Saturday, April 6, 2013

MAJUS: A Look at the Skein

Let me first say that I’ve extremely grateful to the fifty-seven of you who have contributed to the MAJUS Kickstarter. We’re at the half-way point now and the game is more than 50% funded. With two weeks left in the campaign drive, I thought I’d shine a hasher light into the shadows of MAJUS and illuminate the driving goal of its inhabitants: that strange thing called “The Skein.”

Conflict is a necessary element in drama, and therefore a requirement for any medium seeking to engage and entertain its audience—RPGs included. When I sat down to write MAJUS, I set out to design a central point of contention that drove the battles in the shadows that are the lifeblood of Maji. At the same time, my design goal was to make this axis of conflict customizable to allow game masters to run the type of campaign they wanted within the MAJUS universe. The end result was the Skein, an enigmatic end game that most of the rival magical Towers seek to either control, destroy, or protect.

In short, the Skein is a thing that the Maji have been contesting since the days of ancient Sumer, with some seeking to claim it for themselves, while others strive to destroy it completely. It serves as the focal point of the Old Game, otherwise known as “the Mehen” after a nearly forgotten Egyptian game of strategy. But what that thing is, I leave wholly up to the hands of the CM. This way, the Skein retains much of its mystery, and allows the game master to best build a campaign of MAJUS to his/her and the players’ liking.
MAJUS doesn’t leave the CM completely in the dark regarding the Skein, however, and I make a few suggestions as to what the Skein might be and how it affects the type of campaign that uses those options. Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of Skeins up for offering and what a campaign featuring those types might entail. You can find more details in the MAJUS rulebook, itself.

1) The Skein as a bloodline: Although all Maji trace their heritage back to the Sumerian priest-kings, not all are equal in blood. Among them is a sacred, powerful bloodline destined to bring about great changes on the magical stage. Jokingly known as the “Harry Potter option,” the Skein as a bloodline sees the campaign revolve around gambits designed to protect, enslave, or eradicate the descendents of this ancestral legacy. The PCs might be mystical bodyguards or, on the flip side of the coin, magical assassins charged with slaying those of the blood before they come to power. Another option would be a campaign where the members of the bloodline are unknown, forcing the PCs to track down the living descendents before deciding whether they need protection or destruction. Game masters looking to run campaigns featuring the Knights Templar, the Priory of Scion, or to cannibalize the plot of The Da Vinci Code will find this option to their liking. It can also take strange turns into Lovecraft country. After all, the Maji of ancient Sumer were said to have come from the sea. Perhaps the members of the bloodline are those “pure” specimens who retail the strongest hold on their aquatic ancestry or maybe they are the inheritors of the lost arts of sunken Mu.

2) The Skein as sacred sites: This option casts the Skein as a network of lay lines, dragon roads, etc. which cross at potent points across the globe. These nexuses contain immense mystical power and the Tower that controls these sites bolsters their magical prowess a hundredfold. In their moves and counter-moves in the Mehen, the Maji battle to discover and possess (or destroy) these sacred sites before their enemies can, and game masters looking to indulge in world-spanning travel to obscure locals will find this option to their liking. From dense jungles to frozen wastes, the PCs journey to locate these nodes to tap or negate their power. In this version, these sacred sites are known as “labyrinths,” named after one of the first of their kind in ancient Crete. And of course, every labyrinth needs a “minotaur” to guard it. In a campaign with this type of Skein, these minotaurs run the gamut from strong and obviously supernatural defenders to inbred hillbillies with shotguns and a strong family legacy to patrician New England families with a sense of honor and millions of dollars in their trust funds. The PCs might even be minotaurs themselves, seeking to protect their labyrinth from outsiders seeking to pillage or decimate it. If you want a campaign with gunfights and spell-slinging amongst the ruins of Machu Picchu after the tourists have gone back to their hotels, this is the option to choose.

3) The Skein as antiquities: For the Indiana Jones’ fans, this version of the Skein sees the Towers competing to possess or eradicate ancient objects of power, and like the Skein as sacred sites’ version, is a good excuse for world-trotting Maji to battle in exotic or unexpected places. At least one of the Towers, the Sodality of Thoth Eternal, dedicates itself to the collecting and cataloguing of ancient artifacts, and with this Skein option, the PCs might be members of that Tower looking to acquire new artifacts either from forgotten locations or from the hands of their current owners. Game masters can do a lot with this type of Skein. One week might see the PCs battling in a dilapidated Mayan tomb in the middle of the jungle and the next week have them plotting an “Ocean’s Eleven” type heist to steal an artifact from a gleaming and heavily defended (both magically and mundanely) skyscraper. If you really want to pay homage to the noir roots of MAJUS, steal the plot of “The Maltese Falcon,” but make everyone a rival Maji and give the Falcon some potent mojo. Game masters looking for inspiration or artifacts to outright steal will find ten of them in the pages of MAJUS: From Hess’ Luger to the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, there are some neat oddities to choose from.

4) The Skein as the Maji: In this version, the Skein and the Old Game is the same thing, with the Maji fighting to dominate the magical underworld and plot the course of humanity’s fate. Call it the “Highlander Option,” if you will. Rather than battling to possess some external element, the Maji are fighting themselves, with each Tower out to use or destroy the rest until only one remains alive. To this end, there is no lack of double-crosses, multi-level conspiracies, paranoid, and machinations, and the PCs can never trust others—even the party itself might face betrayal from within! This version really draws inspiration from the gray morality of film noir and players who thrive on weaving complex schemes and manipulating others will find this option most enjoyable. In the end, only one Tower will remain standing (or maybe just a single cabal of Maji within that Tower): Are the players’ crafty enough to be those survivors?

If any of this is pushing your “That’s So Cool!” buttons and you haven’t done so yet, please take the time to throw a few bucks at the MAJUS Kickstarter. Remember, every contributor receives the draft copy of the rules, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the world of MAJUS and get playing long before the book arrives on your doorstep in August. Thanks for reading and a double “thank you” for contributing!


BlUsKrEEm said...

I'm pretty psyched for this game, but I'm a sucker for modern supernatural games. The pre-release edition looks great. I don't know who's idea it was to add it as a backer perk, but I really appreciate it.

I'm debating upping my backing a bit to get a hardcover Time Masters with it.

Long Live Pacesetter!

Michael Curtis said...

It was Dan's brilliant idea to allow backers to see the almost-finished draft copy as soon as they contributed. All the props go to him in that regard. He made a wise choice.

Pulp Herb said...

The ability to see the draft was a huge factor in my contributing. Even if I hadn't without it I wouldn't have contributed at near the level I did.

I suspect having at least a draft to share with supporters, either during the KS or immediately after (as Kevin Crawford did with "Spears of the Dawn") is going to become important after the recent multiple KS meltdowns.

Back in the day Greg Stolze pretty much wrote the Reign supplements then put up a funding (I don't remember the system he used) to get them released. I think the smaller retro companies will be heading down the same path.

More to the point of this post, #2-#4 can easily be blended to various degrees. If the Skein is mystical power controlling sites, artefacts, and Maji becomes important. Plus factions will have to choose between fighting to gain existing resources or creating more.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Pacesetter Chill is one of my favorite games ever.

Really looking forward to this.