The City of Howling is a small, densely populated city tucked into the Howling Cliffs on the coast of the Tragic Sea. Surrounded by tall mountains and having no agriculture of its own, it depends on its bustling port and trade from the nearby Sundweller’s Kingdom. Its claim to fame is the magical Library of Howling, supposedly able to answer any question. Throngs of refugees flock to it like an Oracle, only to find out that it is, in fact, just a house of books run by a tyrannical group of librarians who use elitism and politics to keep the riffraff out. Discouraged, most just flounder here, turning Howling into a demoralized, crime-infested city of lost souls.
It’s a new month and that means there’s a new Featured Campaign! This month, we’re bringing you kicking and screaming to the Library of Howling by Valorin. Valorin was kind enough to get his posse together and answer some of our burning questions.
Obsidian Portal: How much of the campaign/system is original content developed by you and your players?
Valorin:The system is either all mine or none at all, as it is a Frankenstein’s golem of Fantasy Hero, Harn, FUDGE, Hero Quest, Rune Quest, D&D, Earthdawn, etc. Any mechanic I like, I steal like a starving street urchin. Basically, every rule we use is a House Rule. I even have a proposed change on OP for the players because we were trying to figure out if we could remove a roll from combat and speed things up a bit. So, the system is always in flux and changing. If pressed to pick one, the system is mostly the Hero system which is actually amazingly close to D&D 3.5 in a lot of it’s combat. The world setting is almost completely my own. It’s been developed from ideas, discussions, books and games from many different systems and campaigns over the years. I have my own idea of people, races, magic and the like. For the games themselves, I’ve either made up my own stories, or adapted old modules for my own use. I love to use published modules and settings because a lot of work has gone into them and they’re usually rich and interesting.
Obsidian Portal: Your campaign looks great, can you tell me more about it?
Valorin:This campaign world is a brand new start since three of my four players are new to RPGs. My first story line even involved an infestation of bandits in rags and armed with farm tools and a dark secret as a way to introduce them to the system and the style of RPG without giving them too much of a challenge in the way of combat. The first theme of the characters themselves is that they are all “mages” but not robe-wearing bespectacled old men. Rather, they are all martial men with some kind of supernatural secret, curse or gift that they are going to discover, and possibly master. Again, this brings out the mechanics of the game and the role of magic in my setting. The current story line comes from an old module in a setting called Shadow World which I think was originally designed for Role Master but has Fantasy Hero conversions in it.
Obsidian Portal: Where do you get your inspiration the story and the world?
Valorin:My inspiration comes from a lot of sources. I read a lot and I have several places that I love to emulate. I also HATE cliches. A lot of what I build on my own is a response to some fantasy cliche or icon that I want to mess with. Any seven foot tall black-skinned mage-warriors with skull-pommeled zweihanders bigger than them deserve whatever the players do to them. A lot of times I like to take some myth or story that the players know and then play them through it and have them find out the “real story” in the way of Neil Gaiman. I love fantasy worlds that are not Tolkienesque, like China Mieville’s world or Clive Barker’s Imajica. I love the politics of books like Dune or the Chronicles of Amber. I also collect modules and settings for any system imaginable to dice up and use as a spice or a main entree or anything in between.
Obsidian Portal: How well do you know your players?
Valorin:I’ve known most of the players pretty well for a few years and we all work together for the most part. All of us play World of Warcraft together in some combination or other and so they were obvious choices to approach with the idea of a table-top RPG. I haven’t run a game of my own in quite some time since moving to my new town, but I’ve played in some or messed around in pick up games and short bouts. Many years ago , I used to be the main GM and I’m more comfortable in and get more pleasure from long extended campaigns. Of course, as soon as the players aren’t having fun and want to try something else, then we’ll immediately start looking for a new toy to try.
Obsidian Portal: What kinds challenges are you faced with in your campaign?
Valorin:The biggest challenge so far has definitely been this hobbled together system of mine. I’ve tried literally dozens of different systems and there’s always something that I don’t like about it. For this run, I really wanted to try to make the game mechanics my own. Of course, in true form, there are things about my own system that I don’t like, but I’m working on it. I’m actually close at this point, having played the system for about a year now, to start writing some hard rules down and let the players begin strategizing on a metagame level rather than just inside the story. The brand new players are definitely not a problem to the game. It’s refreshing and a lot of fun to introduce some new people into the brotherhood of *true* gamers. Also, it’s really great that I have a veteran player to help me, who sits back and lets the new guys mess up, but then is quick to jump in when they all turn to him and give him that blank look. I guess, I’d also say that the other hard part is that we’re all older, for the most part, and it’s sometimes difficult to find a time when everyone can get together. This strange thing called “life” just keeps getting in the way. We currently don’t have a set, regular meeting time.
Obsidian Portal: What aspects of your campaign are you really proud of?
Valorin:Despite how much I keep trying to change it, I actually like the feel that I’m getting from my game system. I’ve thought a lot about game design and the system and the way it handles really influences the mood of the story you’re trying to tell. I wanted a gritty, mystery-based fantasy game and I feel like the high detail, slow development and simulationist rules of the system lend themselves really well to that and help break my new characters of the video game mentality. I’m also really happy with the depth and development of the characters that my new players have come up with. These are definitely not cookie-cutter video game avatars, but people with backgrounds, goals and personal problems and the players came up with these on their own. I was very impressed. Finally, I think the two stories that we’ve got so far have been easy enough to be a good introduction but interesting and involved enough to keep the game going this long and maybe even lead to giant story arcs later on that could be a great ending.
Obsidian Portal: According to your players, what have been the highlights of the campaign?
Valorin: Here’s what my players had to say:
“The highlight for me has been learning how to roleplay. I always wanted to be involved in a fantasy game but never had the chance until now. It’s been great since I have a few friends involved and can learn from them how to progress with my character while staying true to who he is.” – Red Earth
“The flexibility of the system has been a big highlight, but taking our meager little party and doing things that the GM never expected us to be able to pull off has been the biggest kicker 😉 We have an eclectic group built around melee that’s trying to sneak into the world of magic piece by piece and having some smart people to pull out tricks like summoning ghosts from the past to learn passwords to big demonic gates has really been a boon to us. Pulling out impossible wins with our brains rather than our swords, such as in capturing demons in old candlesticks which once held another demon to save the day. Those are the highlights in my mind.” – Bill Hook
“The highlights of the campaign have really been the recent adventures on the island. Mainly exploring the city of the Black Sons. It seems every time we go into some place new, we’re always getting into heated battles with very powerful enemies. But we end figuring out his weakness and work together as a team to defeat him. Right now, we have to head back to our camp but I am looking forward to going back into the city and uncovering more secrets.” – Marble Riches
For my own part, in the evil temple of a demon-worshipping ruined city, the quote of the game last time was, “Oh yeah, I’m (messing) with the statue!” The players keep it fun and fast.
Obsidian Portal: What future plans do you have for your campaign?
Valorin: If we keep going with these characters, I’m looking at a few possibilities but I’ll only mention the ones the players know about: an old-fashioned dungeon crawl for adventure, loot and to kill the bad guy. Remember, my players haven’t done that before. Secondly, the open seas are calling. I’ve always wanted to do an adventure on the high seas and we’ve got an opportunity to try that. I like my games to have an actual setting which becomes “home” in time to the players and right now that’s Howling. The players have been murmuring that they might want to take the ruined city and island as their home base. Certainly, I work closely with the players to see what kind of story they would like to do before we start anything new.