A slight change of pace here with this piece of inspirational artwork which rather than immediately leading me to construct a hypothetical campaign got me thinking about a character first with ideas for the campaign building off of that. Also while the character has provided ideas around which a game could be built I also know straight away that I would not want to run it. Why? Because I know somebody who could run it far better than I ever could (yes Emzy I mean you) as she knows the mythology and culture such a game would be set in far better than I ever could.
Source: Jesper Ejsing
Genre: British / Irish iron age mythology
The character: One of the hunters from a larger village on the east coast of the country. Driven with a ruthless edge, initially as she tries to prove herself to the village elders and later as she’s drawn into the wider conflict of the campaign.
Campaign elevator pitch: Invaders have arrived on the shores, beating back all who challenge them with military precision and unchecked aggression. As your village burns you know only the Gods can help you now and seek out in a desperate quest to gain their patronage. You can only pray that you are capable of reaching them before your people are wiped out or enslaved.
The campaign would build towards: Returning with the power of your Gods, capable of laying waste to mortal armies and a final confrontation with the avatars of the enemy pantheon.
Game system: I honestly don’t know, for the latter half something like Scion could work but would require a lot of homebrewing. For the first half I’d want something that had some limited magic but also made the characters feel relatively limited in order to make them feel compelled to seek out greater power.
Source: I don’t have an original source for this, only that I found it on the 70’s Sci-fi Art tumblr.
Genre: Future fantasy
Themes: Rediscovering the secrets of the past / Traditional adventuring in a non-traditional setting
Campaign elevator pitch: Once, long ago, civilisations far greater than your own waged war upon each other. Advanced far beyond your own the remnants of their monstrous creations still litter the earth, fragmented into hundreds of pieces or lying dormant, awaiting the return of their long deceased masters. The city of Ferrumstadt, built upon the chest of an ancient golem, is a rich and prosperous city state however a recent expedition into the golem has uncovered evidence that it has begun to awaken. Fearing the destruction of their home the city elders have issue a decree to adventurers and mercenaries: discover the secrets of the old world before it reawakens and restarts its ancient war.
The players would be: Adventurers out to rediscover the secrets of their world in an attempt to save their city state.
The campaign would build towards: An ancient apocalypse as the creations of the old world slowly awaken. Also revealing that magic in the world is actually powered by technology from the past and it’s use is responsible for reawakening the war machines.
Game system: A tweaked Torg, with players starting out using material from Aysle before slowly introducing more advanced technology.
Samuel Carter, the fourth character for Project: Cassandra has been the most difficult to develop so far, primarily because I felt I’d managed to fit the core of the character into the first two skill trees (Journalist and Suspicious Character) but hadn’t managed to fit in any physical abilities that didn’t feel forced. While I attempted a couple of different cores for the third tree they all felt disconnected from the main concept. Ideas such as Fitness Freak, First Aider or Urbanite either didn’t sit right or didn’t expand well into full trees.
Finishing the character off after playtesting had begun however helped consolidate the ideas. There was a need for some sort of evasion skill but it also became clear that the scenario would probably leave the characters disorientated and not quite sure how to proceed. While that indicates a need for the scenario to be improved my mind, in trying to work out how, latched onto the idea of situational awareness and how well it rounded out Carter’s character sheet.
Now I just need to come up with the concept for the fifth and final character.
When I first saw this image it was titled ‘Battlemage in space’ and my mind immediately jumped to Shadowrun which has successfully blended magic with cyberpunk technology in a way that actually makes sense (too many setting merely add in magic without thinking about the consequences and impact it would actually have upon society). Space travel and off world colonies, however, isn’t a major part of Shadowrun which is something I’d want to address with the campaign described below.
Source: Alex Pascenko & Algenpfleger
Genre: Cyberpunk / Scifi
Themes: Shadowrun, hiding from the law, mercenaries
Campaign elevator pitch: The Sixth World wasn’t enough for the MegaCorps, not content with merely owning the Earth they have spread through the solar system, establishing corporate colonies where ever they please. With them went the shadowrunners, developing new techniques to infiltrate corporate assets from the dark vacuum of space.
The players would be: Shadowrunners bouncing between corporate colonies and freeports in search of the next pay chit.
The campaign would build towards: Stealing the first interstellar drive, and the decision of whether to make it freely available or to sell out to the highest bidder. Of course that is if they can survive long enough to do so.
Game system: Shadowrun, tweaked to work in space
With the general rules and initial characters of Project Cassandra completed the next step in the development of the game has been playtesting, which began this week. I’d already identified a number of potential issues but rather than make immediate changes I held off to see how my players felt about the system. As expected some of those issues did pop up in game while I also identified a number of additional problems that I’d missed by just reading over the rules documents. The biggest change coming off of this first session was that a number of the skill trees needed reworking, both to make them flow more cleanly down the levels and to change some of the descriptions in order to prevent unneeded redundancy.
The biggest change that I hadn’t spotted prior to the session concerns difficulty levels, as depending on the situation a difficulty of 5 can be either impossible to achieve or too easy to achieve. The first of those, being impossible, arises when a PC lacks any relevant skills and therefore can’t roll more than 3 successes on their base dice pool. In these situations it is therefore impossible to reach a 5 (though 4 successes can be reached by taking a condition). When writing the rules I thought that wouldn’t be an issue as high difficulties would be relatively rare and restricted to extreme situations. What I hadn’t factored in, however, was two things. Firstly how well the players managed to apply their skill trees (thus making me instinctively increase the number of difficulty 4+ rolls) and secondly how powerful premonitions (which allow players to reroll failed dice) are.
With that in mind my issue is how to handle it. I’m not keen to change the way premonitions work as they fit in nicely with the scenario and setting of the game. So instead I need to have a way of allowing unskilled rolls to achieve 4+ successes from only 3 dice. My first thought is some sort of explosion mechanism, but I’m unsure of whether d6’s explode too often for the system. Guess that’s where the playtesting comes in.
- The PCs (Sarsin, Jones and Whitford) awoke in the early morning with another shared premonition: Fire engulfing all they could see, a silhouetted figure stepping forward. On their chest is a five pointed star, which changes into the stars and stripes then into the logo of the Joint Research Division.
- Realising the power is out in their living quarters (in the project unit) they discover that the electrical supply has been sabotaged. Whitford spots somebody on the other side of a locked door and gets flashbacks to the premonition. Second later said individual throws a firebomb at the door which starts going up in flames.
- Faffing ensures with Jones first rescuing some of her research notes (concerning the role of a major arms dealer in influencing politicians) then suggesting they try and put the fire out. Said fire then blows through the windows, injuring Whitford.
- The group finally escape through a skylight, Jones spots a car driving off in the distance. The group wait for the emergency services to arrive and hope others will escape from the fire. Nobody does.
- After the fire service arrive the group discover that they are near Winston, Tennessee and that everybody believed the army base they are on had been shut down a decade ago.
- After the police arrive all three are arrested on suspicion of arson, trespassing on government property and murder (they’d told the firefighters others had been in the building). The cops suspect Whitford may have escaped from a psychiatric ward as he’s dressed in his pyjamas and carrying a tool box.
- At the police station Jones tries calling Corporal Molly Wick, an attaché to the JRD. She eventually returns the call, claiming not to know Jones before warning them that they need to get out and hide.
- The group hatch their escape plan: Jones teleports the keys for the cells to her while Sarsin slows time down around the duty officer. Recovering their gear takes longer than expected and Sarsin is forced to knock out the officer.
- The group escape in a stolen police car but are forced to pull in for fuel at a truckstop / diner (from the initial questions) outside of town. End of session.
In writing Project Cassandra I’ve been heavily inspired by the rules and design philosophies of Lady Blackbird. One of the central tenets of that game is that the GM should be ‘listen and ask questions’ rather than planning everything out in advance. As each of the characters in Project Cassandra possess precognitive abilities the game provides an ideal mechanism to let not only the players define the events of the game but do so in a way that the characters are also aware of certain future events. The first piece of advice for the GM is therefore to start at the end, by defining the shared premonition (assassination of the President of the United States of America) that they are out to prevent. The game proper begins a few days after they have reported this premonition, as they awake to another premonition, that somebody is coming to silence them by burning down the unit.
Defining the end scene and the setting of the game as a whole is handled through a series of questions, at the moment I’m working with 6-8 being the right number. In preparation for the first playtest of the game I recently sat down with my players to run through the questions, the results of which are as follows:
- What era are we playing in?
- How will the President by killed?
At close range, approach by the assassin, possibly using a small calibre silenced weapon.
- Where will the assassination attempt occur?
At a public event, possibly a campaign rally as it’s an election year.
- Are the Russian’s really involved or are they just scapegoats?
Scapegoats, being used in order to keep the cold war from fizzling out.
- Who betrayed you? (Referring here to who saw the report of their initial premonition and has decided to burn down the unit)
A prior candidate who believes the premonitions are all lies being used to justify arresting / killing people who haven’t yet committed any crimes.
- Where will they catch up to you? (With they not being defined and could be the prior candidate, the secret service, the conspirators etc)
At a truckstop diner with roller-skating waitresses.
- What are the consequences?
Political opponents gets into power, uses the assassination as a reason to declare martial law, the cold war goes hot.
- Who is the President?
Thomas J. Whitmore from Independence Day (and still played by Bill Pullman). Reimagined as a former Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam.
Through these questions the players have defined quite a large chunk of not only the final scenes (the assassination) but the rest of the game as the characters try to work out what is going on and how to stop it. As the GM the answers to these questions have already provided me a firm idea of what the players want to see while also forming a jumping point for the rest of the game. Why, for example, are the characters spending time at a diner? How does the assassin get close to the President? If the Russians are just scapegoats does that mean evidence has been planted to frame them?
Cheating slightly with post number 2 in this series as I’m using the same image again but that the great thing about this sort of approach to campaign design, the same piece can provide many different sources of inspiration.
Source: Marek Okon who drew this as the cover of a comic series called Shrapnel, published by Radical Comics.
Genre: Military science fiction, lovecraftian horror
Themes: Survival, horror, aliens
Campaign elevator pitch: Returning from deployment on a far off world a group of marines, weary and hardened by war, awake from cryosleep docked at a remote station decades later than scheduled. The garrison, however, has been barricaded from the inside and the unit must work their way inside in order to resupply and discover what has occurred. Inside the garrison a sleeping evil awakes… and the marines learn of horrors no war could prepare them for.
The players would: be a detachment of marines trying to get home
The campaign would build towards: Escaping the horror that lurks within, only to discover that during their sleep Earth has already fallen victim to otherworldly horrors.
Game system: The Void Core