Palladium Fantasy: a pleasant return ~ part 3

And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be the light
You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
And I am Winter born

-Cruxshadows, Winterborn

Unlike most of my games, the initial set-up of this campaign was built around a strong, pre-envisioned arc, while character creation was a mix of random trait generation and limited character choices. Typically, I start with a strong setting and clear-cut beginnings leading to less and less defined middles, leaving the endings entirely up to how things go in-game. Toward this end, I do not regularly put many restrictions on character creation, and expect the characters to evolve as they may from their clear starting point based on events in and reactions to the story.

In this case, there was a specific story to tell, and so paring down the vast number of character options in Palladium Fantasy was definitely a requirement.

The first thing I did in preparation for this campaign was to end the game session which preceded the one we had set aside for Palladium character creation with the song I mentioned in a previous posting – the Cruxshadows’ Winterborn. The images in the song formed the backbone of what sort of setting I wanted us to interact with, and so I felt playing it was the best way to communicate what I was going for. After the song ended, we had a week to think about characters.

As we settled down to make characters, the next thing I did was to (re)familiarize the players with the Palladium world, and the environs in which their characters, not yet generated, would grow up. We looked over the maps and discussed nearby settlements and the typical terrain and creatures which commonly dwell there. That done, I explained that the restrictions on character creation were that they were human, and that they were raised in a monastery in Timiro under the tutelage of a personal mentor and a handful of other academically-minded monks. As they grew toward adulthood, their characters became more and more aware of a great sense of loss among many of the older monks, as well as a constant sense of fear and watchfulness. Few ever travelled outside the walls of the monastery, and powerful magics protected it and its denizens. No one had ever been willing to say from what.

From this brief setting description we moved on to character generation. As one player had a strong urge to play a wizard, the other opted toward running a man-at-arms. Given that we knew ahead of time what general types of OCC we wanted we had to decide how to deal with this and randomly generated traits. I cannot say that the idea of generating traits this way was met with 100% enthusiasm from all players, but some of us enjoyed it. The rolling options were broken down this way:

  • Option 1 – Roll 4D6 for each trait and drop the lowest. Rolled traits could be moved around in order to meet OCC-specific minimum trait  requirements
  • Option 2 – Roll 3D6 and automatically have low traits raised to the required minimums, no swapping or moving traits.

The players went with option 1, and a decent set of primary characters were generated. As this was to be done in troupe-style, we also generated the secondary characters, who while less important to the overall arc I had envisioned for the campaign, were close friends to the primary PCs and the sort who just could not imagine allowing their companions to go off into the wilderness without allies. While we did include some issues of class to set up a pecking order among the PCs and NPCs, it was a fairly cordial crew. Ultimately, the party consisted of the two Primary PCs, a Primary NPC, a secondary PC, and two secondary NPCs:

  • Grath, Principled, Knight waiting to be knighted
  • Marlin Tyrell, Scrupulous, Wizard waiting to grow wise
  • Kellan, Scrupulous, Diabolist, waiting for the ink  to dry
  • Korwin, Scrupulous, Ranger, waiting for his turn to ride the horse
  • Neremor, Unprincipled, Summoner, waiting for a good 12-step program for sacrificers
  • Devyn, Principled, Longbowman, waiting for this ‘joke’ to end

Interestingly for me, the campaign hit a small snag at some reluctance to follow alignments. Rather than argue about it, or import something else from somewhere else that everyone could agree on, I ended up moving on with the game, and just kept track of how the characters were actually portrayed. Unsurprisingly, before long, character behaviour fell easily into the patterns outlined helpfully by the alignments.  I made a note of their in-character choices and kept it to myself… until now!

Once characterizations and the method for handling 6 characters with 2 players and 1 GM were sorted out, it was time to play. For the most part, I determined to use the 2nd Edition rules as printed – unless they proved to be less evocative of the genre, or harder to work with than the 1st Edition to which I am accustomed. In play, all went well – although I missed having the 1st Edition screen with its charts, and it somehow seemed much less easy to generate NPCs on the fly, but that could easily have been a perceptual thing, or a side-effect of limited time. I did decide to be flexible on certain issues or elements should there be a good in-game or character reason for making changes. More to come on this later.

As the campaign kicked off, the players were informed about their pasts… reluctantly. Having uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts and curious items hidden away near the monastery, the characters were full of questions as to their parentage, the reasons behind their training, and what people were being so secretive about. They were informed of the fledgling domain of Winterholme in the northern reaches of the Eastern Territory, and how betrayal and treachery had caused its downfall and destruction at the taloned hands of a dark being. Hyperbole aside, they were told that they were heirs to a sizeable chunk of good real-estate and a great story to go with it to inspire an army to hold it once they got there…. if only they themselves could become the sorts of men who lead armies. Each learned thrilling and or distressing truths about their parents, and each vowed to avenge the wrongs done.

What made this set-up interesting for me, was the great amount of freedom it put in the hands of the players. With this background, the characters were pretty much free to do what they wanted. Exploring, learning to make their way in the world, and figuring out what they would make of themselves and their birthright was entirely up to them to pace and organize. I just had to provide the world for them with which to interact.

Obstacles and Observers

Early in their travels a mysterious and annoying man began to interfere in their dealings. He clearly knew the abbot of the monastery, and he clearly knew a lot about each of them, but his insistence on teaching them life lessons and tactical thinking were… unwelcome. The group remains unsure what to make of him.

Due to pressure and information from their annoying ‘mentor’ the group stumbled across another cache of items and equipment, enchanted against the elements and passage of time for a day when someone would come to lead an army to carve out a new domain on the ruins of Winterholme. (By this point I wanted to add l’s and e’s to damn near everything, but when said, the name is fair enough.)

Against advice from their mentor, they opened the caches, and while learning more of their parentage and history, set off a chain of events which they soon regretted. Seeking escape from the encroaching forces which had slain their parents and their former homeland, they headed deeper into the mountains, and took to traveling in disguise as skilled laborers… often making more from a day penning letters than from ‘adventuring.’ This sort of menial drudgery, not unlike life in the monastery, but without the benefit of daily instruction, had Marlin gnashing his teeth in frustration. Having walked several hundred miles and only having saved one poor widowed farmer, not by skill at arms or mystic arts, but by skill with scythe, twine, hammer, and saw, and having been forced to rebury all the exciting treasure and artifacts cached for their future, this road to adventure and glory was proving nothing more than dull and muddy.

To further their success in avoiding detection, and to learn more about the world, they split up, to meet again a few months later. Grath headed off to compete in local tournaments – hoping to attract a patron and earn his place in a knightly order. Marlin took whatever work passed his way, eventually agreeing to be the courier for a package from Aracho to Wisdom. The others hired on as scribes or merchant’s assistants, or as caravan guards, and each lost track of the others…

The Side Stories

And so, a separate campaign was spawned from the journeys of Marlin Tyrell. In the next installment, you will be able to read the first few entries of the PBeM – Long Winter Shadows, to wonder along with his player at why he woke up nude in the mountains, and to see for yourselves what atrocious and unnecessarily Scottish accents I simply cannot refrain from giving to dwarves.

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