Actual Play: System and Setting

Last week I gathered my basic thoughts together, so this week I can sit down and put together the campaign outline that I’ll be presenting to the players. The goal is to get everyone on the same page as far as tone of the campaign, and everyone will be able to ponder character concepts in advance of receiving the Group Contract, which will expand upon the role of the party in the campaign world, and also present any relevant information the players will need to make their characters.

Looking at the list of titles I came up with, there were a lot of “fighting the supernatural” themes: Nightwatch, Hellblazer, BRPD, Supernatural, Men in Black, and Predator all have a facing off against supernatural (or extraterrestrial–basically the same thing) threats. There were also a few titles involving conspiracies and existential wars: The Invisibles, Planetary, The X-Files, Assassin’s Creed, and Dollhouse all play off themes of conspiracy and power. The last few: Eternal Darkness, House of Leaves, and the biggie Call of C’thulhu are all on the horror end of the supernatural genre.

True Blood stands out as an exception to those three categories, except insofar as it is kind of a kitchen sink of the modern supernatural genre–essentially the World of Darkness with the numbers filed off. As much as I may not want to run Delta Green proper, I think the idea of a team of badass humans kicking ass and taking names has sufficiently invaded my psyche to the extent that this should be the premise of my game.

I definitely want the PCs to be fighting the supernatural evil, not just running and hiding from it. If the players don’t shoot at least one gibbering horror in the face with a bazooka I will consider the entire campaign to have been an abject failure. However, there’s also an important horror aspect to any modern supernatural game which I feel has to be present. The supernatural world is something that has to be dealt with carefully, and with full awareness that any misstep will result in significant amounts of pain for the PCs.

In picking my game system, my first choice is between Genre and Toolkit games. While toolkit systems have a lot to recommend them, in this case the modern supernatural genre is fairly popular and well established in the RPG community. Given the number of supernatural games, I don’t think finding a Genre-based system will be too difficult.

After searching for a while, I came up with three possible candidates for game system: Basic Roleplaying System, Hunter: the Vigil, and Unknown Armies.

BRPS I wrote down solely as a fallback system, for reasons I’ve already established.

Unknown Armies is a game that I’ve read the book for about 3 times, and never run. It honestly strikes me as having a really interesting game system, but for whatever reason I always find myself putting it aside in favor of other games without being able to describe why later. I think it might just be too freeform for my tastes.

Last, Hunter: the Vigil. I played my share of Vampire back in high school, in the old World of Darkness, and enjoyed it for what it was: grimdark magic superheroes (that probably has more to do with my group being a bunch of high school boys than Vampire itself). I wasn’t sure if the World of Darkness was something that I wanted to bite into, with its mountains of sourcebooks and strong meta-plot, but there was a major revision since my high school days, so I figured it was worth a shot to check out.

Reading through the new World of Darkness and Hunter books, I found that the system was fairly similar to what I remembered. It struck me as having the right balance of player power to monster danger (especially compared to the more high power Vampires, Werewolves, or Mages), and the dramatic system would support the kind of action-packed adventures I want to run. The setting was significantly parred back from the old WoD, but it would need some revision to work with the game I’m cooking up in my brain.

Thankfully my players are as unfamiliar with the new World of Darkness as I am, so I foresee no real problems ditching the World of Darkness proper and inserting my own Pseudo-WoD, throwing in my own material and backfilling in the bits of WoD I like in order to fill out the world.

In my own World of Darkness, I’ve decided to ditch the multiple competing Hunter conspiracies, and replace them all with one master conspiracy not unlike the Delta Green organization. It’s cell based structure will allow me to assign the PCs missions while giving them the latitude to decide how to tackle challenges their own way. And of course, if crazy things happen down the line I can always claim that they were infiltrated or tricked by rogue elements. Conspiracies are fun that way.

Next: The Campaign Outline

 

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