Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

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Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Sat May 13, 2017 7:50 am

Yesterday we had our first session of a new al-Qadim campaign that I hope will be a never-ending campaign. Maybe the home base will move over time but for now, it's based in Hawa. I'm especially using Corsairs of the Great Sea but we have the complete aQ (except Reunion, which I only have digital).

When you design an aQ game, you have to decide: are you going to try to emulate the tales of the genre or are you going to make a player-driven game set in the world of the genre's setting? For this particular campaign, I have chosen the latter (please don't take this as me trying to disparage those going with the former). That's not to say that I'm not scouring the 1001 nights books for NPCs and weird spells and curses and happenings, I am, but I'm not trying to impose the dramatic curve of those tales on the game. For me, the big kick I get from D&D is the emergent "story" if you want to call it that (I'm not even going for story, I'm going for "world"). Again, I don't mean to slag on the other style of playing, all I'm trying to say is that for this particular campaign, this is how I want to do it.

(I have the same issue with Star Wars (I have SWd6 in mind, because that's the one I read most recently, but I think this applies to all three SW games) — are they about trying to capture the magical, pulpy dramatic curveballs of the films, or are they about letting your players loose in the lived-in, grimy science fantasy world of the films? For the former, there are plenty of story games that can help you, from the rules-heavy, epic clash between worlds in Burning Empires, to a heavily improvised pulp game like Fate. For the latter, there's prep-focused sandbox games like Stars Without Number and Traveller. SWd6 is full of advice text that tell you to make it like the movies but doesn't really give you the tools to do so. It's based on a trad combat system vs NPCs that need stats, + filled with suggestions to wing it even though winging it is fighting that rules core. (Instead, consider something like Apocalypse World where you don't have to stat out NPCs to the same extent so are more free to wing it, because the character's biggest enemies are themselves, or something like Stars Without Number where you don't have to wing it to the same extent because you have the planets and their site tags to fuel adventure and guide your prep.))

Anyway… the campaign book in the CotGS is written with the 'tales' approach in mind. The tales aren't even that fantastical, it's pretty standard missions like caravan guard, spy missions etc where the players are errand gals for and against the real stars, the fantastic NPCs on the two councils. And they really are great characters. But I want to put the focus on the players.

I'm still glad I read the book because I'm using inn names, council chamber maps etc from the book. And two of the six missions are pretty standard OSRy 'here's a dungeon and a reason to go to that dungeon' setups and I'll use those straight up (one of them has a linear part, I replaced that with one of Dyson's map), and one of the six missions is just a very fun, open-ended little story about a living turban that I'll just use the setup from and see what happens. (When the campaign book just says to handwave the uneventful journey, instead I'll use the hex grid, navigation rolls, encounter checks etc. That's more to my taste.)

I placed a couple of extra dungeons from other settings near Hawa too. I love dungeon crawls because they have, in my experience, led to very emergent and player-driven games filled with engagement and danger. And Aladdin is a classic dungeon crawl story. Unlike when we tried our hand at aQ three years ago when I shamelessly put Cynadicea and Thracia in Zakhara, this time around I'm making sure everything fits aQ's lore, changing organizations to Zakharan factions etc, changing names etc.

But it's not a sure thing that the characters will ever go these dungeons (and I'm OK with that). Because I put them smack dab in the politics of Hawa as full members of the corsair council alongside Akura, Jayani and those other NPCs. They have their own ship, a zarug named Ummuhm. They have full ownership of the Inn of the Billowing Sails. The characters are tangled up in each others business, we have one pair of exes, two sibling pairs and a grandparent/granddaughter relationship. It's drama time folks!

Yes, the ruleset is an unholy, dysergic amalgamation of:
• An OSR-informed reading of 5e including exhaustion levels, getting lost in the wilderness etc
• Weather rules and boat stats from Golden Voyages & the 2e DMG
• Encounter tables and monsters from the aQ MC
• Mercantile rules and domain rules from ACKS

All of those things solidly in place as a "hard landscape", but serving as a backdrop to:
• The Dramasystem rules from Hillfolk!

Yes, that's why we spent four hours making characters and not one second of those hours was spent on stats. It was all relationships, drama, wants&needs, backstory, shared past, place in society etc.

Changes from Hillfolk:
• The 'procedural' system is torn out (as Hillfolk suggests on p65). If the PCs do something dangerous we have the D&D rules in place.
• The bennies system w/ voting is removed. All that exchanging between different types of tokens — esp since we don't use the playing card system. Instead, you can return all your drama tokens to the bank to give yourself or anyone else advantage or disadvantage on a roll — I've merged drama tokens and insp into one token type.
• The setting is less improvised than Hf. We are playing within the prepped sandbox. Not sure that part of the game pulls its weight because the weight in prep is significant + it limits how the players can play, how they can set their scenes etc. If you say "OK, I'm talking to Esari and Yufar on the other island" we might say "Hold on, time to scratch rations, make navigation rolls, encounter checks etc". If you want to talk to an al-Badia tribe I might say 'Hold on, let me get out The Adventurer's Guide to Zakhara for the tribe list."

Now, the hardness of this hard landscape might very well make the game worse and get in the way of the drama. But this campaign setup is an experiment. I am curious to see what type of game play will emerge.

I'm trying to have the best of three worlds: an OSR-informed sandbox game, a dramatic relations&emotions-game, and an experience of the setting and 'canon' of aQ. (We can and have made changes but I want those changes to be deliberate and informed changes.)
Over time, we'll see if those three things mesh well together or if one or two of them have to fall away. I'm curious — I want to play to find out.

Btw, in Rosewater's player types, I'm probably a "Mel" — game design itself is what fascinates me the most about the game.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Sat May 13, 2017 7:56 am

I'm happy about the player mix.
For this first session, we had two players who I've DM:ed 5e for since the Starter Set was released (we've done LMoP, Lost City, Curse of Strahd, about 80% of Deep Carbon Observatory, about a third of Princes of the Apocalypse, and a lot of homebrew), one player whom I've never DM:ed for but I've played alongside him in a couple of B/X games under various DMs — no overlap between those groups and my home group except me and, now, him. And three players who have never played any RPG or even any board games.

I've also got a couple of more players lined up to join next week. Perhaps I invited too many. We'll see
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby Big Mac » Sat May 13, 2017 3:33 pm

That's an interesting combination. I'll be looking forward to seeing how your group gets on.

Is "Dyson's map" a map by Dyson Logos? I've been hearing a lot of good things about Dyson Logos recently.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Sat May 13, 2017 4:08 pm

Thank you Big Mac! I hope I'll remember to check back here after the next session (and ongoing).

Yeah, there's a section where there's no map but says "here are some things you can throw on them", I don't like that, instead I'll use this map by Dyson Logos and I placed those encounters there, some on the map, some on a random encounter table.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby Tim Baker » Sun May 14, 2017 2:04 am

2097 wrote:When you design an aQ game, you have to decide: are you going to try to emulate the tales of the genre or are you going to make a player-driven game set in the world of the genre's setting? For this particular campaign, I have chosen the latter (please don't take this as me trying to disparage those going with the former).

When I ran an Al-Qadim campaign, I did the same thing. I added bigger-than-life NPCs/villains that the PCs knew they'd have to outsmart rather than fight, but didn't force any sort of plot structure on them. I read several Al-Qadim adventures prior to running the campaign to get the right feel, and would introduce situations that were similar to those in the adventures, but didn't railroad the players into a particular outcome or tactics. Sounds like you're doing something similar.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Sun May 14, 2017 6:06 am

I think we're on the same page, Tim. It's like the difference between an adventure text that says "Now that the PCs have disguised themselves as cultists, they do this-and-that" vs "There are three red cloaks in this room".
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby Big Mac » Mon May 15, 2017 12:40 pm

2097 wrote:Yeah, there's a section where there's no map but says "here are some things you can throw on them", I don't like that, instead I'll use this map by Dyson Logos and I placed those encounters there, some on the map, some on a random encounter table.


That's a great map.

One of the things I like about having a map like that, is that the players can actually do things like try to sneak past the NPCs/monsters, rather than take them on. In theory, they could actuall go into the sewage water (if it is deep enough) and try to swim below the surface. It's not something I'd try with my own PCs, but if someone wants to give that a go, and I was running a game, I'd want to give them a shot at maybe being able to pull that off. (And of course, if someone does try a bizarre tactic like that, they then get totally covered in sewage and that could have an unexpected effect on later parts of the adventure.)

You just don't get that if you have a random encounter chart that isn't connected to a map (although you could use random encounters within a map if people hang about for too long).
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Mon May 15, 2017 7:52 pm

Yeah, the text only has a verbal description of the journey and some encounters the DM can use as they please. That's not my style. I placed some of the encounters in specific rooms and others on a random encounter table.

We'll see if they ever find their way down there, so far they've got their hands full with politics.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Mon May 15, 2017 8:03 pm

I hope they go into the water 'cause there's snakes there!
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Fri May 19, 2017 11:52 pm

Second session. Two new players joined, and one skipped a session. So seven players + 1 DM. The most that have ever been in my apartment at once. We played for four and a half hours but we're still just building platform. We're learning the city, the religions, the mosque schedule, the surrounding region. We also settled on a definite list on who's got voting rights on the corsair council. Two of the PC:s and six NPC:s. We decided that the captains can bring allies in there to discuss but that don't have voting rights. This is the most detailed, invested, careful RP I've ever been part of. We'll see if there's any payoff coming. People seem excited to keep playing.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Mon May 22, 2017 9:26 am

Even though we're mostly still building platform, here are some things that happened in that second session.

• Azira (a PC), an old leprosy-ridden Jisan-cleric, rescued a stillborn child with Revivify but used the occasion to spread propaganda against Kezim and the other council members. We're using "a long rest is one week"-rules so that's a big investment. But, of course, there's no better usage of a slot than rescuing a human life

• Djufak, a lizardfolk PC, who has refused to salt bond with any other PC or NPC, did so by laying an egg, and then eating their own egg messily in their suitmate's bed. The suitmate is Esari, a goblin PC.

• Djufak later plotted a campaign to murder Nalim, a human wizard, one of the two PC council members. Two other PCs joined the plan. We'll see what happens...? They'll have to eat together on the ship.

• Kezim (a PC), the dwarven pirate captain of a crew of 15 and a respected council member, drew his blade against Nalim. "If you want to join our crew, you have to prove that you can defend yourself!". Nalim misty-stepped away.

• Azira confronted her former bethrothed that she broke up with years back. Yufar (a PC), a sailor in his fifties. "Just give one chance -- give me seven nights with you". CHILLS! I ship it

The last PC is Tarala, Yufar's half-elven half-sister. Tarala, you're such a solid rock helping us build the foundations such as prayer schedule to Najm, gluing various threads together etc. Tarala and Azira are both part of the plot to kill Nalim.
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Re: Our 'Corsair Council' campaign

Postby 2097 » Sat May 27, 2017 8:55 am

We did a "session 2½" yesterday (the real session 3 is scheduled for tomorrow, if that's the fate that's given to us).
Two of the players (Esari's player and Yufar's player) came over and did some gear shopping, backstory talk, discussing campaign premises etc. I love that sort of thing. They bought every healing potion in Hawa (we use the rules in ACKS to determine how many of backpacks, how many healing potions, how many etc etc that are available per months in a city of Hawa's size).
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