*I am continuing to learn how to properly format and style my blogs, so we’ll see how each one improves. Once I find a style I’m happy with, I’ll retcon all my other blog posts to the same format!*
How the game came about
That little card image above here is a mock-up of one of my many shelved ideas: Runestorm the card game. Though thankfully, its sister design, the tabletop roleplaying system is quite alive and well.
Runestorm is a happily married set of ideas that my girlfriend-turned fiancé-turned wife and I developed. Speaking of happily married, I’m now a happily married man! It’s amazing how awesome it is to be able to turn to her and say “wife”. It’s the little things, really it is.
Anyways, back on topic, my wife (grins widely) and I have lived together for a few years and dated a few prior to that. And thankfully, we happen to have a passion for the same thing: stories. She loves to hear/read them and I love to tell them. Works well, eh? It’s actually what initially what drew us together: I had written a book (completed but in its final revisions, I’ll plug it here eventually) and she read a copy of the manuscript a mutual friend of ours had. When we finally started talking, she gave me some great feedback on it. From there we found out we were both avid RP’ers. That’s RolePlayers for those who don’t do old-school tabletop. We started dating soon afterwards.
It didn’t take much time for us to a) start roleplaying and b) start talking about creating our own worlds and such. The one that received the most love was Runestorm.
Runestorm is a high fantasy setting that I’m right smack in the middle of designing. It’s been shelved off and on over the years, as most of my projects, and its not the first world or tabletop mechanic I’ve ever developed. But it IS the most entertaining in my opinion. The world is almost entirely fleshed out, as is an extensive history, pantheon and some planar concepts. The system is in the hard stages of development.
Runestorm actually was an idea I had from many years ago that got thrown away. At least until, as usual, creative inspiration hit me. The initial concept of Runestorm was a magical setting that used rune combinations for magic. So the magic system had you learning various invocations of runes, and when you learned certain combinations (say like water and air) you would get access to other more advanced combinations (using the previous example, you’d get access to ice). It felt alright, but was kinda clunky. And the storm part of the runes wasn’t really used at all. It was just a cool name.
Eventually inspiration hit to turn the concept of Runestorm into an actual storm and that opened the floodgates. So I sat down with my wife (girlfriend at that point) and we began designing the world Eire. A world that was currently in turmoil after being affected by the Runestorm. I initially wanted to make a tandem card game with it, but I scrapped it after the first set was designed in order to focus more on the actual RP system. I’ll probably start working on the card game portion once that’s completed.
Top-Down vs Bottom-Up Design
My personal design philosophy is heavily Top-Down centric. If you’ve ever designed something, undoubtedly you’ve come up a with a cool idea or name and tried to build from it. I do this a lot. I love to start with a broad concept, theme or ideal and come up with a bunch of stuff to make it work and feel cohesive. The Godzilla CCG is another example. I used Godzilla card game as my top, and started working my way down. This method of design is known as Top-Down design.
Runestorm is also Top-Down. The central theme is the Runestorm: what it is, what it does, how it affects things… The world Eire was built to be a playground for the answers to those questions. All the cultures, history and backstory of the world was fleshed out with regards to the Runestorm and its affects. And the game system itself was designed with that concept in mind. I won’t get too heavily into this topic yet. As usual, that’s for another blog, but here’s a quick synopsis on Top-Down vs Bottom-Up design.
Top-Down Design is when (like previously mentioned) you start at the “top” with a concept, theme, idea, etc. and work your way down. All the design is based on that initial concept. Take the pyramids as an example. Asking the question, “Hey, we want a giant tomb to bury our god-kings in, so how do we do that?” is a Top-Down design question. The concept is a tomb to bury your god-king. Ok, so now what do we do to make it suitable for that concept?
Bottom-Up Design, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is the opposite. You are taking a variety of pieces and building them together up towards a cohesive concept. Think of Bottom-Up design like chemistry. You have all these base compounds, elements, catalysts, etc. What can you do with them? Where will you end up when you combine A, B and C? CAN you combine A, B and C? What happens if you combine A and C, then mix it with a combination of R and J? What is R and J anyways? It’s taking all those components and asking those questions. You adjust the components, or scrap them, as needed until you’ve formed a solid foundation, then build your way up to a concept that encompasses all those components.
See how I used two totally non-related things to talk about two related things? That’s called me being an amateur and an Agent of Chaos. Cute, huh? Yeah… not really. Sighs, oh well! Hopefully you got the point though.
A Brief History of the World
Eire, for those world history buffs, is old English for Ireland. I happen to be part Irish and am quite happy of that fact. I love Irish mythology (well Celtic mythology in general, really) and when I was searching for a name for my world, Eire popped right into my head. I stole some aspects of the Irish pantheon as well, just as a nod back to the name’s origins, but I tried to keep it a fairly original concept, not a re-imagining.
Eire is a planet in that existed a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (yay clichés!). It’s a world of high magic, where the Gods take great interest in the goings on of the their mortal worshippers and divine and demonic entities wage war while the mortals of the world simply try to live their lives. There are titans (basically fallen gods), elemental incarnations known as Primals, swords and sorcery, dragons… well you get the idea. It’s a bloody fantasy setting! I’ve developed a history that goes back some 26,000 years or so, but I’ll spare you the details and simply say that currently, the world is just leaving the Age of Solace.
To address the Age of Solace and its ending, I have to first give a brief overview of the elementals and their lords: the Primals. The way elementals work in this game is something sort of akin to spirits, or minor deities. They exist in a complimentary plane of existence, bound and tied to an elemental force. Some typical, like fire and water, and some a bit more… developed. Such as blood or storms. These creatures thrive on sensation and living true to their nature. But they cannot do so when trapped in their home plane. They must manifest in the real world of Eire, in order to experience such bounties. This can be accomplished by a myriad of things, whether by pact with a mage or because of a concentration of their element in one area that burns with their nature.
A wild tempest, for instance, could have many elementals dancing in its fury: wind, water, storm, lightning, thunder… And for the period of that storm they can bound about and do what they wish. But once the storm dissipates, if they have found no way to bind their corporeal form to the Real, they simply dissipate and return to the Echoscape (the common term for their plane, at least for the moment).
So knowing this, what caused the Age of Solace was a great war. Two empires, were in the bloodiest conflict that had been seen on Eire, and the final battle of their armies on the Plains or Argos caused a Blood Primal to appear. Previously, blood elementals could be found on battlefields, either in the midst or in its wake. These lesser beings could be controlled by pact mages, sorcerers and the like or simply left to wreak havoc. Sometimes a larger blood elemental would manifest and the opposing forces would have to join together to bring it under control. But due to their never being a conflict of such scale before, neither empire was prepared to face a Primal: the supreme embodiment of that element. The armies were decimated in the wake of its power and lust for battle, and the two empires were left in ruins as the massive entity basically had its way, destroying several cities and crippling the warring nations profoundly. The conflict was named the Blood War, and the Plains of Argos renamed to Soldier’s Fall. Several months after the war, the Blood Primal finally returned to the Echoscape and the Treaty of Tears was signed, signaling an unanimously agreed upon end to conflicts of that nature in the future. This began the Age of Solace and fear of ever invoking the Blood Primal again helped keep that Age a time of peace and prosperity for centuries.
The setting that players would be running around in occurs after the Age of Solace, a period known as The Darkening. This is a time when the Runestorm began to cover parts of Eire and send the world spiraling into an age of fear and chaos, as the powerful magic of the Runestorm threw the world into disarray
The Runestorm is one of several “catalysts” in this setting that causes plot to occur at an accelerated rate. Storytelling relies on conflict to move forward. While a peaceful tale of a simple summer harvest may have appeal, its the struggles of the farmer that can enrapture the audience into what may have been a bland and or boring tale. These struggles and conflicts normally come in the form of a catalyst of some kind: an evil villain, war, political intrigue, forbidden lust, the evil boy down the street who always steals things… whatever is appropriate to the setting, really. In my case, the Runestorm is the primary catalyst.
Eire is a planet in a galaxy that, like ours, is constantly moving. Though this is not a sci-fi setting, the structure of the universe, galaxy and solar system in which Eire resides was important to the concept of the Runestorm. After many iterations, the one I enjoyed the most was it being a fixed tear in the Real. A giant “storm” of magical energy that is self-sustaining, limitless and directly tied to the chaos of the universe. It is a conduit for pure energy. But due to the setting being fantasy, the idea was refined to a massive storm of wild magic. It actually ties into another plane of existence, but the people of Eire are unaware of that.
On a simple level, the Runestorm is chaos unleashed. The magic does whatever it wants, to whatever it wants. It has slowly extended over millennia from the initial breach, and spans a HUGE amount of space. Because of the way the galaxy and solar system rotate, every few thousand years or so, the Eire travels through this massive chaos nexus and ends up being stuck in its outer rim for several decades to centuries. There is recorded history of the planet falling victim to the Runestorm before, but its been so long, that history was left to the faint memories of myth and legend. In addition, while the Runestorm begins ravaging the planet with wild magic, the power surge is awakening and corrupting things in the world that are becoming more catalysts.
This is the The Darkening. This is what the player characters are getting thrown into. This is Runestorm: Tears of Eire.
Check out my final intro blog for my board game sometime in the next couple of days, and then I’ll begin really getting into the meat of design and the systems I’ve built.
Until then, keep thinking and keep creating!