Kalyr can support of lot of different styles of game, from backstabbing political intrigue to swashbuckling adventure, with focus stretching from the fate of a small community to epic struggles over the future of the entire world.
There are two big themes in Kalyr, and most games will focus strongly on at least one of them. But even a game that revolves around smaller local issues, these themes will still be present in the background.
The first is stability versus change. The big conflict in Kalyr is between those who wish to preserve the status quo, and those who want to transform Kalyr into something radically different. The most significant faultline is obviously ‘The Human Question’. Many humans (and some Kandar) wish to transform the civilisation into one where the two races treat each other as equals, while other nastier groups of both races dream of final wars of extermination. But there are other forces of change in Kalyr, most of whom keep themselves hidden, who have ambitions to change the world just as radically. A group of PCs could find themselves on either side of some of these conflicts, or may find themselves with divided loyalties.
The second big theme is what’s behind the curtain. Many things in Kalyr are not what they seem. Much history is forgotten or deliberately obscured; likewise the origin and even the ultimate leadership of many organisations are shrouded in mystery. What’s really going on in the background? Who controls the Academy of Knowledge? What is the real agenda of the Academy of Life? What is the true nature of the Guardians? And what wonders exist beyond the known parts of the civilised world? PCs could be those who look beneath the surface, ask the Questions That Should Not Be Asked, and risk sharing the fate of others who knew too much.
As for the answer to these mysteries, they are for groups to ‘discover’ on their own during play.
Kalyr is a rich setting, in which you can run a lot of different types of game. Why is why it’s a good idea to define a campaign frame at the start of the game to justify the player characters being together. The old “six strangers meet in a tavern, where a mysterious hooded figure proposes a quest” cliché just won’t work in Kalyr. It’s very unlikely that a high ranking noble, an low-born technician, a legionnaire and a human revolutionary would adventure together on a long term basis.
There’s nothing to stop you having an “anything goes” game, where there are no restrictions on what types of characters players may choose. It’s quite likely that the GM will end up running lots of semi-independent threads for different groups of characters, which can certainly work in for a play-by-email game. The author has run a very successful and long-running PBeM in just that manner.
But you may choose a narrower slice of Kalyr for the campaign focus, making all PCs members of the same clan or guild. Not only does it ensure that there’s some connection between the player characters, but it also reduces the amount of information the players and GM need to assimilate before starting to play.
- All PCs are member of one of the guilds. The best options would be the Academy of Knowledge (who get all the neat gadgets) or the Academy of the Mind (who have all the cool powers). A more action-orientated game would probably want to focus on the guilds’ security divisions, who have a lot of leeway in using lethal force against guild enemies. That’s not the only option: for example, game emphasising politics and diplomacy could spotlight the guild administrators. Since guilds are responsible for law and order in many places, there’s the option of ‘police procedural’ type adventures.
- The players are all associated with one of the 14 noble clans. The PCs are most likely to be minor kandar nobles, but it’s possible to have a human PC as a trusted retainer or slave. A wide variety of character types would fit into this kind of game, including guildsmen, knights and priests. Such a game could focus on the conflicts of loyalty between clans, guild and temple, and makes for a good game of intrigue and betrayal.
- A human rebel cell. This sort of game brings ‘The Human Question’ centre stage, and views it from the human side. The PCs are underground human rebels, plotting to overthrow the kandar order. They might operate out of hidden strongholds in the wilderness, launching hit and run raids against remote kandar outposts or convoys. Of they might act as rabble rousers in the cities, fomenting revolt, or carrying out assassinations or acts of sabotage against those kandar who most oppress the humans. This is dangerous business, were overstepping the mark will bring a pogrom down on your head.
- A military game. Sooner or later, the growing tensions in Kalyr are going to explode into open warfare, and the PCs will inevitably get caught up in the middle of it. This is one logical development of a Rebel Cell campaign. But a more likely large scale war would involve the Konaic Empire on the march, with large scale pitched battles, sieges and guerilla actions. PCs could be in the legions, or be knights and guild security attempting to work together for a common cause. Even without a world war, it’s possible to run a military campaign set in one of the smaller wars, such as the mountain war against the zughru, or the guerilla war between the Konaic Empire and the free humans of Nucumban.
The group must decide on a starting power level for the game. A game set in the corridors of power demands a different level of power than a street-level game.
- Worms’ Eye View: They’re towards the bottom of the social food chain, perhaps talented apprentices, or maybe riffraff who have come up from the streets. If they’re of noble birth they’ll be adolescents with very little life experience. Life will be a battle for survival in a dog-eat-dog world. Start with 15 skill levels, a skill cap of Great, and three Stunts.
- In the Middle: This gives reasonably experienced and competent characters who can cope with a wide variety of challenges, without being so powerful that they can stomp over everything. Start with 25 skill levels, a skill cap of Great, and five Stunts.
- Movers and Shakers: This will allow them to start play as powerful figures in Kalyr society; senior guild figures, powerful nobles, skilled wizards, military leaders. Start with 25 skill levels, a skill cap of Superb, and seven Stunts.
Just as the group must decide on a power level, they must decide how important psionics are going to be in the game. Here are some possible psionic levels.
- Mostly Mundane: For a low-psi game, no player character may take no more than one or two psionic stunts, which will severely restrict the level and number of psionic skills. This will keep Psi low-powered and fickle, at least to the PCs. While powerful wizards may still exist in the world, they will tend to keep to themselves, and their paths will generally not cross those of the PCs. If a PC does manage to cross a powerfully psionic, he or she will make a terrifying opponent.
- Strange Powers: Only one or perhaps two of the PCs should begin the game with any psionic stunts or skills. Psionics are a special talent. The GM and players should ensure that the Psionic characters powers don’t overlap too much with the mundane skills of the other characters.
- Mind Masters: All or most of the PCs are psionic, and they are likely to overshadow any ‘mundanes’ they encounter. Psionics will become the major focus of the game, which will probably be centred on the Academy of the Mind. This doesn’t have to be a high powered game; a low power but high psi game can be centred around apprentice wizards (does that sound familiar?)