Introduction to the Purple Pomegranate Role-Playing Campaign

Russell Impagliazzo and Josh Macy, designers

The Purple Pomegranate Campaign is fantasy role-playing at its most exotic. The game is set in the Radiant Empire a multi-species non-human civilization of vast dimension and antiquity. The Empire employs a sophisticated magical technology to further its ambitious spiritual mission: creating paradise from the dreams of its citizens.

However, the Empire has suffered a catastrophe that has eliminated much of its technological know-how. This loss threatens not only the lifestyle of its citizens, but the spiritual mission that unifies the culture. The Empire is declining into a Dark Age from which it may never emerge. Only brave adventurers, brilliant scientists, inspired artists, and daring radicals such as you can defy tradition to restore the glory of the Empire! Against you are the forces of hatred, prejudice, inertia, treachery, greed and self-righteousness. But with you are imagination, ingenuity, and innovation!

In the Purple Pomegranate campaign, you are one of many types of fantastic creature, each designed to match a role-playing archetype. You live in a wonderous city, the Crystal Palace, which is literally suffused with magic. Inside the city, magic is commonplace; outside, rare and precious. Until the catastrophe, the Empire was bound together by two things: the paradise being created by the intelligent near-immortal tree-like Makoo from their magically unified dreams; and the Crystal-based technology that allowed magical energy to be transported throughout the Empire.

At its height, the Empire's magic-based technology surpassed that of modern Earth. The catastrophe occurred about 7,000 years ago (the recent past by the Makoo scale of time). For an unknown reason, the Science Tower, home of the city's most brilliant minds and irreplaceable magical artifacts, become uninhabitable. The artificially intelligent Photisms controlling most of the technology turned against the city. The Empire has begun to recover from this devestating blow, by re-discovering technology and artifacts from the ages before Photisms were introduced. But much knowledge and territory has been lost. No one alive really understands the infrastructure of the Crystal Palace, or the nature of the danger that still lurks in the Science Tower. Disaster could strike at any minute.

Three political parties have grown up around three approaches to the crisis. The Inward Faction presses for spiritual growth, accellerating the Makoo program so that paradise is achieved before the Empire's inevitable collapse. The Outward Faction stresses a return to the Empire's former boundaries, through military force if necessary. Finally, the Phoenix Faction encourages exploration and experiment, putting first priority on reclaiming lost knowledge and making new discoveries.

The game will center around the Purple Pomegranate a pub/cabaret which is known for avant-garde art, Phoenix Faction politics, and a fun-loving, rowdy, adventurous clientele. Player characters should be regular customers or employees of the Purple Pomegranate. Although they will be generally competent and adventurous, player characters will not usually be full-time heroes or adventurers. Most will have jobs, family, friends, and interests that go beyond adventures. The games will try to interleave adventures with roleplaying more mundane events from the PC's lives. ( However, what's mundane in the Crystal Palace might be highly exotic from a human viewpoint!)

So far, PC's include a special effects expert, a socialite artist, a policewoman, a technician with Public Works, a spiritual counselor, and a private detective. Many of the above use magic routinely as part of their jobs; others have jobs with elements of danger. They are achieving fame both for capturing a wanted criminal and for a controversial puppet show. They've saved many lives, and thwarted some villainous schemes. But they do not view themselves as heroes, just patriotic citizens.

Advice for new players

So far, we have been playing free-form, not using any system. I do have Xcel spread-sheets for character design (available on request) but we've been using character sheets mainly as a reminder for abilities. Occasionally, we roll some dice to see whether an outcome is favorable, but typically characters succeed at anything they are listed as being competent in. I have a home-brew system that I would eventually like to test, but the free-form game has been working so well that I don't want to break the momentum.

Since the setting is exotic, I've tried to make a lot of background information available. Basically, I have made all of my own campaign notes available on this web page. Don't be overwhelmed; players aren't expected to know all this stuff. On the other hand, it's all common knowledge from the characters' point of view, so if you enjoy it, please go ahead and browse. If something comes up in a game, I'll fill in the background as needed. To brouse the game notes, go to Outline of notes on Radiant Empire .

Making a character

The things you do need to do when making up a character are: pick a species; pick types of special training; pick a general occupation; describe your character's personality, social situation and outside interests or hobbies. To see some short descriptions of characters, go to Characters in the Purple Pomegranate Campaign . What I recommend is to see what role you are interested in playing in the party, use the following chart to get ideas for what species you want to be, then read about that species in Inhabitant List . Listed are just common roles; you are welcome to play against type. However, there is a limit: Aerads will never be warriors, for example, being under 30 lbs and fragile.
  1. Makoo (intelligent mobile plant): priest, healer, psychic
  2. Dragon (oriental dragon): sage, diviner, other magician, "tank" (indestructible warrior)
  3. Garu (werewolf): soldier, guard, detective, shape-changing magician (supplementing instinctual wolf/bipedal change)
  4. Unicorn : magician(all types, esp. witch), scout, "ranger" (outdoor expert), "druid" (nature magician), healer, artist
  5. Aerad (dragonfly/firefly): "bard" (socialite performer) , scout, gossip, illusionist, psychic
  6. Varagh (bipedal warthog): "knight" (armored warrior), merchant, sage
  7. Cham (chamaeleon): "thief" (stealthy adventurer), technician, artisan, detective, assassin
  8. Gorilla : "brick" (strong warrior), guard, guru, psychic
  9. Others (rare for PCs): Telluri: acute senses, Taz: speedsters, Darby: energetic workers, Barbarians (anything else)
. Some special training is mentioned after each species. For example, many Makoo are priests and many Gorillas learn wrestling. In addition, all types of magic are open to all types of characters, even if some species are most commonly associated with some types of magic. See the list of schools of magic in Magic . A quick interpretation is:
  1. Archaeomancer: magical technician
  2. Animator: makes things move by magic
  3. Conjurer: illusionist
  4. Diviner: gathers information, fortune-teller
  5. Prophet: pronounces curses and blessings
  6. Sensitive: psychic
  7. Transmogrifier: shape-changer, form changer
  8. Witch: enchants objects, creates mystic bonds
  9. Guidelines for Player Characters

    The following is a list of guidelines for player characters. The list is not overly intrusive, and allows quite a bit of freedom in morality, talents, and background, while promoting group cohesion.
    1. The character should live or work in Lake Park or Lakeview Heights. This is an area of the city that has had a few recent tragedies due to infrastructure malfunctions. Housing values have dropped, and the area attracts a less risk-adverse, more adventurous population.
    2. The character should be an habituee of the Purple Pomegranate.
    3. The character should be willing to assist partisans of the Phoenix Faction. (They need not be partisans themselves, and could be assisting out of friendship or self-interest. However, they should not be partisans of the other factions.)
    4. The character should have a mixture of combat/survival, information gathering, and social abilities or connections. The character should be in the most competent 5 \% of her species or profession, but probably not the best around. (She could be peerless at one or two specialized things, e.g. animating puppets.)

    If you use the spread sheet, you'll have 250 character points to spend, plus up to 75 more from personal limitations. About 100 points will be pre-spent on species abilities and common skills. To be in the top 5 \% of a profession corresponding to a special training package, you should spend 80-120 points on special training. An amateur, specialist, or dilletante might spend 40-60. (If you are familiar with Hero games, each of our character points is worth about 1/2 hero character point. Thus, characters are basically 75 point "heroic" characters, with about 50 additional points of species abilities, and up to 35 in disads.)

    Design criteria

    We started the Purple Pomegranate campaign because we wanted a game that could handle the following situations well:
    1. Adventures were episodic, either lasting a single play session, or easily accommodating players joining or leaving between sessions.
    2. This is in recognition of the fact that adults have busy schedules which frequently means a player won't be able to show up every game. This is the main reason for having games center around The Purple Pomegranate. We'll usually pick up and leave off episodes with the characters at the Pomegranate, so that PC's can come and go between episodes. As a side benfit, the Pomegranate will serve to draw in new players and establish relationships between the PCs. Even new PC's will be known at least casually to the employees and other patrons, i.e., the established PCs, as someone they've seen before. So drawing new characters into the adventure should be less artificial than usual. While we've kept things basically episodic, there have been a fair number of story threads that continue between episodes.

    3. Player characters had lives outside of adventures: family, friends, and occupations.
    4. We decided to have the characters live in a common neighborhood, Lake Park/Lakeview Heights, where most would also work or have family or friends. Because of a higher rate of break-downs in the infrastructure, Lakeview tends to scare away less adventurous folk, leaving discounted property values for the bold. Also, by having extreme differences in racial abilities, and high levels of magic, characters can be pretty good at their adventuring specialities without being full-time adventurers. A Cham dentist may not have spent any particular effort learning to be sneaky; she'll still out-class any ninja that ever lived.
    5. Player characters had extreme personalities and abilities.
    6. Part of the joy of role-playing is trying on different personas that are exaggerated aspects of your true personality, or trying to imagine being someone who is your opposite in some ways. Extremes also allow distinctness within a party, so that each character has her own spotlight time and abilities that others don't have.

      These last two goals are hard to reconcile. Unfortunately, extreme behavior or abilities often alienates characters from the rest of society. Next to these colorful characters, family, friends and jobs seem dull and mundane. Extreme characters tend to be loners or outcasts. We decided to allow characters to be both extreme and in the mainstream of society by making society extreme.

      More precisely, we decided to have a multi-cultural society whose citizens represent various types of extremes that are common choices for player characters. So that there would be no "normal" citizens to compare the PC's to, all of the cultures would be of non-human species. Without resorting to the cliches of the fantasy genre (dwarves, elves, etc.), we chose images for our species that we hoped would evoke the archetypes they were meant to capture: werewolves for "feral warriors", Oriental dragons for sages, unicorns for innate magicians, gorillas for "bricks", chameleons for "sneaks", etc. A few less traditional images were added for flavor, or because they became important for societal cohesion. For example, we added a race that loves to do mundane work, the Darby, because we realized that none of the extreme types for player characters would be much interested in or competent at necessary chores! To see a description of the different character species, see Inhabitant list

      Another way we decided to make even daily life colorful is to envision an extremely high magic society. We pictured a city suffused with magic energy, where very little special training or talent was necessary to perform magic. Magical items would be commonplace in the city. However, to paraphrase Clarke, a sufficiently reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology. To avoid making magic too reliable, we pictured a society that had once had a magic-based technology at the level of say, 22nd century earth. However, a catastrophe had eliminated much of the knowledge underlying this technology, while leaving behind many usable devices and a near infinite supply of magical energy. Thus, magic would be potent and readily available. but operated largely on an unreliable basis of guesswork and memorization. Magic describes the different types of magic that have evolved in the Empire.

    7. Adventures would incorporate a wide variety of plot elements and styles: mysteries, crime-busting, political intrigues, romantic intrigues, intellectual discoveries, high society, heroic rescues, and even the occasional `` dungeon crawl''.
    8. To this end, we decided to make the Purple Pomegranate a center for one of the political parties, the Phoenix Faction, (see Government, Law and politics ) which aims at restoring the lost knowledge and technology. The Science Tower, contaminated by the catastrophe that eliminated this knowledge, would be the scene for exploring ruins for treasure and perhaps intellectual quests. The Pomegranate is located in the decadent and seamy Dock area, where citizens go to carouse, but is also a center of avant garde arts, which occasionally attracts a high-class audience. So far, adventures have involved foiling a political assassination, helping star-cross'd dragon lovers court, and tracking a vicious psychopath in the city sewers, with digressions for dinner parties, tea with the Phoenix Feather heiress, holidays, a naval ship inspection, a circus performance, and a puppet show. (See Campaign Diary for a summary of game events.)

    The other files give more detail about the game world that the campaign is set in, and the options for characters. So far, we have not been using a game system, but just constructing stories free-form. Next Document: The Manifold Game World