Saturday 28 April 2018

Putting Your World to Death

I hope, for your sake, that your world has a good long life ahead of it.
But if you've suddenly found yourself dealing with imminent apocalypse, hopefully this will help you set up the fall.

A note for my players: Possible spoilers ahead. I don't think there's anything suuuper major in here that will ruin stuff, but read at your discretion.

The Impersonal Apocalypse

First things first - some context.

Mine is an impersonal apocalypse. Shub-Niggurath is a huge but non-sentient creature that is breaking out of the world. It will shatter the world like an egg. It doesn't think. It does not, and cannot, care about this.
Similar might be the sun going out, or a meteor coming to destroy the Earth or Cthulhu rising. Nobody caused this. It's nobody's fault. It just is. And now we've got to deal with it.

This as opposed to an apocalypse caused by something with an actual will and sentience, like Sauron or Thanos or a generic Ancient Evil That Has Awoken. There's always the slim possibility that you can reason with or trick such an entity. At the very least you can murder them or seal them away or whatever.

This doesn't change the following post all that much, but it's maybe useful for context? Anyway.

Faction Endgames

Your first task is to work out what your campaign's main factions are going to do now. How do the existing factions react? Are there any new factions brought forth by impending doom?
It's the end of the world. The world ending is bad for everyone. Who's trying to stop it and how are the planning to do it?
And most importantly - how do these plans oppose and clash against each other?

I've got three general spheres for how factions are reacting to the rise of Shub-Niggurath:
- Save humanity at all costs.
- Save the planet at all costs.
- Save the universe at all costs.

The Apocalypse Dragons are here to save the universe. They live and act on timescales so vast that the spread of a planet-cancer across the universe over aeons is a real and present threat. They will destroy the world and all life on it if it stops Shub-Niggurath from spreading.

The Necromantic Duvan'Ku are here to save the planet. They're willing to sacrifice as much of humanity is necessary to ensure the planet's survival. After all, it's not like they'll kill off the trees. In a worst case scenario "living" as Undead even after everyone else is dead and gone.

The sin-eating Demons, perhaps counterintuitively, want to save humanity. They feed on sin, and if there are no sinners left then they'll starve. If they found a way to save humanity at the expense of the planet and the wider univere, they'd do it.

The key to all this is that every faction has good reasons for doing what they're doing. They're generally all doing what they think is right and for the greater good, but also with a level of self-interest that can clash against some factions and align them with others.
Their reasons and motivations might be different, and there's a lot of conflict depending on what time scale they're working on and what they personally value, but each faction thinks they're the good guys willing to do what it takes to save what's important to them.

There's an extra layer for my game because I've got players who've been in the same campaign world for literal years. These factions are known.
They've got all sorts of friends and enemies in the world. There are even recurring characters wandering around who some players recognise from previous adventures with previous characters. It's intense! The joys of a long-running game!
Now suddenly all the factions have shifted to their final endgames and it's really kicked the game into a higher gear. With that game history on their side, the players have enough of a grasp of the game world to really work out how they'll make an impact.

A Note on Agency in a Dying World

Players have a lot of agency in a world that's fairly fucked up.
I think it's because you can really see the cracks. Who do you help? Who do you oppose? Who do you exploit for personal gain?

A sandbox game needs roguish, pragmatic, self-motivated characters to work properly. There's a lot of stuff for characters get roguish and pragmatic about when everything's falling apart.

And when every faction is doing bad things for the right reasons, it gives a lot of solid reasons for players to support, oppose or unite various forces. It's pretty cool!

Apocalypse Timeline

This is your second task.
Decide how long the world has to live. For me, I gave them just over a year.
Shub-Niggurath began rising in November last year, it's going to crack the planet in December this game-year.

Now it's time for the fun part - make a calendar of what each faction is doing each month!
You'll be updating this timeline as and when players mess with the course of events.

Since we're past this point in the timeline now, I suppose I can show you at least this much.

Players may not want to expand

The idea with this is to make sure you know what the big movers and shakers are doing, especially in the case of players just jumping up and heading off somewhere new. Gives you something to work around!
It also means that when players do something of real significance, you can work out how they rebounds and impacts different forces in the world.
My intention is to release each of the things by the end of the month, but I'm a little loosey-goosey on the exact timings. Preferably the players are on the surface to witness such things when they happen so I miiight nudge the dates along a little bit to make it a bit more cinematic.

Deep Carbon Observatory has a similar sort of long-range timeline thing that happens if PCs never influence events, so this is definitely in that vein.

I really wanted to use apocalyptic events from Revelation to get that good fucked up apocalypse feel. Evangelion influence again, probably.
Seven Trumpets, Seven Vials, all that good stuff. Combine with all the other various swirling ideas and themes, shake, and strain over ice.
So far it's all lined up weirdly nicely. When the First Trumpet was due to sound I looked around to see what could have kicked that off, and conveniently one of the players had managed to set the table for me!
They gave the alchemist who wanted to create a Shub-Niggurath-destroying omnipoison a sample of extremely powerful demon spider poison. The alchemist tried it out, it went wrong, and now there's no grass and cancerous tentacles and a third of all flora has withered and died. How prohetic!

I don't care I loooooove big fuckoff indestructible natural disaster dragons

End Times Encounters

The third task is adjusting your encounter tables for this new reality.

One thing I'd say - don't weight the results via multiple dice in the apocalypse. 
I've moved all my end times encounter tables from 2d6 to a straight 1d12 so all results are equally common.

Having a weighted 2d6 is for conservative simulation of a fairly dependable ordered world. Common local encounters go in the middle numbers, doom-wizards and elemental dragons go on the rare numbers. Having a straight 1d12 roll means you see the doom-wizard as often as you see anything else, which works for the chaotic terror of the apocalypse!

The other thing I've done with a number of Lair results is to put them in conflict with "Roll Again", so there's going to be much more naturally occurring conflict in the overworld. It's the apocalypse, everyone's fighting everyone else, dark times for all really!
Seeing two sides in battle is perfect for a Lair result. The encounter is close and the players can easily engage if they want, but they can also go the other way and avoid the situation.

Information and Agency

Players need information to make informed choices.
Making informed choices is Agency.

I've been honest with players about when the world is set to end, ie. December 1601.

I figure we've all played enough games where the apocalypse is juuuuuuuuust about to happen, but you've got plenty of time to run around doing some final side quests before actually triggering the final mission.
(Looking at you, Mass Effect)

By giving a set end date I'm saying that I'm legit about letting the world die. GOOD LUCK!

There's already a sense that they're going to have to be reeaally careful about using time-advancing mechanics like Carousing or Spell Research. I'd previously made those things take a while simply so that the game timeline advanced sorta kinda at a pace with real time. 
Suddenly downtime is recontextualised from a straight money sink to a real risk/reward mechanic.
Do we risk spending a week or so partying to level up? What if something terrible happens in the mean time?

I've been stocking up the Rumours table with more news than before. I've de-emphasised hints at nearby dungeons. The players know which dungeons are important now. Instead the rumours tend to be about wider events in the world, and hints at the sort of threats that are becoming more prevalent in the overworld.
Rumours about what's happening on the front lines against the Dead, updates on the movements of Battlefortress Fate, etc etc.
Gameplay is necessarily moving up to a grander scale, so the rumours reflect that. Nobody cares so much about Granny Questgiver's lost cat when there are literal angels falling from the sky.

Be liberal with the information you give out. Nobody's cagey in the end of days! Everyone anyone meets is going to have some story about something major happening somewhere, so let it happen!

In Closing

The end of the world is an exciting time. Embrace it!
I like to think my game has always had high stakes, but that's often been in the context of character life and limb. Suddenly world-saving stakes have shifted my game to another gear!

No matter what the outcome, I imagine the aftermath of the apocalypse is going to gear-shift my game again.

Hexcrawling and rebuilding a shattered world? Space voyagers flying off on shattered fragment of Earth? Time-fucking attempts to rewind and rewrite history?
I'm excited! And if your world is ending, you should be too!