Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Shaggy Dogs, Whirly Bits, and Motley Crews of Nowhere

Though the starting roster almost ran like the set-up for a Swords & Sorcery-inflected shaggy dog joke—a sailor, beggar, and nomad walk into a black lotus powder den--Domain Game II jumped off to a rollicking start in its ether confines Tuesday.

The last session was, as expected, a fairly conventional business. The newly-installed player-lording, Duke Mraz, and his motley retinue sized up the threats and hooks surrounding the lonely exclave of a fiefdom, 20 miles from the rest of the Colony and a dimension away from Elsewhere.

 Then as promptly they rode off to stick it to the white ape menace haunting the forest to the South. Much clacking of funny dice, mayhem and in-joking was made in the process.

The campaign as conceived is imagined as running on at least two planes. The first is that more familiar one of the adventuring party and it's non-linear exploration of the wilds. The terrain here is fairly standard (at least by the standards of the strange mixed other-worldliness of Nowhere), the player risks and rewards are fairly standard fare.

The hex map (the visible part being a tiny sliver of the humongous one I developed with Hexographer for Domain Game I) is littered with “experience point hoards” (thanks Roger for the term): sites of interest that pay out exp awards that vary according to danger, significance and difficulty in reaching from civilization. You explore, you deal with danger, you get the payout.

So far so good.

Over the next few sessions though by degrees—and player-driven inclination—the campaign's other more experimental hand will start to be seen. There are layers of mystery and environmental, arcane, and social factors at work that need bigger solutions—and broader play areas and tools.

Though I want to keep some of the cards close to my chest until we get there, I have fairly warned the players that while they are free to set the tempo, scope, and direction of their explorations that behind the sandbox is a highly active—and dangerous—set of “whirly bits.”

By “whirly bits” I mean the large array of external and internal forces that all have goals, plans, machinations, and dynamics of their own. And if that isn't bad Nowhere itself is a menace. Survival is more than just getting by with some hit points to spare, it's about having your little corner of civilization make it through another winter—let alone thrive.

But enough of that theorizing, let's go back to that motley roster as the first part of my reportback on the game's progress.
Holdfort on the Borderlands
Domain Game II Roster to date:
Duke Mraz (Jeremy D). In the Colony it's considered bad form to ask what circumstances led to a person's exiles, though some of the more loose-tongued courtesans of the Jade Quarter gossip that it had something to do with the popular movement that occupied the Walled Boulevard, a fortified arcade of money-changers in Haupt, last year. 

Whatever the circumstances the Duke--who's title is purely perfunctory and ceremonial now--has ridden down to his holdfort with his rag tag retinue to take up the lonely role of border satrap.

Zeph Buckthorn (Paul V). Zeph was born a body-slave to the inquisitrix Yantok in the Cities of Pain—soon to be a death metal band near you--but was happily press-ganged into service aboard an old cog from Athmyr called the Sea-Buckthorn. When she was sunk by pirates, he took the ship's name (modified slightly) as his own. Washed ashore and destitute, he joined a caravan to Nowhere.

Jathur (Peter R). An olive-skinned nomad of the aptly-named Desolate Isles, Jathur is a tough, quick warrior type with a mean mother of a greatsword and bone bow. He has distinguished himself in the retinue in the main by being the one on the receiving end of each and every combat encounter. He is rumored to have his eye set on the two comely twin acolytes in the fief-village, Fakyr.

Johan the Able, Master of the Five Winds, Sheikh of the Sighing Steppes (Brad). Hailing from the unremitting misery of life in the Sighing Steppes, the newly-installed Beggarmaster of the Southlands Satrapy (membership total: 2) is a master among...well...beggars. Despite his lack of a right eye and unsightly boils, he rose to the service of the Duke by deftly (and luckily) taking down a menacing sabre-cat.

PCs Waiting in the Wings:
Zibran the Calm (Barry B.). A priest of Thakan the Bloody Sun of Nuk-Mir, a warlike deity who requires blood to fuel the sun, preferably that of might warriors defeated in battle, but any schmuck will do in a pinch. Zibran's first task in this new land is to make converts and/or capture slaves and get himself a sacrificial altar built as fast as possible before the sun goes out.

NPC retinue:
Fahzul the Steward. Silver-masked eunuch-official from Lyk Kut'ah. Ass-kisser to all above his station, bully to underlings. Competent administrator. Likely a spy for the High Satrap. Obsequiousness skill of 90%.

Ofamm the Overseer. A rolly-polly middle-aged big-hearted, permissive sort. The estate's thralls love him and will even appear to work hard when he is around.

Barghun the Reeve. Steely-eyed hunter, hayseed and local enforcer of the laws. Leads a group of 14 hunter, part-time rangers (two are in service at any given time) and has been in Nowhere since Year Zero.

Seven white-ape hatin' mercenaries: Survivors of the Two-Tailed Banner of the Vermillion Tarns, a disbanded mercenary warband that backed the wrong horse in the internecine domestic warfare of noble life back in Elsewhere. Roused by the stirring oratory of Zeph, who they now worship and adore, they are ready to “give it to” the white ape menace.

Eight household thralls: 3 adult men, 5 adult women (with four free-born children). Strangely they have no faces or noticeable personalities of their own.

Other local notables:
Ehroon. A priest of the Elder Elemental Temple of the Ever-Unfulfillable Flame and his two comely acolytes: Lefa and Mussa.
Y'roon. a crazy old witch/herbalist
Xes Mahour. An eccentric sculptor and shaper of earth mounds
Steelpike. A grizzled, deaf-mute veteran


  1. Those darn white apes; and to think I tried to make friends with them...

  2. They just might find little bits of pale elven flesh if they look hard enough haha.

  3. Great write-up. I have to ask--when heading to Nowhere they can actually say "Catching a train to Nowhere". Do any of them call themselves "Nowhere Men?" If so maybe they could use some advice:

    "Nowhere Man, don't worry,
    Take your time, don't hurry,
    Leave it all till somebody else
    lends you a hand!

    Doesn't have a point of view,
    Knows not where he's going to,
    Isn't he a bit like you and me?

    Nowhere Man please listen,
    you don't know what you're missing
    Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!"

  4. "...a dimension away from Elsewhere."

    How much postage is required to send a letter to Nowhere in another dimension?

  5. Tough crowd. Note to self: change lazy placeholder name for world.