Tomorrow I’m starting a new campaign of Catalyst. I’m already running a campaign with my most developed storyline, so I figured I should come up with something new. Of the four players, one has played previously. This means I’ll need to be focused on helping them create their characters and answering any questions the players have. Great, I’ll refresh myself on the early spells and abilities and be fine. It also means I need to have my first session ready to go before we start; I can’t be lazy and create my NPCs while they’re making their personae.
First thing I need to do is come up with a main plot line. I’ve GMed enough to be able to improvise the middle of the story, but I certainly need start and end points. I need the conflict. It might be clichéd at this point, but I like dealing with morally ambiguous situations. Catalyst is about a demon invasion and plague wiping out humanity, so my stories focus on what happens to the remaining people. I like making the demons an almost static force; something with motivations humanity can’t rationalize. My background in theology tends to come up a lot when making stories, as does a general distrust of government and authority. I’m also going on a road trip across the Midwest soon, so maybe elements of travel will slip into the campaign.
Now that I’ve mentally dumped out my wheelhouse, time to pick the specifics. In this world, the US government has decided magic users are not to be trusted, tightly restricting their activity. Now, the players are all going to be mages; the mechanics of Catalyst specify the players always have magic, but don’t explicitly say everyone does. Magic users are rarer in my campaign, so that’ll make the players feel special and give them more reason to band together and stay together.
I want the players to start in distress. I’ll stick them in a magic user internment camp. Short-term, something will happen giving the players a chance to escape. Let’s introduce another group, a radically pro-magic faction that sets off a riot in the camp. Because of the chaos, the players escape and end up in a nearby town. Guess I need to pick a location; I’ll choose Tucson because I’m familiar with the geography and the political climate supports this dynamic.
Where am I going with this story? The obvious question players will be asking is, “Why is there infighting; aren’t there demons around?” I’ll say the demons were defeated, at a heavy cost to humanity. This campaign will be set after the plague has ravaged the populace, so existing power structures would be in flux. The average citizen will be wondering if the demons are coming back. The government’s official line is no, unless the magic users summon them. The pro-magic party will want to be prepared for their return, magic being the obvious safeguard against more death.
Now is the second demon invasion the finale of my campaign? Maybe. Maybe they never come back. Maybe the conclusion will be removing the magic haters from power. Maybe it involves a magic rebellion and the creation of a new state. I’m being vague because my players may read this (or because I’m not sure yet.)
Regardless of the conclusion, I have the first session ready. I’ll set the scene by having the players offloaded into a part of the camp together, being taunted by guards and generally despised. They’ll be adorned with bracers preventing spell casting. An agent will tell the players how to deactivate the bracers. Getting there will require stealth, persuasion, or some other plan; I’ll let the players figure that part out. I’ll prep a fight for when the magic damping goes down; fewer enemies than players because no one will have weapons. Escape will involve a fight against the guard captain. I’ll give the enemy a stat advantage, but still have fewer numbers. I’ll put him near the garage so players have to face him in order to get a vehicle. Then they’ll end up in Tucson and start learning about the pro-magic radicals.
Alright. Time to make the bad guys and draw up a couple maps.