The weekend of October 28, 2005 five intrepid gamers met in Ft. Meyers FL to engage in an experiment in gaming. As a brief introduction my space game has been in development since I was in college (1988). It draws (steals) from Warhammer 40K, Traveller, Starwars, and Aliens. I’ve run several campaigns in the environment and as long as I’ve been running it has been a set of experiments in campaign development. The first campaign was a pretty standard space game, get a bunch of lowlife players,…I mean characters together, give them a ship, and let them play. In this case one of the players played the ship, or more precisely the ship’s AI, that was fun. They romped around my galactic playground doing fed ex missions till I was comfortable and ready to start the story.
This crew featured a clone of a galactic power broker. Subsequent clones would be an indexing methods for future campaigns. The basic plot of the first campaign, was the lonely galactic emperor had conned a political rival into letting him marry their daughter. The party’s mission was to do the escort from point A to point B. So the players got a glimpse of the Emperor, a young charismatic, likeable guy, instead of the guy they had been picturing, Darth Sideous. So the first campaign ends with our hero’s assisting with the capture of a space station by Imperial Marines.
The next campaign, was a 55hrs campaign, we basically do 12 4 hour sessions in a weekend. It is brutal but it feels like a campaign. This time it was the super-soldiers game. A galactic power was growing super soldiers for some nefarious purpose. The players ran these super soldiers. It was a pre-gen game (later to become immensely popular) wherein I gave them (6 players) 6 identical character sheets. They woke and determined “men in white coats bad” and busted off the space station, encountering the hero’s of the last campaign on the way. This group then began to explore who they were and the meaning of life, while becoming space pirates. This was a game with no real plot, it was more of “here’s the situation, now run with it”. This makes for unfulfilling endings as the game tapers off instead of coming to a good satisfying climax.
The next campaign was with a different group of players, and focused on two “initiates” of the “Church of Man”. The Church of Man is the humanist religion which was humanities self-defense mechanism against social dilution by alien races. They are also the self-policing repository for human psychic talent. So the church shanghais these two and on the way the starliner they are on is attacked by pirates. It then becomes very “Star Frontiers” and “Volturnus” for those who games in the early 80s. For everyone else, I re- rolled one of my favorite packaged adventures into GURPS. I ran two more campaigns with these church men (think jedi). The first gave hints to the aliens who seems to be feeding on and taking over planets. I’ll get to the second in a minute.
Meanwhile back with the first group, I ran another 55hrs game where in I gave them 2 sets of characters. The first were fairly weak, almost normal people, the second were Special Forces types. The plan was we play the first 4 hour block as the attack by the aliens from the above game ending when all the characters were killed horribly. This worked well as fun horror. Everyone knew they were doomed and played it well. The second batch of characters were sent to find out what happened to the first. They came in a little later so the aliens had started their conquest after their beachhead. This game went south fast, again I did not have a ending in mind and the players had accomplished their objective way too soon, so they started doing stupid stuff to keep playing. But I now had both groups aware of this “BIG” threat. The next game was the 2 nd installment of the super soldiers game. Another 55hrs with the original super soldiers crew. This time I had a clear start and stop point and with an ending in mind the game ran smoothly. Basically they became the cure for the alien invasion. The campaign element I did here was get rid of psychic talent in humans, making the church very nervous.
So nervous in fact that it led to the next game. The jedi table ran the exodus of the lower ranking and young church members as the hierarchy expended their lives to shunt the generation ship (effectively) into another galaxy. Turns out this was the source of the alien menace, but I’ll get to that in a second. So this campaign became a “lets make this new place safe for humanity” game. The next installment we were back with the 55hrs table, this time they were playing a crew of humans in a reborn post-apocalypse galaxy. The fall of humanity and the disappearance of the church gut punched the race, their structure fell apart and the once subjugated client races took over. This game ended with the crew falling thru a stable worm hole and facing an alien fleet, looking like an invasion fleet. What they did not know was that this fleet was being driven out by the jedi from my normal table.
So one of the players from the 55hr crew took up some GMing work for me and started running games in my universe, and doing a good job of maintaining the story. So we started getting together about running two games interwoven. We had about 4 1 hour planning session a week apart and supplemented by e-mail. The idea was that we would each take alternating 4 hour blocks to tell our parts of the story. It took a lot of planning ahead of time but the resultant story was perfect. They accomplished all of our objectives on time and dramatically.
In future installments I do a more detailed analysis of each game and the lessons we drew from them. But for now, I wan to share some of the global bits of wisdom from these games.
1. For short games (one shots), have at least a goal if not a plan.
2. For long games, its ok to not have a goal, because its all about the journey.
3. 4 hour blocks are just about a perfect session length.
4. Shared universes/campaigns/worlds work. They can make both or all GMs games better.