PROLOGUE- I got asked to run a game after weeks of people going nuts over Mad Max so I thought that would be a welcome thing to shoot for. Avoiding going full Dark Sun meant the open ocean and a different kind of continuing apocalypse. I let the party design their own boat and they gave it beefy human Trogdor arms. I left a lot of this deliberately vague so I could fill it in as things came up but surprisingly little else did. The hard thing was remembering that since most of the fancy impressive DND races live to be super old there couldn't be any really super old elves or anything else like that, except occasionally and part of a bigger deal.
ABILITY SCORES- Much more forgiving generation than I usually do but playing to my audience.
RACES- I had been reading a lot of Arnold at the time so I struck Darkvision down and replace it with a feat. Trying to rebalance humans after that was a nightmare, first I way overdid it, then I scaled them all the way back to their default shape, then I think they ended up just a mess. Nobody tried to be a special weird race and nobody tried my new race alternatives. I was going to use some material I wrote a long time ago for the Mancrafted but I never got to the meat of that. I did make one custom race for a player who wanted to join but between my last minute cancellations and her last minute cancellations that never happened. Nobody brought me a 3rd party or DIY race to use.
CLASSES- I had a sorcerer who did not use my Wild Magic rules and a druid who would only occasionally forget that being a shark wouldn't keep her from taking damage but it was almost never an issue. Nobody went anywhere near any of these other classes. Nobody brought me a 3rd party/DIY class or asked for a custom thing.
ALIGNMENT- This never came up. Once you say "Don't be shitty and play your guy well" most people do not care about alignment either.
LANGUAGES- I wanted to test this out but nooooooobody remembered to do this. I even forgot about making this rule. So much for that.
BACKGROUNDS- I think half the party picked Pirate at first? Lot of swapping out though so maybe one guy still has it. Nobody made a custom background, brought in a 3rd party or DIY background, or asked me to make one. I was going to try to reinforce these with not only the aborted Goals system but also a deck of character Secrets they earned during downtime. Once the game went wholly online this became harder to remember to do so I just abandoned that plan. I need to write up the secret deck though.
ENCUMBRANCE AND GEAR- The money adjustment - why? That was sillier than Goals, just an attempt to suggest scarcity but not provide it. These other rules are a mix of LotFP and like Knights of the Old Republic and they are presented awkwardly but work fine. Nobody was way overpowered or over prepared at first level, it went fairly quickly.
MULTICLASSING and FEATS never figured in. I think the characters are only now level 4 or 5? I think they're 5. There was nut much mucking about with either and no issues arose.
SPELLS had a rule about how I didn't want to just strike cantrips (I should have) but wanted to cut down on a level 1 party potentially all having Gun Fingers. Don't think anyone took me up on it.
INITIATIVE went okay. It was not what most were used to but they adjusted. Especially once we moved online it helped keep things ordered.
SKILLS AND COMBAT well fuck me let's go down the list, eh? First one is a thing I took from Zak and then immediately at the table decided that unless I changed other things in the game to match this it would be too weird and unwieldy. The Stealth bit I nicked from Arnold and then everyone including me forgot about it. Both of these I think are a consequence of everyone playing much more 5e outside this game. Few people at the table actively sought out new systems but if we had begun with a brand new system I think they would have adjusted fine. It was because I was using these rules as a test case against a system they already knew and one that mostly worked. Oh right the crit deck, nobody used the crit deck. I should have just thrown it away or made it a mandatory draw, "this is how crits work" rule.
DEATH section is a minor adjustment to make getting knocked to 0 more deadly in a battleground or dungeon. When characters dropped to 0 they were usually rescued before this happened. One character died-died but the party had found a wishing potion so she's fine now.
LIFESTYLE, DOWNTIME, CAROUSING, WATCHES Oh boy. Roll up roll up and see me not only make Carousing overly complicated but also tie it to XP bonuses riiiight before I try to completely change the XP system. Also check out the silly mini game I made for Watches and then plunked into this thing. In less than a page this went from Fury Road to the Boy Scouts. So yes nobody ever really went carousing because they were mostly away from civilization for the last year of sessions (8 or 9) and nobody bothered setting watches because they were usually in the same place for much of that time: on an island surrounded by friendly and communicative bears. Elsewhile they were on the ship surrounded by employees to set on watch. ALSO I think I mentioned already - one of the characters was a robot.
THE GOALS SYSTEM Ok
o k a y .
THIS went balls fast.
FACT the 5e and late era dnd XP-tied-to-kills/defeats (as in you can murder the goblins or win them over with a baking contest but the xp lies in making them not an impediment) schema is not one I love. FACT the XP-for-treasure schema (which is ideally meant to encourage exploration and preparation and caution but turns sometimes less into where is the game meat, what would our guys do, and more where is the next level up at) is something I'm fine with really but which most of my players don't dig. FACT a lot of them played under "you level when I tell you" in a previous campaign (the Encounters/AL stagger model) as I have and I was never a fan.
So instead of doling out XP for showing up to a session or discovery/investigation/risk like Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies, or for showing up over time like Savage Worlds, or making advancement resource based like Feng Shui, or tying it to RP requirements like Encounter Critical, or whatever else, I decided to....basically take all of the above and put my players on the honor system.
If you're obsessed with coin and we get a haul ask if you can check off a goal. Set yourself a goal to learn every first level Wizard spell and tick things off as you find them around the world. Enter a drinking contest alone while everyone else is doing fightings. Ramble through the world interacting tightly during the big scenes but being more spread out and having more focused interactions or threads of isolated progression. Menda can get XP for getting girlfriends, Saxon can get XP for acquiring power and respect, Anne can get XP for freeing/healing/rescuing animals, etc. Put it in their hands so I can just run the game and never think about their concerns again. Maybe it wouldn't work as a general rule but I trust these people and I know they can put it together.
And they could have. But everybody was afraid of abusing the system or afraid they didn't understand it. So I added the clarifications that are there now. Still no luck.
Before those clarifications Scrap Princess shared the page with special focus on my amazing advancement system and then she and I got into it with Zak a little about how vague and story gamey and untenable this was. I promised both of them (and others) I would report back on how things went. It went not very well. I think simply providing multiple Advancement techniques for them to individually choose might have worked basically identically without the ambiguity of the Goals system. Or I could have just had them nut up and deal with GPXP. Maybe then we wouldn't be here a year later with their salvage company having recovered exactly 4 pieces of salvage.
There's something here that can work. This doesn't work. And I learned a lot from it. For a while there I simply tracked the party's Goal progress myself. With 4 weeks or more between sessions it was a lot to expect people to maintain track of. Life happens in between, nobody needs to retain that kind of thing. It's not practical, they have names and phone numbers to remember. Over time, though, with players unable to attend and rescheduling and canceled games popping up (more frequently after the move) I just started letting them level when I felt like it. It's not tied to anything apart from whether I feeeeel like they're leveling too fast and then I slow it down a little.
It's one of many ways in which I've evidenced unworthiness of the trust placed with me. I got actually asked to run this game and for their trouble I've just made them guinea pigs to half experiences and never even drew a proper map for the bear island.
The party fucked right out of the big hub city and took a gladiator bear back home to die, because here bears rise anew in the spring. The island itself was all fucked up thanks to invading pirates who had demon pig disease, cursed rivers, telephones to space future, madness, spiritual unrest, monsters passing as people, an awoken ancient evil who seemed way more dangerous than he was, and a vault which could have wrecked the world. The party killed a small demon, summoned and enslaved one demon, and fought another one. There were bear fights but there were way more pig fights. The characters all left the island finally changed in some way with the island itself basically ruined. It is currently home to an army of not-dead pig-morphing monster men and their pirate boar king who rides an enormous demon boar who grew out of a snake demon woman's back. Elsewhen during the year there were fights with seagull sirens, autoghuls, weird teleporting creatures dressed like metal gargoyles, a big bunch of potions, 100 skeletons, deadly balls, the horse god of sucking at things, the broken promise of gorilla sex, and about 23 mysteries they do not very much care about (I doubt they even realize they are mysteries and not just things they don't care about). They have a lot of dangerous magical shit and a whole load of money.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED
Looking back I don't know if there was one session where I really gave anyone my best. I was harried changing jobs then I was harried changing location and now I'm just harried. I haven't had my feet under me and they have had to settle for a lesser game, a game already burdened with my weird experiments getting in the way.
But they are having fun. B- me isn't too bad I guess. I have much about the world at large still to share with them but they're honestly not asking any questions about it so I'm not forcing my lore. I've gotten them into a proper dungeon here and there. They're solving things with their brains and with judicious application of money and tools and occasionally I make them fight actual monsters.
The scheduling difficulties mean in the months we play we end up playing close to 6 hours. It's not a lot to ask to some gamers but it's a lot for my group. Even if they could all meet more regularly now a year later I am currently in a place where I can't. I suspended the game until I am able to get back to Atlanta. Right before doing so I had a fantastic few ideas about a couple potential big moves so I really do want to get to those one day. I wonder if I'll be able to.
I can say that while they appreciate my style and the work I put in and all that jazz all the "let me make this special" shit I tacked onto the game has sat like a medicine ball in a rubber sheet. These gals and dudes would have had just as much fun with a more standard D&D setup. That's fine. Maybe eventually I'll do that. They already have the key to that experience and don't know it. But I absolutely made a blunder with this whole page. A lot of DMs make the mistake of demanding their players know a big book of campaign background. Some DMs make the mistake of thinking the adventure they want to run can only work like they want in some byzantine customized system where everyone has to learn new complex methods at the start and keep learning as they go. I just tried to make 5e feel like a new game but having to keep two sets of rules in mind for most important game elements means my sleek sports car game really just looked like the car Homer designed.
Finally I always hoped that somewhere in the interim I would have run some Whiskeyworld games online. That never happened. If I return to this with my extant players then maybe some day the outgrowth games will happen. Otherwise probably not.
I don't count the times as a kid when I was captive audience to rpgs and did not get them or enjoy them, nor the evening I pretended to be Cyclops but didn't pay attention and mostly just went JEEEEAN!!! So outside of that the first time I really started reading rpgs and reading about rpgs was about six years ago. There were a few things that prompted that, including links to recounts of +Jeff Rients's public play games and discovering +Zak Sabbath's site and a couple of friends who were into the hobby already doing a bit of outreach and answering a lot of questions. One thing I remember being an inciting incident for me was being linked not to those old Penny Arcade podcasts but the blog posts where the Penny Arcade Guy, who had similarly never given any of this the time of day, was (as a result of those podcasts I guess or maybe after just decades of prodding from the other guy, I don't know the timeline) dipping his toe in for the first time, making his own shit, and having a blast.
From within the hobby it seems like a lot of people want you to follow a manual like Ikea assembly instructions, do not stray from the path, playing the game is about encyclopedic knowledge of the legal code of the game, everything is very serious and very you need every book and you need all this special shit and you need to be somewhere on the five pointed star of genre emulation: Tolkein, Lovecraft, Howard, Shelley, Lucas. If it seems like that from inside the hobby I implore those of you who grew up doing this to imagine what it looks like from outside the hobby. It's not that "Clerics can't use a sword" or "+4 tohit gives a bonus to succeed at hitting" are hard concepts to grasp, it's that those concepts are only part of a language and system of sharing information kept willfully arcane and archaic. It's that each of those and a hundred other rules concepts besides have been the source of endless catechism and are taken as gravely serious as the Bill of Rights (or, for my foreign readers, the Eurovision song contest). If you never understood the appeal of some newschool games that's the honey pot in question: on their face they demand no secret handshake or countersign or history degree in order to play, just the promise that you can always just make shit up.
Outside looking in, it isn't always obvious that that's entirely true for every fucking rpg. Oh I think most people realize you can make up your own stories. Despite everyone talking about playing through the same adventures and describing their different outcomes there's not one neophyte with a gaming friend who hasn't heard stories about a personal campaign. Let me tell you about my guy, let me tell you about my world, let me tell you what I did to my players, let me tell you what my players did. If you're lucky then the person telling these stories actually knows how to tell a story and will focus on why you should give a shit. If not then someone will describe all the rules and rulings and cross referencing and combos and power builds required to make that story happen, and they will tell it with all the flair of a graphing calculator. From within you have to constantly reiterate that there's no wrong way to play while a sea of voices all shout from forgotten BBS urls about their own gospels, the only way truth and light. From without, all you hear is "no."
So it was something I understood academically but had never really formally processed that rpgs didn't just mean making up stories but also making up rules. Not in the system building fantasy heartbreaker way, although as a non gaming person I had actually TRIED to build my own systems before (reasoning that if I had to start from the ground up and master some science then it would be easier for me if it were science I invented). But the idea that you could take a series of rules that worked fine for the most part and take something you didn't like or didn't understand and say "How about this instead?" and have everybody be cool with it...no, larger than that, that you could construct entire scenarios not explicitly laid out in the rules without having to find other rules to graft on or without writing a whole big list of rules. You just make something cool, go "it works like this," deal with edge cases and bugs in the system on the fly, and everybody goes "Hey! Look at the cool thing!" It can be some weird styrofoam dungeon, replicating a video game style puzzle with dollar tree tools, rules about leveling or character options or making up wild new traps or complicated magical puzzles...
I've sat in on a guy's character one week at the store. He was killed without a roll for a GM's plot point, basically because I had to start counting down the drawer and it was the last session anyway. Completely out of any player's hands and not the character I'd have chosen to play anyway. I think it's fair not to count that one. Not my character, no decisions involved.
I had an unconscious character drowned by my party while I wasn't playing him. I think it's fair not to count that one. Not playing the character when he died, no decision involved.
I've played storytelling games where it makes a better story if my character died later from shitting himself too badly but by any metric the "game" was over by then. Death freed from consequence after all "action" had been resolved, willingly inflicted for a laugh.
I sat in on a couple of NPCs when I was working the shop, NPCs who weeks later kicked the bucket. One of them died while killing my friend's character in the above example.
I have been in many situations where I dropped to 0 or less and the intervention of fellow players meant I did not DIE-die. Magic moss, magic potions, magic prayers, stim-paks, whatever, close only counts in horseshoes and radiation.
I have been in many situations where I probably should have died but very forgiving death rules meant that I just barely made it. I mean, too forgiving, really, even though it worked out for me.
And I've been in a situation where I would have absolutely died-died if my compatriot did not own the world's most loyal parkour bull mastiff. This is basically a lucky draw on my part, a good story but without a direct hand.
I've also been in a lot of situations where I should have died.
My wife's Marvin the Robot (tv version) style droid skinning Lando Calrissian alive and wearing him as a suit only to die at the end of basically every single laser. Jumped off the ship in time, lived my life in jail but survived.
Turned myself into the planet and blasted off through space away from the new singularity.
Saw my party trying to wake up some awful 40K elder god thing and just stole a jeep and went to the airport, another lifetime in jail.
I've played with DMs who pulled their punches because they prized the story above other concerns. I've played with DMs who simply hated character death on principle and tried to avoid it. I've played with DMs who would have killed me a dozen times over if they didn't keep forgetting my guy's special bullshit abilities. I have been in situations where I should have died but I had some bonus to my hare brained scheme because I was playing so 100% true to my guy. I've played in games where I probably would have died had we ever actually finished the game. I have had a near death experience just to speak with the gods.
I've ended many a game at 1HP like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I have done soooo many things that should have absolutely killed me. Counter to that I have also hid, skulked, waited, even cowered when appropriate. I have gone insane or been frightened and forced to wander off before everyone died. One consequence of joining an existing game (like a FLAILSNAILS game) is that a lot of characters are more powerful than you and the dangers are scaled for them, meaning my warrior who might have been in front ranks is now in a more supporting role, contextually shielded by a wall of power and steel even though I am doing my very best to stay useful. Sometimes it's just a matter of playing at a large table where the damage gets spread around enough that we 7 survived what 5 would not have. One time I hid in a pile of shoes to get leather armor.
I did have a very close DM with whom I talked at length about suiciding not because I was sick of my guy but because I thought it would be really cool for the group and for his story and etc. Toph correctly reminded me that it's HIS job to be really cool for the group and my job to play a cool guy (as a compulsory Nick Bottom type I always need someone willing to sensibly rein me in; I'm not a fan of suiciding characters but I had a cool idea for a death scene and let that override my good sense, temporarily forgetting that WE are here to play a GAME, rather than ME being here to tell a STORY), so we tabled it and the game fizzled due to scheduling before we ever revisited it.
But I have never made a character who died while I was playing them, especially not as a consequence of a decision I made. I have been often cautious, sometimes canny, never truly craven, and through some mix of craft and chaos I've never DIED.
Pickup game with +cole long. Brand new character in a Conanish coastal raider type game. I'm not intimate with his rules enough to discuss at length but basically played like "Honey Bunches of D&D." A couple of long lived characters in a party of six or so, mixed warriors and wizards. I was of course ZATAN-GOHR, sorcerer's apprentice.
Zatan-Gohr, who looked like the old Ming the Merciless from the original Flash Gordon serials. Zatan-Gohr, who was in black and white. Zatan-Gohr, who did not take any offensive spells because of my personal MU ethos. Who on learning they traveled to the tower alongside a cannibal companion made it his mission to become BEST FRIENDS just in case. Whose Unseen Servant helped force open a door we didn't actually need to open because there was no goddamn roof, only to have its invisible ass blasted toward the horizon like Team Rocket with the breaching of a magic seal. Zatan-Gohr, who could not throw flammable oil for shit, whose attempt to Indiana Jones a snake monster around the mouth merely resulted in whipping the floor, whose incongruously Southern manner of beast taming left him with lungs full of poison and a Strength and Dexterity of 3. Zatan-Gohr did not own effective ranged weapons. Zatan-Gohr cowed dogs and then ran away. Zatan-Gohr could not throw caltrops for shit.
Sure I could have played with more caution. Sure I could have had all the fighty characters do the fighty things and tried to otherwise stay invisible unless my 1 spell was required. Maybe I did a bit of that but maybe I also feel like playing the game and being devoted to your guy involves more than only the smart thing to do according to numbers. Sometimes it's about taking enormous chances on risky gambits. I've survived those time and again by the skin of my teeth and I've failed way way more only to have my bacon saved by someone else. And every one of those stories is a better story than "I played it safe to make it to level 2, now I can do anything at all TWICE in a three hour session!" I do not hold with this. I do not do anything halfway. I believe in subtle, I love subtle, but the game (and yeah the story) is really won or lost in BIG.
Which is why
when the crystal behemoth chopped me with its sword
and crushed my ribcage
I took so much damage that I not only died
Breaking My Death Cherry
and setting a personal record
I also set a record for Cole Long's game
and became The Killedest Man of All Time.
Even in death I was Zatan-Gohr.
My response was to shrug and make a new guy. No game is about your guy, the game is about the game. It's not even about ME, because a 20 session veteran (or some ridiculous number like that) got failed-save incinerated before I had finished rolling up my new guy. Dennis' response was to SHRUG AND ROLL A NEW GUY. I have never died but I have never feared death. I believe to my core that death is a positive result, that any "how I died" story is better than any story of rules exploitation or Timely Natural 20. In all rpgs we set our own win conditions and the opportunity to roll up a new guy is a FANTASTIC prize, especially since I've never met a player who didn't have four other kinds of character they wanted to play. Cole and Dennis understand this the same way the cannibal watching the camels did.
I died doing what I loved, playing the game balls out, playing a Conanish wizard as a foaming little bulldog lunatic who understood that great reward only came at great risk. Eventually the dice come up 4 and you bounce off the wall and rock candy murders you and your dying words convey that it's okay if your new best friend eats your body. That you were Zatan-Gohr. That doesn't mean you never try to be amazing even if your numbers think you're stupid for doing so. You are the boss of those numbers, not the other way around.
I should have died. I bloody well deserved it. But that's because I earned it. I have no regrets nor fear of death. Even my new character Dohrcoarç is, in his own way, Zatan-Gohr, with his very first act being to put himself in death's way in order to hook something through the eye. If rpgs have a failure state it is chiefly being afraid of failure. I die because I choose to win.
Maintain eye contact at all times with eyes shining like red-black opals
Flare faint puffs of smoke from your nostrils
SPEAK AT MAXIMUM VOLUUUUMMMME
Sing a disconcerting prayer chant about intestines
Drool like a dog and foam at the mouth
Speak in a language no one recognizes
Okay it looks like you grew about 14 pounds of hair and it's trailing behind you like a tail
Reek of burning death
Turn your skin chalk white, a little lightning storm of bright blue veins braking up the perfect alabaster
Go berserk at any mirror you can see until you can smash it
Ceremony of Flesh Tea
At level 3 your unarmed strikes also do fire damage in addition to bludgeoning. This will also let you set flammable things aflame after holding them for one minute. The target also carries a noticeable mark of your touch for a day.
Dead Saint's Fingers
At level 6 your unarmed strikes also do necrotic damage in addition to bludgeoning and fire damage. This also lets you kill anything with less than 1 HP by touching it, like a normal silk worm or a flower. Just for giggles. The target also carries a noticeable mark of your touch until the next black moon.
Moon of the Harvest of Hearts
At level 11 you gain two of the following features:
Resistance to fire damage
Resistance to necrotic damage
As an Action you may cause a target who suffered fire or necrotic damage since your last Action to suffer an equal amount of damage of the same type. You can use this a number of times per day equal to your Strength bonus, minimum 1, and regain all uses after a long rest.
Targets of your attacks also carry a noticeable mark of your touch until you die.
Devil Breathing Way
At level 17 you can shift the life energy of Moon Slave coursing through you into an unfit vessel. As a bonus action you may end one of your resistances granted by Moon of the Harvest of Hearts. your next successful attack does an additional 25d4 damage of that damage type. Targets also bear a noticeable mark of your touch even upon their very corpse, beyond your death and their own, a mark visible by moonlight.
We all have campaigns we want to run some day. The danger becomes holding onto those like the fucking Precious. This has so many horrible side effects...
You end up miserly hoarding all your best ideas for a genre or system for the unplayed campaign.
You come to places in your other games where these ideas would fit in very naturally and escalate things superbly but won't use them, making an active decision to ankle the game you're currently running.
You end up putting off running something in that genre/with that system because you don't want to do a lesser version of your eventual grand designs.
This probably means you just never end up getting that to your table.
The longer you take without running it, the more it is built up in your mind. That means you're always chasing moving goal posts.
That means you end up doing more and more work for something that never happens.
There are good reasons to hold on, stick it in there, tough it out, and maybe one day live to run it. But you risk becoming that person who takes their own lore/the game's lore so seriously that they can't enjoy running it unless everyone else appreciates it on the level you do. All of these we risk.
I say surrender. I dearly believe that any game you're playing now is better than The Game You'll Play Someday. Any time spent playing is better than time spent not playing. Fielding any character, just A character, is better than wasting time worrying about making the perfect character, or saving a pet concept for a rainy day. You are playing or you are waiting and they are not role waiting games.
(I guess Maid is sort of a role waiting game but that's a different sense of the word and there's a whole social differences at work and cultural implications and oh I almost forgot fuck Maid just a little.)
I'm not saying give up on that game ever happening. I am saying give up on you ever doing anything with it. Release it freeware. Let the world use your code for something great. Because maybe I get to finally play the fucking game I wanted to play.
Maybe someone who did not care about this system/genre will be attracted by your ideas and be compelled to give it a try.
Maybe they won't but they will find your ideas cool and then they will find you cool. Coolness is an importance currency but it can never be banked or given, it must only be earned and it must always be earned.
Maybe they will run a game like you wanted to run and you get to play in it. Maybe they even use your cool ideas.
You have freed yourself from the shackles of your awesome albatross, so you can just fucking run a game and have fun, guy.
You can focus on putting your work where it's needed and actually producing something, be it a published text or just a Good Time on Friday.
The most shameful thing, too, is that when it comes time to surrender you will realize how much of your work was in an unprofitable area that nevvvver was going to be useful at-table or maybe never come up. Maybe you even realize how little you actually had accomplished for this dream scenario, or that you just aren't the person to run this. I'm not half the DM that most DMs are so I'm pretty sure anybody reading this would run a game I'd love to play. I mean, they already do! Maybe they would also do that but with ghost tigers! I don't know, guys. I think it's for the best.
A FENG SHUI CAMPAIGN
i demand to play in
The year 3X3X and the dominant culture in the world is a post-Chinese empire with major Egyptian, American, British, and Japanese grace notes. This largely came about after a probe built by these empires - itself one node of a star bridge - connected with not one interplanetary culture but a multi-culture. Received as a field of thought they were not embraced or lifted up. The response was basically, "Come and get us. Here's how to do it."
The Empire has basically been leapfrogging planets. This is done using the power of geomancy and chi and shit. You are born attuned to the world you are on or perhaps you were always so strange because you are not in fact attuned to this world. In order to travel to another world you must still yourself and align your chi with the biome of another world. This is a dangerous process requiring attunement to your fellow travelers and to the target planet at the same time and, as such, leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of cosmic danger unmoored from space and time. Living bicycles. Radioactive goblins. Jiangxi vikings. Much stranger things, like electric dread and ghost math. The geotravelers visualize their journey like a path through an enormous branching tunnel made of shining danger and the distractions of history.
Great towering domes are filled with geotravelers whose bodies have slowed their metabolism to the point where they barely breathe, their hearts barely beat. They are tended by gardeners who treat them like celebrity heroes. If they have fought their way through the 'netherworld' between worlds and survive their attunement then they find themselves on a new world. This world has been shaped by powerful geomancers already, turned into a living, vibrant world by people reaching back in time for as long as the planet has been. Once the geotravelers have attuned they advance (like attuning to Feng Shui sites in the normal game) and compose themselves a second body out of the life force and potential energy of the world. From there, if they so desire, a geotraveler can make their way to a forest cloister, sacred temple, iron fortress, or wherever geotravelers gather on this world, center themselves, clear their mind, and project themselves further outward into the stars. World to world to world, one mind concentrating across many bodies and worlds.
If you fail to attune you snap back to the world you last attuned to. If one form is destroyed you lose your attunement to that world and must re-establish. Again it works just like feng shui sites in the base game. There are outer forces at world - the extraterrestrial consciousnesses that favor the Empire's ascent or oppose it or only favor it on certain terms. These constantly interfere in the great journey across the Infinite Steppe.
Now as excited as the Empire is to ascend and as well regarded as geotravelers are IN GENERAL there is opposition within the worlds of the Empire as well. Part of this is because of the carefully curated chauvenism enforced on each new geoformed world. While the Empire is looking forward to being the big swinging cosmic dick they don't want to forget where they have come from. To that end the different branches of the Climbing Tree have the fruit of history. Some blooms have matured into reflections of different periods from Egyptian, American, British, or Japanese society. Most, however, and the ones most germane to the campaign, represent different periods of Chinese history.
Mars is our first stop on the way to Everything. Red Mars represents the Maoist China of the 60s. The next lily pad you leapfrog to is in the constellation Ares and it reflects the Qin unification. So on, so forth. Technological anachronisms for the world's period are forbidden. Different archetypes are reflected differently in the game, or not: a Ghost for example might be an actual ghost, or an echo of a geotraveler who didn't survive the attunement and only leaves a faint impression in this new world, or an extraterrestrial energy form, or something else weirder. Drivers may be experts in the vehicles and conveyances on the world they come from but they might also be starship pilots, maintaining routes between the geoformed worlds and satellite colonies mining moons or local asteroids or whatnot, killing pirates.
So junctures and juncture penalties and feng shui sites and attuning burning and space travel, all that shit becomes the same thing. Some archetypes might be specific to one world. Sometimes a historical revision may come down from the Curators of each world and everything shifts according to the new information. Perhaps some geotravelers are little more than auditors for authenticity, history cops. Then there's the question of whether the ascent, the great journey, is anything of the kind. What are we going toward, who are we climbing toward, and is there anything we might be running from? Perhaps even forces outside of this sphere wish to impede and divert our energies. Maybe a player manifests in one way on a given world and a different way on another. Maybe a new world brings a whole new type of animal and therefore a new type of transformed animal! Maybe there are different local zodiacs holy shit....!!