Last week I touched on our homebrew campaign at the BTGC, and how I am using our actual winter season to guide the weather and its inherent challenges in the world of Port Haven. This week I will touch on a specific way in which the Muskoka winter wonderland has had a direct effect on the story of our group of heroes…
Snow and wind go hand in hand. I mean really, wind and weather are found lurking together, wandering down our streets early in the morning, knocking over trash bins and stealing our gnomes. The movement of air and pressure systems across the globe carry moisture and temperatures to the various locales of our planet as dictated by the sun and moon and the currents of the ocean. The planet cares not for the gnats that thrive upon it, only that it keeps spinning and circling the star at the centre of our tiny galaxy.
Muskoka weather is not particularly extreme. Our lowest temperatures in the deepest of the cold winter are around minus twenty two Celsius, and our hottest and most humid summer climate can be in the upper twenties above zero Celsius. Our humidity is high most of the time, and with Georgian Bay close by, we can get all manner of exciting weather to help remind us that we are not in control. We have had as much as four feet of snow in a twenty four hour period come down, but that’s not what I’m talking about this week.
As an aside, I am not a winter person, but this is not strictly speaking, a rant blog. There are Angry GM’s for that.
I was struck one day by the landscape of our jobsite after a particularly blustery bout of ice pellets, freezing rain and wet snow which was driven across the landscape by a fierce wind. As the precipitation fell to earth, the wind carried it across the terrain like a sandblaster in a desert. It carved drifts and swales into the land. The trees and earlier drifts took on the roles of the leeward obstacles, and the frozen moisture was bent and shaped into elegant contours of glittering crust, rising and falling through the trees like waves frozen in time.
It was rather beautiful. I still dislike winter, but I would be willing to enjoy such a view from the comfort of a warm room.
My partner waxed nostalgic of his memories surrounding days like this. He said that as a child growing up in rural Ontario, if the snow had a crust thick enough, he would drag his bicycle out of storage and ride it through the trees. Imagine a skate park, if you will. Go to the shallowest pool and envision a bike wending its way from one side to the other. Down into the pool and up to the lip, turn and descend once more. Clearly these drifts were not that deep, but if they were firm, the bike would glide through the trees, sliding and turning in childish delight.
And as we stood and exchanged stories of winter adventures and the innocent exuberance of youth, I had an idea.
Since I am using real weather to dictate the climate in the game, why not have a similar winter blast assault Port Haven? And what would a city do if it was such a meteorological event that the streets themselves were filled with this icy landscape of luge-like conditions?
Clearly, they would have a race.
As I developed the idea, I used the party’s input to create the governing system in Port Haven. Since we had decided that our little Port metropolis sprang up out of a need to move goods up the coast and inland along the river network, we knew that a monarchy of any kind didn’t make sense. No nobles would waste precious resources trying to settle an untamed land filled with nomadic barbarian and Orc tribes, never mind the other more dangerous hazards that lurked in the mountains and forests of the area. A duchy or fiefdom was also out.
Intrepid and devoted business men and explorers, mercenaries and men and women of the wild would be the ones to establish this business beacon of the north. So, the group decided that a governing town council would be the ones to run the show. These would be the most powerful business interests and investors in Port Haven. These would be the ones who owned the ships and riverboats that kept goods moving along the coast and into and out of the deeper darker continent further inland, past the dangers that prevent more traditional overland travel from safely reaching their destinations. The landowners and real estate moguls with all of the warehouses and title deeds. An oligarchy, with a figurehead representative who relates with the town’s population, makes decrees, and kisses all of the necessary babies.
Back to the race. The group bit into it mostly because it sounded like fun. I gave them the opportunity to design their own sleigh, spy on and mess with the other teams I had created, and also gave each of them side quests and encounters to accomplish these goals, including researching the best routes, and coming up with the cash necessary to outfit themselves and their sweet ride.
Over the course of three sessions they did their dirty work. They asked if I wanted to know about their plan or sled design, and I said no. This would have taken my fun away. I would always rather be surprised by their plans, than able to however unconsciously plan to foil them.
They managed to intimidate one team (the “legitimate businessmen”), and sow dissent in the the Orc team as well. A failed attempt to intimidate as well as spy on the dock workers’ team was a bit of a setback, but they made up for it by completely deceiving the wagon wright who was making their sleigh come to life. He had agreed to do so if they managed to get a letter to his lady love, whose affections had been forbidden by her father, a very important man.
That was one of those moments all GMs relish in roleplaying games. I asked the group what he did for a living that would make him so successful that he would not approve of his daughter being courted by the best and most successful wagon wright in town.
Moneylender? They said.
I mentally jumped out of my seat with glee and promptly made him the city’s humble but powerful underworld leader. It was also an opportunity for a character to make use of their back story in the group’s first attempt at legitimately delivering the letter. It didn’t go well.
In the end, the rogue crept in at night and stole a reasonable expression of her interest, and the young craftsman set about his task.
I set up a three legged race. Not like that. The first leg was a fairly straight forward ride through Reektown, where we knew all of the candlemakers, tanners, blacksmiths and other odious artisans would be assigned. Each character was able to act and contribute to the race, and I ran the four teams they competed against.
Players will be players, and the dice flew as skill challenges were made involving ever filling water pitchers, harpoons and eldritch blasts against the dock workers team (the Slippery Scales). They pulled ahead and passed through the first leg in third place, entering Cross Ways.
I came up with Cross Ways simply to ensure that the race wasn’t just a straight luge run to the docks, where the finish line waited. I decided that it would be fun to have a section of town where the streets ran perpendicular to the natural flow of the rest of the roads. Most port towns have their major travel arteries flow towards the port itself, allowing easy inland traffic to and from, and in most cases, it just flows.
Crossways is a section of Port Haven where for no reason at all, every street and artery flows against that natural design. Because I said so.
Whipping through the narrow streets where no road lasts for long before running into the side of a building, the group tangled with other teams, while one member of their party who had been stationedthere all along, harried the Orc team, eventually knocking them out of the race.
They came to the final leg tied for first place.
The final leg was through Market town, or what is commonly known as “The Bizarre.”
Due to the fact that Port Haven would attract a variety of people from all over the civilised coast further to the south, and also based on the idea that even some of the more savvy indigenous races nearby would give the “big city” a shot, I felt that any market Port Haven would have would be incredibly diverse. Thus, the colloquial play on the word bazaar.
Any manner of food, item and service can be found there, as long as you are willing to pay, and believe it has a chance of being legitimate. Buyer beware exists everywhere, even in fantasy.
Flying along tight alleyways crammed with booths and through open markets and stalls, the team took on the last two teams to emerge as the winners. Some of it might even have been fair.
It was a fun session, with frantic dice rolls and a timer I used for each leg. The story opportunities given to me by my players’ deeds and deceptions will keep things humming along for a while yet, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.