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Jul

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month July 2022: Signs and Portends

Obsidian Portal loves to celebrate campaigns that have stood the test of time, such as this month’s Campaign of the Month winner — “Signs and Portends” by ketherian. Well-organized and well-loved, this game has been running for 10 years! We’ve asked ketherian to Hârness her experiences with the HârnMaster system, GM’ing, writing, and running conventions to answer a few questions and give us some insight into stories and fun that last for years on end.

Hail, ketherian! Congratulations on winning July 2022 Campaign of the Month! “Signs and Portends” is a captivating HârnMaster campaign that has adventure logs on Obsidian Portal dating back a decade. For those who don’t yet know the world of Hârn, can you give a quick overview of the campaign and what it’s about?

It started as a mystery campaign, although I’m sure the party would have called it a Murder-mystery campaign. The first few adventures are even written up for GMs on the Fantastinomicon Encounters page. But after many (many murder) mysteries, the party wanted something different – so the PCs “graduated” into something more political. After a war, and a long MacGuffin hunt — the party will soon embark on a there-and-back again type adventure to purify the MacGuffin.

According to your OP profile, you have many years of experience with many different kinds of games and even a few writing credits with published game material. If you had to narrow it down to some of your favorite systems and settings, which ones would you choose?

That’s a hard choice. I’ve played some games, and run a few too – but I’m always willing to try something new. For me, it’s more about the background world than the system. I’ve played HârnMaster and run games in HârnWorld for a very long time mostly because I fell in love with the detailed background, maps, and the quality of the fan-written materials. Is it my favorite? Currently, yes. But I’m always willing to try a new system and learn a new world.

What do you and your gaming group like best about HârnMaster?

We really enjoy the background and the details of the society. It’s not quite your standard Arthurian fantasy, but it’s close enough to feel familiar. From the system, we enjoy the fact that it has no classes, nor hit points. Instead, you build a person who has skills. It’s led to the party having a Mage-Knight, and a Cook (Herald/Thief/Spy), a Yeoman (Sargent/Guide/Tracker), and a Spearman (Guardsman/Shaman).

The other two characters (a priestess and a church knight) are a bit simpler in construction.
Another neat thing is that HârnMaster combat is lethal regardless of how experienced you become. Your player-character can die from your mistakes. And exhaustion kills. So, it’s no wonder that people invest in armor as soon as they can afford it.

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

I won’t speak for my party; but we’re in Montreal and meet up every 2 weeks. Our game table is often laden with snacks. Home-baking and cheese feature prominently, and the tea is pretty free-flowing.

The other neat thing? The table has more ladies than men (by 1). I have spent so many years as the only woman in the game, that this is a most pleasant change (although, it’s not the first time).

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

I started gaming when I was 12. My older sister was the GM. I thought she did a lousy job, so I took over. 😀

I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences (being a woman and a GM isn’t always accepted in conventions or when I join a new table), so I’ve had to learn to leave the bad situations behind. But I’ve had a lot more good experiences than bad, most of them at conventions. It’s incredible when a player viscerally reacts to what’s happening at the table (laughing, crying, shock, etc.); it’s even better when they show the emotion I was hoping for.

As to the Signs and Portends group, we mostly know each other through another hobby: running fan conventions. This makes gaming difficult during the convention season, but we manage.

I’m a forever gm, and I’ve run previous campaigns for everyone in the party (except the new guy). We’re not quite a permanent gaming group – but we are old friends.

Your campaign organization on Obsidian Portal is remarkably good and the pages are all easy to navigate. Do you have any tips for GM’s regarding organization?

I haunted the forums (and now discord). As much as I love messing with layout, I always started with the suggestions, advice, and templates created by others. When I ran into problems, I reached out for help in the community; and the community always helped.

I have a background in data management, and Obsidian Portal was not my first wiki. I regularly surf my own site, and I use it to share log updates and loot lists with the players, as well as background information – so it has to be easy to navigate.

When organizing your data, design your structure like you will never remember where you put things. 😀 And then, remember to define your categories on a page so that everyone knows what you mean with your categories.

“Signs and Portends” features a handy section on House Rules. What rules changes or additions have you found to be most useful, either for this HârnMaster campaign or for other games?

HârnMaster has 1 book of rules and 2 supplements (religion and magic). Most everything else is about the society and the world – so house rules tend to be few and far between. I set up house rules to try and make the game flow a bit more evenly and to give the players more control at the table.

House rules typically fill a need or fix a mistake in the game system. But when they get to be too numerous, they become their own problem. I prefer systems with less rules (even if that means not every situation is covered) and also less house rules than more.

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

A player got her monkey. The player asked for the pet at the beginning of the game. Rather than say no, I explained that (a) monkeys are not native to this part of Hârn, and (b) her character would have never seen a monkey. She came up with a backstory of where the desire came from, and I incorporated the whole process (getting pictures of monkeys, meeting with a master merchant, ordering a monkey and trading for it) into the game. It was a long, slow process – but she got her monkey. And the party celebrated.

The party fought a dragon (more-or-less). The Mage-Knight almost got bit in half. It destroyed his sword (which was quite the work of art). After the battle, the party found a master swordsmith – who cried at the site of it. The fight was part of a longer adventure where they cheated their way into an enemy keep and found and killed the evil oracle who ran the place. That whole long-ranging battle is memorable as the party was cut-off from their support, but still they managed to lure most of the forces in the keep outside before locking them out. Their success is a point of pride for them, and trust me, they really worked hard to get it!

After so many years there are a ton of stories, and lots of good memories. 🙂

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

For me, it’s the little moments. A player will ask for something, or mention something they want to do. A lot of things take so very much time in Hârn (there’s no teleportation), so by the time that thing comes around — the player usually has forgotten (not the monkey though). So, when it does come to fruition, it’s a joy to see the effect on the player.

There are the odd jokes too. At one point the church knight is testing his ability to detect evil, and on a whim, I told him the goat nearest him was evil. I thought it would be a quick scene. The party still teases him with evil-goat references.

I often mis-speak, so the party has walked through thin thickets, dry waterfalls, and wet deserts. 😀 Somehow, we make it work.

Overall, what part of the work of a GM do you love best and why — world-building, story-writing, battles, improvisation, and so on?

I love the world-building and the story-writing. They are what keeps me interested in the hobby. I’ve gotten better at improvisation over the years, although I try hard not to rely on it.

Can you give us any hints about the future of “Signs and Portends” (pun intended) without giving too much away? Or, do you have other, upcoming projects?

The party wanted a there-and-back again adventure (a la Hobbit). So, they’ll be traversing Hârn and visiting the mainland (Lythia). They’ll travel a penitent path – traveling from holy site to holy site until they reach the high seat of Larani. In-game, it’s expected to take around 2 years. Naturally, something’s going to happen at each site (maybe even a murder!). After that – I’m not sure.

Given your experience in gaming — playing games, running games, and writing — you have certainly seen changes over time in roleplaying games at your own tables and within the industry as a whole. What developments over the years have really impacted or improved gaming the most, for you? And if you’re willing to speculate, what do you think roleplaying games look like in the future?

I love the session 0 concept. When I started, the world you played in was what the GM presented without party feedback. I was never that comfortable with that, and have found over the years that I prefer it when the party give me feedback and tells me what they want from the game.

I still sometimes have problems with acceptance and inclusion, but now it’s regulated to forum posts not games or conventions. Gaming is, and always will be an apprenticeship process. To be a good player, you have to play with other good players. To be a good GM, you have to be in games with good GMs. Taking feedback isn’t always fun, but if it’s given with compassion, it’s always valuable.

I love to see the innovation of other GMs and their parties. I read everything I can find about GM’ing, but also about communication, improvisation, and negotiations. I don’t know where things are going to go from here — but it will be fun to find out.

Finally, Obsidian Portal always enjoys asking if you have any advice or clever tricks to share, as a GM, author, a site-designer, or as a game-player in general.

Ask questions.

As a player, as a GM, and as a person – it’s better to ask and seek for answers than it is to remain silent.

Listen more than you speak. As a GM that’s really hard to do. 😀 But when your players are talking – listen. Take notes. Use what they say to enrich your world, and don’t always use it against them. You need your party’s trust. Earn it and repay it by asking them questions about what they want to see – for their character, and for their game.

And lastly, if you don’t like the way some other game is run or played – don’t harsh their yum. Be careful with your criticisms, and remember that your words have an effect. Make that effect positive, not negative, every chance that you can.

Thank you for this honor. I look forward to see what happens in the near future. Maybe people will stop liking my Rise of the Runelords adventure, and start liking Signs and Portends one. 😀

And many thanks to you, ketherian, and to your players, for sharing your creativity and craft with our community. As we say farewell to the world of Hârn, we look to other horizons for more excellent examples of gaming goodness. If you know of a campaign on Obsidian Portal that deserves distinction, let us know about it on the forums! Happy Gaming!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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