Hello, all! Your friendly neighborhood Karol here, with another peek behind the curtain as the team continues our exciting endeavors in the Fourth World. Last week Kyle examined what themes help set Earthdawn apart from the rest. But it’s a new week and I’m the captain now, so I’m going to take us through a closer look at how we apply that (and a whole lot of other ideas) to adventure design — and while we’re at it, I’d like to talk about a few different things we’re trying to help provide not just setting material, but adventure and campaign material for our hard-working GMs!
You may already know that a few of us got our start on the Earthdawn team through our work on the Legends of Barsaive living campaign. To us, Haven and Parlainth provided a great framework for storyboarding a larger tale that showcased some of the best things about Earthdawn. It had well-defined characters, plenty of juicy plot hooks, plenty of free space in which to tell new stories, and a tight, relatively self-contained focus in which those stories could be told. On top of all of this, Haven hadn’t yet been explored in detail in the 4th edition timeline (or since the original Parlainth box set), and we thought it would be a good opportunity to flesh out another corner of the game world. Just like that, Legends of Barsaive was born.
The series was only the start of our work with FASA and we’ve since had the chance to work on a variety of projects with the rest of the Earthdawn team. Adventure seeds, prompts, or other frameworks for presenting stories in some format or another end up in many products – and beyond. Our sister line of 1879 introduced spotlights on important characters, and we’ve experimented with the idea of presenting a fleshed-out NPC and a brief adventure outline for GMs who want to introduce them. And neither last nor least, Earthdawn has published big metanarrative-shifting events with frameworks that allow players to be involved in some or all of the action, such as with the excellent Prelude To War. All of these (and more!) are inspirations we draw from when figuring out prompts, adventures and even campaigns. In Fourth Edition, we’re trying to put these out to accommodate a variety of interest in DIYing it on a GM’s end.
The simplest of these is a quick sidebar with a basic hook for the player characters, followed by a few options for how that plot might unravel. This was something employed frequently in Elven Nations, embedded in the chapters that explored the different aspects of these distant elven lands. The intent was to take the inspiration that might already arise from reading through the content and give it a little bit of direction, but still leave things open for the GM to incorporate into their own campaign. To our team, this presented an effective way to present thematic adventures while giving GMs maximum freedom to adjust different elements as they need.
Along these same lines, we have included short prompts throughout our products. These could be setting a scene, noting a particular mystery in the game world or otherwise calling out a specific detail ripe for exploration by a GM who thinks it’d work for their table. In an upcoming product, we’ll be exploring taking this approach out on a longer horizon as well. The idea with this experiment is to offer an example of an outline for a possible campaign, emphasizing overall story beats over detailing each individual adventure.
Another approach where we go into a bit more detail can be seen in our Character Kit series provided through this very developer blog. In this format, we go into considerable detail on a particular NPC in the Fourth World, then provide some additional options for integrating them into your home game, including an adventure broken up into the individual story beats one can hit. This format can even include an item tied to the NPC, allowing for some more concrete elements to be added to your own tabletop adventure. In this way, we hope to do a deeper dive into a specific individual or story and provide a guided experience, while letting GMs still tailor it to the game they are running.
Another approach we’re going to be trying out is a more fully fleshed out story, introducing all of the NPCs, and setting up scenes and conflicts. The major element we aren’t including here is stat blocks and mechanical resolution of conflicts, because the goal is to provide a fleshed-out story to tell without making it specific to a single adventuring group’s power level. This way, if a cool new setting book comes out and a group wants to explore it, they have a related and nicely presented scenario that will accommodate them at any Circle. This will include hooks that help players further explore the setting after they get some grounding in it.
One that you may all be most familiar with (and that we’ve poured a lot of work into) is the Legends of Barsaive format, with a series of interconnected, fully-developed adventures (complete with stat blocks, Difficulty Numbers for various challenges, and a scene-by-scene setup, including narrative text ready for GMs to read aloud). These also build up to a larger plot, with some side adventures that help flesh out the locale, the people living in it and the tensions that simmer beneath the surface.
This is the most involved of the approaches, and provides a ready-to-play scenario for GMs with each release. While some prefer to have more hands-on involvement in crafting their own story and its challenges, LoB can be helpful for the time-strapped GM. Conventional RPG production wisdom was that consumers don’t want adventures — they want more background and setting to help spur their own story- and world-building. This wisdom also posits that GMs want new game information to help expand the options for characters at the table. While there’s still plenty of GMs who feel that way, others (and I know I’m among them) have quite a lot on our plates in life, and sometimes a prepackaged adventure is exactly what’s needed to help us get a game together.
The final approach, and one not yet seen in 4th edition, is what we’ve seen in Prelude To War: the campaign framework. This is an approach rather unique to Earthdawn and, while others have attempted it in the past, these projects can be very hit or miss. The rich setting and metanarrative of Earthdawn hooked me when I first dove into the game. To me, Prelude was a fresh, unique, and downright astonishing approach to adventure and campaign-building. Ready-made adventure hooks that all fit into a broader narrative, one that shaped the entire game world? This fits the Earthdawn ethos perfectly, and the frameworks provided an easy way to get a group of adventurers in the thick of the action. More than that, players would feel sufficiently epic in what they could affect in the world around them.
Our team has yet to really dive into this model. The challenge of creating sweeping narratives bristling with world-changing hooks is a big one, and not one we take lightly. To be sure, there will be changes coming to the Fourth World, and we’ve started talking about how to present the material in a way that is not only compelling to our fans, but gives multiple jumping-on points for parties who want to be part of those changes.
As you can see, we have a ton of approaches we’re working with, all tailored to a variety of GM flexibility and desire for prep. Expanding our setting and mechanical options is just part of the effort of growing the Earthdawn world and community, and helping our GMs with the stories they tell is another major component that we want to explore as fully as possible. There are countless hours of table time there and plenty of feedback that comes with them. If any GMs out there have feedback on these various projects, we’d love to hear it! We also want to know about your preferences and experiences that inform your approach!