We finally had a chance to start First Dawn, the Earthdawn campaign that I’m running, this last Sunday. After talking to the players, we decided to start this campaign a little differently than our normal style. I wanted the characters to be more powerful than starting Adepts to rationalize their choice to be leaving their Kaer, but not all of the players were familiar enough with the game system to make more advanced characters without a lot of help. So to speed character generation and to help build a more cohesive group, we met a couple weeks before our first actual game session for a character generation session where the players would design their characters and personalities and I would take those and create stats later.
After giving the group the rundown of life in the Kaer and the different races and disciplines that they might have to choose from, everyone came up with their general character concepts. From there we began fleshing out backgrounds and motivations, tying the characters together while at the same time developing the Kaer where the game would start. Before the character generation session I had known what sort of overarching plot I wanted for the campaign, but I hadn’t imagined that the players would hand me the perfect vehicle to make it personal for them during character generation.
As it turns out, the racial tension is thick within Kaer Southhome. Of the five seats in the council of elders, two are occupied by dwarves, two by elves, and one by a human. The elves of Southhome live luxuriously with their small private community. Although pompous and condescending to much of the kaer’s population, they controlled enough of the Kaer’s resources to force the residents to deal with them for survival.
Meanwhile the dwarves were attempting to run an efficient, well-organized settlement. Unfortunately that meant allowing the general populous a more direct access to certain resources than the elves were willing to allow, leading to a conflict of interests.
Balance was maintained in the kaer by the single seat on the Council of Elders occupied by neither elf nor dwarf. While the dwarves accepted this arrangement and begrudgingly worked with it, the elves resented the situation and conspired to change it. The elves planned to frame Torvis, the human councilman, of Horror taint in such a way to imply that the dwarves were aware of the matter. They’d then use the support of the residents of the kaer to immediately replace the human and as many dwarves as they could.
The plot elements are pretty basic – a bid for power by one demographic in a culturally segregated setting – but the way the plot was created piece by piece based solely on information provided by each player when they answered questions about their characters’ backgrounds and personalities really drew it all together and made it personal to each character even more than I had initially expected. For example the elven elitism came from the the elf character’s player deciding he was going to play up his arrogance, then the rest of the group working together to determine why the elves of the kaer were so arrogant to begin with. Each question led into more exposition on the kaer until suddenly we had a plot. In addition by generating the character stats myself I was able to give each character strengths and flaws that I would be able to emphasize during the adventure.
These are the characters that we wound up with for this campaign:
Eltherin, elven archer. Eltherin is the son of one of the elven members of the Council of Elders and has lived with all the comforts his linage would imply. He’s only recently met the other members of the group, but his arrogance has already been noted by his traveling companions. Eltherin was assigned to the group by his father as a way to insure his interests were represented in the group.
Glenna, dwarven swordmaster. Glenna is more devoted toward the blade mastery side of the discipline than the social gallantry. Her master, Garas, found her at a young age and offered to teach her the discipline as a way to get her out of trouble and off the streets. Both Holthan and Thok were part of the trouble-causing element she was lured away from, which angered them as children. Now a competent swordmaster, Glenna volunteered for the expedition to the surface as a means to prove herself.
Thok, ork nethermancer. Thok is one of two nethermancers in Kaer Southhome, which is two more than any other residents would like for there to be. The ork’s lack of social graces does nothing to overcome this resentment, a fact he is aware of but doesn’t care to address. Only days before the expedition, Thok “accidentally” killed an Illusionist and joined the expedition to get out of the kaer before it’s discovered he was the murderer. Only Holthan, his childhood friend, is aware of his motivation for joining the group.
Holthan, human journeyman. Holthan is the group leader by default – the dwarves on the Council of Elders refused to allow an elf to lead the expedition, the elves on the council refused to allow a dwarf to lead the expedition, and no one wanted a nethermancer in charge. Holthan has assumed leadership reluctantly, although his protective nature lends itself to the role.
I’d love to comment on just how everything the players created fit into the campaign’s plot, but I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises for the players yet. Suffice it to say that I was very happy with how character generation worked out for the group.
Our first actual play session was this past Sunday, but unfortunately Ravious came down with bronchitis at the last minute. By the time I found out one of our players was already half way into his hour drive so the decision was made to go on without him. I don’t want to recount the entire session here – that’s what the campaign wiki is for – but I can offer up my comments on how the game ran.
I wasn’t 100% thrilled with my gamemastering this time around. I really wanted to improve my descriptions and in a couple particular instances evoke specific emotions, but I don’t think I was as successful at either as I wanted. I still concentrated too hard on what I wanted to be happening and less on the overall look and feel of each particular scene. The players seemed to express that they had a good time once the game got rolling but I’m just not satisfied with how I ran the game.
It never seems to fail – I plan out what I want to do and have some descriptions in mind, but once I sit down at the table I choke. It’s like I rush through the descriptions so that we can get to the next part of the game, whatever that may be. And that’s really a flaw in my opinion. The GM’s descriptions can really go a long way towards setting the stage and mood of a scene that if I wind up not fully expressing something, the players miss out on whatever I skimp on.
I hope that next session will be better. The characters are out of the kaer now, and I’m going to try and use collaborative scene building some more to try to help flesh each scene out more than I seem to be capable of doing on my own. We’ll see come Sunday.