Gaming Thursday: GM Advice – Preludes

Last weekend our group wrapped up the first part of our Star Wars campaign (and the first part of my Aurora RPG Engine playtest).  Though, in reality, it wasn’t really the first part of the campaign, for the campaign I’ve got planned to run is the Dawn of Defiance campaign, a massive 12-part adventure.  Instead what wrapped up was three prelude adventures, which, originally, I meant primarily as a shakedown cruise for the new ruleset, to fix any egregious problems before we began to play in earnest.  But what I’m realizing now is that these preludes provided so much more than just that, enough that for any epic-length campaign I run from now on I will always run a series of preludes.

Big-ass campaign modules are kind of in vogue right now.  Whether they be termed “adventure paths” and bought as a series of interconnected modules, or whether they come in a single and big 256-page book, there are plenty out there that promise to take the characters through a big, grand, and heroic adventure arc.  Which can be great!  But if the campaign starts with beginning or new characters, there’s no time for the players to get settled and feel out and inhabit their characters before they get plunged into that big narrative.  Which can weaken the feel and excitement and visceral experience right at the most crucial moments of the game: those events and those hooks that are intended to serve as the fire that carries the campaign forward.  If those moments fall flat, or the investment isn’t there (because the investment isn’t yet there in the character(s)), then the feel of the entire campaign can suffer.*

Hence, running a series of preludes to give the players a chance to feel out and develop their characters before the inciting incident of the campaign proper.  This goes both mechanically and RP-wise.  Sometimes a certain build doesn’t play out at the table as well as, or as interesting, as we’d thought it would.  Or, as our character’s character settles down, maybe what we built no longer suits this new direction.**  And getting that direction itself is critical.  While we may come with a backstory and thoughts on how they behave, often that shifts during game time as we explore and play and let things bubble up… often seemingly from nowhere, but it fits and feels right and so it becomes part of the character.  Through the chance to play and develop the players get to know their characters, the characters get to know each other, and the builds get settled, all so that once they begin the adventure path there’s nothing left to hammer out and they can immediately fully inhabit what’s to come.

So that’s my little epiphany and cheerleading for always running a few introductory adventures before embarking on the grand adventure path voyage.

 

* Of course, for campaigns that consist of independent and smaller scaled adventures this isn’t required – in effect, every adventure is like a prelude.  And sometimes the adventure path/big book/etc already does this, with a series of small things to deal with before the big hook, in which case great, the work’s already been done for you.

** Or, equally important, if the campaign starts with very experienced characters (ie, starting at a higher ‘level’), then there’s the added layer of just learning how to run that character and all their abilities.  Plus, there are more abilities and combos to tweak and try out to find the fit that suits the vision and the evolving character.  Nothing is worse than having an epic start to a campaign grind to a halt as each player tries to figure out what their character can do or how to do it… and yes, very much speaking from experience here).

Gaming Thursday: Aurora Results

Alright!  With a gaggle of sessions under our proverbial belts, our Star Wars game and my new ruleset that powers it have been going great.  Thus far, things have run very smoothly and has already fueled a lot of great moments.  There’s still some rules gaps and wrangling to do, but the base document is pretty much complete (if written completely in point form language).  I’m not quite ready to share it yet, but I will try to get back to writing its big gestures and intents.  Until then, here several cool things that have emerged thus far, specifically around core Aurora Engine elements: Continue reading

Gaming Thursday

I am very much excited about WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shifting how they portray (and thus limit) ‘inherently evil races’ to open up much greater latitudes in alignment, abilities, societies, and etc.  For one, the term race is confusing, since these are really whole different species.  For two, just as our species (humans) are vast and varied, so too should be and can be members of other species (whether elves, or dwarves, or kobolds, or orcs).  For three, it’s far more interesting!  Automatic evil is easy (and still available, be it through fiends or monstrosities or undead) but allowing for greater agency by the antagonists is more juicy, and the meatiest stories often deal with the ‘evil within’ (both individual character but fellow humans/etc acting in very bad ways) vs an external and ‘black box’ kind of auto-evility machine.  For four, as someone who finds attribute bonuses the least interesting way to differentiate different species, I hope this pushes more games (even if D&D itself likely won’t adopt this unless they ever do make a new edition or come out with an optional ruleset) towards more nifty species talents/stunts/feats (such as the Dwarf’s resistance to poison, or the Dragonborn’s breath weapon) that create far more interesting options, capabilities, and side uses for players.

For five, and of great importance, is this:  who we know ourselves as a person and as a collective people is/are thoroughly governed by story – the story we know about ourselves, the stories we tell about our community, the stories we speak of about the world. As such, the stories we make up and tell each other for entertainment absolutely has an impact on how we view, interact with, and treat the real world and others within it. They are not separate.  Thus to say ‘this race is all bad’ or ‘this race is always big and scary’ or ‘this race is really only good at this’ creates mental traps for us as we relate to and deal with others in our actual and lived lives.

So yeah.  Doing away with the more rigid stereotypes and tropes and that present a gameworld view that one’s place, role, competencies, and expected outcomes in the world are governed primarily (and almost entirely) by factors of their species and instead moving towards the item(s) that often draws us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: towards character.

Because character and characters are what an RPG is all about.

Gaming Thursday

I love this story, as published in the editorial of Dragon magazine, issue 144, penned by Roger E Moore:

The mountain pass was called the Demon Tongue, which implied there might be a demon and treasure there, so the party headed for it right away. The characters were hungry for combat and cash – lots of each. I was the DM. We were gaming on the pool table in the medical company rec room in West Germany, a decade ago last fall.

Not many of the details of that adventure are left with me now, but I remember what happened when the adventurers got to the Demon Tongue. The paladin was the point man, mounted up and armored like a tank (he had volunteered for, no, demanded the position). Some distance behind, the wizard was checking the landscape with his amulet of ESP, hunting for enemy thoughts. Everyone else was gathered near the wizard, weapons ready. They were on a narrow road in the pass itself, with a slope up to the left and a sheer drop to the right, when the wizard got a reading.    Continue reading

Gaming Thursday

As you’ve likely noticed, I haven’t written anything further on crafting the ruleset for our upcoming Star Wars campaign.  That’s because the starting date got moved up a bunch and my time had to be focused on writing the rules rather than writing about the rules.  Our first session was last weekend and it went well!  And there’s already a few tweaks to make, which is cool and exciting – I knew there would be plenty of things to fix and refine and it’s great to do some honest actual playtesting!

I’m prepping like mad for this weekend’s game (and I need to make the opening crawl, of course), but I fully intend to return here to share the rules writing process, the nuances of the rules themselves, and to demonstrate how to take the core Aurora engine and craft an entire system out of it that supports the style of gameplay perfect for the game and campaign.

Until then, let’s talk a bit about… Kickstarters!

For the first, I got my copy of the Cortex Prime book (in PDF form) and W O W.  It is a thing of beauty in terms of graphic layout (and hopefully in terms of organization too… I haven’t given it a thorough enough read with a blank perspective to assess it yet).  I already had experience with the rules and liked them, so there was no disappointment there either.  But what really caught my eye and has me super thrilled was reading all the contributors.  Because many of them worked on other systems I have enjoyed, some of which were systems that they created.  Which means that these creators – and sellers! – of their own rules nonetheless helped develop and play with other rulesets and enjoy them.  It’s this great circle of everyone having fun and supporting each other (again, even if some might otherwise see them as “competitors”) and playing all sorts of different types of games and using the rulesets that support them.  That’s just super heartwarming to me.

For the second, a new campaign just launched today on Kickstarter for something that, if you’re picking up on the theme here by now, has me giddily excited:  an RPG based on the genre of Franco-Belgian graphic novels (aka bandes dessinée).

In other words, this is essentially the Tintin RPG, and if that isn’t 1000% right up my alley, I’m not sure what is.  Go and buy in!

The Aurora RPG Engine – Next Steps

First off, I’ve created a PDF compilation for your reading pleasure!  Click below to grab it:

And so, where do we go from here?  The big next step is to take this core engine and begin to create some full rulesets out of it, both for playtesting but moreover for actual campaign play.  First up will be using it for an upcoming (and fittingly) Star Wars game I’ll be running.  Over the coming months I’ll share the design diaries as I put it together.

After that, I have some ideas for at least partial write-ups for campaigns based on Zoids, spycraftian action, Broken Lands, and maybe even Firefly.  Though the idea of a Tank Girl RPG I used as an example in the introduction could also be fun to try out…

Thank you all for reading, and if you try this out yourself and create a campaign with it, I’d love to hear any feedback.  Game on!