17
Sep

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2019 – The Cold Truce

Five hundred years have passed since the great Dividing War. Most have forgotten the details of those dark times, but some yet remember. Long-simmering resentment is steadily growing into longing for a new conflict. Are we soon to see the end of The Cold Truce – Septembers Campaign of the Month! If renewed war is on the horizon, then time is of the essence. We must meet with GM Conan_Lybarian, and quickly!

https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/campaigns/208885/banners/956241/coldtruce.jpg?1553658874To get things started, how about telling us a bit more about yourself? Are there other places we can find your work online? Anything you’re willing to share about the family situation? What about other hobbies besides tabletop RPGs?

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I live in Ohio with my awesome wife, Optimus_Babe, and my two little kobold kiddos. I’m the General Manager of an Auto repair facility, so I put in a lot of hours at the shop. Home life is spent enjoying time with the family, and planning and running game. I don’t have much of an online footprint besides the forums, so feel free to stalk. I have a seed of an idea for a little more of a presence, but it’s still just in the thought bubble stage.

So what’s the story with The Cold Truce campaign? How long has the campaign been going on at this point? and what was the formation like?

The Cold Truce is an espionage and Cold War style fantasy game. The main players are the two nations of the continent of Arnëa who are both preparing for a possible coming war. The catalyst is The Broker; a mysterious figure who is creating chaos to trigger the conflict. The PCs belong to a covert organization, the Wall, who are trying to prevent either nation from plunging the continent into turmoil. To accomplish this they must not only work to undermine both major powers, but also uncover The Broker’s identity and prevent whatever plot he has that would make him want to end the Cold Truce.

 

The game started really as a blank slate. I knew I wanted was to run a 5e game, but I turned over the campaign and story creation to my players. I’ve got a scribbled page of notes and ideas from our session 0 (I’d even call it session -1) where they came up with the idea of an espionage game and playing as Agents in a “World on the Brink.” We’ve been going strong since October of ’18, and are about to come to the end of the second story arc.

How often do your sessions takes place? and do you play online or in person? If online, what setup or tools do you use?

We play on Discord once a week. I toyed with Roll20 and a few other online tools but ultimately felt like I spent more time using the accessories than I did telling a story. I use the screen share function regularly to either surprise them with a picture or event and just to review something on the Portal. Other than that, my players really thrive in the “theater of the mind” style that we do over video chat.

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What made you choose Dungeons & Dragons 5e over some of the other available systems and editions? and what are your favorite things about this version of the game?

I really wanted that classic D&D feel. The mechanics are in-depth without being too crunchy and easy enough for a couple of my less experienced players to firmly grasp. It also really allows for tons of customization and homebrewing. The first campaign I ever played in was 3.0, and I fell in love with the system and universe of D&D. The cosmos, pantheons, and history of the different editions and settings are just so rich. Even if you only ever read the WotC books, the amount of lore and history is truly expansive. I still go back through my 3.0/3.5 and 4e books to transpose to 5e.

Let’s turn now to inspiration. Where do you get yours from for this campaign, and how much does it factor into things?

This is a slightly different campaign for me. Political intrigue is pretty common in campaigns, but it’s a little different than actual political *conflict*. Creating the BBEG has been the easy part, but the party is about to plunge into the nitty-gritty of the bureaucratic strife. To really prepare and run this campaign, I’ve been drawing from a lot of actual history to help guide the feel and motivations of the story and NPCs. The Cold War alone is enough for several campaigns. But every stand-off, trade embargo, negotiation, coupe, and guerilla tactics war, has some nugget of an idea. Combing those with a fantasy elements turns out to be more organic than I thought it would be, but it’s figuring out how to make the story relatable and not too “Big Picture” that has been tricky. The best inspiration has come from my players though. I ask them regularly what they want to see develop in the campaign and for their characters. And they are always ready with something surprising and interesting to help me develop where the story is going.

How did you get into tabletop gaming? And what other systems do you play the most?

I grew up with a deep appreciation for mythology and fantasy fiction. During my freshman year of high school, a few friends were running a D&D game and needed players. I had no idea how to play, but the DM pitched it as “Be whatever you want, and I’ll tell the story around you guys.” So I rolled up a completely broken and barely playable human-werewolf-barbarian and the DM just went with it. I was hooked immediately!

 

I tend to collect systems like minis, so it breaks my heart to only be able to play a few of the ones I’ve got on my shelves and in my digital library. Optimus_Babe and I have been playing Star Breaker, a Hyperlanes one-on-one campaign, for a quite a while now. It originally started as a 4e campaign set in the Astral Sea which we rebooted to the modified 5e system when she came up with an awesome idea to throw D&D into space. I’m also a player in a Tails of Equestria campaign with my 5 year old daughter that the wife is running. I haven’t been *just* a PC in years, and I’m having a lot of fun playing a pony. It’s a surprisingly good system! Aside from several ready to play 5e campaigns, I’ve also got plans for a D6 campaign soon for a couple new players. I just have to learn the Xena Warrior Princess mythos…

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So what’s your Obsidian Portal starter story? How long have you been a with us? What brought you to the site? and what was it that made you decide this is the site for you?

I joined about 5 years ago to use it as a basic note log. I found it useful, but I hadn’t really realized the potential of OP until last year, when I started looking for a good way to host and run a game for an online campaign. When I started planning Cold Truce I had a big eureka moment as I started really exploring the site. I’ve always been the DM to give out secret notes, make props, and communicate between sessions. OP definitely delivers that without requiring a separate notebook just for the minutia and random material my players and I create on the fly. Not only can I do all that with OP, but being able really customize a campaign is HUGE for me.

How much of the work on your site’s customization do you do on your own? There looks to be quite a bit going on there. Do the players help?

Customizing the campaign has become a hobby in its own right. I really owe my progress to the OP community. It’s great to be able to ask a question and then get such helpful advise. After some trial and error I started learning a little CSS, and now inspect elements of stuff I like and kind of bludgeon my way through reverse engineering. It’s not always pretty, but I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out how to achieve what I want. Cold Truce is *full* of customization and I’m constantly fidgeting with the little things. I think the only thing I haven’t tweaked are the Icons on the menu itself, which I left alone to make the site easier to navigate for visitors. I’d like to add new elements in the future, but my players have really responded to the subtle changes that help create the ambiance of the campaign.

What would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most concerning your campaign? Do your players find it as useful as you do?

OP really helps me keep organized. I love creating NPCs, Items, and improvising story elements! To have all that in one place has made it so much easier to run a story and not forget elements. Wiki management really is intuitive overall and matches my style of DMing. It has a lot more utility than as just a singular Campaign Manager though. I’ve been experimenting with a private campaign I use as a GM Notebook of sorts. It requires cutting and pasting, but is much easier to have it in the same place I create and run campaigns now, instead scouring through legal pads and spiral bounds. I’d love to see some function that would allow content sharing from a Master Campaign, for a little more ease of Content Management.

 

My players have written several journals and character bios, and created a lot of material for The Cold Truce. I’m not ashamed to admit that I offer in-game bribes for anything they create or post. They can’t bring food or drinks to an online session, but that doesn’t mean they can’t appease the DM!

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Can you walk us through some details about your session prep? How much time do you usually spend? and how do you get ready to run?

I usually spend an hour or two getting my thoughts together, then write an outline or a few quotes down if I’m planning something specific. I page through the monster manual and pick out a monster or two that fits narrative, decide if the session will be story oriented or “in between”, and then rough draft a few NPCs. I generally improv a lot of content and rely on the players to provide ideas and then mixing it with the overall flavor of what I had planned for the session. It might not work for everyone, but I’ve always found that a campaign really hits home more when it tailors to the players ideas, instead of being a big prewritten story. I provide the tools and elements for getting through the story, but the players decide how to use them.

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

Razvahn, the Raven Queen worshiping Shadar-kai, was trying to get information out of the Vermin Hag, Sandier (Sand-ear). When he asked who controlled the Feywild, she told him that the answer would come at the cost of a precious memory. I had planned that whatever questions the player asked, the Hag would want a personal sacrifice. Whether a couple fingers or a few years in service in the future, the cost would depend on the question. When the Optimus_Babe asked that question, I was caught *completely* off guard. She was asking about a major story point that I had only a rough outline for, *way* out in a future. Not only that, but it would be a big reveal that would change the course of the story. I figured in the moment that I would set the bar high and give up at least _something_’ depending on the memory. When the Optimus_Babe said “the Clan”, I was blown away. Raz’s whole back story and motivations up to that point had been about his clan, proving himself to them and the Raven Queen, and feeling like the Wall was still second to his Shadar-Kai brethren. It was a *major* change to a character for the sake of the story and campaign that just absolutely gave me goosebumps. As I told the new story of the character’s history and changed it to him surviving on his own, I almost choked up. To be invested in a character, and then decide to sacrifice your family and personal history, struck me as really powerful. It stands out as one of my favorite moments from ANY campaign.

Lastly, before we close this thing out, can you provide us with some of your best GMing advice?

Have tables for the small stuff. Whether it’s of towns, NPC names, traits, items; doesn’t matter. The small stuff is just that- small stuff. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Just be ready to supply them if the players decide to dive deeper or if you need a little more atmosphere in the moment. Try to roll with what the players are wanting. Be serious when they want a serious situation. Be willing to be silly if the moment calls for it. Just be prepared to go over the cliff with them when they decide your story needs to go completely off the rails…

Unfortunately, that’s going to have to be the end of our visit to Arnëa. We do hope you have enjoyed yourself.  Next month we’ll be coming back your way with another awesome campaign feature. Until then, make sure all of your favorite campaigns are in contention for a feature of their own by adding them to the nomination thread on the community forums. We’ll see you next time.

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