Tag Archives: campaign design

Thousand Worlds – Introduction

dying-of-the-lightThe Thousand Worlds is a bizarre science-fiction universe created by the mind of George R.R. Martin in the 70’s and 80’s. Yes, that guy.

What draws me to it are that the stories told describe a broken universe that is very alien to our experiences in the real world on earth. Like most stories set in the future, the themes presented are all parallels for modern problems the world is experiencing right now, in the present. However, the subject matter is often unsettling, creepy, uncomfortable, and most important, hits with an emotional impact like a punch to the gut. This is exactly how I like my RPGs to be.

So, I created, ran, and successfully completed a Thousand Worlds campaign, using Edge of the Empire as a basis for the nuts and bolts ruleset. From the outset, I started the campaign design by sketching out what I wanted to accomplish. I had a burning passion to share my enthusiasm for these stories, which I had just finish reading. And I wanted to have a “rags-to-riches” campaign, one that started the game off with the player characters extremely weak and poor, struggling to survive, but then end with them in an earned position of incredible wealth and power. Above all else, I wanted a campaign that – on an emotional, gut level – gave the players the feeling of wondrous discovery. I wanted to give them the childlike wonder of exploring what’s buried under the rocks, and have that thing be fun, interesting, and memorable. I wanted them to never feel like they had run out of the game, or were in any way limited to where they could go or what they could do. There’s always more out there.

In the next few blog posts, I’m going to be talking about some of the details of my Thousand Worlds campaign – design goals, planning, house rules, a starmap puzzle, creating heists, a design checklist, and reinforcing the theme of wondrous discovery in as many ways as possible. Sit tight, it’s a hell of a ride. It might take me some time, be patient.

If you’d like to dig in more into The Thousand Worlds, and I heartily recommend it, go check out this overview video. There’s links to the stories themselves in the video description, many of which have audiobooks or free recorded readings available. There are a lot of stories, but (aside from Dying of the Light) they are all short stories and novellas, making them very quick reads. My favorites are probably In the House of the Worm, A Song for Lya, and The Stone City; though it’s very hard to choose, many of them are really, really good.


Retrofit 02 – I am a Pirate, like my father before me

BAYSDo you remember the first time you ever saw Star Wars? Do you remember being introduced to the thoroughly evil and throughly badass Empire, only to be ripped away and dropped off with a boy whose life bores even himself? In more ways than one, this was how I felt when I first started the adaptation from the elite Imperial Green Berets of CRUSH the REBELLION to the freelance bagmen of BLASTER at your SIDE.

But of course, the inspiration for countless Han Solo cosplays didn’t come from the scenes where he’s telling Chewie about how they’re going to finally make enough money to get a slug off their backs. No one bought a Boba Fett action figure because the government chides him like a child (“No disintegrations”). Hell naw. We like Solo because, when he shows up in the trench to save Luke, we understood that his motivations were complex. We like Fett because, when he’s tracking the Falcon to Bespin, we realize that he will use anything at his disposal to get what he wants. This meant that the first thing that needed to be changed for BLASTER at your SIDE was the central tenet of character building in CRUSH the REBELLION: a new S is for Secret Agendas, which I call Contraband Channels.

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Group Dynamics at the Gaming Table

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“I just figured STORM troopers must deal with a lot of rain.”

Here’s a special guest post by Matthew Surber, inspired by a weekend-long gaming and BS session my friends and I had not too long ago.

Bruce Tuckman (Wikipedia has a great article on him) introduced a basic concept of group formation in 1965. In it, he labels four main stages – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. We’re going to look at the first of these fours stages and how Galaxy Masters and players can preempt problems, keep their groups moving forward, and avoid some of the basic pitfalls of group dynamics.

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Retrofit 01 – TITLE CRAWL

After I post the second entry, I'm going to come back and title this RETROFIT IV

YOU BEAR WITNESS to a new column here on T&D, Retrofit, and a new contributor, Andy Kotch. I have participated in several of Ross’ past gaming endeavors as a player, including the ambitious homebrew of FFG’s Star Wars RPG: CRUSH THE REBELLION!I usually run games for a small group of old friends and we collectively jump from system to system (space pun) with new campaigns every few months. After delving into the Age of Rebellion starter box, they were eager to give Star Wars a shot.

I didn’t want to simply run CtR. As much as I love the Empire, I was burnt-out on the infinite riches and shocking abuses of power. I wanted to try a different aesthetic, and after polling my players a bit, we all seemed down for a fringe-worldy, get rich or die tryin’, morally gray campaign in space. Fortunately, that’s all the best aspects of Edge of the Empire (and I guess Firefly). The herculean task now lay before me: adapt the thoroughly evil and quasi-legal quest for POWER of Crush the Rebellion into a rough’n’tumble space-cowboy hunt for RICHES.

That is the focus of this column: re-writing and re-purposing what exists of CtR into what I have dubbed “Blaster At Your Side”.

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Motivation & Experience

epi418Gaining new power and abilities through accumulating experience points and raising in level is perhaps the oldest form of motivation and meaningful progress evident in roleplaying games. New things are fun and a character rising in skill can feel like a tangible reward and a sign that you are doing well in the game. Compared to some other roleplaying games, FFG Star Wars is very nebulous in its guidelines for handing out experience points, with a wide range of values automatically distributed without qualification and arbitrarily set by the Galaxy Master. While I do appreciate the design intent of simplification, I feel that the games I tend to run deserve a more rigid set of incentives for advancement. Taking a cue from some more experimental indie RPGs (Torchbearer and Dungeon World), I’ve put together some solid guidelines as an alternate method of awarding experience points and incentivizing good roleplaying.

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CRUSH the REBELLION – Post Campaign Interview

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At the beginning of this year, I launched an ambitious FFG Star Wars campaign, pulling mostly from the then-new Age of Rebellion Beta, titled Crush the Rebellion. An overview of the core assumptions, house rules, and scattered campaign notes have already been posted HERE on Triumph & Despair. I encourage readers who wish to probe for additional information on something specific to post Comments below; it is very hard to see from our perspective where we are vague and what details outside observers find interesting or lacking in detail.

The campaign had a rare, though certainly not unique, concept of the players acting as Imperial Agents sent out by The Emperor Himself to stop the most heinous crimes against the Empire. The player characters are set at a level on par with such legends as Darth Vader, Mara Jade, and Grand Admiral Thrawn. The Agents have bonus starting XP and unlimited funding; but are limited in terms of Restricted items, item modifications, and vehicles. The story of the campaign follows a seemingly natural theme of The Empire; corruption, a bloated beurocracy, traitors, and various threats from within are the true villains. Every Agent has a Secret Agenda that they pursue and must balance advancing that agenda, thwarting the rival Agents’ agendas, and keeping their activities hidden; all while still completing the incredibly dangerous tasks assigned to them. It is one thing to conquer the galaxy, it is a much harder thing to rule it. It’s dangerous at the top.

The most daunting task for me, as Galaxy Master, was to appropriately handle the innate player-vs-player dynamic that goes with this sort of campaign. This is something that many have found to be troublesome and problematic, experience showing the pitfalls, frustrations, and hurt feelings of such an endeavor. However, I felt very strongly that this was absolutely essential to the kind of story I wanted to tell; the story of the fall of Galactic civilization, the problems inherent in humanity’s empires, and how our own unchecked ambitions and hubris are the cause. Not only that, but in all humility, my track record has shown (HERE and HERE) that I am uniquely qualified in the endeavor of successful PvP roleplaying games. In other words, I am the shiiiiittttt.

Following the campaign’s conclusion, I conducted an in-depth discussion about both the faults and advances of the campaign; what made it good, where did it fail, and how we can use this information to craft better, more fun gaming in our futures. Listed below is a brief description of the Agents and a long, detailed discussion of the campaign via 12 questions I have asked and the players and their long-winded answers to them.

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CRUSH the REBELLION Campaign Summary

Per request, here is a short summary of the characters involved in my CRUSH the REBELLION campaign and a few words describing each of our 9 sessions. Where applicable, links have been provided to longer discussions on individual Operations. As always, general feedback and specific questions of interest are appreciated. Later in the week, I won’t let you just take my word at it and will provide a comprehensive interview with the players to get their view on the campaign as experienced.

TaggeNeedsBureaucracy-ANHIMPERIAL AGENTS

Besk, Bothan Spy Infiltrator
Secret Agenda: Assassinate The Emperor (succeeded).

K1LL1NG3R, Droid Hired Gun
Secret Agenda: Construct a superweapon that would enable a new droid revolution to conquer the galaxy.

Zebb, Twi’Lek Slicer
Secret Agenda: Grand Moff, build an unspecified superweapon.

Tar’Yun, Twi’Lek Diplomat (Force Sensitive)
Secret Agenda: Orchestrate a massive military defection to the Rebellion.

Delanar, Human Bounty Hunter (Force Sensitive)
Secret Agenda: Hunt down and slay a hidden Jedi Master.

Daktari Jonez, Duros Scholar
Secret Agenda: Oversee the genocide of all Ewoks.

LIST of OPERATIONS

Operation I – A convoy of five Imperial transports must be protected from an anticipated ambush by Rebel military forces. Imperial Intelligence has determined that a lost Jedi outcast is among the terrorists. The Jedi must be captured and interrogated to learn further information about Rebellion military activities in this sector.
Surprise: The Jedi Knight is a non-gendered, weird alien composed of a slippery mass of tentacles.

Operation II – A geneticist located at an isolated research outpost has been selling Imperial secrets to the highest bidder. Prove which of the scientists is the traitor and bring him or her to justice while quelling uprisings from the local populace.
Surprise: The only way to route out the true traitor is to solve a complicated Zebra Logic Puzzle.

Operation III – Local organized crime on an outer rim world has been supplying outlawed, dangerous medicines to a plague-ridden populace as well as explosives to nearby terrorist cells and must be stopped.
Surprise: The Rebel Leader from Operation II returns angry and cybernetically enhanced.

Operation IV – The captain of the IEF Tydeus has succumbed to the unclean influences of a heretical cult located in the unknown regions. Find a way to board the renegade Imperial vessel and relieve its Captain Kitano of his command before the ship escapes and makes the jump to lightspeed.
Surpise: This adventure is a speed run of Only Two Ways Home, giving the players only about half the time that they really need to complete it. Players must use their metagaming knowledge of previous runs of the adventure to win.

Operation V – A shapeshifting alien has infiltrated the ranks of a local planetary government cabinet and the senate hall is on lock-down. Kill the shapeshifter and save as many cabinet members as possible. Everyone trapped inside is either vitally important to Imperial operations or is a noted public figure.
Surprise: The shapeshifter is a liqui-metal droids and there are, in fact, two of them.

Operation VI – With a Victory-class Star Destroyer at your command, watch over the development of the new TIE Phantom stealth fighter and goad any traitors into action so that they can be caught red-handed and in the act.
Surprise: The commander of the VSD is Zebb’s nemesis and does everything in his power to make this Operation difficult for the Agents.

Operation VII – Preside over negotiations on behalf of The Empire at the Kimanan star system, whose people have taken the local Imperial Moff as hostage and who are now led by a Jedi fugitive.
Surprise: The Agents’ covert, pirate transport captain has sold them out.

Operation VIII – Following your previous Operation’s failure, the Kimanan star system has gone into revolt and joined the Rebel Alliance, taking with it the military defenses supplied to the planet through The Empire and protected by the Pirate Queen Kath Scarlet. Command an Imperial-class Star Destroyer and support fleet to invade the system and punish the Kimanans for their treachery.
Surprise: The Kimanans have a Cloning Facility and Mitichlorian Infusion Center that will soon produce a clone army of artificially-empowered Jedi.

Operation IX – Hunt down the fleeing architects of the Kimanan revolt. Kill the Pirate Queen Kath Scarlet at the pod racing contest of Tattoine. Capture the Jedi Knight MacKenzie hiding in a lost Jedi ruin and bring him before The Emperor Himself.
Surprise: It’s a Trap! designed by The Emperor to kill the scheming Agents and put a stop to their Secret Agendas.