7 Campaign Concepts

Some of my kindred RPG-bloggin’ spirits from Denmark have been having sort of a challenge going where they pitch 7 different RPG campaign concepts. I thought I’d join the fun. (The original post that started all of this, in Danish)

Copenhagen by Night
Back in the late 90’s, my good friend and partner-in-nerd Magnus had a V:tM concept I liked a lot. I think it was inspired by some Danish crime novella he’d read, set in Copenhagen. The campaign never materialized, but I made a character, a Brujah inspired by Vinnie Jones’ character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Kind of a money-shark/sociopath. Anyway: Vampire, Copenhagen, Grittier-than-thou, probably inspired by those Danish “Pusher” films that came out in the nineties.

Tim Bradstreet: Brujah. Vampire: the Masquerade.

Tim Bradstreet: Brujah. Vampire: the Masquerade.

I wouldn’t use the original system, and I’d probably adapt/simplify the setting somewhat (fewer clans and fractions etc), but use enough of the original material to keep some kind of “feel” of that 90s goodness. Yes, it would obviously have to be set in the nineties too. Because.

I think I’d look into that free version of the Undying game that’s out, which is some kind of “Vampire done right” deal that’s Kickstarting now.

(I was sick and tired of vampires about 15 years ago, almost – but not quite – as fed up as I am with zombies. But a movie like “Låt den rätta komma inn” goes to show there’s still something to be said for the old monsters. And I’d definitely play this campaign if the opportunity presented itself. Especially if Magnus GMed. Well, I’ll play anything Magnus cares to GM.)

Swords without Master
I recently bought this little game, published in the Sword & Sorcery fanzine “Worlds without Master”. At 3,99$, there’s not really any reason not to, and I’ve heard good things. I’ve only briefly skimmed it so far, though. As far as I understand, there’s some kind of rotating GM-system, and it enables no-prep or low-prep sessions. Which sounds pretty ideal for busy people like my friends and I (ok, I guess I could cut back on time wasted online, and I’d suddenly have bucketloads of time on my hands).

I haven’t really read all that much fantasy. Tolkien, LeGuinn’s Earthsea, Narnia. A few more. I read a few of the original Conan stories (owned that gigantic collected edition at some point), but found them a bit dull/repetitive after a while. But I’ve certainly played around with fantasy tropes in RPGs for the better part of my life.

There’s something about the Sword & Sorcery genre that really appeals to me, from what little I’ve understood. The whole “pre-Tolkien” aspect is certainly nice (nothing against Tolkien, but it feels like I’ve been swimming in his derivatives all my life). And the “pulpishness”, for lack of a better term. More human-focused, fewer humanoids? And epic in a very specific way. “Epic while gritty/hard-boiled”. Or something to that effect.

I think I’d look at the Sorcerer and Sword supplement for Ron Edward’s Sorcerer for further inspiration. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, as far as I recall. Maybe pick up a few more copies of Worlds without Master while I’m at it.

(This one might conceivably happen, especially if my impression about rotating GM + low-prep sessions is correct).

Somewhere dark
They’re remaking Kult for the 25th anniversary. I never really made that game work, but it’s one of my “holy grails” or “one that got away”. I don’t know if I’m all that interested in action-horror. The system wasn’t all that (as far as I recall). I’d probably have to ditch more than half the concepts and clichés of that particular setting (not because it’s bad, just because the players and I would know them too well, and it would feel like rehashing 90s horror clichés rather than experiencing something genuinely new and frightening).

But I love the spirit of the thing. The no-holds barred “let’s reach down in the dirt and blood for entertainment, shock and thrills”. I think scary movies are good for us, in some way. Roller coasters, ghost houses, horror stories by the campfire. I think it’s primeval. But I also think we’re a bit jaded (at least I am). So we’d need something… close to home. Subtle and unpleasant, rather than “screaming in your ear at full volume and oh, hey, here’s a bucket of pig blood to go with it”. Something really, really dark. There’s some kind of “wave of sensitivity” going on, so I won’t go into specifics here. But I mean… dark-dark.

I find, as I get older, films (fiction in general?) has a stronger grip on me. I’m more easily moved. Identify with more of the characters, maybe? Maybe it’s just some natural age-softening going on. Less of the touch of sociopathy I suspect many young men suffer from, less testosterone… I dunno (I’m just 34, not Yoda). But more, I think it has to do with experience. That stuff could happen. I know someone that happened to. That could happen to me. That’s me. Up there. That’s us.

What I’m trying to say is: I don’t know if I could stomach a campaign like the one I just sketchily envisioned. But it could be interesting. Maybe just two or three sessions. For health reasons.

Funky Experimental
Back in 2006-2007, Matthijs started an Itras By campaign that I took part of for the first few and the last few sessions. For the middle ones, I was in South America (working on the book, amongst many other things), but I’d eagerly read the updates on mail and blog. His take was to do a *lot* of experimentation, but still true to the spirit of the game/setting. Surreal games, shared narration rights, new cards, lots of stuff. He described some of the techniques, methods and rules he employed (that would often vary from session to session) on a wiki that’s sadly lost. Some of it was also discussed on the old Story Games forum, I believe.

Sketch for new illustration for the French Itras By edition by David Cochard.

Sketch for new illustration for the French Itras By edition by David Cochard.

Anyway, what I’d like to do is capture the spirit of that campaign. The free-wheelin’ anarchy and joyful experimentation. With a group I knew could “click” and jam. Setting up a campaign as kind of a laboratory of ideas and experimentation. Maybe with some game as basis or loose scaffolding, maybe just some simple rules we could make up as a start. And then we could just… try out stuff, you know? There is so much hippie goodness floating around out there now, just seize some of that. Pick and choose. Change the cards around every session. Some stability would be good, I think. Maybe the same characters from session to session. Or at least more or less the same setting. One trick could be to explore the same core setting by means of a varying troupe of characters. Not exactly a new idea at this point, but in my experience very few ideas are actually new. Deep immersion. Trance states. Playful weaponry against perceived GM authority. Yeah. Something like that.

Over the Edge: It is just a tribute
In some inspired, hypomanic moment a couple of years ago, I typed up these short texts and labelled them “A Tribute to Over the Edge”.

Truth be told, I haven’t read OtE cover-to-cover (I borrowed it in the 90s and bought the anniversary edition a few years back). I’ve only played a single session in the 90s (I believe). Still, I think it’s had a strong influence on my gaming philosophy, both through Matthijs (as always), and as some kind of background radiation.

I don’t think the setting itself is presented in a very interesting manner (too many lists and old school “Monstrous Manual” vibe). I’m not enamored with all the “violent gangs”. But I love the simplicity of the rules, the anarchic mindset, the surrealism (of course) and many, many of the concepts.

I’d like to bring the whole setting to 2015, and go a few rounds with players of the same mindset to see what that means. The blogpost I linked in the first paragraph here could be a point of reference. And other weirdness. Chuck Palahniuk, maybe? A touch of Burroughs, obviously. I think this could be easily combined with the “Funky Experimental” campaign. We could imagine we were kids again, with some hope of revolutionizing gaming, ourselves, the fucking world.

Draug

The draug as envisioned by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen.

The draug as envisioned by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen.

Matthijs once wrote a game called Draug (in Norwegian). It’s set in Norway in 1801, but – a bit like Ars Magica – it’s a Norway where creatures from fairytale and folklore are real. I’ve briefly toyed with the idea of bringing that concept to present day Norway. I would probably look more to the Norwegian movie Thale than Troll Hunter for inspiration. The former is a sort-of-creepy present-day take on the “hulder”, a beautiful woman with a cow’s tail who’d enchant and guile hapless men and boys into the mountain. Troll Hunter is more of a comedy. Finnish “Import-export” is something in between.

Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (Låt den rätte komma in) has some great contemporary takes on some of these creatures in his short stories. I think that’s the kind of vibe I’d be aiming for: creepy, contemporary, “what-if” type stuff.

(Yes, I am in love with Matthijs, what’s it to you?)

Star Wars
Around the time the last batch of Star Wars movies were coming out, we ran three campaigns in-between movies, using the same era and some of the same characters/NPCs. I think we first used a “d20”-system, later “Saga Edition”. Now there are new games out from Fantasy Flight, so it might be fun to check out those. We had a *lot* of fun with those, consciously ripping/riffing of the vibe of the films, unapologetically paraphrasing concepts and tropes. Played the “theme song” before every episode etc. Nerdcore joy, 13 again. “Look mom, I’m a Jedi!”

What I envision here is a relatively short campaign to coincide with Episode 7, so it would need to happen this fall or next spring at the latest. In the previous campaigns, we set it a thousand years prior to the films. Some of the players were inspired by the KotOR computer games. It gave us a lot of freedom to invent setting. Most of the tech and society worked in more or less the same way as in the films, of course.

We could go back to some of that old material from 10-13 years ago. But maybe it would be cool with a different approach, this time. Make it more specific or different. “Smugglers in the Outer Rim”, “Coruscant Low-Lifes embroiled in Galactic Drama”, “Secrets of the Galactic War” (stuff happening off-screen in the original films), etc, etc. There’s a thousand possibilities, and brief googling will certainly provide further ideas. If we choose to step back onto the path of pure fanboy joy.

(Blog post continues under image).

«Chewie, we’re home».

At least one of the Danish «7 campaigns» blogs was in English, but this is the only one I could find at the moment (please feel free to link in comments): Elias’ blog Filemonia.

(This is currently kind of wishful thinking, for the day I’m yet again a 20 year old student with seemingly unlimited amounts of time for nourishing long-term campaigns, or my friend’s kids grow up, or we all retire or something. I’m very happy to be in a seemingly long-term D&D5 campaign we started in November (my character has the fireball spell and we’ve met an owl bear. It’s awesome). We’ll round off our The Clay That Woke campaign sometime before the end of summer (I believe), and there’s this series of small-press/indie oneshots I’m planning with a couple of friends. Maybe, just maybe, I can squeeze in some kind of mini-campaign this fall, but there are also two larps, life, job, other creative projects and the girlfriend abroad. We’ll see. Anyway, I can dream, right?)

BONUS TRACK

PATTERN RECOGNITION? Linking to: https://blog.vandalog.com/tag/edward-snowden/

It’s your Destiny
At some point I feel like I should grok Fate, like I did Apocalypse World. I’m not particularly enamored with post-apo as genre, but the game itself just felt very important to try out, you know? Seminal influence and all. Modern point of reference, like GURPs in its heyday. I feel the same way with Fate, but I just get so impatient/bored with rule texts, man. I definitely understand there’s  something there (and even tried to run 3-4 sessions in an aborted fantasy campaign. Magnus helpfully provided me with a simplified summary of the rules. There is something wrong with my head, when it comes to game procedure…).

Aspects and all that. Learn it I must.

Me and Magnus talked about setting up some kind of Pirates in the Caribbean anno 1700s (not the Disney-stuff, more historically inspired) for a run of 5-7 sessions. And use Fate. Not sure if I’m sufficiently in love with the idea. We could come up with something else. I imagine Fate would be particularly good for pulpish games, but that could just be prejudice.

Pattern Recognition
I love William Gibson’s writing. Especially when I can understand it. It’s the kind of text that makes you feel cooler upon reading, y’know? I tried a few pages of the new book, The Peripheral, but had to give up. It was like every 20-30. word caused me some kind of friction. Maybe I’ve grown denser over the past 15 years, maybe it’s just a harder read.

Anyway: loved the cyberpunk-stuff. Loved the Blue Ant trilogy. Especially the first book, Pattern Recognition. That kind of… what is it? Contemporary sci-fi? Magical realism? Thriller? Capturing some kind of vibe/spirit like that in a game would be awesome, or at least interesting to try.

Probably something very-near future, or maybe even contemporary but with a focus on cutting-edge technology. Trouble is, I imagine it would take a lot of research and setting-building to generate the experience I’m looking for. I’m simply not knowledgeable enough. Maybe read 3-4 books and some Wikipedia articles. Maybe ally with players with more insight into the world of hacking, espionage, weapons technology, political economy and corporate machinations than myself.

Maybe there’s a game out there that would cater to all this, but I haven’t heard about it yet.

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