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The official blog of the Obsidian Portal.
1
Dec

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month December 2021- “Le Sang versé d’Occitanie” (The Spilled Blood of Occitania)

Bonjour, and welcome to The World of Darkness within December’s Campaign of the Month, “Le Sang versé d’Occitanie” (The Spilled Blood of Occitania) by Orion_JdR. Set in the south of France, this supernatural, dual-campaign features a GM running for two rival groups of players — a Werewolf pack and a Vampire coterie — who discover each other’s blood-stained activities within a region full of history and mystery. Read on to discover how it is done in this month’s interview. And for those of you who only spent one point on your real-life language skills, click here for an English translation of the campaign.
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Before we ask about “The Spilled Blood of Occitania” we would like to know more about you and your players. Who are you and how did you meet?

Of course, with pleasure! I am Orion, a french role-player and blogger, and I have been a game master for thirty years. Half of my players are close friends, while the other half are friends I met on social media during the lockdown and had good feelings with – and I don’t regret it!

What was the inspiration for your campaign and what kinds of stories do you want to tell?

The Spilled Blood of Occitania is an original creation inspired by (and sometimes identical to) pretty old scenarii from World of Darkness or Ars Magica. Through this campaign, I wanted to reach my players and make them live adventures in a universe close to us (contemporary France) yet extraordinary : Europe destiny, nothing less. Thus, the world we believe we know is full of beauties (landscapes, Cathar history, the magnificent Toulouse), dangers (pollution, crime, corrupted politicians) and mysteries (history of France, magicians alliances, etc…).

The concept of this creation is to have two competing campaigns : a Werewolf Pack with opposite objectives to a Coterie of Vampires, in the same area and the same temporality. Each group (Wolves and Vampires) is aware of the other group’s progression via Obsidian Portal. Thus, the players find out more than what their characters do, and understand the general pattern while the characters can only get small parts of it.

The campaign is set in the World of Darkness in France and includes vampires, werewolves, mages, and more. It is rich with information. How do you stay organized with so much material? And how does your gaming group use apps like Discord and the Miro whiteboard to help

Obsidian Portal is helping us a lot to organize all of this stuff. Through links to the characters, labels assigned to each page, a player willing to find a vampire in Toulouse or a magician living during the Middle Ages will easily sort and find what he needs. I also use colors and icons a lot (tribes, packs icon, etc.) as a visual aid for players.

To conceive the campaign, I use OneNote. During games, we use Discord with a bot for dice rolls, and Miro to display characters sheets, game rules and pictures. And after each game, we publish an adventure log to describe what happened on Obsidian Portal: it can give ideas to the players and game masters from other role-playing gaming tabletops, but above all, it gives to the players from the other group (Wolves or Vampires) the possibility to be up-to-date with the general pattern (and see what the other players have discovered).

The writing in your Adventure Logs (Stories of the Ages) is exceptional and really adds style to the story. Who does the writing in your gaming group and how much time do they spend on it?

Yes, I am really grateful to the authors of these adventure logs, and always give them credit at the beginning of the texts. Moreover, they get extra bonus Willpower points for their characters as a thank-you gift to their efforts and the quality of their texts. In each group, a player volunteers (always the same in the werewolf pack, and in turn for the vampires) and spends several evenings writing a high-quality adventure log from simple note-taking. The aim is to publish it before the next game, to help us recall what happened last.

Your Obsidian Portal pages are very beautiful and easy to navigate. Do you have any advice to share about designing websites for games?

I think you need to put yourself into the skin of a player reading: he wants a simple, good-looking website where he can easily find the information. I took inspiration from the most beautiful campaigns I found on Obsidian Portal to create The Spilled Blood of Occitania, for I am not a graphist nor a web-designer myself. The result is a clean, colorful campaign, with a clear visual identity for each group, vampire, werewolf, etc.

You have several beautiful campaigns on Obsidian Portal — Shadowrun, Pathfinder, Legend of the Five Rings, and World of Darkness. What is your favorite game system and why?

The game system I prefer between these four campaigns is the one from Legend of the Five Rings, for it is epic and light at the same time, very close to the game’s universe. Lately, I have resumed the campaign “Les Fragments du Vide” (The Void’s Fragments) on Obsidian Portal (https://lesfragmentsduvide.obsidianportal.com/), which was stopped due to the pandemic. My players are really excited and have a lot of ideas for the next games – you’ll be able to read it on Obsidian Portal!

What have been the most interesting or challenging moments within “The Spilled Blood of Occitania” so far?

The Werewolves players offered me beautiful roleplay scenes, when their Pack had to ally with the Pack from Narbonne despite the fact that they hated each other at first, or when they stole a thousand years old fetish to use it instead of giving it to the arrogant Silver Teeth pack.

The Vampires players, on the second hand, are always surprising me and it is not simple to anticipate where they will lead the story. I really like it, as it is always an adventure for me to master them. Happily, I managed to schedule unexpected twists to get my revenge!

What part of your campaign or your Obsidian Portal pages are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the adventure logs, those are very pleasant texts to read. I am also proud of the “Characters” webpage, for it is functional and pretty nice to browse, just as I wanted.

What parts of your game do your players enjoy most?

Every game starts with a reading of a small introduction, which describes a small part of the general pattern that the characters ignore, but that enlightens the players about the entire story. I also think that they like to meet eccentric non-player characters. I am giving my best in those encounters…

Can you give us any hints about the future of the campaign without giving too much of the story away? Or, do you have other, upcoming projects?

Some hints? You mean, like the daunting battle of the Werewolves against the Wyrm’s Forces? Or the merciless fight of the Vampires against Sabbat? Oops… No spoilers!

Otherwise, in addition to Les Fragments du Vide (L5R 4e) resuming, I have other projects for campaigns which will be logged on Obsidian Portal, but it is too early to tell you more yet. Stay tuned!

Finally, Obsidian Portal always wants to know if you have any advice to share about gaming or being creative?

Giving advice is the aim of my blog (Autour d’Orion: http://orionjdr.fr), but if there is only one to keep, it would be this one: be welcoming to new players. They are the future of roleplaying games, we need to attract them and fulfill their desires, even if we are not used to those kinds of desires.

Thank you very much for these questions and for the Campaign of the Month Award! I am really pleased and touched, especially by the fact that you granted the award to a non-english campaign, this is even more impressive. See you soon on Obsidian Portal!

As we bid bonne soirée to Occitania and thank you to Orion and the players, the Campaign of the Month Committee would also like to thank everyone on Obsidian Portal for sharing their creativity throughout 2021. Be certain to check back often on the blog, forums, and Discord for more wonderful campaigns like this one, news about voting for Campaign of the Year, and to nominate campaigns that you love (especially your own!) for consideration.

Translation from French by @Kapryss (thanks to her)

1
Nov

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month November 2021- Star Trek Odyssey: Laurels of Victory

The year is 2375. It is a scant few months since the cessation of hostilities in the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, known as The Dominion War. Many Starfleet personnel lucky enough to have survived and to have even a modicum of command experience have seen their careers and ranks accelerate at a faster rate than would have been possible in peace time. Such are the crew of the USS Odyssey. Check out Mallorylover23 and crew’s adventure into the unknown in our November 2021 COTM: Star Trek Odyssey: Laurels of Victory. Learn more about their tales of boldly going where no man has gone before below!

Tell us a little about the people behind the logs? What’s your group like, how did you all start playing together, and what drew you to ST adventures?

We’re a mix of guys who’ve been playing together for a while and newcomers. Humanoyd and Justins have been playing in “Emerald City:Requiem” for more than a decade and I joined them about 6 years ago. Every now and then we take a break from that setting to run a medium length palate cleanser campaign. “Laurels of Victory” was such a game. We’re all fans to one extent or another except for the newest member; SeanP619, who did some impressive binge-watching to get current with us, and now I believe he’s quite a fan of the franchise.

Humanoyd played as Te’Yanah Shran; the Andorian First Officer with serious war wounds (both physical and emotional), Justins played the young and eager joined Trill Ops Officer; Denba Mox. She became the solid and reliable backbone of the group. The one everyone could rely on to be there to provide advice or help. Hummanoyd’s roommate; Mattcarter1 joined us for the first time on this. He did an amazing job playing the ship’s rescued-borg Doctor; Jesse McClain, and always had a dry quip to get us laughing when the group got in a pinch.

An irl friend of mine, SeanP619, rounded out the group with Forrest Kelly: the fresh-out-of-academy helm officer, with a bigoted streak against Cardassians, who he blames for the loss of his family during the Dominion War. His issues surrounding that became a major emotional fulcrum for the entire campaign and led to one of our best episodes. I was drawn to ST Adventures because the system felt robust enough to tackle the scifi elements but was also loose enough (not unlike Fate, which most of us are used to) to allow seamless cooperative storytelling.

How often do you play and how do you generally do so?

I started the campaign in August 2020, knee deep in quarantine, and it had been months since our group had met in person. Everyone was chomping at the bit to get playing at something
and I was the one person with the most free time to learn how to run a campaign on a VTT, which we did. We used Roll20 and met practically every other Sunday except around the holidays. We concluded Season 1 in June of 2021, so this ended up being a much longer campaign than I had originally planned.

So the primary inspiration for the game might be a bit obvious, but do you have any inspirations that might be harder to see? Themes you and your players like to explore or situations you dream would come about in the world of ST?

Well the initial inspiration was actually pretty concrete. I built the campaign around the established setting and publicly available Living Campaign on Modiphius’ website. This is a collection of 20 modules set in the Shackleton Expanse. 10 of the modules are set in Original Series times and the other 10 are set just before the Dominion War. I chose to adapt the setting heavily, since I wanted to not be too constrained by canon, and adapted the modern time modules to be set just months after the Dominion War. This allowed my players to create more compelling backstories, I believe and also left me with more room to break stuff in the modules to suit my own ideas.

I would say the themes central to this first season were almost completely player driven and centered mostly around the process of healing from trauma. Shran lost her legs in the war and has retreated to procedure and rigorous performance of her duties as a shield from her trauma. Dr. McClain is struggling with a new non-binary identity and the suppressed trauma of being assimilated by the borg, all the while doing his best to administer to the needs of his crewmates, despite some of their open suspicion of him. Forrest is having to deal with letting his crew become his new chosen family and later in the season, crossing lines to reunite with the family he thought lost to war.

OK, now for a hardball. Which series is the best(ToS, TNG, DS9, etc.), and who is your favorite character?

It’s not at all a hard question for me. It’s DS9. I understand why some people disagree and I’ll always have a deep love and affection for TNG, since that’s when I first was exposed to Star Trek and I fondly remember sitting with my father after doing homework, to watch that week’s installment. The draw of a new world each week is strong, but the depth of character and nuance of emotions, motivations and more grounded themes of politics and social strife, set against the hopeful and optimistic Starfleet mission really makes DS9 seem far more relevant and accessible to me these days.

Favorite character is a lot harder for me. If I had to choose (and I hate doing that), I would have to say Quark, followed closely by Odo. It’s really their antagonistic relationship that drives so much of what I love in that show that I can’t really disentangle them.

Your LCARS style is phenomenal. How long did you spend building all of the various static and moving bits?

I absolutely cannot take credit for this. It completely lies with Hummanoyd. He does all the layouts and art for all the campaigns we put on OP. He said that this style was by far the most challenging he’s ever done and he wanted me to let you know that it wouldn’t have been remotely possible without the amazing help he got from the OP community.

I love your adventure logs, do you create them yourself, or do you share the load in recording your narrative?

Generally the GM doesn’t write the logs in our games, though that’s not always the case in the Dresden Files game or when I ran Pendragon. For “LoV” One player volunteers to take notes and then the log gets written based off those notes and is usually completed by one of the players, though there are a few logs in this one that are written by all of them, each taking on the log of their own character. I awarded momentum points the beginning of play to each player who contributed to the log, to encourage participation.

As you’ve been on Obsidian Portal for a while, what is your favorite feature for helping to manage your campaign?

For me, it’s definitely the character page. I cannot do without it. It keeps everyone clear on who everyone is and helps me keep my rogue’s gallery organized.

Back to your game, what would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your game?

I actually polled my players as to what stuck out to them most during the season and it was split down the middle; between the two emotional arcs that I think embodied the heart of the season. The first was Dr. McClain agreeing to perform in an impromptu modern Klingon Opera celebrating the exploits of Worf (referencing the excellent DS9 two-part episode; “In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light”) and consequently meeting and starting a love interest with the quirky Klingon engineer; Lt. Olok. Their romance became a pretty hotly anticipated side drama of crossed signals and missed opportunities that everyone got pretty invested in.

Secondly, Ensign Forrest’s breaking of the Prime Directive in Episode 6 came back to bite him in Episode 13. The emotional fallout from his betrayal and then their investigation, and legal defense run by Shran, for this young man’s career helped gel them all together. It all came down to Shran’s closing arguments and it was so close that I had to ask the group if it was alright if I left it to chance and made a roll instead of just deciding his fate. Even though he was unfortunately stripped of his commission in the end, he did avoid being completely drummed out of Starfleet and I’m keeping him in my back pocket for when we come back to this setting. SeanP619 was in the navy irl, and he said it was an amazing experience to play out something he never would have come close to in his career. He was such a good sport in following my hooks and playing the secret betrayer; covering his tracks during the campaign. And he was even more good natured and helpful when rolling up his replacement.

Let’s round this out with one of our favorite questions for our featured GMs! If you haad a secret sauce for running a great game, what would be the most important ingredients?

It’s different for everyone. Some Gms run completely homebrewed settings and I admire them for that. I cannot do that. I become paralyzed with the possibilities and nothing is more frightening to me than a blank page. I pick established settings and in this case very firmly established modules and I take them apart. I use what works and discard what doesn’t and I thread the emotional stories that I insist my players provide me with during session 0 through at least the first several modules. Then I see what happens. I continually adapt and re-break and re-write. All within some boundaries provided by the established setting and the eventual end point the last module suggests.

It is gratifying to hear that the moments that stuck out to my players was what was created from whole cloth by our combined storytelling, rather than any encounter or challenge that I copy and pasted into the adventure. You need to look at that stuff as scaffolding and the emotions and motivations of your PCs and NPCs as the brick and mortar of your campaign, if you want it to be memorable.

Finally, that brick and mortar will not hold if you don’t give your players agency. You might be plugging away at putting up challenges and obstacles, suggesting hooks and strategies or delivering a carefully prepared description or monologue and then a player will come out of left field with something you would never think of. It might feel like a threat to your established tone or how you thought things would play out. Don’t let that feeling make you say the dreaded word “no”. You need to let them guide you. If they throw something silly your way; like “genetically modified space cbd” that’s them telling you that you need to lighten the mood and you should incorporate that silly thing. I know it’s said often, but “yes, and…” is the most important tool in a GMs bag. If there is something that you cannot bring yourself to say yes to, then at least consider saying “no, but…” Avoid saying no to anything but the most obviously disruptive or harmful choices. It kills the mood and shuts down players and makes them feel like they can’t experiment.

20
Oct

Update Post – October 20, 2021

Hail, Portal People!

Another season has passed since we last gave a reckoning of the updates on Obsidian Portal, so we’re back to do it again.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, feel free to post them in the Community Forums, or email support directly at [email protected].

1
Oct

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month October 2021- Hogwarts and the Magic of the Founders

Five years have passed after the second wizarding war, and the dust is just beginning to settle. Hogwarts’ halls are again filled with shouts and laughter from a new generation of young witches and wizards. What new mysteries and dangers lie ahead? Fortunately, Marion_c and her party have decided to find out in our October 2021 COTM: Hogwarts and the Magic of the Founders. Using a system created by the GM and party themselves, the campaign follows a group of plucky new wizards as they navigate love, mysteries, power struggles and piles of homework. Learn more about this awesome system and the people behind it below!

How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

I usually take about one hour to prepare for sessions, sometimes two hours if there are a lot of things to research and write (or if I want to create a nice map). I rely a lot on improvisation, and I try to prep situations, not plots. Plus we’re using a fairly permissive homemade system which means creating encounters is very easy and can often be done on the fly.

However between “seasons” (basically school years), I take a lot of time to prep the main story lines and I use it as a guide during the following season. I also have a list of mini adventures and plot hooks that I can use whenever I need, and this allows me to give a lot of freedom to the players. This year we’re doing an exchange in Castelobruxo (Brazilian wizarding school), so I had to take a break to create a whole new school, students, teachers and plot ideas, and to do a bunch of research on South American folklore and history.

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

I’ve known them since high school, they were the ones who introduced me to tabletop RPGs and we’ve been close friends since then! We’ve had several short campaigns and one-shots together, but this campaign is by far the longest-running one, and we plan to continue it for a long time (We’re in year 3, and we plan to keep going until year 7, and why not beyond.). We’re all big harry potter fans, and this particular campaign (Hogwarts and the magic of the founders) has been running since august 2017, so a bit more than 4 years. It was my first time GMing so I still have a lot to learn !

Playing together has made us stay in contact and grow closer, and we even went on a Harry Potter trip to London together for the new year in 2019.

Keeping players involved is always a struggle, how do you keep them involved?

When we play IRL it is far easier, players are always more involved and attentive, it can be a bit more challenging for online sessions but we try to keep them fairly short.

I know my players are not fans of combat so we usually keep fights pretty short, and I know that they love riddles, puzzles, mystery, exploration and doing mischief, so I try to include those as much as possible. I also try to have story lines that are compelling for their characters and for them, so session zero was very important.

Outside of sessions, we have many creative outlets inspired from the game, which keep everyone involved in the campaign : drawings, songs, memes, short stories … One of my players is even writing a novel based on an alternative ending to one of our sessions, if things had gone differently. It keeps the fire going and it’s a lot of fun.

I sometimes launch “creative contests” where they can create something based on a prompt and it gives them in game rewards. It’s what started the songs actually.

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

I did, although it’s basically frankenstein code. I didn’t know HTML or CSS at all, so I tried to learn it as I went along and took bits of code here and there, trying to make them all work together. The OP forums helped a lot, but it was a lot of trial and error (and tearing my hair out during debugging!)

It was also a lot of fun to create buttons and a theme for the campaign.

I love the fact that you put a translate button on your opening/front page- what brought you to do that?

Writing a French campaign on an English-speaking website, I thought it would be nice if we could share it with more people ! I actually got the idea from another French campaign that won the monthly a year before I joined, “Les compagnons d’Ailleurs”.

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

Since 2018 I think, I was looking for websites to help organize everything and I read about Obsidian Portal (maybe on reddit ? I’m not sure actually).

The website actually went far beyond what I needed, and I was super excited about everything it offered : the wiki, the adventure-logs, the characters, the secret sections, the customization…

It’s pretty easy to use even for a beginner, and I also love that my players can contribute to the content if they want. It helped a lot with organization and remembering things.

When I started it I really needed a personal project, and having fun creating my OP campaign and trying to learn CSS and HTML was really exciting and fulfilling. I don’t have as much time to spend on it now, but luckily my players help.

What would you say the single biggest highlight from Hogwarts has been so far?

I asked my players, here is what they said :

Théo (who plays a young werewolf) : That chaotic full-moon night, when my friends moved heaven and earth to try to restrain me and stop me from being discovered, but I still managed to escape and go on the prowl towards the Hufflepuff dormitory. Luckily I was stopped in extremis.

Lohéna : When we flexed on the Ravenclaws by solving the riddle of their common room, which allowed us to enter while transformed into huge canaries. We had a bit of fun and left abruptly, leaving the students dumbfounded. That’s when we got the “Team Canary” nickname.

Dylan : The night we finally took revenge on Dennis, a huge bully, and managed to break into his common room and frame him for a fire, which got him suspended. And also that time I got cursed and changed sex whenever I went through a door, and decided to use it to start a romance and mess around with other people.

As for me, the highlights are all the ways my players make me laugh, they always manage to say or do something unexpected.I try to write down the funny and dumb things they say, here are a few :

“You must know your enemy to become one”
“The only states of a magical school are ‘in danger’ and ‘soon in danger’ “
“I don’t really blame them for locking me in a cupboard”
“It would be so cool if there were nazis in the school”
“It’s inappropriate to show her your gobstones on the first date”
“When a slytherin tells the truth, do they lose housepoints ?”
“Would it be cultural appropriation to write on a papyrus?”

You say that this system was created specifically for this game, based on a classic D6. Please tell us about it.

We wanted to play a harry potter game but we couldn’t find any official system, and the few online fanmade systems didn’t suit us, so we decided to create one. We thought it wouldn’t take us too long but oh boy were we wrong, even the first draft took us months and we continued to work on it little by little as we played. We made a big update to the system last year, and now we’re finally pretty happy with it, although we still have a few last things to add soon.

We were fairly inexperienced when we decided to create it, and one of the systems we knew pretty well was the D6 system, so that’s the main reason we used it as a base. Trying to create rules for the rest of the universe that were coherent with the books and were still balanced was sometimes quite challenging, but my players all helped. And if something doesn’t work well, we just learn from it and try something new.

When we’re finally happy with the final rulebook, hopefully soon, I’ll try to paint a killer cover and then we’ll print it !

Do you use any other games, movies, books, or other media outside of the Potter world to influence your game?

Yes, definitely books, series, games, scenarios from other RPGs (and the structure of those scenarios) , other RPG systems to try and make our system more interesting, and even harry potter fanfictions for mystery plot ideas (but don’t tell my players!). I also go looking for ideas on reddit, or ask people in my life. I try to get every bit of inspiration I can!

A fun example is that in third year, they found the Wand of Kcajabbaw which is a reference to the Wabbajack in Skyrim. It’s a wand that fires a random weird spell, which usually has hilarious results.

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

1) For me the main goal is that the players have fun, but don’t forget to have fun too !
Don’t stress, be kind to yourself and take breaks if you feel GM burnout coming.
At the beginning I prepped too much and I was often thinking “Am I good enough, are the players really enjoying themselves ?”. Because of that it was quite stressful and I often had a big dip in energy after each session. It’s much better now, and actually we have begun to end each session by thanking each other, it’s a small thing but it’s really nice.

2) Communication ! Session zero is super important, it allows you to know the expectations of your players, to set yours, and to get to know their characters and their motivations. A lot of issues can be avoided later if these things are discussed first. Also try asking your players for feedback and ideas regularly.

3) Don’t prep too much and be flexible. Try to see what your players enjoy the most and interact with spontaneously.

1
Sep

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2021- D&D 3.0: Tales from Mystara

Congratulations to Galero and party for winning Campaign of the Month, September 2021! D&D 3.0: Tales of Mystara tells the story of generations of adventures in a world 30 years in the making. Take a look below for a chance to peek into the mind of a talented and experienced GM!

First, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet. Let us know if you feel so inclined!

I am from the city of Cabo Rojo, in Puerto Rico. I am a project manager for a local company who implements electronic medical records on Hospitals, among other things. I am married with two kids, one is 25yo and the other 5yo. My wife used to play with us at the game table. The older one is a GM and has his own group. He learned to play as soon as he learned not to put the dice inside his mouth and rolled them for the first time. I love cinema, literature and crafting my own game scenarios and the scenery.

I have been Game Mastering since 1986 when I discovered AD&D and OD&D. I, currently, can be found on Facebook:

My Page: Mario A. Agrait Rodríguez

Group Page: Stray Dogs Role Playing Games

Tell us about Tales from Mystara in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

In a nutshell: “Tales from Mystara is a series of chronicles about the people who move forward to confront their fears and rise over the rest as heroes or villains (depending on the campaign group). They become the stuff of legends and their names are retold around the campfire of the next adventure group.”

We have been playing on the world of Mystara using the Known World referenced in the OD&D old Boxed Sets since 1986. Back then, before it was named Mystara, I named it Étira and my group and I designed the complete map of the world. Later, the Mystara setting was develop and we continue playing there. I have all the Gazetteers and many modules, and I merged my Étira with Mystara. In the current campaign we have 16 different adventure groups that played or are playing in the same game world with the same DM (me) across 30+ years.

I love storytelling and the interaction with the players to develop a campaign. Our campaigns are design to develop the stories and the characters. As we have been playing on the same world for 30+ years the retired characters of previous campaigns become NPC’s of the world and are part of the background that can interact with characters of newer campaigns.

We use miniatures and crafted scenery to play large battles. I love painting and crafting my own scenery. My players also love miniatures and help my craft.

You’re playing D&D 3.0. What drew you to that version of D&D, and what do you find appealing about it? Do you play any other games?

My group and I used to play OD&D for more than 20 years and then around the year 2002 changed to 3.0. We have adapted some rules from 3.5 and Pathfinder and added our own house rules into the mix. We found the 3.0 system good to customized characters, especially good tools for experience players (some of the members of my group have been playing with me for 30+ years).

We also play, SPACE 1889, d20 Modern, d20 Future, DC Heroes 3rd Edition, Gamma World 4th Edition. I’m the GM on these campaigns. Some of our players are GMs on their own campaigns, playing d20 Modern, D&D 3.0, 3.5 and 5E. I also used to play Star Trek by FASA and Shadowrun 2nd, still have the manuals.

Speaking of playing, where do you play and how often? How did the general worldwide Covid-19 situation force you and your players to adapt?

Normally we play at my house’s basement. We play each Friday from 7pm to 11pm. We also used to play what I call a Marioton (Marathon) for 12 consecutive hours one Saturday every three or four months.

The Covid-19 situation forced us to play on Discord online, using d20 for complicated battles, Dropbox to share files, the OP forum to do Play by Post during the week and finally our Facebook page to keep in touch. Using these tools, we managed to continue playing each Friday regularly from 7pm to 11pm.

How did you get into tabletop gaming?

This is possibly one of the weirdest RPG stories I know:

1. A boy named Eric was into Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy and wanted to play D&D. His mother gave him the Red Box OD&D set as a gift. He didn’t have anyone to play with though.
2. The boy named Eric decided to give the Red Box OD&D set to his neighbor Luis as a gift.
3. Luis took the boxed set to his friends, and they learned to play. Luis didn’t want to be the DM so he gave the Red Box OD&D set as a gift to Ismael.
4. Ismael became the DM and continued playing when he moved to another city to study at the university.
5. Ismael and I meet at the University. We were from different cities. He showed me the game and gave me the Red Box OD&D set as a gift. I then became a DM.
6. I moved to another city and met with a boy named Eric who wanted to play D&D all his life and didn’t have someone to play and he became my friend and one of my players.
7. My friend Eric was the first owner of the Red Box OD&D set I used for playing. See event #1.

You currently have 30 players listed in your campaign. How many players do you typically have each session? Is this a shared world? If so, what advice can you give to other GMs about managing a shared world campaign?

I cannot count how many regular players have been in my gamming group across the years, I say something between 60 and 100. The 30 players on the OP are the ones who joined OP since I started using it back in 2014. I have 10 regular players at this moment.

I sit at my physical (or virtual) table 9 players at a time. My world is share with other GM’s or groups that want to continue playing in the worlds we create. Is also share with the different campaigns I play. I could have one to three campaigns with different players running at the same time in the same world. They could cross paths and we can have special 12-hour gamming sessions for specially complicated adventures and battles merging all the groups. A “Mariothon” has up to 20 players on my basement. We coordinate the event with committees in charge of foodstuffs, cooking, cleaning and even organizing the parking space. Some of the players bring their own sleeping bags and sleep in my house.

Your character log is just massive. Who comes up with all those NPCs?

I have a love of characters and I created many of them, but the Character’s bios also include the players past and present characters. Players are encouraged to create character’s bios for NPCs like their family members and even for companions and familiars, even paladin’s mounts. This is a tool I use that expands the world, and I give them XPS for creating these entries.
I take the time to create each new NPC with at least a link to a place, organization or another character already created, and I also plant some interesting or strange fact on the bio as an adventure seed. With that in mind, no character should be created without being part of the world and with space to automatically expand itself within the campaign.

How much time do you usually spend preparing your game session? Describe a typical session.

The way I prepare my campaigns, each session is built in top of the previous one and oriented to move the campaign forward. I take 5-9 hours each week to prepare a session using that, but I also invest like 4-8 extra hours of creative time per week, adding to the OP material that helps the world grow, entries for future adventures and adventure hooks.

Our typical weekly session starts where the Play by Post ended or after the last weekly session ended. We divide the adventure in scenes and normally I try to have four main events that the players must confront and try to solve. I enjoy keeping a balance between Role Playing, Problem Solving and Combat events, but we also have sessions that are completely of one type. The players have freedom to choose the path they want, and the adventures are based on their decisions, so from time to time there are chunks of the adventure that needs heavy improvisation because of this. When the players take a path that I have not prepared for, that makes me more interested because it helps the world grow and the adventure to have and unexpected turn for me. They don’t know that I didn’t have that info, maybe I have a good bluff face (or so I think). Once the events are solved, and the adventure finished, I try to record the adventure log within the next 48 hours. I also ask them the high points and low points of the adventure and get some feedback.

Who is responsible for the design and content of the site? Do your players get involved in the creative side of the campaign? If not in the design, how would you say they get involved in progressing the storyline?

Mostly is my work as a GM to design the content of the site but I have a massive help from my players. We decide the objectives of a campaign before creating characters and establish the ground rules to achieve those objectives. Based on those accords, we build characters, entries, and adventures.

I give them special XP awards for adding material, but many do extra work for the fun of it and the creative liberty. I have one player that lives on another city far from us and loves to create content to maintain himself into the game as he cannot come to play on weekly basis. Now that we are playing online his contributions are more and he plays weekly.

The players have the option to comment on the adventure log, explore the world using Play by Posts during their downtime, keep logs of their characters, and to comment on the entries in character. All these options modify the content of the OP and their characters can find information during downtime about subplots allowing them to develop their character’s backgrounds and personal story.

For this campaign we worked together to build the Alphatian Empire and each character took one or more kingdoms to focus and work on the information and even to create descriptions of places. It was an expansive task that counted on the collaboration of all of them. Because of this it was a fulfilling result that everyone enjoyed. Once we started playing on that empire, they could find the places and NPCs they helped create and get a feeling of ownership and pride.

What does the future have in store for the brave characters of your crew? Without giving the game away, is there anything you can reveal?

The current campaign started 2016 with level 1 characters and they so far have reached level 20 and above. Now in epic levels, they have travel to a demiplane were a parallel apocalyptic version of Mystara named Taramis is the home of the main enemy of the campaign. They are there to finish him off for better and for worst with no way – yet – to come back to Mystara.

One of my players read this question you asked and answered: “They assume we are brave and not plain stupid.” Referring to the deep trouble they are right now and how the events that happened before took them there.

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

I read about Obsidian Portal in the EndWorld Forums. I believe I started using OP to its full potential around 2014, but I joined and used it to store information a few years earlier. I was first interested in the wiki style of the entries and the character bios. Then as I was using it more and more the tool became a must have and the center of the campaign’s information. Before that, I used mail lists, file sharing, a weekly bulletin, and a page with a forum to keep the information in post format but OP is a LOT better.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

Only one thing? Is too difficult. OP has helped me so much I cannot begin to count all the things I see as optimal on the page. I think I have to say that the GM Only entries and GM Only boxes inside the entries are the feature I use more, and I that enjoy the most. I can write a complete adventure in one page and link to the characters bios and wiki entries and the adventure is there, hiding like a Mimic, waiting like a landmine for the characters to step on it.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far?

My players are the biggest highlight of my campaigns, I am very honored to play with them. I think the biggest highlight of my games will be the capacity of surprising the players after all these years. Something that makes them come back for more. Is either that or they have some secret desire to get new psychological scars each week.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing advice!

Concentrate on the story over the rules, and on the players over the rest. Once you commit to a gamming date, don’t change it, be consistent. Take the time to hear your players ideas and to incorporate them into the world. And take time to rest your mind, by playing other games or by taking vacation time from gaming.

And finally: Keep rolling those dice until the day you die!

1
Aug

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month August 2021 – City of Splendors. Dungeon of Madness.

Congratulations to sethwhite and company for winning Campaign of the Month, August 2021, with their dungeon-crawling creation, “City of Splendors. Dungeon of Madness.” Waterdeep and The Yawning Portal may be familiar fare to those among you who enjoy the classics, but take a deeper look and marvel at the treasures and trade-secrets below…
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Your campaign is set in Waterdeep – a city drowning in adventure hooks, plots, and interesting characters. What drew you to a city-based campaign and what are some of the pros/cons about urban adventuring?

The entire premise of this campaign is as a sandbox for urban and dungeon adventure. With the biggest city in the world sitting atop the biggest dungeon in the world, it’s primed for a lifetime of adventure. For the AI, we ran a game of the Lords of Waterdeep board game, with the Undermountain and Skullport expansions. With that one board game, we created an arc of major plots and conspiracies and power brokers of the city and much of the dungeon. I took pictures of where all the agents were, and the Quest and Intrigue cards that were played during each round. That “current clack” is continuing forward as the “meta plot” of the campaign, until it runs into the actions of the players, of course. Then the apple cart gets upended, and we’ll see what happens.

I’ve always been very interested in urban games, with the tangle of intrigue and vying political and economic interests that come with it. I really wanted a sandbox for the players to bite hard on hooks, or swim right past as they wanted, which meant I needed a lot of potential content, and a lot of factions that could get pulled in when the PCs bite. A city like Waterdeep is perfect for that. And I’m standing on a tower of giants as I use their great work to make this little campaign. Waterdeep itself is so rich and so big, with all the work of the great minds at TSR and WotC. Layer on top of that the amazing work at the Forgotten Realms wiki, Candlekeep, and Oakthorne.com, and there’s enough to slot in anything that the PCs are interested in exploring, or everything that’s linked to one of the plot hooks. I’m also using urban planning advice from The Alexandrian extensively in this campaign, as well as referring to other great city modules and settings, such as the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, Lankhmar, Vornheim, Zobeck, Freeport, and Ptolus.

It looks like you’re using a custom blend of Dungeons and Dragons rules and have some experience with some of the older systems. What rules work best for your group and style of play?

For this campaign I switched over to 5e. It reflects well the kitchen sink high fantasy Waterdeep, and is a simple enough rules system for most of my players, but with enough options for the couple of players who want to dig into character building. I’m mostly using the core rules, but I have a few variant rules or house rules. Healing is slower—requiring hit dice to heal; and I am using the treasure as XP from B/X to motivate treasure-hunting in Undermountain.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your players, and your lives outside of game?

We’re a gaming group in Minneapolis, in my home with a group of friends. I run a somewhat open table of players—about ten or so semi-regular players with 5 regular players. Any session has between 3-7 PCs. I’m in graphic arts and advertising, and we have several players who are interested in the arts and music, as well as those who work in data and computers. The core players are Owen, Eric, Dave, Luke, and Sarah. And other less regular players include Hannah, Paige, Steve, Charlie, and Jake.

We started in-person at the beginning of the game about a year and a half ago, and we switched to Roll20 during the pandemic. Games started biweekly, but have become closer to monthly lately as my schedule with work and home projects got in the way.

How did you get into gaming? How did your gaming group find each other?

I started gaming in middle school, in 1990 in a small town near Madison in southern WI. I played a hodge-dodge of D&D Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D with other friends. I played for a few years, and even went to GenCon a couple times when it was in Milwaukee. I stopped for about a decade, and got back into it in 2005 after I moved to Minneapolis. I played in a couple random groups in the twin cities. One of my players, Charlie, was someone I met through D&D at the wizards website. He runs a lot of OSR style games, and I poached some players from his game. The other players include my wife, some friends from design and advertising, and the husband and brother of one of my gamers. There has been some changing of the guard over the last couple years as players start families, or move; most of the regular players now weren’t playing in my game 3 years ago. I feel it’s necessary to run an open table style game because of everyone’s real life commitments, which I’m finding can be a challenge in a mega dungeon.

“City of Splendors” features a mega-dungeon — Undermountain: The Dungeon of the Mad Mage — beneath the streets of Waterdeep. Do you have any advice for GM’s who may want to run a mega-dungeon campaign or have you encountered any challenges while running one?

Underneath the biggest city in the world is the biggest dungeon in the world. I’m using the “Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage” module as the core for setting content. I also am including all previous versions of the dungeon as well: 2e Ruins of Undermountain 1 and II, 3e Expedition to Undermountain, and 4e Halls of Undermountain. And then of course the plots and intrigue from the Lords of Waterdeep. One crucial learning was how to run the mega dungeon, especially with an open table. In the beginning it was all dungeon crawl in Roll20, showing the map and narrating each hall and chamber. But now as they’ve explored more, I’ve opened travel to areas they know in the dungeon as if they were traveling in the city. It’s still dangerous, and they may trigger an encounter, but following a map from the Entry Well to Downshadow is only a little more dangerous than navigating the Dock Ward at night. Things I’m intentionally doing in the dungeon:

Creating active factions that span floors and that have vested interests and goals, and that interact with different factions.

Creating “residential zones” that are safe enough throughout the dungeon, so that I can allow for resting and beginning a session with new players. Some are already built in, like Skullport and Wyllowwood, but I want to make sure there are enough secure areas of potentially allied or neutral factions that can be discovered to allow the game to run efficiently.

I’m also opening the gates and stairs to “jacquay” the dungeon, as the Alexandrian calls it. I want to make sure that the PCs and factions are moving between floors to make the place a living, breathing community.

I’m also trying to seed dangerous areas with clues that they PCs are out of their depth. I have a gate from level 1 to level 10, and I plan to put a recently destroyed stone golem right in the entryway if they go through the gate, so they can have a clue about the level of threats there.

I’m also attempting to include other adventuring companies, or the remains of them, as well as monsters and faction members. I think dead creatures or even bloody handprints or trails are a great way to develop the recent history of the dungeon and introduce new factions. I also think prisoners of factions work really well for this, and to dangle plot hooks.

Your campaign pages on Obsidian Portal are very well organized, cross-referenced, and tagged, and your wiki is a very useful reference tool. Has this been helpful when managing the complexities of Waterdeep?

This has been essential for my game. In a city of over a million people, hundreds of locations, and dozens of factions, it’s helpful to have a way to drop some tweet-sized common knowledge on the page. I’m using Obsidian Portal as much of my campaign journal, and create a location, NPC, or faction with a small snippet of common knowledge, and then use the GM secrets to flesh out the plots, deeper lore, and secret connections to other elements of the campaign. I am also using the various secret societies and factions like the Harpers, Knights of the Shield, Monsters, etc, so the Secrets section is particularly valuable. The wiki looks different for different players, and it allows my player who secretly belongs to a spy group to have contacts and know things the other players don’t know.

What highlights of the campaign have your players enjoyed, so far?

I have a wide range of play styles in my group. The bard is really interested in making a name for himself in the city and is performing at top venues. He just booked a gig at the Amnian Embassy, which the party knows has old Shadow Thieves smuggling tunnels currently being used by the Xanathar Guild to smuggle slaves down to Skullport. We’ll see how that plays out when the Fey Day concert series happens. Another player is very invested in Forgotten Realms lore, and enjoys all the canon Easter eggs that pop up from time to time. He’s a sun elf, and so I try to tie in the old lore of Aelinthaldaar into the game with relevant plot hooks. Another player is a haughty spoiled noble, so interactions between noble families is becoming important, and is a focus when she plays. The party has just unlocked the second level of Undermountain, and are entering the Goblin Bazaar. I plan to really make that place over the top, and expand on what’s been done to make it a fun and vibrant place with weird stuff for sale, zany characters, and of course ridiculous goblin carnival games.

What part of the story are you most proud of? Or, what was the most enjoyable moment for you as the GM?

I wasn’t as familiar with Forgotten Realms lore before starting this game, so it was enjoyable to really dig into the lore, and come up with obscure characters from the early game. It’s also fun to play around with iconic characters, so I’m trying to work in the many Mary Sues (good and evil) of the Forgotten Realms in a way that doesn’t steal the thunder from the PCs.

You have lots of great extras throughout the campaign — a very detailed adventure map, house rules, guides to deities and factions, and a place for rumors and public notices. The campaign calendar is especially cool. What elements have been the most useful for your gaming group and which ones are the most fun to create?

The maps and campaign calendar have been essential to the game’s organization. I am only planning it about a month ahead of the PCs, but it allows me to mark all the major festivals to create color and plot hooks, and also to mark down when different events are slotted to happen as the Game unfolds. It’s not all on Obsidian Portal yet; a lot is still in my notes on my mac, but it’s something that I’ve enjoyed putting together. I also think the factions all need to be firmed up so I can link to them and connect them together in the plot spiderweb the PCs are navigating. I don’t have them all fleshed out yet, because there are so many layers of street gangs, crime syndicates, scheming nobles and guilds, power-hungry mages, and of course the disparate churches and cults and orders.

A lot has been written over the years about this particular setting. Do you prefer to draw your adventures from published source material, make up your own stories, or do a bit of both?

In this campaign, I’m trying to use the published sources as much as I can. I have a few players that know a lot of Realms lore (more than I do likely), and I don’t want to ruin the fun of the rich lore. I also think it’s a great way to spark ideas and to create stories and plots. There is so much that’s been done in this city, and it’s really cool to have such interesting characters and locations to draw from. The Xanathar, Mirt, Artor Morlin, Halaster Blackcloak, the Masked Lords, etc are all such fun and exciting characters to play around with. I’m also adding my own characters into the setting too of course, and even taking ideas or factions from other sources.

Can you give us any hints about the future of the campaign without giving too much away? Or, do you have other, upcoming projects?

The future of the campaign really lies in the hands of the players. I know what the major factions in the city and dungeon are trying to do, and yes there are apocalypses planned if no one intervenes. The city may collapse into Undermountian if the Melairshield finally fails, or the Dark Army of the Night may recover the thread of the Shadow Weave from the Knot and plunge Waterdeep into the Plane of Shadow, or an avatar of Ghaunadaur may be summoned from the Pit, or Halaster Blackcloak may send a mechagolem into the city above to wreak havoc. Or the Amcathras may corner the market on ice wine. Lots of plots big and small, and we’ll see what the PCs grab onto and if they themselves become the movers and shakers of the City or the Dungeon, or both.

As far as other projects, I’ve been working on my Velnswood campaign. I started it a few years back, but it wasn’t quite ready. The idea of that one is a fantasy 13th century game set in the Baltics during the Northern Crusades. It’s a fascinating time and place where the Teutonic Knights are crusading against both the pagan viking-like Baltic warriors and the Russian princes, and the Holy Roman Emperor is branded an antichrist by the Pope, all while the Mongols are sweeping through Poland and Hungary to the south. This would be a OSR game, and it would dive deep into brutal scorched earth warfare, and religion with all the Christian schisms, sects, heresies, and pagan pantheons. I think there’s a lot of potential for an interesting sword and sorcery game set on the frontier between Latin Christendom and Eastern Christendom, with the last pagan nation between, in that time between the Dark Ages and the High Middle Ages.

Finally, Obsidian Portal always loves to ask if you have any advice or clever tricks to share, as a GM, a site-designer, or as a gamer in general.

I would recommend a campaign calendar tool as part of the wiki so that it’s easier to build a campaign calendar. I don’t know how many other people would use it, but it was nice to create something like that for my campaign, and it would be neat to have a more seamless add-in.

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And with that, we must shut the tavern doors for the night. Many thanks to sethwhite and the “City of Splendors” gaming group for sharing their work and insights with us. We hope you’ll do a little exploring of your own and draw inspiration from the work within this fine campaign. Until next month – Happy Gaming!

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