Tales from the Sodden Reach – Session Zero

On Thursday I ran “session zero” of a new Freebooters on the Frontier campaign. We’re creating the world from scratch and hoping to play every two weeks, for fun and for playtesting. I’ve run four or five Freebooters campaigns in the past, but this will be the first one using the 2nd edition rules.

Useful takeaways from a playtesting perspective:

  • The incorporation of “campaign features” into the world-building procedure worked well. Last week I solicited a bunch of ideas from the Lampblack & Brimstone community on G+ and got lots of great suggestions, which I edited down to a list of 50 different features. Big-picture things like, “magical portals connect the great cities of the world,” or—in our case for this session—”a terrible plague sweeps the land, decimating centers of population” and “a dominant religion persecutes sages and philosophers as enemies of the church.” I wanted some background ideas that would influence thinking about the setting in a bigger, broader way than most of the prompts in the rules, which mostly relate to the proximate situation. This is a keeper.
  • I ended up going off-procedure during the creation of the starting settlement and surroundings, because I was adapting to the flow of the conversation. I want campaign setup to follow some clear steps that will deliver the goods, but me sidestepping reminded me that a Judge/GM sometimes needs to adapt. I can just make sure to include a general guideline to that effect, but I will probably take another pass at the order of the steps to see if I can improve them.
  • We ended up with a party of two fighters and three clerics. Which is awesome! The clerics decided they all follow the same deity, but are from different sects. The deity is neutral, but the cleric alignments are good, neutral, and chaotic. The cleric playbook right now states, “Your deity has the same alignment as you,” and this experience is tempting me to change that. I don’t want every little bit of Judge fiat to result in a rules tweak, but I really like the idea that varying alignments of different characters within a faith might distinguish their relationship to and interpretation of religious doctrine. I’ll need to think a bit more about this one.
  • The starting settlement ended up being a city, which I did not expect. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, but the process of rolling it up led me to reduce the base number of features and problems listed in the rules for both cities and towns. It’s all part of finding that sweet spot where you generate just enough information to get the juices flowing. A city is a complex, rich place with lots of stuff going on, but the key to building a strong mental image is choosing the right number of details; too many and the image breaks down before it has a chance to form.

When we finished this episode I was super-excited to start fleshing out all of the stuff we came up with, and stayed up another hour to scribble down a bunch of notes. That excitement reminded me that the #1 thing that gives me the greatest creative pleasure these days is taking these sorts of prompts—generated or invented mostly by other people—and expanding upon them to create a coherent fictional world. One of my favorite parts of playing an RPG is that back-and-forth where the players improvise material during play, and then it’s my job to build upon and integrate that material, on the spot and between sessions. Playing is a blast, and the “lonely fun” of prep between sessions is satisfying, but the collaborative interplay between those things is compelling feedback loop.

I’m eager to see what awaits these green adventurers.

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