Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Magic Faraway Orient Express Sailing to Utopia

I've been doing some thinking recently about what game I'd like to run next, once All Zombies on the Eastern Front (which I expect to last five or six sessions) is done and dusted. What I have in mind is a campaign I call The Magic Faraway Orient Express Sailing to Utopia, which as the name suggests is a cross between The Magic Faraway Tree stories, tales featuring the Orient Express (like From Russia with Love and Murder on the Orient Express), and Michael Moorcock's Sailing to Utopia.

I have given this campaign the genre moniker "railroad which is literally on a train but with sandboxy knobs on". The core concept is as follows: the players are travellers on a stream train which is on a year-long journey between a great Bespin-like dystopic cloud city and a place known only as Utopia (left ill-defined; my idea is to let the players imagine what it's like for themselves). The train travels through the sky on an ancient railway, about whose builders legends abound but whose origins are essentially unknown. I imagine this being a little like the train in Spirited Away, which travels over the surface of the sea - except in the clouds. It stops every so often in a totally different reality a la The Magic Faraway Tree (although of course in this case the protagonists are arriving in new worlds, rather than having new worlds come to them) and in those different realities the players have to pursue some sort of task or other - I'm picturing something like a Holy Grail quest (they have to find a special magical artefact at each stop) or maybe an assassination.

Play would revolve as much around the other passengers as it would the "stops". I like the idea of the train being some sort of moving equivalent of Sigil or (spit) Babylon 5; a neutral zone in which violence is forbidden and everybody has to live in enforced harmony. This would make plenty of scope for cloak-and-dagger antics on board between the players and their enemies. I also like the idea of having a real-world time limit in each stop - maybe I'll buy a big egg timer that I'll turn over as the train arrives; when the sand runs out the train leaves, and if the players haven't made it back on board they're stuck...


  1. Yup, I'd be "on board" (ahem) for this one in an instant. Any campaign that evokes the train from Spirited Away is just peachy in my book.

    The egg timer reminds me of a John Wick column I read in Pyramid about 10 years ago in which he related a Cyberpunk campaign that culminated with the PCs literally racing against a timer that was counting down until a cortex bomb blew up inside their heads. I love the idea of introducing "real time roleplaying" into a game.

  2. That sounds cool.

    If I can make one suggestion for the campaign: each stop should have the locals asking the travellers what Utopia is like so that you can mine their ideas for when then arrive. This also means you can have the next location play off their ideas on what Utopia would be like to highlight different interpretations of their ideal destination.

    Like if they say "In Utopia everyone will love Tolkien" and then when they arrive at the next stop they find their in a land where everyone loves Tolkien but they're all Nazis!

    OK, maybe I should cross-polinate ideas between threads, but the core idea of exploring what they think Utopia would be like may be fun.

    Any which way, I hope the campaigns go well :)