Conceiving The Northern Isles

Saturday night was the first session of our new game. Three players and myself gathered online via Zoom to begin outlining the game we want to play. This morning, this vision began to crystallise into the new fantasy realm of The Northern Isles.

The most fruitful part of the session was the discussion around our intent and the goals for the game. We agreed:

  1. We are playing with the purpose of continuing to play.
  2. We are playing to increased Otherworld-immersion.
  3. We are playing with more focus on Character-immersion.
  4. The GM will bring as many rules as possible behind the screen.

It’s a grand experiment and it might not work… but we decided to give it a go nonetheless. We have committed to a bi-weekly 2-3 hour session on Saturday night (UK time) and we also decided it would be best to limit the group to three plus GM. I am the GM.

From here, we talked through our approach to playing and then scoped out some ideas for the World. Online, prior to the game session, we had voted for a technological level and landed at either Iron Age or Medieval. I pitched the suggestion of a late Iron Age (circa 400-600CE) setting with an Empire in decline. This was then fleshed out as we discussed magic, the religious parameters, the kinds of monsters and non-humans in the world, and questions around anachronism and horror.

At the heart, the feeling was for a Romano-British mythic tone with low or rare magic and a Church based upon the Christian Orthodox paradigm… but also surrounded by pagan mysticism and pantheistic traditions.

We agreed that we would stay away from Cthulhu-style horror and mythos but still have room for some weirdness, especially traditional undead (such as vampires, corporeal undead, and ghostly stuff). There was ambivalence towards demi-human species, so we decided they probably exist but are rare. This morning, this all crystallised into The Northern Isles as I sat down to draft some player-facing notes on the society of the Empire.

In terms of characters, the players decided it would be simplest – especially as we all learn to play with rules behind the screen – to work with a group of Paragons who are working to hold together the local Imperial civilisation. One player suggested a classic “fort on the borderlands” as a base of operations, so I have placed North Point on the southern side of the most northerly river the Empire is holding. Barbarians threaten to rise up against the invaders.

The challenge for me is in invoking the kind of realism and believability we are all craving while being able to run the game largely unaided by player knowledge of the game rules. I was relieved that, for the most part, the players expressed a desire to run a group of “fighter types” rather than worry too much about magic at this early stage. I suppose that, because I love magical stuff in my games, that leaves me free to introduce the arcane and divine at my own pace.

Overall, I am delighted to have begun. We have a fortnight to conceptualise and “role-up” characters for play. I, of course, have to do the actual builds as I put the player’s ideas into game mechanical terms. It should be an interesting experiment.

Game on!

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