Archive for November, 2013

The Challenge

Posted in General on November 23, 2013 by Carl

Here’s the challenge. How do we run a game for a group of players who, for many reasons, can’t attend each week? How do we maintain a game world, a sense of momentum and a narrative thread when we can’t be sure which characters, if any, will be present at each session?

Instead of the ongoing campaign model we’ve used in the past we could change to an episodic model, where adventures in a variety of styles and locations are designed to be completed in a single session, in the convention style. However this sort of one-off game style does normally pose a few problems.

  • There is no underpinning narrative that ties the adventures together, so the immersive game world and sense of progress is lost

  • If each session uses new characters we have to create them each time, further cutting down on game time

  • If we stick with a single set of characters we hit the same problem of party balance we have currently; if the players with the melee characters are away you end up with a party of squishies. If all the casters are off the meat shields have no support.

  • Fitting an adventure with a hook, a start, a middle and an end into 4 hours can be tough, particularly if you have to establish new character personalities during that time, or explain how the previous set of characters now find themselves at the start of a new adventure.

The following is hopefully a response to those challenges. I’m interested to hear what you think.

  • You are field agents working for a powerful organisation, sent out by your bosses on a variety of short (single game session) missions. This fixes the issue of the underpinning narrative, and opens the door to a wide variety of adventure styles. Horror, comedy, espionage, hack and slash etc.

  • The organisation is pan-planar, and teleports field teams into missions across the planes. This means any setting becomes viable for your mission. Eberron, Forgotten Realms, Hyboria, Middle Earth, you name it. Jungle, city, dungeon, heaven or hell, collapsing mini-dimension, Spelljammer starship, it’s up to the DM.

  • At mission end the team are teleported back to HQ, either through use of a recall device, an NPC, a timed recall spell, or whatever fits the story.

  • The missions can be purely standalone, or can form part of a collaborative meta-plot if we wish. Perhaps the missions slowly begin reveal something of the organisation’s plans, or reveal a wider event taking place across the planes.

  • We agree on a game system and each of us builds 3 characters. One meat shield, one caster, one support. If you just want to provide a character concept instead Stefan and I will be happy to build your character (right Stefan?)

  • At the start of each mission each player picks one (or more if the player count is low) of their characters to go on the mission, knowing the mission will only last one game session. This fixes the party balance issue.

  • One of the nice benefits of this system is that we lose reliance on a single DM. If all of us have characters then any player can step in whenever they like to run the adventure of the week. Because it’s a one-shot the DM prep overhead is greatly reduced. One of the aims of this system is to facilitate a sharing of the DM role between us.

  • Another benefit is that we can turn up to any given game night knowing that we don’t need to worry about what happened last week, or what is going to happen to our character if we don’t turn up next week.

Original series Star Trek is a great example of how this model works for a TV show. Each week a subset of the cast beam down to a new location and conduct a mission. It could be wrestling with a Gorn, meeting evil doppelgangers of the crew or escorting space-hippies to Eden. They do their thing, head back to the ship, then rinse and repeat next week.

A couple more questions still need to be answered:

  • What is this powerful organisation that our characters work for? Take a look here for an in-character introduction to the Redcloaks. Take a look here for a more detailed look at the organisation the Redcloaks work for, the Sages’ Guild, a vast and internally complex knowledge-gathering power whose reach extends across countless realities, and whose goals can often be unclear and occasionally contradictory.

  • What game system do we use? I propose a hack of D&D Next, using some mechanics from Gumshoe for investigative skills (those rules are pretty good, and open up some nice detective-style mission possibilities), and some of the fun stuff Stefan found in 13th Age. Open to suggestions though, if that doesn’t suit.

So, what do you think? Are changes needed? Do you have any questions? Will this work?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.