Monday, April 30, 2012

It's the Magic: Campaign Sloggin'

A few weeks ago, Terry and I were sitting around bored whenever we began chatting about Magic games we'd like to see.

Terry wanted the magic Holy Grail of the Magic: The Gathering: The Roleplaying Game. He wanted to run a campaign in Magic's rich multiverse. The rub, as it always is, was the system. Everyone wants to cast the spells from the cards, but then you have to find a way to integrate that with dice, character sheets, experience, etc. without making everything into an unwieldy mess. I know D&D is doing a pretty good job of having character sheets exist alongside cards right now, but that's an established game, not something we're making up around the dinner table and trying to sell to a friend market saturated with tried and trusted games.

I, in my eternal, futile quest for context, wanted the Magic: The Gathering: The Campaign System. I wanted to link together a series of duels between any two pre-existing decks. Of course, the problem with that is overhead; tracking status changes from game to game within a larger framework, making a system that the very casual other players we're working with can grok, and allowing players to advance without creating a "win more" scenario for the player in the lead.

We couldn't agree on one direction, but Terry's system needed more interactions to determine what his system needed to be capable of. Similarly, I needed places that would resonate with players and develop a feel for the motivations and effects of planeswalkers controlling planes.

The past few weeks have seen us using our late-night hours to pitch plane ideas to satisfy both of those needs. Planar unrest gives him ideas for stories and conflicts to envision for his system. Planes and their locations give me inspiration for places to fight for and across. This weekend saw us doing some light cleaning prior to Terry's parents visiting and my (again, futile) attempts to get to a Rusted Root concert in Houston on Tuesday, so I didn't get to the Avacyn Restored pre-release. My now-month-long series of not covering gaming in San Antonio continues this week as I share random plane ideas with you all:

Granismelthan/Meyon/Agral - I put up some info about my mostly-abandoned Great Designer Search 2 setting a few months ago. In a nutshell, it's about three planes connected with gates. Each has its own problems--law enforced by magic, complacent scientific oligarchy, and an apocalyptic virus--but they come to share a common threat. The locations within these planes boast some affinity for artifacts and controlling them can offer a planeswalker an improved ability to travel between planes and methods to hamper someone else's efforts.

Zereneki - This plane is something that Texas Josh and I spun up on a trip out west a few years ago. While New Phyrexia promised something in the area of a green antagonist, Zereneki goes full tilt with an organic, non-sapient hivemind overrunning a plane, replete with a cycle of Angels, Horrors, Dragons, and Sphinxes hybridized with the fungus. Zereneki is filled with wilds, overgrown civilizations, and a handful desperate boltholes. Locations could provide players with the ability to repair their other locations and the threat of their own holdings turning against them.

Twilight World - Terry hasn't named this one yet, but it's primarily his baby. Despite my flourishes, the core of a plane with a black-aligned protagonist is his idea. Twilight World is run primarily by Cephalids and their construct armies, who exploit the world's single landmass, and its inhabitants, to dig up their ancient, tentacled god. Once summoned by oppressed peoples centuries ago, the plane's demons have since had their fine print manipulated by its water-dwelling rulers, turning saviors into servants. Now, they file motions and manipulate petty ambitions across cloud palaces and water havens to bring down the power structure before it's too late.

Carnalis Core - Created by a now-dead planeswalker, the machinery that is the plane of Carnalis' core is one part of a weapon system designed to destroy planes from across The Blind Eternities. Long-since abandoned, the great machinery's energies have fueled an ecosystem that's oblivious to its part of a greater system and the world outside of the core's main bulkhead. 

Semerallis - "So, where do the titans come from?" Going back to the very definition of titans as the forces which made the world, we worked on a plane where the world was made/unmade in a constant cycle at a rate equal to a titan's pace. Sun Titan trailed great cities and legendary figures that were, indeed built in a day and born yesterday. Grave Titan's wake is occupied with the forces of death and decay that devour cities and cultivate underworlds with each step.


SkilTao said...

Okay, so... what scale do the RPG and campaign system assume of a player's power? Normal RPG scale would make the player equivalent to a single (or less than a single) card, and even the "planeswalker" cards I've seen would have a hard time casting other cards. Making the PC equivalent to a MtG player (which is hypothetically what, a Mage in service to a greater Mage?) I'm not sure leaves you a lot of room for meaningful NPC actions, unless you treat that 20-life land-draining person as somehow *being* on the same scale as a single card, which would also be kind of awkward... for the campaign, is a single MtG deck considered to be a Mage's full bag of tricks, somewhat greater than their normal bag of tricks, or a small fraction of their bag of tricks? Is a single campaign considered to be the rise & fall of a kingdom/geo-political unit, a single plane, or multiple planes? Or is that flexibly undefined?

I have an idea for how to create a campaign map with negligible overhead, but it kinda hinges on there being a strategic turn with strategic actions other than "attack there" and "stay here."

Semerallis: so... do Titans here actively create basic lands, or when you kill them do you chop their bodies up into basic lands (heh, put titan in graveyard, can only gain mana by tapping graveyarded titans) or do basic lands cycle in and out of play much, much faster than normal? Undecided? Any thought to something to match the popular mythical "dome"/"waters" of the sky?

Granismelthan/Meyon/Agral: These seem to parallel Zereneki, Unnamed Twilight World, and Carnalis Core in a curious/foreboding way. If you don't end up doing that, it would be interesting (or at least amusing) to see the three mini-planes reach out and ally with other planes (or mini-planes) so that, in addition to white-blue and black-green and the other two-colored cards, we see double-black and double-blue become distinct and meaningful things. Also, the planar gates would be cards with functions in regular (not just campaign) play, right?

SkilTao said...

Um, italic was supposed to be bolding.

VanVelding said...

-The RPG is Terry's baby. I'm not sure about his concrete progress on any of that.

-The current iteration of the campaign system is that each player has three decks (characters). Each round, one of their characters play a normal game of magic over a location card chosen at random from a Blind Eternities deck. If they win, they control that land by either Exploring, Ravaging, or Defending it. Locations are cards and there's no map. The other characters can recover slightly while those two are fighting.

-Semerallis: The primeval titans create new terrain in any style, either on the edge of the world or by rewriting existing terrain in favor if its new matrix. The frost titan covers exudes ice which then melts into water or sublimates into clouds, though I suppose they could also 'raise the roof' of the world too. Sun titan literally leaves nascent civilizations in its wake. Red and black are more vague, but still part of a constant cycle of destruction and recreation, so yeah, the lands cycle in and out 'of play' constantly over long periods of time.

-Only G, M, & A were really made with each other in mind. I wanted that to be a three-set block I was working on with a Green/Red cross-planar push-back being the central, catastrophic conflict.

-Most of the location abilities have no effect in-game. I didn't want the possession of a few good locations giving someone a way to gain more wins and more locations. The location abilities largely work on the campaign scale: reducing damage you've already taken, providing quicker win conditions for the campaign, and helping to ensure you can find the location you need to fight for when you need it.