Campaign Design

Welcome back, Willworker


“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”
― Robert Jordan

The benefit of being old is that sometimes you get to the point where you can reevaluate your history, and go back to the beginning and improve on it.

For me, the beginning of my drive to improve as a GM began with Mage: the Ascension (Revised Edition). And now, in 2018, the world has evolved so much from when I started with M:tA back in 1999 that it feels like a good time to come back to it.

Thankfully I backed the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: the Ascension, and I have a complete (if intimidating) tome of everything that’s worth knowing and coming back to.

Whose side are you on?

Now that I’m looking at Mage: the Ascension from the point of view of a husband, a father and a productive member of society, it’s easy to figure out where I can kick off a campaign: the Technocracy.

Don’t get me wrong, stories of the Traditions are still near and dear to me, but in this current point in time, I think the Technocracy has a lot of stories to tell in the games I can run for my group.

What do you believe in?

The central question of the game doesn’t change, except now you’re taking the point of view of the stewards of balance and stability. Innovation and such is all well and good, but in the end, humanity as a whole must benefit.

Given the number of interesting alternative viewpoints that have been given a voice and a community with the invention of the internet and smartphones, the Technocracy is suddenly awash with all sorts of problems. Diseases once thought all but eradicated are back in full force, dangerous ideologies flourish in communities that are geared towards incubating them, and ignorance has become a far more destructive force on the planet than it ever was.

We’re living in a world where everything has finally become political, and lines of battle are drawn and redrawn over rapidly mutating ideologies that fracture and fork into new strains, each with their own prophets and zealots each convinced to be superior to everyone else.

In my mind as a GM, there’s no better time to sit down with a group of players who are willing to dig into the heart of such ideologies and pick them apart and examine them than now. And I can only trust one game to make it possible.

[Campaign Planning 101] Part 2: Themes, Moods and Motif

Now Renegades are the people with their own philosophies
They change the course of history
Everyday people like you and me

– “Renegades of Funk”, by Rage Against The Machine

Welcome back! Today we’re talking about Themes and Moods. These are old tools that I’ve admittedly cribbed from the World of Darkness games, but I’ve found them quite useful so I figured I’d pass it on.


Themes, in the literary sense, is the main idea of a literary work. In the context of RPGs, a theme informs what the campaign is about. The events of the game, the way the conflict is structured and the kind of encounters that the players will find their characters in are all informed by this.

For my Mage: the Awakening game, I’ve decided to focus on two themes:

  • Family is Everything – Being a Mafia inspired setting, the Mage game will have moments where Loyalty is painful, and Betrayal doubly so.
  • Magic is a Drug – The temptation to use Magic is a constant in the lives of a Mage. While some spells are “harmless” there’s always a more compelling motive to use it beyond what is considered moral… But if you’ve seen the truth of the world and know that there are no Angels or Demons watching over you, then what’s stopping you?

Okay, so you’ve identified one or two themes you want for your game, now what? Well, if you’re planning your session, see if there are ways by which you can enforce these themes, either symbolically or directly. Maybe in this game an NPC that the Cabal loves like a brother betrays them in a moment of weakness, or the love of a woman, or some other cause. Or perhaps that “harmless” floozie from the other cabal is finally revealed to be in a constant haze because she’s been feasting on the dreams of those around her, driving them to misery and she just. can’t. stop.

That said, learn to mix it up so that you don’t end up sounding too preachy, or too heavy for your players.


The other half of the equation is the Mood of the game. If the Theme is the cerebral part of it, then the Mood is the emotional tone.

While Mage is often about power struggles, this particular game should be a mix of emotions. I want Mages to forge incredibly intimate ties with one another, to see each other as Family. Much like the Mafia movies, weddings and friendships are key moments that deserve their spot in the sun. That said, when the rain comes, it comes down hard.

The Moods for my Mage Game are:

  • Joie de Vivre – The exultant celebration of life. Mages have seen wonders that so many mortals never will, and it is because they hope to see it again, Mages cling to life with a ferocity that is unmatched.
  • Paranoia – The flipside of this is that Mages also live in a world surrounded by so many threats that it is also possible that a single misstep could cost them dearly. This Paranoia could poison friendships and ruin reputations or worse.


Here’s something that isn’t from the World of Darkness, but is in line with the Themes and Mood of a game. Being a game inspired by the mafia culture, society and conflicts, the game also carries some of its motif.

A Motif is a distinctive feature or element in literary work. In this case, I plan to give the mage game a strong 1920s’s art deco vibe. From fashion, to architecture to automobiles, there will be elements that harken back to the heady days of the Prohibition era. Cabals will meet in renovated speakeasies to conduct their business, wear snazzy pinstripe suits to high society functions and have jazz music playing in the background.

The setting will still be 2016 of course, but these elements will help paint the world and make it much more memorable.

So, what do you guys think of Themes, Moods and Motifs? Is this something you think you can use? Let me know in the comments!

[Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition] Pitch: Amalagam-X

In celebration of the first mini-con game I’ll be running this coming January, I’m putting up an early pitch for the game I’ve got in mind. A bit premature, perhaps but still fun!


Netrunner: The Hours Tick by Macarious

The world should have ended in 1999.

Since then, there have been no less than 37 other End of the World Scenarios that have taken place. But we took care of them just like we take care of everything else.

Welcome to Amalgam-X, a cross-convention team of Technocratic Union Enlightened personnel dedicated to confronting extinction-level events from whatever source. From the awakening of ancient slumbering proto-gods from the depths of the sea, to recent “weird” phenomena like Internet-propagating Mass Murder Memes, we’re always on the front lines keeping the end of the world at bay.

I’ll be running my first-ever Technocracy game for Mage: the Ascension, and I find that now that I’m older (and I have a child of my own), the Technocracy viewpoint is much more attractive than it was when I was a cocky young college kid.

2016 paints a different world of superstitionism and proto-occult belief systems, ripped straight from Creepypasta and the Dark Web. The existence of a continuously wired community becomes a breeding ground for demons born from the darkest elements of humanity and it’s up to Amalgam-X to stop these as they happen.

That said, I’ll be taking the Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary rules for a spin. First Impressions on an Actual Play of the rules to follow, I promise!

[D:tD Devil in the Details Campaign] NPCs: Virgil Security

Hey there,

I’m currently working on populating the setting for my upcoming campaign, so I’ll be posting some NPC dossiers for the various Unchained in Detroit. Today we’re starting with Virgil Security, a surprisingly capable Corporate Security Consultation firm that has been making a lot of business in Detroit’s corporate scene.

Dante [Psychopomp]

Dante is the Alpha-Male CEO of Virgil Security, and is the very definition of a old corporate pack leader. His chosen Cover is a 60-something causasian man, constantly well dressed in a suit and with a fascination for expensive designer wristwatches. His appearance is crafted to exude unassailable self-confidence that can cow even the most jaded working person into submission.

Dante runs a tight Ring of fellow Unchained, having gathered them for specific tasks, offering access to Cover contracts and the relative “safety” of numbers for their services. In time, he’d managed to assemble others that he deemed “trustworthy” enough to employ on a regular basis.

Dante’s company serves as his means to investigate shady individuals which might have connections with the God-Machine’s plans, and his agency has at one time or another been able to infiltrate Infrastructure to destroy or subvert it to their ends.

Mist [Messenger]

Mist serves as Dante’s right hand and is responsible for Virgil Security’s day-to-day operations. Her appearance is that of a thirty-something african-american woman with a body of a track athlete. She prefers to dress in corporate power outfits, but plays the good cop to Dante’s Alpha-Male role.

She was the first of his recruits, having proved herself as a very capable infiltrator. While he has the occasional issues with her penchant for going beyond mission parameters when executing missions involving the God-Machine, her usefulness has so far outweighed her occasional lapses in consistency.

Mike [Destroyer]

At first glance, Mike doesn’t belong in Virgil Security, but that’s exactly why he’s there. You’ll never see this 6-foot 8-inch blonde anywhere near the boardroom, you’ll certainly feel it when he’s sent to do a job for Dante.

Mike is the ring’s action-man, and revels in the chance to make mischief. His specialty lies in extracting information by getting his hands dirty with intimidation, investigation, dumpster diving and blackmail.

It [Psychopomp]

It is Dante’s hidden Ace. A professional to the core It understands the nature of the game. It has no preferred Gender nor does It have a consistent Cover. Dante pays for It’s services with Covers when he needs something done that neither Mist nor Mike should know about.

Soft spoken and dangerous, It is a very model of efficiency, and seems to have little in the way of qualms in doing work that would give Mike pause. So far, It has managed to do long-term infiltrations of organizations by hijacking identities wholesale just to get to an objective.

[Demon: the Descent] Campaign Planning: Detroit

I will admit that I’ve always been partial to using Detroit in games. I’ve used the city before as a launchpad for a Supers game, and I’m using it for my upcoming Demon campaign as well.

The use of the Motor City as a hotbed of God-Machine activity just seems right in my head. The Urban sprawl and abandoned locations make for good places to tuck away Infrastructure that will generally be overlooked.

Given the state of Detroit’s economic crunch as of late, there’s also a lot of the World of Darkness vibe going on, and giving a lot of leeway for Demons to get their jollies from the desperate and the foolish.

Of course, having never been to Detroit in person, I have to rely on research material and watching movies to get the vibe down.

The Supernatural Population

For this campaign I’m limiting things to the mythology of Demon: the Descent. Meaning I’m not going to be putting in Mages, Werewolves, Vampires or Changelings.

That said I MIGHT put in Hunters as part of the opposition.

The usual suspects are all here, from Exiles, Angels and Stigmatics, though I will probably have to think about the use of Cryptids as they seem a little out of place.

Other Demons

The player characters are definitely not alone in Detroit. The rumors that The Source can be found in the city have brought in an influx of other Demons who are all looking to get The Source for their own goals.

The Source

Perhaps the biggest macguffin in the entire setting for this campaign. Rumor has it being different things. A back door to admin-level access to the God-Machine, a get out of hell free card, a means to free yourself of the God-Machine’s plans forever, a way to gain control of the God-Machine and take it’s unlimited power for yourself. It can make miracles happen, and everyone wants it for themselves.


The Player Characters

Right now my players are going through the book to put together their characters. I’ll most likely run through their preludes to get a better handle of their characters.

So far Silver Countess has already come up with a character concept, and Mappy and Hikkikomori are already working on their characters as well. We’ll be getting new players on board as well so I’m looking forward to how the group dynamics shape up.

[Demon: the Descent] Devil in the Details Character Questionnaire

Today we’re looking at the character questionnaire for the Demon: the Descent game that I’ll be starting around February this year. Since this will be the first time I’ll be running Demon, I’m going to be paying closer attention to the characters that my players will be making.

Why did you Fall?

The Fall is a very significant moment in the life of a Demon as it was their very first act of free will. In a game centered on the search for true self-determination I’m going to be stressing the Fall a lot in character concepts as a source of triggers that will motivate a character forward.

What is your Cover?

A Cover identity is one that is bestowed to the Demon by the God-Machine to perform their mission. It is also vital for a Demon’s ability to avoid detection by the God-Machine. As Demons have the ability to change and modify their Covers like people change outfits, their choice of Cover can tell a lot about a given Demon.

Another wrinkle here is that Demons are expected to take care of their Cover identities. A good amount of time is spent “being” your cover, so that will put a limit on just how much time they can spend going all out in the hunt for The Source.

What is your first Key Embed?

Central to a Demon’s quest for freedom is the Cipher, a central truth that can only be learned once the Demon in question manages to acquire and activate 4 Key Embeds in a specific sequence to unlock. Player characters begin with their first Key Embed, the one that gave their Demon a clue that there was a path to follow, one that is there for them to discover.

Since it’s up to the GM to figure out and assign the remaining 3 Embeds of the Cipher, it’s important for me to understand why the Demon has the Key to begin with.

How do you know each other?

The baseline assumption of my campaign is that the player characters already know of each other to an extent that they will be willing to work together. In some ways, we can look to Ocean’s Eleven or Leverage for inspiration here. This particular Ring is together because they’re looking to find The Source and take it, no matter who, or what gets in their way.

What’s your role?

During character creation, I’ll be encouraging the characters to start building according to roles in a group. Much like a Heist, this game will do best if each member has a particular specialty for the job.

That’s it so far. I’m also starting some plans on just what form the Source will take, what it really does, and just who else might be after it.

But that’s for another post.

[Demon: the Descent] Campaign Planning

So after a bout of voting to see what I’ll be running after Legend of the Five Rings, the group has decided on Demon: the Descent. The pitch I used for the campaign is as follows:

Camapaign Title: The Devil Is In the Details

The Source.

They say it’s a back door into His mind. A direct line into the very being of the God-Machine.

Everyone has heard of it, but nobody has seen it, because the rumor is that anyone who has ever had it in their possession has disappeared.

But people still try.

Now you’re in the Detroit, with a Ring of your own. “Friends” is a bit of an overstatement, but you work well together and get shit done. Imagine what you could do if you had the Source Code in your possession?

Of course, you’re not the only one with this idea. Other demons, His Angels, and other, weirder things are all after a piece of the action too.

Time to call the rest of the crew.

Demon is a new game for me so I’ve got a lot of reading, planning and thinking to do. That said I’ve already been putting together a few notes:

Agendas, Public or Private?

Agendas in Demon are representative of the philosophy of a Demon towards their current situation. There are those who fight against the God-Machine and attempt to sabotage it’s works, while others work to understand it or come to terms with it somehow. It also strikes me as a very personal choice. As such, while Character Generation will be conducted normally, I’ll probably ask the players to keep information on their Agendas to themselves.

Demon is a game of espionage, and while the Demons of this particular Ring know each other, they don’t necessarily have full visibility about everything about each other.

Berserk Buttons

One thing I’ll be very strict with in the Demon game is the emotional / logical trigger that caused each Demon to fall. The Fall isn’t easy, it involves divorcing yourself from the very thing that created you by choice. As such this emotional trigger should still be a very strong source of motivation for any Demon. If they fell out of Pride, then I expect that story hooks that would hurt that Pride would rile the Demon to action.

While I could use this as a chain I could yank, I’d rather leave it to the God-Machine Rules Update’s new experience system to serve as a carrot as opposed to a stick.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Demon is also about maintaining a Cover, so I’ll be working with the players to see what their NPCs are like. No lone wolves here, because being hidden among humanity is their best bet at avoiding the God-Machine’s eyes.

There’s a lot for me to absorb in Demon: the Descent given that I’m still pretty new to it, but I’m excited. I haven’t had a chance to actually run much of the rest of the World of Darkness, so this is a bit of a golden opportunity for me to see if I really can run something else aside from Mage: the Awakening.

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