After a long hiatus of actively DMing, I was roused from my gaming slumber. The results are a bit unusual and probably not going to be to everyone’s liking, but after droves and droves of articles detailing how to run games, I figure I’d do an article of my current work in progress: XIX.
The strange confluence of events inspired my current D&D project
- My impending departure from Miami and return to Maryland would put me in an area ripe with players in friends interested in RPGs.
- The release of the PHB 2 (and some of the grousing about “too many options”) made me consider a way to let people get a flavor of it all.
- My own article, and Original Sultan’s comments supporting my “War is Hell” flavored D&D campaign caused me to consider a fun way to have high fatality games.
- The strange convergence that unwittingly occurred between a long gestating fiction project and my first ideas for this game.
I decided I wanted to have a game where characters died (and over the course of the game a lot would die,) not through my own mean-spirited intent to kill, but through insane difficulty and the need to sacrifice lives for military objectives. So, I decided I would make a game where there were a preset number of characters, far outstripping the number of players, but I had trouble initially settling on a number and method of deciding the composition of a party of characters, but not necessarily full-time PLAYER characters. Then, in struck me, why not just have one of each class? Hence, I came up with the idea for eighteen characters (PHB 1 & 2 + Artificer + Swordmage) , but quickly remembered (thanks to The Game) the impending release of the Monk. Hence, 19 characters… or the much cooler campaign slogan: XIX.
Sensing that XIX could be a ready-made theme I decided to just have be important to well… everything. I had already decided on a military-based theme and figured “why not have the party have the unfortunate task of dealing with a large force of varied power, numbering precisely 1900 monsters?” (Imagine a Battlestar Galactica-like opening scene at the start of each adventure with the total enemies remaining). And why not have them defending 19 hapless towns? At this point, having overcome a few initial intellectual hurdles, I had a few logistical problems crop up.
- I needed a “timer” to force the characters to actually do something against the horde of monsters (or “Profanes” as I later flavored them). It couldn’t be so arbitrary that the players felt like they’d lose on a whim, but there had to have some flexibility so I could move the game along.
- I needed a reason why some CR 25 baddy wouldn’t just waltz in and slaughter the characters at first level.
- I needed a way to succinctly hand out information on the setting and foreshadow some of the events to come.
- A reason to avoid the Video Game RPG pitfall of neglecting fully half of playable characters in favor of leveling up favored characters.
- Satisfying the people that LIKED having their own character without undermining the whole point of the “massive team.” Also, making sure I didn’t have to level up 19 freaking characters.
I wrapped up Problems #1 and #2 with a neat little bow: a magical barrier of blood powered by the poor frail Elders from the 19 towns. Those very same barriers will only survive 19 months (shocking, huh?) and would degrade, only recognizing more and more serious threats as time passed. The PCs would also have to consider those poor old folks, as keeping the barrier up would eventually cost those noble oldsters their lives. I envisioned instances where the Players would take on a mission, leave some other characters at home base, only to have a bunch of “leftovers” from earlier missions storm into their once-safe territory.
For problem #3, I quickly settled on creating a prophecy. With my own fetishistic obsessions with the number 19 in this game, a prophecy revolving around the number seemed like an easy fix, provided I could write one that didn’t make me gag (I’m not fond of my poetry skills).
Problem #4’s solution came to me from its source: video games. Games like Chrono Trigger and X Men: Legends incentivized using certain characters together. Continuing my number 19 obsession, I whipped up 19 different combinations of character types that would unlock specific advantages (later dubbed The 19 Harmonies) for the party usable in every encounter. Moreover, successful “unlocking” a Harmony would result in EVERY character getting XP and the award of yet-to-be-defined prophetic bonuses/resources (something along the lines of plot magic). I decided to tie this in with the aforementioned prophecy, making the Prophecy/Ritual of the Elders become a force unto itself, willing the PCs to win against their seemingly insurmountable odds.
Problem #5 resulted in a compromise. I decided that each player could designate a “Primary” character that was reserved for them to use when they showed up and acted as their default persona for role playing between missions. I intended to farm out the character leveling process to interested players anyway. This “Primary” rule guaranteed that I wasn’t stuck acting as custodian for the whole stable of characters. So, at least one character per player would be their responsibility, with the option of players taking on a whole “team”, with the understanding only one could be their primary character.
There you have it, my background planning for my D&D game. If interest on the subject is high I’ll actually post the XIX Prophecy and the XIX Harmonies I’ve created.