Friday, January 1, 2010

Recent gaming action

I've got two things going right now. The first is an adventure I'm designing, the second is a computer game I'm playing.

Fairy's Tale
It's a cute game, I must say. I explain the nuts and bolts a bit more in this post. I started writing an adventure based on a Russian folk tale. Since I don't think any of my prospective players read this blog, I'll summarize my efforts.

The story
The story starts with a brother and sister, prince and princess of now-deceased monarchs, wandering through the wilderness. They pass a series of water sources, each with a herd of animals (pigs at a lake, cows at a river, and finally goats at a well). Each time the sister warns the brother not to drink, and in true fairy-tale repetition he does not, until he finally drinks from a well in extreme thirst, and turns into a goat.

The pair travel through the land, and word of her beauty spreads through the usual rumour mill. A king sends his emissaries to fetch her, and they are promptly married. All is well for some time, until the king goes on a hunting trip. Now it gets good.

While the king is out hunting, the princess is visited by a witch, who puts a spell on her that makes her ill. The king is concerned when he returns, but naturally goes hunting the next day. The witch returns to the castle, and promises to cure the princess. The princess follows her to the sea shore, where the witch ties a stone around her neck and throws her into the water. She promptly sinks. The witch makes herself look like the princess, and goes back to the castle to take her place.

The king is pleased that his wife has not only recovered, but seems more jovial than ever, though strangely she now has an extreme aversion to her brother, and refuses to spend time with him as in the past. In time, she encourages the king to prepare a feast. She lets him know that she would like nothing more to eat than... the goat that is her brother (awesome). The king is slightly shocked, but agrees.

The feast is to be in the evening. In the morning, the goat asks leave to go out for a walk. The king feels sorry for him, so he allows it. The goat goes to the seaside and says "Oh my sister!" The sister calls out from the water that the witch has trapped her. In the afternoon, the goat again asks to go for a walk. The king agrees, and again the goat calls out to his sister, who again informs him of her predicament. In the evening, shortly before it is time to be slaughtered, the goat persuades the king to come out with him for a final walk. They go down to the water and the goat calls "Oh my sister!" The princess again relates her story. The king dives in and releases her. They chase the evil sorceress away and life happily ever after.

Making a game of it
The first changes are cosmetic. The king's court becomes a fairy court. The king becomes a supernatural being himself. This much was obvious to me.

Beyond that, I needed to insert the players. Obviously, they can't be any of the main characters. Main characters have to follow too structured a path for gaming, and the players should have choice (within reason). So I'll make them servants of the king. This has three advantages. First, I get to assign them tasks to carry the tale forward quite easily. Second, I get to show a side of the story not represented in the version I read in my book of fairy tales: that of the servants. They are vaguely referred to: they bring word to the king of the princess' beauty, they fetch her for him, and they must be helping him with his wedding, feast, and hunts. I think I will make their lives suitably miserable. Think of Puck compared to Titania and Oberon. Every telling of a fairy tale ought to be a re-telling... Third, their position sets up a nice reward structure. As mentioned in my earlier glance at the game, it has very little detail about magic weapons, gold, and other trinkets, but lots of detail about getting rewarded with rank, prestige, and other social gains. Thus the early phases of the campaign can be about the rise of menial servants to prominence in the court.

With the players' roles settled, I now have to modify the structure of the fairy tale somewhat. I need to make the main cast of such calibre that they carry out their parts faithfully, with nudges from the party. I have made the king a drunken partying idiot. This fits well with a man being taken in by a rather stupid ruse. To expand on it, I have made him a satyr: instead of hunting, he goes out partying in the glades, and does not take his mortal wife with him, lest she escape. This means that the players will have to uncover the witches' schemes, and convince the king to see what is going on.

I have made the princess a reluctant bride of the fat, ugly king, meaning the players will have to use their magic to convince her to marry him. Fairy magics are pretty powerful in this game (only a tiny in-game sacrifice is needed for major effects) so this is a nice warm-up task for the party. I've scrapped the bit about the brother turning into a goat, though that can be backstory that the players can reveal in their investigations.

The sorceress has changed little. She's an awful hag with the power to beguile others and transform her appearance. Most of the considerations about her are tactical. Her banishment of the goat becomes an effort to keep the king in the dark, giving the players a chance to talk to him in secret. I've also made her the ruler of an evil realm, so sporadic attacks by goblins and trolls as she draws closer to taking over her rival will tip the players off that something isn't right (because, after all, the queen recovering from an illness doesn't seem like a bad thing at first). I'll make her disguise somewhat imperfect as well. Perhaps the princess had brown eyes, the glamoured sorceress has green ones... She's using her magic to keep the king fooled (he's drunk, so it's easy), but again the lowly servants notice what's going on.

The goat/prince/brother is the hardest one. I have to make him a little bit pathetic, so he doesn't just assert himself and say it's a trick. But if he's too subtle, the players may not figure out that anything's amiss until he's turned into stew. If they don't seek him out, I suspect I will:
1. Have them overhear some goblins talking about the queen's plan.
2. Emphasise at first how the new queen was good to the servants, but after her recovery she's cruel (an incentive to depose her!)
3. If all else fails, arrange a meeting and have the goat beg for help.

Of course, if they're really switched on, I'll throw up obstacles. The queen will try to prevent them from meeting with the king, goblins will waylay them, the king won't believe their story when they reveal the truth...

The hardest parts will be individual encounters and pacing. But there are enough events in the story (the king fetches the princess, marries her, she gets sick, she gets well, she banishes the goat, she decides to eat the goat, the goat makes his escape, the sorceress is driven away) for decent encounters. Early ones will focus on menial servile tasks (collect food for the feast, run errands) of various danger levels, the latter ones will lead to an outright confrontation. I'll give them a shot at killing the sorceress. If they succeed, her second-in-command will become a campaign villain. If not, she's perfectly established to do so.

A game
I've been playing Dominions 3. It reminds me of Warhammer, in that you spend most of the game crafting your own army, deciding on your strategy, deploying your troops, then watching the fights play out. It also has a wealth of races to play, which is great. I spent a Christmas gift certificate for it, and it was well worth it.

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