Sunday, September 1, 2013

Of Blood & Lightning / Apocalyscotia

I GMed a Dungeon World game for a few weekends, and then ran an Apocalypse World game for a few weeks. Both started with my own unusual take on character & world creation.

Dungeon World
When we started I didn't really have any ideas. I was a little nervous, and a little annoyed, because I was already playing in one Dungeon World game and I didn't want to be GMing a second one. I'd rather be playing Apocalypse World. Or just playing. But circumstances led to this game and I tried to put my best foot forward. As I said, I had no ideas, but that's a lie. I had one idea. Ancient pyramids. I planned on starting the PCs in a town, not a bustling city or a struggling village, but an established town. This town would have one dominating feature: an ancient pyramid.
I had ideas about that pyramid, about who put it there, about it's true purpose, and about what it held. All of that got thrown out the window. During the first session the players dictated the terms of the pyramid, it's magical properties and it's mystical significance, and I just rolled with the punches. I don't even remember what my original idea was anymore, except that it started with an ancient impenetrable pyramid that would lead to something bigger. Somehow the players outdid me by pushing the stakes of what was in play.
The 15-feet tall pyramids, for there are now more than one, are prisons holding extra-planar beings. Maybe releasing these beings helps the old god, Bartleby, but the spirit-wolves who guard the demiplanes of these pyramids don't want Bartleby released or else he will eat. He's so terribly hungry. "What does he eat?" somebody asked, but the question remains unanswered.

The real creative thrust for this game came a collection of strange images I had culled from deviantart and let the players look through. I asked them to define the deities of their world, and take inspiration from, these images. I made sure I had at least two images for every player. This was an interesting exercise because I noticed that each player would focus on a single image and expand details upon it, but would not define details about other images unless I asked pointed questions about the image directly to that player.

The artwork of Jeff Christensen, known as js4853, seemed appropriate to me. His images are dark, explicit, and leave enough explanation open to the imaginative interpretation of the viewer. Some of his images seemed like they could double as the portraits of gods:

The players first foray into one of these pyramids forced me to regurgitate out ideas as they sprang to my mind.
  • the space inside was much bigger than the outside made it seem
  • gravity pulled towards every surface inside, thus the walls of the pyramid were actually the floor where an immense maze simply led intruders around in circles
  • shadowy wolves stalked the PCs through the maze
  • strings of muscles and sinew sprang forth from the center of each pyramidal base and bunched together in the three-dimensional center of the pyramid where a mass of flesh pulsed with black ooze
  • a lightning storm swirled around the empty spaces of the pyramid and randomly struck walls and started fires
  • the center mass held the otherworldy prisoner within the center of the pyramid space, and the prisoner was revealed to be a blonde teenage girl named Aleph

    After the PCs managed to escape the demiplane prison, I gave them all the option to learn some blood-based magical powers. Using the format of the compendium classes, I wrote a list of powers I would like to see used and edited them to fit in with the imagery of the place they had visited. I titled the little sheet of custom moves "Of Blood & Lightning"

    Blood Magic became a theme for me after that, and the players were constantly dreading what disastrous consequences their actions might lead to. This player-fear overwhelmed the game in our final session which led to a split party. Only one character ventured into the second dungeon, another demiplane prison, something I did a considerable amount of work on during the previous week. Upon entering the demiplane the players would find they were developing telepathic abilities, using them would make them more powerful but would also cause them to become more paranoid and fear-stricken.



    Apocalypse World
    This game had a little more structure starting out than the previous one. I knew it would be set on the coastline of Nova Scotia, Canada. The game would focus on having a creepy, horrific atmosphere. The playbooks that were available starting out were mostly custom playbooks made by the Apocalypse World community, and these playbooks were all creepy, weird or horror-themed characters:

    the Beast Master = in control of a monster
    the Damned = vampiric sin eater
    the Grotesque = a mutant
    the Haunted = talks to ghosts, makes more ghosts too
    the Horseman = rides an evil horse
    the Last Child = a portentous child with a wicked family
    the Orphan = a child with a not-so-imaginary friend
    the Radio = psychic broadcaster
    the Sorceror = a magician with a magical companion
    the Turncoat = member of a secret society

    Almost all of the playbooks start with NPCs in contact with the player or controlled by the player. Or possibly controlling the player (the Turncoat). The two that don't have NPCs are both creepy and weird (the Damned and the Grotesque).

    After the players chose playbooks and we had gotten past the History distribution of character creation, I pulled out a string and laid it across the far length of the table. I instructed two players to define the coastline and to decide which side had water on it. Then I handed out pictures I had taken from the Nova Scotia tourism board's website and one at a time I asked people to declare where along the coastline these places were. When this was done I took a picture and this became the map of the region which all of the characters would be familiar with.


    There was one player left and I gave him three pictures of creepy artwork and said "Tell me which one is a true image."


    He chose the bottom picture and we discussed what these weird things were, one player named them Plague Children, and I had a dream about them a few nights later which helped me to define exactly what they were and what their presence signified. There was one town on the map that was overrun by these Plague Children and the locals called the place Bad Mojo. The final session involved the Plague Children in Bad Mojo getting stirred up and being led back to the town where most people lived and congregated, though the game ended before we got to see what would happen when the Plague Children arrived.