Inside Baseball: Campaign Prep

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Time to talk prep.  As I write this, I’m prepping to begin two different games: a 7th Sea game for my regular group and an All For One: Regime Diabolique game for my library program.  Now, if you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that I’ve talked about doing things a bit differently this time around.  I’ve been trying to stay true to that experiment.  So I thought I’d give readers a window into my prep process.

7th Sea

This one has by far required the most discipline for me.  Because I want to feature the player’s stories, I didn’t want to prep too much before we had our character creation session. So instead I started by giving the players some choices in the “themes” the game would explore.  Basically, I wanted to get a vague idea of the type of game they were most interested in playing.  I needed this to begin any type of prep at all.  Théah is a big sandbox and 7th Sea is wide open to all sorts of play.They came back with High Seas Adventure and Secret Societies.  That gave me a place to start.

With Witch Hunter, I had an idea for my uber-villain, the ultimate story arch, and where I wanted play to begin (Strasbourg).  I didn’t want to do that this time.  Instead, I started sketching out some rough ideas for NPCs, using a lot of ideas from Johnn Four’s One Sentence NPCs and 3 Line NPCs.  The idea is to design some nebulous NPC concepts that can then be applied to characters the players encounter once play begins.  I scribbled down 2 pages of ideas in my notebook before realizing that very few of the concepts I had created really fit a seafaring environment.  So I took a left turn to brainstorm a collection of Pirate Town archetypes to give me more direction.  I also started drawing up some rough ideas for a handful of villains that I could introduce.

Things took another left turn while surfing GnomeStew and reading Tracey Barnett’s article on NPC Moves.  Now, I’m not big on *World or FATE games, but the idea of taking passive qualities (personality traits, motivations, etc) and turning them into Actions struck me as genius.  Basically, instead of this:

The Old Dame

  • Longs to recapture her youth
  • Loves to throw elaborate parties
  • Is the laughing stock of the local social set

…you instead have this:

The Old Dame

  • Act Younger than I am
  • Name drop and associate to elevate myself
  • Mistake mockery for flattery
  • Add invitees to the next guest list

THAT seems super helpful in portraying NPCs as unique and different and not falling into a lot of the same bad habit characterizations.  It also seems well suited to the Index Card method.  So while its not the easiest shift for me, I’m doing my best present my NPCs in these terms.

The last thing I’m doing is with my villains.  After Witch Hunter, the last thing I want is a shadowy mastermind pulling the strings.  Yes, 7th Sea has these aplenty, but to push myself I’m working to introduce bold, aggressive, in your face adversaries instead of those hiding in the shadows.

But that’s it.  I’ve tried to keep everything else to a line or two at best.  After all, the plan is to improvise a lot more in play.  The exception to this is a handful of ideas I have for a lost Syrneth ruin (DUNGEONCRAWL!  WOOT!).  But I don’t plan to dig in deep there unless my players express interest in going there.

All For One: Regime Diabolique

While I’m hoping to employ a lot of these same practices when it comes to the library game, here I benefit from more structure.  We generally have a table of anywhere from 6 to 12 teens of varying level of experience.  There is already a LOT of improvisation going on, but these kids benefit from a bit of direction…dare I call it railroading.  That is, if you open everything up to them, nothing gets done.  So here I want to have a solid hook for them to bite on.

As such, I’m going to rely on the matrix adventure design that has served me well here in the past.  I’ve plotted out the first session and followed the bread crumbs a bit in different directions.  So I’m prepared.  I don’t want to go too far, though.

Something I’m considering employing this time around are clue cards, or some tangible aid that the players can refer back to.  Maybe even something as heavy handed as Quest Cards.  There is a bit of a mystery planned, though its much less Sherlock Holmes and more 24 in nature.  So anything to help the kids stay on track will be helpful.

Beyond this, I’ll be recycling a lot of the discarded NPC concepts from the 7th Sea game who fit much more snuggly within the walls of Paris than on the open seas.  Same plan: index cards, rough concepts that can be applied when needed, and actions instead of passive qualities.

It occurs to me that having a timeline of events would be helpful here too, and help drive the action without putting the heroes on a southbound train.

Final Words

I’ll revisit all of this after about a month of play and we’ll see how it goes.  As of right now, I’m pretty happy with the results and excited to.  Both games have plenty of room to surprise me, and that’s something I desperately want right now: the flexibility for everything to take a sharp left turn at Albequorque.  Nothing is safe, nothing is too sacred, and no one will be spared.

See you next week!

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