The other night five of us got together with the intention of playing a 2-3 session game of Beyond the Wall. Our experience with D&D variants ranged from lots to little; we’ve just finished a lengthy Blades in the Dark campaign, so we’re used to gaming with each other. Here’s how the first session went.
The point of all this isn’t that I did amazing prep. I wanted to push myself towards sandbox style improvised play and using index cards (total: 115) was an excellent way to keep myself from getting too wordy. I offer my illegible handwriting in hopes that other GMs with crappy handwriting will find the example useful.
Here’s the list of posts:
- The postmortem and closing thoughts
- All the character and crew sheets (plus index cards for my notes on them)
- The characters’ long term projects
- Factions in both Doskvol and Skovland
- Session write-ups on the wiki
- Session notes on index cards
- Two props: a newspaper and a letter
- The scribbled down prep notes for the sessions
Almost forgot! I handed the players this letter towards the beginning of the last session. “The individual of whom we spoke” was Etty’s demon-possessed mom. Before Setarra possessed her and before she got engaged to Lord Scurlock (the aged child), she was stuck in Ironhook Prison as a result of the fall of their noble house.
And our final chunk of index cards! For some reason I shuffled progress clocks drawn for heists in with the plots and setup stack; no harm done but I’d keep them with the session notes next time.
Most of the cards from the stack of plots I actually used are in fact clocks. Among the others are examples of my favorite prep technique; I used the random score generator table to generate three or four scores, which fit tidily on one card, and then mostly let actual play determine which one was interesting.
Amusingly enough, the more detailed notes I drew up almost never got used. Ulf Ironborn’s lair notes were the only ones that turned out to be relevant, and that was a total GM force — Ulf beat up their bartender pal Rigney for being a racist jerk. It’s not like I didn’t know how the Hexhounds would react to that.
Let’s do the factions tonight as well, I’m on a roll.
These are split into two chunks for ease of reading: the Doskvol factions and the Skovland factions. For some reason I didn’t make a card for the Imperials. Those last couple of faction clocks both would have lived on the Imperials card, though.
I was not as diligent at establishing proper faction clocks as I might have been, and I mostly slacked on putting together new ones when the old ones were completed. They were still insanely handy. I mentioned this a few posts ago, but literally any game with NPC factions would benefit from faction clocks and the mechanic would graft cleanly onto just about anything.
The Skovland factions are a bit cleaner since I had a better idea of what I was doing. Still pretty simple, though! Here’s the faction, here’s some background, a couple of key NPCs, and evocative adjectives to remind me what the factions and NPCs are like.
All the stuff the player characters wanted to get done between sessions. Make Owl-Human was probably the worst project they ever embarked upon, but it turned out useful in the end. Here’re the ones they completed:
And here’s the projects they didn’t quite wrap up. Figuring out Strangford’s plans and creating the Order of the Feather were both started in our very final downtime at the end of the last session. I admire their perseverance.
By the by, there was a wiki for this campaign and I maintained it pretty well for about five sessions; if you want actual quality write-ups for the early days, go there.
I’m not even going to try and make sense of these. And, um, sorry about the handwriting. You’ll note that early on I just filled up index cards; later on I got smart and started dating them. If/when I do this again, I’m going to date every single index card I use — some of the threat clocks in particular are totally mysterious to me and I’d love to know which sessions they’re associated with.
Sometimes I meticulously recorded downtime actions. Sometimes I did not.
One might think that the Hexhounds never talked about anything but moral transgressions and Dock’s love life; that would be untrue. I just found those kinds of quotes really funny so I wrote them down more often.
Let’s look at some ephemera! We’ll start with the character and crew sheets. This first chunk is the crew in its current configuration, with Crowl possessing Helena and a Hawkers crew sheet. If I had to guess I’d say we played around sixteen sessions.
Now the original versions of — OK, it’s complicated. Sal was playing Cassilda, who was possessed by Crowl. When Sal decided to switch characters, she decided that Crowl was now the main character and they’d be possessing someone else’s body. In the end the host was Helena, mistress of an extensive information network.
The change from Shadows to Hawkers was much simpler. At one point, we realized the crew was more interested in selling mushroom wine than they were in selling secrets, and we just shifted the crew type over. I let them shift their advances to new choices.
Finally, here are the first of a whole bunch of index cards. These were my notes on the PCs and their close affiliates. Neither of Sal’s characters got good index cards because she started playing in the third or fourth session and I neglected to jot things down. I didn’t wind up referring to these a lot so it made no practical difference, but I wish I’d used them more.
Man, I didn’t use the crew’s enemies much. There was always something else going on! I should have pulled Celene in for the final few sessions now that I look at these again — see what I mean? I didn’t use these to refresh ideas as much as I wish I had.
Clive was this Skovlander thug whose mind was horribly damaged when the crew threw him into an extra-dimensional space for a few days. They felt pretty bad about it so he wound up living in their lair for a long time.
Astrid and Serk were Skovlanders actually living in Skovland. Astrid was a spy in a noble household, who didn’t wind up being particularly central. Serk followed the crew back to Doskvol and kept getting in trouble. Urchins!
“They were four total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. An orphaned cultist, a disgraced sailor, a fallen noble, and a demon. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls and touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.”
Last night we wrapped up a Blades in the Dark campaign that had started on July 3rd, 2018. Sixteen months is not forever by some standards, but it’s a solidly impressive run compared to my usual track record, and it goes into the books as one of the three best campaigns I’ve ever run. (Huey Long’s Men of Action and Orlando Trash.)