Monday, September 10, 2012

New Worlds: Campaign Pitches and Results

SELLING THE CAMPAIGN
Last night I pitched the ideas for the new campaign at the Sunday night group. That’s a set of players who have been together on that night pretty continuously for about 17 years. We started off playing a lot of Rolemaster, then Legend of the Five Rings using Storyteller, then a long mixed dimension campaign, Scion, and finally a 2½ year high fantasy campaign using homebrew rules (Action Cards). We have four of the original players still remaining, and last night we filled the fifth seat with Jacque. She’s played in several of my games and right now she’s in my Saturday night Scions of Fate mini-campaign. She’s a smart and solid player and I think she’ll bring a lot to the table.

The last time I did campaign pitches, I wrote out everything ahead of time and then had the players vote at the table. I even gave players the option of a veto, which cut some out pretty effectively. I thought that went pretty well- except that a couple of people who left the campaign shortly after it began had vetoed things the remaining players had wanted, which was kind of crappy. The other problem was that the survey relied on people have read and worked through the materials I’d given them ahead of time. At the table a couple of players had different impressions of the campaign based on their reading of the blurbs. We had strong differences of interest for that one

This time I decided to make a couple of changes. I wanted to go with a slightly smaller number of campaign ideas. I’d gone with fourteen before, this time I would do nine. Or as it turned out ten, I threw one in at the last moment.  At the beginning of the year I’d come up with a list of campaign ideas I liked. I went back through those. Some weren’t a good fit for this group, others didn’t interest me as much now as they did then. I would not tell the players ahead of time what I was putting on offer. Instead I would pitch each of the ideas verbally and quickly in just a few minutes at the table. I’d present them in sets, pausing to answer questions about the games in the set in between. I’d describe the basics of the idea, the system I planned to use, and how long I expected the campaign to last. Some campaign were shorter than others- picking one of those meant we could conceivably come back to one of the others. Some could be long or short depending on the group’s decision. I handed each player a ballot with the names of the campaigns. As GM, I would vote as well based on my interest. Once I’d pitched all of them, they’d rank the ten from lowest interest to highest interest, with a higher number being better. The actually threw me off and I had to go back and correct my ballot after we started tallying because I’d written it in the other way.

WARFARE'S THE MOST IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTE...
The ten campaigns I pitched were:
  1. Middle Earth Tour: Set in the Third Age, just after the Kin Strife (the time of most of the MERP supplements), players would all be members of the order of Rangers. They would be sent on a mission from Ardethain to the far south. It would be an episodic tour of the realm. Action Cards, shorter.
  2. Exalted: Crux Redux: Some years ago I ran a really enjoyable Dragon-Blooded Exalted game. We had to put it on hold because of a couple of players, and then we were never able to pick it up again. I would use the campaign premise of young Dragon-Bloods sent into semi-exile in the strange city of Crux. There they would have to make a name and fortune for themselves to rejoin their family. Urban fantasy, with resource and building aspects. We would use Exalted 1e or Action Cards. Length variable.
  3. Legend of the Five Rings: The players would all come from the same clan for this take on the samurai fantasy game. The would be part of a newly formed family within that clan. The focus on the campaign would be on establishing and defending the lands of that family. The players would collectively design the nature, resources, and holdings of that family (ala Blood & Honor). Each player would have a significant position within the family, and player would move between adventuring and higher-level concerns. Action Cards with the L5R background.
  4. Cthulhu: Armitage Files: I would run a campaign using the excellent Armitage Files campaign framework for Trail of Cthulhu. We would use those rules (perhaps modified), shorter.
  5. Ocean City Interface: A multi-dimensional game, with a base underlying reality. This would allow players to move through several genres. Each player would have a reality/portal of their own. We’d played a campaign like this for a number of years with some success. Action Cards, longer.
  6. Conspiracy X: A modern campaign echoing ideas from Fringe, X-Files, Warehouse 13, and even Torchwood. With the backing of the AEGIS agency, players battle against paranormal threats from aliens to ghosts. Unisystem or Action Cards, variable.
  7. Ashen Stars: Players take the role of freelance troubleshooters with a spaceship. They fix problems and solve mysteries for money. We would have a home-base planet for continuity. Part of the challenge would be managing the agency. I’d dial down the number of alien races from the Ashen Stars setting. Action Cards, variable.
  8. Fading Suns: A significant re-envisioning of that setting. I saw it more as Legend of the Fading Suns. Players would create a new family and engage in their choice of adventures: politics, exploration, merchant trade, warfare- their choice. It would be opened ended, from D&D in space to A Game of Thrones with laser swords. We’d use Microscope to create the history. Action Cards, longer.
  9. Kingdom Building: A new area has been annexed by the Empire of the Hours, and the players are the agents sent to survey it and then aid the arrival of a new governor to rule it. Players would have positions and roles, and the freedom to negotiate and enforce. They would have forces and resources to apply to problems. A classic fantasy game. Action Cards, variable.
  10. Guardsmen: The PCs would be town guards in a fantasy city. The group could decide what genre of place they wanted- from medieval, to steampunk, to swashbuckler, to wushu. They would collectively build the city (using the method I suggested here) to start. Then they would serve as guards there- trying to protect the city while advancing themselves. Action Cards, variable.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
In the end, the results were (from least interested to most):

10. Ocean City Interface (23)
8/9 (tie). Ashen Stars/Fading Suns (27)…which makes sense, there’s a bias against sci-fi in favor of fantasy in the group.
7. Conspiracy X (28)
6. Cthulhu: Armitage Files (29)
5. Guardsmen (35)…I was a little surprised by this; I was sure this would be higher.
4. Middle Earth Tour (39)
3. Kingdom-Building (40)
1/2 (tie). Legend of the Five Rings/Exalted: Crux Redux (41)

My choices were from most interested to least: Guardsmen, ConX, Ashen Stars, L5R, Kingdom, FS, Middle Earth, Exalted, OCI, Armitage.

L5R, btw, was the last minute addition I threw on there to round things out to ten. 

Since we had a tie, I opted to decide in favor of Legend of the Five Rings. I have some interesting ideas for that, plus I think converting it over to Action Cards will be easier than Exalted. While I have a lot of campaign background material for the Crux setting in exalted, the mechanics of Charms & such might bog me down. With L5R decided on, I asked the group to consider which clan they wanted to make a family for. We went through all of the options- the seven Great Clans, the Mantis, an Imperial House, or a minor clan. Finally I had the players pick their three top choices- the three with the most votes were Lion, Crab, and Dragon. One player was less interested in the Lion, so we collectively decided to choose one of the other two. I pushed the group to Dragon, because I think there’s more room- literally and figuratively for them to create a new family in that Clan.