Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month March 2020 – Mournblade

Melniboné. Known to most as the Dragon Isle. As it happens, you have come at a most fortuitous time for one such as you. Stories abound of awesome adventures pertaining to numerous demonic “brother blades”. Of all these swords, few rival the fame of Mournblade – March’s Campaign of the Month! So if you possess a thirst for danger, and power, I bid you come as we interview GM Shmngg for details on this long-spanning epic campaign!

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? Any alter egos? Spouse and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!

ShmnggHi, thanks a lot for the award. I hail from France, as you might have guessed from reading the campaign portal. Outside the gaming circles I am a 31 year-old patent engineer, happily married since august. Other hobbies I have include spectating esports (CS:GO, Starcraft II and Warcraft 3 mostly), attempting at reading more and making very poor investments choices in crypto. I have little to no online presence unfortunately, but you can follow my campaign if you’d like!

Tell us briefly about your Mournblade campaign. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

Well the Mournblade campaign had been created following the release of the eponymous rpg by the Département des Sombres Projets and as you might have guessed it, it takes place in the world of Elric as depicted in the novels of Michael Moorcock. Moorcock has been a great inspiration in all my rpg campaigns ever since I read the Cycle of Elric when I was a teenager. So in a way that campaign had been brewing for a long time. Mournblade has been running for over five years now, with 30+, 14h+ hours IRL gaming sessions. It’s really my master work and I am not sure I will ever be able to reach such a level of commitment both from my players and myself.


How regularly do you play, and where do you play?

In theory once a month, in practice it’s more dependent on the workload and availabilities of the players and (mostly) myself. We play IRL, in Paris mostly but sometimes in the south of France as well. We use no particular tools, though we’d really like to have some for the skirmishes the game involves.

Why did you choose Mournblade over other systems? What are your favorite things about this RPG?

Tough question. We used the Mournblade original system for a while, let’s say for around 20 gaming sessions. It has some merits: it’s super simple, really easy to implement and drive as a GM. However, it’s also super _bland_ in that there is little customizability and it’s really super imbalanced. I patched the systems 10 times in a few years, but we recently moved out towards our own system fitting our particular preferences as players/GM. I use “module based approaches” that adapt to the narrative of the particular moment of the campaign. If a phase of the campaign involves a lot of sailing (on an archipelago for example), than I’ll expand the navigation rules for that phase, providing differenciation potential between players. In a different phase, the navigation module might not be really important and we can resort to a basic “navigation test”.


The RPG setting in itself is great, there’s a lot a GM can do with it. The Young Kingdoms are quite varied but they all revolve around central metaplots and dilemmas that are great to play out. It’s really a fantasy setting in which moral dilemmas have a great and tangible impact on the world and that makes for very interesting storylines. The setting we use is very much our own but still, I do believe that we are close to the spirit of Moorcock’s work.


For those of us out interested in a campaign of this style, we know there are a lot of places to draw inspiration from, but where do you draw yours from?

Read Moorcock’s work. It’s super retro 80’s fantasy but if you read between the lines and with a modern eye, you’ll see there is a lot to inspire today’s fantasy. Otherwise, reading other stuff is great. It can be anything. I’ve found some inspiration in a book about Shakespeare life that described the way actor troupes worked and their connexion to the politics of England and that was just fascinating. No floating islands for sure, but I strongly believe the amazing is in the details that bring the setting to life.


Also, turn to your players for inspiration. I find that a great deal of what I bring to the table is about reading what the players want from the setting and finding a clever way of articulating it in a way that makes sense with the setting as a whole.

I’m sure you play other systems too, which ones do you play most?

I’ve played Shadowrun a great bit, Fading Suns, Warhammer v2, Vampire… Nowadays I mostly GM. My favorite recent system is the new L5R system. I’m not sure it’s super popular but I really enjoy it.


How did you get into tabletop gaming?

I’d say video games? Warcraft 2, Diablo 2 probably. Books where you’re the hero definelty as well. When I was a teen, RPGs where not really popular anymore but you’d still meet older people who used to play during the golden age and that’d start conversations. From there it’s basically a whole package: Magic the Gathering, Warhammer, Power metal, Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure I’m an industrial product in terms of getting into tabletop gaming.

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

We have been using OP since the beginning of the campaign, 5+ years ago. I was looking for somewhere to post content that I’d knew would be steadily growing. OP seemed easily accessible and well designed. I haven’t looked back since.


Your customization is very impressive. Do you do all that work yourself? How much customization is there?

Not any, really. The base theme, only customized in colours, works wonders. I just make sure to use it “with taste” as much as I can. The biggest thing is the coherence I would say. You can take the characters tab for example, I think we have 100+ characters, and whenever I add a new one, I make sure that it fits the style of the other NPCs.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

Storing information in a super easy way (the wiki part) and making sure you won’t lose it. I mostly run the wiki but my players sometimes chime in. I leave the adventure logs to them, however.

How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?

I spend too much time preparing. Maybe 15-30h for a 15 hour gaming session? I go for super-intricate plots revolving around 2-5 intrigues colliding with each other, if possible in a way that will create moral dilemmas and choices for the players.


The way I do is trying to imagine who would live in the setting of the scenario, what could they be missing? What’s wrong in their lives? Do they have a plan? Are they in danger? Then I’ll add the overarching plot elements into the mix to disturb the initial system to a point that could create an overall collapse if not for the characters. I plan what happens if they don’t intervene in time or if they don’t do action X or Y. I never, ever, write the conclusions in advanced. It’s really about watching how the group reacts to an unstable situation.


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

One of the player’s was leaving for parental reasons. We knew well in advance and I’d been planning a grand revelation about the nature of the character for 20-25 sessions and 3 years IRL, it worked out perfectly and gave the character meaning in way that was unforeseen. That allowed the player to leave the table, I’m not sure how to say… appeased? I’ll be honest I shed a tear but it was super late and I’d spent years preparing that moment. Great times.

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

I probably should have read that question first! Well I’ve put some here and there in the answers above. Listen to the players, they might not know how to express what they want, that’s your job to figure out, but they are emitting the initial signal that you should understand and use to power the narrative engine of your game. I’ve found that often, it’s not the most graphically spectacular things that will shake your players to their core, it’s the mundane choices, the impactful dialogues, the moral choices.


But then again my main advice would be to listen to yourself. I have my ideas but they work for me because I’ve tried many things. Experiment, think, fail a lot and work from there. You’ll get it right eventually.

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And that’s going to be it for this month’s featured campaign. Thank you for taking the time to go on this journey with us. We hope you had a thrilling ride. We’ll be back come April with a brand new campaign for your viewing pleasure, but in the meantime, please contribute your favorite campaigns to the nomination thread in the community forums.

Take care, and keep on gaming!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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