Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Grail Campaigns": Games Out of Reach: Play on Target Ep. 40

Woot! A new episode of the Play on Target podcast drops. This time we take on campaigns we'd like to run....but we're not sure we can. In other words "Grail Campaigns." Idealized or unicorn campaigns that won't actually come to fruition for whatever reason: group reluctance, ambition, not as awesome as we think, death threats, time required to actually get them off the ground, etc. Listen as we talk ourselves into and out of our ideas in just under an hour. Scoff, support, or simply sit in bemusement to our confessions.

Bonus point to listeners if you can help me with my Fading Suns problem...

I usually blather about these episodes, so I’m working to condense my additional thoughts.

1. I’m pretty taken with the idea of using Dogs in the Vineyard for a Dragon Age riff. While DitVY leaves open the question of the reality of demons in the setting, DA takes that as a given. But they match up in the question of peoples' problematic readings of events. What does demonic influence actually look like to “non-mages”? How can we interpret the signs? In particular Solas in Dragon Age: Inquisition deepens the narrative about the line between spirits and demons. This mash-up could be a cool way to explore these issues- perhaps as an adjunct to a conventional Dragon Age campaign. We successfully did a version of that with our Hollowpoint/Skyrim session.

2. I love creating campaign concepts. That's one of my great downfalls. Even as I’m running awesome games, I’m thinking about other stories and settings I could be playing in. That’s why my campaign pitches lists end up being far too long. When I assemble those lists, I end up with games I know will never pass muster. But I leave them in, telling myself some story about options and "off-chance "reactions. But these extras cloud the waters for the players. Plus each one’s appealing to me; the more I put forward, the more opportunities I have to be sad about rejection. Next time I pitch campaigns, I’m going to try to rein myself in. (This is a lie.)

3. Andrew mentions what I'll call “Abused GM Syndrome”: the lure of games and settings that draw you back, but don’t pay off. The cycle continues as you go away for a while and start to think about how cool X is. I get this every couple of years with Scion, but then I flip through combat system. The same thing with Hero System, especially when I see a laudatory blog post or it appears in a Bundle of Holding. I gaze longingly over a rose-colored GM screen. But I can cure myself by paging through through the books. While the system does some awesome things, it those aren't the things I necessarily value at the table.

4. We’ve covered pitching campaigns to players before in this episode. I’ve also blogged selling campaigns to players before (and what happened). Next Campaign Survey (and the results); Campaign Frames 2012 Part One and Part Two; and 23 Campaign Concepts

5. I wish I could easily calculate a cost/benefit analysis for game prep. For example, I like the idea of Exalted, especially the Dragon Blooded. But I’m not fond of the mechanics in any of the versions. Is it worth the time to work out a hack for it? Or would I get just as much fun out of something new I didn’t have to rebuild? That’s the “grass is always greener” problem in GMing.

6. If you want to look at more cool campaign concepts than you can possibly run, check out the DramaSystem pitch contest here. Yes, yes I’ve mentioned it before but a) there are some tremendous cool ideas there and b) I have a horse in that race so I want more people to vote.

7. Here’s another game that I like, but may be a little too crunchy for me: Night’s Black Agents. To run that, I’d need to streamline the mechanics (consolidate skills, trim down some of the extra systems). It isn’t that the mechanics aren’t awesome- they are. But I’m more comfortable with lighter approaches. I’m still thinking about how you could mash up NBA with the James Bond 007 RPG. I like those quick mechanics- and maybe it’d be worth just stealing the supernatural premise. I could do a reskin of the Vampire building section in those rules. On the other hand, it also occurred to me that NBA could be fused with Over the Edge. In particular you could use the Kergillians as the conspiracy, ending with the players actually in Al Amarja.

8. Campaigns require a commitment of time and effort. I’m more comfortable with those than one-shots, or even short runs. I fetishize campaigns a little because I feel like more sessions gives me room to play with things (and perhaps recover from mistakes). But their length and scheduling needs means that you can’t play everything you want (unless you're Andrea). You have to pick and carefully choose your battles. At first I thought I’d compare that to sinking time into a jrpg like FF or Valkyrie Profile. But those can be picked up and put down at a moment’s notice- engaged for an hour when insomnia strikes. You can’t do that as much with a conventional tabletop rpg. (Unless you do a forum game, something I haven’t, but I see some of the draw of).

9. As I have said before, we live in an amazing time for gaming. Players and GMs seize great sessions and experiences out of all manner of games: story, tactical, narrative, forum, osr, online, and on & on. I sigh and talk about my Great White Whale games in this episode, but I’m running four campaigns right now, playing in one, and have another one just beginning. There’s more than a little Monkey’s Paw here: if I got all the games I wanted I’d burn out like a die-rolling mayfly.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at www.playontarget.com.