Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Seven Settings: Campaigns I'd Like to Run

Several submissions for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme- "Campaigns I Want to Run" have surveyed multiple campaigns- wish lists of a sort. Some have been in established settings or used classic campaigns (The Enemy Within, etc). In recent years I’ve leaned more and more to building my own settings and campaign frames. I do that in about three-quarters of what I run; Changeling the Lost and Legend of the Five Rings are two exceptions. But even there, I’ve had control over the material for the most part. In my f2f campaigns for both, players  learned about the setting and background mostly from me. I have a several groups, few of whom feel the need to go out and buy the books or research the background. That might seem lazy to some, but it’s actually refreshing and keeps things open-ended. The players get to discover and experience the setting at the table, coming in with fewer preconceptions. I have a good sense of what they know beforehand and I can play to that. Some odd bits have emerged from that as I’ve riffed new things. I have to keep that in mind when I run the online Changeling the Lost game which has players who know more of the background.

In any case, I still steer away from published settings- mostly because I like the idea that I own what I make up. If I come up with an awesome idea, I don’t like it beholden or dependent on someone else’s IP. But…but…there are some settings I am really drawn by…that I’d be willing perhaps to run in. That I really want to run in because I love the ideas at play. So here are seven published settings I'd like to run in. If you’d like to join in the RPG Blog Carnival, write up a post on the topic. When you have it up, put a link in the comments of that original post (or this one) or send me an email. At the end of the month I’ll do a comprehensive round up of them.

I like old Mage: the Ascension. It’s my favorite of the oWoD games, but one I’ve never gotten a chance to run in its original form. I used some of the elements as backstory for my Ocean City Interface game. The reality war and struggle between paradigms appeals to me on the macro-scale, but I also like the micro-scale implications of having to live one’s life carefully- trying to affect change while avoiding backlash. I’d enjoy a modern, low-level game of this.

But I’m more interested in one that deals with some of Mage’s sources. I really love Ars Magica, especially the early approaches and material which were more open and fantastical- and less rigid and historical. I love conceptually that you can trace a line from that game to the Traditions of MtA, with Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade in the middle. For many years now I’ve worked on a campaign on and off which would actually tie those together better. Part of what I had planned got screwed over when someone in the group lifted elements from my game world to use in his, so I have to go back to the drawing board on that. The key concept of the campaign would be this. MtSC posits a war between the Council and the Order of Reason. But that struggle looks very like the modern one, with the OoR somewhat having the upper hand and a dominant control on reality. In my version both create significant paradox- with the rationalist approach just as dangerous as the imaginative one. A war between the two sides ended in a stalemate, with fallout and backlash. The campaign would take place during a period of truce between the two sides. There would be attempts to negotiate and bring together the conflicting sides. It would be a Chantry-style campaign, with members from both camps in one place. There would be a greater threat in the air, forcing the two to join together.

I’ve written about this before. I really like the weirdness of the setting, and the brightness of everything. I’d love to figure out how to handle air combat in a way that’s both abstract and satisfying. The original Crimson Skies rules are too detailed; but some hybrid that mixes elements of the Clix version, Wings of War, and even Car Wars might work. I want those air combats to be tactical, but fast. FATE could do it, but it might be too simple. The other trick is figuring out how to balance play in the aircraft and play “on the ground.” I actually think I might be able to get this to the table- if only as a portal for Ocean City Interface.

Another one I’ve written about before. I’ve tried to isolate what I like about it. Some of it is the atmosphere and imagery. More of it is the imagined version I have of it in my head versus the actual background as written. My version isn’t quite as dark- the institutions aren’t quite as corrupt, and even the ‘bad’ families and factions actually have a role and a purpose. So, as I suggested before, closer to Legend of the Five Rings. In my earlier post I mentioned I would do a family building exercise and then have the players help build some of the history. I’ve done something like that with my recent L5R campaign with some success. Another option would be to figure out how to make this even more A Game of Thrones. Narrow some of the scope and have the players as a powerful faction attempting to either seize control or prevent others from doing so.

I don’t know much about this- in fact, I’ve only glanced at the titles of these books. But bizarrely I keep being drawn back to the idea. Not necessarily the actual idea of the idea, but the one I’ve developed in my head. I like the idea of a Musketeers Alt-Earth campaign which has elements of magic and perhaps even steampunk. I really loved Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances which managed something like this, with all of the levity of Dumas’ novels. I also dig some of the ideas present in Lace & Steel, but that’s almost too fantastical for what I want. I think what I’d really like would be a Swshbuckling game that lifts some of the core concepts from Clockwork & Chivalry and brings them to a pseudo-historical France. I think my players could more easily buy into some of those concepts (ritual alchemy and clockwork engineers) in the context of a genre they know through movies and TV shows. The English Civil War, not so much. Does that bear any resemblance to Regime Diabolique? I don’t know. I’m almost nervous to pick the book up now and be disappointed.

It has been almost two decades since I’ve run Call of Cthulhu. I most often ran with a modern setting, rather than the default 1920’s. I love the concept of The Armitage Files. I’ve read some bloggers who have run the campaign and I’m amazed at how vastly different they are. I see this set up as a challenge- trying to come up with a compelling and interesting new take on the fly. The problem I have lies in the groups. I have some players who might enjoy this, but others who aren’t as interested in horror or historical. I’ve considered running this online, but I’m not sure how well the tension of CoC (or ToC) translates to that medium.

Steampunk and samurai- how can you not like this? Part of what’s kept me away from this is that I run a Legend of the Five Rings campaign. I’m a little worried about too much cross-contamination. I’ve thought about doing this set in “the future” of Rokugan, but I don’t like the pressure that puts on the current timeline. I think what I’d rather do is take a look at this closely and play up the Wuxia and Ninja elements as well. Perhaps I could throw in some ideas from Wu Xing the Ninja Crusade. Someone mentioned to me that there’s a set of gearpunk fiction set with a samurai background. I might have to track that down.

I’ve run in this setting before, and I’d like to go back again. I’d like to do another tale of the heroic Dragon-Blooded and their battle against the forces of anarchy and destruction which threaten the realm. They’re by far my favorite kind of Exalt- caught between personal power and the need to work together to be successful. Outstanding PCs exalts recognize the destructive impulses of the familial in-fighting and can look beyond it. I’d probably go back and reboot the campaign and campaign city I enjoyed so much. However I’m not sure what I’d use to run it. Exalted 1e has some serious problems, even with the more balanced DBs. I dislike the combat in 2e and 3e is far off and appears to be as crunchy as the others. I really want a system that rewards the anime feel of the setting, while at the same time has room for all of the cool Charms and other bits.