Into the Weird Blue Yonder: Some Thoughts on my Current Game: The Weird Marches
So I am running my DCC West Marches game, the Weird Marches, trying to implement some of the ideas in these posts. I have found it hard to write up session reports on these games. The sessions are all fairly short because people have busy lives and the narratives are not of the same characters because I have encouraged people to have a lot of characters in store so it doesn't matter if some characters get tied up in a prolonged quest. I will try to outline some of the major plot points so far:
- The Whispershire Adventuring Guild is established and patronized by Tiberius Segundus, an older academically inclined man with the aspiration to actually see or have brought back to him some of the wonders he has read about.
- Tiberius sends the PCs to try and get a magical flute from a greasy, conman: Figarus Cornswallow and his Mystery Shack-esque establishment. They witness the power of the flute to mutate the ear of a person that was listening and manage to take the flute by intimidation, making an enemy of Figarus Cornswallow. Tiberius suspects this to be a key to the Portal to Lost Yarghast which was said to be made of gold and hidden in another realm. The group also found a boy that said they could bring him to the portal. Two characters adopt him and are married in happy lesbian matrimony, even though his father is alive, though an abusive drunk.
- The Guild decided to follow up on rumors surrounding gnolls, taking children from the town of Nighthold and turning their tears into emeralds. This quest is sidetracked by an encounter with some strange hunched-over characters in cloaks, rolling along a cart of metal ore. They follow these characters to the mining town of Mherkin. After witnessing the fearful reaction of the people towards these characters, they decided to investigate and tried to get some information from a beggar who turned out to be a kind of mad prophet for a figure called the Exiled Prince, who has intimidated the townspeople into digging up ore to repair his sky chariot. After narrowly escaping the massed villagers, come to burn the interlopers, they decided to turn back.
- The Guild to investigate the rumors of a beast haunting the catacombs and sewers beneath Whispershire. They encounter strange cold-exuding undead which burst from the chests of people bitten by the foul beast. They also encounter a man which they suspect of being the beast. He relates to them the story of some knights who imbibe a forbidden substance to gain the strength needed to protect their kingdom but it comes at a terrible cost and the beast is that cost. They arrived at the beasts lair... and this story has not yet been completed.
- The Guild decided to investigate stories about Gray Mushroom Men on the shore of the Darro Sea. On the way to Warren's Port, they encountered some green flame jackolantern scarecrows, taking away people in ropes towards Nighthold. They fought the scarecrows and freed the captives and continued on. At Warren's Port, they met Brandy, a fine girl, who told them a story of a strange encounter with one of these mushroom men and where it occurred. That night, the party ventured onto the Darro Sea and found a shipwreck near where they had been told of the strange meeting. They investigated the ship, finding it covered in gray fungus and saw a great island covered in the bizarre stuff. One of the characters awoke the next day with a gray mark on his hand.
- The Guild attempted, once again, to sort out the gnolls. They discovered that the village of Nighthold was under the sway of these creatures, capturing people to spare their own lives, or so they said. It turned out that the town was truly ruled by Billy Hemlock, High Duke of the Autumn Court of the Fae and King of Wonder Lost. The party survived the puzzle box game of the Duke and thus were allowed to go.
- Ayo, Dan D's Drunken Master-style monk, got really really drunk and approached by her god, Ahuiateteo, god of excess, pleasure, gluttony, drunkenness, to save a case of holy wine from some wicked smiling people who wish to destroy the god's temple and smash the booze. The party assembled and set out, working with the vague direction of Ayo's deity. They passed disturbing scenes of viscera explosions and desecrated shrines, arriving at Hillhaven, a city of frighteningly smiling people, worshipping a Smiling God. It is evident something horrible is going on here and that this religion is anything but good.
A few events preceded these but the establishment of the guild seemed like a good place to start.
Some persistent themes:
- The Weird Corrupts: everywhere the Weird touches is perverted by it. Strange infections spread. People are transformed into something else. There are worse things than death.
- The Weird Oppresses: human beings are caught up in the machinations of greater powers. They are subjugated by the Weird. Fear and despair force them to sacrifice humanity and morality. These arrangements seem to firmly entrenched to be easily undone.
- People cannot handle the Weird: human beings are not capable of containing the Weird. It always goes beyond their control. Artifacts come with curses. The Weird defies being made into tools for human use.
- Problems are too big to solve: players' usual desire to beat the world's problems to death is undermined as reality seems larger than the individual's capacity to command. They try nonetheless. These attempts are Quixotic.
As players become stronger, I do intend for them to be able to actually confront Weird Powers. Some Powers are not so transcendent that they cannot be slain with proper planning and research. I wanted to run a game where the players will be afraid of the world. It is a big and scary place and there is no reason for them to feel safe. Scared players are thinking players. I have endeavored to avoid presenting them with the same old fantasy stuff that they must be used to without losing the dichotomy between Mundanity and the Weird.
So far, I am pleased. The rules surrounding West Marches play is frustrating me a little. I feel like travel is still sort of disjointed from regular play and there would seem to be little I can do about it. I like how random tables drop hints about the greater world but it is also a little frustrating when players look at what you have presented and try to solve it like it's a self-contained puzzle rather than a piece of a greater whole. I feel bad for not being able to give them satisfaction for their inquiries which are all good inquiries and feel like they ought to be rewarded.
Prep for this game is a little hard even with all my cheats. I have so many dungeons which I need to write and so many areas that need random tables. But so far my prep difficulties have not had much of an adverse effect on the sessions so that's cool.
I also feel like I have given the players too much horror and not enough wonder. I billed this as being a little Studio Ghibli and that has not been the case so far. So far the world has been markedly unromantic and not at all quaint. Though Figarus Cornswallow's shack was a little quaint and so were the Ghiblins that answered some questions for shiny beads. Maybe the material is there but I just need the right session to show it.
Now if only I could stop rolling "Thick Mist" on my overloaded Encounter Die, that'd be great.