So…much to my surprise and chagrin, I’m considering running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, using 5th edition. Before any of the veterans of the editions wars gets started: shut up. I haven’t played D&D since one session in 1993-ish, and before that 1984.

That last high school campaign ended with the characters taking on the “ultimate evil” of our campaign and winning. What the hell do you do after that? Our answer was more James Bond: 007 and Car Wars. I haven’t returned to fantasy since; in fact, I’ve actively avoided it.

The guy managing the local Meetup group for RPGs saw a sudden jump in interest after one of the members started running D&D 5e on their Meetup night. He’s a bit butthurt, since he had envisioned the group as a place where folks would get together and try loads of different (read, indie) games. Membership is high, but participation is low — Albuquerque is one of those places where you find a group and stick with it, mostly due to the commute time if you live on the Westside — but with the D&D game, suddenly people were coming out of the woodwork. Two tables of D&D are running and there is a waiting list. Apparently, people prefer D&D to Dogs in the Vineyard, and Night’s Dark Agents, and Apocalypse World, and all those artsy-fartsy games.

He asked me to run a game, and since he gave me his set for free, I feel a bit obligated. I made the mistake of mentioning his conundrum (people don’t want to try a different game every damned week; they want something to sink their teeth into…) and got four people say “You run it, I’ll play…” So without even trying, I’ve got a viable group. What the what!?! One of those is a regular in my other group (and an important part of the fledgling Black Campbell Entertainment), and his response was “I’d be interested to see what yu’d do with it…)

Well, now, so am I. I busted out the books and looked through the rules — it’s almost exactly the old AD&D I remember, but with some improvements. I’m intrigued by the tiefling, which weren’t around when I played. Thinking on it, I started laying out some rules for myself to avoid a lot of the “traps” of fantasy games…

First, start small. A county or province or whatever…I don’t need the whole world mapped out and an 80-page primer on the world to get started. (Yeah…the guy from 1993 wanted us to familiarize ourselves wth his world bible before playing…he also gave my ex-wife a female cleric character that was mute.)

Second, game balance — fuck that. If someone wants to play a starting character and another a more experienced one, I think I’m going to let them. Players don’t necessarily advance at the same rate in a game, as it is. Let them play what they want. That said — keep the levels manageable. Level 4 and down to start.

Third, no random tavern meeting BS. They should all have some sort of connection, or sets of connections that meet up. They need a reason to adventure beyond killing monsters and getting treasure.

And on that — monsters, magic, treasure…these things should be rare or at least uncommon, to my mind. Dropping in on the monster of the week isn’t exciting or shocking. After a while, it’s just another day on the job. Keep the magic use to a minimum and make it something surprising, even if it’s a PC using it. Make them get the bits for the spell, make them have to have time to enchant. Monsters should make sense — why is this thing here? Where did it come from? What’s the impact on the surroundings?

Connected to that: You don’t need to use the whole Monster Manual. pick things that make sense for the story and the campaign arc. I’m thinking of cutting out the old stand-bys like orcs and kobolds in favor of focusing on the main PC races as bad guys.

Alignments. Hate ’em. Always did. It might not be a bad place to base your character’s actions on. I was thinking of the notion of a tiefling that wants to be good…but in the end, that’s not their nature, and no matter how hard they fight it, sometimes, mature is going to trump nurture… But that brings up the necessary questions of what is good and bad in this game? What god/s and their antitheses exist (or don’t but we think they do..?)

You don’t need to have the universe jump, fully formed from your head, but anything that might be connected to the players’ motivations and back stories should be, at least half-assedly, laid down.

But, as always, I could be full of shit.

John Fredericks was making some interesting comments on game continuity over at Gnome Stew, and it spurred a few responses from me, including on one the efficacy and issues of “troupe-style play” As to continuity, however, I have to say: I’m for it.

There are several levels of continuity he addresses, but I think we can ignore a few of the bullet points he uses, and frame this in terms of televisions or novel series. Additionally, however, I want to add the notion of “canon” — that the continuity is also tied to the internal logic and rules of the genre or setting.

Strong Continuity

The game university has an internal logic and history that affects, and is affected by, the actions of the characters. Things that happen are important and can/will be used against you in a future game.

Modern television series tend to follow this model these days, sometimes to abstraction. The characters’ action don’t just impact the universe around them, but drive the personal relationships between the characters. Friendships can be broken, alliances shift, goals change. There is usually some kind of central goal, villain, or motif to be served. There’s a “story arc” that can be a season long (Dr. Who, for instance), or series long (Battlestar Galactica.)

This requires a lot of mental lifting by the GM and the players. Note-taking and record keeping can be a full-time job. In this sort of continuity, I think it’s important to have NPCs changing along with the PCs. Their stats should evolve, if it’s a system with aspects or traits or weaknesses, these should change over time, just as with the players’ characters.

This has been the sort of game I’ve run for quite some time, and I agree with Fredericks that this is the sort of universe most players are interested in — something long-term than allows them to explore a character and feel that they have achieved something.

Ret-continuity

You see this in a lot of modern TV, as well, in shows that were meant to have some kind of central theme or mystery that the writers and executive producers — well — didn’t really have a clue what it was going to be. Shows like X-Files, or Lost are prime examples of this: there’s a conspiracy or mystery, and the characters are working toward figuring it out, but since the writers don’t really know what the hell they’re doing from one season to the net, they have to scramble to put a coherent arc together through seemingly (or obviously) contradictory elements.

I had to do  bit of this with my Battlestar Galactica campaign, which had a few points where I veered in different directions. I had a fairly solid idea of the campaign endpoint, so I was able to tap some of the elements into place, and fortunately (unlike TV) you can go back and rewatch a session to see if all the “facts” are the same as they were three years earlier. You can often get around this bad hand-waving, counting on the players’ faulty memories, or creating some kind of “your perception of the incident was not completely accurate” type out (see Rashamon…different people see an event differently.)

Honestly — this is probably the closest you’ll get to the “strong continuity”.

Loose Continuity

Like ’70s and ’80s TV, the characters tend to be static, or change in personality as the story suits. It’s episodic and each episode is unlikely to be linked; it’s almost like each episode is a reboot of the last episode. Set The A Team, or Starsky & Hutch, or TJ Hooker. Hell, see the original Star Trek…there’s no “canon”, no real continuity beyond the characters and the general flavor of the show. Maybe a character was too good to die in your pilot session, and like Hill Street Blues (which was an early “strong continuity” show) you bring those guys back and just ignore they were shot to death in a stairwell. Certain things that happen might matter — that love interest might be lost to the character, then show up conveniently to cause trouble; the big bad guy might return, or one of his kids; something that happened in “season 1” might suddenly become important for a storyline in “season 4″…but doesn’t really change anything outside of that episode or two.

Yeah, character C disappeared for two sessions of our dungeon crawl (including a bit fight), but he was just off having a pee. Or was there but for some reason never did anything. Doesn’t matter, he didn’t get XPs.

NPCs don’t change. They are there for comedic or supportive effect, or local color. Hell, they might not even have a name. Taking notes on what happened is optional (but the loot is not!) You might be able to ret-con a story arc into the game near the end for a satisfying denouement — all these things were actually under the control of the nameless bartender you guys all liked!

No Continuity

This might be the schtick of the game itself. No matter what you do, you reset to the state of the universe prior to the adventure. Your dungeon crawl? No effect on anything but your character level and stuff. That crime you solved? Hell, maybe the same bad guy is still around; he has a great lawyer. You died? When did that happen?

A campaign like this could be played for laughs, like Paranoia, or it could be — cunningly — the actual metaplot of your campaign. Maybe, all your disconnected adventures were happening while you were in suspended animation on a long space voyage, or holodeck adventures, or some kind of prison you are trapped in.

Canon — or “That Wasn’t in the Show!”

As to “canon” — that word every GM should fear when you are running a licensed universe like Star Trek or Dr. Who — setting ground rules is essential the higher up this scale of continuity you go. When I ran Star Trek, I had a trekkie in the group (it was why I wound up running it.) I was not. So to cover my ass on continuity, we agreed that game continuity trumped the show. Certain things weren’t going to happen. Voyager, for one..

When I ran The Babylon Project in the late ’90s, however, I parked the campaign on the edge of the show’s events so that we could play our own game, but dip our toe into the Babylon 5 continuity as we needed. It worked very well. We ignored certain things from Stargate SG-1 when I ran a short game and kept the good stuff.

Ignore it when it suits the game, don’t when it enhances the game. Your game is a reboot. Go easy on the lens flare.

I was reading an article on another site that was talking about continuity (more on that in another post) and how tight continuity campaigns could be derailed by scheduling issues. As readers of the blog have seen, my group has been beset by scheduling issues this year, and I’ve been something of a whiny bitch about it.

It got me thinking suddenly — we had similar issues with the long-running Battlestar Galactica campaign, lost players and gained them…why wasn’t this as much of a perceived issue before? Then it hit me: for the Hollow Earth Expedition game, the players only have one character.

To be able to explore other areas of the Galactica universe, all the players had two to three characters, each in their own circle of the rag-tag fleet. (In the abortive campaign prior to that, each had a fleet and a survivor on Caprica character…for the same reason.) One of the benefits of this “troupe-style play”, is that if a character isn’t present, they could easily be handwaved away as “on administrative duties”, or “somewhere on leave in the  fleet”, or I could concentrate on characters and situations that didn’t require all of the players to be present. I had an out.

File under “Duh!”

So how do you use this style of play, and what are the up and downsides? Let’s start with the downsides:

First, it shifts the focus away from one single character the player has. In the Battlestar Galactica campaign, for instance, one of the players was playing the Vice President of the Colonies. While this allowed the player to have high-level influence in the policies of the fleet his other characters did not, he wasn’t a combat guy. He didn’t investigate crimes or fly vipers. That mean he got a lot less time and focus as the other characters — a cop and a viper pilot — and wasn’t of as much interest to the player or the GM. But he was a great trapdoor to play when the other players weren’t present.

A codicil to that — the players may also take an interest in a different character than you anticipated, and push the plot or focus of the campaign in a different direction than the GM expected. This can be frustrating for the GM. If he ignores the B-string character, this can be frustrating for the player.

Secondly, if the various characters eventually have to interact, it can be problematic (or funny) to watch a player trying to effectively roleplay a scene between two of his personas. It can work, trust me, if you have a good player, and it can be a blast, even for the players on the sidelines for the scene; it can also be awkward as hell. We even had one player’s characters have to fight each other.

Third, you still have to explain away why the B characters aren’t wandering the dungeon with you. This is probably not as much an issue in a game that doesn’t have the players in a fixed location or vocation with each other, but if you’re on a dungeon crawl, or traveling as a tight group, B might suddenly be of use.

So now the upsides:

The GM and players can branch out and explore the world around them. An example: if the group were playing the Avengers in a superhero game and someone was Spiderman, you could focus on his crime-fighting in NYC, if there were key players missing that week. Or instead of world-shaking efforts, a few of the team might decide to aid another player in a side quest — finding a friend’s murderer, or looking for a shawarma restaurant.

Secondly, the players can switch it up from time to time and play something different to bust the group out of a rut. Maybe you’ve gotten a bit tired with your 12th level paladin, and playing that 4th level rogue sounds like fun that week… Maybe you can switch up genres a bit: maybe instead of playing a cargo ship crew running around the ‘Verse avoiding the Alliance, you are focused on helping a B-story character clear a neighborhood of a gang that has moved in on a neighborhood by the docks. It lets you get the characters out of their comfort zones — crap, my bad-ass fighter needs to schmooze with the upper crust as a date or escort for the team’s wizard at a Magician’s Guild meeting. Maybe the paladin suddenly has to engage in protecting a thief, engaged in a questionable side heist for a good cause (he hopes!)

Third, you can manage no shows much easier by swapping the stories you pursue with side quests.

But, as always, I could be full of crap…

Due to a fortnight’s absence, I needed to be rid of a character for what was supposed to be a week. Ordinarily, i just have people roll for the missing character and I run them as an NPC for the time the player is away, but for some reason I (foolishly) decided to just have him chucked from the scene by a bad guy with the intention of getting everyone straight back together after the fight.

It didn’t work that way. The other players assumed he was dead and wound up traveling off to Ultima Thule, where they met the new big bad, escaped, and were hiding on the private island paradise of their Vril pilot Shria, who they now know to be the youngest daughter of Emperor Mot, the ruler of Atlantis (and absolutely not the Max von Sydow Ming…no matter how much he looks and acts like him. Really.)

So come this week’s play, I have to either 1) give the player a new character until we can get back to him at some point…, or 2) find a way to get him to the island, 400 miles away. One thing is moving in favor of option 2 — this is a pulp game. Deus ex machina and outrageous coincidence are part and parcel of the genre.

So after establishing that the characters are taking a risk in staying on the island for a few days to rest, heal up, fix their aircraft, and plan their next move, we moved the scene to three days previously, and the Sanctuary, the cargo cultist home in the hulk of the SS Grand Pacific, missing since 1893, and the fight scene between them and the pirates who would later take the Sanctuary.

Gus Hassenfeldt is in the process of reloading his scattergun when Tongo, the gigantic henchman of the pirate king, Captain Trihn, throws him over the side of the ship. Gus doesn’t go quite as far over as they originally thought, crashing through the scaffolding and half-assed housing that buttresses the old ship. He passes out, only to be revived by a young woman as cannon shots tear through the place. Before he can escape, the ‘building”, module, whatever he’s in suddenly heals over and topples into the waves and rocks below! He is stuck with the young girl in a heap of wreckage, and he manages to free her, only to be trapped under water…drowning…

…then an alien face, beautiful and terrible at the same time comes out of the dark waters, and breaths life-giving into his mouth. He loses consciousness at some point, while experiencing the pressures of deeper water, strange music in his ears…then wakes in a dark cave that is lit by bioluminescent critters, with food and water waiting, and a strange figure in the darkness guarding him. After a while, he is visited by a group of creatures — merfolk! nereids! led by a crowned, powerful merman who identifies himself as Triton. He was rescued from Sanctuary because he was recognized. One of the mermaids emembered him as one of the people whose escape from the pirate haven at San Antonio allowed her to escape captivity of Captain Trihn, Triton’s daughter, Osha.

Triton’s people have been pursuing Trihn and his people since they were expelled from San Antonio, and that wretched place destroyed by the Vril (their companions Amon and Shria.) They cannot attack the Sanctuary effectively, but there are some of their kind that can — “walkers”, he calls them — but it will take time. Gus immediately leaps on the idea of trying to forge a coalition of people to put an end to the scourge of piracy, and address the issue of the Vril and the emperor there. He finds out that the merfolk can communicate over vast distances, and that they have heard there are a group of fugitives from Atlantis on an island a “few beats of the world” from here.

Gus manages with some judicious style point usage, to get the mermen provisionally on board an alliance, then Osha and one of her friends agree to take him to his friends on Avanda. He spends the next two or three “beats of the world” — the merfolk can sense the spin of the place and are one of the few creatures that can accurately tell the passage of time — on a kit-bashed catamaran, alternately under sail or drawn by the mermaids, to his destination. During the short voyage, he is entranced by their strange, alien singing, and by the time he arrives at Avanda, he and Osha are an item. After a reunion on the black volcanic sands of Avanda, and a “what the hell happened to you?” dinner, the group is interrupted by the arrival of an imperial sky fleet, led by the large war saucer Durga. 

The group scrambles to their new flying saucer, Agni, and their flying wing, and take to the skies under a fusillade of heat rays, and lead the bad guys on a fast nap-of-earth chase over the jungles and volcanic mountain of the island. They manage to evade capture and wind up hiding the saucer under the waves offshore of the island. After waiting some “turns of the glass”, they race away to find their friends in the flying wing, then travel to where the merfolk are based.

Floating on the surface of the ocean, they negotiate with Triton and his people, and plan a stealthy incursion into Sanctuary to remove Trihn and (hopefully) take the place back. With a few of the “walkers” — merfolk with legs (think Abe Sapien from Hellboy) — one of which is Triton’s son, Glaucus, they slip ashore and enter the hulk through a hole in the hull that leads through the old coal bunkers into the engine room.

In the dark of the old ship, the small group makes their way up toward the pirates and their confrontation with the pirate king, Trihn…

By pulling the last minute deus ex machina of having Gus rescued by the merfolk, it allowed me to introduce one of the beastmen of the Hollow Earth, and pick up one of the threads I’d dangled earlier but went nowhere. If also allowed them to finally forge some friendships, and let me address one of their recurring villains, the “chua te”, Captain Trihn. It also gives them the possibility of finally having some kind of base of operations that is near a possible entrance/exit to the Hollow Earth, the “Hole in the Ocean”; some kind of whirlpool that seems to be created by whatever keeps the Aerie of the hawkmen in the the sky.

The characters have already set on the idea of capturing the Sanctuary, then forging an alliance between themselves and the hawkmen (giving me another thread that has been dangling), and from there, looking to start opposing the emperor.

It’s Flash Gordon meets the Hollow Earth, but with mythological trappings. We’ve mentioned “sky riders”, pterosaur-riding Vril that are outcasts from Atlantis; there’s the barbarians and Amazons of Hyperborea, and the strange asura or demons of Asura ke Shahar — the city that the odious Ivora the Magnificent once ruled and wished to return to.

With these last two sessions, the campaign suddenly has an overarching goal and storyline, mostly thanks to the actions of the players, which will help direct how they explore the game world.

That’s a hard one. I’ve had several good, successful campaigns, and one phenomenal one that ended this year. What made them good or great? Honestly, in some ways it’s hard to say — just like good and bad art can be the matter of a bit of shitty editing, there’s alot of things that can go right and wrong at the same time.

First, and most importantly, you have to have buy-in from the the game master and the players. They all have to be interested in the game for longer than a one-off, and they have to be committed to the idea of playing regularly.

Second, play regularly. I can’t stress this enough — if you let a game dangle for a few weeks, the momentum is gone, and often the group won’t even hold together. People are busy and there’s always something that can take you away from the table — work, travel, kids, sickness, school…there’s always something. So if you’re going to commit, commit to a schedule that you can maintain, even if it means that every once in a while, someone has to play someone else’s character for a session or two.

Third: Have a consistent vision of the universe and the story you are telling. It’s going to change due to character action, losing or gaining players, and the longer it goes, the more chance that you will deviate from the original concept or story. This isn’t necessarily bad. The first few sessions really are more like a pilot episode of the TV series, to set the tone, world, and get people interested. Then comes the hard work.

You can half-ass the metaplot, like X Files or Lost, or you can have a consistent view of the story that might need to wiggle about to finish close to the mark, like Babylon 5.

Tied to that is the fourth point: Consistent characters, and this is where the players come in. Good characters might need a bit of tweaking until you settle into them. It’s rare you have a game where the characters are “right” at the start, much like TV shows. (The most wonderful example of this not being the case is probably Firefly, where the characters — even when they were changing and growing — were amazingly consistent and well-rendered.)

Another point about the characters — they should have some kind of connection to each other. It doesn’t have to be direct, but there should be web of why characters A, B and C are working together. Some campaigns lend themselves to this. A military, police, or espionage-themed game gives you the ability to throw people together because their skill sets jibe, or they simply were the guys that drew the short straw.

For example on a non-military campaign: our current Hollow Earth Expedition game features several characters that might not ordinarily work together or move in the same circles. Lady Zara is the money — she needed help finding her uncle and hired Gus Hassenfeldt to be her African guide. Simple. Dr. Gould came in a session later. He was a doctor with the Spanish that were harassing the White Apes Zara’s uncle found, and I tied him to the Atlantean background the city the apes inhabited. Now he’s a plot device and driver of the story, but still in her employ after they escaped Africa. Later, we added Hunter, a Terra Arcanum overseer/agent, who was sent to protect the Atlantean blooded doctor and prevent the secrets of the Inner World from exposure to the public (and more importantly, the power-mad men running Germany and the Soviet Union.)

So Zara binds Gus and Gould through employment, as well as other concerns, and Gould binds Hunter to the group through the Atlantean angle.

Your characters should have some kind of connection. Maybe they were old service buddies, maybe they’re related, maybe they work for the same people, or their goals are similar enough to pull them together. There should be something besides meeting in a tavern to “adventure together” to pull the group together.

With characters that have a connection beyond “we want to play”, a consistent vision for the world, and a commitment to play regularly, I think you’re halfway there.

Now you just need to catch lightning in a bottle.

Last week, one of our players cancelled out and at the same time we had a guy sitting in for a session…what to do? Go with an NPC in the current adventure? (I had an idea that would dovetail in nicely…) Do a one-shot? Board games — I can recommend Thunderbirds for cooperative grops, and Xtronaut for competitive types. Have a movie night?

These are all good ideas when you have incessant scheduling problems (the downside of having a larger gaming group. This week, most likely, we’ll have another two players out — one’s at GenCon, one’s working. (I really need a new hobby…) So this week, the answer will most likely be board games or a movie night, depending on if the one player is stuck working.

Last week, the answer was a one-shot. I decided to do a backstory one-shot on one of the new characters in the ongoing Hollow Earth Expedition game, John Hunter. We’re alluded several times to his misadventures on a mysterious island being how he got wrapped up with the secret society, the Terra Arcanum. So, I decided to do a one-night story that would tell the tale and be done, in case the one guest player didn’t come back.

So — how to tell this story in a 3 hour block of time? Hollow Earth Expedition, while a quick-playing game system, isn’t quite slick enough, and I needed to give the players a bit more of the heavy-lifting for the story and background development. I turned to Atomic Robo. It’s the fastest, best-playing version of Fate, in my opinion, and character creation is slick and quick. Four players were crafted (for the most part) in under half an hour.

The first act/hour was introducing the characters in media res — staging a burglary on the Order of Prometheus, a secret organiation dedicated to unearthing and using ancient knowledge. One of the players was a history of ill-repute looking for Atlantis, and chasing the tale of a “vanishing island” in the Indian Ocean that a Roman traveler once identified as that mythic place. The Order has two maps — one by Marcus Maximus Tinto, said roman adventurer, and another by the only survivor of a shipwreck from 1900 that had the coordinates of the island (not shown on any map, of course.)

The other players are John Hunter, in 1926 he’s a “man who can get you anything” in Paris; a member of the Terra Arcanum who is supposedly a smuggler, and who is along for this ride to stop the revelation of the island’s position; and a skeptical geologist.

They steal the maps, do a brainstorming session to figure out where the island is, then the historian — who has “More money that sense” as an aspect, gets them a crappy tramp steamer they take from Marseilles to the island’s position. His calculation give them the most likely time the island will show, and sure enough, the isalnd arrives under a suddenly-forming storm, giant rogue waves that suck them into an inlet where they beach on the hulk of a WWI submarine.

They have limited time to explore — they don’t know how long the obviously volcanic island will stay “visible”, and they speculate that the place may be “hydraulic” in some fashion — the pressures from the ocean flor rising the island and lowering it periodically…but how are there plants and animal life, much of it from different geological eras, present? They follow trails inland in the increasingly bad weather and light, and eventually run into a native tribe that captures them in a big skirmish, dragging the historian and Arcanum agent to their villge, which is surrounded by a giant boma of thorn bushes and large bonfires.

A rescue attempt is put together by the geologist and Hunter, while the others ascertain from the natives — who speak a form of Sanskrit not heard since pre-Harrapan times! — that every generation or so, the island is pulled to another world, where sometimes the every-present sun sets.  The Hunter and the geologist stage a daring rescue that revolves around setting the boma on fire as a distraction, and using their lone Chicago Typewriter to lay down fire and scare or kill the native warriors with a spray of .45ACP.

They elude their pursuers, dodge massive creatures whose footfalls shake the ground, and escape to their steamer in time to set sail before the island disappears behind them.

We closed out the night with the Arcanum agent planning on recruiting as many of their valiant band as possible.

Scheduling getting you down? Maybe it’s time to do something different for a session or two. The one thing I’ve found over 30+ years of gaming: if you don’t meet regularly, forget campaigns…you won’t be able to keep the momentum and interest.

Well, we’ve made to the Hollow Earth in our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign (or have we..?) So it’s time to start working on what my version looks like. To that end, I spent the weekend digging through the Mysteries of the Hollow Earth sourcebook to see what Jeff Combos and the boys at Exile did with it. The last time i ran the game, we never got out of 1930s China, save for a short adventure on the East Coast of the US. This time I’ve committed myself to go full pulp, so Hollow Earth (or is it Venus? Or an alternate reality?) it is.

The characters had gone through an eye-like Stargate-ish artifact called the Eye of Shambala that was stored under the Potala Palace in Tibet and emerged in a setting cribbed from the Shangri-La in the Uncharted series of video games (I haven’t played them, but the visuals are great…and look to be highly influenced by the Shangri-La of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.)

A few of the things I’ve already started playing with:

Shangri-La — is this it? Or is it actually on the Surface World but only accessible through the Eye? This place looks uninhabited, which would fly in the face of the paradisiacal valley where people live long, idyllic lives.

How much dinosaur? Is the whole of the place dinosaur filled, or only certain bits?

The big one was how to incorporate Buddhist and Hindu mythology into the setting. Seems appropriate that sections of the Hollow Earth (or is it?) would have “nations” of a fashion — places where the devas and asuras ruled, places where their cousins, the Æsir and Vanir, or the Titans/Olympians might have ruled. We know the Atlanteans were around, but are these the same people as folks of Ultima Thule, or Hyperboreans? (Answer: no…and yes.)

That leads to the two races I know are going to have to get used — the Titans and the Vril-ya. The Titans don’t work for me. I see where they were going, but I’d rather go with these being the direct descendants of the creatures humans on the Surface World once called gods, but brought low by their own infighting. Perhaps a few of the old codgers are still around and ruling little fiefdoms? I also wanted to do a tie to the Mars from Revelations of Mars — and the Dheva are the link there.

The multi-armed thing works well with the Hindu angle. Perhaps the people of Mars and the Titans have a common lineage? One might be the experimental product of the other? It would also be a good reason for the animal-people of the Hollow Earth: all this is the result of the Titans or old gods playing around?

As for the Vril-ya — I’m not sure I want to use the “official” version. I think they might have to be modified to be the Atlanteans/Thule/Hyperboreans. Maybe they were caught in the crossfire of the War Between Gods?

I’m still musing on where I want to go with this, but I tend to be a sucker for using mythology in my games (the Battlestar Galactica campaign took a sharp turn into Greek myth coupled with transhumanism.) and the idea of playing with Hinduism is alluring, especially as their gods die and are reborn.