A while back, I promised my friends Penny and Clint that I would run a small game for just the two of them, something that we could pick up and play when other folks aren’t available. At the time, it was going to be The Phoenix Covenant, and I did a fair bit of work getting the campaign ready. Then I started burning out on D&D, and didn’t want to keep pushing on that particular campaign. So, I sent out a set of options for discussion, and we settled on playing Mage: The Awakening, influenced in part at least by the success of the first Hunter game I ran a couple of weeks ago.
This is the initial pitch for the Mage game, pulled from the list of pitches I sent:
Mage: The Awakening – The past is reluctant to give up it’s hidden secrets, even to one with the power of a wizard. But you search for traces of the occult history of the world, hidden in archaelogical digs, museum artifacts, urban legends, and strange pocket worlds and times. You will find not just the truth, but the TRUTH.
After some discussion, we decided to set the game in the early 20th century, during the height of archaeological exploration and at the beginning of the decline of secret societies like the Golden Dawn. The ideas I have in mind are a mix of Henry Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Warren Ellis‘s magnificent Planetary comic series. Basically, I want a mix of pulp and noir: the cinematic action, globe-trotting adventure, weird science and magic of pulp blended with the moral relativism, conspiracy, and paranoia of noir. After doing a little bit of research on the era, I picked 1910 as a starting year because of some things that I don’t want to talk about just yet – I know that at least one of the players reads this blog.
So, with those decisions made, I got to work on a wiki for the game. Since I discovered Obsidian Portal, this has become one of my must-do items when I’m building a campaign that’s going to follow an extended story arc, as opposed to episodic campaigns like the Hunter game.
My first idea for the game was just to use the published material for Boston that’s appeared in the Mage books, just back-dating it as necessary. I don’t feel the need to be absolutely accurate and faithful to reality in building a historical campaign: to me, evocation of the feel of the period is more important than strict historical veracity. That said, I try to at least pay lip-service to the truth, so certain elements were going to have to change. Just not all that many.
But this weekend, I read through Boston Unveiled, as opposed to just skimming it as I had done previously. The chapter on the history of the area convinced me that using the by-the-book political situation they posit in 1910 would be far more interesting to me than the one that currently holds sway in modern times. I started rewriting the Boston entry on the wiki, and changing the other entries for the major cabals and events. I’m still not quite done, but I think it’s going to be fun.
One of the things that I’ve realized is that I have to be careful with this campaign framework. It has real potential to devolve into a series of MacGuffin hunts, and that can get old. In order to try and avoid that, I’ve given the framework an overarching theme – the idea that the Bonehunters want to restore Atlantis and take the fight to the Exarchs in the Supernal Realm. This means that they’re going to be facing the Seers of the Throne, who make great Nazi-esque villains in a Mage game. It also means that some adventures and subplots are going to revolve around dealing with threats from the Seers and other opposition; not everything adventure is going to be about rushing off to the ruins of Crete to try and find the Minotaur Device at the heart of the Astral Labyrinth.
And, as I always try to do in small games, a fair bit of the agenda is going to be set by the players and the characters. I’m going to be throwing out a number of plot hooks and loose threads, and seeing what interests them, what they decide to pursue and what they decide to ignore. That will shape the flow of the game, as well.
As I work on the background, my players are reading up on the game and generating some ideas for their characters. I don’t want to get too locked into things until I know at least what their concepts are, but we’re getting very close to being able to start the game. Perhaps even before Christmas.
Oh. The name of the campaign is Scio Occultus Res, which is Latin for To Know Hidden Things.