RPG Post: Far Away Land for my Kids

FAL-AG world-labeled

One of my hobbies recently has been to work on using the Far Away Land RPG rules to run a game for my young daughters. To that end, I’ve been building a world and pondering ways to make the game more friendly (read “less deadly”) for young players. I am thinking about modeling it on battle anime, where despite whatever else it might be about, it usually involves one or more fight scenes each episode, like One Piece or Naruto. Despite deadly foes, there is rarely real character death involved. People may be thrashed, but they recover, train more, and go to battle again, perhaps with some new wisdom or a trick up their sleeve.

This is not to say that I am planning on running a game that is nothing but battles, but when they do fight, if they should happen to lose, I am not going to pronounce their characters dead and cut up their character sheet. Instead, they’re going to be set back. Some time will pass. NPCs will have time to act in the PC’s absence, so goals and adventure hooks will have changed.

FAL Zoom2

I am considering the conceit that this game world is a shared world that the PCs enter in their dreams, an idea that always stuck with me after reading the Lovecraft short story, “Polaris.” So this world the PCs visit will be as real as our own, but they need to figure out why they are going there (if they want; I suppose they could just enjoy the freedom of adventuring). Death in this world, however, results in dissolution and waking back up in the “real” world. When they return to sleep and the dream world, time has passed.

Boulder Beast

It’s just an idea and I’ll have to see how it stands up to the reality of gaming with 5-year-olds, but I’m having fun drawing up maps and populating the world. For that, the Far Away Land setting and creatures work perfectly. There are enough creatures for variety but not so many as to be overwhelming, and it’s fairly easy to create my own creatures as needed.

Silkin

The PCs are going to start off in the small village of Silkin, and then I’m going to leave it up to them what they’d like to do, although sandbox play with 5-year-olds can be difficult, so I will guide them toward adventures if needed. Here’s what I have so far:

Silkin, a remote village: A rock-iron giant fell to Earth here and remains in a deep pit in the center of the village, where its rust has colored the earth beneath it a dark red. There are a few large circular buildings in town, which have low walls because the rooms are actually underground, accessible by a staircase that leads to a main door. The rectangular meeting halls are above ground A-frame buildings. The smaller one is the men’s hall and the larger one is the women’s hall. Both can also be reached by the warren of underground passages that lies beneath the village.

Silkin is made up of dwarves, simians, and ratlings who live together in peace under the guidance of an elderly Orka named Mokranus. They are all outcast from their respective societies. In the case of the simians and ratlings, it is because they are peaceful folk. In the case of the dwarves, it is because their people were long ago exiled from their home under the mountains to the east. Mokranus took up residence to study the iron-rock giant and has grown old here awaiting the moment when the giant will awaken.

The simians and ratlings tend the farmland surrounding the village, while the dwarves dig beneath the earth for ore to make tools (and because they like to dig). Beyond the farmland is deep forest, although to the north and south the remains of an old trail remain, marked by a crumbling wall. The people of Silkin rarely receive visitors and are suspicious of outsiders, but if the PCs can prove that they mean no harm, they will find a place to rest and, in Makronus, a source of information about the world they suddenly find themselves in.

Adventure Hooks:

Seeking knowledge: If the PCs want to discover why they might have been pulled from their realm into this one, Makronus suggests that they seek the mountainside Temple of Ajurna to the northeast. He warns, though, that the path is perilous as the mountains are home to all sorts of foul beasts. If the PCs have befriended any villagers, they might find some amongst them who are willing to travel with them. Dwarves especially would be useful companions.

Something brewing: The dwarves report that in their underground excavations, they have run into some underground folk who are constantly ruining the dwarves’ work. So far it hasn’t gotten deadly, but the creatures triggered a cave-in the other day that might have killed someone. The dwarves are ready to deal with these creatures by force if need be.

Civilization to the South: The crumbling wall and the path that runs alongside it is more intact to the south, and the villagers say that there are larger cities in that direction. Although they don’t advise traveling, they do admit that if the PCs want answers, perhaps some wizard or ruler to the south might have an answer.

Story Cubes with Toddlers

Over on Google+, John Ward introduced me to a product called Rory’s Story Cubes as an idea-generation tool for the bedtime stories I tell my daughters. I ordered the base set and the Voyages add-on. There are several ways to use the dice, but for my purposes, the three of us took turns rolling dice and making up the story, with the goal being a complete story in nine dice.

Story Cubes

Here’s a transcript of my first attempt at using them with my daughters. Given that they’re two years old, I took a lot of control, but they enjoyed rolling the dice and getting in to the story. As they get more used to making things up, I will happily relinquish the reins to them.

Dad: Okay roll the dice. [Daughter 1 rolls die.] So what’d we get? Oh, it looks like an insect, a bug. So is this going to be a story about a bug?

D1: Yeah.

Dad: Okay, so, what’s the bug’s name?

D1: It’s called Cristers. [Crickets?]

Dad: Cristers?

D1: Yeah. I want to get more!

Dad: Okay. So we have a bug named Cristers. And then Daughter 2, you pick a die and let’s find out some more about the story. Okay, roll the die. [D2 rolls die.] Uh, it’s a shrine, a temple. So we have Cristers and he’s going to the temple to pray about… What? What is he praying for? Why is he going to the temple?

D2: Because he’s um going to craaaaaassssshhhhh! Again!

Dad: He’s afraid he’s going to crash again? Okay, so we have a bug named Cristers who’s going to the temple to pray because he’s afraid he’s going to crash again. He’s obviously an airplane pilot of some sort. So I’ll roll one now. [Dad rolls die.]

D2: Glasses!

Dad: Oh, glasses… So he goes to the temple and he says to the monk, “I am very afraid that if I fly a plane again, I will crash again.” And the monk says, “Perhaps you should wear glasses the next time you fly the plane.” And Cristers says, “Glasses! Why didn’t I think of that?” Okay, pick a die. Roll it, let’s see what we get. [D1 rolls.]

D1: Stars!

Dad: Oh, stars and a wand. So let’s think what happens next. At that moment, a fairy godmother comes down and says, “Cristers, you have one wish. What will it be?

D2: My turn!

Dad: Okay. And Cristers says, “I wish for a pair of glasses that will allow me to see a hundred miles away.” Now you roll the die. [D2 rolls.] And you got, hmmm, looks like… a trap door in the floor with stairs going down? And the godmother says, “Okay, I will give you the glasses, Cristers. But first you must go down the Flight of a Thousand Stairs into the darkness.” And then what happens next? Cristers goes down the stairs into the darkness and he finds… [Dad rolls.] A pyramid! A pyramid deep under the earth. So he goes into the pyramid—

D2: My turn! My turn!

D1: A castle. I bring a castle!

Dad: It’s D1’s turn. So he goes into the pyramid and… Roll the die. [D1 rolls. Dad gasps at skull and crossbones.] Oh no. And he walks into the pyramid and he discovers that there is a curse and it says, “Anybody who enters this pyramid will surely die. And then D2 rolls. Oh, a fountain. And Cristers would die, except he discovers the Fountain of Life, and he reaches into the fountain and he pulls out… [Dad rolls.] A goblet. And he uses the goblet to drink from the fountain.

D1: A trophy!

Dad: Oh, is it a trophy? Okay, he gets a trophy that says, “You survived the Pyramid of Death by drinking the Waters of Life. Your reward is a pair of glasses that allows you to see a hundred miles away.” And Cristers put on the glasses and he got in his plane and he flew away and he could see perfectly and he flew and he flew and he landed fine and he didn’t crash and he was happy. The End.

Tales of the Far West: Full Review

In a previous post, I talked about Far West and reviewed the first four stories in the new short story collection, Tales of the Far West. Here is my full review of the book; to skip the reviews of the first four stories, click here. And, yes, there are already plenty of reviews of the book on Amazon but I started to review the collection here, so I felt like finishing it as well.

He Built The Wall To Knock It Down by Scott Lynch: This story re-energized my passion for the Far West setting, which had started to wane a bit with the passage of time from the initial Kickstarter project. It is cool in exactly the way a Western/Wuxia/steampunk tale should be, with clear, concise action scenes that impart a very cinematic feel to the story with an amazing brevity. It has bar fights, the requisite master teaching the apprentice by having him do mundane tasks, amazing feats of kung fu and gunfighting, gravity-defying acrobatic stunts, explosive fights, and steampunk limbs aplenty.

In Stillness, Music by Aaron Rosenberg, is about a Wandering Star, a member of a clan of couriers who, according to the Far West website “are carefully neutral, no matter what their hearts may tell them. While many of them would be swift to assist wounded farmers after a bandit raid, for all their martial skill, they would not lift one brightly colored finger to stop it in progress.” So of course this story is about an exception to that rule. This story was good but not quite as strong as the opener. (There is a distracting formatting error in the Kindle version of this book: when the character sings, his sentences are smushed together, two to each line, so you can’t tell where one phrase ends and another begins.)

Riding the Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig. I would call it more of a scene, or the seed of a story. It starts in media res and ends there as well. Secrets are hinted at and what happens next is implied, but as a stand-alone story in a collection, it left me shrugging my shoulders. It might just be me, but I expected something fleshed out more. If this is a prelude to a longer story someplace else, it should say so. If not, I don’t think it stands on its own.

Purity of Purpose by Gareth-Michael Skarka, is one of the vignettes that was already up on the Far West website. While short, it is a complete story with a well-described, fantastical fight scene that combines gunplay and kung fu.

Paper Lotus by Tessa Gratton: This is a morbid but curious tale that offers some insight into the religious practices, both official and folk, of the Far West setting.

In the Name of the Empire by Eddy Webb: A nice murder mystery where the suspect is the sheriff and the investigator is a female Twin Eagle detective. The Twin Eagles are a for-hire detective agency that use a lot of steampunk gadgets in the course of their work, which is fun to read about.

Errant Eagles by Will Hindmarch:  This story starts out with a fight on a crashing airship, a great idea that is dragged down by the monotonous description of the fight itself. The two characters involved are named Redhand and Hollowaigh, and the scene plays out as “Redhand does something. Hollowaigh does something. Redhand does something else. Hollowaigh does something else. Etc.” Some variety in the description would have been more enjoyable, and this is not the last time in the story that a fight scene is handled in this manner.

Railroad Spikes by Ari Marmell: This is more of a Twilight Zone-y tale of a train robbery gone bad. I found it to be pleasantly wicked with a good ending.

The Fury Pact by Matt Forbeck: This is the third story in the book to include an Imperial Marshal, a sort of Judge Dredd-esque judge/jury/executioner wearing a stylized mask who protects the Empire’s interests in the Far West.  In this tale, the main character has a jetpack that the Empire wants, so a Marshal is sent to collect it by any means necessary.

Seven Holes by T.S. Luikart: I enjoyed this story for the insight it gives into the powers controlled by the kung-fu experts in Far West, and also what can happen when those with powers are not trained properly.

Local Legend by Jason L. Blair: A bounty hunter comes to town claiming to have killed a local outlaw, and he has the outlaw’s famous sword to prove it. Not a bad story, but not very surprising, either.

Crippled Avengers by Dave Gross: This is a neat revenge story with a cool cast of misfits and a mwu-ha-ha evil villain. Of all the characters in the book, these are probably the ones I would most want to read more about.

Overall, if the purpose of this collection was to showcase various aspects of the Far West universe, then mission accomplished.

My Journey Into The Far West

I am in the middle of reading a short story collection called Tales of the Far West right now, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the stories and my journey into the world of Far West. (If you are already familiar with Far West or want to jump right to my partial review of the short story collection, click here.)

Kickstarter

I first noticed Far West on Kickstarter (or maybe I got pointed there by someone else, but if so, I can’t recall from who or where…bygones). The project was described as a “transmedia” project, including fiction and a role-playing game (RPG) set in a fantasy world “based on the inspirations of the Spaghetti Western and Chinese Wuxia. Add steampunk elements. Mix well.” Well, I’m not a big Western fan, but I have enjoyed Wuxia movies ever since I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (perhaps the only movie that I have paid to see in theaters three times in the span of 2 or 3 weeks) and I have always thought steampunk was great fun. The project also referenced Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Okay, now we’re talking. I may not have watched a bunch of Westerns, but I tore through that series and I could imagine the type of gunfighting skill that Roland displays mixed with the high-flying acrobats of Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Add to that a really cool selection of Kickstarter rewards, and I was in. By the time the Kickstarter was over at the end of August 2011, they had raised just shy of $50,000 (their original goal was only $5,000) and had added a bunch of great rewards as time went on.

Into the Far West

The website for Far West had a number of vignettes set in the Far West universe, and informative short entries about some of the people and places that make up the world. Some combination of the excitement that led up to the successful funding of the Kickstarter project and the intriguing setting led me to write a short story based in the Far West universe, even though I did not have much knowledge of the details of the world yet. I sent it to one of the game’s designers, Gareth Skarka, and he was kind enough to edit it and post it on the Far West site, and even to create some art for the piece. The story, Digging in the Dirt, can be found here.

Forums

My excitement for the project waned a little as the project had its completion date pushed back a couple of times; I understand the reasons and the nature of Kickstarter projects, but without any new details about the setting, I didn’t give much thought to creating more stories in the Far West world. Without a “bible” to work off of, or the core RPG book, I don’t feel like I could add much to the setting. Not so some other fans, who have already come up with some cool ideas on the Far West forums, which went live in January 2012. (Caveat: You have to belong to the Far West Society to see the forums that contain these ideas; membership to the society allows you to pitch ideas that can be voted on for inclusion in the game.) The forums have been a fun place to be introduced to new (to me) music and movies that either inspire or mesh well with the Far West setting, and background information on Wuxia. So even if you do not plan to get involved with Far West, you could do worse than to browse the Inspirography and Far West Music discussions for some cool links.

Tales of the Far West

Last week, the short story collection Tales of the Far West was released. I have only read four of the twelve stories so far, but I have to say that the first story, He Built The Wall To Knock It Down by Scott Lynch, re-energized my passion for the Far West setting. It is cool in exactly the way a Western/Wuxia/steampunk tale should be, with clear, concise action scenes that impart a very cinematic feel to the story with an amazing brevity. It has bar fights, the requisite master teaching the apprentice by having him do mundane tasks, amazing feats of kung fu and gunfighting, gravity-defying acrobatic stunts, explosive fights, and steampunk limbs aplenty.

The second story, In Stillness, Music by Aaron Rosenberg, is about a Wandering Star, a member of a clan of couriers who, according to the Far West website “are carefully neutral, no matter what their hearts may tell them. While many of them would be swift to assist wounded farmers after a bandit raid, for all their martial skill, they would not lift one brightly colored finger to stop it in progress.” So of course this story is about an exception to that rule. This story was good but not quite as strong as the opener. I also wonder if this exception will be overused by players once the RPG comes out, because a character that must remain neutral could be a very difficult character to roleplay in the context of a larger group that likely will be taking sides quite often. (One minor complaint regarding my Kindle version of the book: in this story, the character sings songs and the formatting does not show up correctly on the Kindle. Two phrases are smushed together with no separation on each line, and with no punctuation it was up to me to guess where the sentence break should be.)

The third story is Riding the Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig. I would call it more of a scene, or the seed of a story. It starts in media res and ends there as well. Secrets are hinted at and what happens next is implied, but as a stand-alone story in a collection, it left me shrugging my shoulders. It might just be me, but I expected something fleshed out more. If this is a prelude to a longer story someplace else, it should say so. If not, I don’t think it stands on its own.

The fourth story, Purity of Purpose by Gareth-Michael Skarka, is one of the vignettes that was already up on the Far West website. While short, it is a complete story with a well-described, fantastical fight scene that combines gunplay and kung fu.

There are eight more stories to go and I am hopeful that some of them rise to the level of kickassedness in the first story.

The RPG

Even though I do not currently have a roleplaying group, I am still looking forward to the RPG’s eventual release. Why? Because once it is released, the setting will be wide open to all the fans to help flesh out the world. In effect, I will have the setting bible in my hands at last, and I am looking forward to writing more stories once I have that. I only hope my pen and paper style kung fu will be strong enough for the task.