The Warlords Bow to the HardCASE

The times, they are a-changing.

My post-apocalyptic game using the Riggers system is no more. I have some ideas on why this has happened. In essence, I don’t believe I managed expectations properly, the style was too great a variation on what my players were used to, and I spent too much time working on mechanics rather than being concerned about my players.

The game – which was under the title Warlords of the Wastes – was meant to be gritty and threatening. The PCs were members of an expeditionary party caught in a foreign land and trying to find their way home, or at least to someplace safe . . . or safer. I had set up an encounter early in the game – a checkpoint with a still-function tank – to try to telegraph the threat the setting presented. Even as they were getting their asses handed to them, the players continued to try to beat the opposing force. Only when I openly stated that they really should run for it, did they do so.

This is tied into the second problem with the campaign – the variance of styles. Centurion, playtested back in 2012, was the last time my players felt really threatened. They did really well in Centurion because they were still in the “we are mortal” mindset. Given that since the playtesting for Nefertiti Overdrive started in 2012, the games we’ve gone through have had the PCs as master-class bad-asses, I needed to do more than telegraph the switch back to mortals. I needed to put it in big, huge, neon letters. I needed to manage expectations. I should have been the slave in the chariot during a triumph in Rome whispering “never forget: thou art mortal.”

So, that change in styles: not only was it not made obvious front and centre, I don’t think it clicked with what my players enjoy. We have had a lot of fun since Nefertiti Overdrive. The system for League of Extraordinary Misfits was by no means as kinetic and cinematic as Nefertiti Overdrive, but the PCs were still pulp adventurers, and it had a very light-hearted tone (we had the monkey Schultz, who was a version of the Human Torch who was also the co-pilot).

Now Dream Riggers was a little tougher than League of Extraordinary Misfits, but the PCs basically had superpowers and were up against personifications of concepts like dreams, nightmares, and illusion – using the Greek gods/demigods for that purpose – in a future Johannesburg. The tone was still closer to pulp than gritty.

It can be fun to be the underdog. It can be okay to fail. But it’s tough moving from uber to under. The problem was also that while there were moments of victory, the taste of defeat came too often and at least one player really didn’t like that style of play.

And this leads into my third point. While I explained the story concept to the group (I have no concerns about “metagame” knowledge, from knowing where the plot is leading to knowing the number of successes needed to beat a particular challenge), I was very focused on getting the mechanics right. I discussed my work on the mechanics and my concern about certain system impacts here previously, and that was where I focused most of my efforts.

Sure, that needed to happen in order to get the mechanics to do what I wanted, but I also needed to put more work into responding to my players’ concerns. We had a discussion about story direction and style, but it came too late. Once investment in a game is lost, it can become a feedback loop. The setting had negative connotations, and I wasn’t sure I could get everyone back on board.

From Secret Avengers 19, Written by Warren Ellis, Pencils by Michael Lark, Inks by Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies, Colour by Jose Villarrubia, and Letters by Dave Lanphear

So we buried the campaign. That doesn’t bother me too much. It’s part of the learning curve. Our last failure was about the size of my gaming group. That’s been addressed and so far, that seems to have worked well. To replace Warlords of the Waste, we are looking at playing an espionage/black ops campaign in which the PCs are super-powered – kind of like Warren Ellis’ run on Secret Avengers, or John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. I’m hacking rules I originally designed for a “Borderlands” style game, so we are going to return to the PCs being asskickers.

This is going to be HardCASE – the PCs are members of the Clandestine Activities Special Executive.

I’m looking forward to this. I hope they are too.

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