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GMing concept garage sale. Everything must go!

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On January 6, 2009 @ 2:34 am In Crock Pot,GMing Advice | 8 Comments

One of the things I learned early on from my father was that it makes no sense to keep a huge laundry list of projects around.  Critical projects crop up with alarming frequency, pushing less urgent projects to the bottom of the list time and again. At some point, the list can simply become too long to ever complete. He taught me this by counter example, keeping huge piles of broken items to mend, materials for projects that he “might want to do some day” and list after list of things he either wanted to or felt obligated to do.

So, of course I learned both the lesson (in the academic sense) and the bad habit. My wife pulls her hair out because I’m a bona-fide packrat.  Not only do I never throw anything away, but left to my own devices, on occasion I’ll bring home other people’s garbage. “It’s just what we need!  It just needs a bit of fixing up!” or “Now I have spare parts for when the chair we have breaks!” I’ll explain, trying my best to dodge that narrow-eyed “Why have you brought this trash into my house?” glare that women who love men like my father and I seem to have perfected. Of course, I’ve made good from time to time (I actually brought home a piano once) but for the large part my house looks justy like my dad’s did, just with smaller piles of someday projects.

My GMing “house” looks just like my plaster house with piles of unfinished, broken, or simply unloved projects sitting waiting in the dark recesses of my mind to be put to use. This is one of the major reasons that I keep a notebook with me at all times. During the writing of this article you can be assured that at least once I’ll grab my pen and jot down an idea or two. In my notebook I have a partial list of my someday campaigns and it just keeps growing. For every instance where I carve out the time to prep and run a game, even counting one shots the list grows a few entries longer. One of the major triple-bolded red-inked underlined and highlighted entries on my GMing naughty list is having ADD. I no sooner get a few paragraphs of prep tossed on paper for one of these ideas, and suddenly I’m inspired by another, and I flit to that one to work for ten minutes.

It’s a new year though, and while I have no intention of breaking the cycle, I will share the wealth. So here’s a few ideas for campaigns I’ll likely never actually use. Consider it a garage sale. These ideas are for sale to anyone who wants them. The price? If you use one of them, come back and comment about it.

Cryogenic Hijinx:
I loved the 70’s-80’s cartoons with the wacky group of teenagers who toured the country solving crimes, playing music, or often both and Polyhedron Magazine published a d20 minigame called Hijinx that captured that genre almost perfectly. I’d been chomping at the bit to play it (with no player buy-in) when I saw the video for Kanye West’s song “Stronger”. Something about his brazen attitude and the futuristic feel of the video inspired me to run a Hijinx game with the following premise-
It’s the far future. Reality TV and celebrity worship have become such a cornerstone of world culture that all major national and world decisions are made via a public vote-in with each issue championed by a band in a massive rock and roll reality show: winner makes foreign policy. Power and money being what they are, countries started the process of cryogenicly freezing their most talented artists and thawing them out before important competitions. In the interest of fair play, bands are chosen semi-randomly from the rosters each country has on hand leading to bizzare matchups of styles and personalities. The players take on the rolls of several artist thawed out to play one of the side of  a particularly important trade agreement… but something is wrong! Their thawing process takes longer and has more drastic side effects than any recorded instance of “Thaw fatigue” and they are booed offstage in a loss so devastating that their country declines to reinstate their cryo-stasis! The campaign focuses on their struggle to climb back to the top while discovering the sinister circumstances behind their failure…

Interdimensional Investment Bankers
Browsing through the movies available on FilmCow.com (creators of current internet sensation Charlie the Unicorn) I found Richard Crumb: Multidimensional Investment Banker. Taking an idea from the short story Touched by a Salesman by Tom Holt (available as part of a compilation here) I envisioned sci-fi campaign featuring a universe where criminals are sentenced to work as interdimensional investment bankers to gather the capital neccesary to support the rest of the universe’s population. Players make a cast of murderers, terrorists, pirates, and jaywalkers, then slap on a few levels/points worth of investment banker, are handed a standard-issue dimensional transporter, and punch the timeclock. The campaign centers around their exploits across other dimensions, each stranger than the last, in the attempt to raise enough capital to pay for their crimes.

Demon Red City
Let’s get this out of the way right now. Drugs are BAD for you kids.  That’s bad with all caps in bold, so you know I’m 100% serious and right and you should never do drugs ever!
OK, so I have a love affair with some (mis?) information that I once received about a certain drug. According to what I was told, after use this drug will actually re-crystalize under your skin, forming nodules that are sizable enough to be seen and felt and that will eventually work their way out through the skin. Of course, never having used or even seen the drug in question, and finding no sources to verify this (though I admit I don’t want a bunch of searches for illegal drugs tracable to my PC) I can’t vouch that it’s not an urban legend. However, real or not, this drug sparked my imagination to create Demon Red City, a fantasy campaign concept featureing human brutality and the downward spiral of addiction.
Demon red City can be dropped into any given fantasy system or campaign, or it can be made a campaign in it’s own right. The starting concept is that wizards in a large densely populated city experimented with opening gates and contacting demons. Among other things, the demons they contacted brought them samples of the drug called “Demon Red” or just “Red”. It didn’t take long for the drug to filter throughout the city, from the upper echelons to the lowest dregs, and the demons kept the supply coming till a large portion of the population was hooked. That’s when the supply stopped. Maybe the demons were cut off by magic, maybe they just enjoy destroying the lives of mortals, the guesses are myriad and few people knew that weren’t torn apart by crazed junkies shortly after the supply dried up. Things would end there, were it not for a unique quality of Demon Red: very little of it actually leaves your system. The majority of it gets trapped under your skin forming tiny seed crystals. Withdrawl often causes painful jerking spasms and shivers. The tissue damage around the crystals allowing the drug to dissolve in the user’s bloodstream, starting the cycle of addition all over again. It’s bad enough that withdrawl from the drug re-introduces the drug into your system, but addicts have started tearing at their own skin and the skin of fellow addicts to get at the precious drugs inside. It didn’t take long for powerful and evil figures to discover how to refine the bodies of dead addicts into new supplies of raw drug. The more of the drug someone takes, the more violent, desperate, and delusional they become, and the more drugs in a users system, the larger and more obvious their crystal deposits are. Users with particularly large deposits under their skin look like demons themselves as if they’re being transformed by the drug. Some of them even believe that this is the case.
Characters could be outsiders, lawmen of any sort, or any of a myriad types of villians, though with the premise, villians are likely to be particularly vile.

Feel free to leave some ideas of your own in the comments section.  I’m not the only GM out there with more ideas than time to impliment them.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "GMing concept garage sale. Everything must go!"

#1 Comment By deadlytoque On January 6, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

The drug info you received is dramatic, but is a -bit- of a myth. Meth use can cause skin irritation, which leads to picking, which can lead to abscess, which is where the idea that it crystallizes under the skin comes from (don’t worry about my search history… as a criminal defence lawyer, I have a long history of having to look up illegal things).

As an experimental GM, I also have a laundry-list of game ideas. I’m sitting on two or three games I’ve never run (Dust Devils springs to mind), and a few more I’ve only run once and then aborted to try and get a better grip on the systems (Pendragon and With Great Power…).

It’s aggravated by the fact that everyone in my group likes to run games occasionally, but we all have different games we like, so Joe will want to run Scion, and Thomas will want to run Vampire, and Aaron will want to run D&D, and meanwhile I’ve made another indiepressrevolution.com order and have some new strangeness to bring to the table.

Like magpies, we are!

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On January 6, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

The demon red idea sounds intriguing and perfect for a Dogs In The Vineyard game. Interdimensional Investment Bankers sounds perfect for . . . . well it sounds monty python esque. The closest system I can think that would fit that is an incredibly modified cortex system or something very out there with loads of flexibility. Gurps would work for a base, but I don’t know how well it could convey feeling.

It’s a pity there isn’t a monty python RPG system. Then again, its probably there isn’t one.

#3 Comment By Bookkeeper On January 6, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

No one in my vicinity plays Exalted, so I’ll throw this one out there for some budding economist-GM to use. The first part is the result of the book Manacle and Coin, the second the campaign I devised on top of it.

The Scarlet Empress had made deals with the Salt Gods (over 100 of them) to accept a regular tribute that stabilized the price of salt throughout the empire. Thanks to this, the Salt Rate became the basic loan rate of the Empire (Think of it sort of like the Federal Reserve’s basic rate). When the Empress vanished, several of the Salt Gods decided to start acting up.

It’s now up to the PCs to save the day and the financial stability of the Realm. A campaign that can go from one end of creation to the other with over 100 gods to appease, each with their own peculiarities and some, no doubt, acting in concert. At stake is the use of jade as money. Opponents include persnickety Salt Gods and the Guild, the coalition of merchants that would rather see silver used for cash. The only problem with that? Using jade helps keep it out of the hands of supernatural creatures that want to erase Creation. Politics, Intrigue, Wide Travel, and lots and lots of Salt.

#4 Comment By Knight of Roses On January 6, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

Glam Rock Heroes-

This is my thought for a 4e D&D “Points of Light” style game, where the heroes are not just heroes, but Rock Stars! Complete with managers, flashy chariots, stage shows and merchandise. I was going for the look of the glam rock era so rhinestone covered armor, platform shoes, absurd cloaks and impractical looking weapons.

So, rival bands of adventurers, competing for fans and adventures, traveling across the land, living the lives of rock star heroes.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On January 6, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

I’m probably never going to run this, so here goes…

Heroes Will Rise: Midnight and D&D 4E. As you probably know, Midnight is a campaign setting like Middle Earth would be if Sauron won (or for you real geeks, before Earendil sailed to Valar, Angband was broken, and Morgoth defeated). The gods have been sealed off from the world, and the dark god Izrador has broken the human kingdoms, and is hunting down the non-humans. Literacy, money, trade, weapons, and magic are outlawed.

Enter the heroes, one from each of the surviving races, brought together for reasons of their own, but bound together by a bond (to be determined). Each knows (because the GM told the player) that there is a traitor in the group, and is highly suspicious of the others, but they must work together. Just like in Midnight 3.5, each character is granted a “Heroic Path” (additional set of abilities following a theme).

Eventually, the heroes will ascend to be the new gods in the world, and may directly confront Izrador. They will catch on to this concept, perhaps early, but the key is that they still have to make the tough decisions (like the Conventry raid that Churchill allegedly knew about).

This would take some good GMing, partly to reinterpret the heroes’ actions as folk tales and then legends, partly to maintain a balance between hope and despair, and partly to be a bloodthirsty bastard when he (or she) needs to. Before wife and child, I could have done this, but I don’t have the time to commit to this level of intensity these days.

D&D 4E looks like an excellent fit for this campaign, partly because the power level starts high (and climbs), partly because the approach it takes towards magic items can be easily modded to fit in with the Midnight setting (where magic items are exceedingly rare, but grow with you), and partly because Rituals can replace the spellcasting that wouldn’t necessarily exist in a Midnight campaign.

Of course, the serial numbers could be filed off, and the names changed to protect the guilty…

#6 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On January 6, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

Valinor, not Valar. The steel trap gets rusty at times…

#7 Comment By Virgil Vansant On January 8, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

I wanted to combine Cthulhu, Nazi pseudo-science, and minor league baseball in the American Midwest of 1947. The PCs would be players on a local baseball team, and not only would they have to try to win games, but of course trouble would follow them in every little town they visited. Mutilated cattle, mysterious figures speaking a foreign tongue… the usual sort of thing.

Sadly, Left Field hasn’t gotten beyond the planning stage. A few players were definitely interested, but there always seemed to be scheduling conflicts.

#8 Comment By blackcoat On May 4, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

@Knight of Roses – There’s actually a game built around this, called “Star Children”.

I played in the beta that a friend of mine ran for a congame one shot, and had a ridiculous amount of fun, although there were some system misbalances.


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