The Compact: Post-apocalyptic Campaign

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Michael’s recent post about his upcoming campaign has lit a fire under me to work on a couple of campaigns I’ve had on the backburner for a while. He always tells me I should post about my game sessions, campaigns and the prep I am doing but I always fear this will be of little interest for the majority of you. But I can’t stop thinking about this campaign and I guess a blog post is a good place as any to start organizing my ideas. Hope you like them and they may inspire you for your own games.

The Compact

The children played near the long wooden tables where the villagers had dinned not long ago. Sundown was coming and they ran down the field towards the crops. The celebration meant that harvest was drawing near and many of these children would soon have little time to play. Their cries of joy were suddenly silenced when they saw the old man. He stood a few feet from them, seeming to have come out of the corn, his beard wild and unkempt, and his frame thin and frail, tanned by the sun. But it was his eyes that scared the children. They seemed to dart to and fro, always looking at things unseen. His laughter crackled and one of the younger boys sobbed.

The older children had been taught to respect the elders and some of them picked up the younger scared ones and tried to leave but the old man would have nothing of this. “No, stay children, stay… Come sit here in a circle, now in a circle… Let me tell you a story, a story of the time before the valley, before the community, before the war.”

Despite the hesitation and the fear gossip might have installed on the children, none of them could pass up such a story. It was rare indeed for any of the adults to speak of this. Even the scared ones wiped away their tears and sat in a circle around the old man. The sun was setting beyond the corn fields, beyond the mountains ringing the valley, and it painted the sky red as the old man began his tale…

“I remember the time, the time before the war. We lived in villages of glass and steel, much larger than the eighty odd houses huddled around the town hall and the great house, and there were many more of us. Well not all were like us. Some looked different, spoke differently or believed in different things. Not only where there horseless wagons dancing around the houses of glass and steel, but great metal birds made by man flew across the sky and travelled beyond the clouds to the stars.

And then there was war, the skies were sundered and the seas burned. The great villages of men were torn down and the survivors killed each other for the scraps. And there were worse dangers, things we had forgotten about…”

The old man suddenly fell silent, night had come and the children were all mesmerized. Under the moon the old man’s eyes and hair seemed to glow. He mumbled something, sat down among the children and snapped out of his daze. “The cold came soon, and the darkness that would not lift. The founders all came together and decided to leave it all behind. To seek refuge in the wild, the forgotten lands, and came here to the valley. We all gathered and signed the compact, agreed to come together in the great house and select those amongst us best suited to lead. We plowed the fields mined the hills beyond the swamp and in the end reaped what we sowed…”

He rose with a jump, startling the children. Agitated he began to speak faster and faster, almost incoherently. “We tried to hide, to leave it behind but they would not stay away and then they were tempted and the compact, the compact was broken and remade, sad, and the light the blue light…” The distant night sky flared up, blue as if lightning was coming from beyond the mountains and the old man began to laugh. But the laugh was tainted with sadness and desperation, and a few of the children though they saw his tears as he ran back into the corn fields.

The idea behind this campaign is a little different; it’s less Mad Max and more The Village. The players are the younger members of a community of survivors that hid in a valley and created a sheltered community. They cultivate the fields; make ethanol fuel to run simple generators, make gunpowder for the weapons they manufacture and the leaders of the community enforce order under the authority given to them by the compact, a document signed by the community founders. All is not well, for reasons unknown to the players some families left the compact some time ago and took over the far side of the valley, taking control of the mines. But something has happened to them and they are spoken of only in hushed tones.

There are limited medical supplies and the community relies on a healer whose craft he or she passes down to their apprentice in secret; the sick are treated in the great house in the utmost secrecy. The great house is also the place where the elder members of the community gather around the book of the compact and make the decisions for the village.

This is my basic concept for the game, it still needs to be fleshed out, establish some specifics, but that’s what I‘ve got so far. What do you think? Have any suggestions? I hope to post more about it soon…


Ask The Stargazer: “Would you be willing to provide some insight into your thoughts on layout for free RPG PDFs?”

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It's hard work! A couple of days ago Stargazer Games fan and fellow amateur game designer Michael M. contacted me via email and asked me to share a few tricks on doing the layout for free RPGs. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Get a desktop publishing software
    When you try your hand at layout using word processors like MS Word or Open Office etc. don’t be surprised when it looks like crap. It’s extremely hard to create a good-looking layout with a software that’s not created for that purpose.
    I prefer Adobe InDesign but it’s an extremely expensive software. Microsoft’s Publisher is AFAIK still included in some versions of their Office suite and it’s pretty easy to use. If you prefer open source there’s Scribus.
    I haven’t had much luck using Scribus, but I know that some people have created pretty cool looking stuff with it. I am sure there are many more DTP solutions for various platforms.
  2. Look at what other people have done
    That’s what I did a lot. I looked at the layouts I’ve seen in books I like and tried my hand at imitating them. That’s actually easier said then done, especially when you use another software (with less features) and when you have no idea how certain things are done. I am still pretty much an amateur but people seem to like my stuff, but I still learn something new every day. That’s actually a good segue to my next tip.
  3. Practice, practice, practice
    The only way to get better at doing layout is by doing layout. Period. Ok, when you get someone else to show you some tricks, this may also help.
  4. Make use of textures and artwork
    Everything looks better with textures and  artwork. Luckily there’s are a lot of textures on the net that you can use royalty-free. Often textures are released in the public domain or are licensed under Creative Commons. When it comes to Fantasy/SF artwork you usually have to pay for that stuff. But there’s a lot of pretty inexpensive stock art at sites like RPGNow.
    Sometimes artists allow you to use their art for free as long as your project is non-commercial. If you find a nice piece of art at DeviantArt or somewhere else, do the right thing and ask the artist for permission if you want to use it. You might be surprised how many artists are actually willing to let you use it for free.
  5. Get feedback
    Ask people for feedback. Show them a few pages and ask them how they like the layout. I actually print the layout drafts on paper so that you can better judge how the final product is going to look like. Sometimes your layout looks great on the screen but doesn’t work that well on paper.
    It also helps to have a few friends who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth when your layout sucks. And it’s even better if they can point out what they don’t like and more importantly why they don’t like it.

Please don’t forget that I am an amateur myself, so take my advice with a grain of salt. If you have some layout experience of your own, feel free to post your thoughts below!

More details on my new campaign

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On the weekend my girlfriend worked on the campaign world for our upcoming Shadow, Sword & Spell game. I am actually very happy with the result so far and aside from a proper map I have almost enough material for the next step.

The next step will of course be character creation. When I know what kind of characters my players want to play and more importantly what their goals are, I can put some more work in the world itself. But instead of fleshing out everything, I’ll focus on what I need to run an interesting game suited to my player’s characters and their goals.

I also decide that instead of running a pure sandbox game I will probably use what I call the “Elder Scrolls method”. The Elder Scrolls computer games are basically sandbox games at their heart with a main plotline tacked on. So while you can explore the world at your own pace and set your own goals there’s also a plot to follow. The Elder Scrolls also differs in another aspect from a pure sandbox game. Some events only happen when they are initiated by the player. I will probably use this approach, too, mainly because both my players and I are not too familiar with sandbox gaming and a more plot-based approach may make things easier for us until we are comfortable with this mode of play.

Continue reading More details on my new campaign

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