Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month April 2020 – Core

Attention all Adventurers, Mercenaries, and Swords-for-Hire! By Imperial Decree, you are required to register with the Imperial Barristers a full inventory of all weapons, magical artifacts and spellcasting capability! Qualifying individuals – as determined by the Barristers – must also register with ARC, the Artifact Reclamation Covenant! Such is your introduction to Core: The Ashes of Alcarna – Campaign of the month for April 2020! Now move! Barrister Abersade will be handling your registration!

https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/campaigns/152149/banners/666682/Core_BannerLogo_Season1.png?1479891091First and foremost, congratulations on a second Campaign of the Month win! That’s a pretty rare honor. How have things been since our last interview? Any major updates or life changes?

Well, my name is John. I’m a 38 year old Network Operations Center Analyst 2 who was promoted last year due in no small part to the CSS skills that I’ve picked up working on the campaign sites that I manage here on Obsidian Portal.

Awesome news on the promotion! So, let’s dive into this campaign. Tell us briefly about Core. How long has the game been running at this point? How did things get kicked off?

So, this is a bit of an odd concept, in that this is the second attempt I’ve made at telling this story. Core was always intended to be a sort of introduction to the mechanics of D&D 3.5, the original group consisted of my two younger daughters (they were around 9 and 10 at the time), my wife (SaintDiane, who played in RotD), a friend of ours (Wizneber, who played in RotD as well), and another player friend of ours who wanted to learn how the game worked. The first group had a lot of fun but due to some scheduling issues the campaign fell apart very close to the beginning.


Not to be deterred, after Rise of the Durskald ended I started creating this game here instead of managing it on paper like I had initially. The current version of Core has been running for around 3.5 years at this point and was again structured as an introduction to the game, this time for a mostly different group of players, one of which is my oldest daughter who played in the first version of the game. The concept of a shell world created to seal away a mysterious and dangerous civilization at its core is something I’ve been toying with for quite a while. All in all I’d say that the game is ten years in the making at this point.


How regularly does the group come together? Where or how do you guys play?

We try to play once every week for a few hours. Everyone is either remotely connected via laptop (Skype is helpful) or has kids with school activities so scheduling is (as always) the biggest factor, I’d say we play on average around 3 sessions each month.

So is your refusal to be deterred the only reason that you made this campaign using 3.5 D&D? Or are there other factors that caused you to stick with this game system? What are your favorite aspects of this system in particular?

We are still running D&D 3.5, mainly due to the sheer volume of material and books I have for the system. With that said I’ve made a number of tweaks and balance changes via House Rules and the Role Playing Points system to make things a bit less fatal and to offer more roleplaying mechanics. I jokingly refer to it as D&D 3.75.

How about inspiration? Where do you typically draw yours from, and are there any recommendations you might make to someone considering working on a campaign of this style?

Perhaps more so than in my previous campaign ideas this one draws inspiration from foreboding tales of science fiction and horror. The idea behind what the Builders have become in their exile is a combination of The Thing and the automatons of the Greek god Hephaestus, think the liquid metal terminator but it can absorb things around it to heal and it can infect and rather quickly turn living creatures into things like itself, particularly through exposure to the filaments that just so happen to be spewing from the ash vents.


What about other game systems? Which ones do you play if any? Is there one you play the most besides D&D 3.5?

I don’t have much time actually to devote to the hobby, so right now it’s just D&D 3.5. I would absolutely LOVE to play in a Rogue Trader game or a game of old World of Darkness Werewolf the Apocalypse. Two of our players are planning a 5E game so I’m excited to see how that unfolds.

So remind us, how did you get into tabletop gaming?

Well, the first book I had for any of the systems was for Werewolf the Apocalypse, the version with the cut out front cover made to look like claws damaged the book. If I’m being honest though my first real experience with running any sort of tabletop system probably would be the board game HeroQuest, and I bought that because I was very interested in the Grey Star the Wizard series and Lone Wolf series of interactive books at the time. My interest in those book series can be directly traced backwards through time to the original Dragon Warrior game for the NES.

The campaign customization on Core is fantastic. Do you do all of the work on it yourself? How extensive is the custom CSS used to achieve this aesthetic?

I do the vast majority of the customization myself, with occasional help enlisted from some of the fantastic campaigns present here on the portal. The amount of customization isn’t as much as some folks might think, Core has 321 lines of CSS code, easily 25% of which are comments. I do almost all of the CSS work on the back-end so there isn’t much in the way of in-line coding being done either. I do try to use customized images wherever possible, though almost never original John creations as I’m objectively terrible at most art forms.


And what about prep? How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions? How do you go about it?

My prep time for Core is very low, I’d say less than an hour each week. Likely less than thirty minutes each week actually. I think that if you set your setting up in such a way that the rules and behaviors are consistent and that the motivations for the characters are well understood the game develops extremely organically and naturally with little real intervention from the GM. The game becomes a story that the players have real agency with, they can and do create ripples that change everything with every session that goes by but since everything reacts in a predictable (to the GM anyways) manner the whole thing sort of preps itself. I do pull statistic blocks as needed beforehand and pick out music that I think will be appropriate for fights.

So, if you had to pick one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most these days? What about the site do you find the most useful?

Obsidian Portal makes organizing the information in a game fairly easy, but I think what it does best is making that information available to the players.

How long have you been on the site at this point? What brought you here and what keeps you coming back?

I’ve been using Obsidian Portal for nearly a decade. It is still the only tool that does what I need it to do without making it difficult for my players to view or interact with the content. I also really appreciate the community aspect of Obsidian Portal, and that’s where many of the other sites fail.


Getting back to the campaign, what would you say has been the single biggest highlight of the game so far?

One of the moments that springs to mind is when the party found and awakened the Destroyer, a nigh invincible golem made of channeling crystal and grown on the shellworld from the core as a gambit that would force the members of the shellworld to seek its destruction, which is only possible should the seals binding away the core be broken. The Destroyer was awakened by sensing the presence of Mila, a Karsite slave that was sent to the shellworld through one of the many ash vents with only a memory of a large block of crystal that she needed to reach. The sheer mayhem and chaos that ensued as the players fled from it down the mountainside as fast as possible while it gave chase and lobbed boulders at them was magical. Nigh invincible it may be, but intelligent it was not, they tricked it into rolling itself off of the cliff side and plummeting into the forest below. It didn’t take the Destroyer long to find them again.

And to finish off, you know what question we love to hear from our featured GMs! What are some of your best tips and tricks for running campaigns?

Maybe this is just me but I like to do a LOT of prep work prior to a campaign starting. Have a system when you first start a game and take some time to flesh things out, it really helps in the long run should a group of players do something unexpected. For me I start with the campaign concept, in this case it was that the game would primarily take place on a shellworld unbeknownst to the players or the vast majority of NPCs, and that at the core of the world was another world which housed a great evil. From there I come up with the end goal of the game, in this case it was that the players would have to make the choice between sacrificing an NPC that’s been with them since the first couple of sessions or breaking one of the seals of the shellworld without fully understanding the consequences (but knowing beyond any shadow of doubt that it was a bad idea).


Then I start working in from the outside as I build the setting, in this case coming up with Ranthia and it’s corrupt politicians and war with the elves, then the provinces that make up and are held in thrall to Ranthia through military force, then to the village of Greenfield where the game started to flesh that out. Once that was done, I worked from that point back outwards detailing missing information, plot points and hooks, side quests, towns, etc. Whatever method you choose to build your setting, be consistent and be thorough. Make sure you create at least three entities; the starting area (to give your players a place to play in), whatever body governs the starting area (to understand the motivations and attitude of NPCs in the starting area in the event that the players don’t immediately take the bait of the adventure hook), and the initial adventure hook and adventure (to give your players something to do in your setting). That should get you through the first session or two, giving you time to build from there.

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With that my friends, I’m afraid we’ve reached the end of this month’s feature. We’ll be back soon with another great campaign for you to check out. In the meantime, please stop by the community forums and nominate any other worthy campaigns that you know of; we’d love to be able to give them the highlight they deserve. Take care, and we’ll see you next time!

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