“Before-ing” the After: Desolation

On Sunday, our new group of gamers settled in to play the introductory session of our new Desolation campaign. While this is exciting, even more exciting is that I get to play. The campaign will be using a shared setting, and my part of that setting will not appear until later. Lucky me!

Before

The first half of the campaign, entitled ‘The Road Less Taken,’ is set in the Before, a time when the Night of Fire and the resulting devastation of Scondera was not even a bad dream for anyone not born in a Gnomish family. Our characters are all members of a merchant caravan in the Saikin Wastes heading north, and have begun play with only the loosest of affiliations to each other, but supported by complimentary goals. To heighten the richness of our exploration of the Before, our group of three players has two people running spell casters, and both of us are doing everything we can to enjoy the great power available to the magically inclined in this period, before the Apocalypse and Burn take it away from us.

Shared Apocalypse

My partner in the campaign is a long-time player, and has been in my games since I moved to Seoul, but has not run anything for something like 25 years. Seeing him gear up to run this campaign has been a treat, and getting to talk in depth with him about the mechanics of Ubiquity has definitely expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for the finer points of the system and its settings. Those with a passing familiarity with this blog will be able to gain some insight into the mind of this fellow when I tell you that he is the man behind Marlin Tyrell, the young and arrogant wizard featured in the ongoing installments of my Palladium Fantasy PBeM, Long Winter Shadows. Due to the increased time demands running Desolation has placed on us in this initial phase, that PBeM will be going on hiatus, but hopefully sometime before the rainy season has poured itself out for another year, we will see if poor old Marlin survives his confrontation with the vile Summoner, Alcome Tyrell and learns something more about his convoluted and troubled family history.

My partner’s role in our campaign is not an easy one. Not only does he have the burden of introducing the world, and intricacies of the system to novices while still learning it himself, he also has to (forgive me) travel the road less taken himself, in that he is running the world before the Apocalypse. If he wishes to be true to the source material, he does not have the same freedom to mix and match, remove, relocate, wipe out, warp, or rewrite vast tracks of the game world and its denizens. He has to learn it all, understand how it all fits together, and present it in coherent chunks, and provide access points for us to both revel in and work with its inherent awesomeness.

Greymalkin Designs have done an excellent job of efficiently presenting the world in such a way that you can grasp the shape of the Before so that you can design your own After. With each supplement – but particularly Journeys in the Before and After – they have expanded that information and provided rules and clarifications to facilitate play Before the apocalypse, during the Night of Fire, through the Long Winter, and on into the normal point where play begins, in the Thaw, 18 months or so after ostensible end of the world.

It’s a lot to take on.

Not one to slack, he has memorized the maps and essential national and racial details, created player handouts to guide and inform character creation and comprehension, cheat sheets for magic and combat, worked through a whole series of new magic items which actually conform to the system and can be emulated by players, single-handedly revitalized the near-dormant forums for the line, and created his own automated Excel character generator, inspired by the one for HEX found on the Ubiquity gold mine known as Mythic Eras. Are you as impressed as I am?

Desolationmania

Desolation as a setting seems to be appreciated by many, and played by few. While that is certainly understandable from the perspective that it is a niche product among niche products, it is no less sad for that. The amount of work that went in to providing just the right sort of framework for creation and inspiration, without codifying and limiting GMs, is an incredible resource for those who prefer to craft their own detailed settings, or for those who want to take an idea and run with it, weaving story lines by the seat of their pants.

I have reviewed Desolation before so I won’t go into its selling points again in this entry, but I have to say it’s hard to fathom how a fantasy game with such a rich setting and such a strong hook, that is built on a framework that allows for fast and flexible character creation, easy adjustment between cinematic and gritty levels of realism, and incredibly fast task and combat resolution, can be so overlooked.

After

The second half of our shared campaign, entitled ‘Steps of the Fathers,’ will of course be set in the ruins of the world left after the Night of Fire and the Long Winter. Players will have the option to determine if their characters from Before have survived, or to start entirely new ones. To facilitate easy changes of GM, as we are hoping that at least one of the other players will want to try out the GMs seat to run the game, we are sharing map and setting information, but keeping the plotting entirely separate. While this will heighten a sense of episodic play, or the feeling of running through vignettes, it will prevent problems with timelines, and recurring characters from cropping up. As our planning goes on, and as play continues, we will be keeping records both private and public to guide the course of the game. Both halves of the campaign will be detailed on Obsidian Portal, and we will also maintain the campaign bible, with important characters and locations. This will be a more important resource for me, being the one who is starting my cycle of stories later in the timeline, but will also affect my partner as I will want to insert Before versions of certain key locations into the narrative, when appropriate and possible.

Prognostication

With one solid session under our belts, good characters and solid players, and a lot of enthusiasm, this looks like a good start to something interesting. Player familiarity with combat and task resolution is stabilizing nicely as everyone already has experience with HEX, and the first session gave us lots of experience with the freeform spell casting rules, so future sessions will run a lot faster, and with more confidence. As with any new element to a game, it is one thing to read it, understand it, and practice it to see how it works, and an entirely different thing to face a player’s conception of a spell, and adjudicate it on the fly while chaos ensues all around. To my partner’s credit, he handled the stress of running his first session in 25 years, and his first session with this game system, and our first session with this set of spell casting rules, and only our third session with these players, with aplomb.

It is a sign of very good things to come~

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