The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Reinventing Mythology

Two of my favorite tv series in the past decade have been Smallville and Merlin both of which are based around the same concept – taking an existing mythology and reinventing it with all of the main characters being young adults.

Smallville cast pic from a few years ago.

There are many other similarities between the shows, most notably that both shows reversed the nature of the most important relationship in the show, but then have allowed said relationship to gradually become the one fans of the mythology know (Smallville with Clark-Lex, Merlin with Merlin-Arthur).

Merlin cast photo.

This morning I find myself wondering how this sort of re-envisionment might work as a basis for a campaign. Start with a mythology that all the member of the group are very familiar with, then together reinvent it, by de-aging the characters, and grouping them together; have them all be young, and inexperienced in the same time and place.

Inevitably the result of this is going to be a world that is different from the one of the source material; but that’s the point. The idea of making a campaign like this would be to bring a feeling of familiarity without all the constraints which would accompany basing a campaign around the original world.

For example, one could make a campaign where the members of the fellowship of the ring are all young rapscallions growing up together. The changes you would have to make to Middle Earth for such a campaign to function would be huge, but easily accomplished if you designed the campaign in the same way these shows seem to be made – with no initial preconceived notions of how the world is supposed to be. Basically you would not be figuring out how to modify Middle Earth to suit your campaign, but would instead try to find ways to work elements of Middle Earth into your campaign.

Unlike the some of my other campaign ideas I have shared on this site, I feel quite certain that this would work and work well. All it would need is a group that all know and love a given mythology, but aren’t afraid to change it.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

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December 30, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic Items, RPGs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Types of Sequel Campaigns

When a campaign ends it doesn’t have to be the end for the world in which the campaign existed. Some of the best campaigns I have been part of (on either side of the screen), have been sequel campaigns; campaigns set in the same world as a previous campaign.

Now I’m not talking about published campaign settings here, mostly because the other games that have gone on in published setting are either largely unknown to you, or are just considered part of the background of the world. No, what I am talking about are campaigns with a direct connect to another game you have been part of. For example:

1. The Direct Sequel

This is when shortly after wrapping up a campaign, you decided to go back to it and start up a new story. The only thing that differentiates this from continuing the same game on was the intent to stop once a certain story goal was reached. In many ways this sort of campaign is very much like a movie sequel; it takes characters who have had most of their story arcs resolved and throws them into a whole new set of problems.

2. The Branch Off

For some reason or another your group doesn’t want to or cannot continue with the same party of characters, but rather than throw out the campaign you create a second group of characters who are known to the first to continue on the story. Special guest appearances from original group members may happen from time to time. I have most often seen this employed when there has been a high player turnover, or a near TPK; everyone still wants to play the game, but the existing party just didn’t work any more.

3. The Unretirement

This is when a long time after ending a game someone gets it in their head that it would be great fun to go back and play those characters again. On the surface it sounds a lot like The Direct Sequel, but the feeling when playing it is very different; the world has lost a lot of its familiarity over time, but has gained a huge amount of nostalgia.

4. The Continuity

Sometimes DMs like to keep using the same setting repeatedly, even for new campaigns or new groups. Done correctly this can make a world feel much more rich as it is already flushed out and seems very busy. Done incorrectly it can make a group feel like they are not the focus of the campaign.

5. The Secret Connection

This is when a new campaign is connected to an old one, the connection is very important to the plot, but it is also a secret. The more party members from the old campaign that are in the new, the more effective this is. After all players who were not part of the connected game will only see references to that game as back story, not as camera winks.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, RPGs | , | Leave a comment

The Joe Schmo Campaign

There was a TV show which aired on Spike TV some years back called “The Joe Schmo Show“. Basically it was a parody of reality tv shows. The show’s whole premise was that it was all an elaborate ruse played on one guy. That one guy (Matt Kennedy Gould) was led to believe that he was appearing on a reality show called “The Lap of Luxury” (basically a Big Brother rip off), when in fact every other contestant on the show was a paid actor.

Matt aka Joe Schmo

I wonder if you could, or if their would be any point to, doing this in a gaming group. What if you had the DM and four players who were all in on the plot, while a fifth player was not in on what was going on (knowing neither the plot, nor the status of the other players). The four players could help steer events in a way that normally wouldn’t be possible in a game. Not only that, but as they would effectively be co-DMs, the player-actors would likely be willing to surrender their share of the spotlight, thus making the fifth player’s character the star of the campaign.

Such a story could actually come across as much more like your typical fantasy story, with the main hero and his cast of supporting players (rather than the ensemble piece which is a typical game). Moreover, other staples of fantasy might be worked in more easily, from dramatic character deaths, to party members that are at a very different power level than the main hero (higher or lower).

The main impediments I could see for this game are first of all time – it would require more hours of prep by more people than your typical game, and second of all its massive dependence on just one player – if he is absent, or worse leaves the group there is no game. But other than that can you think of any reason this wouldn’t be awesome?

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 4 Comments

The D&D Superhero

Although characters in D&D are frequently heroes, they don’t really resemble what most people think of when they think of superheroes; more often than not D&D characters resemble heroic mercenaries.

A superhero is a type of stock character possessing “extraordinary or superhuman powers” and dedicated to protecting the public and has some visual characteristic (typically an outfit) that makes him/her identifiable.

I have been musing of late as to what it would take to turn a D&D game into a superhero game. You might wonder why do this at all when there are dedicated superhero rpgs? Well, for one, this is just a thought experiment, and second I have no idea whether it would be easier to bring the superhero to the fantasy world or the fantasy world to the superhero.

Superman. Need I say more?

The Typical Fantasy World isn’t a World for Superheroes

It’s not a total accident that D&D heroes aren’t superheroes. Superheroes need a world where they are special; typical D&D worlds have the heroes being just another group of characters. Additionally, many superheroes work best in a large urban environment, something that is often lacking in D&D worlds (obviously not all superheroes are urban, but it is very common). I think to have a D&D superhero game the world must be one that is ruled by the civilized races; there might be rare pockets of evil, but for the most part there shouldn’t be massive clans of baddies. Instead the evils of a superhero game must be hidden within the civilized world.

Superheroes don’t go Looting

A staple of D&D games are heroes stealing from their fallen enemies (and sometimes comrades), plundering ancient ruins, and gouging the people they are helping – and those are the good guys. These traits aren’t really appropriate to a superhero game, and would need to be eliminated. With the right group of players they might just go away with the mood change, but mechanics could be needed with players who don’t want to get away from the mercenary way.

Superheroes Start Stronger, but Progress Slowly

A feature of D&D is how the characters start lowly, but can rapidly rise to almost god-like powers. This is very unlike superheroes. A superhero campaign should see the characters start at a mid-level, but then progress at a much slower rate. In older editions this might be taken care of just by the lack of gold based XP, but in newer editions a mathematical factor would need to be introduced. I would think that reducing the XP earned by 95% would be a good answer.


Magic Items Need to be Really Special

Magic items would be a center piece of any D&D superhero game. Heroes and villains alike might have their whole identity built around a particular magic item. There aren’t many book magic items that would be a good for this purpose – DMs and players would need to work together to come up with creative magic items. These could range from Batman like items that are very visible tools, to articles that are not obvious, but grant very super powers.

The Killer Superhero

Some superheroes kill, and D&D has rules for non-lethal damage, but I still think that in order to properly integrate superheroes into D&D one might want a rule change to damage. Perhaps PCs and NPCs in negative hp are unconscious, but not dying. Also there would have to be almost an expectation of dramatic bending of the rules; D&D players would likely get upset if a nearly defeated villain mysteriously disappeared, but sometimes that happens in comics.

A Final Thought
Mixing two genres is not without its complexities, and the resulting hybrid often is not what was intended. But it can be a lot of fun.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 2 Comments

Inception – Awesome Movie, But Could it Be a Campaign?


I was a little late seeing Inception, having only finally seen it last week, and like most viewers, I walked a way with my head full of ideas. Of course, being a gamer, these ideas eventually turned to, how I could leverage this awesomeness into a game.

Well, first off, I think one of the great things about the whole dream world idea, is that it could be very easily adapted to many genres – fantasy, science fiction, super hero, spy, and horror all come to mind as genre ripe for a similar dream type world.

But as I was thinking about how best to realize such a game, I thought of another idea that would make the game seem more dreamy and very unique. Imagine this, what if you started the game using an existing system, playing in the unusual manner. But whenever a dream world is entered, the majority of the GMing duties shift to whomever is playing the architect of the world the group is entering. The GM would continue to play NPCs, except ones created by the architect. This could add real meaning to the shifting between different levels of dreams within dreams.

If you wanted to take the idea one step further, you could allow the architect to choose an entirely different rule set for the dream world; you could start by playing d20, but then the dreamworld is in d6, and the dream within a dream is diceless.

The more I think about it the more I wish I could run this. Alas, with my current group this would not be possible; every one of them dislikes getting behind the screen.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Campaign Ideas, RPGs | , | 1 Comment