Module Research Notes

Or: Old Man Yells At Clouds!

For context: I’ve been putting quite a lot of work into editing the Crux SRD/Core book and have been looking over the document (Currently sitting at around 237 pages, huzzah!) quite extensively to make sure it’s legible, coherent and, hopefully, engaging. To this end, I also started doing some research on adventure modules, and layout, to see how established RPGs are doing things these days.

Our tale begins…

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It started off as an innocent-enough conversation with my D&D group about players being players, and the inevitable derailment of a carefully orchestrated campaign, often brought on by nearby shiny things and the conversation started veering towards a particular subject that’s rather close to my heart at the moment.

A certain degree of plot derailment is inevitable, and one of the skills a GM needs is the ability to rein in their players desire to run off after shiny things too much, while still giving them enough agency to have fun within the game. Too much structure, you’re railroading, not enough, you’re in an aimless sandbox. There’s a happy medium.

A common trick (and one that I certainly use) is to structure the story’s plot around a series of encounters and set-pieces and shoehorn them into the narrative as best you can, providing a pretty organic experience, somewhat tailored to your players, while having a lot of narrative wiggle-room should events not run according to plan.

This isn’t normally something that you can do with a module/adventure path/whateversplat.

Or is it?

Providing some kind of narrative leeway within a narrative tends to be viewed as lazy writing, especially from a continuity perspective. Any connective content, be they random encounters or planned diversions on the way are often quite threadbare, with very little lasting impact over the main events. I don’t think that they have to be.

So, thinking about this, what would I want if I were writing a module for Crux?

I would love to see a GM’s resource ‘module’ that has a synopsis of overall plot arc/timeline, broken down into a series of setpieces, with several encounters and events each. These in turn are bridged by a series of adventure hooks for the purpose of player engagement, along with suggestions of how they could be folded back into the main plot, tying everything together.

It was recommended that I take a look at Curse Of Strahd, the 5e Castle Ravenloft module/campaign book. The art and presentation of the book overall looked really impressive. Looking closer, the way the information was presented was awful.

Immediately, it reminded me of running Hoard Of The Dragon Queen – where each adventure required me having to rewrite and edit the book’s content into my own notes almost in its entirety before I had anything like workable GM’s notes. Forgotten Realms remains one of my favourite campaign settings, but the amount of mental grind necessary to prepare what is a pretty lacklustre adventure path into a viable condition was not an enjoyable experience.

Foolishly, I quickly skimmed over to Castle Ravenloft itself, something I was familiar with from previous editions, and I beheld this:

 

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K73? How many individual rooms are annotated in here? 80 it turns out. Granted, some of them have meaningful and pertinent encounters in them, but having to sift through a bunch of maps with a nice-looking but ultimately unhelpful isometric perspective, which you’re just going to have to collate for your own reference (before copying it out once again to either a battlemat or roll20) is just busywork. And all of these 8 or so different maps over half as many pages again all have entried beginning with K? This may just be my ADHD talking, but isn’t that a little convoluted? I get that they’re all in one building, but perhaps a little compartmentalisation would be better design? Perhaps break the individual encounters that are adjecant to each other into shorter sub-sections that are covered over a page or two referenced over an infographic map/table of contents at the start of the chapter.

I needed a palate cleanser. As a comparison, the first chapter of Jade Regent, the Paizo adventure path. While I have my own issues with 3.x (which I will not go into now, I’ll never get back on track.), I remember that the adventure paths were always rich and well-written, both for GMs and casual readers alike. Let’s see how this fares…

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What’s this? Multiple smaller maps with a much lower encounter count per map. Yes! This is immediately much more accessible. AND a campaign outline. In terms of ergonomics and layout, this is far better. Much more context for the content, and seems far richer in terms of substance, as opposed to relatively sparse, empty data, punctuated by the occasional box text
(I’m really not a fan of box text).

And this pretty much illustrates the focus/scope issue I find to be an issue with the WoTC stuff. Part 1 of Jade Regent is 91 pages for Levels 1-3, as opposed to 258 pages for levels 1-10, As a game resource, JR is much better. For want of a better term, I don’t think it has the same level of love/dedication put into its creation. Curse of Strahd seems to be mechanically fine, and the information is there, it just seems, ironically, dry and soulless in comparison.

The current D&D content offers adventures that are massive in scope, such as Tiamat, Elemental Evil and so on, which is epic, nay, world-shaking in scope, but seems too focussed on the grand scheme of things, such that the little details like the flavour of the setting is really missing from the play experience. Bring it in to start with, make it vivid and then as our characters horizons slowly broaden, the full extent of the plot is revealed. You can’t just burst out the full spectacle immediately, as that often gets diminishing returns… Your first dragon is almost always more memorable than your ninth.

I will concede that comparing these two is something of an apples/oranges situation; one is a sandbox pseudo-setting, the other is a pretty linear adventure path. That having been said, the amount of context, setting and detail provided in Jade Regent means that I would be more than comfortable improvising some content in and around the adventure path as it stands, and engaging directly with the material, as opposed to a sterile bunch of encounters designed as a sandbox, as there’s far less content to riff off, and this lack of enthusiasm would probably be felt by the players.

So, what am I taking away from this rant-cum-analysis? What am I likely to bear in mind when compiling an adventure, module or campaign?

  • We’re going to favour flavour and context over sheer weight of content (like quality over quantity, but with more steps).
  • There’s a right and a wrong way to present information. Keep it simple. Break things down.
  • Scope and focus matters. If grand events and derring-do are what you’re going for, great! It is, however, possible to lose your engagement with the events and setting if things are always running at full tilt. This is why you can’t remember specific events in a Michael Bay film to any significant degree. Don’t get lost in the spectacle.
  • Contrast large events with equally important smaller ones. To the PCs, everything that happens has the potential to matter to them, should they engage with it.
  • I really do pick the weirdest hills to die on.

In closing, I’d like to thank Stephan Lewin for helping me formulate this rant-essay-thing by providing counterpoints and suggestions in aid of my fevered rantings, and allowing this diatribe to be a lot less Old Man Yelling At Clouds than the subtitle may suggest.

 

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Testing Tales: One of Our Engine-Beasts is missing, part 2.

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Our story continues…

The intrepid pair made their way into the tumbledown settlement, the streets strewn with corpses – a mix of bandits and Es’Vani rangers from Ulthar with signs of a gunfight all around. The bodies had been stripped of arms and ammunition, and further danger lay in wait deeper into the ruins.

Crispin, believing that all of this could be settled rationally, approached to discuss this misunderstanding with a friendly “Haloo”. Sadly there seemed to have been some breakdown in communication and the friendly greeting was met with a thundering retort from a scattergun; it seems that they had to move forward with a slightly different approach.

Diving in opposite directions, they sought cover. Hrun made his way through the ruins on the left side of the street while Crispin took aim at their attackers from behind a well. A quick shotgun blast from Hrun turned the lead brigand into meaty chunks, while their return fire chipped chunks of stonework from the ruins around him. Seizing his moment, the hulking Es’Vani charged down the street, and swung for the lead brigand, his cleaver neatly bisecting the assailant before they could bring their shotgun to bear.

Seeing their comrade fall, another bandit unloaded both barrels of her shotgun at Hrun, blasting him into the nearby wall. Her shotgun was fouled – probably poor workmanship and amid her confusion, Crispin put a bullet through her heart.

Thinking the Es’Vani to be far less of a threat after taking a shotgun blast, the final assailant charged. He had not reckoned on natural armour, as well as pure belligerence being able to see Hrun through. The melee was joined, if only briefly.

Crispin sought the high ground for a two-pronged attack. The Engine-Beast had to be somewhere. Catching glimpse of a red-coated figure making their way into an outbuilding while another fled into the Betwixt, he snapped a shot off, that glanced past the side of the scarlet villain’s head, and they staggered off into the building.

Our heroes caught their breath.

…and then the Engine Beast found them. It burst out of the outbuilding, sending dessiccated rubble in all directions, and the scarred scarlet scoundrel at its controls, seemingly having set it to ‘rampage’. Crispin lunged behind a nearby wall once again as their opponent seized the controls of one of the beast’s chaingun, and the barrels began to spin, followed by a roar of explosions as shells started carving the building up around him.

Running out from the dwindling cover, and taking advantage of the gunner’s enthusiasm, Hrun leapt onto the side of the Engine-Beast and began to climb. Crispin, drawing gossammer threads together to form a ghostly mirror in the air, took aim at their enemy and snapped off a shot that seemed to fell him, just as Hrun reached the top and reloaded his trusty carriage-gun, levelling it at the scarlet bastard and pulled the trigger.

He hit nothing but air.

His Stygian heritage revealed, the bandit leader had dissolved into a cloud of smoke and darkness, and reformed a few paces away, eyes ablaze. The Engine-Beast, now sans pilot, reared up and began to climb up the building, approaching Crispin.
Under normal circumstances, the situation would seem hopeless. Not to an ex-God of debauchery, whose unique insights allowed him to instictively know where the erogenous zones of any creature in eyeshot were. Then snap off a quick shot at them.

Pow! Just as the beast was about to stomp the Dead God into paste, it was overtaken by an urge to clutch its sensitive parts that had just blossommed into agony, keeling over to one side, falling on top of the Stygian and plastering him across one side of its superstructure.

With the aid of Tandi, the ever-faithful warswine, our heroes apprehended the remaining miscreant and lasso him, dragging his semi-conscious body aboard the now-pacified Engine-Beast. Interrogating him on the way back, they discovered that someone had hired a crew, him included, to steal the Engine-Beast and take it to the settlement to await a pick-up. They had gone through a few agents and fixers to cover their trail, but two noteable personalities could probably reveal more information: Notorious leader of the Memorialist cult, Praetor Skulmen, and Castellan Gleam, a Knight Gang boss in the lower wards.

The victorious protagonists let the talkative miscreant (by the name of Gallio Sands) go, on the understanding that he now owes them a favour, and proceeded to return to Dorian Hardmeier, their employer to report their findings and keep an important appointment at The Gin Palace. After all, it was Smackaron night, and time and discussing the current meta wait for no-one!

What Happened?

So, as is probably quite evident, this session involved working through combat, use of Talents, and balancing things out a bit – along with working out creative uses for the Dead Gods’ powerset.

Also, we managed to get some good use out of Roll20 for use as gaming table

Coming soon…What does all this mean?

While this may seem intriguing (please, say it is!), undoubtedly there are a bunch of elements that are unclear.  In the next article, we plan to publish a quick glossary of a few terms that could be useful in making sense of these testing logs.

Testing Tales: One Of Our Engine-Beasts Is Missing…

The first part of (hopefully many) playtest sessions that will flesh out Crux as we go through it. This will also be accompanied by lore posts that will detail the less familiar elements as we meet them – so everyone has a frame of reference.

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About the best I could do for a picture of a powered handcart – the real one was far more steampunk.

New arrival on Crux, Crispin Mawganthorn-Mountboy, Dead God of Decadence and Fashion, and his trusty guide and manservant, Hrun, an affable yet imposing Es’Vani, find themselves in need of money to finance the lifestyle that Crispin wishes to be accustomed to.

Answering a want-ad from the Rail Barons, entitled “ONE OF OUR ENGINE-BEASTS IS MISSING”, they meet with Dorian Hardmeier, the fellow offering the contract, who fills them in on the situation (With some trepidation, I might add, their introduction to Hardmeier being preceded by the sounds of a screaming argument, a shotgun blast, and a lifeless body being blasted out of his office, to slide down the wall opposite).

Suitably briefed, they made their way down to the train station, on the new line bound for Hive Unity. Not wanting to muss his garb with perspiration, Crispin convinces one of the rail officials to loan them one of the new-fangled automated handcarts with a fulgurite power-cell. Pausing only to pick up the hamper they’d negotiated as an advance from their employer, brimming with pastries, cheese, wine and other luxuries, they board the automated handcart, click the throttle into action and trundle off into the desolate wastes of the Betwixt, sipping wine from delicate glasses as Tandi, Hrun’s trusty warswine trots merrily behind, heading off into the distance, the silence of the Betwixt occasionally broken by the indignant squeal of a pig that’s been denied vol-au-vents.

Arriving at the scene of the disappearance, the rail ending with shredded and distorted iron splayed out like a silver wave, and bodies strewn about the place, both the train crew and the raiders who made off with the Engine-Beast.

Upon further examination, the blast that tore up the rails and the ground around it formed a perfectly regular, even circle; clearly no mundane device was behind this…

Our protagonists stumble upon a fellow investigator in the area, one Agent Samiel Grey, who came down from Ulthar ahead of them. They (for Samiel’s gender was not clear) had deduced that the weapon that derailed the Engine Beast was a ferroclast bomb, a weapon normally only found in the Hivelands. Grey was to continue investigating the area for further evidence while our intrepid duo press on to a nearby settlement in search of the missing Engine-Beast.

 

Grappling (with changes).

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…but change isn’t always bad.

A short while ago, Matt and I had a meeting with Ed Jowett of Shades Of Vengeance, where we took a look at the first draft of Crux as it exists, and tweaked some elements in the game mechanics, after a little playtest – hopefully the first of many.

Things that we have changed:

Stat ranges and skills, dice tricks.

We found that the dice tricks for increasing skill ranks didn’t exert enough influence compared to the effect of raw attributes, especially in very high instances, so, for example, a Stygian Diplomancer (maximum possible presence) could bruteforce their way through nearly any social encounter on the weight of the attribute alone, and any social skills didn’t have as much weighting in the roll as they ought to.

Consequently, the attribute ranges have been reduced to a maximum of 6, plus any bloodline bonuses, and the skills will be given equal weighting, ranging from 1-6 as well. This keeps dice pools about the same size overall, so difficulty ratings don’t need to be changed.

The exploding/cascading mechanic is still present, but is now simplified, and means that *any* use of Conviction will now drastically improve the success on the dice roll, not just at the highest skill tier.

Character creation needed something of a revamp to reflect some of this as well. We decided that using a similar skill allocation pool to what was used in Corporation would be the most efficient, as it has been proven to create competent, rounded characters.
Some skills were also clarified and merged together, and some pared away, to reduce redundancy.

Talents

Talents remain in 3 tiers, but the progression is a lot more streamlined, with non-combat Talents having one or two specialised progressions within them. We found that some Talents were surplus to requirements, as the skill already should have been able to cover their function. Out they go!

Combat Talents are still fairly freeform, and allow for a more ‘pick and choose’ approach to their selection. Given Close Combat is a single skill, there’s a fair bit to choose from – we’ve kept the weapon styles and keywords, and also added things on top of this.

New Things.

Grappling

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Who says you can’t use weapons?

Our rules for grappling, such as they are weren’t very substantial, and we didn’t see there being much of a call for them. Apparently not. In response, we’ve thrown together a new set of rules, plus a heap of combat Talents to allow characters that wish to grapple to capitalise on their skills. Armbars everywhere!

It works a bit like this:

1. Establish a clinch.

Roll either Strength or Agility (players choice) + Close Combat against the opponent’s melee Defence. This attack deals no damage but renders both combatants Grappled until the clinch is broken. Any net successes are added toward the attacker’s submission total.

(The Grappled condition means that the affected character is unable to apply their Defence to incoming actions, or use a Disengage action until the clinch is broken.)

2. Fight for position.

The combatants act in their usual combat order, and may choose to roll either Strength or Agility + Close combat for their attacks. Any successes on the attack rolls may be allocated to different tasks, as the combatant sees fit:

  • To deal damage to their opponent. This bypasses worn armour, but not innate AV.
  • To add to your opponent’s submission total
  • To lower your own submission total.
  • If your submission total is 0, a success may be used to break the clinch, and disengage from the grapple.

3. Submission

If either combatant’s submission total reaches 10, their opponent is considered to be pinned, and may only act to break the pin. This requires beating their opponent’s Defence on a grappling roll, after which combat returns to Fighting For Position.

Grappling and Wrestling Talents may take advantage of the submission total in order to deal additional damage, but break the clinch when doing so, requiring it to be re-established in a subsequent action.

Book Composition:

While writing Crux, Matt and I have very much been detailing as much of the world as we can, and the scope is a little too much for a simple core book, our corpus being more of a systems reference document. Consequently we’re going to be moving some of the more ‘splatbook’ elements out to an expansion, along with some of the more esoteric factions. So, we’re working on not one book, but two!

Summary

Instead of writing a summary, I thought this Mitchell and Webb sketch seemed to cover all the bases.

Until next time, take care and Hard Love

Tom

Shard Prospecting: Dungeons Reimagined

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The classic dungeon-crawl is something rather close to many of our hearts; a series of challenges, puzzles and monsters that the players overcome through a combination of guts, ingenuity and often, luck.

Thing is, they’re not always easy to incorporate into settings outside of classic fantasy without seeming a little out of place, or perhaps contrived. You’ve got raids on enemy estates or installations in cyberpunk games, or heists in your spy-thrillers – even the good old-fashioned tomb-raiding, whether for treasure, or forbidden knowledge.

 

What can Crux offer you that’s different?

One of the major features of the setting are the Shards, each a fragment of a world that has ended, due to one circumstance or another. Each of the existing nations of Crux is a stable shard, but often, fragments of worlds will materialise out of the wastes of the Betwixt, only to be swallowed by the storms around them, as well as the entropy they bring with them. They are dangerous places, but also rich in resources and treasure, so are a sought-after commodity.

And where there are sought-after commodities there are people who are willing to pay through the nose to get what they want.

Enter the players…

You get the chance to be the lucky miscreants who trawl through the ruins of dead cities, with implausible architecture, strange dangers, curious conditions and maybe even survivors. Most likely, you won’t be the only ones…

 

What does this mean?

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Awesome Set-Pieces!

Most dungeons are simply a bunch of ‘encounters’ or set-pieces strung together, hopefully underpinned by a common theme – with a newly arrived Shard, the sky’s quite literally the limit – sky-bridges, tall towers, beautiful gardens, a mansion full of antiques, – There’s no need to keep to the dungeon aesthetic, as these things materialise out of thin air, and you’ll be among the first to explore them.

 

Odd Environments!

These environments can be either very familiar, or as wild and strange as your GM’s imagination can envision – crystals that generate anti-gravity fields, giant psychoactive mushrooms or a water-park  long since overgrown or even a burned-out chemical plant. The environment can deliver new experiences and new dangers every time, so going in blind isn’t necessarily a good idea. Look before you leap!

 

Intrigue and Politics!

Unless you’ve managed to bribe someone for the insider knowledge, you’re not likely to be the only ones on the scene for very long. Other prospectors also have patrons and sponsors, from all over Crux, with different agendas, who have their own plan for the spoils. They might even pay more than your current employers…

 

Different Ways To Approach Things!

Unstable shards are normally approached in one of three ways:

  1. Temporarily stabilise the shard, to get the most resources out of it before it disintegrates.
  2. Attempt to permanently stabilise the shard, to either extract it, along with any survivors, or settle it, and run the risk of it becoming unstable again, or worse…Dragons!
  3. Collapse the shard, with the hope of seizing the fundamental essence of the world, reality-pearls, and gain the ability to shape destiny itself. Tales of those who have managed it are few and far-between, but all of them agree, things get very strange once the shard, and the reality it sits in starts breaking down.

 

Unconventional Escape Routes!

Have you ever wanted to escape from an imploding cityscape clutching onto a harpoon’s winch cable, being spooled up onto a magitech zeppelin? Here’s your chance!

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Also, Random Generation!

We’re also throwing together a means of randomly generating Shard encounters or themes, so that, should you literally be drawing a blank, there’ll be something that you can produce through the Power Of Proctomancy. We’re going to be testing whether we can use a normal 52-card deck, and possibly a Tarot deck as well. Watch this space for more on that!

All of these elements can be part and parcel of your dungeon-crawling experiences, but they don’t all happen in context – in Crux, they’re not handwaved, they’re part of the setting.   

Hope that’s piqued your interest…

Until next time, hard love,

Tom Cole

 

Playtesting: it begins…

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One of the Ultharine Cats, out in the wilds.

So, we’re approaching completion, in terms of writing up the initial content and before we head towards the crowdfunding, editing, layout, and the rest of the frankly terrifying daunting prospects, we get to indulge in one of the more fun aspects of putting an RPG together.

Playtesting!

Why do we do this?

First off, we want to establish a few things:

Do the mechanics work? What do we need to change? What have we missed?

While, having designed the system, and crunched the numbers on the probability end of things, it’s always good to prove that the mechanics work. Not only that, but they feel right. Is combat streamlined and elegant? How lethal is it? Is it too lethal? Are we using the right terminology across the board?

Which leads to: Are the rules accessible? Things ought to be clear and concise, with little room for ambiguity. Letting others look this through will give us the chance to see where we mightn’t have been clear, and fix things.

The main thing we’ll be looking at here is the overall feel and balance of the mechanics, and tweaking the errant values accordingly

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Does the setting feel right? What have we missed? Again, what should we change?

This is probably going to be requiring a couple of passes, running a few scenarios in different places. We’ll be attempting to gauge the feel of the fluff and worldbuilding, as opposed to the crunch. Do any of the names or terms sound clunky, silly or possibly offensive? This is where we seriously consider changing them.

Is it fun?

That strange, ephemeral thing. If it’s not fun, then we’re doing something wrong, and should probably go back and do something about it. This sounds really obvious, but there may be little things that serve to make things “not fun”; little inexplicable details that can turn something from bad to good, or even from great to awesome. This is the “none of the above” category, where we find things to tweak that are neither rules or setting, but equally important to bringing the game together.

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This is more or less a mission statement for our initial playtesting sessions. Once these are underway, expect game summaries, a list of session quotes that are either bad-ass or made us laugh, along with the occasional exposé on in-universe things and mechanics.

Until then, Hard Love

Tom Cole

Designing Campaign Locations

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When running a campaign, or several stand-alone adventures that take place in and around a specific location, its often sensible to populate the players’ sandbox with details – not just the elements that make up the adventures themselves, but details that give the setting a life and character of its own, and more things for players to interact with. Growing this sense of participation and investment is key to getting players on board with your narrative.

It’s far easier to show this by means of a worked example, and, while doing so, we can demonstrate some of the emergent details that come about as a part of the process. Not all of these details are directly useful, but the conclusions we reach coming to them help us get a feel for the setting and provide interesting avenues for development.

Development Questions:

What is it?

What purpose(s) will it serve?

Consider what the location represents, both in terms of its purpose, in-terms of the story, as well as to the players, and in general. Nowhere exists in a vacuum, and many locations are built for a reason.

What features or facilities will it need to accomplish them?

Fairly self-explanatory; a military outpost will need barracks, an armoury and so forth, while a research station will need workspaces. Once you know what the location was built for, you should be able to work out the necessary features, and flesh things out from there.

What makes it memorable/stand out?

Is there anything about the area the location is in that makes it unusual? Perhaps it has a freshwater spring, or a rock-face illuminated by phosphorescent moss. What does it look like? Is there a strange tone to the light, or is the main square fragrant with the scent of fresh spices and baked bread?

How?

How does it fit into the setting

How do folk reach this location? Is it connected by the rail network, or is it off the beaten track? If it produces goods, or needs to import resources, how do they get there, and how regularly?

How does the location work/function?

What are the day-to-day operations that happen in the location? Is there a daily routine, or do things vary from one day to the next?  Are there disruptions to the routines? What consequences does it have?

How will the players relate to the location?

Do they live here? Are they visiting? Where do they live, and in what kind of conditions? Do they have business here?

Who?

Who are the power-players?

Who is in charge, and who holds influence? Are they popular, tolerated or reviled? Why? Consider defining the power structures, and working out how they conduct themselves.
Are they held apart from the general population, or do they prefer to be one of the crowd?

Who are the normal people?

What’s the mood of the general populace? How do they live? Are they well-off, or living hand-to-mouth? What kind of lifestyle do they have? What do they do in their leisure time?

Who do they (the PCs) know?

Contacts, friends, and acquaintances will define the players’ interactions, so it’s good to work out who they know – design a couple of NPCs, and work out how what they can provide for the players.

 

Example Location: Hive Unity

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What is it?

A Hive-City built on the borders of the Hivelands to serve as both a trading installation and embassy. A settlement spreads out from the base of the hive, and this serves as a melting pot for cultures passing through to do business.

The main components:

A skyport, for Hivelands airships

An embassy, and offices for diplomats

A marketplace

A rail terminal

A surrounding town, which may or may not be a wretched suburb of scum and villainy.

What makes it different?

Most Hivelands settlements are homogenous and regimented, while Unity is a melting pot for the Hivelands’ interactions with the rest of Crux. By virtue of its embassy, there’s the opportunity to meet all manner of foreign dignitaries, as well as the potential for all manner of incidents to occur.

In terms of the place in the setting, it’s a transport and trade hub, which means that it’s easy enough for plotlines to involve it, even if just passing through. An operation of this scale, in terms of both trade and diplomacy, will require substantial organisation, so there has to be people working to this end, along with people who seek to profit from exploiting the goings on..
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Government structure:

The overall running of the Hive is taken by a pair of administrators, the Logistician and the Vigilant who deal with daytime and nocturnal matters respectively.  Below them are a team of specialists who deal with particular areas of expertise

The main specialists in Hive Unity, and their areas they govern, are as follows:

The Sentry: The skyport, air traffic and signals

The Adjutant: The embassy, visiting dignitaries and matters of culture

The Quartermaster: The market ward, flow of goods and running of the trains and wagons

The Sapper: The Undercroft, keeping public order, maintainence and amenities, information gathering.

The general populace

As well as housing visitors, and traders, the Undercroft is also home to several criminal gangs, who are allowed some leeway to pursue their enterprises provided it’s kept within reasonable levels.  In return, they act as an unofficial city watch within the Undercroft, dealing with problems quickly and discreetly. This sidesteps the necessity of calling out the Hive Garrison for every minor disturbance.

The soldiers of the Hive Garrison are usually present in a ceremonial capacity, on guard or on parade. Otherwise they are on standby to deal with any serious threats to Hive Unity. As befits their role, many are decorated veterans and are expected to set a brave and heroic example when in the public eye. This is to humanise Hiveland soldiers in the eyes of visitors, and to showcase their impressive regalia.  

The Undercroft

The Undercroft spreads out radially from the base of the Hive, repurposing and adapting the pre-fab buildings as they go, leading to a uniform state of wear and tear throughout the wards. It seems that even the Hivelanders’ urban squalor is efficient and functional.

The tried and tested construction methods also are evident in one of the more disconcerting aspects of the Undercroft: The wards are essentially identical in terms of layout. Some buildings may be used for different purposes, Over time, the Hivers of the Undercroft have started to adopt the quirks and convention of the Outsiders and are attempting to turn their houses into homes, with rather mixed results. It is for this reason that artists from the Hivaland enclaves passing through to the world outside are sought after by the Crofters for their expertise on matters aesthetic.

NB: Each ward is build on an identical, modular plan, so that amenities and resources can be distributed efficiently.

On Art:

Hivelander iconography and craftsmanship is exemplary, but even this is a functional choice. It’s designed to inspire allies, give enemies pause, or to cultivate a mystique. The concept of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ is regarded as an almost paradoxical idea by the common Hivers. Although the strange contemplative pilgrims who leave their enclaves into the world outside would certainly be familiar with, and promote such an idea.

Emergent detail I

Addresses in the Undercroft are given a particular form, so that navigation can be easily achieved, which has the unique side-effect that most of the pedestrian traffic goes in one direction.

The form is as follows:

Ring (inner to outer),

Ward (from the gate, going clockwise)

Court

House number.

This would be written as 1/4/2/16, for instance, operating in a similar manner to a post/zipcode.

The Hive Structure

Most of the tower of Hive Unity is taken up with the administrative and logistics offices alongside the grandiose diplomatic chambers. The usually spartan hive-interior is festooned with impressive iconography and metalwork, lending an almost Art Deco feel to the decor

The cosmopolitan attitude of the Undercroft is in stark contrast to the harsh professionalism present in the diplomatic chambers. It is uncertain whether this is down to the societal prejudices holding on since before their shardfall, but there is certainly something unusual lurking beneath that diplomatic vaneer. It’s not to say that they are unpleasant, more unnervingly aloof, their manners too perfect – some would go so far as to say “soulless”.

Many diplomats are also members of the Hivelands’ intelligence corps, and their training and ideological conditioning is evident when they’re acting in an official capacity, Of course, when they’re operating off the record, they’re no different from the next person, they wouldn’t be effective spies, otherwise…

Emergent detail II

The skyport, as well as providing mooring for airships, contains several arrays of cranes, ramps, winches and freight elevators to ferry cargo up and down the hive structure itself. Most are powered by steam engines, which can also be employed to shunt down the heavy freight brought in by rail.

The lifts are controlled by a series of threaded pillar, encircled by a triple bearing ring. Rotating the pillars raise and lower the platforms with remarkable efficiency, and are nearly silent. This particular mechanism is called a “ball screw”.

On that particular turn of phrase, I’ll take my leave, I think, before phrasing becomes a thing again.

Hard love,

Tom Cole.