About a week ago, I started on a series talking about the three pillars of Dungeons and Dragons, Combat, Social Encounters and Exploration. I’ve talked about the first two, Combat and Social Encounters already and we’re onto the Pillar of Exploration Exploration might be considered…
Like always, I’m borrowing from things when creating my idea for a D&D campaign, this time I’m looking at a couple of shows that I have enjoyed Helix and Nightflyers, both are about a group of people, set alone either in Antarctica or in space, where there is something odd going on, some phenomena or disease or curse happening, but you never know who might be bad.
For me, this is a short campaign, not a big massive game, but something that you can play when you want to play a horror based game for a little bit. You could certainly put this towards the end of a longer campaign, basically, survive this and meet the final boss, but you’d have to make whatever is causing the issue not play in the normal rules of the game, because you’ll probably have some higher level spell casters.
This game is about one last run, one last mission for a group of mid level characters, 5-12 range, where they know that they are doing, they aren’t experts, but they aren’t bad, and they, for a hook, have been brought in for a big score, one dangerous mission, Hell’s Run.
Hell’s Run is a shipping run up the coast of the continent, through an area where the veil between worlds is thinner and strange things happen. But the score of this mission is going to be worth it, it’s a retirement mission for everyone on the ship, including the captain of the ship, and have the players create the captain. Give them the parameters that this is someone that they all know and care about and let them create them and create a back story for them.
Immediately on the voyage things needs to start going wrong. Food spoils that shouldn’t have spoiled because it was packed wrong, a crew member becomes sick while another goes crazy, weird things are happening before they even get to Hell’s Run. But nothing so bad that they can’t complete the mission, this is still a driving factor for the Captain and for most of the crew, though some will want to mutiny, if they can do it, again, it’s retirement and fame. As they get further along, the disease should crop up again on a few crew members and something or someone, probably the first mate, should end up going overboard in the night and be lost at see, even though they are a veteran sailor and the weather was fine.
That first whole part is about building suspense and you can go as fast or as slow through it as you’d want. I’d recommend this being a couple sessions, that should build tension and kind of build in a claustrophobia. Have the players do things to try and cleanse or stop whatever is happening, and still have stuff happen. Have the crewmen say odd things and the Captain start to slowly and subtly change on them.
Then we get to Hell’s Run. It’s called that, obviously, because some malevolent force is on the other side of that veil, probably brought there to protect whatever the players are after by creating this treacherous sea lane.
This is where you get to have fun with it, it should be fairly obvious by now that there’s someone who is sabotaging the ship, and have that ramp up big time and make it even more obvious. More crew members getting sick, and while it doesn’t kill fast, it’s basically always fatal, and start rolling at the end of each session to see if a player character gets sick. If one does, just let that player know with a few details of how to play it and when to start showing it. And have the Captain go insane and possibly someone become possessed, as the DM, this is one of those times where it’s you against the players, kind of, you won’t shoot down a crazy idea still, but you’re going to make it hard for them and who knows if all of them will survive.
Now, have some fun with the horror elements. I’m not thinking, for the most part, of using random ghosts or stuff the players can fully fight. If there’s some tragedy in a backstory of a player, dead parents, whatever it might be, play with that for the horror elements. Give them things to fight that then disappear, give them monsters that make no sense, visions and the ship changing on them so one day the sails are white the next they’re read. All the potatoes turn into turnips that bleed, which might just be beets, but as much as it’s meant to be horrific, make it crazy and disturbing as well, all the while, slowly whittle down the crew, have them die in various ways, and do a lot of it off screen. Have the players find the weird stuff that leads them to a dead crew member, not witness it themselves.
Then when a player gets sick, see what the players can figure out. See how they react to the situation, see how they search for a solution. If they have someone who can cure a disease, let them, but this is a game taking place on a ship where things are going missing and being destroyed, healing a disease will work for some time, but eventually they’ll run out of components needed, unless there’s a Paladin, where, maybe play around with the rules of the disease, make it a curse instead or an alien entity in the body that needs a living host to survive.
Play this out for a handful of sessions and then reach the promised land with whatever crew there is left. With the Captain, if he’s still around after going insane and probably making some crew walk the plank or something like that. And I’ll leave it up to you if there’s a return voyage home. Maybe it’s a paradise they find on the other side and they decide to stay. Maybe they just make it through the weird visions and what’s known as Hell’s Run and find themselves on the river Styx and sailing into hell itself. Or they could do a voyage back, I’d probably not do that unless you’re planning on making it go even faster.
This game is meant to be dark, so warn your players ahead of time. I haven’t talked about it much because I tend to play with close friends who I know will let me know if I’ve gone too far, or we tend to keep it quite lighthearted, but there’s a concept known as the “X Card” basically, it’s an agreement that if something at the table, some role play or whatever it might be, is making someone uncomfortable, they can touch the X card (if it’s physical) or just say something like “End Scene” and the scene will end and the it’ll move onto the next thing, no questions asked. For running a horror game, there is some buy-in that things will make you uncomfortable at times, but definitely set-up an “X Card” of some sort for this game so players or DM always can move it along to a new scene, no questions asked.
Would you play in a game like this? Do you like elements of horror or strong horror themes in your games?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!
It might be kind of the wrong time to talk about this, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, however, I think with that, for some, comes more time to delve into more story, including that of the Apocalypse/Post-Apocalyptic in nature. This is one of those genres that can tell a lot of interesting things because you can look at the struggle of man to overcome, the in ability of humanity to stop their own doom, or the breakdown of society and how it could fall apart and rebuild.
This is building off of my articles on where to start in comics and the article on zombies in pop culture. The format is going to continue to be a little bit different every time, mainly because it can be, but I want to talk about some things that have worked well and some that don’t work as well.
I think that we can all think of a lot of apocalyptic or post apocalyptic stories out there. About 5 years ago we had a lot of them being taken on in the Young Adult style with books series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Some of these worked better and some were disappointments, at least for myself. Since then, the genre hasn’t really died off, we have Netflix putting out shows like Daybreak and The Rain where things are going horribly wrong or have gone horribly wrong in the world. The genre as a whole has kind of been all over the map though with a lot of goofy stories as well as many very serious takes on the genre as well.
Now, I’m not sure that any particular take is going to be always the right one. Some that take themselves too seriously become overwrought and melodramatic, while others can try and do a humorous take on it that just ends up being hit or miss. And there’s also an element where some authors are trying too hard to be profound on a topic that is going to lend itself to a lot of speculation.
Just to talk about speculation, I feel like there are two that I can kind of compare as to how one does it decently and the other does it poorly. In The Hunger Games, we have this idea of spectacle, and that humans, even when things are going poorly are going to want spectacle and probably even want more and greater spectacle, especially if they are at the top of the food chain. This is something that we can see already in our society where people love things like Survivor, or even before our time with the shows in the Roman Colosseum, so The Hunger Games has a feeling of something that is grounded and truthful to it. Compare that to Divergent. The issue with Divergent, besides that the story just takes a left turn that everyone saw coming is that they split up humanity and society in a way that doesn’t make any sense. At no point in time before has society split itself along those lines in such a way or tested people so that they would be split that way. It feels like an illogical jump for a society to make and one that doesn’t really aid the society in the long run. So even though, I would say, there is some overlap, the speculation and the ability for a post apocalyptic story to have a ring of truth to it makes a big difference.
Now, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how it’s moved into other mediums. It’s easy to think of books, films and TV shows, but in many ways it’s just as easy to think of video games. The Last of Us is a prime example of a post-apocalyptic game, and the Resident Evil games take place during or after the apocalypse. But probably less known to some, though obviously something I like, is how it’s made it’s way into board games. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2 are basically board games about the apocalypse and the fallout from that. And it gives you an interestingly written story. Even a game like Dead of Winter, which I’ve mentioned in the zombie article, is definitely about survival after the apocalypse. While I don’t have a ton of post-apocalyptic games on my shelf, I have a lot that are about thwarting that great disaster from happening, basically all of the Lovecraft Mythos investigative games from Fantasy Flight fall into that category. In those games, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, Eldritch Horror, Elder Signs, you’re always trying to stop a great old one from coming through, or something along those lines. Even fantasy games like Gloomhaven, Sword & Sorcery, and Aeon’s End: War Eternal, while maybe not as heavily apocalyptic as some, have bits and pieces of that thrown in, especially if you fail the campaign.
Finally, there are RPG’s, and I think when it comes to a medium that is built for the apocalypse, RPG’s are that medium. Even if it hasn’t happened, the fact that you’re going on an adventure to do something, it’s going to be to stop something bad, and generally that’s some form the of the apocalypse for at least part of the world. And if you make it up to level 20, it’s probably for the whole world. In fact, one of the campaign books for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is Princes of the Apocalypse. There’s just something about the story of an malevolent god trying to destroy humanity and the player characters becoming humanities champions that just works well for a story. It’s one of those things where you can joke that it’s a story as old as time, but it works for so many reasons as it gives you that heroes journey and that final thing for them to overcome.
Well, that was kind of rambling, I had a lot that I wanted to talk about what I like from apocalyptic stories and why some of them don’t work as well if they ring a little hollow. Plus, I couldn’t go an article without talking about how it has flowed into the RPG and Board Game mediums. What are some of your favorite apocalyptic stories from whatever medium it might be?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!
Back for another Back or Brick on this Wednesday. We’re looking at a big Kickstarter, in terms of content that just launched yesterday. It’s going to fund (already has), but is it one for me? Let’s dive into the pros and cons. Pros RPG Like…