Apr 23, 2015

Why Do Projectors Come to Necrocarcerus?

Another extract from my recent correspondence with Charlie of Imaginary Hallways, this time covering the reasons why projectors (people traveling from the living worlds) come to Necrocarcerus.

"1) Necrocarcerus sucks in people from lots of different eras and worlds to become Citizens, and it incarnates them more or less randomly, rather than in sequence. That is, Necrocarcerus isn't running at a parallel time stream to the living worlds, such that on say, Year 1 everyone who died in 500 AD becomes available for incarnation, and in Year 2 everyone from 501 AD becomes available. Rather, everyone gets jumbled together. So imagine you could travel to it and not only meet your ancient ancestors, but also your descendants (and even your own dead self). Or you could find out how an important war was going to go by finding an ancient sage who hasn't even been born yet but who will one day be the world's greatest expert on it.

2) Similarly, Necrocarcerus is in kind of a post-apocalyptic shambles, but it's still got fancier technology and magic that most of the living worlds do. The living worlds are all at different stages of technological development, and followed different cultural and technical pathways throughout their existence, so there are all sorts of innovations and advantages to be gained by sending people in to learn about or steal stuff. Your kingdom may be a podunk feudal backwater that's just discovered steam power, but you can send someone to Necrocarcerus and steal a nuke or a laser gun or a superpowerful death spell or whatever.

3) There are beings in Necrocarcerus who are interfering with the living worlds. The biggest one in my games is an undead necromancer named Thazul, who lives in Necrocarcerus but has created undead hordes that are busy invading three different living worlds (where he's their Sauron-equivalent). So brave paladins and champions are projecting in from the living worlds to try to slay him and save their worlds. There are other, less extreme examples, but from the perspective of many of the living worlds, Necrocarcerus is a hellscape full of undead who deserve to be smote.

4) Rare and weird items. Beyond technology and magic, Necrocarcerus produces a lot of unique materials that don't exist in the living worlds. So some projectors come in to conduct trade for things like soul coal, radioactive dragon bone, perfected spider eggs, etc. with unscrupulous merchants. This is also sort of the answer to the blood question - projectors are trading lots and lots of blood for stuff they want.

5) Religion. There's at least one god from the living worlds who's imprisoned in Necrocarcerus (Vra-Krakorn, He Who Consumes the Works of Mankind), but there's also a ton of souls to be won to faiths. I imagine a lot of these projectors think of Necrocarcerus as something like Purgatory, and are trying to offer the doomed inhabitants one last chance to get into Heaven / Nirvana / Paradise, etc.

6) Exploration. Imagine the afterlife was a real place, after all. You'd want to know everything you could about it - whether for religious or economic reasons, or just plain curiosity. A lot of projectors are just exploring the land of the dead to find out what happens to people after they die.

7) Guarding things. Necrocarcerus is a good place to dump that unspeakable ancient evil contained in that artifact sword that you can't destroy. Or you might need to guard the portal to the afterlife that you can't close from potential hordes of undead pouring through unexpectedly. One of the groups the PCs have encountered in my own campaign are the Knights of Tollen, who are an ancient order of paladins guarding a portal that leads from a backwater part of Necrocarcerus into their world.

8) Rescuing / resurrecting people. After all, if you can find your lost love and bring them back to the living worlds, you can be with them again. Or you can bring back your beloved but dead king to restore justice and depose the evil vizier who seized power after murdering him."

Apr 21, 2015

Managing the Necrocarcerus Campaign

The current Necrocarcerus campaign is run online, which created some initial challenges for me. I needed a collaborative digital whiteboard, as well as a collaborative digital archive for the information the PCs collected. The archive was especially important because Necrocarcerus is a drop-in game - new people show up, familiar players sometimes skip or miss - and it would waste time having to constantly reintroduce leads, characters and locations for the players who weren't at the last session. It also helps having somewhere I can upload the Necrocarcerus rules document to minimise the number of links new players need to follow and the windows they have open. I played around with a few different options, and eventually settled on Realtimeboard (RTB) which I strongly recommend you check out. It has a free version available with about 100MB of storage, though I use the Premium version for the 3GB so I can use it as a dumping ground for pictures.
The Necrocarcerus Campaign
In the picture above, you can see almost the entire Necrocarcerus campaign. There are a few overland maps the PCs drew that haven't been uploaded, and the comment function doesn't show when you export images (each location on the hand-drawn map in the centre-right has comments detailing what the PCs did and when they did it), but this is the majority of it. Everything on this is player-facing (there's some information about the train journey that they're going to gather at the start of next session).

I maintain 6-8 handwritten pages of other notes, one deck of index cards detailing treasure items, and a folder of maps. The 6-8 pages are: 1) A list of adventure locations 2) A list of major NPCs and short descriptions of them 3) A timeline 4) A list of quest ideas and rewards 5) The relevant random encounter tables for the area they're in 6) A list of errata and possible rules updates for Necrocarcerus 7) A list of notes on whatever dungeon or area they're exploring 8) A relationship map of major NPCs.

Of these, the random encounter tables, the errata list, the list of notes and the timeline are updated most often. The timeline and errata list mainly undergo minor modifications - most of my work is creating & changing the random encounter tables and creating new dungeons / adventure locations. There is some overlap between the two, since I populate most of my dungeons outside of a few set-pieces using the random encounter tables. When I introduce a NPC or an adventure location or quest, I simply check it off on the list so I know the PCs have encountered it already and add information to the RTB about it. I numbered the entries so I could roll a d20 for each to see who / what comes up randomly when I didn't have a preference.

In hindsight, I think I could have been more aggressive with the commenting function to add and track treasure & XP from each session, or specifically, I should have requested the players do this on the RTB. I also should have added a calendar to it, especially since the passage of time is so important in Necrocarcerus (I interrupted writing this blog post to add the calendar). If I could find good pictures for some of the weirder monsters of Necrocarcerus, I think it might also be fun to maintain a living bestiary.

End-of-the-World and Surrounds

This map details the overland area around End-of-the-World, as well as the major NPCs, a treasure map (top) of the High Asmarch's palace, and the larger Necrocarcerus campaign map. Purple stickies detail NPCs, orange stickies are quests they have on offer, while pink stickies are leads for PCs to follow up on their own. Green stickies cover information or facts the PCs have discovered, some of which are relevant to quests. Yellow stickies are locations and pathways. Using the linking system RTB makes available, I can draw connections between the various stickies, points on the map, pictures, and any other information I upload to it, allowing the PCs to identify which quests come from which NPCs, where they go, and what they know about them. Once again, comments don't show in these pictures, but the map is speckled with little comment bubbles that are colour coded. Yellow means there might be a reason to go back to a place, green means it's all cleared out or the quest that took them there is completed. I haven't decided what to use the red comment bubbles for yet.

Dungeon Maps
These are dungeon maps. RTB has three levels of nested grid that are fully zoomable (the grid does not show up in the pictures when you image-cap them). The PCs preferred to upload PDFs of graph paper and draw on them. At the top are maps connected to the Half-Buried Megagolem and the Rocket Fields of the Transhegiromantics, while below on the graph paper is Taddlecreek Mine, where they encountered the Cult of the White Worm and recovered several thousand pounds of dragonbone. These maps can be edited by any of the PCs, as well as myself, in real-time, which allows me to leave them to map most of it, but sketch out sections that are difficult to describe clearly. I'm using Gridmapper to create most of my dungeon maps, screencapping them off of it, and then dumping them into a folder on my computer. The rest I get by downloading dungeon maps I find on G+. I tend to prefer gridded maps over ungridded ones because they're easier to translate onto the grid on RTB.

The statue in the bottom left is of a nude woman; beware before enlarging this picture
Here I'm using RTB to plan the PCs upcoming train journey. A map of the first section of the train (the part they've explored) is at the top, along with some NPCs and a seating plan. The colours of the stickies are a bit wonky (I've corrected them since taking this image) but this shows the pathway the PCs will take (since it's a regular route run by the train company). Along the way, there are numerous quests and locations to explore, and the pictures communicate rumours about each area that they can discover from their fellow passengers with minimal effort. This is the first major journey out of End-of-the-World the PCs are taking. This also helps me plan - I know I need Old Hua Danth, the Pinion of the Flame Tyrant, the Spider Tombs and the Autarchy of Mfele Outpost all written up.

My general experience so far has been that the more I dump on RTB, the easier the rest of my note-taking becomes. Like many referees, my experience of note-taking has been that it is both tedious and crucial, and I have struggled in the past to discover ways to simplify it (avoiding long-form writing is one critical discovery I made and have never gone back on). 

Apr 20, 2015

This is the Way the World Ends

Charlie of Imaginary Hallways is running a campaign that'll be moving through Necrocarcerus at one point and he very kindly asked me some questions about the setting as a result. One of the ones he asked me was a pretty common one, which is what the end of the Necrocarcerus Program looks like? Rather than provide a definitive answer, this is what I wrote:

"What I actually do is keep on making up new ways for the Program to end, and new goals for it, and then I insert each new idea in as another faction of Guardians or rogues. Here are some of the current ones:

1) Necrocarcerus has a giant space-dragon living on the top of the dome, and the dragon eats souls. The end of the Program is when Necrocarcerus is finally so full of incarnated souls that the dragon rips off the dome and consumes everyone inside of it, then flies off through the infinite void to find another island of reality to brood over and consume.

2) The disc of Necrocarcerus flips, plunging almost everyone on it into the infinite void. A new cycle begins on what was once the underside of the disc, with new living worlds feeding into it. The Program is supposed to have a purpose, but because the transmission was incomplete it was never finished correctly and so the whole thing is a colossal malfunctioning machine that just cycles endlessly.

3) Necrocarcerus was meant as a vast factory for the production of gods, allowing a rare few Citizens within it to attain the personal power required to transcend material existence completely and become divine beings. The end of the Program is when one or more of these individuals reaches that level of power. The whole factory shuts down for a single eternal moment, all the souls that haven't transcended are absorbed back into it, and the whole cycle starts over again, less one soul. The process repeats until everyone who will everyone who will ever come to Necrocarcerus is a god.

4) The same, but the Guardians are the beings who become gods, not the Citizens.

5) The same, but everyone in Necrocarcerus merges into a single divine being, instead of just one or a handful of individuals. That divine being is the Creator, who then uses its omnipotence to reach back in time and create the conditions of its own creation.

6) Portals open up everywhere, and all the inhabitants and objects in Necrocarcerus are thrown back into the living worlds. The Program was intended to prevent the merger of the living worlds and the afterlife, but due to its incompleteness, it broke down and now there is no more life and death, but merely existence and nullity, with the entire multiverse becoming a badly-built hellscape.

7) The same, but the Program was always intended to do this, and is a plot by the Creator to this end against the gods and the multiverse. The Creator was long dead, but now that that state is meaningless, it reconstitutes and becomes the sovereign of all reality (and either its dark plan, or Paradise results, no one can agree which).

8) Nothing happens. It was all propaganda to keep the system running. The Guardians and AUC start trying to delete people's memories of this and institute a new 10,000 year count. They destroy the material remnants of the previous aeon and pretend to have to create the world anew."

I will, undoubtedly come up with more in time. I know what the end is going to be in the current Necrocarcerus game unless the PCs interfere (and I'm keeping it a secret until it happens), but feel free to mix, match, and create new options as you please. The actual end of the world is the least interesting part for me, it's the fact that it's ending and the reactions to that fact that I find interesting.