Hello, Earthdawn fans! Karol here, back with some more musings on what we on the development team do, and how and why we do it.
The Legends of Barsaive team started out with a plan to provide quality adventures for a living, breathing story that our fellow Earthdawn fans could share in and influence. We chose Haven to highlight a fascinating part of Barsaive that we saw as evolving significantly across editions, an evolution we really wanted to explore. At the same time, Haven is a place that can cater to a lot of different adventure styles; it provides a mix of exploration, combat with monstrosities, and cutthroat politics worthy of a town in the shadow of Parlainth.
A key part of this plan was to set the adventures up for convention play and create a living campaign that showcased a lot of facets of the game we loved. Giving long-time Earthdawn fans a place to get together at an actual table and create new stories was important, too, knowing how global and far-reaching our community was. The LoB format shaped up pretty quickly, and we began ironing out the nuts and bolts, ready to take our show on the road and start playing with you all at every convention we could make!
Obviously, COVID-19 has put the brakes on in-person convention play, but our background work of advancing our Haven storyline hasn’t ended. We’re fast-approaching a climactic moment (and I think that’s all I’m legally allowed to say plot-wise), with major changes taking place in Haven’s leadership, the adventuring companies, and even in Parlainth as a whole. While we can’t share these developing stories with you face-to-face, I’d like to offer a bit of a peek behind the curtain as we come up with more exciting adventures in Haven.
The plans for the first season of Legends of Barsaive came together much as the plans for any campaign would. First we sketched out a general framework for a plot, then drilled down on how that plot could be split into individual story beats. We also wanted to explore some additional themes (foreign interests in Haven reflecting the 4th Edition status quo, as well as the internal politics of the city). Adventures touching on these issues seemed like a natural fit for our outline, so we made sure to include them as well.
From there the considerations began to diverge, so our thinking needed to as well! First, we had to contend with the idea that we’d never have the exact same table twice, or even people playing the adventures in the same order. Convention play also makes it difficult to figure out how a table can influence the story in the long term. The difficulty of building something with continuity and player agency, but that fit together in a flexible way was difficult. There was inspiration to draw from existing living campaigns, but we really wanted something that would be a tailored experience for Earthdawn fans.
Parsing out the adventures was critical, too–we wanted to make it possible to enjoy all of a new ‘batch’ of adventures in one convention season (if not, for the overly ambitious, in one convention). Rather than rushing out a full “season” and releasing it at once, this would let everyone who was following the overall story digest it more thoroughly before moving on. It also gave us the chance to incorporate feedback and our own observations to help us run the game better, and to account for future adventures. On a slightly more personal note, face time with our community is important to us, and we definitely hoped to see familiar faces coming back year after year. I can say with confidence that hope’s been realized (well, present year excepted) thanks to dedicated fans.
Another opportunity it provided was to interface with people who are new to the game (or just curious about it!) and wanted some hands-on experience. We’re obviously enthusiastic about the Fourth World and always happy to share that enthusiasm with others. And now we’d have an excuse to nerd out about Earthdawn with potential new fans! The ability to bring new people into the fold was too much to pass up.
But enough about the logistics… how do we get to the meat of the process, the actual adventure writing? Well, I’m glad you asked, because that diverges, too. The obvious first issue: timing. Unlike a home game where you can easily go long, or wrap up early and hang out, conventions mean predefined time slots, and that means making sure we can tell a self-contained story in the four hours we have.
Those who have run some of these adventures at their tables already know this, but each scene has an “average” duration noted. This acts as a guideline for the GM to help keep track of pacing, leaving some room to embellish a scene that the group is really enjoying, or simplifying one the group is struggling with or might not be as engaged with . It’s typically a judgment call for the gamemaster, but it’s one we wanted to help make easier when bringing a group of players around a table.
Another major concern was that, unlike a home group, conventions don’t offer the luxury of really knowing all of your players. You also don’t have an established group dynamic as you plot out a session or storyline. Our solution was to try and make sure that each LoB adventure, whichever you sign up for, has a balanced approach as far as the types of scenes available. Each will have opportunities for social engagement, skill tests, combat and, in some cases, puzzles available to players. This lets us engage players whose tastes differ, and give an opportunity for everyone to shine. This is designed to help tee things up for any GM who might run the adventure, too, but like the timing recommendations, this is just a guideline. If someone running a table finds that their group, as a whole, really engages with one piece of the story, we try to make sure it’s robust enough to embellish a bit and really satisfy the table.
Managing varying progressions along the season plot, as well as varying power levels, was another concern. We try to have hooks available for players who’ve advanced beyond a certain point in an adventure, just as we have them for players who are coming in fresh. Similarly, there’s some variability baked into the system for each of us to accommodate players who are still First Circle, while providing a challenge for those that have advanced as high as Fourth Circle. Luckily, the Earthdawn system makes this a bit easier than some other RPGs might, but we think we’ve done a fairly good job of creating adventures where new players and veterans can shine equally.
And then it all comes back to logistics. As GMs, we can never really get away from those, can we? Players love rewards, and we wanted their actions to matter for their own growth, and for what happens in Haven. For the former, it was a priority to plot out when thread items and their key knowledges would be available. These are a distinctive feature of the game, so even something as modular as a convention format would need to incorporate them to feel properly Earthdawn. Even if your introduction to a thread item is its key knowledge, you as a player can carry on that knowledge when you do eventually play the adventure where the item is actually received, so players who can’t play in sequential order won’t be penalized.
And finally, we try to look at how the elements of the adventure feed into Haven’s larger story. As we run the games, we mark specific decisions tables have made, as we preplanned for these to have impacts when the season wraps up. This is a critical part of the living campaign–while we run these at conventions, we want our tables to influence the story. It may not be exactly the same as your home game, but we wanted choices to really matter. And while I can’t reveal too much about how that will play out, I certainly welcome everyone’s conjectures about where the season is going and what it will mean for Haven and its environs in the future.
For those who are curious for more insights into LoB (and the exciting metaplot-advancing spectacle that is Empty Thrones), make sure to check out the Earthdawn Survival Guide Podcast. Kyle and Josh discuss some great insights into both in a recent episode. And if you have any feedback or speculation on Legends of Barsaive and adventuring in Haven, we’re always happy to see it!