The Westerlands

Obsidian Portal: How much of the campaign/system is original content developed by you and your players?

Gnunn: My campaign universe utilizes the core rules from D&D 3.5 including the Greyhawk Pantheon, but beyond that the setting and plot have mostly sprung out of the brains of myself and my players. I’ve incorporated a couple of pre-published scenarios into the storyline, but only when they seemed like a good fit for furthering the overall plot.

I also recently started incorporating some elements of the Eberron campaign setting into my game world. I did not even know what Eberron was until my game had been running for some time, but when I found out about it, I thought the magic-as-technology elements were a good fit for the long-lost Gnossian civilization in my world. So, I started stealing ideas for my own purposes. In a way my setting is to Eberron as the Renaissance is to Ancient Greece and Rome, with the knowledge of the ancients in the process of being re-discovered… if that makes sense.

Obsidian Portal: Your campaign looks great, and I see that you share a lot of your info on the forums. Can you tell me more about it?

Gnunn: Well, I have a background in museum exhibit design with some training in instructional design, which has helped inform the aesthetics of the wiki. I also absolutely love to learn new things, and I believe that some of the deepest, most lasting knowledge can be gained through play and experimentation.

My impetus for starting my Obsidian Portal wiki was partially because I just thought it would be neat to learn how to program in Textile. I have taught myself to do many things in this way… on a whim… from Excel, to Google SketchUp, to learning how to roll a quarter across my knuckles. The best part is, this learning through play has occasionally paid off in other areas of my life. For example, the company I work for recently started building a wiki to store our internal knowledge base, and I was able to jump right in to start setting up pages for my department!

As far as my activities on the boards are concerned… In addition to loving to learn, I also love to help others learn. I used to work in the education departments at a number of museums in the Seattle area, and teaching just became a habit. On Obsidian Portal, I don’t think of it so much as teaching as I do creative collaboration… but it fills the same intrinsic need to share knowledge. Besides, the folks who use this site are great, and I love to see all the innovative ways people have come up with to use the wiki structure.

Obsidian Portal: Where do you get your inspiration for the story?

Gnunn: I beg, borrow and steal inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. The initial seed for my whole campaign came from the song, “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse. The inspiration germinated into the concept of a civil war between an order of paladins who had been divided by a moral dilemma and things grew from there.

Other elements of my campaign are based on everything from real-world history, the writings of authors like H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Shakespeare, movies and even internet phenomena (e.g. Catfolk in my campaign are essentially manifestations of Lolcats.)

My players also provide a major source of inspiration for my campaign. Nickvu2’s decision to create a 1/2 orc monk named Santiago provided the inspiration for the kingdom of Pais’suria, which shares many characteristics with medieval Spain (monastic culture, deeply religious, subject to invasion by other civilizations). The woman who plays our paladin provided the basic inspiration for the Order of the Spiral Horn when she chose to roll up a Paladin of Ehlonna. I really enjoyed the challenge of modifying a paladin’s code to fit the goals of a neutral good nature goddess.

I am really not shy about co-opting anything that strikes my fancy and incorporating it into the campaign world. I enjoy it, and though my players often roll their eyes and groan (Lolcats!?) they also seem to enjoy it too. When they heard two Catfolk NPCs refer to the Paladin, Brahm as though his name were a meow, they adopted that pronunciation as their own.

Obsidian Portal: How well do you know your players?

Gnunn: One of the beauties of my game group is that we are all close friends. It started as myself, my girlfriend (erbassett) and three of our close friends who had never played before (naughtsauce, LividLiquid, and one other woman who hasn’t set up an OP account… yet.) Our real life friendships originated out of LividLiquid’s weekly karaoke show and have grown from there. Soon, we added another friend from the karaoke group (galgacusferox) and then a friend and coworker of naughtsauce’s (nickvu2) and a friend I had met through my grad program (rethis).

And my players are a group of characters in and of themselves. One is a nationally-ranked Rubix Cube solver, we have a woman getting her degree in Chinese medicine, a karaoke host, a teacher, and a woman who runs an artisan cheesecake business on the side.

Obsidian Portal: What kinds challenges are you faced with in your campaign?

Gnunn: Hmmm… as galgacusferox put it, “it seems like this is one of the easiest groups of people a DM could possibly hope to run sessions for.” There are no personality conflicts or lack of enthusiasm among the group. Honestly, the biggest challenge we have faced is really just that all our players have very busy lives outside the game. Two are currently in grad school, two have jobs with unpredictable schedules and all of us have interests outside of gaming.

I think one of the things that has kept this campaign running despite everyone’s busy lives is that I established very clear-cut rules for how we handle absent players. Simply put, if less than half the group is missing, we play and either myself, one of the other players or a guest rolls for the absent member(s). If you’re absent, you get 1/2xp but can’t die, though you could return to find your character naked with six dead companions in the middle of nowhere needing to figure out how to resurrect them.

As a DM, I feel my biggest challenge in game is accounting for the creativity of my players. They very frequently approach a challenge I have set up in a way I absolutely did not foresee, and I just try to roll with it. It’s tough, but I love it when my players come up with unique solutions to a problem I’ve thrown at them.

Obsidian Portal: What aspects of your campaign are you really proud of?

Gnunn: I am especially proud of having successfully hooked four brand new players on D&D. They were all hesitant at first when I approached them about starting up a campaign. My original players only agreed to give it a try because we were all good friends who liked hanging out anyway. A year later, it is common for someone to say, “We’re going to play this with our kids when we have them, right?”

I also really enjoy watching the player characters grow in terms of depth and in their inter-character relationships. Our cleric struggles with her calling as a healer vs. her desire to destroy undead in vengeance for those who took her parents. Our ranger and paladin have grown into a sort of brother-sister relationship where they are always giving each other crap for their individual foibles. Again, these are characters mostly played by people who had never played the game before this campaign began.

Finally, I was especially pleased last night when my players informed me that they feel their choices really affect the game world and that they do not feel they are being railroaded… it just means I am good at disguising the rails… just kidding!… maybe…

Obsidian Portal:  What have been the highlights of the campaign according to your players?

Gnunn: When I talked with my players about this after this week’s game, they mentioned that they like the extra touches I put on the game, like full-color battle-mat printouts, paper-craft items and the fact that I seem to constantly be hunting for new ways to improve the game experience… like a shark… of improvement.

They also said they like that I embrace their creative solutions to the challenges I present. If they want to try something totally zany, I roll with it, rather than forcing them to follow my pre-conceived ideas.

Also, several mentioned that they enjoy the variety of challenges I have thrown at them (e.g. the puzzles I have worked in as traps or locks) and galgacusferox summed it up by saying that he thinks I have:

“…done a really good job of varying the kinds of challenges our characters face, from different tactical situations in combat encounters, to environmental or interpersonal conditions which really take us off-guard.  It creates an atmosphere where anything’s possible, which I really believe is important for an enjoyable D&D experience.”

I really take that to heart considering it is coming from someone who has played a lot longer than I have.

Oh, we all also sat around and laughed about Ashii the kobold, an NPC the group rescued from his zombified clan and then convinced to become a ward of the Church of Pelor. The thought of an evil, light-sensitive lizard creature becoming a cleric of a sun god is really amusing and they told me they would love to run into him again some day… perhaps I will grant their wish… perhaps.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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