Click hear to listen to the full episodes of the Blackspire RPG Campaign Actual-play Podcast

Click hear to read the full recaps of the PC adventures prior to recording the podcast —– WARNING: Spoilers!!! —– (Part 1) – (Part 2).

Click here to see the custom painted miniatures and tabletop resources created by Blackspire Studios

Welcome to the Blackspire RPG Campaign… a dark, baroque, postmodern love letter to Dungeons and Dragons. My name is Robert Randle and… amongst other things I suppose, I am a writer, an artist, an occultist, and for the purposes of this production, the creator and Game Master of the D&D inspired campaign world I’ve named Blackspire.

For upwards of fifteen years now, I have been running everything from one-shot adventures to campaigns spanning several years, all set in various locations throughout the Blackspire world… and doing so has given me many opportunities to flesh out in detail a great many aspects of this setting, from the peoples and their histories, to their myriad philosophies and religious ideologies (as well as the cosmic implications of such things…), and even my own higher meta goals of creating a setting that neatly tied together in a satisfyingly cohesive way all the various RPG Campaign worlds that I’d played in and come to love over the years into one large Universe…

I tried to draw inspiration from everything RPG related that I could… from classic campaign worlds like Mystara, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms, to more the metaphysical settings of Spelljammer, Planescape, and Ravenloft (including Gothic Earth), but the Blackspire world was shaped also by a great many other systems and settings… from games like GURPS, Warhammer, Shadowrun, Pathfinder, the World of Darkness, and especially anything involving the Cthulhu Mythos, to indie classics like RIFTS, In Nomine, and Tales of the Floating Vagabond… To say nothing of the plethora of books, comics, video games, TV shows, and movies I’ve been exposed to over the years that help mold this world in some fashion or other into what it has become…

With this RPG setting, I even tried tackling concepts like the reasons behind things like variations that exist between rules that regularly occur over the ever evolving editions of a gaming system… it may not look it from first glance, but in a way Blackspire is about synthesizing all this stuff, and much more (and with my own creative touches here and there of course…) into a gaming world that really probably only magicians/uber-D&D nerds like me might one day actually be able to appreciate… But with all that aside, at the end of the day the Blackspire campaign world hopefully just boils down to being a really fun RPG setting to create and tell stories in. It’s gotta be that at least, or all the rest of this stuff doesn’t matter anyway…

Blackspire first began to take shape back in 2002 as a proposal I’d created in response to the Wizards of the Coast sponsored contest allowing designers to submit their ideas for a new original campaign world that the company would then go on to develop. In the end, WOTC selected the incredibly worthy Keith Baker’s EBERRON setting as their finalist, but that didn’t extinguish the little creative bug that contest had kindled in me to really try to manifest the deconstructionist/re-constructionist vision I’d initially had for what I felt was a pretty interesting take on an esoterically inspired D&D setting that was ultimately grounded in real-world occult philosophies. One that was also driven to adapt everything that could be considered “D&D canon” into a single system that could even explain (in a way) why what was canon was actually even that way in the first place… but I’m getting really ahead of myself…

Since writing that first early proposal and then later discussing those ideas with a number of my other gamer friends, I eventually began actually GM’ing games based in this new setting… and with each new party dynamic… and each new player character’s exploration of each new adventure, the Blackspire world began a step at a time to take on a clearer and clearer shape… in my mind at least…

My most current ongoing campaign started back in May of 2013 and over the last few years we had met for nearly eighty separate gaming sessions worth of adventuring before the idea occurred to us to turn our friendly regular Blackspire campaign into an actual-play podcast… and eventually perhaps into something even more…

Now, keep in mind… I had years and years’ worth of material related to this particular group of Player Characters alone, each with their own varied and complicated experiences already under their belt. So, I figured my best bet to familiarize any potential listeners to this world (and to the main PCs that inhabit it) was to simply introduce a new player character to the group that would literally be created in the first episode’s opening scene… and so as this PC too would be completely new to the world, he could vicariously serve as the audience’s eyes and ears as he explored it session by session… Within the current campaign’s storyline I even had the perfect opportunity to introduce just such a character… all I needed was the right player to inhabit him…

I consider it a manifestation of pure synchronicity then, when right around the time that I’d reached this conclusion, I was contacted by an old friend of my wife Jenny and mine, the Baltimore comedian Jim Meyer, who invited me to come on as a guest on the actual-play Paizo-based RPG podcast called Laughfinder (of which he is one of the principle members) but also includes other local comedians Dorian/Violet Gray, Tommy Simbazo, and Bryan Preston along with WYPR broadcaster Aaron Henkin. It certainly helped things a bit that unlike most of their guests, I actually knew how to play Pathfinder… plus, I got the chance to plug my blog The Reliquum.com, my horror graphic novel Serial Artist, and my Magick 101 YouTube lectures that I’d done at the Theosophical Society in Maryland… but the thing I think actually struck the strongest chord with them all was the case full of Blackspire Studios hand-painted figures that I’d brought along as props for the game…

I’ve loved creating fantasy miniatures for tabletop gaming for almost as long as I’ve loved RPGs themselves (starting sometime way back in the late 80’s) and so of late I’ve been taking commissions to do custom figures under the moniker of Blackspire Studios as a little side project of mine since early 2012. So… if you’re so inclined, find Blackspire Studios on Facebook to see a whole bunch of examples of my work, including ones for Jim’s show as well as a number of figures created for characters existing in the Blackspire universe.

Anyway, being on Laughfinder was a blast, and after recording our second episode of the podcast (#42 if you actually wanted to go back and listen) over beers I invited Jim to come on board as the newest Blackspire PC on the podcast I’d already been planning to create myself. Happily, it seems that since early on in our friendship, Jim had actually always wanted to play in one of my games, so he enthusiastically agreed to join our crew. And eerily enough (and before I’d ever actually listened his podcast) the character I had apparently long been planning for Jim to play all along seemed (obviously to me now) to actually be a strange thematic blend of his own Laughfinder PC and the one played by Tommy Simbazo. Knowing his character would literally be born in the first scene of our first recorded session without any prior knowledge of anything concerning the game really… I told Jim almost nothing beforehand about what he was getting himself into. The less he knew going in… the better for everyone.

And for some potential listeners, that state of ignorance may be enough for them as well, and they will actually enjoy the experience of following along and learning about this world and the creatures that inhabit it as Jim’s brand new character discovers it for the first time himself. But… I also have a half dozen other players around the table as well, each with their own mysterious pasts… and with back stories that do regularly find themselves honestly coloring game play without any real prior context for the listener.

It’s a problem I’ve seen other actual-play podcasts suffer from as well…

So… while I do expect some audience members to find this particular sort of experience totally acceptable, other may rightly demand a bit more context to their listening experience… which is why I have gone ahead and created this Season Zero of the Blackspire RPG Campaign. In this “Pre-Series History” I will attempt to stride the gap between the efficient summarization of events and a satisfactory level of world-building, while still highlighting all of the actually pertinent plot details that comprised the seventy some odd sessions of the current Blackspire campaign… all which had taken place before the first recording of Episode One of Season One…

Now… Season Zero has a lot of setting information to cover, so if this sort of thing doesn’t interest you… or if you really just don’t like spoilers, you should probably go on at this point and skip ahead to the first episode of Season One. Otherwise… strap in as I attempt to enlighten you as best as I am able to, fair listener, concerning the dark and terrible world that is… Blackspire!

 

 

Fair warning! The Blackspire RPG Campaign contains themes and situations that may be offensive to some audiences. Listener discretion is advised…

 

To begin… what follows here first was taken largely from my initial Blackspire campaign world submission to WOTC all those years ago, which outlines the larger themes and general tone of the campaign world… while the supplemental world material concerning the passage of time and yearly calendar, as well as the various details of the languages and economy were all naturally developed later over time.

Blackspire RPG Setting

 

And now I will attempt, with as much brevity as I seem to be able to allow myself, to recap (session by session) the major events that have shaped the lives of the group of adventurers that eventually became known as the White Hydra Mercenary Company.

Please note: prior to game play, each session was given a title which included a short blurb that I’d written up beforehand for the players… and based on what I generally expected the next game to be about. What ended up occurring during said sessions however, rarely ever was exactly what I had planned… as you will assuredly learn in time…

These recaps also occasionally essentially include “gazetteer” or “sourcebook” like material that I’d provided to my PCs as in game resources, and which continues to serve as useful reference for both my players and for myself… and who knows… perhaps one day for you as well…

Blackspire RPG Pre-Series History (Part I)

Blackspire RPG Pre-Series History (Part II)

EPISODES: Blackspire RPG Campaign Actual-Play Podcast

Blackspire Studios

And so… if I’ve managed to hold your interest thus far I just want to take a moment to personally thank you for giving this program a shot and for sticking with me up to this point… You must have at least a passing interest in RPGs to have given us a try, and perhaps if you’re anything like me, you can count yourself amongst those of us who consider our experiences with role-playing games as having had a positive effect on our lives. I certainly owe a great deal to the influence gaming (and fantasy/sci-fi in general) has had on my life, and so now as both a game designer and a ceremonial magician I’ve made it a focus of my work to understanding the areas where those elements actually merge… as well as their positive real-world applications.

To quote the great Terry Pratchett: Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.

Through the psychodrama of inhabiting a different personality for a time, perhaps you too learned new ways of thinking or discovered alternate ways of refining your social skills. Perhaps you learned different methods of problem solving or found some innovative new avenues of critical analysis. Maybe gaming just unlocked in you a passionate curiosity… or a love of learning for certain new topics… or you could have even tapped into some previously undiscovered current of creativity. And maybe for some of you, by discarding old character masks and then donning new ones, you perhaps even came to understand both the heroic and the villainous aspects of your own personality… a sort of enlightenment that allowed for a new level of empathy towards your fellow man, or perhaps even emboldened you to slay the metaphorical dragons that had plagued your own life…

In magick circles, we’d call that the process of Evocation… much different from the Fireball and Lightning Bolt magic most D&D players are probably thinking of…

While it is certainly not my intention in any way to make these (typically “behind-the-curtain) occult aspects of an RPG experience the actual focus of the Blackspire campaign, I have long held the belief that the ritual of the gaming table has magick applications… and those listeners of a similar esoterically inclined mindset might notice more than a few conceptual applications here and there throughout the episodes that they’ll appreciate… and yes, for those of an extremely conspiratorial mindset, there’s a fair bit of predictive programming laced throughout my universe’s concepts as well. I promise, for as dark as my world may seem sometimes, my spiritual intentions in this regard are only for the best.

The art of collaborative storytelling inherent within the role-playing game has held an almost mystical fascination for me since I first encountered it as a young boy… Over the 30 odd years since, while I’ve certainly worked on developing my own fair share of unique RPG systems, as well as other interactive story-telling games with occult applications in mind (namely The Reliquum RPG and my tarot-based Hero’s Journey game Monomyth) despite all that… D&D was still definitely my first love… so meanwhile over the years I also continued to work here and there on my Blackspire campaign world with the eventual aim of conceptually combining every sort of co-collaboratively created world under one umbrella so to speak… to attempt to say something larger perhaps about the magick of our co-creative consciousness.

The neurons in our brains fire exactly the same whether we are actually observing an object, or whether we are simply picturing that same object in our minds. Neurologically (and thus energetically) there seems to be little difference between observation and imagination… but that should come as little shock to any practicing magicians out there… Our thoughts have form, and our emotions give them force. And when say, those two things come together within the shared imagination of a group of role-players; the results can feel very palpable. There are very few other such activities that can boast such an intrinsic level of collaborative creativity.

In fact, successfully GMing just such a co-creative game is, for me anyway, the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the enterprise. I’ve certainly tried my fair share of writing fiction, and it seems to me now somehow overly simple to just have a plotline unfold the way you want it to when you are the one that has control over all the motivations of the characters in your story. There’s very little risk of inauthentic motivations in an RPG though, since the story’s protagonists are the only things you as a storyteller are not in control of. The trick is writing to your characters in such a way as they will naturally unfold the plot you’d secretly designed for them. Ultimately the trick is to know your players and give them what they want… in the way you want to give it to them…

But listen… we want Blackspire to be more than the co-creative product of just our small circle of friends. While our focus for the immediate future will certainly be on creating more podcast material for the Blackspire RPG Campaign… that audio series is just the first step. In addition to sound, we also record video and take photos as well throughout our gaming sessions. So while we will continue to release new episodes of the podcast, once we have collected enough visual material, we will also be going back to the beginning and re-editting the Blackspire RPG campaign into a brand new video series as well… complete with images of the custom miniatures we use in our tabletop setup, and cuts of our “live-action” game-play interspersed with relevant diagrams, maps, artwork, and other such resources.

And this is where you come in…

Should at any point during your listening experience you find yourself inspired by any of the people or places of the Blackspire world and feel you want to contribute to it creatively, we freely invite you to participate. You are encouraged to send us any fan art you are moved to create, or original music, or whatever form your creativity manifests itself into… show us what you’ve done and if we can use it, we’ll find some way to incorporate it into the Blackspire RPG’s second stage video series. You can also send in any questions you might have about the Blackspire world, and we’ll draw from that pool to create some periodic mailbag episodes. If you feel like you somehow want to be a part of this thing, the preemptive invitation is already there, and so you can find Blackspire Studios on Facebook, or you can email us at blackspirestudios@gmail.com.

Every time we unite together around a common thing it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Still another way you can contribute to the show is by donating to us any unused gaming resources you no longer have any use for, but of particular interest would be any modeling supplies ideal for tabletop gaming, especially really any type of fantasy or sci-fi miniatures in the (generally standard) 28 – 32mm range. I know many of you hobby enthusiasts out there have piles of unused supplies just gathering dust that could potentially end up containing just the right donation that will inspire some strange new chapter in the ongoing Blackspire saga. And if what I just said rang true, but you felt a pang of regret at the thought of parting with those supplies, maybe that will serve as the signal which will inspire you to dust them off again and try your hand at the craft once more. That would make me just as happy.

And finally, if you are one of those few who realize that money is just another form of energy, and it is in your power to contribute to the Blackspire RPG Campaign in that regard, please visit Patreon.com/Blackspire and become a monthly contributor. We have various levels of support, each which unlocks unique special rewards, including the opportunities to name places, items, or NPCs in the Blackspire world, introduce new plot hooks, submit ideas for adventure scenarios, and even earn yourself a spot as a player character in one of the many spin-off Blackspire adventures we plan to create as the seasons progress. Steady contributions of this sort ensure we can produce the Blackspire RPG Campaign at the best frequency and quality that we are able. Your generosity will not go unnoticed, and we’ll be sure to recognize and give the appropriate level of credit for any contribution we receive, no matter its form. If enough people find a passion for this program that corresponds to even a fraction of what mine is, perhaps one day I’ll even be able to make producing RPG material my full time job… as opposed to just a full time second job…

Not that I’m complaining mind you… money is not the reason that I am doing this, and for as long as I can keep producing it, I’ll continue to create more Blackspire material… and know that I am committed to always releasing that core content for free…

And real quick, if you do happen to find yourself liking my work and are curious perhaps about other projects of mine, I invite you to visit my website: TheReliquum.com – A blog about Art & Magick, Comics & Gaming… and how they all tie together. There you can find links to all sorts of information, including resources for the Blackspire Campaign World, as well as details related to commissioning your own custom painted miniatures from Blackspire Studios. If rather your curiosity concerning magick and the occult has been piqued, you can also find links to my YouTube lecture series Magick 101, which I’ve created as sort of a primer to introduce the inquisitive to the basic concepts of Magickal Theory & Practice. Also on my blog you can view a number of art pieces from my illustration portfolio, and they include links to my RedBubble site where you can get images of my work printed on all sorts of merchandise. There’s also information about other projects I’m still working on, my weekly blog where you can read about whatever crazy stuff I’m currently doing, and lastly if you want to read something of mine that’s actually been published, you can even find links to the critically acclaimed graphic novel Serial Artist that I co-created with Netherlands-based artist/musician Kevin Storm (who is also a guitarist in the hugely popular folk metal band Heidevolk).

And while I’m back on the topic of collaboration, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank all of the myriad musicians and foley artists that have made their content available for use under the Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License… but especially Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech, David Fesliyan at FesliyanStudios.com, Jingle Punks, Audioautix, MK2, Silent Partner, the various talented composers at Media Right Productions, and the many inspired folks over at ZapSplat.com and Freesound.org. The Blackspire RPG Campaign episodes simply would not be possible without the use of these resources… and from my own perspective, I have been awed to discover the almost indisputably synchronistic way I was able to find just the right music to pair with just the right pre-recorded scene from the game to create something that lined up so perfectly I’d almost believe the song was actually written specifically for it. In many cases, even my awkward pauses and “um’s and ah’s” serve in the end to make the total runtime of our conversations (usually over the span of many minutes) beautifully line up with the thematic beats of the music I’d picked… oftentimes right down to the second. It can be pretty trippy once you start to notice it… but if you listen carefully to the first few episodes of Season One I think you’ll start to hear what I’m talking about.

Pilot: Rats in the Cellar

And finally, I just want to thank my group of committed players who make the world of Blackspire come alive every time we gather around the table. I am humbled to have such a dedicated group to co-create with, but I’m especially grateful for the latest addition of Jim Meyer to the group. His professionalism brings a particular level of gravitas to our gaming table that just can’t be imitated, so you should also be sure to check out The Jim Meyer Experience.com to see where he’ll be performing next. Additional thanks is due to my old friend Aaron Campbell who’s been a brainstorming buddy of mine since our early college years… and who was my go-to person to bounce ideas for Blackspire off of before actually unleashing them in game. By day, Aaron draws comics for a living and is currently working on the series Infidel for Image Comics… so check him out. And lastly I want to thank my incredibly supportive wife Jenny, who is my biggest fan and my biggest source of encouragement. I love you. Always.

May this work also serve as a tribute then… a homage to all the inspired co-collaborators that have come before us who each dipped their pens into the inkwell of our shared consciousness. Among them great names like Byron & Shelley, Crowley & Casey, Tolkein & Lewis, Poe & Chambers, Lovecraft & Howard, King & Martin, Arneson & Gygax… let us give humble thanks for the genius so many have laid before us, even as we awkwardly try and scramble to glimpse a view from their giant shoulders…