Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Campaign Design: Part 2 Deeper Dive

Main Topic

So in the last show about this we touched on 4 Topics today we will be diving into 2 of them with a bit more detail.

  • Discovery/Exploration:

This is a classic example of the “Look over the Hill” campaign.  Here are two examples of a Campaign designed around that theme:

  • GuardaManger (Fantasy) – There’s No Place Like It


This campaign will have a Theme of “Home”.  I want to design a campaign to have the players ask themselves what “Home” means to them.  An exploratory campaign style means they will be away from home and I can focus on the idea of relationships and circle back to home by means of the NPCs and tempting the PCs to stay where they quest.  

The basic idea would be to have them either hired or inspired themselves to go over the hill on the edge of the map looking for spices or trade goods.  This provides the entry to have a reason to go, and come back, as well as to ensure there is conflict for them to stumble into.

Person – Travin: Troublemaking itinerant merchant

A recurring NPC can be helpful.  Since the PCs will be heading where they don’t know and looking for additional items to explore, an itinerant merchant can be a great NPC to provide counsel, either good or bad, equipment, and hooks to other stories once there.  An ex-patriot form their own home, a somewhat conniving merchant named Travin will pop up often. Travin is a wiry, even lanky, person who manages to always have his fingers in some sort of deal that is almost too good to be true and, as an outsider between all the locals, can be used to dispose of stolen items easily.  A good source of information and of trouble in equal measures.

Place – Ghulla: Rough hewn mountainous shoreline full of treasure and unknown civilizations

For the best natural resource options, I am going to make it hard on my PCs by using Argentina as a guide for the area they will explore.  A fantasy setting means they have more limited communications and a mountain ridge right against and ocean should provide not only resources either mundane or magical to be harvested but also would let me isolate communities to create conflict between them as the PCs face the difficult climate and travel to explore and map this region.

Thing – Ghulitta: The Ghul Trees that seem almost to calcify once cut from the Ghulla soil

The thing here I believe is best suited to be the resource.  I am envisioning something that presents like a natural resource, but I don’t want it to be ore – specific and special trees inspired by real Ironwood trees instead seem like fun.  These majestic trees are as easy to fell as any other tree, and to process, but within a week of it’s harvesting, it becomes hardened and resistant to damage – light as wood but hard as metal.  Part of the campaign will be about these trees and uncovering the mystery behind them, if the PCs desire to. The thought I have here is that one of the gods of this world fell to the ground here, shattering the coast and leaving the rough hewn environment. These trees are the god of the planet’s extensions – every piece of this wood is an extension of the planet itself. This means that rather than the god being dead, it can be alive in the ground, and perhaps be brought back if enough of this wood is brought together.   

  • Zendead (Super Heroes/Modern) – Seeds of a New Age


This is a spin back to the older days of Supers and what happens when you have group of powerful beings turned back into civilians. Then flash forward to the children of those beings. As the are coming of age in the wake of the atomic age. Sure you have powers and they are amazing and you are not only learning about what you can do, as well as learning where those powers come from. Is it something that should be dug into or as the saying goes “let sleeping dogs lie.”


Iron Tower is the code name of the man that led the old team of heroes. Now he has seen better days and likes to remember the good old days through those rose colored glasses. He may hold more secrets then all of the parents combined. He was the first Mega to be paraded around like a monkey for the war effort. He has been through more hellscapes of the battlefield then anyone man alive today. He has a chest full of medals and a head full of bad memories. He only talks about the good ones the 5 or 6 he can still remember.


The Octagon is the headquarters of the Megas that are still working for the Feds. It is located near the Cheyenne Base in the mountains of Colorado. It is buried deep underground in case the bombs fly and the need a location to work out of to rebuild the great US of A. It has all the newest tools and toys to help in the protection of democracy. As well as the files of how the first generation of Megas came to be.


3 as it is called by the creators is the 3rd attempt at AI. How well did it work it is more like a really fast calculator that has been able to help figure out where the next hot spot is going to blow up. Not a personality in this thing just a bunch of computers running what they hope will be able to make the connections the team needs to get ahead of the Russian threat that is growing in the world.

  • nulloperations (Speculative Fiction) – Mapping the Psyche


The idea behind exploring the inner world of the mind let’s a campaign run through the realms of memory, imagination, and untold hidden beliefs. Exploration turned inward, transitioning hidden truths into metaphorical constructs and dangerous foes, the psionic delver takes tools many games already have and turn them into interesting scenarios to explore.

Person – Dr. Irene Abbasi

It was her work that made this all possible. Healer, comforter, brain mechanic; they are all names she’s been known as. Her technology is what allows us to go into the worlds within, to battle the wars we hold in our brains. Her work has brought back coma patients, helped treat depressions, and have allowed so many to deal with the dark seeds of their past. Her therapies have changed the world, but not all uses of her technology are so noble. There are those who want her secrets, and they will not take no for an answer. You know how to use her machine. You know how to step into the mind and find the hidden truths and lost memories. Step into hers. Find out who did this and help us save her.

Place – The Mind Palace

The mental landscape varies from subject to subject, and the Mind Palace is a realm of organized possibilities. Like a museum, this construct hides its secrets in plain sight. Travelling its vast corridors is easy, but taking the time to dissect the meaning of each artifact, token, image; that all takes time. An avatar needs to be careful while moving about, keeping the psyche of the subject focused on particular wings else the mind can wander and different memories will demand attention. Beware though, as the Mind Palace is a place focused on preserving memory. Attempting to alter the displays, or reveal things the displays are meant to hide can break the mindscape and trigger a cognitive dissonance episode. The guards tolerate explorers as patrons, but they do will not suffer admittance for thieves and corrupters.

Thing – Mental Apparatus Gateway

The machine comes in two parts. First, the cradle. It’s a cage that surrounds the user’s head and when activated causes their body to go limp as they are brought into their own mindscape. From here, they can access the second part of the MAG. The Projector, which must be used by a third party, allows the user to leap to another’s mind. Here things get more complicated. Only the first target needs to be subjected to the projector as the avatar of the user can then travel from mind to mind as the subject of the projector focuses on other people. In this way, the avatar can explore different mindscapes, but the power of the signal is based on how well the person knows the next subject. Images and public knowledge of someone isn’t enough. They must know them to truly provide a clear path.

  • Metaconflict:

Sometimes, it is fun to have the players caught up in a larger battle or war between different factions.  The Metaconflict theme can encompass that handily as players take actions that have an impact far outstripping their own immediate control.  Epic battles of good versus evil, or the machinations of empires through their agents both witting an un.

  • GuardaManger (Espionage/Modern) – Cat’s Paws’ Paw Cats


I’ll take the classic, but often unused genre of espionage games for my metaconflict campaign.  Here, I am going to look at a larger theme of losing humanity to match up with the scale of the campaign theme.  Maybe next time I’ll do counterpoints. Here, I want to push the PCs to make harder and harder decisions, especially ones that may hurt people they have met or a town or country generally.  While doing that, I will unveil piece by piece how their actions are part of a larger attempt to instigate a small war or skirmish between countries in the name of the greater good, but with horrifying results.  

The Campaign title comes from the setting of a preserve for big game cats.  You see, the best spot where there is instability to be exploited happens to also have jungles and big cats prized for their hides and feared for their ferocity – lions, and tigers, and jaguars oh my!  This means that the PCs will have a place where there is potential danger as well as a reason for their covers to be easily.

Person – Sergei Klatvonic: Covert operative for the Gray Horizon

Sergei is the recurring villain and big bad of the campaign.  Simply put, she embodies what is being railed against by our players.  The Gray Horizon is what happened when members of the Vory left their criminal organization by joining with former Soviet military groups in the fall of the Soviet Union bolstered over the past few decades with similarly dispossessed individuals.  The extent to which they have a finger in international sovereign and corporate espionage can chill to the bone people who study such things. Sergei’s goal to instigate a small border skirmish or larger conflict is actually about disrupting the market valuation of the investments in the country.  When the valuations drop at just the right time because of instability, the markers that the Gray Horizon will call in should allow them to effectively create a new front to wash and launder money as well as take considerable legitimate actions. Sly and dangerous, Sergei’s goals are usually three steps away from where she is, tended by trusted lieutenants while she distracts those who may already know about the Horizon.  

Place – Johnson Endowed Sanctuary for the Preservation of Predatory Felines

Look, everybody is loved by somebody and Mr. Johnson loved giant predatory felines.  After a lifetime of being an industrial tycoon, Mr. Johnson donated greatly in his last few years of life including turning his private getaway into a sanctuary for big cats.  Because it was an eccentric tycoon’s vacation house, there are little features here that may surprise – the sauna and whirlpool that abuts the lion’s area; the secret passages between the rooms; the state of the art surveillance system; and the absolute abundance of wet bars in the rooms.  It is a lovely place with a significant endowment and a lot of feline themed design. Where else in the world will you find such a wondrous place, and stuck between two countries that seem destined to war is a minor inconvenience for saving and protecting these majestic creatures.

Thing – The Red Phone: A Hotline to the Top Brass

How soon you want to break the metaphorical glass and call in the reinforcements should haunt the players.  How soon they reveal their own actions in this tangled web should give them pause. Or perhaps pride, as Top Men, holds their hand.  Either way, The Red Phone, a code to use in any telecommunications system, will connect them securely with the top brass at home, waiting for a report and also able to provide support … if the funding came through from the government this year.  Is it worth the chance to call? Could you tank a career on this bet before you are sure what is really happening?

Zendead (Sci-Fi) When Worlds Collide


Deep space exploration is a staple of Sci-fi. What happens when you get out there and you walk into the center of a galactic conflict that happens to be not physical in nature. What if you find beings in a spiritual battle for the minds of all sentience. The crusades of old got nothing on this war. The Calvorians think the way to win this is by logic and only logic. The Gal know the way to win is the power of the mind to change the world.

  • nulloperations (Regency Fantasy) – Shattered Crown Part II


I’m cheating a little for mine. In April I brought you the conflict known as the War of the Glass Dragon, a Regency era meta-conflict that outlined a war of succession between two siblings of the royal house of Coelmunr. The conflict focused on the aftermath of the death of King Nazerai the Third by the shattering of the artifact known as the Dragon of Midnight. The characters’ place in the realm varied from attempting to gathering up pieces of the Dragon of Midnight to supporting the king or his usurper brother. The meta-conflict here set the tone of a war-torn country, and danger around every corner as participants would never know what side the players really stood on.

Person – King Nazerai the Fourth

“I killed my father. He was weak, and his rule was a plague on this country. Foreigners owned land even here in the capital, our armies abroad were starving, and diplomats entreated my father to let them sap our mystic legacies so they may empower their armies against us. Even now, my brother stands with these foreign powers using our traditions against us. I could not stand for it then, and I will not stand for it now.

“I regret the other deaths; but a ruler must be decisive. The Dragon of Midnight was a perfect vehicle to deliver the killing blow to the traitors in the court, but the weak king’s death was my goal. I only wish the artifact had reformed as expected, but now it’s pieces litter my kingdom like magical weapons waiting to be harvested. So, while I send my sorcerers to the border to protect the lands of my barons, I send my soldiers throughout the kingdom to find the shards. I will cement my rule through the gift of magic, and ensure weakness never returns to this throne.”

Place – The Palace of the Stone Claw

The seat of the house of Coelmunr rests in this mighty palace. Sitting high above the cliffs over the capital valley, the palace can only be approached by air or through caves found deep below in the city. The cliff ledges are too jagged, and years of magical protection have made the landscapes around the keep untraversable. It’s not a particularly large palace but its form of bladed stone and scale covered walls inspires the notion of draconic fear in the residents of the capital below. The castle is built around the large courtroom in its heart, but the artistry of this space has been marred by the charred remains of the explosion that ripped through it two decades ago. While the shards of the Dragon of Midnight have long ago been removed from its pillars and walls, the slashes made from the glass death still scar the stone.

Thing – The Writ of Nazerai

While the words of kings are powerful, those in the land of the Shattered Crown carry literal magical weight. The Writ of Nazerai is a powerful token presented to those sent on direct errands of the king. It provides a boost in moral authority against all those who dwell in the land, whether they be loyal to the king or not. Only members of the royal house are immune to its effect. Only twelve such tokens exist, and their ownership is tightly controlled. Finding one and returning it to the House of Coelmunr comes with great reward to those loyal to the crown. Finding one and using it to support a usurper, however, carries a danger as all commands granted by the writ will be known to the monarch when the writ falls back into their hands.

Stat Blocks

Zendead-  The Gal-Dura

In the beginning the quiet was nice just you and your thoughts. Then those thoughts and more random ones surfaced. They all came crashing in, some fast, some feeling like it would take forever to get to the end of it. Then the fears washed over you. Fear of inadequacy is usually the first but each person that undergoes Dura is different. Therefore each passing through is different. For you the fear of your parents was the first to surface. The Dura while individual is also archetypical of the journey to deeper knowing of the self. Which to become a Gal or “one that delves the realms” you must have undertaken this test of self.

The presiding Gal has only placed you in a cold iron box. Some take days or up to a week to make that first dive. It takes you into the first realm, that of the self. Later if you can come from the first dive without losing yourself then you will get to make dives into the deeper realms. Now why would you do all this since at any point you could not awaken from a dive. The power of course, the power to shape the world around you.

Guard-a-Manger – Periwinkle’s Perfectly Prickly Permanent Pear

Periwinkle’s Perfectly Prickly Permanent Pear is a rather interesting magical item.  It resembles a pear, but has a sheen about it when encountered as though dipped in paraffin to preserve its near perfect symmetry and beauty. The Periwinkle Pear does not resemble it’s mundane versions though – it is delicious beyond description.  Juicy and flavorful with a sweetness just slightly undercut by a sour note so you don’t feel overwhelmed, it can provide succor enough for a whole group of 6 for a day as both food and water.

The permanent side of the pear is the precarious part – precocious even. If the adventurer were willing to plant the pear, and pursue a domestic life tending it, the pear could provide for everything needed. A tree of fruit, good enough for all and any, that never dies, never succumbs to the elements or pests, always flowers, is an untold amount of riches.  But does a staid life as a gardener suit you? Does the chance to retire, knowing others will covet the tree leave you thinking twice about those precious seeds you found inside the pear?

And what are you going to do about growing those prickly spines?

nulloperations – ARe U In? (Concept, Tech) from City Block 5f-4

It’s a hard hack of the Aug Visors. A smart network that looks up profiles, addresses, and cross checks them against known and current moods. The algorithm was made by the kids over at unit 5f-Under H, and a couple of the minders toss them creds to keep it up to date. It’s a little friendly detector; lets us know who’s level with the street and who’s an outsider at a glance. If you want in, you gotta get our votes.

Now the read is this: once a week it flushes the numbers. The movers on the network send out a list of folks they’re speakers for. Related folks get random up down votes on ’em. Folks like ya, they’re gonna up you. Deal shit and they’ll out you. Too many outs and the network bans you. Puts a mark on ya that lets everyone know you’ve been dumped hard. People around might still do business with you, but they won’t think you’re safe. They won’t cut you a deal. They won’t trust you.

Let me do an introduction, let you meet a few folks. Be kind and you’ll get the vouches. If you’re just here for a bit of work you’ll fade from the votes, and just get deleted from the network rather than banned. Cause trouble and every face you meet today is going to turn against you for the rest of your days. You’ll not be forgotten.

So, are you in?

Fitting ARe U In? In

The software is an opt in hack the locals use to track their social connections. It’s a reputation system that reflects how people treat each and the community’s general opinion of them. It’s a tool the players can use to track if they’re causing waves or if they’re doing right by the npcs around them. It’s also a way to learn who the community’s enemies are. On a micro scale campaign focused on working within a small section of a city, the tech works for an in-character way of tracking where players stand. On a macro scale campaign, versions of the software can allow players to track their progress throughout a city. When used on that scale, let players see the overall opinions of them based on groups, not individuals.

Joules – The Meandering Dreams

“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’, and hook up with them later.” – Mitch Hedburg

This is an excerpt from one of the “The Monn’s” digital seminar.  (The Monn is an online sage of sorts. Offering insight and advice on being fabulous in the digital age)

We’ve all experienced it.  Stumbling through life with no direction, no drive.  You have no idea what you want to do or where to go. It is such a frustrating phenomenon.  So what happened?

Hate to say it, but you’re part of the problem there, sonny Jim.  Fullying dedicating yourself to the constant firehouse of information, meaningless stimulus, and the pablum time sinks of modern day have made your dreams lonely and starved for attention.  You actually expected your dreams to hang around after that level of neglect? You’re more delusional than I thought. Dreams need attention, time, and nurturing before they grow, develop, and eventually manifest into reality.  Without all of that, dreams just wither and die. And a part of you dies with them.

But now?  Your dreams are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.  Electronic media in all its forms gave your dreams a means of escape and the possibility of finding a new home.  They attach themselves to media that compliments their essence and wait. Eventually they’ll come across someone with a drive and a passion that matches their nature and bingus bongus, they’ve found a new home.  Cue the overdrive. You see, your former dreams were starving and stagnant for so long. So, when they find someone willing to focus on them and nurture them, they grow, expand and develop with a speed and ferocity that’s nigh impossible.  In essence, your dreams became the equivalent of digital muses on steroids for somebody else. That’s why, in this day in age, big names from a variety of categories seem to come out out of nowhere.

You know when you feel insanely jealous and resentful of somebody for achieving what you dreamed of doing but you still can’t muster any motivation to do anything about it?  And all the while you feel empty inside, like you lost something? That’s the reason.

So how do you keep your dreams?  It’s simple really. Pay attention to them.  Focus some time and energy on them. Feed them.  Keep them part of your essence. If you do, your dreams will grow, change, and evolve alongside you.  They’ll help define you as much as you mold and shape them. Your dreams represent who you want to be, the ideal version of you.  So do whatever you can to realize your dream and be that person. Especially if that person is Batman.



Definition of shorn

past participle of SHEAR

Shear  verb

\ ˈshir  \

sheared; sheared or shorn\ ˈshȯrn  \; shearing

Definition of shear (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to cut off the hair from

b : to cut or clip (hair, wool, etc.) from someone or something

also : to cut something from

shear a lawn

c chiefly Scotland : to reap with a sickle

d : to cut or trim with shears or a similar instrument

2 : to cut with something sharp

3 : to deprive of something as if by cutting

lives shorn of any hope

— M. W. Browne

4a : to subject to a shear force

b : to cause (something, such as a rock mass) to move along the plane of contact

History and Etymology for shear


Middle English sheren, from Old English scieran; akin to Old Norse skera to cut, Latin curtus mutilated, curtailed, Greek keirein to cut, shear, Sanskrit kṛnāti he injures

First Known Use of shear


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

Look-up Popularity Shear

Bottom 50% of words

Look-up Popularity Shorn

Bottom 40% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- I have been Listening to the Shannara Chronicles for the first time and I have liked them for the most part. But if you like Audiobooks check out your local library some like mine let me download them to my phone to listen to as I walk around. It is pretty cool.

Guard-a-Manger- Aside from the Fate of Cthulhu Kickstarter – It’s hit 6 of the stretch goals at the time this is written and you have only the after kickstarter options left! IN the meantime – Into the Badlands.  The now ended AMC show is a textbook class in using evocative design and styling while also engaging in ever expanding world building.  It goes from a campaign about succession of power, to Microconflict, to Macroconflict across its seasons.

nulloperations – Rewatch of The Venture Brothers. Season 7 came out last year and I was a few seasons behind. Just picked up and watched the whole thing. The series has a lot of interesting arcs that cover so many time of possible campaigns. From long term character development to a meta-plot the main protagonists aren’t even aware of half the time.

Joules – Game Theory Youtube Channel

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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