Friday, October 15, 2010

Cmdr. Horus Mecklenburg (ret), Traveller NPC

"After I graduated from college the Navy offered me the sort of opportunities and job security I was looking for.  I know when you think of the Navy you think of the big flyboys or the starship gunners, but I was part of that organization that made everything run smoothly.  In my initial tour of duty I continued to improve on my education with a study of military history and computer programming.  By my second tour I was commissioned as an officer and soon after promoted to lieutenant.  Those were great days aboard a hospital ship.  I was learning everything I could, but did most of my work in medical records and engineering.

"I continued to serve aboard the hospital ship for my third and fourth terms, having finally convinced my superiors that I could be out in the field.  I was part of an emergency response team that would board spacecraft in distress and provide relief.  My the time I was done with my fourth term, I had risen to the rank of Commander and was leading my own teams.

"Unfortunately cuts to support personnel were implemented, and after my fourth term I was let go.  It was hard leaving space, which is why I am here now talking to you.  Word is that you need an investor, someone who can help float the expenses of operating your starship.  I've got seventy thousand credits socked away in a bank not doing me any good, and you look like a good investment.

"There's just one hitch.  I've got to come with you."

Cmdr. Horus Mecklenburg 5655B5
Four terms Navy
Admin-1, Computer-2, Jack of all Trades-1, Mechanical-1, Medical-1, Vacc Suit-2
70,000 Cr.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The End of the World, Day Three

As you might imagine, the third day of a three-day gaming stretch can be the toughest one.  Two years ago I ran the game the third day and people got pretty slap-happy during the session.  Thankfully the scenario was a little over-the-top so it really didn't matter.

This time around it was another story.  Some roleplaying games are more tactical than others, but a lot depends on the style of the judge and the scenario involved.  The third day's game was set in the near future and the PC's were part of a large military unit stranded in Iran.

Side note: one thing that comes up somewhat regularly at EOW is judges ripping off lesser-known books for story ideas.  Saturday's game was apparently set in the universe from the book "Earthfall" while this day's session was set in the book "The Last Centurion."  There are perils to doing this, as you'll see later.

The PC's unit was tasked with protecting a large stockpile of supplies with the hopes that, at some undisclosed point in the future, the unit would be relieved.  In the meantime, the unit was hassled by local refugees desperate for food and medicine as well as petty warlords looking to acquire the military material left on the base.

There were several problems with the set-up, few of which were the judge's fault.  One, by day three few people were not really thrilled with roleplaying the military/political quagmire of the modern Middle East.  Two, if we followed the plot of The Last Centurion we should have packed up our bags and marched our way across Iraq towards the Meditteranean.  But we didn't do that, we hunked down, fortified ourselves, and wondered how the hell the gaming scenario was supposed to end.

It was also, as I mentioned earlier, a more tactical gaming scenario, almost to the point of being a wargaming one.  Hours were spent discussing what kinds of weapons and vehicles were available, how many months of supplies we had that could be sent out to refugees, etc.  It also went very, very long, almost twelve hours, and by the end the judge had been forced to invent an ending (being told that we needed to secure an airfield so a commercial plane could land and fly us out) and we found ourselves being accosted by one bazooka-armed insurgent after another.

Much like the second session, the game felt like a campaign than a single session.  I could see people doing the whole world-building storyline (a staple of Morrow Project campaigns) in this universe, but when you only have a limited period of time, it is often a good idea to set a pretty distinct goal.  Also, if you want your gaming group to cross Iraq, tell them to cross Iraq, either through the stick or the carrot.  Simple as that.

I fear I'm sounding too critical.  There was a lot of problem-solving to be done in the adventure and having to do day three is like drawing the short straw.

It is also worth mentioning, just for people who wonder "how does a gaming group hold an annual gaming event for twenty one years?" that at the end of the last full day the whole group sits down and does a critique of the weekend.  This is a pretty honest evaluation of things where people really can share their likes and dislikes.  One factor that came up was that people liked eating out for meals (although it is pricey for some) because it created breaks in the gaming where people could visit and catch up, etc.  This kind of attention to people's impressions and comfort is a big clue to the group's longevity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The End of the World, Day Two

The second EOW game was also science fiction, this time a more "hard sci fi" story. Earth has been wracked by a ecological cataclysm and abandoned in favor of colonies throughout the solar system. Two centuries later a team of scientists and soldiers are sent back to earth to locate the plans of an FTL drive which will allow humanity to leave the solar system.

This time around I was playing the corporate supervisor, and I played his low-charisma self to the hilt. Think Paul Rieser in "Aliens.". Playing someone so disagreeable was a nice change of pace.

The game got hung up in what I think are two classic RPG pitfalls. The first is what I call the "carte blanche" scenario.  When you are on a high-priority mission (save the solar system) from a high powered patron (a system-wide government), wouldn't you be given anything you wanted: gear, troops, transports, etc.?  And a sufficient amount of tactical support can allow a group to pretty much steamroll any obstacle, which is largely what happened..

The second hangup was that the game seemed to have more background than foreground.  The GM (excuse me, "judge") had an incredibly elaborate universe in which ot operate, things like timelines, a history of the cataclycsm, and so on.  But he lacked detail when it came to where the PC's were actually tromping about, like a map of the city or the building we were exploring, and so the game seemed, despite all the obvious work, to lack focus.

I am not always a fan of "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" but if I had to run this scenario again I would tackle the first problem by eliminating some of the power and scope of the patron.  Instead of the government sponsoring the project, make it an unpopular but well-intentioned government official whom everyone thinks is crazy, or make the plans be near a volcano that is going to erupt in a few days, so there isn't time to mount a big offense.  That way the players feel more threatened when natives come over the horizon and there is more drama to the story.

Second, find a way to introduce more of the backstory to the PC's.  After the game the GM presented us with a "journal" of the cataclycm.  One of the other players said, "why couldn't this be on [one of the NPC's encountered in the game]?"  This adventure felt like it wouldn't made for a better campaign than a one-shot, and a good one at that.

In other news, after each gaming session we usually have dinner and watch a movie or two.  So far we have seen "Gamers: the Dorkness Rising," "Zombieland," and "The Book of Eli."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The End of the World, Day One

The first day of the three-day gaming weekend began today with a Star Trek scenario.  Pretty standard set-up: an abandoned ship in space is discovered and the PC's crew a DS9 Runabout to investigate.  The mystery ship has lots of secrets, including strange, phantom-like figures from the long-lost crew.

One problem I've often had with Star Trek RPGs is the issue of command.  Each crew has someone to make the decisions and that person can run the direction of the adventure.  The other is that on a large ship crew has loads of "specialists" who can guarantee success for any task the PC's want to do.

On a small crew where everyone is roughly the same rank, this isn't as much an issue.  I was also the commanding officer and made a point of being pretty collaborative.

The adventure was well run, had loads of nice details like ship diagrams, and unlike many scenarioes was pretty open-ended.  Great way to start the weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Looking forward to the End of the World

Not the literal one, although according to Scripture we Christians are supposed to come out okay, in theory...

Anyways, I mean "EOW" which is short for "End of the World."  The story behind EOW is that back in Columbus over twenty years ago a bunch of friends used to game together a homegrown system that combined three RPG's: Traveller, FASA's Star Trek RPG, and Morrow Project.  Basically the game used Traveller's life path, Star Trek's skill/attribute system, and Morrow Project's universe.  Unlike most gaming groups, they kept gaming this odd gumbo of an RPG ever since, occasionally restarting the Morrow Project timeline to re-envision the campaign.  They were (and are) a pretty insular bunch, never branching out into other gaming systems or anything, they were like a gaming time capsule.

Well, I was invited to join this group by one of the GM's (they are so old fashioned they call them "judges") and played for several years while living in Ohio.  The only met four times a year, with three sessions being run by one of the three different judges in an all-day event.  But playing the same post-apocalyptic RPG can get a little boring, so for the fourth annual session they would get together and do three days of gaming straight, with each day featuring one of the three GM's running a one-shot adventure taking place in whatever genre or universe they wished, with the only caveat being it had to have an "End of the World" theme and use their home-grown system.  Two years ago I was invited to fill in for an absent judge and I put together a "pulp magazine" style adventure where the heroes were attempting to prevent a madman from destroying the world.

Anyways, long story short I leave tomorrow for EOW.  When I left Ohio I promised my fellow enthusiasts that I would return for the three-day event, this year being held in South Carolina.  I'm not running a game this year, but I will present a detailed post-mortem of the event so you can enjoy vicariously the fun of doing a big, long gaming blowout and consider doing something similar in your own gaming community.
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