Wednesday, May 29, 2013

23 Campaign Concepts: Things I'd Like to Run

As we get to the end of May, we begin to wrap up this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme “Campaigns I’d Like to Run.” You can see the announcement post here, with tons of links to great responses in the comments there. You still have time to post a response if you have an idea. You can see more on the RPG Blog Carnival here. Next week I’ll put together a organized post which goes through all of the submissions- at least the ones I know about. 

To finish up my contributions, I decided to write out all of the little campaign brainstorms I’ve had recently. In the past when I’ve had campaign change-overs I’ve done big lists of pitches for the players to consider (you can see some here and here). For this list I’ve tried to get down on the page all the random ideas I’ve had bouncing around. Ideally these are all new to me- not featured on previous lists. Some of them are pretty fleshed out, while others are more sketches or hooks that appeal to me. A few really deserve a post of their own- and could be easily put together for play. I suspect many of these will appear as Portal options if I get around to running Ocean City Interface. 


1. Victorian Shadowrun: A world with Steampunk technology, perhaps run rampant. Then the weird mystical wave rolls through, changing things and returning magic and creating the various fantasy races. We take up five or ten years on, with Queen Victoria herself having been transformed. Perhaps take a different spin on the fantasy races- borrow from For Faerie, Queen, and Country or even Magicians of England. Most importantly, bring in cyberspace by stealing the Etherscope VR concept. Cybertech might be steam or might be more like Rippers.

2. Victoriana X-Men: I fell in love with the X-Men during the Byrne era, and I love it when it is more science-fiction or space opera than conventional superheroics. I know some people despise Grant Morrison’s run on the books, but he had some interesting sci-fi roots concepts. In any case, this might be one of those hidden campaign seeds. For this you sell the premise and it only becomes clearer as the campaign rolls along that it is something else. Borrow a little bit from the Kerberos Club, but without a publicly recognized patron. Everyone has a singular power, gifted by the Nimbus, a sign that appears when they use the powers. They’re feared by the general public, but have been brought together in this Victorian Era to fight for recognition. They battle secret steam scientists, Martian invaders, updated monsters, and a cabal of Nimbus users who wish to rule the world. Inspired more than a little by the Aaron Diaz's illustrations

3. Superheroes Beyond: I’m a big fan of Batman Beyond and I’d love to do a campaign which riffs on that. For years I ran a Watchmen-style vigilante campaign. One of the last iterations of that was more Cyberpunk than supers. I don’t necessarily want the grit of that. I like the four-color, slightly darkened version of the world presented in the TV Show- with ubiquitous tech and legacy heroes. Ideally I would run this as a sequel to another supers campaign. That would allow me to play with existing characters and give the players some buy-in to the setting. Perhaps a substitute version could be created by using Microscope to build a history?

4. Ghost Worlds: Characters wake up in a Silent Hill-esque world. Realize they’ve been stolen from the real world and have to make their way back through obstacles and tricks. A surreal fantasy or horror land. The hook is that when they sleep, they have visions of the real world and see the nefarious plots the possessors of their bodies are undertaking.

5. WoD Fantasy: I kind of like the nWoD system for its simplicity. I wonder if you couldn’t strip things down and use it to do a more classic or directed fantasy game. Magic could easily be lifted from Contracts in Changeling or Spells in Mage. Some of the combat options in Machine God Chronicle might make that decently easy.

6. Crime & Punishment: A superhero game with an odd twist that justifies some of the problems of a classic comic book world. Supervillains have some common origin- an incident, a recurring genetic event, or something else. The world’s done relatively gritty in relation to them. The problem is that if supervillains are killed, they come back- sometimes in a new form, sometimes not. They take over someone’s body or something. Perhaps more like a Time Lord reincarnation in a different place- and something they’re not enamored of. Regenerating isn’t any fun. The only option is incarceration, but like Arkham Asylum, it is only a matter of time before they break out.

7. Adventure People: I’ve been thinking about how one could run a solid spy game in the 21st Century. One idea is to go totally retro and run a campaign set in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s. Night’s Black Agents has another approach- suggesting the breakdown of order and the establishment of a new apolitical foe in the form of the undead. Then there’s Spycraft’s competing agencies, which has some appeal- cool code names, weird factionalism, and more a sense of super-villainy than practical espionage. But if you’re going to create a cartoonish version of the world for these kinds of stories, why not go all the way? This campaign would be about super-spies, action heroes, and high weirdness. It would essentially be The Venture Brothers rpg. Ideally I’d get the players to create a tight-knit yet dysfunctional unit. They’d go on a mix of research, exploration, and counter-espionage missions. Everything would be over the top and insane. Ideally I’d use something with plenty of room for adaptation and improvisation, like FATE.

8. No Man’s Land: Dark Knight Rises borrowed liberally from a number of comic arcs, including bizarrely enough "No Man’s Land." In that long, long, multi-book event arc, Gotham’s struck by natural disasters, goes into anarchy, and is declared no longer part of the US. It becomes isolated, ala Escape from New York, and things go downhill from there. All of the “Bat Family” and their extended titles end up spending a year trying to establish and maintain order against lawlessness and gangs, many backed by arch-criminals. There’s some interesting stuff in the series, but most of it is messy and more nonsensical than most. That aside, it does offer rich territory for stories.

I ran a super campaign set in New Orleans once. It had been devastated by Katrina and then by a massive supervillain attack. That later disaster had been at least partly the fault of superheroes. One of the themes of the campaign was about restoring faith in superheroes. But it ended up being more conventional. I’d like to do a campaign which aims squarely at reconstruction. The characters first have to reclaim the city from lawlessness (ala NML) and then help with rebuilding. Along the way they will make themselves a symbol of one kind or another. Would probably work best as a street-level superhero game.

9. Space Station Zebra
I like Ashen Stars which offers the players a ship as a shared resource. But on the other hand, I like players having a static “home” they can live in and interact with. That’s why I run so many city-based games (a rut I perhaps need to break out of). I wonder if I could do a “first season” of Ashen Stars where the players patrol and protect a space-station or a particular planet. It might be a little like Space Precinct. It could be done as a vetting process- with the PCs then getting a ship to take out for adventures. I’d be borrowing more than a little from DS9 and Babylon-5.

10. Abstract Suikoden
I really love the idea of the Suikoden video games. In most cases the players begin as members of the orderly society, but then get pushed out. They have to find their own course and become heroes. Within that set up we have two key elements: 1) the establishment of a base which can be expanded and 2) the recruitment of many NPCs for support and active roles. With the latter, some require conversations to recruit, others storyline actions, and some optional side-quests. I think a campaign explicitly built on that model could be fun. Once players build up enough people, they could begin to send them out on resource & objective missions, increase their reach still further.

11. What Doom?
I’d like to run a post-apocalypse/crash game with a couple of distinctions. One, what happened wouldn’t be certain. Either the nature or the source of the disaster would be uncertain. Related to that mystery would be figuring out how to live and deal with that threat. I’m not sure how to set that up- some kind of shelter, cryogenics, or shared amnesia. Two, the game would be a building game- with the community having a central hub: facility, ship, caravan, which would need resources and development. Three, the game would be run online, with reservations and a revolving cast- depending on players and characters (like if they got killed they’d miss a session or something).

12. Conspiracy X-Com
My friend Steve beat me to the punch a little with his very cool campaign idea, Fight the Future. I like his approach. I’ve also been thinking about how you could bring the X-Com experience to the game table. I’d do that by making the first part of it more like ConX, stripping out everything except for the alien portions of it. In any operation, you’d go in first as investigation agents to check things out. Once the threat had been assessed, then the team can gear up and head in for an assault. Another way to play that might be for everyone to have two characters. The investigator and the squad member. That could be particularly cool.

13. Build-a-Bugbear
Extra Credits has mentioned the concept of making even mundane mechanics/sub-systems interesting through novel play mechanics. I’ve mostly done building games through resource management and menu choices. (OK, we’ll spend on building the fortress up rather than the farm fields; OK I spend my Green Mana to make this Magical Cake). I’d like to figure out some mechanics which would make building things- crafting, nation-building, alchemy, community development- more interesting. Reign has dimensions to track with some of those concepts, but I wonder if I can develop an engaging sub-game that doesn’t distract. That’s one of the things I admire most about the video game Puzzle Quest. They take the basic concepts and them modify and switch them up for several of the sub-games.

14. The Future Will Destroy You
What if magical power was discovered and developed, but you had to be kind of a dick to use it. To harness the true forces, you had to be a selfish person. (A little like Unknown Armies, but even more out there). That’s the classic model of the Evil Wizard from Conan. Transplant that to a modern setting where douchebag, slacker, and emo sorcerors have managed to destroy society. The players would be Conan-like post-apocalypse barbarian avengers with guns.

15. Luchadore Hunters
I’ve just started watching Supernatural; only though the end of the first season. The show isn’t great yet- but there’s a vibe I really like to it. I love the road-trip and Americana feel to it. Going through the backroads with occasional stop offs in major places, tracking things through rumors and bits of apocrypha, and a weird network of supernatural hunters. I’m also a fan of Hunter the Reckoning- in the many different flavors it presents, from long-suffering lunatics to superhero vampire slayers. I’d like to do a HtR campaign with a different origin for powers, a campaign that borrows stylistically from Supernatural and thematically from Lucha Libre. The PCs would be hunters to the weird and strange. They’d roll into town and look into matters. And when they figured out what was going on- that’s when the masks would come out. By donning those, they’d gain the powers they need to fight evil. The Masks would be unique- each with a story to them. The PCs would put down the monsters and then hop in their car for the next town.

16. Steampunk OTE
Way back in 1997, Pyramid Magazine published “An Assignation with Her Exaltedness” offering ideas for using Over the Edge with Castle Falkenstein. That remains a supremely awesome idea; steampunk fits perfectly with Al Amarja. But I don’t think I would necessarily use the CF backdrop. I might build something of my own- stripping the best ideas from various steamtech rpgs. I’d want something a little grittier and with some odd tech, so The Kerberos Club and Etherscope for example. It would be fun to do twists on the various ideas- perhaps the Kergillians look more like something from War of the Worlds? The weirdness of the Cut-Ups would be closer to their original surrealist origins (though that’s a post-Victorian invention).

17. Skyship 7th Sea
I have to admit that someone’s comment on G+ inspired this. I had one of those “why didn’t I think of that…” moments. I like the world-building in 7th Sea- the nations are interesting and well-done. Like L5R 7th Sea manages to riff on history, but make it fantastic enough that players find it open and inviting. But a sea-based, for example pirate game felt limiting to me. I wanted the chance to explore the whole of the map while keeping the ship theme. Now with skyships I can do that- perhaps steamtech, perhaps magic, perhaps a combination of both. Players can have their raids and sailing, but still travel to the distant hinterlands. And I’ve been thinking that you could keep sea ships as well with their being too great a disparity. Skyships would have sails which only worked in the absence of wind- an inverse sympathetic magic. The greater the wind, the slower they would go. Storms would becalm them. They would also be vulnerable to the presence of water- too much close by would negate their effect. This would mean such sails couldn’t be used on water. Storms could also be dangerous as they could bring too much water close by. I imagine there would be airships, sea vessels, and then those ships which could change sails. I have to think more about the impact of that….

18. Witless Minions
I have two versions of this that I’d like to actually get around to running. On the one hand, there’s the version I created for one ofthe 24-Hour RPG contests a couple of years ago. I’m actually pretty fond of it. I like to think that it didn’t do as well because it came later in the alphabet, but that’s rationalizing. Still it offers cool and adaptable ideas- and would be worth going back to rewrite and expand. I’d use that if I want a more action-oriented approach with capers and such. On the other hand, if I wanted a more narrativist approach, I’d return to the DramaSystem frame I wrote up- Malign, Inc. I like the idea of that being done as a BBC miniseries.

19. Arclight Revelation Tianmar
I like the concept of this RPG I wrote- steampunk, post-Martian Invasion, anime school life contrasted with secret adventures in mecha suits. What’s not to like? I’d like to explore this world a little more and figure out how the rest of humanity lives. To do so I’d probably need to go back and take a hard look at the mechanics I came up with. One of the requirements of the 24-Hour design process is to come up with a new system. That doesn’t necessarily mean I came up with the best one for the genre. I like some of the systems- especially the character creation ideas.

20. A War on Christmas
The other DramaSystem pitch I wrote appeared on the Pelgranesite. I put that together in a few hours, but it feels surprisingly compelling to me. The idea of underground revolutionaries battling against a land run by a power-mad Santa Claus appeals to me. Honestly, I would watch a show like that- especially a BBC miniseries with that premise. This could also be a nice break mini-campaign to run around the holidays. With some planning, it could be quite amusing.

21. Microscope Supers
So far most of our experience with Microscope has centered on fantasy worlds- of the dozen times I’ve played it (either for campaign creation or as a game of its own), only once have we done sci-fi. I’m really curious about what a collaborative superhero universe would look like. My first thought was to set some boundaries- like tracing events from post WW2 on. But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of anything goes. Start at the beginning of time with Eternal-like creatures? Or perhaps a more modern evolution- with supers arising out of a conflict like Vietnam? I’m curious to see origins- singular or multiple. I always think of supers as a genre requiring a certain amount of experience and buy in. But what might it look like with people who aren’t as into it crafting the background?

22. Colony Six Has Fallen
One of two ideas I had for Game Chef that I didn’t write up. This one borrows heavily from the concepts behind the video game FTL and the rpg Fringeworthy. The player’s space exploration/empire proceeded through a series of gates or warp points. The PC party is at the end of a long chain of that exploration, when something goes wrong- some kind of attack or catastrophe which disrupts the system. Now the party has to make their way back- with incomplete information about where the gates exit to or what has happened on the other side. When the group heads through, they have to find the next egress point and carry out whatever tasks are necessary for repairs or analysis. While the gates and events would be episodic, the spine of the game would be about resource management. Equipment break-down, loss of NPCs, diminishing supplies, etc. Eventually the use of the most powerful things found would be a critical choice. Ideally going through a gate would allow a choice to the players based on some scattered info they could obtain.

23. Bad Robot, Worse Robot
In a future time, people will work together to build some cool cyborgs. Of course they get out of hand- and in a Blade Runner-like move they’re made illegal and destroyed. But some still exist- blending in with humanity. These have been made by strange eccentric scientists (ala Mega Man, Astro Boy, or other secret robot families). The PCs would be good robots, trying to protect humanity, maintain their secrecy, and battle against the bad robots. Well, most of the PCs would be. At the start of the game, assuming four players, the GM would shuffle five red and one black card. Each player gets one card, if they get a black one, then they’re actually a bad robot. In play, if all the other players agree- they can grab the remaining player and “reverse his polarity” making them good if bad…and vice-versa. The game would be about a mix of social challenges (going to parties, trying to avoid eating too much, understanding human emotions) and fighting off bad guys in set-piece battles. Good robots would always have the option of solving problems through brute force- usually with collateral damage in human lives. But they want to do things with more finesse. Characters would have a Stress and a Suspicion track. 


  1. System-wise Victoriana from Cubicle 7 is pretty close to Victorian Shadowrun.

    1. There's apparently a third edition of that- I think coming out this year. I will have to take a closer look at that. I've only really read the first edition.

  2. You can count me as another fan of Grant Morrison's New X Men but then I've never been an X-Men fan so maybe I was the right audience for it.

    That Shadowrun idea is interesting. It seems to me that rolling the Awakening back 150 years could work well. A lot of the concerns of cyberpunk -- social and economic inequality, technological progress -- apply just as well in the Victorian era, and the rise of mysticism and spirituality in the era ties in well with the return of magic. I would probably avoid the steampunk aspect and play it straight -- or as "straight"as it could be with magic and orks running around Victorian London! -- which would give me an excuse for dropping the unsatisfying hacking aspect of the game.

    I also like that Luchadore Hunters idea a lot. You could have a lot of fun designing masks and their abilities.

  3. For WoD Fantasy, Second Sight is also a source of magic. I've considered doing the same thing with it as the magic book. I'm worried the two items you've referenced might be overpowered.

    1. I'll have to check that out. You're right that whatever I did with magic I'd have to balance that against other, non-magic character choices.

    2. I once put together a fantasy game using Shadowrun as its basis. I worried a bit at first that stripping out the technology would make magic too powerful and the obvious choice for characters, but then I realised that it wasn't a problem. Everyone in Pendragon plays a knight and -- almost -- everyone in Legend of the Five Rings plays a samurai but you still get lots of character variation. I see no reason why an all-magic campaign couldn't be the same.

  4. Well, after eagerly plunging into a nice big, juicy list of campaign concepts I sort of stumbled out the far end with only one concept which appealed to me: Space Station Zebra. You could even do it as a "Sky Station Zebra" like Lando Calrissian's Cloud City. Or combine it with Skyship 7th Sea in a steampunk mode. Anyway, thanks for the brain candy.

    1. Well obviously I'm a little disappointed that you didn't see more that appealed to you. It does reflect my experience with pitching batches of games to my players. Both times I did so, over half the choices got wiped away quickly through player vetoing. And the remaining choices had a diversity of opinions- with just about every idea being unappealing to one person at the table. That's a hard call. In both cases we fell back to the conventional and comfortable- game settings they'd played in before. But i do think it's useful to get these ideas down on paper- I've had a couple of instances where something weird I came up with did hit the spot (usually when presented cold rather than in the midst of other, easier choices_.

  5. Hello, if you want inspiration for nwod/owod fantasy/steampunk I recommend the following blog.

  6. there is french rpg on theme near 15. Luchadore Hunters
    called Luchadores :-)
    see (in french)