What is a campaign in the 333 setting “about”?
The 333 setting is about sacrifice – what you are prepared to toss in the void, what you treasure most of all, what you lose on the way to your destiny.
The 333 setting is about suspicion – what you don’t know or trust, what you hide from others, what sees you as a threat.
The 333 setting is about man versus society – breaking the rules for better or worse, the breaking of bonds, the angry mob breaking down your door.
The 333 setting is about man versus himself – being undone by your own wants and habits, being never fully reliable or knowable, being part of the problem.
Magical power has allowed mankind dominance, and that dominance has paved the way to abuse. The abuse has conditioned humanity to become that much more deceitful and paranoid. The 333 campaign may not end happily, if the civil order breaks down under the stress of fear, deception and oppression. The Player Characters may find themselves suffering under tools of control, or having to make a tough choice between staying out of trouble and protecting the innocent. If they can rob the corrupt and authoritarian of their power, the balance of security and freedom will be maintained. In a darker and more tragic campaign, the Player Characters themselves will be part of the problem, dangerously pursuing power at the cost of wreaking havoc or exploiting the vulnerable. The magic “industry” – casting spells regularly for profit – can be dangerous, stressful, and ripe with moral hazards, if working conditions are bad and political or economic circumstances overwhelm legal and ethical concerns.
I recommend players who want an Earth-centric campaign (one not focusing on the outer planes, that is) to consider setting it firmly within familiar bounds – their native country and culture. Then, consider how an alternate history with open magic would’ve changed the last twenty or so years of their country’s “normal/real” timeline and socio-economic status – that makes the campaign backstory and general setting. Then, players should use their country’s mythological and “weird/mysterious” events/things as a basis for magical elements introduced – for example, Stonehenge in the UK, the pyramids in Egypt, and Shinto legend in Japan. A campaign set in the outer planes is gonna be less worried about a fleshed out and coherent alternate history of modern Earth.
The default 333 campaign starts in the year 2016 C.E., with a background TL (5+3). However, the GM and players may prefer to explore the 333 setting’s past and (possible) future. Some interesting eras to try include;
World War Two (TL 5+1)
In the 333 setting, WW2 shook up the European occult underground as governments at war clashed in both espionage and battle. Magic has not been revealed to the public yet, and the Allied Powers were the frontrunners in magical warfare (it seems the Nazis may have never recruited actual magi, in fact). PCs with magic will not usually fight in frontline gun battles, but instead fill support roles and running intelligence operations. Freelance magi are busy either trying to protect their loved ones and interests, or looting the burning houses of invaded countries.
The Cold War (TL 5+2)
At the start of the Cold War, magi were the secret weapons of N.A.T.O. and the U.S.S.R., shaping the face of TL 7 espionage. The big turning point here is The Big Reveal, that fateful day where the superpowers informed the entire world that magic exists. Suddenly, magi who thought themselves the ultimate secret were now common knowledge, and rounded up to be registered by the government. Adventures go from spy fiction covert operations to interpersonal drama. Will the PCs survive the game changer?
Apocalypse Now (TL 5+3)
The end is nigh. A brutal option for a 333 campaign is start with the beginning of a great magical disaster that throws all of humanity into chaos. In the first steps of society crumbling, the PCs must save what they can, survive the destruction, and try to stop the end of the world (if they can). See Even Shorter (After the End 2: The New World page 8).
After the End (TL 5+3)
If the above campaign frame progresses far enough, the next generation will grow up in a new world, as outlined in the After the End series. The magical apocalypse probably resembles Cosmic Rays (After the End 2: The New World page 5), Mother Nature (After the End 2: The New World page 5-6), Mega-Virus (After the End 2: The New World page 5), Things Fall Apart (After the End 2: The New World page 6-7), Walkers and Shufflers (After the End 2: The New World page 7) in effects and hazards.
The PCs are assumed to brought together by a shared theme or purpose. This is probably heavily connected to the campaign’s genre. Some examples of adventuring parties in the 333 setting are below.
All Magi or All Mundanes?
Before anyone creates a character to play, the GM should inform players if he desires a mundane/magi-only campaign, of course. Mixed parties are perfectly acceptable for most campaign frames. A mixed party may be required if a major theme of the campaign is the divide between mages and mundanes, on Earth and in the outer planes. Be aware that mundanes with anti-magic powers might have problems getting to the outer planes (which requires using interdimensional gates), and are most suitable to an Earth-only campaign.
In a low powered or socially-oriented 333 campaign, the PCs may be everymen allied tradesmen – “magewrights”, if they’re magi. The adventures the party goes on will involve ordinary jobs (typical of My Day at Work or Buying and Selling, Social Engineering page 8-9), the party will be hired by the local government or a private company. See Thaumatology: Urban Magics for details on blue collar magical workers. Mundane characters in this party are typically labourers, white collar office workers, sales people, or technicians, who are assisting or managing the magi.
A party of licensed professionals get hired, by law enforcement authorities or wealthy individuals with a grudge, to pursue and capture or kill a target in return for a reward. The police put bounties on escaped criminals, but uniformly want them brought in alive. Unofficial bounties may reward the hunters dead or alive. But “wanted dead only” is distastefully close to a glorified assassination contract – which may not discourage certain bounty hunters. The wanted men may hideaway in the remote corners of the outer planar wilderness in desperation, or simply buy a new identity in an Earth country with no extradition treaty. Each quarry is a separate adventure.
Archmasters of Magic
The PCs may all be Ritual Adepts built on 250+ points and possessing remarkable Path skills (one should be at least base skill level 18). A campaign revolving around such characters would be large in scope (regular travel between countries, at least), introduce very high stakes (adventures foiling terrorist attacks, for instance), and involve powerful organisations (first world governments, multinational corporations, etc.). Powerful magicians may band together to form a secret society of arcanists (named something grand like “The Immortals”, “Majestic-12”, or “The Black Sun Lodge”), the better to socialise with each other…and perhaps pursuit an hidden agenda. Archmasters may be hired by powerful organisations or high Status individuals to solve a “big picture” problem (a disease outbreak, a war, a greater dragon, a criminal conspiracy, etc.) or to conduct a cutting edge magical experiment (time travel, finding alternate universes, resurrecting the dead, etc.).
In campaigns that explore the seedier side of the 333 setting, the party may be working for the political elite, the high Status socialites, the multinational corporate executives and other players in the top-down power games. Adventures would involve negotiating deals, controlling the fallout from a scandal, navigating the laws, uncovering hidden agendas, and eliminating threats to their clients. See also; The Firm, Right-Hand Men and Sophisticates in Thaumatology: Urban Magics page 51-52 or My Day at Work and Politics in Social Engineering page 8-9.
The outer planes boast an uncharted and expansive magical wilderness to get lost in. The campaign may focus on the party journeying into the unknown, their adventures built around fighting magical creatures, surviving magical hazards, and discovering magical treasures. This kind of campaign is similar to a modern day “dungeon crawl”, that de-emphasises the social aspects of the 333 setting.
If the party is composed solely of Keepers in the outer planes, the campaign will follow a Police Procedural format (Thaumatology: Urban Magics page 51-52). Adventures focus on solving magical crimes in the cities.
The party composed entirely of magi specialising in the sport of mage duelling makes for an interesting campaign. Adventures would revolve around competitions in the mage duelling circuit, with the goal of winning prizes. Gambling and cheating are a part of the sport, too, sadly. A crooked duel promoter may try to fix the matches for the benefit of betting monsters, pressuring the duellists to throw the match or else. More light-hearted adventures involve gimmick matches and duellists with eccentric personalities. Alternatively, a duellist may be a representative “protagonist” hired to duel on behalf of a wealthy client – the mage duel in this case is used to settle matters of honor, or even the law in some fridge outer planar settlements. Whenever the client demands satisfaction or the courts demand a trial by magical combat, the duellist is paid to set things right.
The party, no matter what combination of mundanes and magi, may have adventures in crime – heists, black market rackets, blackmail, assassinations, and cover-ups. Magical stuff makes for a tempting target for thieves, controlled and illegal magic can be illicitly sold through underground connections, magical information gathering operations can uncover all sorts of secrets, hard-to-trace magical murder goes for a high price, and magic can completely scrub a crime scene of evidence and a witness’ mind of inconvenient memories. Even just casting spells for hire without a license (and avoiding police attention) can be an adventure. See Mean Streets in Thaumatology: Urban Magics page 51 for more focus on this kind of campaign.
A simple campaign revolves around the Monster of the Week format; the party are hired to hunt troublesome supernatural creatures. Each adventure starts with the part accepting a job, researching the quarry, tracking the prey down, killing or capturing it, and then collecting their payoff.
Campaigns in the 333 setting are, of course, low fantasy by default. However, the exact kind or subtype of low fantasy flavours the action and the plot.
333 campaigns may focus on the subtle art of information war, and how magic has affected the business of secrecy, lying and investigation. The exact nature of the espionage depends on the social strata the characters find themselves in; private sector employees become embroiled in corporate espionage, street people are involved in crime and grime, government agents spy on other countries, and freelance wandering adventurers can stumble across any number of conspiracies or buried treasures. Magical operatives play “the great game” with rituals that read minds, unlock doors, hack computers and shut down surveillance.
333 campaigns focusing on horror can involve both traditional stories (monsters, serial killers, dead bodies, dark and stormy nights) and the more cerebral style of psychological horror (madness, reality warping, betrayal, uncertainty). Elements like an oppressive social structure, a distrustful public, constant threats of magic gone wrong and urban decay should played up in a 333 horror campaign, emphasising the uneasy balance magicIans must walk in modern society. A cosmic horror 333 campaign should revolve around the horrible unreality cancer of Daath and the threat it poses to all the planes.
Aside from standard combat-heavy campaigns, the 333 setting can also feature fighting in a less “action movie” context. Battle magic and mundane martial arts mix well – any combat-focused character may combine the two for the purposes of war, crime, revenge, protection or justice. The mage duel is an accepted sport on Earth, and some eccentric outer planar settlements use mage duels as means of settling trials or political matters. Duellists may travel the planes, going from one competition to another, earning prize money and titles.
In the 333 setting, Keepers, mundane police officers and consulting magicians are all assigned to investigate typical crimes (i.e. murder) where magic was used, the casting of an illegal ritual, or the theft of magical goods. Private sector magicians may also solve mysteries, albeit without official legal powers and in more shady circumstances – their employers may require them to keep their investigation under wraps and punish the perpetrator unlawfully. See the Paranormal Mysteries chapter in GURPS Mysteries for more advice and information on mystery adventures with magic.
Need an idea for a campaign’s jumping-off point? Here are a few possible starting adventures;
Book, Bell and Candle
The PCs are drawn into a hunt for three magical artefacts; The Book of the Names of the Dead, The Candelabrum of Invocation, and The Bell of Openings. Each artefact by itself boasts impressive magical abilities (the Book allows summoning massive zombie hordes, the Candelabrum perfectly binds powerful spirits to your will, and ringing the Bell unlocks and opens any door), but the real prize (according to legend) requires acquiring all three and performing The Ritual of Excommunication. Supposedly, this Ritual empowers its beneficiary with great power over the forces of magic once performed in a remote and potent magical location. Competition for these three artefacts is fierce; daring heists and brutal murders have been pulled off with the goal of stealing one of the three. The party may be hired to find them, independently decide to get the treasures for themselves, be investigating the theft of one of the artefacts, or otherwise stumble into the conflict by bad luck. And just what is The Ritual of Excommunication? Is it truly a grand magical boon as advertised, or a sinister monkey’s paw that unleashes horrors upon the unwary?
The Phony War
This scenario is assumed to take place in a large outer planar city such as Triangle, but it can also work well in an industrialized Earth city. Two factions of wealthy and connected “special interest” cliques have taken a disliking to each other. A turning point in their rivalry has been reached (perhaps a “Romeo and Juliet” scenario?), and a private war has been declared. Their weapons are subtle magics, skullduggery and social engineering. Thieves, businessmen, lawyers, private detectives and saboteurs are all being hired on to fight the quiet fight. The PCs may get involved by either close personal ties to a member of a faction, or by simply accepting employment from a faction. As the soft conflict heats up, the PCs may stumble upon the dreadful secrets at the heart of the factions’ operations…
Election Day Special
The local election for city mayor (this adventure is assumed to take place in a major city outer planes like Triangle or Roulette, but an important Earth city with liberal magic laws can also work) is entering its last legs and it’s a heated and close race between two popular candidates. The player characters may be involved with the political machine, or may simply stumble into the adventure by freak chance. During the course of their ordinary jobs, they find hints of a conspiracy to fix the election by magically tampering with the vote count. Operatives are impersonating city officials, stealing documents, sabotaging vote counting machines, blackmailing workers, and other sinister tricks. The PCs must investigate; who are these conspirators? How are they fixing the election? Who do they want to win the election? Why? Are they working directly for one of the candidates or are they operating independently to further a more personal agenda?
Testfire, Walk With Me
The adventurers are hired to help out with a magitek corporation’s newest special project; an enchanted item boasting great powers. The player characters are tasked with debugging the prototype, keeping it secret from corporate espionage, finding buyers in major governments, beefing up security against thieves, researching improvements to the design, and trying it out in the field on real adventures. Attempts to sabotage the project can come from rival companies, jealous executives within the same company who hold a grudge against the project manager, and disgruntled ex-employees. The project itself may violate laws or be built upon criminal activity – which would attract police investigations or revenge from wronged victims.
The Sorcerer’s Crusade
A conflict between the magical subculture and a major religious or national mundane population has come to a head, and boiled over into violence. Thaumaturges trying to gain an edge call in help from foreign magicians – and the other side return the favour, intensifying the conflict. On the streets, magicians and the anti-magic mundanes take turns ambushing each other and attacking their interests (i.e. sabotaging operations, burning down churches, drive-by shootings, bar fights, breaking into offices, lobbying for bans on magic). Can the party put a stop to the violence, or do they have no choice but to finish the fight by eliminating their chosen enemy?
Evidence of Absence
The PCs realise that someone they all know has disappeared completely, and so has any physical evidence of his or her existence – only memories of the person remain. Is this a false memory implanted into their heads? Is it a Lesser Create Nonexistence ritual cast by a Daath cultist? An elaborate and thorough kidnapping? An runaway who covered his or her tracks very well? The party must retrace their steps over the past few days or so to see if they can find some proof of the missing person that the cover-up missed.
Ripped From the Headlines – Wizards are Involved!
Go to your local news website or read the front page of your local paper. The top story you read can be mixed with any sort of magical phenomenon or work in the rituals of magicians somehow. Something is enchanted, someone casted a spell, a magical creature is afoot – that is the basis for the adventure.