Monday, October 14, 2013

End of the World 2013, Day One

For those who have been reading this blog for less than a year, or just don't bother following the minutiae of my life, a little background. Five or six years ago I joined this gaming group that has been in existence for the last 25 years or so. You read that right—25 years of consistent gaming. Now, some caveats about the group. They only gather four times a year. Three of those times they spend the entire day (traditionally a Saturday) gaming. The fourth time, they spend three days gaming with each day being a different adventure led by a different GM. One of those sessions is the “campaign” session, the quarterly game that's run the other times of the year. The other two are one-shots. The first three-day event was held in November of 1989, on the date that the little-known RPG Morrow Project said would be the beginning of World War Three. As a result, the gaming mini-convention would be known as “End of the World,” or EOW.

A little more background. These guys have been using the same game system for the last quarter century, a homegrown pastiche of Traveller, Morrow Project, and the FASA Star Trek RPG. Imagine Traveller's PC creation structure (buildings your PC up year-by-year) and Star Trek's stats and skills with a homegrown gun combat system bolted on top of it that they cobbled together using FBI statistics for real life shootings and you've got the idea. Now, I should also mention that this group has slowly grown over time. Like I said, I only came in about six years ago, and I'm the new guy. A typical EOW has eight or nine people, with one serving as the GM (or as they call it, in their time-capsule antiquated way, a “Judge”). That's a big group, but it works, not by accident but by deliberate thought, which I'll get into in a later post.

For the next three posts, I'd like to re-cap the three-day event, just to share how it all works. Most of the participants gathered together Thursday night for dinner. Some stay in their own homes at night, others stay at the house of the host, while others (like me, who was coming in from out of state) stay in a hotel.

Friday was the “campaign” session. The campaign is a “Traveller” campaign, but only in the loosest sense of the term since they use their own rules and a fairly heavily modified universe. Actually I've read this is pretty typical; many Traveller campaigns tend to take the original universe and head off in some direction. In this campaign, for example, Josef Kafka's consciousness inhabits an ultra-high AI the size of a planet who maintains the order of the Empire as a virtual god. In addition, the running of the campaign sessions revolves between three Judges, who basically collaborate on a shared universe, each making their own changes before handing it off to the next guy. Since their campaign has been going over for several years, it has really moved past the “a few merchants and marines in a Free Trader” to something much bigger. The PC's are the crew of a 800 ton merchant ship (the “Beowulf 2”) with two smaller ship's boats (“Eagle 1” or “Eagle 2”). The players at this point each have two PC's, usually a ranking officer on the ship and a lesser crew member. This allows the person playing the navigator to have someone who might go down to the surface of the planet. Playing more than one PC isn't all that common, especially when you're playing two in the same gaming session, but they have it down to a science and it really is quite effective when gaming a larger spaceship. I just have one PC, since I only can make one out of four session for this campaign. Her name is Natalya, and she was a spy who signed on board as a cargo hand before her mission went sideways and now she's stuck on the ship. I'm basically a red-shirt who is much more competent than she should be at things.

The plot was relatively straightforward: the crew of the Beowulf 2 are hired by a Count and his family to travel deep into unknown space to track down a lost family heirloom. In the process they uncover a long-lost secret about the origins of the Empire, a planet of super-soldiers who have been training in solitude for centuries, and are attacked by pirates. By the end the campaign had taken a major shift from a high-end freightliner to a small mercenary company/space fleet. It's rare to see a sci-fi RPG game go “big” that way; usually most campaigns just end up being the crew of the Millenium Falcon and leave it at that. You don't see too many campaigns revolving around the management of a multi-million credit corporation. In the post-game discussion the Judges discussed the possibility of scaling the campaign down a little bit to focus on specific ships doing specific missions, with a revolving crew of players (even introducing new hires for the Beowulf staff). Again, you don't see this kind of gameplay too often, and it was really, really interesting to take in.

While the session started off a little slowly with some fairly unrelated plot, it definitely picked up and the finale of a large starship desperately trying to hold off a pirate fleet was sci-fi fun.

Next: another Traveller game of a totally different color.

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