My new Solar System campaign

Last weekend we started a new roleplaying game campaign with some friends from Iisalmi (a nearby town from where I live, that). The idea for me was pretty much to get out of the house and play something with low stakes and no immediate game design concerns; bonus points if the game would endure a bit, at least half a dozen sessions. My roleplaying gaming has been pretty shallow and sparse for the last six months or so due to people moving about and me being too harassed by other stuff to work for it; luckily we’ll get a chance now, the next session has already been scheduled for this weekend and the intent is to play weekly or at least regularly for as long as the campaign takes.

The crew for the game was basically formed by me calling my old confidante Sipi – he’s the Domo of the campaign for now, making sure that everybody shows up, choosing the play sites and in general handling the game-external hassles. Aside from Sipi we have two players, Tero and Esa; Tero I specifically requested from Sipi due to how I’ve wanted to play with him for a long time now, while Esa came as an incidental bonus as so often happens in roleplaying. I’m rather excited about the quality of the crew, and the first session chemistry was fine as well.

We played in a new Iisalmi restaurant called “Olohuone” (“The Living Room”), and I have to say that I rather liked the place – on Saturday afternoon it was very quiet and suitable for a social gathering of this sort. Didn’t yet get around to sampling more than the drinks menu, but I’m sure that we’ll get there with a longer session soon enough.

Initially there was some talk about playing LotFP instead of Solar System, as it happened that I had my LotFP box with me as well as the SS stuff. Ultimately SS won the first round of deliberation, though, mostly because the crew wanted a game that would have lots of events per session; an old school D&D game can’t really ensure this due to the particular GMing technique, so although it’s not a particular problem for the game, we went with the dramatic option for now. This group could totally do OSR, too, so maybe we’ll go there in the spring after the SS thing winds down.

The Battle of Settings

This was actually the main part of the evening – Solar System is a generic rules set and we specifically had not chosen the campaign to play in advance, so we had to make the choice on the fly. Many alternatives were floated, with the understanding that I’d make the initial selection as the prospective Story Guide; as an outcome we got two main contenders for the actual game, both campaigns that I had been considering in the abstract through the last month:

DubaiPunk is basically my take on Cyberpunk 2020, one of the best roleplaying games of all time. The basic conceit is to emphasize the social issues of the original inspiration while  playing down the adventure/anarchy and cybernetic superpowers. The world of DubaiPunk is one where the hyperinflation of the western currencies has lifted the environs of the Indian Ocean into economic prominence in the world, its currency the Gold Dinar and its capital Dubai, the city/emirate that never sleeps. Flavourful and thematically powerful, we invented all sorts of stuff while talking about it: the role of islam in the world of the future, a feudal emirate as the nexus of world trade, Americans withdrawing from the Outer Space Treaty for unstated reasons, modern computer technology as a step-stone to cybernetic identity and so on. Good stuff.

What My Father Taught Me is, as the perceptive reader guesses, a Glorantha campaign. I’ve written about this before, but last week I realized that what my Glorantha-SS needs is the idea that the campaign would deliberately focus on the bog-standard Orlanthi experience from the viewpoint of adolescents going through the elaborate Orlanthi rites of passing; the point of the campaign would be to create some characters and follow the formative years of their lives, finding out which gods and which places in the world would prove to be theirs, if any. Lots of good ideas related to this as well: we could use the holy calendar as an oracular tool, and the teenaged characters could have all sorts of adventures, romance and such while the players have the nigh-manageable job of breathing life into the Orlanthi world. (For those who don’t know, let me just say that Glorantha is deep, but Orlanthi part of the world is perhaps the best known to most.) Everybody in the group actually knows Glorantha in advance, so we have a pretty good basis for this.

Careful deliberation almost swung the battle in favour of DubaiPunk, but ultimately the comfortable lure of fantasy gaming proved too strong for us: I would play my first Glorantha-based campaign now! I realize that “Orlanthi clan life during Lunar occupation” is totally old hat for Glorantha gamers, of course, but I like the concept and figure that it’s a good match for the Solar System, which lives on bildungsroman and all that; I figure that I’ll steal as much from the Chronicles of Prydain as humanly possible content-wise, and I’ll be pretty much set. I originally learned my Glorantha from King of Dragon Pass, so something like this should go swimmingly insofar as setting familiarity goes.

Creating the Clan

I naturally didn’t have much crunch prepared for the game as we’d just chosen to play it, but we still opted to do character creation before breaking for the night; it’s pretty easy to revise stuff in Solar System, so it’d be no big deal if we needed to change anything at the beginning of the first real session of play.

Of course we could only create characters once we’d managed to create the clan, this being a flavourful Orlanthi game and all. This we did relatively freeform: I narrated the beginnings of the world from the Age of Storm forward all through to the third age and the Lunar occupation, asking questions about the clan that the players answered. The resulting clan emphasises Odayla the Hunter in their cult life as well as Barntar, of whom they know an unique myth about slash-and-burn farming. The clan’s general history is one of conservative, seclusionist hermitage far away from the centers of civilization; they have an ancestral grudge against the elves, and one of their number was a big hero at the time of the Lunar invasion and the consequent resistance fighting that went on for years; said hero has now retired to obscure anonymity in the far reaches of the clan tula.

The characters themselves are harmless teenagers with little weight to them so far; this is fine, considering that they’re just children still, and will gain in history through play. The clan tula is apparently in the Far Place, and while we didn’t worry about the details at the time, I might simply make them part of the Bachad tribe for which I have a detailed write-up here in Zin Letters #3 – a surprising use for something I didn’t expect to need when the zine came out last year. If not Bachad, then Amad, which is even farther to the edge of the Sartarite civilization. I could also adapt Garrik clan from the same zine to get a bunch of NPCs and such right away, but I’m inclined to start from scratch to not trip on too much material.

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