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Dec

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month December 2020 – House Jasper

A raven for you m’lord! The situation in Westeros remains uncertain, and your council is requested. If you’re a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series or the Game of Thrones TV series, then you will absolutely love House Jasper – December’s Campaign of the Month! So come along as we step briefly into the world of dragons and white walkers with daniel_burns_jr, GM of this long-running campaign!

First and foremost, congratulations! We would love to know a little bit about you before we get into the game. Who is the person behind the GM screen and how long have you been gaming?

I’m a bit of a newcomer. I began gaming in 2017 shortly after moving to a new city (Roswell, NM). At a community arts event a friendly guy named Matt (Wild Bird Games) introduced himself and asked if I was “into gaming”. “Like video games?” I said, “sure I have an Xbox”. He replied “No, like tabletop games”. “Oh sure,” I said, “my friends and I love RISK”. He explained that he meant TTRPGs, and using Dungeons and Dragons as a reference point, sparked my interest in a new hobby.

After a year or so of being a player (in Star Wars FFG and Firefly) I volunteered to run our local group’s next game. I chose the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG because of my familiarity with both the book series and the Game of Thrones TV show. I had a great time running that campaign (set in Dorne during the ‘War of the Five Kings’) and reached out to my friends from high school to see if they would like to try playing the ASOIAF RPG online. I’d been searching for a new thing for us all to do together to keep in touch after we had scattered across the country. In the past we had a band, gone on lengthy hiking trips in the Adirondacks, and built snowboards… but no one had ever played an RPG before. To my surprise everyone said that they would love to give it a try and our group was born. Even more surprising to me is that 2.5 years later our game is still going strong and we still have all 8 of our original members.

With such an inexperienced player group, have there been any hard lessons learned?

Yes, they all created their characters without ever having played a TTRPG before. 5/7 players are still playing their original characters. This has led to some… interesting events. One player character wound up in the water and thought that because he mentioned swimming in his backstory that his character could swim… this was not the case and he nearly drowned. Another character almost froze to death in a blizzard early on due to poor stats in certain areas. Yet another player made his character a fairly skilled battlefield commander only to learn that he doesn’t really enjoy that part of the game very much.

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It looks like you’ve been playing “House Jasper” for quite a while. If you could sum up the basic storyline into just a few, George R.R. Martin-inspired sentences, how would you describe the campaign as a whole?

House Jasper is the story of a very minor house on the rise. The Jaspers have toiled in obscurity for centuries but they chose the right side during Robert’s Rebellion. The war served as the first rung of the ladder back to power and they have been climbing, rung by rung, ever since. However, threats from within and without are trying to hurl them off the ladder.

Most of us are familiar with the universe of “A Song of Ice and Fire” by way of the books or the “Game of Thrones” show, but many of us don’t know much about the game system. Can you tell us about it? Favorite rule-mechanics? Any house-rules that have worked out well?

The system is a little clunky, mechanics-wise, but it does a nice job of guiding the GM to running a campaign very much in the tone and spirit of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. The game system has three major conflict resolution subsystems (in addition to more traditional skills checks). The three systems are Combat (for small scale fighting, I generally don’t have more than 12-15 characters in a combat), Intrigue (social combat, just as robust a set of rules as the combat rules), and Warfare (large scale combats, best used for large battles).

I’ve made a few small house rules (we do play mostly rules-as-written). I have made use of random loot tables for certain adventures or times when players are looting the bodies of their foes. That has led to hilarity, one particular player always winds up getting the most useless stuff (3 copper pieces, iron stakes). I’ve also asked the players to create NPCs (and even play NPCs at times). Recently they played NPCs in a ‘rapid courtship’ event which served as a light-hearted break from our typically high-stakes story.

What other kinds of games do you and your group enjoy most?

Dominion is a great deck-building game. Chess is a classic, a few of us play against each other with an app. At the risk of sounding single-minded… Game of Thrones RISK. We’ve also played a Monopoly/RISK hybrid called Riskopoly a few times (which, as you may expect, has never been finished).

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True to an actual ASOIAF book, we count 7 players and 195 NPC’s on your characters page. Not to mention all the houses! Perfect for tales of intrigue but difficult to manage. What’s your secret to handling such a large cast of characters?

At the risk of sounding like I am pandering, Obsidian Portal. I use the biography section of each character page to describe (briefly) the interactions that the NPCs have had with the players. I use the ‘GM only section’ to track things like which voice I use, the character sheet, and things that happened “off-screen” that the players are not aware of. I also use the tags to make searching easy. If the players are in Gulltown, for example, and I’d like a knight in the group to be challenged to a duel by another knight, I simply search Gulltown and look for any knights they have met from Gulltown. If there is a suitable candidate I use them. If not, it is time for the cast to grow!

For the first two years of our game the players were split into two separate nights (so I was running games for House Jasper twice per week). The idea was that a smaller ‘class size’ would make learning easier and faster. For most of the campaign the two player groups would be off doing separate things but every few months I would bring them together for a major event, something that we called a “crossover episode”. This has led to a lot of unknowns, secrets, and plotting that players, and their characters, are unaware of. For the past several months we have merged into one weekly session…. But the separate adventures added a lot of opportunity for hidden plots that are still playing out (as you’ll see below).

Speaking of characters, what can you tell us about your players? Any favorite moments, memorable murders, or quotes of note?

One player character is a bard who has earned knighthood during the campaign (Dolins). The player will periodically perform songs that he has written, to familiar tunes, that depict the recent events of the campaign. It’s always a treat.

One, now deceased, player character (Jardon Pyke) descended into madness fueled by various maimings (one eye, both legs) suffered throughout the campaign. It was really fun for us all to watch the player have increasing disregard for his own character… and yet he stayed the course and leaned into the madness of it.

The highlight for many of us was the death of the first player character. Calaila was murdered by Ser Carsen, another player character. If that weren’t Game of Thrones enough, Ser Carsen had waited for his opportunity for 2 real-world years. Unbeknownst to Ser Carsen (or the player) the NPC who had tasked him with the murder had been dead for over year, killed in a confrontation Calaila and some of their allies.

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Betrayals and secrets often drive the story in your Adventure Logs. Are there any intrigues or reveals that you’re particularly proud of? Any tips for crafting them?

I build intrigue-centric scenes in a specific way. I’ll have 2-5 NPCs (each with their own variations on their house’s/faction’s objective). I’ll also have 1-2 necessary plot points to touch on (to keep the story moving) as well as 1-4 optional plot points that serve to enrich the scene, add color, provide a side quest, or move a reveal forward. Speaking of reveals…

There are a number of reveals that have not yet been made (and maybe never will). In the House Jasper campaign I have the luxury of time. We’ve been pacing at about 2 in-game years per year; which means I can plant seeds and if the reveals occur organically that’s great. If the reveal needs to be fertilized, I have time to work that out in a natural way. I suppose my advice is patience. I’ll let a few of the players in the game share their favorite reveals…

Alex: For me, there are two. Firstly, the moment that Ser Darron (and the player playing him) realized that the handmaiden turned Mistress-of-Whispers (Calaila) was deadly with a sword. Secondly, being duped by a fool masquerading as the lord of House Redwyne… He had been masquerading as the lord of the house and we wound up in the dungeons for treason (Otto).

Steve: We all thought that Jardon had died… but it ended on a cliff-hanger revealing he had been knocked out and and woke up as a captive in a rival house. I also enjoyed revealing to another player that his character had been betrothed to a pregnant lady of an allied house without his knowledge.

“House Jasper” makes great use of some of the formatting features of Obsidian Portal, like slideshows and accordions. What OP tools have helped you and your group the most?

Without a doubt it is the adventure logs. I incentivize writing them with experience points. The logs serve three functions for us. One, it keeps players thinking about the game between weekly sessions. Two, it allows them to flesh out their characters and fill in the gaps in the timeline. Three, it allows them to document what happened in session (and because my GMing style does not allow much room for me to take notes) it acts as the semi-official record.

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Without giving too much away, what hints can you give us about your future plans and plots? Will the players face terrors from wild lands or death from a trusted ally? Or both? Are there many more adventures yet to come or are you nearing your own “Winds of Winter?”

My own “Winds of Winter” (i.e., writer’s block) is far in the future. I’ve got several years of plot arcs and encounters outlined. To be clear, the players are not on a railroad… I am always reshuffling and revising my planning document in response to their actions. After 2.5 real world years spanning the years 282-286 AC there have been more changes to my plan than I care to think about. At current count the past/present/future Master Plan document is 83 pages (with about 20 of those pages being future-oriented). My plan is to keep running the game until we catch up to the books. At our current pace that will be in 2025-2027… so keep writing George!

One game idea that I have is for the players to leave their beloved House Jasper characters temporarily when we reach the year 296 or 297 AC. I’d like to underscore the dire threat of the Others (White Walkers for the TV show-only folks) with an arc beyond the wall using the Night’s Watch supplemental book. The set-up is that the players will create new characters (a band of Wildlings) on the run after the Others destroyed their village. If they can get south of The Wall, they live. Otherwise… they will join the army of the dead. My hope is that this ‘side campaign’ experience adds to the existential threat when the Others come south (or the Seven Kingdoms ride north to hold them off). I want the players to be suitably scared for their long-time characters and House Jasper when it is time for the war against the Others.

Finally, if you had to give all the GM’s and Players reading this interview an inspirational pre-battle speech before they play their next game, how would it go?

Carpe the Diem. Seize The Carp!

– – –

And now, for the bittersweet departure. With luck, this ending will get a better reception than that of GoT’s 8th season; but the time has come for us to go. Be sure to nominate your favorite campaigns so they too can be in contention for a feature of their own. Don’t be too heartbroken though. We’ll return with another great campaign soon enough. We swear it – by the old gods and the new!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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