Actual Play: The Group Contract

I left off last time having created a campaign outline for myself which included the premise of the game, the roles of the protagonists and antagonists, and a number of adventure seeds for myself. When combined with the notes I’ve made regarding the genre and tone I’m shooting for with the game, I have enough infrastructural material that I’m ready to move on to the next step: introducing the game to the players.

The way I do that is with a Group Contract, which introduces the players to some of the precepts I laid out in the campaign outline and gives some information regarding character construction. Fortunately for me, the game system I’ve selected–Hunter: The Vigil–begins with the assumption that the party will be more or less in line with what I’d already intended. Had we been playing a game such as Dungeons and Dragons or even Vampire there would have been a great deal more latitude in terms of what the “purpose” of the party is within the game.

Most of the Group Contract is therefore filling in the players on the exact structure of their group within the conspiracy I’ve created, providing them with goal posts for their character concepts, and outlining what I’d like out of them as far as background material is concerned.

The following is the Group Contract which I emailed to all of the players:

As I mentioned in the Campaign Outline, the thesis of the party is that you are all members of the Watcher Conspiracy, inducted into Zulu Cell. To reiterate:

The premise of the game is that you are all people who have discovered the supernatural world that exists shrouded behind the mask of everyday reality. This is a darker world than our own, and the things which occupy it are brutal and prey on humanity on a daily basis. Rather than run and hide, you have chosen to step into this world with both feet, and hunt the monsters than would hunt mankind.

You have proven to be very good at this work, and through the underground network of other humans who operate in the supernatural world were put into contact with and eventually recruited by an ancient conspiracy of humans who call themselves The Watchers. This organization is split into cells, each of which operates semi-independently of the others. Rumor has it that somewhere in the higher echelons of the organization there is a Watcher Council which oversees all of the disparate cell; but no one you have met knows–or will admit to knowing–whether this council truly exists.

By virtue of your skills–and continued survival–you have been placed in Zulu Cell. Zulu is a special operations cell, tasked with unusual or high risk missions. Because of this special status and the nature of the missions you are typically assigned, your cell is afforded some leniency in your operations, included being provided with some untested or experimental equipment and special license to use illegal or forbidden materials (such as magic, or vampire blood) in the name of completing your mission.

Zulu is often tasked with the highest risk missions, with sanction to use any means necessary to complete their objective.

This is the follow up to the Campaign Outline, The Group Contract. In it I’m going to cover 3 points: Character Concepts, Backgrounds/Extra Information, and Character Creation.

1) Concepts

The most critical element of the character concept is, of course, that you have joined up with the Watchers, and been placed in the most high risk operations teams. Even the pencil-necked dweebs in Zulu have some combat training. Whether you picked that up before or after you became a Hunter is up to you. As we are operating under a “play nice” directive and all of the PCs are to be members of a team, I’d ask that you avoid any character concepts that are particularly anti-social.

Beyond that, you have basically free reign. I would however recommend comparing notes with the other players so that we have a vaguely balanced group. While Hunter does not have character classes, there are definitely roles to fill: Tech specialist, medic, the “I read lots of books and know everything” guy, the demolitions expert, and so forth. Some level of coordination in this regard will serve you well.

As always, I’m available if you want to discuss ideas.

Note: If it was not clear, Zulu is your current profession. It is optional if you want to have a “day job” outside of that.

2) Backgrounds

I’m deviating slightly from my traditional background checklist for this game, since I’m going for less plot-driven gameplay than in previous games I’ve run. Things I would like you to cover in your background:

1. Who were you before becoming a Hunter? What was your job?

2. What was your first encounter with the supernatural like? Did you defeat whatever you encountered, or is it still out there, somewhere?

3. An NPC who is a friend of yours outside of the Watchers. This might be an old college professor, an army buddy, or a knowledgeable friend on an internet message board. Someone you might contact in times of need for information or support. (Note: This person is essentially a level 0 Ally per the Allies merit [p. 114 of the WoD book], unless you put points in that merit. As a level 0 ally they may help if you properly convinced, but are not required to do so. This is more of a roleplaying resource than a mechanical bonus, unless you decide to put the points into it.)

3) Character Creation

Character creation follows the standard rules as outlined on on p. 34 of the World of Darkness book. For step 5 you’ll use the hunter template (outline on p.54-58 of the Hunter Book). As members of the Watchers, you are part of a tier 3 conspiracy. Ordinarily you would choose one of the tier 3 conspiracies to be a part of, and gain access to their special merit (for example, Task Force Valkyrie has access to high tech weapons, while the Ascending Ones have access to special elixirs). For mechanical purposes you should still choose one of these groups to determine which merit you have access to. I’m basically just merging all of these groups into aspects of one large conspiracy. So ignore the fluff text, and focus more on which sort of supernatural stuff you want your character to have access to.

I am starting you at the ‘Seasoned Soldiers’ level of XP, which gives you 60 experience points & 30 Practical Experience for character creation.

I encourage everyone to take the next 6 weeks to read/skim the books, ask questions, and compare ideas with the other players.

With this information the players should all have a firm basis for creating their characters. Any questions they might have in terms of more detail on the mood of the game, what appropriate backgrounds might be, or any other questions I can fall back to my Campaign Outline notes to answer, if need be.

As the GM I now get to take a little break while the players start coming up with characters. But shortly I’ll begin work on the campaign itself, particularly laying down in more detail the metaplot elements which I’ll likely be foreshadowing in some of the early adventurers.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the players’ initial character concepts, and how I tend to incorporate them into the metaplot I’ll be developing.

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