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Old February 3rd, 2014, 01:41 PM
Kilgs Kilgs is offline
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Default Rambling, Adventuring, Sci-Fi Campaigns...

(I have an hour commute... brain goes odd places.)

I’ve always struggled with sci-fi games as it seems like I can’t nail down a good theme for a campaign. In settings so wide and varied, it seems like there’s a mental block. And you don’t want to skimp out on the settings! I’ve been doing “research” and found that many people suffer from the same problem. In DP9’s games, Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles, a lot of folks are overwhelmed with the amount of detail and campaigns flounder quickly. I also had issues with my Traveller campaign where things were great at first but it slowly bogged down when characters lacked direction.

A poster on RPG.net indicated that you have to take small bites of the apple. Basically, you run a Heavy Gear campaign that is based on one city or one regiment, or maybe an SAR team in the Badlands. You can’t do it all was his/her point. And they were completely right. So why was this such a revelation to me, I thought?

Those of us who came from fantasy gaming are used to the “adventuring party.” A group of professionals from several walks of life who come together for fun and profit. I once heard them referred to as “Mobile Entropy Units.” These groups then have the skillset to accomplish most tasks and they take on a bewildering array of challenges and duties. With the varied but limited skillset possessed by each member (diplomat, thief, wizard, fighter) they are capable of facing almost all challenges that a fantasy game can bring to them.

These adventuring parties DO do it all. We see no issues in throwing them into politics, dungeons, dinner parties, research, combat etc.

Transitioning from fantasy games to sci-fi result in a far more diverse set of professionals and specializations. The setting is much broader and it has many connotations familiar to us as modern folks. The “adventuring party” concept is flawed in these settings as it assumes that a group has the skills to deal with any challenge and the drive to do so. However, we often incorporate more modern thoughts into the setting and end up with a lack of drive or the means to accomplish a task. And yet we (some of us) continue to approach the game with the concept of “adventuring party.” In addition, we attach some coherence to settings that are marginally familiar.

It doesn’t seem odd to me that an elven wizard, human cleric and gnome thief are best friends and running around solving mysteries. But take a marine, a doctor, a navy pilot and two journalists and for some reason things seem odd.

Take a contemporary earth campaign. I would never just say to my group we’re going to be adventurers in modern earth… make your characters. No, I would lay out that we are playing a game of high-level espionage and technothriller adventure. Military and government types would dominate and there would be little room for the physics professor, the medical doctor and so on. They would be needed from time to time but would never get enough stage time for true PC’s.

But a science fiction game suffers from two issues. First, the approach to it being similar to adventuring. Second, the need for specialization/compartmentalization much like a game set in the modern era.

How to overcome this? Like the rpg.net poster indicated, a campaign needs to be focused and communicated to the players. Examples of gameplay, sample “encounter/missions” provided and enough information that folks can create characters with the drive and the skill to accomplish what the purpose of the campaign is all about.

The odd thing, in thinking about this, is that Traveller (3rdImp) is one of the only examples of a truly “adventuring party” game in science fiction. It was designed from the ground-up for that particular reason given the varied career paths, the free trader iconic game (with required scout ship), and a vast setting of hundreds of worlds.

The Free Trader concept epitomizes the adventuring scenario that shouldn’t work in sci-fi settings. At the same time, with the right group, it works great. But I think many folks who think they “want” the Free Trader game really don’t and the GM who thinks it’s the best approach should be wary of it. Like any sandbox, it has many of its own pitfalls.

In addition, we are seduced by the idea of the sandbox Free Trader game but we’re, in many cases, not set up for such an idea. An open canvas makes the personalities and interests of the player/characters so much more important. The characters should have a common goal and an understood means to obtain it. This way we avoid the “Free Trader” that has 4 mercs, a biological specialist and 1 broker with clearly differing ideas on what the next business deal entails…

So my rambling shall end… things for me to take away from this:
1-Always focus, always a theme.
2-Small bites of a setting
3-Clear directions to players on campaign/characters
4-Think clearly through where a campaign can and should go. This process should be continual so that an arc is not created without taking into account the characters themselves.

Yeah, seems self-explanatory but I’ve been GMing for 24 years and I still struggle with basics. And, like I mentioned, I have always struggled with sci-fi games (and post-apoc) and keeping a coherent campaign in play.
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