Monday, August 29, 2011

Field Notes from the Google+ Nexus Point Under Jakalla

As we roll toward September, online Empire of the Petal Throne gaming seems to be still rocking the clan-house.

Potential players still outstrip game-master capacity, but new fronts are opening with new games. Victor Raymond has worked some revivification magic on his play-by-post game and his ever-useful thread on running Tekumel-by-careful degrees is still trucking along with new entries too. There's even a brand spanking new blog, Skein of Destiny, vying to become a Tekumel news clearinghouse.

The deep well entrance into my section of the Underworld
 being around that first "a".
Getting back to the expanding capacity, thanks to Jeremy Duncan of Dandy in the Underworld, who some of you may remember as one of the winners of the maritime contest here, I finally got a chance to kick my feet up and actually play the game.

Despite nagging technical difficulties, the game didn't disappoint. (I will be doing a post on some of my on-the-job observations about how to run both smoother, more effective Google+ sessions and “entry-level” EPT later this week, but interested readers should familiarize themselves with Constancon--under which Kaing standard we march--organizer Zak's weekly-updated list of tips and suggestions here. )

I will spare you most of the blow-by-blow, but one of the interesting development is that our Google EPT parties are now officially in an open, shared world where the uncouth barbarian PCs wander in out and of adventures in our mutual pieces of Jakalla (in this case Jeremy has taken up shop with a creepy manse-fortress on a nearby island).

As I have written before  this a style of playing I have been really hungry to keep experimenting with.

It's not without its headaches though. Zak S's all-thumbs, official-party-speaker-to-the-dead sorcerer and Matthew Miller's one-climb-too-many priest of Thumis both had managed to mosey their way out of the underworld campsite back to that vermin-teeming flophouse, the Tower of the Red Dome, and into our party with a wave of the hand.

Some serious congruity questions were posed and then realized in the course of the game, such as what happens when a character who should be uneasily asleep outside a mysterious incinerator in my game (and thus “on pause”) gets killed in the other session? Are the characters from the last adventure carrying the swag they found in the depths? Are they in an alternate Tree of Life timeline?

Part of me, the KISS part, just shrugs. A little incongruity and handwaving has never particularly upset me--my home campaign's games have been drop-in/out to accommodate busy lives for going on three years now. But with Matt's character living up to that adjective above and plummeting post-death-ray to his death from the manse wall, that's a hole too many not to address. Did he just go poof from that cold underworld floor or did he travel on to the Isles of Paradise during his “breaktime”?

If we add more refs running linked EPT games—and I hope we do—then we will have to develop at least a few hard and fast rules governing this.

Any suggestions from you fine folks about what you would do if you? Mostly I am inclined to simple fixes such as “it happens in sequential real-life order and between each session the party travels back to 'town' kinds of solutions”, but perhaps there is a better way that I am not seeing.


  1. So far the timeline can just go: we go to your dungeon, and do ok and survive.

    During that adventure, Matt;s character just hits his head on a rock or something and is out of the dungeon midway but alive.

    Then, a few weeks later, we go to Jeremy's dungeon, and Matt actually dies.
    Since real-life scheduling issues shouldn't (I don't think) restrict when FLAILSNAILS PCs get to play, (after all--the point is more fun, not less) it is always going to be possible to be in the middle of more than one dungeon at a time. And always possible to die in one of them. So it's hard to thing of any other solution than: run it til someone dies then figure out the rest.

    I mean, that's how Savage Sword of Conan worked--you can only figure out the timeline by going "ok, well Igor the Claw is dead in this issue, so that one must be before that one..."

    If, for instance, my PC were to die in your dungeon, the timelines would be hopelessly snarled and we have to just pull some Dr Who shit. Guess I'll have to stay alive for the sake of the spacetime continuum.

  2. You could always rely on Gary's method of "one week real time = one week game time" and require everybody to get out of the dungeon before the session ends. That's normally what I do.

    I must say that I'm super excited about the idea that there is now a shared universe old school campaign on G+. That is the definition of awesome.

  3. I gotta jump in to EPT at some point - have always wanted to play it and ne'er seen a copy of it... but re: actual substance of your post - I imagine there's going to be a lot of hand waving when it comes to time & continuity issues. For example the players in my Stormbringer game decided to 'pause' the game where we left off - so if I ran a different group through it tonight, would they stumble upon the wraith-like unresponsive shades of these characters? I dunno. Also some were pregens that I made - how about the circumstance of someone entirely different in a different group playing one of those characters? We'll see - it's more 'academic' questions than real life concerns. Anyway - I have the luxury of using the potentially warped-up timespace of Moorcock's milieu - plenty of incidences in the stories of characters meeting different incarnations of themselves and such things... guess I'm lucky!

  4. @Zak
    I kept praying that if someone died in Jeremy's game that it wouldn't be the characters in my game--so that my brain wouldn't have to hurt from parsing out the loopy folds of the time-space continuum.

    But it did happen--in the first five minutes of being at the adventure site no less--and thus my brain doth hurt. For now I can bump along--the rock is a good idea and reminds me of the running jokes we tend to use for my home game--but eventually we'll have to have some sensible ground rules (even if sketchy).

    And yes, don't die--or only die in my game so J. can share the aneurysm.

    I am inclined toward this myself, it always feels funny to me to have a real-life gap of 2-4 weeks only to have no or little time elapsed. The whole "I seem to have forgotten crucial details from an hour ago in game time" business can be a hard bit to sustain sometimes.

    One thing I do want to leave out is that old element of such and such can't play tonight because there character is clearly shown to be somewhere else on the calendar that was explicitly part of the advice in the DMG. We certainly abided by that bitd when we all had small posses of characters (which could be a solution), but the nature of how we organize these games would make it awfully hard. (I would find silly and impractical to turn someone away who has devoted a scarce adult night to being in the session).

  5. @Greg
    Yes definitely jump on the list, I'd love to have you at a session (and I'd love to play in a Stormbringer game again for that matter).

    Barker's setting has the Tree of Life explanation of alternate realities, which is why I tongue in cheek mentioned it, so if we wanted to get ultra-handwavy we could do it like Moorcock's multiverse.

    Btw that multiple party thing is another dilemma I have in my sessions too as I now have three parties striving for the same underworld goal. The tabletop group found the McGuffin but TPKed in the trying, so not as much of a dilemma as it could have been--but I am still set on having the actions of each group affect (and in real-life chronological order) what happens down there in the "dungeon".

    Should be interesting to see how tangled this all gets if we keep playing past the first scenario's goals.

  6. In retrospect, I kinda wish I had just rolled up a new character for Jeremy's campaign, rather than porting over my ill-fated priest... especially since said priest had not yet really distinguished himself (gained XP and loot) in your campaign.

    Requiring characters to "get out of the dungeon before the session ends" would solve a lot of these ontological inconsistencies, but I'm not authoritarian enough to recommend that as Written Law. Like Zak said, FLAILSNAILS is there to make things more fun, not less, and to suggest general guidelines for porting characters that can easily be modified or hand-waved. Anything beyond that is probably trying to herd cats.

    Besides, many game worlds (eg Kyrinn's Urutsk) are not centered around megadungeons. In Urutsk, we're on a wavecrawl to the New World, so there is no "home base" to retreat to. Thus, I'm personally inclined to stick with "One Campaign One Character" (OCOC).

  7. What might be handy would be a clearing house for NPCs and places that have cropped up in one GMs game that might be useful for another.

  8. One thing I do want to leave out is that old element of such and such can't play tonight because there character is clearly shown to be somewhere else on the calendar that was explicitly part of the advice in the DMG.

    Maybe players could have multiple characters in case of such events. If one character is stuck in someone else's dungeon, they could pull out a different one for this session, or even roll up a new one. Not necessarily the only answer, but it could work.

  9. @Bert
    I'd like to see something like that grow out of this. I think the emphasis is really on slow organic growth not pushing to hard in the beginning on hard and fast rules and over-coordination.

    @Matthew and Evan
    Perhaps we should be thinking about using an "entourage approach" to beginning characters under Flailsnails and other like-minded experiments ala Sham's famous post about this

  10. Dear Chris - you might want to fix the link to my online game. Didn't seem to work for me. Sorry!

  11. Thanks, Victor. Done fixed it up I did.