Growth of a Campaign
Roots Quest and Valkyresby Et Al
Growth of a Campaign
Roots Quest and Valkyresby Et Al
Growth of a Campaign, 3rd Installment
Roots Quest and Valkyres
As a quick reminder, this is an article following the development of a new campaign via GM emails between his potential players and a few "consultants" (my "Braintrust") as the campaign develops and progresses through its first games. The players have no hand in the development of the campaign, and the consultants won't get to play in the game. The game is now set to start in early March for scheduling reasons.
Rich is myself, the Game Master of the game in question.
Hiro, or Norwood, is a myth-lover, English major, and a darn fine poet.
J, or Breitzman, is a student at an art institute in Chicago, and is a skilled potter.
Grover is a student of myths and legends, and is condering the pursuit of a masters in folklore. His presence in the BrainTrust grows significantly in this article.
Yggdrasil Championship 2003
After the player submissions came through and the first wave of discussion between Norwood and myself over the "metaplot" took place, I asked the BrainTrust how I could make the Roots plot work (the PCs finding the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree and defending them from harm).
I like the previously mentioned idea of having the PCs save pieces of Yggdrasil which appear as normal trees, but are really roots of the World Tree.
So, once the PCs save the root-tree, what would they do then? I don't want a tree-sitting game, but I'm stuck on next action once they realize how valuable each root could be to averting Ragnarok. Thoughts? Maybe they start a theme restaurant chain called Big Tree, and when they find a root, they build a restaurant around it and place lots of security in the restaurant? I'm totally kidding, totally.
Grover threw in:
Well, 9 Days was a big thing, in Norse mythology... There may be a reason for this, but, if there is, I don't know it. Regardles of the reason for the significance, maybe the trees appear, one at a time, for a period of 9 days, and the players only need to protect each one for that long. Just a stop-gap measure/general idea; this would at least not require opening restaurants, in order to justify protection...
THE NUMBER NINE
I think 9 days was the time Odin spent on the gallows. I found a reference to this which I quote below int he section on Yggdrasil. Other references to nine in Nordic Myths:
After Baldur's death, Frigg , Baldur's mother, failed to accept that her son was gone. "Determined to get her child back she begged the other gods to ask Hel what ransom she would demand in exchange for Baldur. Her son Hermod the Bold, messenger of the gods, promised to find out. He mounted Odin's eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, and rode for nine days and nights until he reached the land of the dead."
The only other number sequence I can think of is the Valkyries, which are chronicled as being 9 or 13 depending on the source. (I believe Wagner states 9 and more traditional sources list 13.)
Brian's suggestion of the importance of nine (9 days) as being the key to how to work the Roots of Yggdrasil story idea was perfect. I recently rented Unreal Championship 2003 for the XBox, and one of the scenarios is your team protecting two points for 10 seconds to score. The enemy comes in hordes, and all they have to do is touch one of the points, and you then have to start over, and hold it for ten more seconds. Since you can respawn, fighters charge without regard to their lives to reach the point, so its very intense. I want to duplicate that for at least one of the three Roots stories/scenes. I think maybe it will work like 9 days, then 9 hours, then 9 seconds, meaning the party will have to protect each root a shorter amount of time, but the forces become more intense in their attacks as the time grows short.
If you want to go with a video game scenario then I would suggest starting out with weaker bad guys at the outset. Perhaps a few frost giants for the party to take on. These might have some link to the opposing force. Also, it allows for progressively tougher enemies and, as they progress, to finally go up against gods or whatever personally.
So now I finally had the first quest of the campaign. The Roots story, as we started calling it. It was exciting to finally have a piece of the puzzle. The idea started to create an image in mind for the campaign itself. As I thought more about it, I began to realize that the campaign works better if the players only deal with problems from their parent's adventures only briefly, and the quests are the true intent of the campaign.
Gifts versus Powers
Next, we tackled some how the players characters can grow and improve statistically. Not to bore you with game mech, but in W:tA, the PCs gain Gifts (powers, or abilities) from spirits. I wanted to chuck the whole thing out the door, so we needed a replacement system for character improvement. This line of discussion was the result:
In the original game, PCs learned gifts through virtual sims. Instead of true animal spirits, technology spirits mimicked the process and downloaded the "tricks" (gifts) to the PCs, and when they gained understanding, they could unlock the secrets of the tricks. I may need to revise this. Any thoughts on how to combine The Matrix with Werewolf?
Without the Garou culture wouldn't the players need the agency to tell them of the possibility of gifts? I mean, the only thing they know of how their powers work is through the agency. It's not as though, or is it, they have a bunch of garou sitttig around in a cairn telling them tales of past deeds of garou and the spirits they called on for assistance. So, basically, stripped of the culture which relays to them their potential they have to rely on the agency. An example would be, without the agency revealing to them that they could acquire the gift of scent of true form they wouldn't know it existed.
The players will not work for the agency. Rasputin Sunder and Seth Adkins will train and house them as they develop into a pack. So, these NPCs will be their first teachers (except in the case of Josh's Pumonca, who had a medicine man from his res. give him some brief advice). Razz will tell them of the history of the Draupnir and of the Company, along with the Norse myths. He would also be their source for learning their first gifts. It will start small before their experiences give them more and varied options for advancement.
Technology, I think, strips away the necessity to fit in within a society. If they can just plug in and receive a gift then they are that much further away from having power without any responsibility for how to use it. I think that is a key element to how gifts work in Werewolf. It also goes back to the struggle between good and evil in werewolf. If a character starts to slide into evil ways then evil spirits, much like the dark side of the force in Star Wars, will attempt to quicken this process.
But if I use Norse spirits of the fallen [(the Einherjar) to bestow/teach gifts, then] servitors of Fenris and the Midgard Serpent could act as the evil spirits. This will reflect the current cosmology and rules basis of Werewolf.
Maybe a good approach would be a modified mentor.
The PCs could travel (astrally or something) to visit Einherjar and learn powers from them.
Do they need some mechanical contraption from the agency to do this travel? How do they learn about the Einherjar?
They don't have to use the transport to reach the Einher(j)ar I could see this as a dream or an actual journey.
Perhaps you could use the Valkyries themselves.
"The nearest Norse equivalent to the Morrigan, these females were the helpers of the god of war. They influenced the outcome of battle and conducted the slain to Valhalla, were they also served mead. They had human counterparts, for we hear of priestesses sacrificing captives. Such priestesses were condemned by Archbishop Wulfstan of York (1002-1023) in his famous Sermon to the English...
Armoured, horsed, spear-waving and maleficent, the Valkyries ride out of Teutonic gloom to terrify and scourage; they pore gore over the countryside from great troughs, ride by on wolves, or scull a ghastly boat through rains of bloood.
Njal's Saga describes their visit before the battle of Clontarf in 1014. They were seen weaving men's intestine's on a loom weighted with severed heads, its heddle-rods were spears, the shuttle was an arrow, and for a beater they used a sword.
I suggest that rather than the Umbral battle field you could have it where the pcs must cross Bifrost and enter into Valhalla. Perhaps a few traits are needed to be learned by dwarves. That would make for an interesting game as the players seek out the dwarves and then, possibly, answer some riddle or fulfill some quest to gain the assistance of the dwarf necessary. One might even need to seek out the aid of a giant, perhaps using trickery, to gain a particularly rare gift. Such adventures tie the PCs tighter to the Nordic concept and could make for interesting side treks. And, since the PCs are a band, they might all be required to work together.
Hrm. Well, if you're talking about some fairly major tech, even for the ~last~ group, by the time the new group comes around, you could have some Matrix-level action going... You know, jack in, run a program, and "I know Kung Fu". Or something along those lines. It would even work, to a degree, with a more "by the book" style, since that would be a cool-ass Glass Walker training program. And you could keep it more "by the book" by only having it work for Glass Walkers, and maybe those garbage pickin' Bone Gnawers. One could "limit" this in a D&D/Werewolf (or even Cthulu) sort of way by saying that one can only gain powers of the "Gift" magnitude slowly, as their psyches adapt to a wider world, or the like (to avoid someone saying, "Okay, I'm no Neo, but why can't I download 5-10 programs at a time?"). Or it could even be physical... Their brains can only hold so much, per week... or, in a Nikita sort of way, mixed with Shadowrun, they may need to upgrade the memory of their wetware, and they only get memory upgrades for completing missions, or somethin'.
In a more low-tech, but less "commune with nature" way, you could just require them to learn gifts from a Garou who already has them, after finding a Garou with the gift, willing to train/teach them...
You could also go with "Fate"... the character was destined to learn a specific gift, at a time in which he or she was ready to learn it. I can't think of an analogy for this, but there is one -- it's lurking at the edges of my memory, refusing to come into the light...
Fate is too esoteric. The Norse were more pragmatic, more tangible. I don't think I like that as much as the mentor idea. Maybe a good approach would be a modified mentor.
An underdeveloped idea:
You could make it unconsious - the players wake up and can't remember the dreams they know they just had, but can suddenly do new stuff. Maybe you could use a past life sort of mech.
This idea presents two problems I think:
1. How do player characters pick which gifts they will learn? Or, is this akin to allowing the player to have knowldge of all gifts and the pc knowldge of none. Basically, they will be unable to defend themselves against any gifts opponents use since they don't fully know the nature of the gifts they posses or that other possess, but perhaps they haven't seen. We played D&D for years where magic-users had the complete list of spells from the Players Handbook to choose from. The problem in comparison that I see is that the PC was seen as having this knowledge as well as the player. It could make a drastic change in tactics and strategy if pcs are unaware of gifts.
2. Past life... in Nordic myths dead souls went to one of two places. If you did in battle the valkyries could take you to Asgard. However, if not chosen then you went to the underworld, kingdom of Hel, from whence you could not return. Baldur is in Hel's realm. Speaking in the confines of the Nordic myths there is no precedent for speaking to one's ancestor unless you went to where that spirit dwelt, which is a damn difficult task in either case - and one only done by the gods, if I am not mistaken.
I liked how Jason was trying to keep a mystic feel to the gifts with his "just know it" suggestion, but Norwood had a valid point about the problem with tactics. I am more in favor of players earning and often picking their gifts, and shaping the growth of their PCs. Norwood took the Past Life idea, and tried to add to it.
PCs could meet with the fallen soldiers of the past to learn gifts. Or, you could have the players drink from the fabled font of knowledge and wisdom. This is the font that Odin sacrificed an eye to drink from. The PCs could be limited to minute doses, enough to learn a specific gift.
This development was very interesting to me. However, I was concerned that gaining static gifts as stated in a rulebook when a PC drinks from a font of knowledge seemed to hem in the possibility of such a powerful artifact. Grover took a different tact:
what if Rich were to pick a patron God of the group, who shows up to deliver rewards for certain actions, the occasional quest, etc. This would be rather similar to W:tA rules for a totem, and it could also jibe with the premise that the gods are much weakened, these days, and they are willing to stoop to deal with mortals who don't even have reputations, yet... Frey, for example, could be their original patron, and the eventually get the notice of Thor, or Odin... It also jibes, ~somewhat~, with Norse myth; in that regard, the Norse were somewhat like the Greek gods, having mortals they'd help out. The Norse, if I recall, were less arbitrary (Zeus: "Hell, I like ya, boy! Have a cloak! Hey, you don't have a cute sister, do ya?") and more mercenary (Odin: "Yeah, um, head over to that city, I've got some stuff there, for you... Two weeks later, as he gets to the city, the "Hero" learns there's a civil war, there, with the followers of Odin getting a beating...), but, still, that could actually work... for a variety of reasons.
I like this. I would suggest a valkyrie,or some lesser being, to act as the initial go between. If the group can perform perhaps then a deity would step in. Or, you could go wiht Odin in disguise. I know you guys have this view of him as the law-giver and being direct, but I think that really misses the mark with Odin. There really isn't much that seperates Odin's capricious behaviour from that of Loki's, at least as far as mortals are concerned. The Aesir have a very alien relationahip with Loki. I think it is difficult to understand why they put up with him as often as they did.
that works, even better... not sure why, but a valkyrie didn't even occur to me... I think I had a small stroke... =7
I was thinking about the Valkyrie totem idea over the weekend. perhaps one of the first missions could be setting this spirit free. The scenario coudl be that Pentex has captured the spirit in some sort of ghost busters gone resident evil scenario. The pcs have to get in and free the spirit with little assistance. Freeing the spirit does a number of things (1) enables them to commune with the spirit, who is indebted to them (2) begins the process of proving their worthiness to the Aesir (3) Alerts Pentex/badies to a new set of players in the game.
I like this a lot. Rich, make it so. =)
So, now we had a source for learning new gifts. A rescued Valkyre. It worked well as a tool for giving the players access to gifts within the Werewolf rules system without having to conform to the system's mythology. Also, a Valkyre totem allows me to have more direct interaction with the players witha voice of the Aesir without requiring the PCs to travel to Valhalla.
Greek vs. Norse
At one point during a weekend of furious emails, we hit a tangent discussing Greek and Norse mythologies. Originally, I had said:
It (the campaign) would probably work better with the Greek pantheon since they were so human in nature, but I started with the Norse, so I'll dance with what brung me.
J inadvertently kicked off the tangent with:
Well first off, Norse and Roman/Greek are pretty similar to begin with you might not have too much trouble on that front. Otherwise, I think you almost contradict yourself. You do want to run a game using 'old' ideas. You just want to allow the players to get away with questioning those ideas. The way I see it, you've got traditionalists (those who subscribe to the 'old' ways) and maybe the gods are working new ideas and are almost hindered by the traditionalists. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I think it's not a really big deal anyway.
Unfortunately, J had forgotten the other two members of the BrainTrust were mythmongers. So, it ended up being a deal, not terribly big, but a deal. Norwood replied:
I think the metamyth thing is way overblown. Sure, there are incidental similarities between the Greek and Nordic mythos. However, the essence of these two myths are stikingly different. While both have sets of gods battling other super beings the Nordic pantheon is way more dark.(Consider the bleak ending of Ragnarok verse the lack of any sort of 'end-time' myth from the Greeks). Plus, you'd have to be insane after reading the Illiad or the Odessy to call upon a Greek god for assistance. If one were to show up you'd be best off to run like hell to get away rather than to get caught up in their politics. However, Vikings called upon their gods all the time for aid and considered the Aesir, while similar to men in the demeanor, to at least be reliable.
Norwood sent a multiple page comparitive analysis on Greek and Norse mythologies (its really cool, but a bit long for this article). Grover replied with his opinion that the mythologies of the people in question were shaped, in large part, by their environment. Grover also threw in a retelling of the story of Arachne to illustrate the personality differences between the Olympians and the Aesir. This led to a correction about Einherar, which I first stole from a D&D Monster Manual. It turns out that its Einherjar, with a "yar" ending, not an "ar" one.
Now we had a course for PC power, two quests, and the format for how we could shape the campaign. The PCs would be a band of Nordic heroes questing to avert Ragnarok. While it moved away from my original idea of having the players deal with plots involving the agency that employed their parents, I liked the epic feel of the quests and the possibilities of the marriage of modern and mythic found in the Roots story.
Then, the BrainTrust started deconstructing the Aesir, and asking questions about the Cambodia game I'd previously mentioned where Thor "died". Next article, I'll detail how the whole game was turned on its ear with some of the thoughts of my consultants on the idea of Ragnarok. We also detail the worlds we chose to exist on Yggrdrasil, and how travel will "work" to and from them in this campaign.
- Et Al