Friday, September 16, 2011

Riffing on the Military Campaign.

For some reason, no one volunteered to play the Scuba Steve Trooper.
One of the things I've wanted to do since getting into tabletop role playing has been a military campaign. The first adventure I planned for my group was a Star Wars Saga Edition game that was a follow-up to several sessions running the free campaign Wizards was producing at the time. It was a huge learning experience, those early days of our group's trying out what turned out to be one of the best versions of the d20 system. We had a lot of fun, but I was itching to run my own game.

So after a couple of months of playing the published campaign, I began planning my own mini campaign. This was my first attempt to focus on putting the players into a military structure, and sadly it didn't go beyond two or three sessions of play. The campaign, for those curious, was set during the rise of the empire/dark times and started with the players preparing to become an autonomous military unit for the Empire that would eventually have the option of defecting to the rebel forces. It was overly ambitious for my first campaign, but just thinking back to those times and ideas I had still makes me want to somehow pull the game off. If I were to run it again, I'd probably switch it to Savage Worlds since it's so much easier to run combats with SW than SW:SE. But, I digress.

Thinking about the kinds of stories I love always brings me back to the epic scale and naturally informs what kinds of games I want to run. One of my focuses for anything game I want to run is to make the player characters the stars of the show. They don't have to be the most powerful (and often aren't), but they do have to be the most important. This means different things for different types of stories. In my slowly but persistently developing Dragon Age campaign, this means the players start small but will eventually grow in power and be a key faction in stopping the invasion of the Fifth Blight and freeing Fereldun from the grip of the Dark Spawn. In my Star Wars campaign, the players were to be key players in the development of Rebellion military doctrine and sector-wide tactics and strategy since they were some of the finest trained officers the Empire ever produced.

There's a conflict here between my ideal game (players are the stars) and my ideal story (massive military conflicts huge armies of countless soldiers playing a role). One of the solutions is to put each player character into a position where they command thousands of soldiers. The engineer becomes general of the sapper brigade, the cavalier leads thousands of mounted knight cavalry, the ranger leads the scouting and intelligence arm of the army, etc. Just typing that out sounds like a pretty badass game to play, but it's hard then to justify the five generals going off on a side adventure. It'd be like the entire bridge crew of the Enterprise going on an away mission (on second thought). You could fudge it, but I'm not sure how it would work with player immersion in the logic of the story.

Alternatively, and not necessarily mutually-exclusive to the generals idea, you can have the players be a scalpel in the toolbox of the real generals in the army. This type of thing can easily be on the way toward pushing the characters toward a command of their own after they've had some success on their own. You can play the adventure both at the micro scale, focusing on the mission of the heroes, as well as shedding some light on the battle as a whole. What's cool about this kind of adventure is that when the heroes fail skill tests, they might still succeed in their mission, but not do as well and cost their fellow soldiers somewhere else on the battlefield their lives. Their actions are far-reaching full of consequences that matter while their characters may come away relatively unscathed. Maybe their mission is to take out the bridge in the picture above to the left before the orcs can cross it to ram the gates of the citadel. Failure may mean that they are overrun and killed or, it could mean that the orcs invade the castle before the king has enough time to evacuate the women and children through the underground tunnels. There are a lot of options for military campaigns, and I'd love to see a long-term game play out just to have the experence.

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