Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Announcing Realms Traveler

My Myths Revisited series has stalled a bit. I was on the verge of tackling the Norse myths, after updating the Greek myth cycle, but I realized that the whole thing would quickly get repetitive. In fact, I realized that I didn’t really have much to say about any of that other than the high concept. It probably never was deserving of a “series” at all; it probably was only ever a post or two worth of content. So, although I may (of course) return to the Myths Revisited series as a form of setting development, I also may not. And I don’t feel regretful about it; I think that that series never had very many places to go anyway.

Rather, I have another bit of setting development I’m interested in doing, alongside of regular DARK•HERITAGE updates. This time, however, I have a very specific plan. In fact, when I’m done, the entire thing will be a fairly detailed outline of an entire campaign that can be run, not unlike a Paizo Adventure Path or something like that. Except that I’m not filling in any stats or too many details; rather, this is in outline form and could be adapted to any D&D-like game system.

Also, in a move that is not my normal wont, this one is very specifically D&D, and meant to be from the get-go. Therefore, the rules to support it should probably be a variety of D&D. Although, of course, that’s a somewhat loose characterization these days. I would probably run this as either D&D 3.5 (either with the E6 tophat, or with slowed advancement so that it never got higher than 8-9th level at the most anyway) or standard m20. It could also be run with AD&D, 4e, D&D Next playtest, Pathfinder, Trailblazer, Labyrinth Lord, Sword & Wizardry, Microlite74, Old School Hack, or any other game that approximates, in a generic sense, the feel of playing D&D.

To start this off right, here’s the précis for this campaign or setting, which I shall call REALMS TRAVELER—both because it sounds vaguely like Blues Traveler, and because it has to do with hopping from one realm to another. I’ve been toying with this idea for some time, although I first called it somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Wagon Train to the Planes.” It’s the same idea. Borrowing the high concept from the old TV show Sliders, where a group has to travel from one world to another to reach a destination at the end of the show, much of the source material is going to be adapted from Manual of the Planes, Beyond Countless Doorways, and Distant Worlds—because those are source books that have a lot of exorealms in them (a term I’m coining to refer generically to worlds that are not the standard, basic campaign setting world itself.) I’m probably also both consciously and sometimes unconsciously going to be influenced by another great fantasy series that had to do with exorealms, the Myth Adventures series of books by Robert Asprin.

Basically, the premise of the game is that the PCs need to make their way from a city in one plane to a destination in another plane. To get there, they need to travel through a number of other planes on the way. While this seems kinda railroad, that’s only in comparison to the platonic ideal of a sandbox. After all, nobody really complains that they’re being “forced” to go through Dayton if they’re on their way from Detroit to Cincinnati, you just do it because, hey, it’s right there on the way on I-75. It’s up to the GM to make sure that the game doesn’t feel like a railroad by giving the players plenty of freeform stuff that they can do on their own in each realm.

For my purposes, a realm, or plane, is a smallish area. Sure, according to D&D cosmology, they’re infinite, but realistically, each one will provide about a “module’s” worth of adventuring locales, before you’re off to the next one. What’s to impel a group to continue moving? Hopefully the carrot of getting to the final goal is sufficient, but as in the Sliders show, I think there needs to be a time that the gates are open, and the rest of the time they are not, or some other reason that compels the PCs to stick around on the realm for a little while. This means that you don’t just get to “pass through” a realm, you actually have to spend enough time on it to “adventure” a bit.

Also; there’s an expectation or belief that “the Planes” (to which my realms are directly analogous) are for high level PCs only. This clearly isn’t the case here, where right from 1st level, the PCs are expected to hop through a gate and go somewhere else. This means that GMs will need to be a bit judicious in how they handle threats—as will players. Don’t pick a fight with a really big angel or demon if you come across one, because it’s probably not scaled for you to handle. As GM, don’t send the PCs to a realm that will drain hit points at a rate of 1d6 per round without giving them some kind of (at least temporary) protection to deal with it. In fact, finding the appropriate protection before they move on can be the entire purpose of adventuring in one realm, sometimes.

Needless to say, the Great Wheel cosmology does not exist here. I’m actually doing something more akin to the “bubbles” cosmology described in Manual of the Planes, or more explicitly described in Beyond Countless Doorways. Planes can be coterminous with several planes at once, but certainly not with all of them. This requires that one often has to travel through many realms to reach a destination on some other realm. Again; think of driving cross country from the East coast to the West coast. You have to pass through many states to reach your destination. This will be the same. Also, it’s expected that most people you come across is at least familiar with the notion of multiple realms. While visitors might be rare, they’ll never be completely unheard of, and in many cases, some realms will be major crossroads, with folks from all kinds of places wandering elbow to elbow.

When I come back to this, I’ll have a simple schematic for the “River of Worlds” plus some detail on the realm in which I intend to start this whole shebang.

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