Friday, October 26, 2012

Factions in the Sandbox

My recent post on the Bakdunis family has me thinking again about tools a DM can use to run a successful sandbox campaign. Anyone who has run a campaign has faced the challenge of balancing between railroading the players into the game that has been prepared and giving them the agency to make the decisions they want. I think most railroading happens because the DM is unprepared to deal with the players' choices.

A central way to avoid having to force the players down a path (or force your path down the players' throats) is to have a rich setting. Having a bunch of different options and bounding your players with ample choices will keep you from having to force one choice on them. A resource like Vornheim, chock full of tricks, tables, and quick outs, is a great tool to have on hand.

One way that I'm making Kimatarthi a rich setting is by laying out a canvass of factions for the players to deal with. The Bakdunis are the ruling family that came to power through a coup. Perhaps it was warranted, but no one pulls that off without making enemies. The city they rule has also become a mixing bowl of refugees from all across the land, different classes of people, different backgrounds, different customs... different expectations. All this creates friction.

Markaz is not just the ruling family and their supporters. There are the old elite families that the Bakdunis deposed and the non-elites who suddenly found themselves in competition with the world's refugees. There are the elites that were deposed by rampaging goblins and reestablished themselves in Markaz. There are the descendents of refugees, some of whom did well, others not as well. There are new elites, charismatic populists, clergy, merchants, kings and queens of the black market, and time lords crime lords. The Markaz Guard are not the only military organization in town, a development that always makes things interesting. And, of course, there are the Mages.

The PCs will start off as conscripted grunts in the Markaz Guard, but it will soon be clear that they will have the opportunity for freelancing, moonlighting, and the pursuit of their own separate interests. If these interests happen to run contradictory to their current jobs, well, that just makes for good plot hooks. They're bound to make friends, allies, rivals, and enemies. So if they don't want to take the job that's being offered one week, that's fine. This decision will, no doubt, put them in some other interesting position.

So what's the advantage of having a plethora of factions, as opposed to other tools for building the sandbox? Simply, it's because of the relationships. By creating a scenario in which the characters build relationships it will self-generate plot hooks and constraining factors, thus removing the need for the DM to railroad them into a particular storyline. The players can build trust and affiliations. They can build animosity that creates its own challenges. Our group's Slaying Solomon campaign has this dynamic, which played out in a major way this past week ( I have learned. I had a "kid" to "take care of" and couldn't "go play games this weekend."), and I think it's a great way to keep things rolling and make up some great stories along the way.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The People of Anamere II

Well, Jenna's two for two in my Plugs for Peeps. Either the rest of us need to get crackin' or I need to meet more people who are actually publishing gaming materials.

This series is pretty cool in that it provides everything you need to run a game, except the rules. So it gives you all of the set-up, characters, twists, turns, and all you need to do is plug in your favorite gaming system. You could run this as Risus or Traveller just as easily.

So go out and buy Sci-Fi Sandbox 06: The People of Anamere II. It's got a cast, and encounters in space and on a beautiful tropical paradise. I haven't read it yet, but it is promising anthropologists and an alien race of Otterfolk.

You can download it from DriveThru RPG by clicking... here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bakdunis Family

Rise of the Bakdunis

Before the Goblin Wars, Family Bakdunis was one of the wealthy merchant families of Markaz. And, like all wealthy families, they were involved in politics and military affairs.While they had not been among the princes who ruled the city states, their wealth was able to buy them a certain amount of influence.

When the goblins appeared and swept across the land, Coron Bakdunis was Captain of the Markaz Guard. Unlike other cities, Markaz had time to consider its defense and prepare for the attack. It was not much time, but it was significant. Coron was known to be a man of action and of little patience. As stories and refugees rolled in from across the land, he saw the Prince and Governing Council dithering. Not only that, they offered no clear plan while they deliberated.

So, one afternoon, he made a decision and ended the deliberation with the assistance of a squad of his most loyal officers.

Coron Bakdunis comes to power. (or the Death of Nero - same difference.)

Coron put Markaz under martial law and prepared his force to meet the goblin horde. One of his key decisions--and one that had been blocked by the Council--was to retool several hundred of his finest fighters to be light, mobile infantry that could act as scouts and also waylay the goblins from behind the front line. He called these troops the Rangers.

He conscripted every man, woman, and child that could physically hold a weapon, training each to the best of their ability. As refugees arrived, only the sick and injured were allowed to rest. The others were put to work somehow. In the short period of time after taking over the city, Coron was able to establish a rag-tag force to meet the goblins at the city walls.

The city held, but not without massive casualties and widespread damage. Coron retained his position as both leader of the Guard and de facto leader of the city and began the long, slow process of rebuilding. He would not have much opportunity to be a builder, however, as he was taken by illness not two years after the end of the Goblin War. His brother, Kalan, succeeded him. Kalan would rule Markaz--and effectively most of the human population--for the next twenty years. He saw the people through the chaos of those early years, a famine, and the initial rebuilding of civilization. There have been a total of five Bakdunis rulers in the decades since the Goblin Wars.

In many ways, civilization is still being rebuilt, but the Bakdunis family proudly takes credit for both saving human society and reestablishing over the past decades. Many are prone to agree, but there are those who believe that the Bakdunis family has done little except enrich and empower themselves. They continue to rule, however, by way of their shrewd ability to build and maintain political alliances, to suppress the opposition, and to make sure that the right people get rich and the right people disappear. It's a robust system, but how long can it last?