Beneath: Venison Heights

Adventure is Compulsory

I’m trying to start up a small tabletop-style online role-playing game campaign. Oh, and dabble in digital media about it. Making epub books for it, making an audio show, and whatever else I manage to get going. Make a participant-owned entertainment media company…you know. Typical stuff. This page is about all that. I’ll try to put everything on this page in order more or less from most important to least, so if you get bored halfway through you’ll at least have seen the important stuff.

First, the basics – I’ve been wanting to get back to running RPG sessions after a very long absence, and I’ve wanted to use a setting I’ve been puttering with for many years but never did anything with before. I’m hoping to dredge up just a few participants to run player-characters in it.

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas as you read along, you’re welcome to post them as comments below.

The Theme

The Setting

Pretty much everyone’s familiar with the general “magical sort-of-neo-medieval world where protagonists explore lost places and fight monsters for treasure” meme by now, I assume. This is one of those.

If you’re experienced with the more recent tastes in magical-fantasy concepts, you’re probably also familiar with the “world is suffering and about to be destroyed (or is “dying” because it effectively has already been destroyed) and the protagonists are gearing up to fight the Demon Dragon Vampire God of Darkness” sort of thing. This is not one of those.

The player-characters are all about to become freshly-conscripted Adventurers™ in a mid-sized agricultural village, in a happy, peaceful little kingdom that has never had much need for Adventurers, and hasn’t had any need since the kingdom was founded a century or so ago. The character concepts will need to have at least some skills that can be applied to the “exporing lost places/fighting monsters/collecting treasure” varieties of employment, but they will not have had any real, direct experience “adventuring” previously. They will need to have some plausible reason for being in the village of Venison Heights when the conscription starts (Venison Heights is actually on a couple of trade routes, so there are plenty of opportunities for characters from elsewhere in the kingdom or possibly the neighboring republic to be visiting or passing through, if you don’t want a character “native” to the village). This arrangement conveniently means that you (the player) don’t necessarily need to know anything much about the setting before we start, unless you want to (a character who was born and raised entirely in the little village is plausible, for example). The characters also need to have personalities that allow them to at least moderately-willingly work with others, and not be prone to e.g. running around stabbing people or otherwise murder-hoboing it up. Ideally, characters should at least be generally well-meaning.

Every bit of that previous paragraph is negotiable, it’s just that I’m trying to ease my way back into running this sort of thing and want to be able to test my setting concept and adjust as necessary in small, non-disruptive increments before I’m ready to deal with characters going Nucking Futs and trying to kick the world over. We’ll save that for a subsequent campaign with different characters.

The Tone/Style

This is flexible at the moment. This could go anywhere from “deep, serious storyline with regular humor aimed at the players” to “light-hearted action that stops just short of complete silliness but still has a coherent and plausible plotline”. My preference is that things tend to be pretty amusing to the participants but that there not be much blatant, explicit “joking” in the actual scenarios, but I’m definitely flexible as long as things don’t turn into a “grim”, mopey soap-opera and always have a plausible, reasonably-consistent plotline. Essentially, it’s neither “The Grim Dark Pain Of The World’s Dying Blood” nor “My Little Hero: Adventuring is Magic”.

I have an .epub ebook posted full of snippets of information and “scenes” in this setting that probably give some idea of the tone and style I’m aiming for (and provide a sampling of information about the world and the local part of it that we’re starting in). Questions, suggestions, and comments are encouraged. That gets updated with new additions from time to time. As of right now, the latest version was posted on 2015-May-30.

I also have a wiki set up where I’ve been collecting information on the setting and rules, so I don’t have to try to repost massive walls of text of it here.

The Rules

Custom-built, still in development, but simple and hopefully comprehensive and fast. Also: Free.

I was originally going to run everything in Hero (i.e. “Champions®”), which aside from character generation is actually quite simple and consistent overall, despite the misleadingly huge bulk of the rulebooks. However, I didn’t want anyone to have to shell out a pile of money for their own copies of the proprietary rulebooks nor to spend a lot of time trying to learn it.

I did not want to use Magic, The Gathering, The Role-Playing GameDungeons & Dragons®/Pathfinder. Although Pathfinder’s rules are available at no charge online, they really don’t seem to be tuned for the type of game I want to run. (If someone ELSE wants to run a Pathfinder session and let me play, that’s different, but I don’t want to run it myself).

Therefore, I decided to try to slap together my own system. It’s not well-tested at all yet, but is sufficiently complete to start trying out and is based off of my experience with a bunch of other systems that I borrowed techniques from, so it’s got at least some grounding in practicality.

I’ll assemble each character-sheet/codex in consultation with the players, leaving room for adjustments. I can also just provide a “pregenerated” character based on just a vague preference if preferred.

The Goal(s)

Fun Game Stuff

Most of all, I just miss the enjoyable “guided collaborative storymaking” of old-school paper-and-dice role-playing-game sessions. Getting regular sessions of a campaign going is the first and most important goal for me. As long as I can do that and everyone participating is enjoying it, I will have accomplished the important part.

A rules system and setting sufficiently complete for other people to play with

Virtually everything that gets put out on the internet from this project is intended to be released CC-BY-SA. I mainly wanted to have a fairly simple and consistent “characters-built-on-points” rules system that potentially-interested players (or Game Masters) could freely pass around and use without having to blow a pile of money on. Having a setting to go with it just makes sense.

Publish related media

I don’t think a typical player-driven role-playing-game campaign would really work to generate something like a novel, at least not without a huge amount of editing and alteration. I has occurred to me that something episodic like a webcomic or an “old-time-radio”-style audio drama would probably be a good fit, though. My talent and/or skill at visual art is pretty terrible. I am told, however, that I have a good face for radio, and I actually think audio media is under-rated, so “audio series” it is. I’d like to take whatever happens in the game sessions and, as faithfully as possible, recreate them as a series of audio shows, just because that sounds like fun to me.

As I’ve gone along with the development, the idea of other kinds of media have become more exciting to me as well, and ebooks (plain and enhanced “book-and-record”-style), “sequential [visual] art”, videos, and who knows what other kinds of forms the stories might be presented in are all possibilities at some point.

Shared Credit With Participants

The collaborative aspect of the storymaking is fundamental. I think everyone who participates should enjoy helping to build the results, and therefore should share the credit. Anyone who contributes something directly to the ongoing campaign and any resulting media should get at least one “credit” on the output. Some sort of defined system for this should get developed along the way, but however it works, in the end everyone’s “credits” on anything that gets posted/published/whatever get listed in order from highest to lowest.

That’s the end of the “serious” goals that I’m aiming for.

Money? Fame?

Okay, this seems unlikely, but if the game sessions are fun and the media coming out is entertaining, it’s possible there’d be a way to get paid for it. This isn’t really a serious goal at the moment, but even “free” works can make money. The “shared credit” thing up there applies here – the idea in my head is that if there were suddenly hundreds or thousands of people clamoring to fund the ongoing game and its output (hey, I suppose it could happen), one might conceivably set up a company and/or nonprofit to split up whatever comes in proportional to the credits for the media that it came in for. Then the organization grows to become like the “TWiT Network” of collaborative fantasy and gathers fame and influence until Peter Jackson comes along and pays hundreds of millions of dollars for rights to make an epic movie trilogy out of the “Beneath: Venison Heights” campaign and we all get cameos in the movies and retire to lives of luxury and adulation.