Well, that didn’t take long! It seems like only a couple of days since I made noise about the new plans for Campaign Mastery… wait, it has only been a couple of days!
Having realized late in the day that there is absolutely no chance of finishing the first big article in time for publishing tonight, and quite possibly not even tomorrow, it was time to pull a Plan B out of my back pocket – in this case, a slush pile of campaign ideas (which I mentioned having in Monday’s article, you may recall).
Rather than taking the time to more fully develop one of them as a feature in its own right, I have decided to take the quick-and-easy route, and simply post all three ideas as a single article – requiring minimal editing and costing minimal writing time, which can then be invested back into that longer article, greatly increasing the likelihood that it will be ready to publish next week.
These were originally developed as examples to accompany A Vague Beginning, which was written in 2011 and published in 2015. So these ideas are all six years or so old…
The Frozen North – a fantasy / Pathfinder / D&D campaign premise
The existence of fire Elementals, the Elemental Plane of Fire, and the many creatures adapted to a fire-based existence, raises the question why there are no cold/ice -based equivalents.
The truth of the matter has been lost in the sands of time, or perhaps was never discovered: that there was once an elemental plane of ice but it was destroyed eons ago in a terrible war when the inhabitants attempted to conquer the prime material plane, bringing forth an unprecedented age of ice. All but a few of the Elementals of cold and ice were destroyed, and today they are a forgotten species.
Unknown to mankind, a few survive, secretly locked away in the Castles Of Ice of the Frost Giants, and in the lairs of White Dragons. It is by drinking the “lifesblood” of these domesticated slaves that these races attain their resilience and adaption to the cold regions they inhabit.
Also lost was the secret of what caused this attempted conquest to fail, but this is a secret that the PCs will need to discover, for one of the Ice Elementals has escaped during a tribal feud amongst Frost Giants, and it has slowly gathered an army of creatures that it has seized, converted into icy versions of their species (Ice-Elves, Ice-Dwarves, Ice-Men, etc). Now it is poised to once again walk the paths of conquest and revenge.
- Will the PCs suborn the slavery of an entire species – when the alternative is the destruction under walls of ice of their homelands?
- Will they seek the final destruction of a sentient species, condemning the Frost Giants in the process?
- Will the people of the warmlands declare war on the Giants – and how will the other races of Giant react?
- Will the old tribal alliances between them hold firm?
- What role will the manipulative and evil White Dragons play in these events?
- And – the biggest question of all – who arranged for the escape of the Ice Elemental and what is their agenda?
There are clearly questions for the GM to answer, but there’s no rush – let the campaign sprout and grow on its own from these beginnings, and wait for the cool ideas (pun intended) to show up!
Echoes Of Tomorrow – a fantasy / Pathfinder / D&D campaign premise
It is a truism to say “your whole life has been leading to this moment”, but there are those with a different perspective. The Anachrons believe that a creature’s life is but an echo of their true existence in the afterlife propagating backwards in time, and that this destiny shapes the mortal existences that lead up to it. It takes all kinds…
But there is, it seems, some truth to the Anachron philosophy, incomplete and bewildering as it may be, for the Mad Lich Luciferous has conceived a grand scheme to conquer all of existence by altering the past. Stealing and diverting the souls of those about to enter the afterlife with his foul necromancy, he has sent rapists and thieves and murderers to Heaven and the spirits of the faithful to the planes of Hell.
The innocent dispatched to the lower planes are easy prey for the vile inhabitants of those realms, while the gentle fields of Elysium have proven no match for the wanton cruelty of the wicked who were diverted there, and are now all-but-conquered. The Gods, whose province is the natural order, were taken by surprise by the machinations of the profoundly un-natural Lich, and are besieged and all-but-helpless before the Lich and his followers and minions.
And with each diverted spirit, the past history of the world changes, becoming more vile and corrupt, more in keeping with an existence in which the innocent are eternally tortured in hell by demons and devils, and the wicked and cruel are lauded in heavenly revelry, and the temporal power of Luciferous grows.
In desperation, the Gods have banded together to shelter a few privileged individuals (the PCs) from the worst of these changes, a last desperate hope for the past, future, and present of all existence. These privileged few have been largely untouched by the depredations of wickedness, only slowly becoming aware of what seems – to them – to be an ongoing collapse of society into barbarity. They are slowly coming to realize that to everyone else, things are now as they have always been. At last, they are ready to undertake the greatest and most desperate adventure of all time, the overthrow of an evil grown supernaturally preeminent over all of time and existence…
Unlike the previous concept, this one requires a lot of specific details still to be worked out.
What’s the mechanism? Do the PCs have to travel in time to the scene of various climactic confrontations to make sure they come out “right”? Or is the GM prepared to leave all that up to the players to figure out?
While the first campaign would suit a relatively structured GMing approach, like the one I use, this would suit a more improvisational style.
The Currents Of Space – a Space Opera / Sci-fi campaign premise
There are 23 perpetual motion machines with patents approved by the US patents office. Supposedly, one of the requirements is the provision of a working model. There’s a plot in these facts somewhere… but in the meantime, this is about the third time that I’ve used it as inspiration!
In fact, the problem with most such machines is that they consume more energy than they produce, if in fact they produce any at all.
The theoretical problems are harder to overcome, but they all depend on the definition of a closed system. So long as there is some source of energy that lies outside that closed system, perpetual motion – or something that looks very much like it to the layman – is easy.
The sun, for example, emits vast streams of charged particles. It would not be all that difficult to construct some orbital device that employed solar sails to convert some of that “lost energy” into rotational motion, just as does a windmill. The trick would be doing so in such a way as to reduce or eliminate the translation of that energy into movement of the collector as a whole rather than just the “blades” of our windmill – i,e, erecting our windmill on “solid ground”.
The lunar surface seems an obvious solution, as does the idea of placing asteroids into relatively stable orbits around the sun and then “coring” them to turn them into housings for our windmill blades. A relatively minor energy expenditure is needed for attitude control, making sure that the blades always face the sun.
Rotational energy can be converted into electrical power by a simple generator. The next trick is getting that energy to where it is needed – and, until recently, that has been a largely insoluble problem. As our battery technology has improved through research into efficient electric cars, however, it is becoming less of an issue.
This scheme is plausible enough that fifty years from now, if not a LOT sooner, it will be sufficiently viable that a pilot program would be undertaken. Let’s assume that it appears to be successful, and construction begins on a whole heap of these.
But that’s when the fun can begin. What happens to the solar wind? Does it keep going forever? or is it still gravitationally bound to the Sun, able to get a long way out before falling back? Perhaps a great solar current flows from solar equator out to the limits of the solar system before arcing back to re-impact the sun at the poles, twisted and accelerated by solar magnetic fields in a ballet of quasi-stability that has persisted for eons.
Our “windmills” would not only rob parts of the solar wind of some their energy, slowing them and causing them to arc back “prematurely”, causing a short-term increase in the radiation striking the sun, they would also quite likely perturb the smooth “flow”, creating turbulence within these slow-moving streams of solar wind.
There are two likely consequences:
(1) the sun suddenly starts to get a LOT hotter, effectively shortening its lifespan artificially. It would therefore expand in size. But at the same time, these returning particles have a lot less energy than they used to, so they would not be accelerated by the sun to the same degree on their next “loop” through the system – a potential domino effect in which the sun loses energy in the medium-term, slowly making it harder to sustain fusion at the core. A runaway cascade toward red giant status.
Then throw in the turbulence producing additional unstable “hot spots” within the sun, potentially blowing off additional chunks of the surface in solar flares.
Now factor in the human reluctance to grapple with environmental issues until forced, very reluctantly to do otherwise. It might take a thousand years, it might take ten thousand, it may take quite a lot less. It might take decades or centuries to convince the world that there’s a problem beyond the consequences of increased solar flare activity.
Humans have never encountered an energy source that we didn’t become dependent on. It would take rather less than decades or centuries to get to liking this new energy supply – a lot!
Shutting down the solar generators isn’t an option. What’s the answer? I’ll get back to that, shortly.
First, though, there’s consequence number (2). From time to time, at regular intervals*, one of those lower-energy turbulent ‘streams’ of solar wind would strike the earth. The interaction between the solar winds and our climate is only dimly understood at the moment, and the interaction between solar winds and the magnetosphere even less so; there have been some suggestions that this is a factor in the flipping of Earth’s Magnetic Field.
*Actually, it’s my impression that the frequency would rise and fall from an annual peak to an annual trough based on how close the planet is to the sun. But the rate of change would be relatively negligible; the Earth’s orbit may be an ellipse, but it’s a pretty round one, varying on a 100,000 year-long cycle from 0 to about 5%. Refer Milankovitch cycles.
So, what happens if the Magnetic Field flips? That’s not all that big a deal is it? We’re not exactly dependent on compasses any more. Unfortunately, it is a VERY big deal, as this article from Live Science makes clear.
How big a risk of that happening are we facing? NASA has detected dramatic weakening of the Magnetic Field, and believes that the next flip is no more than 1,000 years away – and could commence in less than 100 years (refer NASA Warns Earth’s Magnetic Field Weakening, Poles Shift Imminent). That means that it would already be teetering on the brink at the time of the deployment of our solar windmills!
Between these two consequences, we would be facing a catastrophic situation – one short-term, and one long-term. Suddenly, generation ships searching for a backup habitable planet and relativity-based ships searching for a replacement energy source become engineering necessities.
So, the campaign:
- Phase one, PCs attempt to build generation ships, battling cynicism and conservatism, while protecting both the ships and themselves from religious fanaticism.
- Phase two, different PCs (the same players) explore the universe in a desperate search for a solution.
- Phase three, the first PCs have to save as many people as they can when the magnetic field begins to flip (or begins to flip out, as some have described it).
- Phase four, PC group 2 encounter aliens who have a solution (steal one from sci-fi) and are captured. They have to escape, steal one of the aliens FTL ships, learn how to fly it, and get the solution back to Earth, where x00 years have passed.
- Phase five, the astronauts get back to Earth and discover how successful, or unsuccessful, PC group 1 really were in Phase 3. They have to transform this post-apocalyptic society into a state-of-the-art high-tech military powerhouse quick-smart, because the aliens are almost certainly hot on their heels.
- Phase six is the showdown, as the Astronauts and their newly-equipped soldiers have to fight off the aliens and establish human independence.
An unconventional campaign structure, but one that makes sense given the premise. I would have liked a third phase involving the first group of PCs in between phases four and five, but couldn’t think of one that didn’t violate the relatively straightforward continuity. Nevertheless, the first group of PCs would be with the second group in spirit during phase five, because it’s the choices made in phase 3 that determine what the returning astronauts will have to work with when the time comes.
So there you have it – three campaign concepts that need only a little TLC and creative juice from the individual GM to have them ready to play. The Big articles will resume next week!