Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Carpe Blogiem: Aeon Campaign Arc 1, Post Mortem


Ok, folks. Buckle up. This is going to be a slightly long post. First, if you don't know about my Aeon campaign here's the gist from my Session Recap page.
It's 2016 and superpowers are real. They appear to have been born out of a strange energy pulse that hit the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on October 31st, 1999 at 2:00pm EST. For years powers were denied until finally the world governments could deny them no more. Powers were real and so were the people who used them for good or ill. But this isn't like the comic books. It'd be so much easier if it were...
I've talked a bit on my blog about my intentions for Aeon and how it was the first campaign of its like I've ever ran. Honestly, I think it's pretty unique period. I could be wrong, but I've not seen the kind of melding of face to face and online play out there. That said . . . it was an experiment. A way for me to rest the limits of a campaign, the limits of my players, the limits of myself, and the limits of GURPS itself. I learned quite a few things about game design, pacing, and general gamemastering.

I'm going to set out what my initial goals were and how I failed, met, or exceeded them afterward.

The Initial Plan
I conceived of Aeon in late 2015 while contemplated what campaign I wanted to run next. I'd done a little Dungeon Fantasy and worked on a campaign of my own and sought out something new. I'd wanted to run a superhero campaign for a while. I'd always been a huge fan of Marvel and their constant amazing movies and TV shows only fanned that fire. If I turned my mind toward such a campaign what could I do with it? What could I bend? What could I break? What could I fake? Before I went further I had to seek the co-gm and other half (+Ann LS) and see what she thought. Here's is a reenactment of that moment:



After we talked some she gave me a few ideas and a few rules: 1) black and white heroism was ok, but make it a little more subtle at some points; 2) there should be some interplay between the online game (I'd only planned on one at that point) and the face to face games (our group); 3) there needed to be a plot that formed the backbone of the campaign.

Along with some of my own thoughts and ideas there talks formed the core of Aeon. I was never a fan of four-color supers - iron-age supers was more my speed. But I decided to put all the flavors in the world by giving the premise as "super powers are new!" and then have the PCs find out that in fact... they were pretty old. +Daniel Dover was the only person to actually comment on how I did this so I may have been TOO subtle. I eventually used some material for campaigns that had failed for this or that reason and kept adding on. When +Wavefunction got involved I began to rapidly expand the premise. I'd originally conceived of a single online group to complement my face to face group, but I quickly decided I'd run FOUR such games and link everything together.

So my initial goals were:

1) Create a believable campaign world with super powers. Define where those powers came from. How they worked. How they fit together.
2) Come up with a multi-threaded story arc/narrative I could weave between multiple groups. A single mission everyone could eventually embrace.
3) Cross-pollinate each group with members of the other groups every once and a while.
4) Reuse multiple NPCs between groups to give a "tied together" feel.
5) Find the exact limit on how many games I could manage at once for future enterprises.
6) Find and recruit a pool of players who could be trusted, were good roleplayers, and brought unique talents to the group.
7) Find and recruit a pool of folks who could be trusted, knew GURPS, and brought unique talents to the think tank - which would be assembled to assist me when needed and act as sounding boards.




The Execution
It took me almost 4 months to write, revise, revisit, and revamp the documentation for Aeon. Whenever I run a new campaign set in a new world the very first thing I do is creating a "Setting Bible." A document that my players can refer to when creating characters, have questions about the campaign, etc. When all was said and done it was about 140,000 words (it would eventually expand to about 180,000 after adding stuff from gameplay or revisions). Much of this was things I needed to know and not necessarily my players. It was a way to put into concrete terms the things I wanted. I envisioned all the teams as being able to go back and forth somehow - but I was still working on the mechanism. A-Team was going to be my god-level supers, B-Team were going to be my Avengers, C-Team my "Agents of SHIELD", and D-Team were going to be the poor bastards who got to deal with the aftermath of everything.

Next, I started rounding up players. When I put out a call for applicants I was overwhelmed. Over 60 people. I'd had a small base: I planned on +Douglas Cole , +Christian Gelacio+Tim P , and +Tai Perry playing. The latter two dropped out because of irreconcilable play style differences - but Doug and Christian stayed and formed the core of what would become "B-Team." I eventually added +Emily Smirle+GodBeastX, and +Kyle Norton and those were the ones who stuck with the game from pretty much the beginning to the end. Emily had to leave at one point and I went through a few players before I recruited +Ignus Pyre from the D-Team to replace her. I'd already had a great experience with him as a player and he was happy to join the B-Team. Character creation took about 6 weeks as we dug into the guts of GURPS and Powers to make things work the way I wanted and create detailed, intricate backstories. Two weeks later we started playing.

After a while I began to recruit for C-Team. Eventually I settled on +Travis Ellis+Pk Levine+Mavrick Fitzgerald+Alex Raymond, and +Kevin Smyth. The process repeated: 4 weeks of customizing and creating and then I started running the game. Both PK and Kevin eventually had to drop out - PK was starting to work on the then nascent DFRPG and Kevin's new job was ensuring he got zero free time. I went through a few players until I finally got Alex to see if a friend of his and his wife wanted to play. I did a quick interview and found them to both be awesome and put them to creating characters right away - characters they only played for two sessions before the campaign ended.

D-Team would come next - but almost two months later. The initial group included Hal (who'd become another co-gm at that point), +Antoni Ten Monrós, Richard, +Asta Kask, and Daniel. I eventually lost Daniel and due to scheduling issues with another player the game just kind of lost steam.


Aftermath
Where do I begin? There's a lot to cover. First, I'd found my limit on the number of groups/people I could GM for in a week and keep up with all my duties and gigs. That number was three groups or 15-17 people. I utterly failed as I tried to get the campaigns to crossover more. Travis did his damnedest to help, but I just couldn't make it work. Part of it was the fact that C-Team was bi-weekly and they'd begun WAY WAY into the past causing out of sync issues. I'd really screwed up there. Bad. It was a hard-won lesson. The fact that I kept having player attrition didn't help. Losing Emily and Daniel was like losing limbs. Both of them kept their perspective teams grounded and/or driven.

The thoughtfulness of all the players during character creation was so refreshing that I knew I'd lucked out right away. They were eager for me to run and that eagerness made me want to GM all the more. I'd learned so much from them and running for them.


Post Mortem
Here's how it broke down:

1) I created a believable campaign world that the players could sink their teeth into.
2) The single narrative that everyone could embrace was a partial success. Yes. It worked. It made since, but the players didn't get involved as I would have liked. This was due to player attrition and the out of sync time issue with C-Team - which I corrected far to quickly due to losing PK.
3) I utterly failed at Cross-pollinating the teams. Period. Full stop. I didn't make it work. I eventually figured out why, but it was too late at that point.
4) This sort of worked. Not a lot, but sorta.
5) Boy did I and D-Team paid the price. Three games. at most 17 people. That's it. I used to be able to do much more. I guess we all get out.
6) I succeeded wildly here. I now have some of the best players I've ever had (outside of my 23+ years face to face gaming group). I even made a few friends - not something I find easy these days.
7) I lucked out here as well. The think tank are some of the most creative, knowledgeable folks I've ever come across.

Overall, I'm going to call Aeon (Part I) a success. The players had fun (it dragged at the end there, I won't lie) and the wrap-up was pretty great. It took us about 14-15 months to do the first story arc and the way everything ended put a nice bow on the campaign, but left it open-ended for the next part (which I'll eventually run sometime in the future).

So here's to all my players. To all those who are in my think-tank. To everyone who participated some way in Aeon - thank you. It was a learning experience for me as a gamemaster and a way to test my skills. It was also immensely satisfying an fun. I wish I could have done right the things I messed up . . . but that's part of why it's a learning experience (and why I labeled it an experiment from the get-go).

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