Saturday, June 21, 2014

Assembly Required: Development Step Two - Campaign Parameters

After you figure out what your campaign's foundation is you're going to want to figure out what type of game you want to run (the genre), how you're going to run it (the mode), how believable it is (austerity), what it's about (scale/scope), and, optionally, where it will take place (the location). Those familiar with GURPS Horror or GURPS Supers will notice that most of these terms are straight from there. I'm not about to try to reinvent the wheel. Or, as my granddaddy would say, "Boy, if it ain't broke, don't fix it." With that in mind if you're using a game engine with a specific built in setting (Night's Black Agents, D&D, Amber, etc.), then you're going to want to pretty much ignore this whole step, by choosing the game engine you've chosen these things as well. Since I'm a GURPS-guy, I'm going to assume that you're going to need to make those decisions.

The chosen genre for your campaign should be at most a couple of words (some weird campaigns may need a bit more) and convey what it's about fairly easily. It's similar to, but different than your Foundation statement. If you were writing an English paper on it, your Foundation statement would be the thesis, and your genre would be the sentence right after it. When designing a campaign you have a ton of options to choose from, but you probably have already decided on your genre while you were working up your campaign. The following scale uses some of my favorite novels as examples. Some options might include:
  • Fantasy: games that focus on fantastic worlds or places. Example: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum.
  • Horror: games that revolve around monsters, witches, and the like. Example: 'Salems Lot by Stephen King.
  • Historical: games that (usually) lack exotic powers or abilities and focus instead on the time period they're set in. Example: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.
  • Humor/Silly: Games that are non-serious or comedic in nature. Example: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
  • Speculative Fiction: games that are relatively "normal" except for one or two things. Example: Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer.
  • Mystery: Games that focus on solve crimes, disappearances, etc. Example: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.
  • Mythological: Sometimes called "epic fiction," Example: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Science Fiction: Games that take place in the future or near-future or have incredible scientific breakthrough's Example: the Forever War by John Haldeman

The chosen mode for your campaign is going to depend heavily on your players. If you try to run a gritty campaign, and your players are expecting a cinematic one you are going to either have a short campaign, or you're going to lose players - so you need to match your expectations up with theirs. Again, if you did your Foundation session right, you're going to know the answer to this question, but just in case ask your players again -yes, it is that important! The following scale uses some of my favorite "action" movies as examples.
  • Realistic: The campaign is as "real" as it can get. Guns don't cause you to fly back, falling anything higher than two stories result in real damage, you'll bleed to death if your wounds are severe enough, etc. Example: Ronin (1998)
  • Gritty: The campaign is still "grounded" in the real world, but doesn't use many "harsh realism" rules to better simulate reality, though it does use some. Example: Tears of the Sun (2003)
  • "Base Line": The typical GURPS baseline is a mix of playability and realism that favors the players (which is as it should be). Example: The Bourne Identity (2002)
  • Slightly Cinematic: Like gritty, but in the opposite direction, few or no "harsh realism" rules are in effect and at least one cinematic rule is turned on. Example: Shooter (2007)
  • Cinematic: Larger Than Life heroes tackle larger than life problems and are just too cool to die (or at least die without a dramatic death scene). No "harsh realism" rules are in effect and multiple cinematic rules probably are. Example: Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
One note with modes is that some campaigns a "mixed mode" might be desired. Such campaigns require a little more work, but the extra time could be more than worth it. To create a mixed mode campaign figure out what rules affect player characters, what rules affect non-player characters, and what rules affect both. For example, a gritty world where NPCs use the bleeding rules (p. B420) and can't have cinematic traits may lay side by side with rules exempting PCs from bleeding out, while they can have cinematic traits like Gunslinger or Trained by a Master. Heck, PCs might have access to the Flesh Wounds cinematic rule! (p. B417).

Austerity is a measure of how the player character's actions effect the the campaign world. For example, in a low austerity campaign, a Charlie could kill his neighbor Jerry the Vampire and get away with it. In fact, he might have 99 problems, but a vampire ain't one. In a high austerity campaign, the reverse is true. Your actions have consequences. For example, in the above example, the police would get involved. Charlie's neighbor's home would become a crime scene, and he might very well be the lead suspect! The following scale uses some of my favorite TV shows as examples.
  • High Austerity:  Player character actions are treated just like they would be if they had occurred in the "real world." Example: Justified (2010 - present)
  • Medium Austerity:  Player character actions have consequences some of the time - usually in service of the plot. Example: Hell on Wheels (2011 - present)
  • Low Austerity: Player character actions rarely have consequences and when they do it's almost always in the service of the plot. Example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)

Scale and Scope
These two are related so I've smushed them together.

Scale is the measure of how your player characters will interact with the world. Do they adventure on the side and still hold a job? Are they full-time heroes? Something in between? The following scale uses some of my favorite comics as examples.
  • Everyman:  Players are expected to deal with "real life" and "adventuring" at the same time. Example: Daredevil.
  • Heroic: The GM decides, but usually the players "adventuring life" takes center stage, except for the occasional "day in the life of" game session. Example: Iron Man.
  • Epic: The players' job is "adventuring!" Example: Guardians of the Galaxy.
Scope is a measure of how the player characters interact with the campaign environment and how it interacts with them. It's also a measure of how "big" the campaign is. Is it bound to a single city? A specific nation or group of nearby nations? Or is the world the oyster of your globetrotting player characters? The following scale uses some of my favorite anime as examples.
  • Local: The campaign takes place in a specific town, city, or other central location. This does not have to be stationary! A space station could be considered a "Local" campaign even though it could be revolving around a planet or moon. Example: S-Cry-ed
  • National: The campaign takes place in a specific country, nation, or planet (in a space-faring or planet hopping campaign). Example: Hellsing.
  • Global: The campaign takes place on a global scale. Game sessions are almost always in different locations around the global. In a space-faring or planet hopping campaign this is probably best described as Intersteller or Galactic. Example: Trinity Blood.
Multiple scopes may be possible, that is what the player characters see to begin with - and what they may see as the campaign progresses. See GURPS Horror p. 106 for more information on multiple scopes.

Location (Optional)
The campaign's location is really only important if the campaigns' scope is "Local" or the GM decides the players have a base of operation. Simply notate this by name, for example "Chicago" or "Alpha City 3."

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
So back to SSKMUFSM, the genre is "Urban Fantasy with Horror and Action elements." The last two are as important as the first because it reveals the nature of the campaign. It's going to be about secret magic, and monster killing, and all that, but it's also going to have some elements of horror in the form of personal conflicts with player character past, and it's going to be slightly action-y because the players aren't going to be low point characters. The latter also suggests the mode: something cinematic. But I've decided I'll do a "mixed mode" - player characters will start with a modified form of the Illuminated advantage (more like an Unusual Background than what that trait is listed as in the Basic Set). This allows them to purchase supernatural traits and buy paranormal powers. I've further decided that everyone in the campaign who doesn't have this trait has a 0-point feature in the form of Mundane Background. Austerity will be medium bordering on high. Player character actions will have consequences so skills like Housekeeping will be useful for cleaning up your prints or removing evidence you might leave behind. The scale will be Heroic - the player's lives and "day jobs" outside of "adventuring" will be useful and used, but mostly during "downtime." The scope will be Local. My players and I had previously discussed what we wanted in a city: it needed to be large enough to support a fairly high supernatural population, be on one of the coasts or near a large body of water, have a colorful history, and have a large underground network of tunnels, abandoned sewers, and so on. The location will be Boston (the city that we all agreed worked best for everything we wanted).

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