January’s CotM: The Age of Steam

Today we’re joined by GM Davidnic to talk to him about his game Greyhawk 937 cy: The Age of Steam. It’s a great game with a really nice looking wiki that definitely exists far outside of “the box”. Tune in now!

Age of Steam

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

I’m from the Coal Region of Pennsylvania. Married with two kids, a 4 year old girl and 7 month old boy. I work overnight and my wife works days so one of us is the child care at all times. We both work for Penn State at the library so there is never a shortage of book around the place. 5 million plus in the collection at work so always something to inspire you.

Tell us about The Age of Steam in a nutshell. I know that it somehow stems off of Rise of Asmodeus, which would have been another great CotM candidate if it didn’t end before I got a chance to reach out to the GM! How does this whole string of campaigns coincide and how long have they been going on?

Age of Steam is set 300 years after Rise of Asmodeus, which was 30 years after the first campaign in the set. The first one was before we found portal. The plot is not continuous but I always wanted to do a set of games where the world was seen in a timeline. Players always play their characters hearing about the heroes of the past. And if and when they make a name that will last decades or centuries the game usually ends. So I thought it would be interesting to see what a continuous world would look like with the changes the players made decades and centuries later. And then the players also see how their old characters impact the history and folklore that shaped the current world.


All in all I think the full set of campaigns will take about 6-7 years (at about year 4 1/2) and that is if we don’t do a Greyhawk Modern at some point after this one. But Age of Steam is at least a 2 year or more campaign. With the new side quest mechanic I am using my bet is possibly more.

Greyhawk, Oerth, Steampunk, Pathfinder? What is going on here?! Explain yourself!

Well we always loved Greyhawk. And the Pathfinder system is pretty much a perfection of 3.0-3.5 for us. So the mechanics of Pathfinder can be adapted to any world and my players are Greyhawk people through and through. As far as Steampunk…I just could not resist. If I was moving along the timeline the Age of Steam…Dwarves with jackhammers and Gnomes with back pack steam and magic powered helicopters was just too good to resist.

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 play once a week on Fridays. Sometimes both Friday and Saturday. Once the kids go to sleep we use Google hangouts to assemble our two distance players and get going. We play from our kitchen which, frankly, shows up a little too yellow on the webcams and may need to be painted just to save our eyes. Our group has been together (the core four: Me, my wife, Julia and Sarah) for about 14 years this year. My sister in law joined us for this series of campaigns, our friend Amy started with Rise of Asmodeus and our friend Frank joins us for Age of Steam. We bring in Julia and Sarah remotely. They played with us face to face since college and it would not be the same without them on the weekends. The rest of us are in my kitchen. So five girls and two guys, five live and two coming in remotely.

What are your favorite aspects Pathfinder? What are some of its drawbacks (if any)?

I think it ironed out the kinks of 3.0 and 3.5. But by far I think the CMB (Combat Maneuver Bonus) and CMD (Combat Maneuver Defense) has made Monks amazing. It also has helped make combat more cinematic with a simple mechanic. I use a home brew spell point system because I always found the spell slot system a little restrictive for players. So if I see a drawback is really is that continuity that goes all the way back to the first D&D.

Lots of great cartography going on within your campaign, items too, who puts all this stuff together?

We use http://ghmaps.net/ for all our Oerth map needs. Almost all the cropping, and placement of the maps and visual structure for the entire Campaign are done by me and Sarah (Madartiste). Without Sarah the Portal site would not be getting this award. The amount of times I have wondered out loud if something was possible and 20 minutes later it is one to perfection is really all her. All the players contribute ideas and such but Sarah makes it happen on the portal side with me helping. She is just as important from the tech end as the GM is for the overall plot of the world.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game? How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

Thankfully I have a great memory and am good at improvisation. So it does not take long to do the preparation in the conventional sense since I remember a good deal of it without needed to make notes and set up each individual session. In a way it is always in my head being prepared. Working in a library, and a huge one, there are constantly interesting books coming through. That has given me a constant flow of inspiration. In addition to that I have always loved any kind of stories and they rattle around in my head. So thankfully I have this outlet and a great group of people who do not mind having it all shot at them every weekend. Thankfully I also have children to impose my natural storytelling on each night.

Aside from Pathfinder I’m sure you have played other systems too, if so, which ones?

We all started out separately with the original Dungeons and Dragons and have played games in all of the editions except 4th. Besides that the original World of Darkness was the system that the core of the group has the most experience with together. We had a WOD campaign for many many years together.


We also have done the old Marvel, D6 Star Wars and D20 Star wars. I have done Call of Cthulhu, Supernatural RPG and a few others. Right now I am really liking the Silvervine game and system. My sister in law loves that system and plays it when we all go to Origins. I have to say the character creation system in Silvervine is the most open and player friendly I have ever seen.

How did you get into tabletop gaming?

My oldest brother was 18 years older than me. So when I was six or so he had all the original D&D stuff and I read it. When I was in high school he had all of the World of Darkness stuff. By the time I actually ran WOD I had read everything made for it up to that point for years and years. I was able to get playing D&D with a group in college and then when the people who became our group wanted to play a World of Darkness I volunteered to run it.

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

I have been a member since March of 2011. I think the fact that I can set all the world up and keep it organized is a big plus. Without the portal I am not sure I would be running with two little ones. But it gives me the time to get things together, keep it ready and get everyone immersed in the world.

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

I like the ease of tagging and media embedding. The overall interface is smoother and more user friendly for my less tech players. Although most of them are fine with such things. From the GM point of view I can make characters easier. NPC’s gather in my head like an open invitation to a fatal mob stabbing on the Ides of March…so it is great to be able to make them and get them visually represented more quickly.

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

There are great spots in all the games in the arc so far. But I think the best is yet to come…I mean; you can overuse fights and mysteries on steam trains but you would have to really try. And we will really try.

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

I have always followed the basic philosophy that people need stories. When we are kids we tell ourselves these epics that are heroic or ludicrous. But no matter which of those or anything in between the key is they are without limits. I see this again and again with my little girl who will make paper into scrolls, hide them in the house and grab me to hunt for the lost magic scrolls in the jungle temple.


When we get older we still tell ourselves stories every day. We look in the mirror and tell ourselves what we will eat in a moment, what route we will take to work and what we will do today. But those are still stories. The thing is we have forgotten the fact that they do not need to be limited to what will actually happen. Role playing lets people unlearn the limits on their stories. Each player has a story they tell themselves when making their character. I do it with my NPC’s too. The GM’s overall plot is a structure but it is not the full story. A GM has to strive to let each player tell their story to themselves and to the group. That is what makes it fun. So the GM balances the overall direction that only he/she knows with the freedom to let the players tell their stories.


People say gamers are antisocial. But really they are engaging in one of the first true social rituals. Long before parties or bars people were sitting around a fire telling stories to each other until the sun came back up in the morning. It is very social to share your dreams and stories. I try to remember this as a GM. This is a game, and a very very old one: Collaborative storytelling.

That’s it for this month, be sure to check back next month for another awesome campaign and keep your suggestions for CotM candidates coming to my inbox!

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