10
Dec

Karameikos, December’s Campaign of the Month

Today we’re joined by GM Onsilius to talk to him about his amazing Pathfinder campaign that’s been going on for over a decade! Onsilius himself has over 25 years of GM’ing experience and is quite a hoot to interview. Sit down and enjoy yet another great campaign, a great way to capstone 2014!

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First off, feel free to tell us about the person(s) behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet, that sort of thing!

Hi, Obsidian Portal! My friends and I are thrilled to have our site featured, so thanks for having us. My name is Dr. Heinrik Peitrson, and what I’m about to tell you is little known and less understand but could shake the foundations of this universe and the next. Ok, that’s not entirely or partially true. I’m 39, and I advise IT organizations on financial modeling and service costing (I think). It comes with a paycheck, so it qualifies as a living which is nice. What I’d really like to do is get paid millions of dollars to DM for someone rich (please msg me if you’re filthy rich and this sounds like a relationship you’d like to pursue, I’m totally worth it).

 

I don’t have an internet profile, but you can find traces of me as A.A. Salati, my pseudonym for writing Shadowrun adventures. I published a few for CGL and did editing work on a pile of others. Some are still available on http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/. None have moved me closer to being a millionaire GM. I offered to edit Bruce Heard’s Calidar setting, but he turned me down. As a result, his book included three typos and two sentences with confusing structure. Why, Bruce? Why?!?

 

I have a wife and twin girls who spend part of their year in Japan and the rest of it putting up with me in Cary, North Carolina. Kusai ojisan dayo! (I’m a stinky, old man.) We have a robotic toilet and don’t wear shoes in the house. No pets, because dogs don’t handle their own poop, and cats touch theirs. The mixing of these worlds and floors where shoes cannot be worn would destroy everything we hold dear.

 

We play piano, and I go to the gym daily to justify drinking beer every night. I like grilling meat and rice balls, and I started playing basic D&D around ’81 with my neighborhood friend’s dad DMing. I was five or six and couldn’t believe someone let me have a mace and let me smash orcs with it! How awesome is that? I’ve never lost that excitement for gaming all these years.

Count Thaljun 01So…tell us about Karameikos in a nutshell

Karameikos started around thirteen years ago. I had played a LOT of D&D and was looking for a new angle to try. My favorite thing about RPG’s is that you can change the world you’re in. That is such a cool game concept to me! There is no video game in existence that can go as far as an RPG campaign in letting a player live out their fantasies. So I wanted to create a campaign where my players knew this game was for the long haul. If they ever had a grand dream they wanted to play out, this would be their opportunity. Next, I needed a setting, but I knew I didn’t have the time to create one from scratch. I wanted to spend my time writing adventures. I loved the gazetteers of Mystara, the Basic D&D world. They had plenty of politics, npcs, adventure hooks, and 5,000 years of history. All my players had adventured there before, so it was a good start for a shared reality.

 

Finally, I needed a new angle, something challenging, something that would turn the game upside down. My first player had never played a wizard. His dream was to become the greatest, so I started him at Level 0 and changed the timeline. He began as a poor, orphan scribe in an alternate timeline where great adventurers went back in time two centuries before to destroy a great artifact that held power over all magic. Mystara was changed into a world where the arcane was despised, where arcaners were burned at the stake, and clerics had great influence. How’s that for a challenge?

 

That’s how the campaign started. After ten years, the party was with great sacrifice able to travel back in time to convince the great adventurers not to destroy the artifact, thus restoring the true timeline where arcane magic could be pursued openly. That is also when the Karameikos campaign became the Glantri campaign (Glantri is a magocracy they moved to. It didn’t exist in the alternate timeline.), and DM D started running a side by side campaign in Karameikos. You’ll see this in our Session Logs. The session titles all start with Karameikos: or Glantri: and note who DM’ed.

What do you enjoy most about Pathfinder?

I had no idea what Pathfinder was. It didn’t say “D&D” in it, so I wasn’t interested. We were playing 3.x (3.0 and 3.5 with some Basic D&D stuff and house rules thrown in). We had no idea why there was a 3.0 and 3.5 for that matter. When 4th edition came out, we were disappointed. MMOGs were copies of some of the aspects of tabletop RPGs, and 4th seemed like a tabletop copy of an MMOG. That in itself is fine, and MMOGs are fun, but 4e looked nothing like the D&D we loved, so we never considered it. We kept playing 3.x for a while. Years later I finally read the Pathfinder book and felt like I had found the real 4th edition of D&D. We swtiched soon after and have been playing it since.

 

glabrezu01What I like about Pathfinder is that it’s still the core mechanics of the original D&D with the same classes. On top of that, you get the customizability of feats! This lets players differentiate fighter from fighter and wizard from wizard. You can easily play any style of class you can envision. I really appreciate that freedom, and my campaigns are about freedom, the freedom to play out their fantasies. Pathfinder is a good fit for us and will be for some time.

How regularly do you play, and where do you play? (If you play online, do you use any certain tools to accomplish your gaming such as Google hangouts, roll20, etc.)

We’re all stinky, old men with families and jobs and not as much time as we’d like to play, so we probably average once every two to three weeks. Of course we’re not all old and stinky. One of our players’ young brother-in-law is half our age. We got him hooked early and now he and a friend make up half the party. We play in China and Korea and Cary, North Carolina. How’s that for the internet age! Our favorite is playing at my house in NC. There’s no substitute for sitting at the table together, eating snacks, and staying up too late, and I have a private game room where the kids won’t bother us (yeah, right 😉 ). However, young Salhadin is stationed in South Korea, his friend Hakim keeps going to China to study, and the rest of us resign ourselves to online play more often than not.

 

Online is pretty good actually. We couldn’t get together in person as often as we’d like to play, so it’s a huge enabler. We use Google Hangouts plus Roll20 for map sharing, image sharing, private DM messaging, and dice rolls. Google Hangouts gives us voice and video, and the quality is high. You can see each other clearly, so it’s almost like being at the table in front of someone. Roll20 can be tricky getting the scale right on maps, but all around it does everything we need it to. I can show pictures of npcs, ask private things of the players and have them respond without anyone knowing what happened, it handles initiative, and the dice rolling is adequate. All of this, and it’s free, too. All you need is a good connection.

Rumors 01Who puts all of your wiki together?

I created the structure and basic content of our wiki. I repurposed the Session Logs to be placeholders for links to the Players’ Logs. I do the front page stories and intro pages, but I am proud to say the players handle the content of Karameikos! The beasts, the orders, the logs, and the players’ spaces are all done by my players. They’ve added lots of valuable content, and it really takes a load off me so I don’t have to take notes and do so many updates. I’m particularly proud of our logs. Most OP sites use the adventure logs for just that, however, I use them to advertise the next adventure. For instance, if we’re going to play on January 3rd, I’ll throw up a Session Log post with a teaser image, some bullets on what may happen, and preparation tasks for the players. After the session, I flesh out the bullet points like chapters describing what we just played. Then I leave it to the players to write a log in their player log area and link to it from the Session Log. When these eventually get added, their DM can go back in time and read the different players’ perspectives on what happened. Players in return can earn Karma, points to aid them in the short or long term.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

The Basic D&D gazetteers are a big help in giving me a well fleshed out setting, especially The Principalities of Glantri. I have to give that a mention. All of my adventures, however, are written from scratch. I haven’t used a module in ages. I have two fallbacks that I rely on. First, I have the dreams of my players who are aware they can accomplish big things, things that can change the world if they try hard. Seeing them move the plot on their own is rewarding. Feeding them adventures that enable them can write themselves. The wizard Thaljun for example wanted to rise through the ranks of nobles in the wizard run Principalities, so I ran adventures while he attended the Great School of Magic where he would meet other nobles and political figures and let them play out. My second fallback when nothing else is happening is asking myself, what would I love to do?!? What would I think is awesome fun? Raiding a lich prince’s tower with all unique magic traps? Exploring a forgotten tower and crypt with all unique and ancient monsters? How about raising an army to defend a new domain against all political odds? Uncover a great secret of magic few have ever grasped? Yeah!

Derelict 01aHow much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

The time it takes to prep for a session can vary from a month of writing and pontificating to a few minutes spent here and there thinking about the campaign while I drive to work, while drinking a coffee on a weekend morning, or while I’m falling asleep at night. A classic dungeon crawl type of adventure takes a certain amount of time. That’s part of the fun of DMing. I can explore the fantasy we’re sharing in my mind to see where it may lead. It’s indulgent escapism, but I think that’s what many rpg gamers dig. For my last one, I used a tutorial on classic blue D&D map reproduction and Gimp 2 to create a cavern and dungeon area beneath a tower atop a craggy hill. That one took me a few weeks to get right, but it was a ton of fun loading that map on Roll20 and letting players explore it. It was a real retro night seeing that classic blue!

 

I use a few different methods to record what I write. If I come up with a cool idea while I’m out, I’ll email myself the details from my phone or record it on my mobile OneNote app which updates on all devices via Microsoft Live or SkyDrive or whatever they call it now. If I’m on my work laptop or a computer, I’ll use OneNote. If at home on the couch having a coffee, there’s no substitute for my Miguel Ruis notebook and a G-2 gel roller pen. Whatever gets written or recorded is eventually printed or torn out and added to my secret notebook of thirteen years of activity for posterity. It also goes on OP in the form of the players’ logs.

Aside from Pathfinder I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?

I started on D&D, then a little MERP (Middle-Earth Role Playing, basically GURP light) and AD&D, OAD&D, Shadowrun1-5, AD&D2-3-3.x, oh and the old Top Secret, too. I used to love some OAD&D (Oriental Adventures). I turned the pages in that book so many times, almost all the pages broke loose. They’re all still there and in order though. My wife is Japanese, and she is flabbergasted every time I name off all the individual pieces of armor that make up a full suit of Yoroi style armor. “How do you know all those? I don’t even know that!” I try to explain to her what a Korobokuru is (dwarf), but she doesn’t buy it. “I’ve never heard that word before. What’s that?” and I’m like, “Uh, they’re dwarves, honey, and they love naginata (bladed spears), but they cap out at level twelve as Samurai, assuming of course they can find a human clan that accepts them despite their dirtiness. For serious yo. What do they teach you in school these days?” Nowadays, I only have time for Pathfinder.

How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?

Rogue Female 02aThaljun and Elias were already friends when I met them at NC State University in ’94(?). We met playing Netrek in a computer lab. That was one of the first multiplayer online games. Killer game by the way. Then we played a MUD (that’s the first MMORPG) called Genesis (which is still around and going strong today). When we discovered each other’s secret love for D&D, we started playing that as well, also. Eventually, our young brother-in-law and his friends grew old enough to play, and generation two joined the campaign as well. I guess that makes twenty years of gaming together now. I’m fortunate to have friends like that.

Keeping players involved is always a struggle, your Karma system seems like a great way to facilitate that. How does it wind up working in practice?

It was slow to start, but once my players saw the Karma rewards start to be used, it took off! I count we have played 222 sessions in this campaign, and we have logs from most of them by multiple players! Karma can be accumulated and used for bonuses to dice rolls during play and other special effects like winning initiative. It can also be permanently burned to gain stat increases, skill bonuses, bonus feats (some of which are unique and only attained via Karma), avoid death (once per refresh), and even a bonus Level Up! That’s actually happened twice so far which is impressive considering you need 20 points, and you typically earn one point per content submission. Rewarding players with Karma for writing a background and adding content has empowered them to be deeper participants in the campaign and alleviate the load of DMing. I have a bad memory in my old age, and being able to look up details in the logs is a big deal for me. Plus it’s fun to read the players’ RP perspectives on what happened. I’m a stingy DM, so it’s nice to have a reward system in place where players feel empowered to take rewards rather than always waiting to receive them.

Your wiki customization looks great, did you do it all yourself?

I learn by example and by doing, which means I’m a slacker. I did all the CSS wiki customization by myself, but I used Langy’s Edgerunners campaign to deconstruct how overriding CSS worked with Obsidian Portal. I made fairly decent notes on what in my CSS does what and affects what, so if anyone is looking to recreate something they see on Karameikos, you’re welcome to use my CSS as a guide to implementing it. For anyone who wants to start using CSS to customize their site, I recommend w3schools for straightforward examples and trial and error to see what affects what. You can do just about anything you want to accomplish even if you’re untrained like me if you’re willing to tinker. The community of the forums is very helpful if you have specific questions as well.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

Well, I just checked my profile and surprised myself. I registered January 10th, 2008. I was an early adopter of internet services, and when I ran into Obsidian Portal, I think I was searching for DMing aids. The concept got me thinking about a SaaS style information sharing point. I had tried logs back in high school, but this was more gaming styled. DMs and players share a fantasy reality. OP was like that but sharing fantasy information. The idea of recording what we had done appealed to me, and the possibility of players to contribute to it got me excited. What if my players could write some of this stuff for me? Well, it worked. It took the Karma system to get the ball rolling, but I’m very happy with the results.

Now that the Reforging has been live for a little while now, what are your favorite parts?

Whether I’m coding on an internal company intranet, sharepoint, confluence, or whatever, what I appreciate most is the ability to override restrictions and do my own thing. I’m a copy/paste coder, but I manage well. So I would say I appreciate most the enhancements to entering my own CSS to reshape the appearance and functionality of the site. I also appreciate that the Reforging represents continued investment in sustaining OP as the premier online campaign aid. With OP’s user base, that is big potential.

Storm 01bKnowing that the game has been going on for over a decade, this may be a hard one to answer, but what would you say the single biggest highlight from Karameikos has been so far?

Personally, I enjoyed seeing the party rally around its wizard to help elevate him to the high rank of nobility he achieved before his ignominious exile, and I’ve enjoyed seeing them all achieve long term goals which truly impact the domains they care about like rallying armies to defend land they carved out. However, I asked the players for their highlights. I’d like to say it was when the party’s brash fighter was the last man standing against a black dragon they were never meant to defeat so early in its appearance with all his armor destroyed and his comrades sickened and dying around him who landed a natural 20 and natural 20 to confirm a critical that decapitated the dragon… or one of the other epic dragon or demon battles… but it was not so noble a consensus. Apparently, the highlight was a night during Arcanium (a three day celebration of magic in the capital of Glantri) where the fighters all got drunk, investigated a very unusual new House of Ladies of Ill Repute, and met the ladies of the House who turned out to be enslaved half-trolls, vampires, and a medusa who got punched in the face by the wizard Count’s highest knight before he and his companions laid waste with bastard sword and scimitar and general excessive force to the feeble guards and ushers of the House resulting in their near arrest and revocation of their licenses to wield weapons within the city limits. They gave me a good laugh despite how nutty things got, and to be honest, it’s not the worst thing they ever did. Ahh players… can’t live with them… not a game without them.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.

It’s hard to say I have something relevant as far as GM’ing tips. I’ve been GM’ing for 25 years, but that in itself doesn’t mean I’m any good. What I’ve learned came from working hard at this role, well, for 25 years. So my first pearl of wisdom and power is keep trying, and if you enjoy creating a shared fantasy reality for your players, then do whatever YOU love. Don’t feel guilty about taking your campaign where YOU want it to go, because if the GM is not enjoying himself, the game has no future. That’s not a recommendation to force outcomes or put adventures “on the rails” or even to ignore the desire of your players, but be honest with yourself. GMing takes time and effort. If you don’t love what you’re doing, there is no game without the GM. Chances are, if you’re jazzed about the adventures you’re taking your players on, they will be, too.

 

The only other thing I would say is Don’t be afraid to try new things or put yourself on unfamiliar ground! I’m a writer, so putting everything and every detail down on paper seems not only natural to me but a necessity in order for us to play. One of the hardest things for me to do was let myself write on the fly. That means running an adventure with only a paragraph or two of notes at a very high level and filling in all the details while you play. At a certain point of experience, you can do this! You’ll never know when you’re at that level as a DM until you let yourself try. I gained the confidence by stepping out of my comfort zone and attending a local RPG meetup on DMing and ad lib techniques, and it worked for me. Ask yourself, “Why can’t I write the same things I write before a session during a session?!?” Sure you can! You’re just as creative while your players are watching you as you are alone on the couch with your notebook. In fact, you may find that your creative juices are flowing even deeper while you’re on the spot. That was a big revelation for me and took my fun to the next level. It also freed up more time to play with the kids, go to the gym, drink more beer, and grill more meat which is a big hunk of wins.

Thanks for your time!

DrekTharThank you for the recognition and opportunity to talk about our campaign! We’ve been on OP for a long time watching these campaigns get picked, so it’s been a thrill for all of us to be in the spotlight for a month. Thanks to Langy and the forum for the CSS tips. Major props to Pebbles for last month’s interview on his gritty Shadowrun campaign. I’m a fan. And finally thanks to my friends and players who somehow continue to put up with my stingy, difficult, and even lethal adventures over the years!

That’s it for this month folks, that’s also it for 2014. Start thinking about who you’d like to see win that lovely chalice of dice for Campaign of the Year, it’s just around the corner! In the meantime, keep great suggestions for featured campaigns pointed toward my inbox.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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