Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: RPG Blog Carnival for May

This month I’m hosting the RPG Blog Carnival. I’ve chosen an open topic, near and dear to the heart of GMs (and budding GMs) everywhere:


There’s plenty of room here: Specific Campaign Pitches; Systems or Settings of Interest; Gamemastered in a Particular Style; For Particular Groups; Lists; How You Pitch That Campaign; Genres that Lure You; Using Interesting Tools; or even Campaigns Avoiding Certain Problems.

The RPG Blog Carnival invites Bloggers and Internet Posters of Various Forms to write on a shared topic during the month. If you write up an entry, comment below to tell me about it and/or send me an email. At the end of the month, I’ll put together a collective link list of everyone’s ideas and posts. Feel free to use the Blog Carnival illustration when you post. If you want to see more about the Carnival, read previous topics, or perhaps volunteer to host for a month, check here for more details.

I’m curious to hear about other people’s campaign ideas- and if you like, the nuts and bolts of your thinking. What do you consider when you think about a game you’d like to run: system, plot, characters, role options, house rules, who will play, tone, etc.?

In the past I’ve posted about some campaigns I’ve sketched out: Ars Potter; Usui Sekai- The Pale World; Courtly Changeling; Legend of the Fading Suns; A War on Christmas; and Malign Universal. I’ve also done big pitch lists in 2008 and 2012 and offered those to the players. I suspect that for every campaign a GM actually manages to run, they have at least three orphan campaigns they’re considering. I have at least three campaigns I’ve doodled on for the last decade+. In one case my dawdling on that meant that another gamer in our group used elements central to my concept and screwed me out of it. I can’t be that mad since I hadn’t talked about it. I just won’t ever invite him back to one of my campaigns. That’s probably a joke.

So let me start with a crazy idea I have. I’m not sure exactly how it would work, but I’m going to think about it.

High Concept: Exiles in an abandoned world of fantastic mecha learn to survive in the constant threat of giant monsters.

Think: Pacific Rim in a fantasy setting.

Premise: Two generations ago, several groups fled their own world to this one. They followed the path of a vanished and ancient people through several gates left behind. IN this new world they found a strange mixture of metal and vegetation- running from dense green jungles to steelstalk fields to copper canyons. More importantly they found emptied settlements and machines- in some cases one and the same. Steam and magic battlesuits, great walking cities, and strange gear and gadgets. The refugees, split by culture and distances, each began to figure out how to use this steam technology in different ways. Then they learned the reason for this arsenal when the first wave of monsters came. Hordes of beasts on the ground proved to only be the precursors for mammoth towering creatures two hundred hands tall. Somehow the exiles have managed to survive- learning new magics and adapting the abandoned machines to their defense. Today young heroes emerge- mapping the lands, studying their adversaries, scavenging the ruins, and searching for secrets which will save their peoples.

Scattered Thoughts:
  • The refugees came through around fifty years ago? I want them to have had enough time to settle in and figure out things, but not enough to have fully explored the world. Perhaps this is the first time they’ve had breathing room to send parties out. Players would have many roles and options- including dungeon crawls and monster fighting.
  • The refugees came over in 6-7 groups. Originally there was a unified idea of an Old World Imperator or Spiritual head, but that role has devolved into a symbolic one. Why they had to flee seems unimportant. Ideally I’d like these groups to be organized by caste, cultural, or philosophical lines. I don’t want them to be racial organized. In fact, I think I want a fantasy setting where all of the races can and do interbreed- resulting in many having a touch of Elf, orc and/or Dwarf blood. There could be some reaction/response to that. I’m thinking of a kind of political balance closer to the pre-Sengoku era of Japan. In this case leaders were heavily focused on regional issues and ideas, with less of a national sense.
  • There are mechs, automatons, gadgets and devices of all kinds. The different refugee colonies might have developed distinct specialties with these. I imagine the settlements might look quite different: one atop a giant moving mecha, another floating, one inside a massive dome, another underground and so on. Perhaps there’s some bio-mechanical adaptation as well, ala Rippers, with technologists scavenging from the monsters.
  • Mysterious native peoples who have kept themselves hidden? Are the descendants of the ancients or something else. I don’t want to fall into the easy trap of the “enlightened nature natives” vs. “the arcano-military technologists.” Definitely need a twist on this.
  • The monsters should be that: monsters, big, brutal and cunning, but not super-smart. They should have a Godzilla or Jurassic Park feel to them.
  • Perhaps there are gods here, but wild and unknown ones. Think of the various Demon Gods from Jhereg. The refugees are still trying to figure them out: who are they? what do they want? what are their rituals? I had an idea where these gods mark anyone born here with a sign. So beginning with the first native generation, everyone has a sign or symbol of one of the say seventeen gods. Perhaps they have a talent or gift drawn from that. But right now the peoples are still trying to figure out what that means.
  • Grand set-pieces of migration swarms of certain kinds of beasts (ala The Great Modron March). Fighting back the incursion of singular monstrous animals. Dungeon lairs and caves. Discovering interesting secrets and patterns to the beasts’ behavior.

Mechanical Considerations:
  • Most of this idea is inspired by looking at DragonMech and thinking about how I could play with those concepts. But I’m not a d20 person, so I’d use a different engine.
  • Have to find a system which can handle this while still feeling robust. Many games with deeper vehicle building systems are a little heavy for what I want: GURPS, Champions, even d20. I can probably look through the some of those for ideas. If the players end up with mechs or gadgets of their own, I want them to be able to tweak and develop them, but that shouldn’t be as complicated as character creation.
  • I also need to figure out how to balance things. I’ve mentioned before the Netrunner problem- where one character has a specialization requiring unique resolution. If one player has a Mecha, then all players should have a Mecha or something comparable. Moving between the two states should be fairly easy, but then again, I don’t want the game to devolve into the Power Rangers. Iron Kingdoms, of course, has an interesting approach in that the mechs are independent. Perhaps the PCs could all be geared up in different ways- magic, light power armor, implants, etc.
  • I have plenty of mecha-type figures, but I’d need to get some larger monster figures to supplement.
  • If I were to run this, I would sketch out the plot points and details I really wanted: mecha, monsters, refugees, groups, etc. but then I would hand that off to the players to build. We would do that using Microscope- with the beginning of the history being their arrival and the end being the start of the campaign. I’d have to figure out which details I really wanted and cut the rest (or at least hold them off to introduce during the Microscope session if they fit).