As usual things got crazy at the Center for Cartoon Studies in the last weeks before commencement, and between my thesis committee duties, drawing a giant robot for a departing colleague, and leaving on a trip to Italy to promote the Italian edition of my graphic novel, I was unable to tend my RPG garden. But I’m back and things have finally settled down enough for me to get back to the important stuff. Namely, continuing our online campaign of Freebooters on the Frontier and forging ahead on the editing and layout of Stonetop, the next big Lampblack & Brimstone project.
As hoped, and as everyone we knew who had been before told us, our trip to Italy was amazing. All of the things were true: incredible food, kind people, beautiful landscapes, ancient ruins. As we wandered the medieval walled town of Finalborgo and the ramparts of the Roman Forum, I soaked up the real-world history and RPG-relevant details in equal measure: the Porta Testa, a town gate where the heads of enemies were hung as a warning to would-be offenders; hilltop fortifications with walls angled to deflect the attacks of siege engines; temples and palaces of almost inconceivable scale. Inspiring stuff. I also got a private tour of the Museum of the Resistance in Turin, which was inspiring for different reasons.
Walking the streets of Finalborgo and Rome in particular enriched my conception of Penascalto. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the feel of our campaign’s fictional city, but exploring these places suddenly throws a sepia-toned imagination into Technicolor. Back alleys, enormous doors, hidden shrines festooned with flowers—unexpected delights awaited us around every corner. I find fodder for wilderness adventure every time I take a walk in the woods behind our house, and here were real-world villages and towns and cities providing the same kind of inspiration.
I won’t be able to put that particular inspiration to use (if and) until our intrepid party finds its way back to Penascalto, but the morning we spent in the Pantheon in Rome was certainly on my mind when, last night, our party of intrepid freebooters discovered the Temple of Kivi-Äiti, Mother of Stone. But I’m getting ahead of the game. Two sessions have gone up since last time:
After something like 10 hours of play, actual battle is finally joined in session 4. This is one of the things I love about a pace-of-play determined by the vicissitudes of random world generation and player choice—combat is not the point. When it does break out, it has more dramatic weight. After running tightly-packed one-shots for students over several years at my weekly face-to-face game nights, letting a campaign unfold at its own pace is a true pleasure. In a culture of binge-watching, where most of our entertainment is subject to the tyranny of the three-act structure, I find old-school campaign a much-needed tonic.
A couple of randomly-generated NPCs came into play in session 3, and since they may be around for a while I couldn’t resist drawing them up:
Referring to visuals like this during play really helps me when I’m trying to switch hats and play different NPCs.
On the playtesting front, our sessions have encouraged me to continue to revise the cleric’s playbook. Instead of making it more costly, I plan to cut the option to make an invocation permanent; and I’m rewriting the cleric’s XP trigger (“Mark XP if you fulfilled the tenet of your deity”) to something that can be interpreted more broadly (e.g., “Mark XP if you acted on your faith or beliefs in a memorable way”). I thought the Lay on Hands move worked out very nicely in session 4. It’s been great having three clerics in the party to really put that class—the least played in my home games up until now—through its paces.
On a final note: unfortunately, the demands of life beyond the game table have made it impossible for our pal Reilly to continue playing Evaristo, so the good-hearted cleric of Caracol has fallen into my hands as an NPC. I will do my best, but Reilly’s sandals are impossible to fill.