Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Creating Campaigns

It seems to me that there are two different (one could say mutually exclusive, but not always) ways of going about setting up a roleplaying campaign.

One, and this is the one I've always used, is to select a rules system and create a campaign for it. This can be as simple as saying "Here you are; what do you do?" and creating from there. It can be as elaborate as spending months dreaming up every last detail, every bit of local color, every NPC's middle name, and then unleashing this mass on your unsuspecting players.

But there is another way, which I have considered in the past but never actually employed.

You can come up with an idea, a storyline if you will, a central point of your campaign. Bad thing X is going to happen to innocent people Y, unless the players Z intervene. That sort of thing.

And then you go looking for your rules system.

Now, I've come out publicly for the anti-background camp, but now I think I was wrong. (I reserve the right to grow and change.) I still don't think the average player (or me, if I'm the player) wants to sit through a hefty book describing all the crap he has to learn before he can even create his character, much less play. That's more like homework than like gaming. Some enjoy it; that's fine for them. I would never say otherwise. But I don't want to have to sit through it.

I also don't like rules-heavy, gearhead systems that require intense planning to, y'know, cross the street.

I enjoy tinkering. I want to be able to fiddle with the rules and the setting both. I want the players to feel good about suggesting changes.

Am I crazy, or does this sound even more old-school than I would have thought?

The designers of the old school games didn't just select a rules set. They had to write it. They created their game and then provided rules for it.

Dave Arneson started with Chainmail, but as I understand it he had already modified those rules by the time the players first entered the dungeon beneath Blackmoor.

Gary Gygax (may he rest in peace) started with the notes Dave sent him (and the one game he'd played in that Dave had run for him) and went from there, picking and choosing and filling in what he felt was needed to run the game he wanted.

What this boils down to (hard as this is for me to grasp, given my background) is that he game comes first, and the rules come second.

That kind of floored me when I first thought of it. May seem old hat to some of you, but it was a new thought to me.

It's incredibly liberating. You don't need to use the ruleset you have. You can change it, use another, or make your own.

You can even change types of games, as I'll explain in a bit.

Once you have your purpose, the rest derives from there.

I gotta say, I feel energized. I'm halfway through the month of July, which is National Adventure Writing Month, and I haven't written a single word of an adventure. But I feel like I'm about to. I have a Purpose, and I have a Plan.

I'm gonna change the type of game and I'm gonna adapt the background for it.

In 1979, two years after Star Wars (and no, I'm not going to dignify it with the stupid-ass title that was retrofitted to it; it was Star Wars when I first saw it and it will be Star Wars to my dying day) opened in theaters, a saucy little company in New York called Simulations Publications, Inc. (aka SPI) released a science fiction wargame called Freedom in the Galaxy.

This game has been described as the best Star Wars boardgame ever, despite the fact that it doesn't even acknowledge Star Wars or Mr. George Lucas (most likely owing to not being licensed...) The boys at SPI put thier heads together and came up with a star map and rules for both armies and characters to move about the map. One player is the rebellion, and needs to foment dissent on the various worlds. The other is the empire, and needs to seek out and crush the rebellion.

Now, while there are shorter scenarios, the meat of the game is in the full campaign. Since this is estimated at taking at least 20 hours, I really don't think I'm going to find somebody who is willing to play this (potentially) awesome game with me.

But. But I might find players who will be willing to play a roleplaying game, as part of the rebellion. I just need to adapt it to a roleplaying rules system, and I'm off.

Now, Wizards of the Coast have the license to make Star Wars. They seem to have slipped out another edition of the game, although whether that's because of D&D 4th or not, I don't know.

All I know is I have their first effort, and I really hate it.

Movies don't really map well to RPGs. The main story has been told. Sure, there may be side stories, but they are never as satisfying. And retracing the steps of, say, Han Solo just doesn't seem to be worth the effort -- by the time you've created your character, I'm already enjoying the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back on DVD. Not worth the effort.

But a whole new galaxy, a whole new enemy, whole new good guys -- now *that* has some potential!

I'm planning on using the original Traveller game for this one. (I'm not going to call it Classic Traveller, like others do, because that's not it's name. In a similar vein, I don't refer to Star Trek as "The Original Series," even to differentiate it from the others. Why? Because it was *first*, and the others can bloody well change THEIR names, WHICH THEY DID. But that's another rant.)

I've found the perfect expression of these rules to be somewhere between the original three books and the Traveller Book. So that's what I'll be using. No book 4; that's for people who just want to blow stuff up. No book 5; that's for large navy gearheads who would really rather be playing Trillion Credit Squadron. And so on.

And who knows? I might just end up with an actual scenario for this month's efforts.

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now.

1 comment:

Sham aka Dave said...

You're absolutely right in that an idea for a game or campaign should be in mind, then you pick the rules, or tinker whatever rules set you prefer, to match that game or campaign. That's pretty much what I've done with Solstice and Of Fortunes & Fools. I knew I wanted to make a megadungeon campaign; I started drawing things up intending to use Labyrinth Lord, and then I figured why not just take the full old school plunge and make it OD&D. The rest is history.

Also, I love your idea for an old school rebellion vs. empire theme using Traveller. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.

~Sham aka Dave