Last post still fresh? Great. Let’s keep rolling.
So when we last left off, it was with the basics for an icon setup: 22 icons (a lot, but it’s not like I’d expect the players to internalize all of them), sorted into a neat balance with 7 heroic, 7 villainous and 8 ambiguous. The next step was clearly to give them archetypes, goals and modi operandorum. For instance, it’s always a classic to have a tyrannical warlord with fanatically loyal troops clad in lots of ironmongery, holed up in a thick-walled citadel and extending a steel gauntlet over whatever maps he has close at hand. That sparks lots of conflicts as players decide to defend whatever locales he’s trying to conquer, sabotage his war effort, or even join with him (though my players are usually playing heroic sorts and wouldn’t do the latter). Very useful icon; is there a card for him? Of course.
As I mentioned earlier, I already had my previous notes on what I wanted to do with a deck setting. I’d run through the cards, divvied them up, and attached generic fantasy mover-and-shaker archetypes with an eye toward who the players might want to work for, flee from, thwart, or engage in intrigue. For the sake of the exercise, here’s a summation of what I started work with:
- Comet – Card power: defeat monster, get reward. Barbarian king, then, someone roaming the borders wrestling monsters all Hercules-style.
- Key – Card power: gain magic weapon. This seemed to call for an artificer-type, someone crafting weapons and golems and stuff. A good ally, and people could fight over his works.
- Knight – Card power: gain loyal fighter follower. Between the power and the image, this seemed like a natural for the Defender of the Realm, someone sworn to a vigil of loyalty.
- Moon – Card power: grants 1d4 wishes. Someone mystical, maybe an elf queen or enchantress or something.
- Star – Card power: increases an ability score. This seems to speak to inspiration, so maybe a muse-type, someone associated with the bard/artist/swashbuckler archetype?
- Sun – Card power: gain beneficial magic item. Not inspiring! But it’s the Sun card, so this is probably your requisite priest figure, holy person, saint, what-have-you.
- Vizier – Card power: gain answer/solution to any problem. This has pretty much got to be the benevolent archmage to the paladin and priest I’ve already queued up.
- Balance – Card power: Change alignment: good becomes evil, etc. Maybe some sort of judge or magistrate, sending templar/inquisitors out across the land?.
- Fates – Card power: avert a disaster. Some sort of oracle figure, ambiguous where the Vizier is benevolent.
- Fool – Card power: lose experience, draw again. Not a lot to go on there. Jotted down the idea of an ogre king, some rash brute force yet not entirely evil.
- Gem – Card power: gain wealth. Clearly some sort of major mercantile power.
- Jester – Card power: Gain experience or more draws from the deck. This seemed to imply some sort of wandering trickster figure, sort of like the Prince of Shadows from the core book.
- Rogue – Card power: A follower betrays you. Immediate thought is some form of Traitor Prince.
- Talons – Card power: lose your magic items. I knew I wanted this to stand for some uncivilized primal figure, a druid or werebeast archetype.
- Throne – Card power: Gain charisma and a small keep. Sounds like an authoritarian emperor figure to me.
- Donjon – Card power: you’re imprisoned. So a tyrant, then, someone iron-fisted.
- Euryale – Card power: penalty on saving throws. This screams hags and curses, and I always do like using gorgons or hags.
- Flames – Card power: gain devil’s enmity. Clearly some sort of diabolist villain, a devil or a warlock of some sort.
- Idiot – Card power: lose intelligence. This tickled thoughts of sanity-blasting horrors, so some sort of nihilistic cult, maybe living in a sunken city beneath the deeps? Sure, could work.
- Ruin – Card power: lose all your wealth. I immediately thought “dragon,” something curled in the ruins of a city for a nest.
- Skull – Card power: fight the grim reaper. Every setting needs an undead lord, and here it is.
- The Void – Card power: soul is trapped somewhere. Reviewing the other cards I’d picked, this seemed like an interesting call-out for an explicitly subterranean menace, some sort of lightless kingdom below.
Now there were two things I wanted to do: assign some Russian archetypes, and create a sketch map of their territories. The reason for the first was obvious: making sure this all fit the setting. The second reason was so that I could properly have zones of conflict mapped out. For example, it seemed likely that the Comet (the wandering monster slayer) and the Ruin (the draconic King of Monsters) would have an instant rivalry, so I wanted their bases of power to border one another, probably on the far reaches of the realm. Similarly, I wouldn’t want the Skull’s deathless army situated so far from the Sun or Knight that either the Grand Priest or the Peerless Paladin would miss out on undead-fighting action. Another consideration was making sure the distribution didn’t mean all the heroic icons were clumped up in one point or all the villains were fighting each other for territory more than anyone else.
I didn’t really document the evolution of the sketch map, so you’ll just have to take it for granted that I crossed the finish line and had a distribution that I was happy with. (Though my favorite part of it was using those physical cards to lay out potential configurations on the dining room table before I started sketching terrain features.) The conflicts, though — now those are more easily shown in terms of progression.
Succession Struggle: We know that the previous Grand Tsar destroyed the capital (possible block-by-block adventure to come out of that) when he made the disastrous draw, and he went with it. I liked the thought of three rival tsars, one from each “alignment,” each making a bid to be the next Grand Tsar. I already had use for a tyrant attached to the Donjon card, so he became the Iron Tsar — a former nobleman and veteran commander who proclaims himself the only one strong enough to reunite the realm. There would have to be someone with a blood claim, and that sounded right for the Throne — the Golden Tsar, scion of the recently fallen dynasty. Who would my heroic tsar be? All of the heroic icons seemed married to other “day jobs” except the Moon — and I wasn’t really wild about the elf queen/enchantress approach anyway, so it seemed like something to adapt. I’d muse on this one for a while. At any rate, they’d need to be in three separate sections of the map.
Internal Threats: I also knew I wanted some classic villains that came from within the realm. That led to some quick notes like “Skull = Koschei the Deathless,” “Flames = mad monk?”, “Euryale = Baba Yaga”, and so on. These would be distributed a bit more closer to the center, and the fallen capital.
External Threats: And there needed to be things chewing at the borders. The Fool as an ogre king seemed to hold up; so did the Void as lurkers below, though both would need customization. The Ruin as a dragon — yes, that worked very well with Zmey Gorynich as a source of inspiration (and characters like Tugarin resembling its minions). They’d be distributed more around the borders, farther from the capital — except the Void, who could pop up anywhere
At this point I probably had enough to run something about as detailed as a default 13th Age game, but some of the archetypes weren’t quite clicking yet — I wasn’t sure about the Balance, I kind of wanted a heroic or ambiguous dragon, and, the Moon was still eluding me. I think where I was would be enough for anyone to run a fairly standard-feel D&Dish fantasy campaign. But it wasn’t Lokvan yet.
Also, I’d made the disastrous draw central to why Lokva was now a hotbed of adventure and intrigue. I’d wrecked the capital for a reclamation campaign possibility, and clearly pinned the responsible power on the deck. I’d emphasized that the cards made the icons (or rather, the Trumps), and it was clear that they didn’t give literal D&D powers — the holder of the Euryale, for instance, needed to be a mistress of curses, not someone vulnerable to them. So what did the cards do?
Ultimately, it came down to considering each Trump in the context of mix-and-matching a possible card power interpretation with an archetype. So, for instance, when I knew that the Ruin card would go to a three-headed dragon of great cunning and rapacity, it made sense to call the card’s power “Unmaker,” and tie it to bringing down the walls of the now-ruined city where it lairs.
Not all of them would be quite that easy. This is where a lot of the work would go — to say nothing of the fact that now it was time to start naming people and places…