I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

A certain desire to “hack” the game seems to exist in almost every player and DM I have ever known. I think it might have to do with one’s imagination being sparked, but others may have their own ideas about the phenomenon. When I began developing Faerie Tales & Folklore, along with its pseudo setting, I had this desire to create the most open of an environment as possible. I hoped to pen a set of rules that allowed players to take the basic building blocks provided and run with the possibilities found within the game. In this blog, I aim to have a little fun by detailing how the game’s many modular bits can be used to create a wide array of unusual, if not amusing settings.

Faerie Tales & Folklore has decidedly literary roots to its implied setting. To accommodate this, I devised a few simple subsystems that aid in maintaining this feel. One of the most useful is the idea of optional “plot points and themes”. With these tiny bits and modular rules, one can quickly modify the game to fit any era from the Stone Age to the early 20th century, while adventuring through settings as diverse as the alien worlds seen in the Alethe Diegemata and the otherworldly realms found in the Poetic Edda or the Divina Commedia. Below is a list of fun and often strange ideas for settings, or whole campaigns, to use in your Faerie Tales & Folklore game. (Continued below)

1. The Mead Hall of Valhöll

So… You want a game with more of a high fantasy feel? Try setting a game within the Odin’s mead hall in Valhöll, or Valhalla. The most important rules to focus on here are those of the lower realms of the Otherworld. In this setting, nothing dies permanently, this allows the players to get very rowdy, if such an experience is desired. Technically, all the players will be considered dead, this can be both true (thus useful in situations of a TPK) or simply the mystery of the current campaign, as in “How did we get here and why are we here?”

The plot point “Unbelievable Stories” (page 604) becomes a lot of fun in this setting as telling tall tales while drinking mead in Odin’s hall just sounds like a bang up idea for one crazed set of misadventures. Other good plot points and themes to use are:

  • “The Greater the Risk” (page 565), this adds an extra incentive for players to get exceedingly brave.
  • “Sporting Events or Games” (page 560), this provides a little non-combative fun to fill in the holes.
  • “The Search for Home” (page 536) and “Wandering the Otherworld” (page 546), are important as they can be used to solve the mystery of how the players arrived in this place (if that is actually a mystery).
  • “The Impossible Task” (page 543), This can offer the players a way to remedy there current situation.

This fusion of ideas offers a lot of “meat and potatoes” style blood and guts gaming. It can also be used to create a lot of mystery and truly heroic experiences. With some basic changes to where in the lower realms the players end up, this setting is very useful if the whole party is killed but the group wishes to continue the original tale. (Continued below)

2. Children Vanishing Into The Otherworld

This setting/game idea is best used in more modern campaigns (from the 16th century on) as it is focused around the difficulty of getting adults into the Otherworld. In this setting, players will be searching for lost members of the community (most specifically children), who have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Concepts such as the mundane versus the otherworldly will play a central role in such narratives. As is common within the settings of Faerie Tales & Folklore, one of the primary issues a group must contend with is how they are to cross the veil (often repeatedly). This type of tale can also be turned on its head and played from the point of view of the children who are either hiding from the reality of their lives in the mundane world, or are being held prisoner by some villain of an otherworldly nature.

The central plot point here is “The Innocence of Youth” (page 580) as well as the rules found under the heading “Intoxication, Near Death, & The Veil” (page 289). In fact, all of the rules pertaining to the crossing of the veil are very important to such games. Other plot points and themes that benefit such narratives are as follows:

  • “The Curse of Geas” (page 536), using such an idea as why the children are disappearing offers a tasty mystery to hook the players into a larger tale.
  • “Changeling & Shapeshifting” (page 543), the use of the classic changeling as the antagonist can by a very effective surprise twist when the group slowly uncovers who is behind the kidnappings.
  • “Waining Wonder” (page 563), this is important for all games set within later eras.
  • “Dust” (page 577), this can offer another way to cross the veil more safely, and procuring some is an adventure in itself.
  • “Bad Form” (page 580), this offers a way to keep a game more child friendly, which is useful for versions of this tale where children are playing the children trying to escape (or possibly not be caught by the adults).
  • “Weird Science” (page 601), this plot point offers yet another possible explanation for how the children are crossing the veil and who might be behind the whole mess.
  • “The Unseen Enemy” (page 603), this is a wonderfully fun plot point to drop into the mystery of why the children are vanishing… Who among the townsfolk is ferrying the children across the veil and why?

This narrative idea works well for an ongoing game as it pulls on most everyone’s basic emotions. Either taken from the viewpoint of children escaping the real world for the wonder of the magical, or adults seeking an otherworldly foe who is kidnapping children within their community, this premise offers all the biggies: fear, wonder, mystery, and all the strange of youthful imagination. (Continued below)

3. The Frozen Earth

This marks a truly alternate setting by using the rules of Faerie Tales & Folklore to simulate life within the era of the last Ice Age. Depending upon how limited, or close to reality you choose to make this alternate setting, it could be teeming with mythic beats and all manner of spirit, or of a highly reduced variety of such threats. The later idea might confine encounters to other men, animals (including great beasts of a more animal nature: dire beasts, etc), and little else. In games of this type, the rules for “Obsidian & Stone Weapons” (page 557) and “Hazards of the World” (pages 277 through 279) become crucial in maintaining the feel of this era. At this point in history, the veil would be at its weakest. The mundane world and the otherworldly are very close during this time and the lack of large concentrations of common men keeps travel to the border realms relatively easy at any time. Other plot points that can prove effective during this setting are:

  • “The Search for Home” (page 536), this provides a good survival style theme for a whole clan of early men in a struggle to find a worthy home.
  • “The Impossible Task” (page 543), this concept can work with “The Search for Home” (above) to create a truly epic feel in bringing one’s people to some form of “promised land”.
  • “Failure” (page 551), is a good tool to balance the search of some aforementioned “promised land”, possibly requiring the group to find a more realistic solution.
  • “Heroic Sacrifice” (page 556), in any survival based game the idea of a heroic sacrifice becomes a staple of good narrative.
  • “Bloodline of Renown” (page 559), seeing that religion was just as primitive as the cultures of early man, ancestor warship was common, making this plot point very poignant.
  • “The Unseen Enemy” (page 603), this plot point is always useful in survival settings, be it a plague or a conflict of leadership, it can add just the right amount of tension.

A campaign set during this period offers great ways to set up the beginnings of the great conflict of Faerie Tales & Folklore, the mundane versus the otherworldly. By playing off both a sense of wonder and fear, it should be relatively easy to set up the roots of the conflict in a natural feeling way. Even the differences in the lineages may be enough to prompt deep suspicion and xenophobia. If a narrator wants to add some horror to the campaign, try adding a “contagion zombi” (page 450) to the scene, be it animal or man. This addition can create a very tense, campaign where trust is a commodity most cannot afford. (Continued below)

4. Death by Dream, or The Sandman Murders

An often told tale that fits well in early modern campaigns is that of a killer capable of murder through one’s dreams. This is primarily accomplished through the use of the spell “dream” (page 107) which remains on the list of allowable spells when using the theme “Magic in the Modern Age” (page 574). As much of the otherworldly narrative will occur in the dreaming realms, all of the available rules for the realm of dreams should be kept close. In this type of narrative, the rules modifications provided in the major literary work “Dracula, 1897 CE” (page 567 through 576) are very useful. The players might be officers of the law and/or spiritualists looking to catch the otherworldly murderer. This narrative can be quite fun, as it blends the possibility of full blown high fantasy tucked away in a very low fantasy world. Horror, crime drama, and mystery may be included depending on the desired tone. Other useful plot points or themes for this bit of storytelling are:

  • “Ally From Enemy” (page 533), this provides an interesting way to introduce players later in the tale by having them undertake the roll of a previous antagonist or by introducing a character is an antagonist in the beginning (such as an skeptical officer of the law).
  • “Revenge” (page 551) perhaps the killers motivation is just this simple.
  • “Waining Wonder” (page 563), is a consideration due to the time frame.
  • “Weird Science” (page 601) offers an additional possibility of how the killer might be entering the dreaming realms.
  • “The Reality of Insanity” (page 602), this plot point can be a result of, or the actual source of the killer in action (or perhaps it is just people losing their minds). In any event, this concept adds to the sense of confusion and distrust of one’s self within this type of campaign.
  • “The Unseen Enemy” (page 603), the use of a modified version of this plot point in this scenario is almost a given.

By switching the setting to a sanitarium and things can get really interesting. Again, through the use of the rules for “The Reality of Insanity” (page 602), the narrative can become truly twisted. With enough patients suffering madness, the sanitarium could become an “Otherworldly Bridge” (page 524). In this variation, a narrator can really bring a sense of high fantasy and horror to a modern environment by utilizing the dream realms in combination with insanity. The characters could even be made patients within the sanitarium, adding the rules of being a “Heroic Outlaw” (page 555) and the reality of not being believed by any “sane” person. In such instances, “The Search for Home” (page 536) could be used to simulate the trip back to sanity (or from the Otherworld back to the mundane) as the mystery of the killer is slowly revealed. (Continued below)

5. Let’s Go Full Metal Wuxia

The Faerie Tales & Folklore system can also be tweaked to accommodate the classic wuxia style narrative. If a tale of this sort is desired, two of the most important rules to become familiar with are “Unarmed Combat” (page 355) and the qinggong practitioner presented in the literary work of “Shui Hu Zhuan, 1110 CE” under the heading of “Magic & Miracles”. From this base, a large number of additional rules become valuable. By mixing various parts of spell casting, spontaneous casting, and hybrid casters, a wide range of martial arts stylings can be achieved. The high man ability of “wirework” (page 33) is particularly useful for wuxia styles (qinggong powered leaps, etc.), as is “impervious” (page 30) for iron shirt type effects, and defining events such as “renowned drunken pugilist” (page 85) can further help realize many of the wuxia tropes. Spells can be used to imitate Taoist talismans and spontaneous magic can fill in most of the remaining gaps (including ideas such as dim mak or dianxue). If you happen to need an animated suit of sentient armor, just have a spirit possess an automaton. There are a few other plot points and themes to consider for a wuxia type narrative:

  • “Ally From Enemy” (page 533), this is a common narrative in many martial arts films and stories.
  • “The Heroic Challenge” (page 533), another common plot point, “find and beat the five masters” as an example.
  • “Unbelievable Stories” (page 604), can offer a sense of braggadocio such characters tend to display and this same rule can be used to play fights out in the minds of potential combatants (a somewhat reoccurring theme in wuxia).

The era in which the tale is being told will obviously change a lot about the setting, though it is important to know that wuxia/martial arts abilities are not affected by “Waining Wonder” (page 563), or any of the other rules that curtail magical effects.

6. The Eternal Champions

This idea was used during the writing of Faerie Tales & Folklore. It is based around the concept that the characters are reincarnating heroes who return every so often to face some great threat to both the mundane and otherworldly realms. During testing, each player choose one of the literary works toward the end of the tome as the setting for the story they were to tell. As the campaign progressed, the players would take turns acting as the referee, thus also switching the very setting and era of the story. Under this model, nearly every aspect of the rules, as well as all the available plot points and themes will be utilized at some point. For the sake of simplicity during the game the following ideas were implemented by all the players involved:

  • When a character, or villain, gained a level, that level applied to all the various settings run by each of the players. This prevents a large amount of unnecessary bookkeeping and aids in speeding up each transition. It later came to be decided that, for the purpose of explanation, that a character’s thread of fate worked both ways through time and space. Thus that which affects the past, also affects the future and vise versa.
  • Each player kept a modified version of their character that took into account the various modifications for each era and setting. Once the initial work was done, this allowed the players to quickly alternate between the settings when a new player took over as the game’s narrator.
  • In this type of campaign, it is a good idea for all the players (and thus the narrators) to be somewhat on the “same page” as to the overall arc of the story. Each player is of course allowed to develop their own plot lines, etc. but the greater story should have some form of unifying thread. Examples of such threads are: an organization of evil that extends through the ages, a rogue defied spirit bent on causing harm to the mundane world, or perhaps an artifact that controls the very flow of time itself being used to nefarious ends.
  • It is a good idea for each character, and villain, created to be, in some plausible way, a member of each setting the game will occur within. While limiting, this creates a sense of believability that is important to the greater storyline. For example, if a player wishes to create a Celt from the British Isles, it is a good idea for such a heredity to exist within the other settings (even if the connections are strained).

A campaign using this concept is the most universal of the ideas presented herein and as such, defining individual plot points and themes is essentially moot. The entirety of the game’s rule structure, including any optional rules are likely to be used at some point in the game’s evolution (hence its use during play testing). This style of game is great for a group who either cannot decide on a single setting, or one that enjoys a wide range of potential experiences under the roof of a single campaign.

I hope this has been an amusing look at the potential breadth of settings available within the Faerie Tales & Folklore system, along with how one may use the rules to achieve a desired setting. As can be seen, the existing rules provide an extensive set of possibilities within the pages of one, albeit large, book. In truth, this article only scratches the surface of what is possible with a creative narrator. It has been my intent here to act merely as a spark for others to build upon, to create a set of rules that simply allowed a game’s narrator to realize the types of stories that inspired them and their players. If you find other interesting settings within which to conduct your own games, please tell me about them in the comments.

Go out to your own game tables and challenge expectation. Keep your players guessing and foster a sense of wonder. Above, all enjoy the full expanse of the imagination, it is possibly our greatest tool.

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