Blog 00?: GMing Clockworks 1on November 20, 2009 at 12:00 pm
Mike/Wrath of Zombie will be running a Clockworks game for his group, a playtest campaign beginning with the Gentleman Caller and then branching out to other adventures of his devising. I figured now would be a good time to ramble on a bit about running games in the setting, for his benefit and for the rest of you.
This will be a bit random and a bit off the top of my head, and not particularly short. You’ve been warned.
One of my goals for Clockworks is that it’s a big setting, with room for damn near everything. This applies to the tone as well. Adventures set in Vheld can range from high flying adventure to grim social commentary. Heck, if you can pull both off at the same time go for it. You know your players better than I do, and you’ll probably tell as they make characters and play a few adventures what they gravitate towards, and if they’re more interested in action, horror, drama, comedy, romance, etc.
The comic is perhaps a bit more humorous than the game it’s based on was, but we do end up with a lot of laughter at the table. (Spoiler Free Gamer Story: in the last session, in the middle of lots of big serious stuff happening, one of the PCs pretended not to speak Clorencian, to fool an interrogating official. The whole scene was hilarious, and in like 4 years will make a great comic.)
Some locales lend themselves to different tones more than others. There’s less bloody combat on the 9th level of Clorencia City than down in the slums or out in the wastelands of Irone, more political wrangling. (Of course, for true Machiavellian politics, you’d want to set a game in Paravo – but we won’t get a good look at Paravo for a year or two in the comic…)
More rambling behind the cut.
Once I knew I was making a comic, one of my goals for Clockworks: the Campaign was that I didn’t want the heroes from the home game/comic to overshadow your heroes. The world of Vheld is a big place, with a ton of problems, and a ton of places that could use a group of heroes. So while the stars of the comic will end up on a grand quest, (the beginnings of which you’re seeing now) it’s not the only thing. I didn’t want to make a setting like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, where there’s room for you to do cool stuff, but nothing you do is going to be as cool as blowing up the Death Star or destroying the One Ring and ending the war. (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but this is part of the reason that Clockworks is set 50 years after New Dawn, as those guys did end up doing stuff that big that would have overshadowed most everything else.)
Jumping back to tone a bit, it was important to me to set up a world with enough villains and problems that it needs your heroes to come in and do stuff, but the world isn’t so screwed that it’s all doom and gloom. I want Vheld to be more dangerous than say Greyhawk, but less than Midnight. (Now, if someone wants to kick things over in to Super Gloom Everything Is Doomed territory, there are certainly a few setting elements that would allow them to do that. They’ll show up in the comic one day.)
Now, Mike is running a game centered around Clorencia University’s Department of Unusual Biology. I don’t know where he’s going with things after the Gentleman Caller, but I’m guessing it’s a bit of world hopping and monster hunting. They might hunt down a few more monsters within the city, but I’m guessing they’re headed off to some swamps or ice mountains or dark forests along the way as well. And maybe they’ll uncover a greater plot and a bigger villain than just MotWs. I don’t know.
My advice to Mike or anyone wanting to run a campaign continuing from the Gentleman Caller right now: steal adventures from elsewhere. With a minimal amount of work, adventures for Deadlands, Soloman Kane, Rippers, or a host of other Savage Settings could be placed in Vheld. Heck, there are enough ancient ruins, mysterious cults, unnatural beasts, and whatnot to pluck most D&D adventures in to the setting. You’d have to change Dragonborn or Elves or Dwarves or whatever to Faeblooded, and ditch the setting references that don’t fit, but there’s certainly room for a classic dungeon crawl. (Albeit one where your heroes might bring a shotgun to a sword fight…) Steal from other sources too, you could run an adventure based on the plot to your favorite movie, comic book, novel, anime, whatever. Just tweak some details so it more or less fits and run with it. I’m not running your game, and you don’t have to worry about “canon” or whatever if you add something that’s not part of my vision of the setting.
Villains are important to a Clockworks campaign. I’ve included a rule to let them show up early and often, so they can stick around enough to really make your players hate them. The villains you create can do a lot to set the tone for the campaign. In the comic we see a brutal thug/gang leader, a mysterious masked thief, and a man who makes mechanical monstrosities and perhaps commands both magic and high technology. This gives the game a very different feel than if our main villains were say a leader of a necromantic cult, a firey Faeblooded revolutionary, and a highly advanced experimental renegade clockbot.
One of the important things about villains is they generally don’t see themselves as such. Even Lukov Kilgore sees himself as the protagonist of his tale. Sure, he’s done some nasty things, but he’s got his reasons. This plays in to less villainous groups that might be just as antagonistic. Everyone from the National Police to the firebomb throwing anarchists to the Vori air pirates believes themselves to be in the right.
Also, be sure to let your players help out here. Lukov came in to existence entirely during character creation. Thorton had an enemy, Eva had parents who were mages and went missing in to the night. I decided to tie these together, and Ophelia and Oliver naturally fit in to that subplot as well.
Clockworks is designed to be a “sandbox” setting, meaning there’s room for your players to run around and explore and find trouble. Think 50 Fathoms, or Grand Theft Auto. Now, you guys are at a disadvantage here, because I’ve been making stuff up in my head for this setting for the last 6 years or so. I know that if our heroes end up in Jostrenet that the city is a bustling port city with a ton of soldiers and a ton of criminals. I can conjure up images in my head of New Orleans, and add airships, stompy robots, soldiers guarding mages as they’re being deported, and sleazy black market smugglers. (Hey, now you know that stuff too.)
For Clockworks: the Campaign, I wanted to start things off in the big city, but I also wanted to do the equivelent of starting our heroes off in a remote small town. So they’ve got a big job in a small neighborhood. I figured out a bit of what’s around the Bronze Gardens (abandoned factories, a decrepid park, a few legitimate businesses, lots of working class homes, the train station and National Police station), and what’s near it (the Rookery, the Ironians, the San Khotalese) I came up with a vague idea of what our heroes would run in to if they wandered off the beaten path.
For a game centered around the DoUB, spend a bit of time making up some details for the University and the area around it. Are there any conflicts or politics or scandals among the faculty? Are there any threats to the University or student body itself? Anyone on campus up to any particularly dangerous or exciting experiments? What’s around the campus, besides coffee shops, book stores, or bars? You don’t need to stat everything up, but have an idea in your head or noted down that if the heroes wander off to the Applied Etheric Science laboratory, what they’ll find. Then of course let the players know they have the freedom to wander around a bit, and roll with what happens when they do.
One key to a Sandbox game, especially early on, is you don’t just want to plunk people down in a setting and say “ok, go do stuff!” Give them some enemies, an obvious plot hook to start things off. Once things are underway, your players will find danger and adventure, but especially early on you’ll need to bring it to them. I made this mistake in the last Vampire game I ran. The setting was very cool, and had lots of groups working against each other and lots of cool NPCs. Too many really, and not enough of them were directly interested in/wanted to destroy the PCs. There was some cool stuff, but it was kind of an unfocused mess.
For some great tips on running Sandbox games, go listen to a few back episodes of the Podge Cast, especially the one I’m a guest star on, and the ones from a year or so earlier dealing with sandbox games.
Many, many things mixed in to the melting pot of my brain and helped inspire Clockworks. Feel free to draw on any of these for your game or add your own influences.
Final Fantasy Games - The plot of New Dawn was basically Final Fantasy VI meets American Gods. FF8 was also a big influence on New Dawn, and Clorencia City obviously owes a debt to FF7. The elemental magic in the setting largely goes back to my love of FF1.
Firefly – Firefly is essentially the really, really good adventures of a party of player characters. It unfolds the way you wish the best campaigns would. Despite the obvious differences in the settings, you really could plunk most any Firefly character or plot down in to a Clockworks game without much difficulty.
Everything Neil Gaiman Has Ever Written Ever – see above about the plot of New Dawn. Stuff like Sandman and American Gods has absolutely shaped the metaphysics of the setting, and the Faeblooded owe a pretty clear debt to Mr. Gaiman.
The Iron Kingdoms – Stompy robots! Cool monsters! Amazing artwork! Goggles and long coats! I was all about the Iron Kingdoms for a while, and the Monsternomicon is still one of my favorite gaming books ever. There were a few big things about the setting that really turned me off as far as running a game goes (No airships! your PCs need to be about 30th level to really matter in the world! The world is at war forever and the grimdark afterlife is even more war!), which I suppose is a good thing, as I would never have created the setting for New Dawn if I’d have been perfectly happy to go run a Savage Iron Kingdoms game, and then I never would have gone on to make Clockworks the game or comic.
Avatar: the Last Airbender – the elemental magic in the setting predates Avatar, going back to New Dawn. But I’d be lying if I said Avatar hasn’t shaped my view of how magic works since then. It’s also an incredibly good show to watch for character development, party interaction, heroes leveling up, good villains, etc. I really consider Avatar (and the first few years of Buffy) as my benchmarks for storytelling for what I’d like to achieve with the comic. If by the time the story is over, I can hit anywhere near that level of sophistication and depth, of humor, action, drama, character, etc, I will consider the comic a rousing success. (For the record, I am a rampaging Sokka fanboy, but I love me some Iroh and Appa as well.)
X-Men – take your favorite plot from any story told about Mutants in the last 40 years, plunk it in as a story about Faeblooded. Tada!
Metropolis – really, this one should be obvious. The whole German Silent Expressionist Film style has a major influence on the comic’s visual style as well, despite being in color and steampunky.
Dystopian Near Future Sci Fi/Speculative Fiction – The classics here being 1984 and Brave New World, but stuff like JG Ballard stories, Blade Runner, and even Judge Dredd have influenced the setting. It would be fun to play with that with the right group of players. Run a game centered on the worst parts of the Great Republic, where our heroes try to fight the system and everyone dies at the end.
Real World History: Seriously, the real world is a pretty amazing place. We have done some crazy things over the last few millenia. Some of my favorite bits of history to pilfer for setting and story ideas for Vheld have been the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, WW1, the American West, the Roman Empire, the Albigensian Crusade, etc etc.
There’s more stuff too, from Tekumel to the Mysterious Cities of Gold to Arcanum to Kafka to Brotherhood of the Wolf to Record of the Lodoss War etc etc. But this is I think a pretty decent list to get you started.