Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Campaign Artifacts of the Weird

It's a given that long-running campaigns accumulate equally long paper trails. Perhaps less given, but likely frequent, is that collection entails more than just the run-of-the-mill mundane paperwork.

After a while the burgeoning horde of maps, adventure site write-ups, character sheets, tallies of ill-begotten loot, and the like starts to increasingly share dusty cabinet space with the eccentric flotsam and jetsom of creative gaming.

If you are long-suffering GM-type you likely know what I am talking about.

At the tame end are the simple visual aids. A picture yanked from the Internet representing a tapestry or a mudbrick fortress that the characters are seeing. Some props start to work themselves up the strange and obsessional meter—here an old rusty lock to be used in a lockpick challenge or there a bright-painted Oaxacan folk mask.

Put in decades to a single world and you might make up to the masters level. Just remember that magnificent treasure horde of M.A.R. Barker's collection being busily—and lovingly--filed away up in Minnesota.

With three years in the Hill Cantons I am nowhere near that level of things sadly, but sorting though the rather over-packed desk drawer containing my GM material yesterday I was amazed by the strange diversity of stuff. Most of it is in the form of spiral notebooks. Some of these are reasonably sensible brainstorm notebooks, others...others are just a little more odd. 

My favorite are the ones from my sketch book, they usually start as doodles more often than not on anyone of the interminable conference calls that make up my day job (your union dues at work).

Occasionally, one actually makes the cut and turns up at the table as a goofy player's map or a cross-section of a place of interest. Sometimes they are purely for my creative jollies, but more often they are the raw fuel or cosmic unconsciousness of a world in creation from the bottom up. (Nine times out of ten a setting detail extemporized and/or co-created with the players at the table.)

I will stop writing and just show a few to give you an idea.

This would be a symbolic map of the insular border town of Marlankh, home base of the San Antonio HC crew. Any resemblance to places both fictional and not is purely coincidental.

Now here's the Big One, the cosmology of the “Over Hill Cantons”. (Click to embiggen for detail.)

On the back was this hastily-scrawled post-session bullet point jam:
The Supernal Orthodox Temple of the Puissant Sun Lord
  • Chariot of the Heavens and the Dome of the Sky [see illustration]
  • Godhead of 313 “Rays” (former deities)
  • Divided into 31 Houses of Orthodoxy over seemingly absurd doctrinal differences (whether sign of the sun is clockwise or counter, how many fingers used, the number of wheels on the Sun Chariot, etc.)
The Celestial Lady
At least three secret societies: Evening Star, Morning Star, and the Starry Void.

Old Gods
At least five gods: The White God, Wodan, Svat the Four-Faced, Radegast the Host, the World Turtle.

All I can say is I hope that if I die suddenly that no one paws through all the stuff. “He seemed like such a nice and polite man.”

Now it's your turn, show and tell time. What weird wonders lurk in your cabinet?


  1. I don't trust that world turtle. He's got a shifty look in his eye. ;)

    Good stuff, man!

  2. I have a question about the HC cosmology:

    Is it turtles all the way down?

  3. @ckutalik: There's a difference between knowing the turtle, and walking the turtle.

    @Zanazaz: World turtle gonna eat more cobra!

  4. A lot of my old notes are missing - for which I'm kind of grateful - but I had a look at my junk and pulled out a couple pages that might fit the bill.

    The first is scrawled at the bottom of half a page of session notes:


    "Just add water"

    1) fighter - existential. Complains about lot in life, short span of henchmen etc
    2) thief - halfling kleptomaniac. Steals everything, usually gets caught
    3) paladin - massive pain in neck. Charges off into combat
    4) magic-user - nervous, stutters. Spells fizzle
    5) cleric - overconfident. Believes self brilliant adventurer
    6) 0-level - completely, utterly useless
    7) fighter - big, muscular, strong. Complete pacifist
    8) monk - serene bastard. Talks about wind & the flowers & voices of the trees
    9) bard - sings. Badly. Constantly
    10) fighter - big & strong. Carries things. "That's what I does. I picks things up, an I puts them down again."

  5. @John
    That's about as detailed as my NPC notes get, really all you need.

    I love #6, a keeper.

  6. None of my discoveries are all that weird, I'm disappointed to say. Maybe I lack creativity.

    The other page is (probably) an old brainstorm between myself and my co-DM of the time. On the front is a very crude map showing the area around our dungeon, with two cities marked 'Arganal' and 'Erom'. On the back are these notes, which is what passed for world-building in our games:

    - Founded by wandering skunk-pelt merchant with v. bad sense of direction
    - Healthy trade exotic timbers, jungle plants, rhinoceros horn etc
    - Conversion jungle → farmland

    - Erom (founded earlier by religious nuts), not too good at farming, prey on trade caravans
    - Arganal makes representations (“stop that at once!”)
    - The old “protection racket”
    - Both cities nominally lawful
    - Intercity wars
    - Prince of Erom & half his court decapitated by runaway Apparatus of Kwalish – delivery from Pansy I king of Arganal.
    - Inbred rulers of Arganal ousted by usurper evil anti-paladin, king Pansy put to the sword (the lily-livered POS)

    STONE OF OBADAI (somewhere in temple)
    - Magical equivalent thermonuclear bomb
    - Summon neutral God of Nature, Obadai to destroy everything
    - Volcanoes, cataclysms etc (this is how the temple was buried)

  7. @John
    I dunno, a rhino horn-tradin' city founded by an itinerant skunk-pelt merchant is plenty weird.