Archive for the “PBeM” Category

This weekend, I intend to set aside some time to write a story from the Converging Forces world.

I’m still waiting for James to give me some instructions before I can continue with his storyline, and Manny is still on hold because his next post is a massively significant one with a huge chunk of “oh shit” direction that I really wanted to hold off on until James was either close to the right spot, or dead, or some other wild tangent where I knew it was safe to continue.

BUT… I really want to do some Converging Forces writing.

So here’s the situation.

One thing I haven’t done as of yet, due to this being a PBeM game/story, is tell any stories from the point of view of nemesis or antagonists or other places in the world, or anything that the players themselves would not have access to.

What I’m thinking is of changing that a little. To take a peek on events happening somewhere else pertinent to the story… or someWHEN else.

I’m open to your suggestions on what you’re interested in knowing more of.

Right now, there are a couple things I’m leaning towards, one scene from a LONG damn time in the past, and another of somewhere happening right now.

But if anyone has developed any questions so far that really bug you, or something you’d like a LOT more detail on, tell me and I might write the story on that aspect instead.

Manny, yes this is open for you to suggest as well.

James, you’re banned from participating, you should be telling me what you’re doing darn it!

Who knows, I’ve never tried this kind of thing before, writing short fiction by request. It sounds like a lot of fun… I trust in myself to NOT screw the story up or hose revelations but still write something worth reading.

I may be deluding myself, but I guess we’ll find out together.

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Terin sat back in the hard chair, sighed and tried to rub the growing headache from his brow. Training or no training, you didn’t turn farmboys and soldiers into draftsmen overnight, and using whittled sticks of colored clay on a hillside in the rain wasn’t the best way to get something you were going to be able to read a month later.

Terin picked up one particular journal he’d set aside earlier, and leafed through it. Even with a second time through, it was simply remarkable in it’s ability to astound. He stopped at one page covered with sketches, and gazed at it intently for all of a minute. Then, he turned the book upside down. No, it was still impossible to make out. It could be a wolf… or it could be a duck. Or perhaps it was a wolf riding a duck?

With a snort of disgust, he tossed the offending book back on the pile, and thought about what he’d learned.

The first thing that came through from the journals was that the valley was still easy enough to get into, it was getting out again that was the problem.

There were many ways into the valley, at least seven seperate game trails that Terin had noted, three lumbering paths cleared well enough to take a loaded carts’ wheels during the dry season, and the main trade route connecting the valley to the rest of the main Doneghal lands that was corduroyed not just to the mouth of the valley, but continued on the entire length, all the way to the southernmost part where Clan MacQuarrie was steaded.

As remote as the valley was from the central Doneghal trade routes, someone that lived there clearly had current influence in or around court. No amount of money would be able to get that big a road project completed without the willing use of part of the Doneghal Militia, and that took pull in high places. Whoever the benefactor was, though, wasn’t part of or even near to His Grace’s inner circle, or there would have been much more information forthcoming since the discovery of the heavy orc presence there. Interesting, but anything to be discovered along that trail lay too far away to do any good tonight.

There were more than fifteen full highland clans making camp in the eastern ridgelines, and they’d brought all of their herds and families with them. That wasn’t a war party; it might be even more sign of what the Duke had spoke of, increasing bonding and building of teamwork and trust between clans. It might even be a major gathering of the clans to form some kind of official bond or choose a leader from all of the tribes.

With that many young orcs about eager to prove their bravery, there should be plenty of bodies to blockade the valley entrance. That’s not what they were doing, though, and it bothered Terin because it was out of character. The orcs had posted only a few small groups of sentries on watch, each group as strong as a company or more, in isolated areas on or near high rock formations with good lines of sight. The orcs stayed out of sight, their presence hidden from travelers entering the valley, giving the impression that all was still normal. With the lines of sight they possessed, they could move to intercept anyone trying to leave the valley with ease, and in great numbers.

One of the earliest scout teams had found that out the hard way, riding along the main trade road into the valley to get the news from the local steadholders, but getting ambushed when they tried to leave after finding Clan Treadwell’s structures burned to the ground. Some of the team had managed to survive the ambush by charging as one into the teeth of the attack, and fighting their way through the orcs and past into the wilderness. The ones that stayed off the trails and worked their way back all agreed that there had been no sign of the orcs at all before the first volley of darts came raining down.

To Terin, the fact that any of the team got past gave him more to think about. Highland orcs were well skilled at setting ambushes. They had honed those skills against the ever wary hunting parties that sought to root them out in the mountains above Madrigal, and he knew that the usual method of orc ambush alongside a trail from a closed canyon would have been to form at two sides of a bend in the trail, and then emplant a forest of sharpened stakes just in front of their positions, dug down low enough to stay strong against the weight of a charger tying to break through. The stakes would be concealed with whatever bushes or snow may be at hand. Too many Madrigal patrols had found themselves surprised by a rain of sharp steel darts piercing man and horse alike, and charged the foe in attempt to break through and past only to ride their horses to death, stuck floundering within reach of axe and maul.

If they weren’t changing the terrain around the entrance to the valley, and they weren’t making their presence known by flooding the area with sentries, than there must be some reason for it. Orcs weren’t stupid. Far from it. Especially the highlanders.

Terin didn’t have enough information yet to make a decision as to motive, but from what he’d read, a solid plan of entry would be to leave the mountains back to the first main crossroads that would lead to the southern trade routes. From there, a fast ride might take them within striking distance of the valley entrance in only two weeks, far better time than a scout movement mission could do. There were several small settlements in Doneghal proper prior to reaching the valley, there would be ample opportunity to stable the horses for the return trip. Terin wasn’t concerned with scouting all the terrain in between to aid future mountain missions; all he needed to do was get into the valley as soon as possible, before the situation had a chance to break.

From there, Terin could see many options. The best information was on incursions down the middle of the valley, and then scouting the eastern ridgelines and upper reaches. Looking over the journals, though, it looked like the orcs had very effective sentry systems set up along the eastern ridgelines, the areas of access closest to their own camps. For the scouting run Terin intended, he’d need to catch the orcs completely unaware, so that there would be no possible reason for the elf to conceal itself, or to act other than typical. A large part of this mission would be to gauge intention and analyze goals from base actions, and to accomplish it, the target had to feel safe and without cause to be on guard.

The Tor Baldwin side, with it’s seemingly sheer lower reaches being so clearly unsuitable for any kind of settling, grazing or timbering, had been left mostly alone as a source of interest for the scout teams. It would have been part of their movement orders, but likely had a lower priority that the eastern reaches. There had been some attempts to see if the valley entrance could be flanked that way, but the two scout teams that had mentioned it showed attempted routes well within what Terin considered a conservative line of attack. It looked like, either from choice or skill level, they had limited themselves to low level bouldering ascents, and hadn’t attempted any free climbing or attempts to make a top lead climb at all. From some of the base sketches they’d made from that approach, there could be at least one upper ridge route that would make for easy travel within what Terin thought he could easily handle. It made for a place to start, and appealed to Terin’s natural instinct to come from an unexpected direction… which normally meant the direction only an idiot would choose to try. With the first true smile of the evening, Terin reflected that he was just the idiot for the job.

With the beginnings of an approach in mind, Terin decided that he’d learned all he could from the scout journals. Pushing away from the table, Terin stood and moved his attention on to the next item to check on; Redwulf’s condition and readiness for the trip ahead.

Terin was more worried than he wanted to admit about Redwulf. He’d studied what he could see when he had the chance, and to his eyes while Redwulf may have held the posture of a man, his fine features were more than just a fur covered person. The joints in his legs where Terin could see them twisted underneath, and the pads and claw tips on his hands spoke of very poor mountaineering potential. Terin had a sudden image flash into his thoughts; Redwulf, trying to climb with the aid of a rope, and being unable to grasp it in his half canine, half human paws. It suddenly occured to Terin that he hadn’t specifically noticed if Redwulf had functional thumbs now, or not.

With sudden consternation, Terin stood up to find his way out of the scout center.

Just at that moment, the crude wooden door was pushed open from the outside, and a tall, blond man in excellently tailored scout uniform was framed in the light of the oil lanterns.

Terin looked the newcomer over, shifting his shoulders within his tunic in an intentional movement meant to ease any stiffness and prepare for action, if it became necessary. It was just one of the affectations Terin liked to use to fool an observer into thinking Terin had combat tells.

The newcomer wore a scouts’ uniform of light brown tunic over dark brown rough-spun trousers, tucked into knee high cross-tied heavy boots. Unlike a normal scout, this one wore rank tabs of silver crossed swords on his high collar, marking him as a Captain, and a captain of scouts in this place meant here was the scout master come to visit the intruder to his domain. 

What led Terin to add false tells on first meeting was the false smile the captain turned his way.

Terin inclined his head slightly in greeting, and smiled in a neutral, noncommital way. “Good evening, captain. I was just on my way out, but I’m glad of the opportunity to thank you personally for the assistance your corporal provided for me earlier. Thanks to his efficiency, and that of your excellent management of the scout system here, I’ve learned all I could have hoped and more about the area I’m headed tomorrow. You have my thanks.”

The man straightened up a little and entered the room, but the false smile remained fixed on his face. Here was a man that had something on his mind, and what i might say matters little, for he’s got some kind of script worked out. 

“I’m glad that we scouts were able to be of service to you, Baron. I wouldn’t want anything to hinder your mission on the morrow.”

Terin’s smile didn’t change, but this told him that he faced one of the officers that wanted nothing more than for Terin to die alone on a mountain somewhere. That made this encounter an easy one, because he didn’t need any difficulties preventing him from leaving on time in the morning. It was far too early to deviate from the plan just eyet.

“I certainly appreciate your assistance, captain. My apologies for the discourtesy of using your bare rank, but when I spoke with His Grace earlier and was assigned my task, he did not mention to me your name. Might I know it, that I may thank you properly?”

The captain noticeably shifted posture just a bit, straightening up unconsciously when reminded of his rank and his ties to his liege lord, Duke Arneghast. This told Terin that he faced someone that had no training or skill at concealing his intentions through body language.

“Of course, Baron. I hope you don’t think me rude for not offering you my name on arrival. As you can imagine, your fame has preceded you, and I have heard so much about you already that I feel almost as though we know each other very well. My name is Curtis, of the Morgan line. My father is Cuspis, Lord Morgan of Glendenshire. As you guessed, I am the scout master for His Grace’s forward scouts.”

Terin mentally sighed to himself, as the cocky young snot let a sneer creep ever more noticeably into his voice. The baron had a mission of importance, it’s true, and would avoid trouble if possible, but there were limits to the insult he was prepared to tolerate within his hearing.

The captain entered the room further, not crowding Terin but circling a little past to see what lay on the table. Picking up one of the discarded journals, Curtis leafed through it briefly, before dropping it on the pile.

“So, you’re planning to venture out into what they call the Valley of Bitter Tears, baron. That’s very good to hear. And very surprising, too. Somehow, when I first heard that banners proclaiming the presence of the Bleeding Bear clan were reported there, I thought that, with your legendary blood enemy finally uncovered, you would be in a rush to flee even farther north in search of a new Duchy to hide in.”

The captain leaned forward, close enough to Terin that he could smell the decaying garlic on his breath. “Of course, I hear that you’ve found a likely lad with the Imperial Scout bloodline to do your fighting for you. It’s not every man that would set out to redeem his honor with a fey blooded bodyguard to shield him from harm.”

Returning to a standing position, shifting slightly in what was clearly a balanced stance intended for defense, Curtis added, “But then, that is perfectly in keeping with all that I’d heard about you. And if things don’t turn out quite the way you’d expect, well, you’re experienced in how to pass through orc lines unnoticed, aren’t you? Just as long as you’ve got a skinning knife to hand.”

With that, the captain’s false smile gave way to the more honest sneer that looked far more natural to him.

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For those of you that have no idea where the last post came from, my apologies. I tend to post thinking that I haven’t had a new reader since I started however many years ago. Which might be true, but you never know.

If you are new(ish) to my blog, then you probably have no idea what the last post was.

I’ve been in the progress of running the slowest moving ‘play by email’ role playing game in the history of the internet, and I publish each turn here on the blog. Yesterdays’ post was the most recent, and ended in the way that it did with the idea that I’m really, no I swear I’m not kidding, really going to post another one very soon.

And not ‘soon’ as measured in geologic time.

The entire thing is taking the form of an interactive novel, with the parts of Terin and Jessie being directed by my friends James and Manny, respectively.

If you’re interested in reading any of the chapters that have come before, the entire thing has an idex on the sidebar of the blog called “Converging Forces”, and you can find direct links to all the chapters posted in order there. Yesterday’s post has already been added at the bottom.

Thanks for your patience, and again, sorry for the confusion.

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Terin sat on the plain wooden chair, back rigid and face immobile as he thought over all that the Duke had just told him, and put the rest of the pieces in place from what he already knew.

The situation was now clear.

The Duke had downplayed how well using Terin fit with all the various aspects of what was needed. He had an important mission that required special knowledge meant to be kept to as few people as possible, skills that only surviving the hard way proved you had, a plausible excuse to send a single person or small group where normally at least a scout team would be sent, and best of all, someone that was completely trusted, but outside the normal chain of leadership.

Stories of Madrigal’s lost 9th Company, with Terin as it’s captain, had circulated rapidly once Terin had led his men and the refugees they had gathered together to safety across the southern Mordant lines. Terin had found that, no matter where he had gone from that time to now, word had always seemed to precede him, especially among the noble-born officers of the various borderlander forces. Terin knew well that the most basic of the rumors circulating, at least amongst the officer corps, included details of Terin’s fixation with the Bleeding Bear. The Duke had no need to look far for an excuse to summon him to the hunting lodge; within hours of a scout team reporting the Bleeding Bear’s banner in the high mountains, one of the young snots would have been sure to catch the ear of the Duke, ‘suggesting’ that here was a fine opportunity for Mosley Vale to win back some of the lost honor of his family. Undoubtedly, the officers offended by Terin’s methods would prefer it if he set out to earn back his honor by marching off into the mountains alone, naked and carrying a dagger in his teeth. 

With most of the Duke’s local forces sure that Terin was being recalled to go off to fight the Bleeding Bear in some heroic attempt to redeem his name or die trying, the chances of any of Duke Hopes’ spies ferreting out the true nature of his task would be slim. The gossip mill would spend far too much time telling old stories and hoping for word of his death to spend much time speculating about other possible reasons for his departure.

Even better, for those that knew the Duke well enough to count on there never being just one string to his bow, questioning the servants or other methods of snooping would surely uncover the ‘secret’ mission; tracking Redwulf back to the point of his escape. With a secret mission that strange, and the possible involvement of Duke Hope or his Black Band, it would take a suspicious person indeed to suspect there was an even more important secret lying underneath the rest.

As far as Terin knew, the number of living people amongst the borderlanders that would recognize the significance of an Elven ally living and aiding the orc clans against humans was few. Of those Terin knew of, only Marshall Owen Bradford, Terin’s personal commander and the Chapter Commander of the Order of Radiance in Carringtown, and Duke Arneghal, the leader of one of the more progressive and open-minded Duchies of the borderlands, knew all the details that Terin had uncovered in his researches. There might be a few scholars amongst the Coastal Kingdoms that knew enough to be concerned, but they were too far removed to ever hear mention of an Elf spotted amongst mountain orcs. Nobody could tell what a wizard or their assistants might know of, with all the searching they did for new sources of knowledge, but scattered as they were serving this lord or that, pushed to develop battle magic to try and keep pace with Duke Hope’ Black Band, it was unlikely there was much analysis being given to context if wizards were studying ancient history for inspiration.

This was the kind of mission where you couldn’t just assign a task and trust that it would be completed as normal. It was critical that the situation be scouted thoroughly, to the dregs of the cup, whatever the cost to the scout might be. With a profile like that, you had to take the scout into your confidence, completely. The fewer people that had to be brought in on this particular secret, the better. Using Terin kept the circle of those who knew small, and cut the risk of rumors spreading.

The two most important reasons why the Duke was sending Terin, though, had nothing to do with secrets or excuses. Terin was, as far as he knew, the only person not an actual member of the Duchy that Arneghast would trust with something this important, and the act of using Terin would almost ensure that whatever mission he was assigned, it wouldn’t be taken too seriously. Just as the Duke had said, the borderlands were changing. As clans spread out and claimed land for themselves, as steadings grew and generations were born that looked to what they held rather than ahead to what they could earn, the tight bonds of brotherhood forged between long years of service were loosening, to be replaced by blood ties and provincial attitudes.

The final, and most important reason for the Duke to choose Terin was simply that there was no other man in all of the borderlands that had a better chance of surviving alone in the mountains and returning. 

The whole point of bringing Terin here was to send him out to uncover the facts surrounding an Elf living amongst the orcs, and have him survive to bring that knowledge back for Duke Arneghast to use. Nothing could be allowed to risk failure, and that meant that for Terin to perform his duty, both to the man he had been assigned to serve and to the greater duty he held for the peoples of Felwaithe, he could not pursue his own private vendetta. Not now. Not yet.

No matter how desperately his heart craved vengeance.

The sound of Duke Arneghast clearing his throat broke into Terin’s thoughts.

“Baron, I feel that time is slipping away from us. We’re far enough from the valley here that any news I get is delayed by a month or more. The last three scout teams I sent to penetrate the deepest reaches of the valley are a week overdue. If that thing, Redwulf, had not come stumbling onto one of our forward watch posts, I’d have sent a company out to scout ahead instead of waiting for you to get your ass here, followed by a probe in strength.”

The Duke turned his gaze back to the sandtable, studying the flags and markers as though there was some news they could whisper in his ear.

Terin took the opportunity to watch the Duke’s eyes, and mark where they seemed to fall, while he thought about the missions he was being tasked to complete.

Terin grabbed the arms of his chair for support, expecting to need it to steady himself. Instead, Terin stood with no hint of his earlier weakness. With the knowledge that the Bleeding Bear were finally near at hand, all weakness and pain seemed to have left him. For the first time since sighting the rising of the land that brought the mountains closer, he felt clear headed and without pain. His mind raced ahead clear and sharp, already visualizing the next steps for the coming campaign.

Terin sketched a cursory bow to the Duke, saying, “Your Grace, with your leave I’m going to get started with my preparations. I expect I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning.”

Arneghast turned around, surprise etched on his features.

“You agree to leave at first light, then? You accept my judgment as to the… urgency? The priority?”

Terin met the Duke’s concerned eyes, and while a smile would not come to his lips, there was one in his voice as he said, “Yes, your Grace. I agree… and I understand. Fully. There will be time once the mission is done to pay a visit to old acquaintances.”

Something in Terin’s eyes made the Duke break his gaze away first, and he shifted a little nervously on the carpet, his heavy boots scuffing the worn threads.

“Baron, I want to say one thing to you, before you go about your duty.”

“I know that what you said before was spoken of in the heat of your anger, and I’ll say no more about that. But what you said concerning the noble born amongst my men, that I would speak on.”

Terin faced the Duke impassively, his impatience plain on his face. The thing was said and done, the facts were what they were, and there were things that needed doing to further the completion of his duty. Anything the Duke had to say would be a waste of daylight. But Terin could see from the flush in the Duke’s cheeks that he probably felt he had to say something, to square what he could not change with what his honor told him should be done.

“Baron Trendel, you have every right to be bitter over how my officers act around you, even when given their orders directly from me. But as you go, I want you to think on something for me.”

“When something of this importance came due, you were the man I called to my side, and the one man I trust to see this mission through without distraction. That may be cold comfort, but you have my thanks for living up to being the man I’ve known you to be.”

“One last thing. The valley you’re going to visit. In our records, the steadholders gave it a name. They called it the Valley of Bitter Winds, don’t know why. Don’t let the name be a bad omen for you. I expect to see you return strong and steady as ever from this task. Now, go on with you, and Tyr’s Justice watch over you.”

Terin nodded his head sharply in response, and made his way from the signals room.

Closing the door behind him, leaving the Duke to his thoughts and flags, Terin glanced around the mud room, and saw that there were yet three runners still sitting there waiting for orders or messages to carry.

Terin walked up in front of where the three sat, and, pointing to the first one, said “Go to the route master, and have him prepare two combat trained horses with mountain experience, one strong horse with a very even temperament, two mules, packs and supplies for a month’s hard travel for three. Tell him to have them waiting and ready to go by first light. Do you understand?”

The runner, a young lad with wild brown hair so long and unruly it covered his eyes leapt from his seat, and with a fist salute over his heart, said “At once, milord Baron! Do you need any special provisions?”

Terin shook his head no, saying “Tell him to use his best judgement. Whatever I don’t have, I’ll make, forage or do without. Now off with you.”

The lad saluted once more, and without another word dashed from the room.

Terin turned his attention to the next runner, a smaller, thinner young lad with the sandy blond hair and dark hazel eyes you occasionally saw in the lands south of Mordant, near the border of Madrigal. Directing his words to the boy, he said “I want you to track down where ever my squire has got off to, and tell him his orders from me are to gather his belongings together and make ready for the beginnings of a hard trip at first light. Tell him also to get some rest as soon as his gear is prepared, and eat a heavy meal. He’s not to track me down, I’ll find him when it’s time to leave in the morning. Do you understand?”

The young lad leapt to his feet much as the first runner had, and with a salute and a cocky grin dashed out of the room in his own turn.

This left Terin looking upon the third and last runner, a tall and slightly overweight lad with black hair and the makings of a beard started on his chin. Motioning him to get up, Terin said, “You, my lucky young lad, get to escort me to the Scout Master. Now.”

Terin followed the boy out of the Duke’s lodge and across the square to a long, single story structure dug into the earth. Passing through the doorway, Terin saw that half the structure, the half he entered, was one large room, packed at even this late hour with men in various states of preparation for the trail. It was clear some were waiting to receive their movement orders for the next assignment, while others had just come in and were finishing up their scout journals from the previous mission, awaiting their turn at of debriefing. Such was the comfortable, organized bustle of a scout center near the front lines. Terin felt right at home.

Terin glanced around, noting which lads he recognized from their time at his academy, and which were learning as they worked here on the sharp end. As he glanced around the large room, he was surprised to see the Scout Code he had written to hammer the basics into the heads of his recruits, painted in words of white a foot high on the back wall, one word to a line.

“MMORRR. Mission. Movement. Observe. Record. Return. Report.”

Terin smiled. If it’s simple and stupid but it works, it’s not stupid. By the time new scouts made it throught Terin’s training, they knew that of all of them, ‘record’ is the one task in the Scout Code they’d better never forget. Scouts were trained to record anything and everything about their mission. Route traveled, terrain found, sketches of points of interest, flags, banners, unfamiliar animals or plants, weather conditions along the way and a detailed timeline, all recorded into a scout’s mission journal. And from the looks of things, whoever Duke Arneghast had tasked with running the scouts took the journals Terin implemented seriously.

Good.   

Terin dismissed his guide, and moved through the crowd of chatting men, making his way to the main focus of the room; a large wooden table with three men sitting behind it. At either end of the table, a large stack of what Terin saw were blank journals sat, ready to be issued out. Each of the three men seated at the table were busy signing out scouts, handing over tied scrolls of movement orders from pouches at their feet along with the journals, or signing in scouts on a mission log before standing and leading them back through the single door that led deeper into the building.

Terin realized that the men being assigned missions were the scout team leaders, accepting the scroll of orders and stack of journals for their entire teams. The men waiting to be debriefed, on the other hand, were all of the team members from each of the missions. They were taking the time to get each scouts’ view of a mission, instead of just taking the word of the team leader on what stood out the most. Truly excellent.

One of the men seated at the table, a young corporal Terin didn’t recognize, noticed the Baron standing there and stood up to greet him. With a warm, welcoming smile on his face, the man said “Welcome to the rat hole, my lord. I’m Garthan, lead sorter. How may we help you?”

Terin smiled in return, and replied, “I’m heading out on a mission of my own, corporal, one your scout master might not know of. The Duke just informed me. I need to see the scout journals of the area I’m planning on visiting, and I’ll be needing a quiet place to study them.”

Corporal Garthan bowed his head briefly, and said “If you’ll follow me, my lord, I’ll take you to one of our briefing rooms, where you can work undisturbed.”

Terin followed the Corporal back through the doorway, where he found the rest of the building was divided down the middle by a lone corridor, with several small rooms branching off from each side. The Corporal led him swiftly down the hall, and directed him inside one of the rooms, which Terin found to be fitted with a simple table, a pair of plain chairs upon either side, and no less than three oil lanterns hanging from iron hooks upon the walls, providing plenty of light.

Terin told the Corporal that he needed to see all the scout journals, no matter their age, that came from routes near the mountains to the east of the Valley of Bitter Winds. Corporal Gartham hustled off, and Terin sat down with his back to the wall, facing the doorway, to think through the steps of the journey before him.

Terin always approached everything, whether it was a mission or getting dinner, in the same way. He started by deciding what his next goal was, broke the goal down into the shortest steps necessary to reach it, and then visualized each step in advance. He thought it through from start to finish, what he’d need to do at each point, what tasks might be necessary, what tools might be useful. Then, having developed a solid plan to go forward with, he set out to do his research if time permitted, learning all he could to prepare himself. After that, he trusted in himself and improvised, because experience had taught him that nothing ever went according to plan, but if you didn’t have a plan, you didn’t have a good foundation to start from when it all went to hell. You might never follow a plan your entire life, but if you didn’t have one, you were doomed to misery and pain.

After just a few minutes, the corporal came back in the room with an armload of weatherstained and dogeared journals, indicating either a damn good filing system, or that they’d been seeing a lot of use lately. Terin thanked Gartham, and selecting one of the books at random, started to read.

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The first in a (probably very) short series of suggestions for a GM planning a tabletop or PBeM RPG game. Oooh, acronyms!

When planning a new RPG campaign, you should start with having a goal for the game. What are you hoping to achieve?

In most games, the goal is to have a lot of fun playing characters while taking part in a good story.

There are two parts to consider here; players enjoying playing their characters, and players experiencing a good story.

To accomplish both of these goals generally means a single storyline campaign will last several game sessions, covering weeks and maybe even years.  

Your mission as GM? Prepare a story that will provide your players with short term enjoyment of playing their character each session, medium range enjoyment by giving them opportunities to advance or improve their characters over time, and long term enjoyment by giving the players a feeling that they have taken part in a rich saga with a fulfilling conclusion.

Sound impossible? Not really.

When you plan your plotlines, think in terms of a triple layer of overlapping plotlines.

  • A) Short Term Plot.
  • B) Character Growth.
  • C) Multi-Episode Story Arc.

Short Term Plot

Each game session should be considered a single encounter. For the players? No, for you! You have your own mission for every game session; that the players be presented with a challenge, work to overcome it, and then enjoy the results so they have a sense of accomplishment prior to tossing the empty pizza boxes in the trash and going home. 

The short term plot is nothing less than your plan for the very next game session. You should think of it in terms of having a start, middle, and ending. It takes place within the overall story arc, and drives the overall story forward, but is in all respects a mini-adventure.

The short term plot can be so many things, and often will be driven by the players themselves as they take the initiative to play their characters. Your purpose in this is to keep in mind that it is rewarding to have a sense of completion at the end of each game session. If the party has to travel over long distances, plan on having each game session start with traveling to set the scene, take them over a portion of the journey rapidly, and then engage them with whatever encounter you have planned, and deal with the conclusion before the end of your session. If at the end they are still traveling on, they will still feel a sense of accomplishment at having completed the mini-adventure.

Likewise on searching a city for information, or chasing a villain, or shopping for items in the bazaar. Plan for something short, brutal, surprising or urgent to happen that can be resolved in one session.

The purpose of the short term plot is to provide an obvious short term goal for the characters to achieve, and the characters should be able to defeat the villain/solve the problem using pre-existing capabilities.

Character Growth

In the Character Growth portion of your plot, plan in advance on building in specific minor challenges targeted directly at each character. Your players are actors in an ensemble cast, but every player wants to feel like a true star in the spotlight now and then.

Start by having your players write some backgrounds for their characters, and encourage them to put down a little soul searching as to the hopes and dreams, and fears, of their characters. You won’t want to plan to fulfill their every hope in the way they would expect, but you CAN use it as a starting point for finding ways to really give them opportunities to grow their own way. 

During the course of the game, take the time to let each player feel that there was a special moment where the success or failure of the group rests on them. Put the burden on them, let them feel that pressure, and give them a chance to either succeed or fail on their own. Either way, it usually results in that player feeling a deep sense of inclusion in the group.

For you, the purpose of the Character Growth plots are to encourage each character to develop a unique personality. They should not regularly be life threatening, or always play a major role in the Short Term Plot, but they can lead to bonus abilities, new contacts, or special knowledge if properly handled. If the player fails, it can often lead to new short term plot hooks for you!

Some examples of character growth planning are to provide times when special skills are needed to advance, and opportunities to learn new skills are offered… for a price. One character may dream of being presented to the royal court, and will pursue that goal if given half a chance, while another might wish for nothing better than to study under the greatest swordsmaster of the age. You have to tailor each character growth opprotunity to the character, but it is incredibly fulfilling when a player’s character becomes such a core part of the story.

Multi-Episode Story Arc

The final portion of the triple plot is the Multi-Episode Story Arc, also known as the big quest. What is the huge adventure everyone is on? What is the big goal?

This is usually the easiest part of the process. Most GMs have some idea of what they want to do for a big, awesome campaign story, in general terms. What you want to do is break that huge story up into episodes, in segments, the venerable bite-size pieces.

It can help if you think of your campaign as if it were a TV series, not one of those cheesy ones, but something brilliant like J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5.

Each night’s episode should be enjoyable all on it’s own in repeats, taken out of the story and made to stand cold and lonely under the spotlights of harsh examination. But if you put the whole thing together, there is a larger story that continues to grow, and gather meaning. Something your players move towards. Or away from. Or around in circles. Or blow up. Or join and become evil overlords and worry about changes to their tax base.

Best yet, along the way, each character has an opportunity to grow, and develop a richer, more interesting personality.

However you like to run your own campaigns, I hope that this has given you a few ideas to think about in planning ahead and making your own life just a little bit easier. And if you’ve already developed this technique on your own as an art form and never saw some git put it into words before, well then, I’ve done my bit to show that you can set rules to anything.

Stay tuned for my next exciting episode, where I explore the joys of recurring NPCs… the good, the bad, and the just plain annoying.

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