If you’ve been around the site for a while, you may know that one of my favorite games in the old-school sphere is Electric Bastionland. Chris McDowall’s game of electropunk weird fantasy is a high watermark in the world of gameable settings, creating the city of Bastion as a thematically consistent setting which still has nearly endless ability to be interpreted, customized, and hacked by players of the game. A city existing right after the discovery of electricity, it is a huge, chaotic place filled with strange beings and objects, unmappable boroughs and streets, and numerous factions, councils, and unions constantly at odds with each other. If that’s not enough, the Underground below, Deep Country surrounding, and the Living Stars above all serve to create a weird world to get lost in.
Electric Bastionland as a game is designed to use as few rules as possible to get everything working, and therefore allow each gaming group flexibility when it comes to which elements of the setting they want to nail down. That said, the game also includes a very clever piece of worldbuilding tech in the form of Borough creation. For a Borough in the city, or an area of the Deep Country or section of the Underground, there are rules for mapping out the key transit routes through the area. These mechanics create a segment of Bastion with a great number of locations and hooks, and one Borough provides more than enough information to start the game.
What I find, though, is that if you want to use Electric Bastionland for a longer game, you’re going to want more than one Borough. It’s quite possible to prep one Borough at a time, let the map expand organically as the characters wander. That said, many people are going to want some form of larger map. While Bastion as a city naturally resists mapping, I think there’s still value in building out a higher level diagram, something that tells you where the bounds of the city are. That’s why I’ve been experimenting with a game creation framework that I call Bigger Bastionland.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Bigger Bastionland →
From time to time, you’ll see the gaming press and sometimes even the broader ‘nerd’ press pick up a story about a years-long or decades-long RPG campaign. One thing you’ll immediately notice is the focus of these articles: “Meet the GM who keeps on using the same damn world”. “This group has been playing one single game for 35 years. See how the GM does it.” The GM is the key to any campaign, but when a campaign is both long and sustained, others take notice. Long and sustained is the key for an anti-boredom campaign, and though it may not last 35 years, putting in the work will help keep a long, complex, and rich campaign going for longer than you may have initially thought possible.
GMing a long-running game isn’t about shortcuts, but it’s not not about shortcuts either. As a campaign builds history and increases in complexity, the amount of work the GM must do just to keep everything straight is going to increase. ‘Lazy GMing’ isn’t a preference here, it’s a way to make sure you can do everything you need to do without burning out. This is also where much of the content of the other articles begins to synthesize. A system with more mechanics that support what you want to do will take less effort to run. A setting that is constrained but has depth is much easier to do bookkeeping for than a sprawling wasteland of 150 dungeons and ten nation-states. That said, once the game has started, all that’s left to do is run.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 3 →
The role-playing hobby is an embarrassment of riches. There are so many games, so many game ideas, and in contrast to that, only so much time. You don’t need to be all that prolific to reach a number of campaigns you want to run that will take literally your entire remaining life…and do so even if you’re just in your 30s. It’s from this massive buffet that we want to find one dish we can savor; that’s the concept of anti-boredom.
If you were here with us last time, you saw a discussion about the plots and premises that can feed a long-running, deep, and memorable campaign. Today, we’re going to start executing on our anti-boredom campaign by figuring out what support we need to make it happen. There are so many games under the sun, but some are better suited to long-running games than others, and an even smaller number still can truly support the breadth of play that will keep you, the multi-genre, multi-system, and ultimately very easily distracted GM, from abandoning them.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 2 →
When writing, one of the most important things to know is the audience you’re writing for. And while sometimes it may be obvious, it may also be that writing for a subset of your audience helps focus what you’re doing and clarify your intent. In writing for Cannibal Halfling Gaming, sometimes the audience I write for is myself. No matter what I write about any given week, I go either run or play a session with my home group nearly every week, and just like so many gamers I’m always looking for things to make my games better. So it was when I wrote ‘The Curse of the Wandering Eyes’. The person who the curse had afflicted in my life was myself, and I still am tempted by so many games and campaign ideas that I come across.
When considering my affliction, I asked myself a question. How would you structure a campaign in such a way that it would keep your attention? What would you actually need to go back to the same storyline week after week? This series of articles is an attempt to answer that question. There are certain gifts that a longer campaign gives, mostly in the form of more and more robust character and setting development. Growing attached to a character that you’ve seen grow and change over months and years is an amazing part of role-playing games, and at the same time seeing a setting really become familiar and ‘lived-in’ engenders a lot of affection for and attachment to the campaign. Getting there, though, can be tough, and it requires some long-term thinking and planning.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom Pt 1 →
Seamus and I both came of age at a time where the long-running campaign was considered the platonic ideal of the role-playing game. There’s a lot of historical justification for this; the ‘campaign’ as an innovation in the wargaming space was one of the things that led to interest in the character-driven gaming that eventually became Dungeons and Dragons. The campaign as a procedure within a game, though, has been somewhat of a stagnant thing. Even as games continue to push on notions of advancement and other structures which define how events progress across multiple gaming sessions, it’s still assumed that a long-running game would be played in a series of continuous sessions by a consistent group of players. 15 years ago, a known luminary in the RPG design space ran a campaign that worked quite differently, creating ripples across the hobby. I’m of course talking about Ben Robbins’ West Marches.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Intro to West Marches →
Listen, I don’t care if you don’t want to sign up with the Alliance. We’re not exactly the conscription types, you should know that. But you’ve got to admit, if you can touch the Force? The Empire is going to be hunting you. If you signed up we’d protect you, yes, but if you’re going to keep ‘listening to the Force and following your Destiny’, we still don’t want you caught. Moral considerations aside, we don’t need more redblades getting added to the roster. Alliance Special Operations has put together some dossiers on Inquisitorius agents. If you have nothing else to do with us I still want you to read these and be careful – we lost people getting this information, make it worth it.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Star Wars: Inquisitorius →
The Galactic Empire brings safety, security, prosperity, and progress to every planet that welcomes its care . . . or so the story goes, anyways. On one Outer Rim world, at first that all seemed true: oppressive nobles were overthrown, social mobility increased, and industry flourished. However, in the mines and the ‘reeducation’ camps the truth of Imperial rule can be found for those brave and/or unfortunate enough to uncover it. The Rebellion fights here despite the Empire’s good publicity, but what path will the different cells take to freedom? How will new additions to the base upset the balance? Check your power packs and calibrate your blaster’s sights, we’re joining up with the rebels of Jumar Base!
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Star Wars: A Rebellion Divided →
Tired of traveling the same old hyperlanes? Had your fill of fighting off stormtroopers? Sick of owing credits to the Hutts? Outer Rim not far enough out for you? Well, it’s not without risks of its own, but have you ever considered Wild Space? Find a planet of your very own, start from scratch, no Empire, no Rebels, no syndicates? It’ll be an entirely new way of life for you out there, so before you start making the astrogation calculations, let me tell you a little about what you might be getting yourself into…
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Star Wars: Wild Space Colony →
Spiderman in the Marvel Comics has had a lot of memorable foes. From the more comical such as Shocker and Rhino. To the deathly serious in Green Goblin and Kingpin. Peter Parker and his many fellow Spider-Folks have no shortage of villains who left a mark on the minds of fans. But for me, it was always one villain that was memorized in this ol’ skull the most. Or rather, as I soon came to discover, a group. More like a plague when you think about it.
The Symbiotes. These alien menaces would bind to the most heroic of crusaders, granting them a boon of immense power. At the cost of what made them so heroic. They would prey upon the impulses that, in moderation, make us human. Anger. Hate. Jealousy. Pain. Only, they weren’t content with those impulses remaining moderate. They would take the knob and wind it all the way up to the max. These symbiotes would turn heroes into villains.
And as a kid, that both fascinated and scared the ever living hell out of me. These beings were like the zombie virus storylines on adrenaline. They don’t just turn you into a monster. They do it slowly. They whittle away at who you are, amplifying the parts you’d rather forget and minimizing the aspects you hold dear, bit by bit. They turn your love to obsession. They turn your courage to fanaticism. They turn you into…..well, NOT-you.
And when I think of the idea of horror stories in Marvel, I can’t get closer than the idea of a well done symbiote story. Barring Immortal Hulk, cos that’s friggin’ amazing.
So, let’s discuss how to do a symbiote story in Masks. Let’s discuss horror in Masks: A New Generation.
Continue reading We Are Venom: Using Symbiotes (And Horror) in Masks →
Maybe it’s because I’m in dire need of a fix before Episode IX is released, but I find myself drifting back to the end of The Last Jedi. I know that it’s a polarizing topic for a lot of fans, but I keep thinking of the possibilities and implications left by the ending. The interesting part is, going at the question of “How Do I Build a Campaign?”, previous Star Wars Meet the Campaigns have created a location and then built up hooks around it. This method doesn’t work as well for something as broad as the entire galaxy. It might be simpler to have a GM pick a planet and say “this is what is happening here”, but unless we are talking about a popular setting like Nar Shaddaa, a write up for places of interest is less useful because there is little to keep players there without railroading them.
So, after some thought, I’ve decided to try coming at this from the other direction: rather than picking a location and populating it with plot hooks, this Meet the Campaign is setting up themes and using bits and pieces from throughout the system in order to build a framework that spurs a wide background of characters into the action. Unlike the previous entries, this installment is system specific for Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG, but the themes are universal (or galactic) enough to be transferred over. And just to be sure, as this takes place after the events of The Last Jedi, spoilers will abound, so consider yourself warned.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Post-The Last Jedi →