Monday, November 25, 2019

The Square Deal Saloon

Started a new RPG campaign just recently. The setting is more-or-less that of Shadows of Brimstone meets HBO's Deadwood. Two of the PCs collectively own a house-of-ill-repute in a boom-town, somewhere in the New Mexico Territory, just down the road from the smoking crater that is Brimstone. There's another competing saloon and gambling den in town, and a number of weird supernatural hijinks afoot. The other PC is one of their regular customers, who happens to work at the Telegraph Office.

For the first session I made some incoming Telegraph props. One was an actual message for one of the PCs, but the others are essentially plot coupons and nuggets of important information about sub-plots and opportunities, that the Telegraph Operator PC is obligated to make the rounds and deliver. It's working pretty well, as the PCs basically get to eavesdrop on everything going on in town. I made the community bustling with plotlines, colorful characters, and mysteries. It's meant to be layered and sandboxy, with the PCs getting to decide what things they want to stick their noses into, and whose pockets they wish to pick. So I've arranged all my subplots on a color-coded calendar (the first session is Wednesday, March 9th, 1887) that tracks how each storyline will progress if the players do nothing to interfere. I'm hoping they'll interfere frequently and with gusto. They seemed to love it, which is good, because I'm prepared to add a couple more Telegraphs each session for foreshadowing, character development, and clue-delivery.

The mechanics are a blend of Savage Worlds and the Drama System from Hillfolk, with some custom mechanics to emulate parts of Brimstone, and a few cool ideas lifted from other games I like. During character creation, I had the players choose from several small "fill-in-the-blank" quizzes I had prepared. Their answers to those questions let them define things in the town, name NPCs and establish relationships to them. Each of the quizzes had some mechanical benefit that it unlocked. For example, there was one that said: "There's a group of bandits causing trouble in the region. You used to ride with them, but had a falling out." It then listed two of the canonical Infamous Bandit Gangs from Shadows of Brimstone, and had the player choose which one they'd been part of. Then it said "someone in town knows your secret past. Who are they, and can you trust them?" It then gave a bonus on Guts and Riding skills, as befits someone who used to ride with a bunch of train-robbers. The player who chose this card was effectively embracing a western trope, getting a connection to something that's part of the official setting, and then given carte-blanche to invent and ally or foe in town. It worked great. We ended up with a really cool interlocking web of NPCs and plotlines.

I'm running this game at a friends' house, because one of the players is allergic to my cat. So I needed a good way to bring the game with me that doesn't involve me hauling the rulebooks to Savage Worlds, Deadlands, Hillfolk, and Shadows of Brimstone with me every week. So, I popped over to, and made myself a new GMing Notes wiki. It's a closed/private wiki, so I can just bring it up on my iPad.  All the most important rules are on there now, along with pages on every location, every NPC, those Telegraphs and other visual aides to show the players, and that color-coded plotline calendar that keeps me on top of what's likely to happen when. It's working pretty great thus far. I'm liking it enough I've begun adding my note files for my other two active RPG campaigns to the same wiki, so I'll have one highly-portable campaign database for all my future games.