Monday, November 19, 2012

Junkyard Necromancy

"What is the most resilient parasite? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate..."

I see it every day.  An excitable game master runs straight to the internet, carrying TNT and a plunger, to blow up their existing campaign because they absolutely *must* run that new game system or bring their players to a new setting.  You can't run a long term campaign without effective coping strategies for the gamer attention deficit disorder.  This is a serious problem, my friends, I know it well.  Ideas are a two-edged sword yielding creativity and madness.  How's that expression go, "I'm not just the president of the hair club for men, I'm also a client…"

My name is Beedo, and I have a problem with gamer attention deficit disorder.

My own coping strategy involves classic project risk management - Gamer ADD is the risk, and you either need to mitigate, accept it, avoid it, or transfer the problem.  I created a section on the blog called The Junkyard to park ideas that are exciting, but I don't want them to take up too much time and capsize the boat.  Getting them down in print is a coping strategy - I just tell myself I'll get back to them, someday.  Here's the Junkyard's mission statement:  This is the place where I put campaign ideas, notions, and high concepts that just haven't gotten built.  Yet.

Sometimes though, one section of the junkyard gets pretty full, and a towering mound of discarded ideas threatens to topple into the orderly little campaign next door and introduce some real collateral damage.  I had an epiphany this weekend that a half dozen or more ideas I've been circumnavigating are all about the same type of campaign - in fact, one campaign could include them all!

It's alive!
Arise, you dead ideas consigned to the junkyard, arise, and live again as a stitched together frankenstein campaign!

I've been sketching out a small horror sandbox adventure.  The initial launch of the campaign involves the players acting as marines on a small merchant vessel or privateer in the mid-17th century.  It could start in Jamestown, Bermuda, or somewhere in the Caribbean (Port Royal, or New Providence), but takes the group to the Carolina coast to investigate a derelict Spanish galleon adrift in colonial waters.  An abandoned, derelict ship is such a classic horror locale.  Before all is done, there are French pirates, hostile natives, and a reawakened heathen blood god of the Aztec world.  Assuming the players survive or flee, there's a good chance they'll have their own sloop and be free to start cruising around a Caribbean saltbox breaking things.  Yo ho, me hearties.

The back story of the galleon involves a Spanish witch hunter escorting a dangerous artifact back to Castile (and ultimately the Vatican).  As these things are wont to do, the wrong person messes with the artifact and madness, bloodshed, and death ensue, turning the ship into a floating abattoir.  I've often mused that a cool way to kick off a horror sandbox would be to inherit the library of a retired or recently vanished monster hunter like Solomon Kane.  The journals detailing his exploits and unfinished investigations allow a group to follow in his footsteps.  So why not put the guy's journal and library right on board the derelict ship?  The players can come out of this first adventure with a ship and a long list of journal entries describing eldritch horrors and lost treasures discovered by this Catholic witch hunter across the Spanish Main.  Time to raise the colors and set sail.

I mentioned that a number of my recurring campaign ideas have coalesced around this particular adventure, it's nice to realize the convergence.  Pirates, guns, ships, and weird horror.  Here are some of the many older posts littering the Lich House involving the theme of a 17th century sandbox for the Age of Sail:

The discussion of Gamer ADD and risk management was here:  Winter is Coming, and so is Gamer ADD.  Now I just need a name for the new campaign (although Goblins of the Spanish Main is kind of catchy, even if there are no actual goblins…)


  1. It is funny how in there stored away ideas certain themes or motifs tend to keep popping up. It's great when they come to a point where you can sort of roll a few into one.

  2. "Goblin" could always be privateer slang for "Spaniards" to borrow from the multitude of Evil Humanoids = Different ethnic groups of humans ideas floating around the various blogs...

  3. My coping "strategy" is to jam it all into one campaign and when that fails have lots of portals and misty caves leading off to other "worlds".

  4. Incorporating every idea that comes along into the current campaign is a tried and true approach to managing the G.A.D.D. We wouldn't have Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms if the kitchen sink didn't work.

    @Evil_Ben: Done and done - either I'll have an infamous ship called 'The Goblin', buccaneers might call themselves 'night goblins' that rob the Spanish ports under cover of darkness, or it will be a pejorative term for Spaniards or similar group - one way or another, I'll work it in.

    nb: No actual goblins, living or dead, were hurt in the creation of this campaign.

  5. This is a great strategy - I still need to run my time travel campaign, but always end up with analysis paralysis on where to go... now I realize I can go everywhere!

  6. Yup, I've got notebooks full of 'junk' ideas waiting for development... and usually, when the wind changes, I find ways to bolt them onto each other. The players might think each campaign is in a different setting, but in my mind it's all the same place.

    Also, that idea of the 'inherited library' is always such a trove of potential. It's the core of the old 'Friday The 13th' show as well as 'Supernatural'. My current fantasy game has the PCs working for a zealous group of librarians to retrieve lost books/scrolls.

  7. Many of us suffer from Gamer ADD - I do! I have two Stars Without Number campaigns and at least one ACKS campaign, a Traveller campaign and a Shadowrun campaign sitting at the back of my head! Right now I'm trying to focus all of my attention on the ACKS campaign; for the preliminary thoughts, look here on my blog:

  8. I ran a savage worlds campaign that mixed TSavage World of Solomon Kane with Pirates of the Spanish Main and lots of homebrew C'thulhu casziness. Called itt "Yar, F'Tagn,". It was a lot of fun, but hardly a sandbox. The Savage Setting "50 Fathoms" has a very successful integration of sandbox and metaplot called a "plot point" campaign. It's player-driven in that it can be played in any order, but each element of plot may or may not be contingent on other triggering events. Its not quite Quantum Ogre; its just that "x" won't happen until the players do "y". No x, no y. So if they decide to sail around trading and having random fights, the meta plot lays fallow; it never swallows them up because the GM gets impatient. On the other hand, the triggering events are tied to locations, so chances are high that players will trip at least a few events and get hooked. Also, in Savage Worlds players can buy ships and crews; they can have followers but thats noy until much later in their careers.