Building Stuff: Entrances and Exits

Bad movie? Yup. But pulp adventure in Transylvania? Fuck yeah.

Okay, so you’ve got your campaign kind of figured out. You know its general shape and themes. Now comes the time to flesh that out. Here’s where the campaign ideas become a plot.

You need to decide on your entry and your exit – where do the PCs start and where does the campaign end. The start is the introduction and the end is the goal. You need an introduction to get the character’s into the campaign or adventure and you need a goal for which they strive.

You may want an extensive, ongoing campaign that could take years, and that’s fine. What we are talking about here is some discrete piece of that. Although it is not impossible to create a meta-plot into which each section fits. Rather than dealing with a single slaver, your characters are fighting slavery as a whole. Rather than taking down the evil necromancer king, your PCs intend to rid the world of that strain magic. Rather than remove a specific extremist group with extreme prejudice, your team is part of an ongoing attempt to stabilize a failed state.

For what we’ll call the campaign, decide what it is the PCs are trying to do. There are three examples above: destroy the slaver lord, overthrow the evil necromancer king, end the threat of an extremist organization. These are all goals, and once that goal is achieved, the PCs will have reached the exit. Credits roll.

Now decide how the characters become involved in this. Are they unwittingly drawn into it, playing reluctant heroes who become great? Are they part of an organization that tasks them with this mission? Are they called upon by a higher power? Do they each have their own reasons and the initial adventure throws them all together so they can accomplish the goal as a group? Somehow, the PCs are introduced to the plot.

Think of the first chapter of a book. In some books, the first chapter is the normal world, with the hero(s) living normal lives that are then shattered – either in that chapter or a later one. Others begin with the action and fill us in on how the character(s) came to this in flashbacks or other reveals. Either works, though in RPGs, generally the quicker one gets into the action, the better.

With an entry and an exit, you’ve got your plot. It’s very high-level right now, like a satellite in orbit over the campaign, but it exists as a framework on which to hang your adventures, and it will be fleshed out by those same adventures.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

Building Stuff: Improvisation of a Kind

Concerns about building campaigns and adventures can be avoided if one is willing and able to think on one’s feet. I’m talking about running a game as a total improv. You need to be confident of your abilities, and you need to have the buy-in and participation of at least some of your group, but it can really save you time on prep.

I am very much an improv GM. This does not mean that I don’t plan anything, but usually I use a “one-pager” as a basis and then see where the game takes us. The one page has a synopsis of the basic idea for the adventure, and then any interesting people, places, or events the PCs might encounter. Generally one also needs mechanical information, though if I am running something like Centurion or Nefertiti Overdrive, building encounters takes about 25 seconds. Not about 30 and not about 20, but about 25.

I’m toying now with almost total improvisation. In our last AToL Pulp game, at certain points within the session I allowed the players to tell me what was happened. I handed out standard playing cards. High card went first. Then I asked some pertinent questions like “You have stopped on the road – why?” or “Something dangerous is approaching you – what is it?” This led to an encounter with Frankenstein’s monster leading a crew of skeletons similar to those from the 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

See, I would have never planned something so awesome and random.

The biggest problem with this approach is if your players are not interested in participating in world building. In the past, I’ve run fantasy adventures in which only the specific locale is planned and the players can develop the world beyond that, creating kingdoms, cultures, and history. If you have players who are uncomfortable with this, that can be a problem. It’s an even bigger problem if some players love the control this provides them, while other players – unwilling to contribute – still become upset because they see the other players gaining an “advantage.”

Situations like that can be addressed if you speak to everyone calmly and sympathetically, explain why you want to include the players, reinforce that this is about having fun, and trying to figure out a way all the players can participate. Maybe those uncomfortable with spontaneous creation can be provided questions to answer before the game, the answers to which will help drive the game forward.

I personally love this kind of GMing, and it does take a lot of the pressure of pre-planning and preparation away. It also allows the PCs to direct the action, and that really helps with player investment in the game.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can find some examples of one-pagers here.

You can find more information on A Team of Losers here.

You can read more about the 7th Voyage of Sinbad at Wikipedia and IMDB.

Building Stuff: Evolving

So, I’ve mentioned inspiration and campaign creation, but while media inspiration regularly leads me to create a campaign concept, the nuts and bolts of it really rely on what kind of game I want to play and how I expect my group will react to the campaign.

The current campaign I am running with my home group was explicitly a mashup of a bunch of different media influences, as were a few other games. My group ended up choosing it, and their characters have helped to fashion what it has turned into.

I call my 1930s Pulp supernatural campaign A Team of Losers, as I was hoping to channel “team” media like the movie adaptation of the A-Team and the comic the Losers and its movie adaptation. I took it a little further, deciding that the team would be facing a supernatural threat each adventure, kind of like the TV series Supernatural.

The direction the campaign has taken has been influenced by a lot of other media, but mostly through decisions made by the players. I used Manchuria as the setting of the first adventure due to my love for the movie the Good, the Bad, the Weird, but the characters created by the players shifted the tone toward Raiders of the Lost Ark by way of Buckaroo Banzai. We’ve literally got a whip-wielding archaeologist and a German (Austrian when the subject of Nazis comes up) mad scientist. There is a quick-draw carnival sharp shooter and a Lord of the Jungle. We’ve got a martial artist with a mystical bent and a non-descript comic relief who might be the deadliest of the bunch.

You should be relying on your players to do this to you – nudging you subtly or overtly toward the kind of game they want to play. They’ll enjoy your campaign more if you listen. My thought with A-Team and the Losers was of caper-style adventures. That hasn’t happened, but that’s not a problem. We’ve got pulp adventures including weird science – last adventure they fought evil Nazis in power armour in a lost city in the heart of Africa. The core of the initial concept remains – a team running through a series of supernatural adventures – but it has adjusted based on the input of the group.

Use inspiration to build your campaign, but be ready when it evolves into something different, and embrace that.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here.

You can read about Raiders of the Lost Ark at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Losers at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the A-Team at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about Supernatural at Wikipedia or IMDB.

Building Stuff: Inspiring

It’s funny, the question I hear/read a lot is: how do you come up with adventures. If find this odd because – as my home group will attest – I am constantly coming up with varied adventures, so much so that my group is often hopping between genres and periods. We’ve settled down now since I’ve promised a minimum of a year’s campaign, but I am still constantly mapping out adventures or campaigns in my head.

There’s a bit of time until I start hyping the Kickstarter for Nefertiti Overdrive (coming in January! Save your allowance!) so let’s talk about building stuff. Since I do want to keep reminding people about Nefertiti Overdrive (not going to lie to you) and since presently my home group is involved in a globe-trotting 1930s supernatural pulp adventure, I’m 20going to use these two styles/genres as my examples.

The hardest part of this to explain is the source of inspiration. It’s hard to explain, because for me, it is everywhere! I get inspiration all the time from comics, stories, novels, histories, TV series, movies, radio interviews – seriously, anything can provide inspiration.

Probably the best recent example of a great piece of media for inspiration was the Star Wars: Rebels pilot. This thing is made for inspiration, given that it is built from inspiration provided not just by other Star Wars stories but also from other modern speculative media.

At its core, Rebels is about a group of kind-hearted criminals working for the greater good. It’s Firefly by way of Robin Hood. The pilot was used to intro a new member to the crew, the point of view character. The story around which this was wrapped involved a prisoner rescue caper.

This is pretty easy to bend both to Nefertiti Overdrive and 1930s Pulp. Nefertiti Overdrive is about a group of legendary heroes led by a princess of the deposed dynasty. The new dynasty and that dynasty’s fearsome allies – the military superpower of the era, the Assyrians – view the group as criminals, but the PCs do not target the common folk, only the representatives of this new order. Sure, the PCs don’t travel around in a space ship, but the main story of this episode is set on a single planet, which could be a single area or even town for Nefertiti Overdrive.

For a campaign, I’d take the concept of working as criminals to fund opposition against the new regime. From the episode itself, I’d take the prisoner rescue mission and have the targets of the rescue former soldiers of the princess’ dynasty. This would be a great insert if someone new wanted to join the group. If they wanted to play the plucky young street kid who is having a moral awakening, that’s fine, but if they are going to play another epic warrior, the PC could be a leader of the imprisoned soldiers.

Applying the concept of Rebels to 1930s Pulp works pretty well considering the number of actual civil wars, invasions and rebellions ongoing in that period – leading up to World War II. I’d take Rebels and place it in Japanese controlled Manchuria (where I also set the first adventure for my home group’s campaign) mostly because a fair knowledge of the region and my absolute adoration for the Good, the Bad, the Weird.

The PCs would be freedom fighters with ties to both the Korean independence movement and the various criminal organizations and warlords operating in Manchuria. Instead of a group of prisoners, there would be one political prisoner the group needed to free, but he or she is being held with a bunch of other prisoners, some criminal, some political. Manchuria’s a pretty big place, and maybe the group has a hidden aircraft that they use (in place of the spaceship in Rebels) allowing them to travel quickly and appear as if by magic. I could steampunk it up and make it a kind of VTOL aircraft, part helicopter, part airplane.

That’s honestly the easy thing – using inspiration to create a high-level campaign concept. There’s inspiration everywhere, and if you aren’t using it directly (playing Firefly in the Star Wars universe), you can easily adapt it to what you want to play.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

You can learn more about Star Wars: Rebels at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can learn more about the Good, the Bad, the Weird at Wikipedia and IMDB.

Losing the Battle to Win the Kickstarter

Okay, so here’s the deal – after talking to a lot of very smart people and doing some deep thinking, I’ve decided to put off the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter until January. I’m honestly not happy about this, but I need to give it a fighting chance.

Even though it’s only a couple of months, it feels like an epoch trying to get this game off the ground. I was very ready at one point to pull the trigger on the Kickstarter when I had originally intended, even though it would have likely ended in failure. I don’t like the uncertainty. I wanted to know if this was a go or not.

I’m going to wait until January to give the Kickstarter a better chance at succeeding, but I’m not going to wait longer than that. A high profile RPG set in Egypt might start funding the week before my planned date and I’m not going to care. It’ll happen or it won’t, and if events conspire to make it fail, I’ll be a willing participant in that conspiracy.

So set your clocks, save up your pennies, and spread the word, January is the month, and I am leaning toward the 13th (a Tuesday) as the day.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

Hierarchy and Choson

Okay, so during the Nefertiti Overdrive doubt delay, let’s look once again at Choson.

“A secret trip at night (야금모행)” by Shin Yun Bok (신윤복)

The four factors that I wanted to include in Choson included two mechanical decisions and two historical concepts: simplicity, narrative control, historical Korea’s strict hierarchy, and its disdain for warriors.

I’m not concerned with the two former, because those have been hallmarks of my design since Sword Noir. The other two I could hard-code into the setting, but that seems like a cheat. I want to do this mechanically.

My first inclination is a kind of Reputation mechanic, similar to that in Sword Noir. In this case, Reputation would be separated into classes – there are roughly four major societal/class divisions in Choson Korea. Depending on your character’s social class, there would be both positive and negative modifiers dealing with other classes – sure, a yangban noble has social rank over the yangmin commoner, and in public, the yangmin will need to act with respect to the yangban, that doesn’t mean the yangmin actually respects the yangban. External actions and internal motivations will likely be at variance in a lot of social encounters.

This would set up kind of a complex matrix, but it shouldn’t take too much time to use. And it would be the GM that would be reliant upon it, so the players would never actually have to use the matrix.

I want to do something other than just add another modifier to reactions to represent the society’s disdain for warriors, but what could that be?

Still thinking.

You can find more information on Choson here.

Putting the Overdrive in Park

My original plan was to Kickstart Nefertiti Overdrive in October, that’s why I was pushing hard to get the Quickstart out in September.

I got the Quickstart out in September, but then realized Feng Shui 2 was Kickstarting until October. Feng Shui 2 has hit almost $120,000 as of writing, and probably $130,000 as of publishing this post. It’s a great game, so I am not surprised at all by that amount.

Unfortunately, it’s selling points are very similar to Nefertiti Overdrive, and I would imagine many of the people interested in high octane action in Ancient Egypt may have already pledged their budget.

As much as I hate to delay Nefertiti Overdrive more, kicking now is probably asking for trouble. Further, the holiday season (US Thanksgiving to New Year’s) is also apparently a deadzone. I really don’t want to wait until January after getting the Quickstart out in September, so my decision is either to chance it in November or wait until January.

Honestly, I am pretty much ready to just say “fuck it” and pull the trigger. If it happens, it happens, and if not . . . well, maybe there just isn’t the interest in this game to justify the money I want to invest in it.

So stay tuned while I wrestle with my doubts and demons and figure out what I want to do.

You can blow your budget on Feng Shui 2 here.

You can read the Quickstart here and then be so amazed that you save your allowance until it kicks.