Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Londinium 288 AD

The first of the six settings that we are considering for our next game comes courtesy of Chris R. (who played Lord Tybalt in our Knights of the Astral Sea game until the little fur ball was accidentally blown up by Genevieve):

Welcome to Roman London! It's 288 AD and Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius has just declared himself emperor in Britain and Northern Gaul. He has 4 legions at his command, as well as the entire Roman northern fleet, based in Dover and Boulogne-sur-mer. Londinium is now an Imperial capital and it is a place of intrigue, violence, and tremendous amounts of commerce. Carausius is trying desperately to portray himself as the restoration of the glories of Rome and is spending money liberally to do so. At the same time, Roman spies, Celtic spies, and others are trying to see how they can take him down.

Touchstones: "The Eagle" and "The Last Legion"

The Player Characters: They could be residents of London; they could be agents of Carausius; they could be agents of Rome.

What's Interesting: Its Rome, but much more chaotic. The emperor started off as a river pilot, so there is a sense that unlike in Rome, social mobility is possible. This both excites and frightens people.

How it ends: In 293, Carausius is murdered by his finance minister, who dies 3 years later when the legions of Rome retake Britain.

So, there has been some talk of doing a Sword & Sandals game for a couple of years now. I had always imagined my Swords & Sandals as being dustier, with a heavy dose of Sword &Sorcery as well. But Chris' proposal is very intriguing. I never knew there was a Britannic Empire that broke off from Rome. And the fact that it only lasts seven years sets us up perfectly for a fixed ending (which worked so well for us in Buffy).

love the idea of a game that feels like HBO's Rome. There's action, great character development, and tons of intrigue. Setting this in Roman Britain means that we can explore the collision of Celtic legend, Roman legends, Northern European barbarians, early Christianity, and mystery cults from the east.

The big question, for me is how we'll treat magic. Is it absent? D&D-style fantasy? My own preference, I think, would be for a game where magic is very real to the inhabitants of the game world (based on what people really believed at the time) but that it is mostly confined to subtle effects and prophecy. But this would all get worked out if the setting is chosen.

My big concern is the "historicity trap". In any historical setting, there is a temptation to try to get all the details right. While I'm super keen to explore this historical era, I'm not going to be an expert and I certainly don't want to slow things down to look up what actually happened on the Internet during play. My thought here is that we should agree to a small number of established facts before play and then treat the game much like the history in an HBO show like Deadwood or Boardwalk Empire. The needs of the game supersede the need for historical accuracy.

So what system would we use? My first choice would be Fate or Fate Accelerated Edition. And this isn't just because I've had a string an excellent Fate games. I do think Fate lends itself to this kind of game because it can make action scenes come alive, aspects can be used to reinforce theme, and because the social combat rules are actually fun and seamlessly blend with free form player-GM roleplaying. I also have confidence that Fate can handle military engagements, which will almost certainly come up.

Beyond Fate, the next choice would seem to be a D&D/D20 variant (old school or otherwise). But I'm not sure that would be appropriate. The same can be said for DungeonWorld. By choosing these systems, we'd either need to embrace the explore/loot/level-up paradigm or consciously work against the system's default play style. And finessing the magic system become more of an issue.

We've largely ruled out Gurps as we are currently hip-deep in it for Knights of the Astral Sea. Risus is not everyone cup of tea and the same can be said for Rolemaster. I do like PDQ and PDQ#, but I think I'd choose Fate over these.

Then there are the dark horse candidates: Call of Cthulhu (Cthulhu Invictus), Leverage (a team of Iron-Age operatives), The One Ring (elves are Sidhe), World of Darkness, and Ars Magica.

(Cross-posted from Risus Monkey)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Big Next Game

With the amazing conclusion of our decade-long Buffy the Vampire Slayer: RPG series (Slaying Solomon), my gaming group now finds itself at a most delicious crossroad - choosing a new campaign!

I confess that I didn't expect to find ourselves in this uncertain state. I had expected that talk of the new game would proceed while we wrapped up our final Buffy episodes. But I was extraordinarily reluctant to start conversations related to the new game while Buffy was speeding to conclusion. I have been accused (fairly) of Gamer ADD in the past and I wanted to make sure Buffy had my undivided attention. I also didn't really have a good idea of when we'd hit the last episode. As it turned out, we wrapped up several sessions earlier than I expected.

Now we are sharing proposals for the future game in preparations for a vote. We've already taken a pass to select our top six:
  1. Sword & Sandals in Roman occupied Britain
  2. Rockets & Rayguns based around a Retro-Future Martian Spaceport
  3. 20th Century Supers spanning multiple generations of a City
  4. Near-future Action-Thriller involving the construction of a Space Elevator
  5. Gritty Sci-Fi among the criminals and dissidents of a futuristic Prison Planet
  6. Post-Apocalyptic SF on a Prison Planet cut off from Interstellar Society
With the exception of #1, all of these proposals have something to do with space elevators. Weird how our group goes off on tangents

We're very keen to capture whatever it was that made Buffy so great. We've discussed this at length and we think that a geographically focused and hyper-developed setting had something to do with it. Thus, in all the proposals listed above, we can take a very specific locale and develop the hell out of it, with or without Microscope before hand) and certainly over the course of the campaign.

We also want to make sure that campaign's structure fits our busy adult lives. Even though we try to schedule bi-weekly sessions, most of the people in our player pool cannot commit to sessions very far in advance. We need to campaign framework where each session (for the most part) is a stand along episode and that we can rotate player characters in and out seamlessly. Sharing GM duties is also a top priority.

One thing that we haven't been talking about (much) is system. We all have different preferences and we are pretty much agreed that that genre choice should dictate the system. We're using this down-time between campaigns to try out potential games to see how suitable they might be to any of the various concepts. We've tried Fate Core (with excellent results) and I'm sure that system could be used for any of the proposed campaigns without difficulty. But we're also going to try Leverage (for the Near-Future Thriller) and a few other systems as well.

(Cross-posted from Risus Monkey during the transition to this blog)

Friday, August 16, 2013

What About Risus Monkey?

Risus Monkey has largely fulfilled its purpose as a Risus blog. But now
that I'm getting back into the blogging game, I'm really excited to come
at it from a different angle. My own gaming group is about to launch a new
game (likely FATE) and I'd like an avenue to explore thinking related
to that. Since that game is also likely to be science fiction or modern,
the Velvet Edge seems like a perfect venue.

Furthermore, I've loved what Trey Causey has been doing over at From The
Sorcerer's Skull these last few years. I'd really like a thematically
unified place to discuss the development of my own settings. Velvet Edge
was my first multi-year campaign in an semi-original universe and I've always
imagined it to exist is a close parallel to most other games that I run.
Again, rebooting and exploring that setting is high on my list of things
that I think would be fun.

Other things that I'd like to do:
1. Explore FATE and other new games that I'm jazzed about
2. Return to producing useful gaming tools
3. Occsionally talk about cool SF/Fantasy/tech stuff that seemed out of
place at Risus Monkey.

Risus Monkey isn't going away. Not exactly. But until S John releases the
big anniversary edition of Risus, Risus Monkey will go into hibernation. After
that, we'll see. Risus still has a dear place in my heart and I will no
doubt occasionally wake up the monkey for important Risus news.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Tentative Return...

I suspect that nobody is reading this yet. This blog has been inactive for
a while and most of my recent (if you call it that) action has been over
at the sister blog, Risus Monkey. But that's totally ok. While I am
serious about getting back into the blogging game, I'm not quite ready to
go public. I'm a little gun-shy and the new incarnation of the blog needs
some work.

But if you are here then watch this space.