil/Jo reading thoughts opened up a lot of possibilities. Unfortunately, Evon didn’t specifically talk directly to any of the infected in the group, and Jo thought about reading Mack’s mind, then shifted to Garrald.
Man, would reading Mack have been interesting. Frankly, as she was first talking about reading Mack, my mind was racing with how to approach it. Mack, as a Thing, would have possessed an alien mind. Sure outwardly, he looks like Mack. But internally, psychically, he’s a creature unlike any Virgil has encountered, a Lovecraftian Deep Creature whose mind would have potentially hurt Virgil.
Unfortunately we will never know how it would have played out, as Jo second-guessed herself - with good reason - and read Garrald. Still, Evon’s call to use the Wisdom of the Tribe was brilliant anyway, as was his decision to medicine check Mack, who was looking too perfect.
All the pieces seemed to be coming together, so of course, I lit the fuse for the grand finale which will be in episode 3.
And of course we end this episode with the reveal that Mack is a Thing, and him grabbing Garry by the throat, with Mack’s hand merging with Garry’s neck and face - a direct steal from the Carpenter movie, though it was Blair (our Brimley as in Wilford Brimley who played Blair) in the movie.
Overall I think the episode flows well, though there are a few things I wish had gone different - things like the exploration of the Keep, some consistency with the NPC party that I didn’t pull off, and I wish I had done more to ratchet the tension up prior to Garrald/Mack’s showdown. I wish I had bare bonesed the adventure a little more as well, but the problem is if you make the sandbox too limited, you stymie the players.
Honestly, the last thing I really want to do is stymie THIS group. Best thing to do, in my mind, is wind Sophia, Cheski, Jo, Evon and Serviss up and unleash them on the world I created. That’s where some of the best stuff comes in.
Final ep is (finally) going up Monday, Memorial Day, and I’ll have the last entry of this in a day or so at the latest.
I will try to find a way to host some maps, or barring that, some images of the Keep as well as the stats on the Things (Little Thing and Thing which Cheski created).
As always, thanks for reading and listening.
Guest DM: Andrew One-Shot
Hey folks, Andrew here.
You get a lot of Cheski talking about world building and such, but I thought you guys might enjoy a look behind the curtain on the recent one-shot we recorded, which I ran. How I conceived of it, how I put it together, and the speed bumps I ran into.
Some of that stuff will come in following posts as they contain things which have not been revealed yet.
But basically, I thought we’d take a look at the first episode - “Mirror, Mirrored” - and examine the basic structure of the adventure as it stands, how I got there and, for you podcasters, some issues I ran into recording.
Before anything else, I want to thank Cheski and Sophia for helping me put the adventure together. Erik was especially helpful and was instrumental in moving my rough idea into something playable.
I’ll talk more about them both in subsequent posts as well.
Also, the title Mirror, Mirrored is a play on the original Star Trek Episode “Mirror, Mirror” since we are in a slightly alternate universe, as well as a spell created by Scott Kurtz. He’s the guy who writes and draws the webcomics PvP and Table Titans, the latter of which is DnD-centric. In TT, one of the storylines is in a setting called The Fallen Veil. I won’t spend too much time on the details, but it’s a comic I love and I urge you to read it.
The important point insofar as the title is that magic for certain beings isn’t achievable save by the use of runes, and one of the characters in the stories is a rune-wielder, who has a spell called Mirror, Mirror which creates mirror images of the caster to confuse the enemy.
That idea may or may not play into my one-shot.
How we began
The actual full concept and its origin will have to wait for an episode or two when the larger story is actually revealed.
Broadly I wanted to do something with a little mystery and maybe some scary tension.
When I approached Cheski for my adventure, one of the issues I was grappling with was how I could combine it with the world he had built without it being completely tied in. For example, Serviss’ one-shot adventure had the group dream (or did they?) the story. It worked well, but we couldn’t repeat that.
So Erik had the idea to place my story in an alternate reality - a Kan'Herasa just a bit askew and different then the one he set the regular campaign in.
His idea was a little bit self-serving, as not having this adventure impact the real quest makes his life easier which — well, we cast members tend to do the exact opposite of that, so I can’t blame him. I thought it was brilliant, as it opened up a lot of avenues for me. After all, if there isn’t any impact on the main story, I can do pretty much any type of tale I want with any sort of outcome.
Then, one of us came up with the idea of letting people play characters other than their own. Part of it stemmed from freeing me up from playing Gray while running the game - or having him conveniently unconscious like we did with Virgil and the Gremlins. But it also let us have some fun with each other’s characters.
Serviss was all over being Gray and Jo was excited to be Virgil. Sophia was more than happy to try her hand as Rule the rogue and Cheski got to take control of Conri and fan favorite Quincy.
The results were spectacular, as you can tell by listening.
Then I got the brilliant (arguable) idea to run the episodes a little like an old timey radio show.
I love “The Shadow” radio plays and I confess to having wanted to do a radio play for a long time because I am a massive nerd.
That was a great idea in theory, but we will talk in a moment about why that also caused me some headache.
Also I got the super awesome idea of commercials for in-campaign products and events, especially touching on in-jokes we’d made during the first season. The cast used those commercial breaks to surprise me with birthday wishes, which was a pleasant surprise.
We’d done one for everyone else in the first year of the show, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was and it was a nice one.
Episode 1 breakdown
There are two elements I’ll focus on today. One is more general, in terms of making the adventure and running it, while the other is the podcast aspect of it.
Obviously, that second element won’t apply to the majority of anyone who reads this, so I won’t belabor that section, but I do think it’s useful (and maybe interesting) to cover it.
In terms of actually making the module, I wanted to keep the terrain simple. I didn’t want a massive, sprawling dungeon where if the players were too slow to get to Point A, then Plot Point B won’t happen.
It’s not like I mind adjusting on the fly - gods, I run two games with middle schoolers so I’m pretty comfortable with things going awry - but it’s harder to do when you have a time limit as we do on a recording.
An open ended game is one thing, but this is a one-shot, we don’t want it to go on forever.
So either I really set it on rails and force the characters to do what I want or I limit where they can go.
I’d much rather avoid the former, so I went with the latter. I built a pretty simple Keep, two floors and a courtyard with a few other things which ended up not being used because we just never got there.
Yup — even with only 16 rooms and a courtyard, we didn’t get everywhere I created, not even close. That’s fine - in fact that’s more than fine given the other way it could have gone is wandering a maze for an hour and never getting anywhere.
I’ll explore the map of the Keep in the next post, when we’ve seen more of it.
I kept the Keep pretty banged up - lots of holes in the outer walls, lots of snow drifting in, just really beat up. That gave me plenty of opportunities to spread around clues and such about what is going on.
Then I needed NPCs. Cheski and I went back and forth a little on how many, but we settled on six and I tried to balance the party a bit, while also addressing some needs I had for story and easter eggs (there are easter eggs in these eps kids).
All the while I honed the actual story and figured out where and when various plot points and key moments should happen.
When we actually played the game, we were a tad slow moving the main story forward, or at least it appears that way. In reality, there’s a lot going on which neither the listener nor the characters know, but will pay off the rest of the way so I’m ok with it.
Recording was….. Not easy at least at first.
If you’ve ever recorded anything which was canned - which is to say not live but recorded and edited later - you know it can be difficult to nail down what you want and easy to get caught up in retaking the same moment over and over to get it “just right.”
I’m really bad about that. For me, shooting a one minute video can take three or four takes, almost all of which will not be needed. So we started to record, and it’s just not feeling right. I’m stumbling over words, forgetting people’s NAMES (not characters, my cast members, for the love of Thor), and it just feels like a mess and I got more and more frustrated.
Further complicating things (because I am me) is that I was performing, not playing. Not starting an RPG session, but acting. For an Actual Play you do both, but it is very easy to lean too far one way or the other and I was pressuring myself a ton to “nail it” on the intro. I would later remember that “hey dumbass, this is recorded, you can redo it any time” but in the moment, I was a mess.
Luckily the cast is awesome and supportive and prevented a nuclear meltdown.
Once I got past that, I still was trying to run the game like a play or a TV show and not enough playing, at least for the first segment or so. Eventually, I relaxed and I think you can hear it when I just start playing and having fun. The cast nailed the voices, and they were hysterical. We had a lot of fun, and I think that comes across, which was the point.
Honestly, if you ever decide to record something like this, remember, this is a game. It can be heavily produced, even scripted but it’s supposed to be a game and be fun. Sophia pointed that out to me during take 475 of the intro and while it took a few minutes to soak through my thick skull, I got there. Eventually.
Editing took forever in part because my life was chaotic while I was doing it, but also because I was having Audacity issues and this episode run is my baby, so I was trying to get everything perfect. I like the wind FX, so it paid off to have “holes” in the walls of the Keep. There weren't a ton of opportunities for more FX in this episode, but there’s more to work within the other eps.
Sophia had done some music a while back and I try to slip it in episodes because I love it, and in this case, the creepy synth feel to the intro and outro music I used hopefully conveys tension and creepiness.
All in all, it was a fun first episode and now that the kinks are worked out, next episode (launching Saturday one hopes) will be smoother.
We’ll talk more about some of the other adventure building stuff as it is revealed and I can avoid spoilers and by the last of these columns, you’ll get a full look at the map and the stats on…..what awaits everyone just down the road.
A History of Kan'Herasa
Once, Kan'Pan, whose name was just Pan, was alone. The whole of the multiverse was its realm, its body, its self. It yearned for something but could not comprehend what.
Pan reached into itself and stared at the things that floated inside. Its consciousness settled on a globe of dust, and loneliness of Pan created the world of Herasa, and from that time Pan decided that they would be linked to this world, and shared a name with it: Kan, for Pan it meant sibling. Thus was Kan'Pan, and Kan'Herasa born.
The world was fallow at first, dry and empty. Kan'Pan frolicked and played with the lands, adding water, and filling it with the breath of life. This was the life of beasts and plants, creatures that had no knowledge of the world outside that eating was good, and being eaten was bad. Kan'Pan did not knowingly set these things into motion, it simply allowed creation to flourish. At times the creation pleased it, and Kan'Pan was content. Other times it would displease and Kan'Pan would rage and weep. These times were tumultuous and from them were birthed the mountains, the seas, and all the features of Kan'Herasa. The great creatures found their stride in these times, those that outwitted and survived the heaving throes of the world. In this time came the Dragons.
The first people to gain sentience and culture upon Kan'Herasa were the clever reptillians, imbued with the early magic of the world, taking succor and sustenance from those around them that could not survive the wracking of the world. Blessed with the energy of creation itself they could cast it from themselves in great gouts of energy from their terrible maws. They survived a world that tried to annihilate them at every turn, and their attitudes were shaped by their predicament, and their survival. After an Age, the Dragons learned of Kan'Pan. Two dragons, Ghillenroth and Thomrina, disagreed over how to engage with the god and each decided to pursue the god in their own way.
Ghillenroth stormed into the skies, calling out to Kan'Pan, demanding that the god attend to their demands. Kan’ Pan watched this display, seeing the seething rage and the great pain that the creature buried within itself and wept at what it had caused its creations to suffer so.
Thomrina took another approach. Climbing to a high mountain where it had seen the god traverse, they settled in to await the deity. When Kan’Pan approached, Thomrina offered water, food, and rest. When Kan’Pan saw this creature peacefully request an intervention to the madness of the world, they knew that reason was a way to elevate from the base.
Neither Ghillenroth’s fury nor Thomrina’s appeal swayed Kan’Pan to action, but the differences in the approaches…that did give the being pause…perhaps there was too much to be felt by one being, too many experiences, too many impulses for it to constrain itself. Perhaps giving each facet of itself a chance to express itself instead of fighting amongst itelf…so Kan’Pan once more reached into itself and found the various motivations residing inside of it...and pulled.
This was the birth of the Gods.
Kan'do, Kan'stoh, Kan'tanile, Kan'anto, Kan'grush, Kan'krousch, Kan'fung, and Kan'tipti became themselves wholly in this moment, with all the memories of Kan'Pan up to that point. The different aspects balanced each other, easing the world's convulsions. The Dragons saw that this was good, and were content.
Ages passed, with Dragons ruling the world and the beasts flourishing under their rule. But Kan'Pan's curiosity and loneliness was now magnified eightfold, and the deities sought more life on Kan'Herasa. They pleaded with Kan'Pan...they wished to be worshipped, they wished to help create, they wanted creatures younger than themselves to watch and help and guide. They wished, which Kan'Pan knew only too well, so it listened to the parts of itself and they gathered to create more intelligent life.
They began in a forest, and from the bark and leaves they pulled an essence and so the Elves were born.
They began in the loamy earth, and from the soil and stone the Dwarves were born.
They visited the elemental planes, and from these they raised Elementals from their unaware lives to be blessed with consciousness.
They began in the hard rock of the mountains, and from the slate and granite the Giants were born.
The Dragons watched with various reactions as the world filled with these newer creatures. Some were furious, some delighted. All of them set to build progeny themselves, creating the lower Draconic races.
Other races were brought forth, as the Gods found niches where new creations would flourish. Creation was the only goal, without thought for support or the potential for clashes between these creatures. No single God could take ownership of any one people, as they could not create them on their own, the power of Kan'Pan being shared by them all.
In this world entered the youngest of the races, the Humans. None know how they came to be, and they lived short lives compared to most of the races of the world, but they moved with the speed of the knowledge of their mortality, building and destroying to ensure their tiny lives would be remembered. This caused strife and war amongst the races of the world, and then the unthinkable happened:
A Dragon was killed.
The humans were creative, they were profuse, and they were dedicated. They built weapons, from which all the weapons in the world were copied, and with these tools they set out to take from the other races what they wished. This was the birthing of WAR, and Kan'Grush was pleased. The world itself became embroiled with it and millions died within the conflagration. Finally the Humans were put to the point of near extinction, and at that point Kan'Pan, who had sat out while the other gods wove their traits through all the lives and deaths that they could, finally stepped in. Kan'Pan saved the fledgling race and set it to a penance that lasted an Age, the whole of humanity would serve as a reminder of the devastation of that early time.
Time passed, peoples rose to prominence and fell, but none so much as the Dragons. They grew smaller as the eons crept by, becoming lesser than their great selves from before through the winnowing of the world. They were not revered anymore, Humans had shown that they were not the godlike beings of myth, but creatures like themselves who could be brought low, though the cost was high.
Age passed into myth, myth passed into ignorance and the world spun on. At some point between then and the now, before the Library, there was a great battle that engulfed the whole of the world, and the very gods themselves fought amongst their creations, but none now live that remember that time. In it’s aftermath, the great city of Eitenpan was built upon the mouth of the newest river in the world, uniting the Elves with the Humans, earning the latter a place upon the continent of Kan’Toa once more, their long exile now over.
The civilizations of the past have left strange marks upon the land, and wondrous artifacts for those who'd seek them out, but the truths of what they are and who made them are lost to time.
So ends the creation of the world, and the beginning of the Common Time.
The Great Library
The Library in Kan'Herasa is an enormous and singular organization that spans the width and breadth of the continent of Kan’Toa, in the world of Kan’Herasa. The library’s decree is In Omni Scientia, or Knowledge for All. Its goal is to preserve the gained knowledge of all sentient beings, to gather that knowledge in one system and to have it freely available for all who seek information in peaceful pursuits. The Librarians, keepers of this great repository of Knowledge, are tasked with helping all who search for answers the most accurate facts and truth of matters. Many a time have Librarians been called to settle a dispute between warring neighbors, settling the facts of history dating back an age to see whose claim is the most legitimate, or to calculate the fairest price on goods and tariffs. The Library has existed since the dawn of recorded history, and is funded by all nations and peoples. There are several Orders of Librarians, each tasked to their own specialty, and there are ranks within each order, tied to mastery of subjects, which factor more prevalently to the peoples they serve than within the system itself.
In every settlement large enough to be called a village, there is a Branch of the Library. These branches are established as settlements grow, and are stocked by the Great Library with information that is deemed most useful for the area: local political treatises, information on common flora and fauna, almanacs for setting planting seasons, entertainments, educational materials for the training of youths, etc. Each Branch is staffed by a Librarian, typically of the rank of Archivist. An Archivist knows their branch inside and out, keeping meticulous records on the information in their care and updating the Great Library with new information and copies of books brought to the Branch by visitors.
The Library’s sole duty is to collect, categorize, and share information and knowledge. In this pursuit, they have developed an incredible system for updating their records with new materials and keeping that material as disseminated as possible. Every Branch contains a magical device called a TK that can copy the information from a page from one to another without ruining the hands of a transcriber, and do so faster than any hand could. This single piece of equipment allows a single Archivist to copy any and all scrolls, books, pamphlets and any other printed media and return the copy to the owner within mere hours, rather than the days and weeks that it took before this particular artifact had been created. When anyone visits a town, they should make their way to the Branch to show all of their printed works to the Archivist, allowing the Library to copy new information and add it to their great store. Some larger towns may even have subsidiary stations that you can visit right at the gates! Each copy is reproduced again, the first to be kept in the Branch and the latter to be sent on monthly Caravans to the Great Library in Eitenpan. When the owner of a book, parchement, etc. receives their original again it is marked with a magical rune, the Seal of the Library, proving that the information has already been collected and does not need to be seen by Branches. This Seal is broken if the book should be altered in any way, so alterations can be tracked and kept up to date.
Within such a large organization, there are many tasks to be undertaken, and thus the many Orders have been delineated that hold together the many facets of running a stable resource for all sentient beings.
First among equals, this order carries the Library’s mission most closely to its task. This branch concerns itself with keeping the millions of tomes, scrolls, clay tablets, and other media that keep the astounding breadth of the record of civilizations throughout the history of the library.
Liber Potens Verax
The pursuit of knowledge is one of peace, however there are those who would seek to control the knowledge of their deeds, or alter the histories to suit their purposes. This requires not only our vigilance, but our dedication to preventing the treasures of the mind being pillaged by those who would rather not use theirs.
An early tribe of Dwarves found the Durnsfoil, an herb that we still use today to ease cramped muscles and ward off heat stroke. This tribe shared the knowledge with the nascent Library, and shortly after every member of it was killed in a cave-in. Without sharing this knowledge it might have been lost forever. The Library’s store of medical knowledge is unparalleled, and most village heads come to a Branch to train and learn how to help their communities.
At times, some of the people on Kan’Toa have sought to sneak plans of debilitating attacks, disease, and other nefarious plots through the Library’s systems. This Order is charged with the discovery of such secrets, and ensuring that the world may stay transparent to all.
The study of the natural world and the beings that inhabit it fall within the realm of this Order. The classification of species, guides to wild beasts, the study of cultures and even the growth and study of fungi are all examples of how the Liber Creaturae serves Kan’Toa and the world.
Keystones, buttresses, castles and more, all are studied in depth by the members of this Order. Building techniques are shared and refined by the Librarians, and some have even begun designs on recommendations on how to lay out a village in the best manner for all.
Magistrates, councils, and liege lords can all be found studying with this Order, applying to the theory of good governance to the practice of the same, and giving those without that power a glimpse into their world so that they may understand the measures being taken for their benefit.
This Order studies the weaves and wefts of Magic throughout the world, discovering new spells, teaching new pupils, and making the wonders of the magical arts available to all responsible enough to wield them.
With everything else in the world under study, this Order has dedicated itself to things above us all, a record of the interactions of the Gods themselves, and the practices and ceremonies that are unique to each. Clerics and Paladins of all stripes are welcome to come and study here.