Jump to content
Concise Locket

Prepping the Next Campaign: A Quasi-Hexcrawl Approach

Recommended Posts

Jumping back to the current and ongoing Age of Rebellion game...

I just finished my final set of notes for the campaign and filed them in my binder. I anticipate 3 - 4 sessions remain and we will be done. Now seems like a good time to look back and file my observations of how this process turned out:

  1. Observation 1: If your players aren't naturally inquisitive, don't waste your time writing up notes for Knowledge Checks. We're in the tail-end of story arc 10 of 11 and I still have to be proactive with "Can I get a Xenology roll? Can I get a Knowledge: Warfare roll?" questions. Otherwise the players will never get critical information. If players put points into skills, it's up to them to use the skills, not the GM to remind them that the skills exist.
  2. Observation 2: I spent a lot of time writing planet blurbs for locations the players never visited. I didn't hate the process. Researching the Star Wars galaxy is always fun! And I'm pleased with how the map came out. But it was a lot of time spent on an activity that didn't have a tangible payoff. I think it's important for Star Wars campaigns to have reoccurring locales as it breeds a sense of familiarity and attachment in players. Having 40 locations runs counter to that. In my campaign, the total of visited worlds was 9 and even that could have been cut back to 6. If you're considering following in my footsteps, limit yourself to 10 or fewer potential worlds to visit.
  3. Observation 3: On other gaming forums, I see players lamenting being railroaded by GMs. I think that's a fair complaint. However, I'm no longer convinced that "sandbox play" is really a solution to the problem... or that players actually understand what being railroaded means. Even super-sandboxy Pathfinder modules like "Kingmaker" (which is a really, really good campaign that I recommend playing if you can find a group to play it with) have underlying narrative train-tracks running underneath them. 

    Table-top gaming is a different beast than playing something like Skyrim. In a video game, you can take your time checking out random mountains, listening to birds, and picking flowers. But, unless you're doing a raid, video games aren't social activities. Unless a GM is simply an amazing wordsmith and create an amazing visual tableau that enraptures other people for hours, that kind of activity will bore most players. GMs who aren't actively guiding their players are probably doing their players a disservice. While I'd love to believe that every gaming group is made up of improv actors and the GM can just sit back and watch, that's the exception, not the rule.

    At the end of the day, Star Wars isn't Star Trek... it's not about exploration, it's about fights between good and evil. Focus on strong narrative conflict and less on terrain mapping because table-top RPGs are about creating an interesting narrative as a group. All other considerations are second.
  4. Observation 4: Going big is awesome but it's impossible to maintain forever. As you're developing your campaign, come up with two or three major set-piece battles and interject them strategically in the campaign... and save one for the climax. For the rest of the campaign, use small-scale skirmishes and military-related challenges that require using other skills. Use your Diplomat characters often, especially when it comes to recruiting new fighters to the cause.
  5. Observation 5: But, also, don't be afraid to give your players big toys. As a Contribution reward, I gave my players a Home One-type Star Cruiser. Star Wars isn't a supply lines and quartermaster simulation, it's a big epic space fantasy. Plus, your players are playing the Rebellion so even if they have a capital ship, the Empire has 10 bigger ones waiting in the wings.
  6. Observation 6: War stories become pretty repetitive pretty fast. There are only so many interesting ways to run a scenario where a group of PCs break into a fortress or prison. Once you find yourself repeating themes, it's time to wrap up the campaign.
  7. Observation 7: Set up some reoccurring villains by allowing one or more NPC Imperials to escape death at the hand of the PCs. Maybe they were a Minion TIE fighter pilot but when they return to face the PCs they're a TIE Ace.
  8. Observation 8: A final table-top RPG battle between the Big Bad Guys and the PCs is tough to pull off in a way that's both narratively believable and accommodates all players. Luke faced Darth Vader and the Emperor by himself and ONLY AFTER allowing himself to be captured and ONLY AFTER being tempted by Vader at Cloud City. A really good GM can, on the fly, weave together story-lines so that players eventually come face-to-face with the Big Bad after a year of playing... but to be emotionally effective, that requires the PCs have a near-photographic memory of past events. Plus, tying 3 to 5 disparate player personalities into one story is hard enough. The Age of Rebellion Squad/Squadron and Mass Combat rules do a good job of simulating epic battles so it's perfectly acceptable to have the Big Bad personally leading the opposing forces rather than running a 1-on-5 showdown at the top of the tower.
Edited by Concise Locket

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Duuuuudee...

As a GM that would like to go more sandboxy, but always worried about it's functionality and sustainability, I thank you for your in depth research, development, test, and evaluation of doing so. You've provided valuable information, and confirmed many of my suspicions about the challenges of such a campaign.

 

2 hours ago, Concise Locket said:

At the end of the day, Star Wars isn't Star Trek... it's not about exploration

And Trek is just as "railroad" as anything else. Picard, Archer, Kirk, heck even Janeway all start each episode already diving into a new scenario, a new adventure with a planned storyline. It pretty much never starts with "Ok lets go.... that way!" It's always "Stardate 34323.5.... we've arrived at the Beta Anphelion system. Federation intelligence has an outpost here that hasn't filed a report in several weeks. Number Two suspects it's a downed transmitter but I have my doubts..."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Ghostofman said:

Duuuuudee...

As a GM that would like to go more sandboxy, but always worried about it's functionality and sustainability, I thank you for your in depth research, development, test, and evaluation of doing so. You've provided valuable information, and confirmed many of my suspicions about the challenges of such a campaign.

You're welcome. I think certain games benefit both the players and the GMs if they're run as a sandbox: D&D, Earthdawn, and similar high-fantasy games can function well as sandboxes since exploration is a major theme of that genre. But Star Wars? Not so much. 

I do think there's a happy medium between pre-scripted campaign and open sandbox. Branching storylines and non-linear gameplay are good tools for GMs and allow players to maintain quite a bit of agency. In a "web" style campaign, players can make many different choices, leaping from strand to strand, but eventually all paths lead to a distinct central story point. Although this is technically branching, the central plot issue has only one answer, and no matter how the players reach that answer they must end the story in a specific manner or at a particular place. This allows you to control the climax and resolution. You can add blockages which force players to check in with your pre-planned structure as they move through the game. This gives the illusion of a sandbox but in reality you're just laying out the rails without making a bunch of noise about it.

Having strong NPCs that react to the PCs - helping them or hurting them - makes the world feel more real and gives the GM another tool to direct the player without railroading them. I should have relied more on my NPCs than I did and I should have introduced fewer NPCs. If you look at The Clone Wars and Rebels, the secondary cast was actually pretty small. This isn't more realistic but it is more dramatic.

Edited by Concise Locket

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Concise Locket, I’m going to wholeheartedly second what Ghostofman said, you’re insight into running this kind of campaign has been both invaluable (I’m currently trying to run a sandbox & coming across a lot of the issues you’ve mentioned) & awesome! 

Many, many thanks!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some observations on your observations (yo, dawg?):

1. Agreed, and as a larger issue with knowledge skills when related in any way to objectives. Using Knowledge as supplementary, or as an Easy (and therefore cosmetic, yet still somehow enjoyable to players) check, worked for me.

2. I've kept my entire campaign contained within the sectors around Llanic. About 40 total systems, but a neighborhood of sorts that functions as a sandboxy map, especially when systems vary in scene and utility. Although the centrality can seem a little artificial, it's worked extremely well.

3. I've gone the snowflake/tree route, where multiple simultaneous threads continously branch out, giving the party 6-7 clear and substantive things to choose from every session. It takes some time, but because the 1-2-session-in-advance prep is organic and reflective of player interest, it's easier to do while still appearing fixed in the world to players. Sometimes the party will follow an arc, and sometimes they'll clear the quest log, but the freeness of it is pretty cool.

4. Wish I'd known this when younger. What I've realized is that knocking around is where most of the fun is, not something to simply be gotten over with, and that if you proverbially aim for the Hobbit, you're still likely to get a Lord of the Rings, albeit one better suiting the players.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Playing around with a campaign that takes place in Hutt Space...

The Factions

  1. Quanaalac Kajidic. Contact: Troonol the Hutt. Ally: The Shell Hutts. Primary Foe: The Zann Consortium.
  2. Besadii Kajidic. Contact: Durga the Hutt. Ally: The Yahk-Tosh. Primary Foe: The Shell Hutts.
  3. The Shell Hutts. Contact: Gheeta the Hutt. Ally: Quanaalac Kajidic. Primary Foe: Besadii Kajidic.
  4. The Yahk-Tosh. Contact: Lord Gar-Oth. Ally: Besadii Kajidic. Primary Foe: The Sakiyans.
  5. The Sakiyans. Contact: Queen D'Shar. Ally: Zann Consortium. Primary Foe: The Yahk-Tosh
  6. Zann Consortium. Contact: Admiral Jerid Sykes. Ally: The Sakiyans. Primary Foe: Qunaalac Kajidic.

The Timeline
The Imperial Navy’s focus on the growing rebellion in the Outer Rim has given the Zann Consortium an opportunity to expand its sphere of influence. Vowing revenge on his old “friend” Jabba, who left him to rot on Kessel, Tyber Zann’s “navy” moves into several territories in Hutt Space, including the Si’Klaata Cluster and the Akkadese Malestrom. With the spice mines of Kessel threatened, the Hutts begin to sit up and take notice.

Troonol the Hutt, commander of the largest Qunaalac fleet, agitates the other Hutt kajidics to either join the Hutt military efforts or supply resources to push back the Consortium. Gheeta the Hutt of Circumtore immediately agree to help though Circumtore’s resources are limited. The other kajidics make outward promises of support but because interesting times make for profitable opportunities, most do not follow-through, choosing a “wait-and-see” posture.

Members of the Besadii clan opt to take advantage of the situation. Durga the Hutt, a Black Sun vigo, orders the construction of a To-Sharr Uuta Shipworks port at Circumtore, which is located a hyperspace crossroads. On the surface, the To-Sharr serves a similar role to a merchant’s guild, providing discounts and assistance to members. However, it’s a front for Black Sun, providing intelligence and money laundering services. Frustrated by the incursion into their territory, the Shell Hutts work to sabotage the project, both by appealing to the Hutt Ruling Council and through deliberate acts of violence against Besadii.

Word of Durga’s actions make their way to Lord Gar-Oth, a Yahk-Tosh. The Yahk-Tosh are evolutionary relatives to the Hutts and though they control their own small interstellar empire, which includes their homeworld of Xolu and the planet of Far Pando, they are considered a client species. Recognizing the power of an alliance, Gar-Oth presents himself to Durga. He claims to have learned that the Sakiyans are supplying the Shell Hutts with advanced repulsorlift technology. Durga tells Gar-Oth to stop the flow of technology to Circumtore, promising him control of the Sakifwanna colony world in exchange for his success.

The devious Gar-Oth, flush with Black Sun financial resources, begins moving on Saki, seizing control of the planet’s largest repulsorlift technology company in a hostile takeover. Not only is he now in charge of a major economic engine, soon he will have his own planet! Queen D’Shar, ruler of Saki, is left aghast by the Yahk-Tosh’s blatant disregard of Saki’s forcefully held independence. Unfortunately, the Hutts’ “hands-off” attitude is one based on several millennia of failed invasion attempts rather than respect. Thus, the Lords of Nal Hutta will never spare the effort to dislodge Gar-Oth.

Left with no other choice, D’Shar reaches out to Admiral Jerid Sykes of the Zann Consortium. In exchange for assistance in dealing with Gar-Oth, the Saki will supply the Zann Consortium with intelligence on Hutt defense assets and some of the best spies and assassins the galaxy has ever seen.

Campaign Resolution Questions

  1. Do the PCs take up arms with Troonol the Hutt or join forces with Admiral Sykes?
  2. Do the PCs help the Shell Hutts against Durga or help Durga build his port?
  3. Do the PCs help Gar-Oth or Queen D’Shar?
Edited by Concise Locket

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

AND WE'RE DONE.

We had our final Age of Rebellion session last Saturday. The story arc began immediately after the events of the Return of the Jedi. The top Imperial Intelligence heads of the Tion Cluster were meeting to decide next steps. It was the PCs' job to grab all seven of them and turn them over to New Republic Intelligence. 

They kidnapped two officers before deciding to cut and run. A disappointing decision but it's always their choice. Before taking off, they infiltrated the security section of the Imperial government center and turned the building's external defenses on the occupying forces. It made a big splash. Unfortunately, it also attracted the notice of the Grand Moff's command ship which entered the planet's atmosphere and began bombarding the planet per Operation: Cinder

The PCs' fleet gathered in response and the final event of the campaign was a set-piece fleet battle using SW: Armada models. They won using the Squadron rules and the Mass Combat rules. More importantly, all the players survived.

The players had been gathering capital ships through the entire campaign but the story wasn't providing opportunities to use them. The final match-up supplied a logical payoff for their efforts.

I asked for feedback on the campaign and the most fulfilling response was, "We never felt like you were telling us what to do. You set us up and let us go, even if it meant that we ended up doing something stupid or failed."

FINAL ASSESSMENT
Was this a hexcrawl, quasi- or not?
No. I had a defined and pre-populated section of space for the PCs' to interact with but because the campaign wasn't set up for exploration, it wasn't utilized that way. 

Was this a sandbox?
Again, no. In a war campaign, the goal is to defeat the enemy, not wander around doing whatever strikes your fancy. Even players who consider the faintest of guide posts a "thrice-cursed railroad" will acknowledge this. War campaigns are dependent upon a GM having an understanding of how winning and losing battles will shape the campaign as a whole. An immersive experience isn't simply painting a vivid picture, it's having an understanding of what appropriate responses will be.

What did you want this campaign to be?
I wanted the players to act like field generals and make grand decisions about where to apply forces and who to attack. I wanted them to act like diplomats and bring new allies into the fight. It turns out that acting like a diplomat is a lot easier for a player to wrap his head around than acting like a general. In a sense, the dramatic interplay of dialogue and negotiation is much more engaging in an RPG than simply looking at maps and saying "send troops here." If this was a board game, it would be a different story. My takeaway is that it's more important to provide dramatic character interplay interspersed with scenes of action than it is to do a space-fantasy version of Churchill in his bunker. In a war campaign game, the ideal player role is that of a commando or squadron leader, not a flag officer. The nice thing about the FFG Star Wars RPG model is that characters with diplomatic backgrounds can have skills that are useful in action scenes. 

What were your biggest sources of frustration?
The players didn't provide me a lot of character-driven bits to work from. TV writers love it when actors provide suggestions about what to explore with their characters because it lifts a lot of the burden of idea generation off them. I'm no different in that regard. This is the burden of gamemastering players whose formative years were spent playing D&D 3.5. Dungeons & Dragons asks very little of its players and a majority of GMs simply unroll a dungeon and populate it with monsters, assuming they aren't just running a module. Narrative games are a heavy story lift for GMs and without player input it can become a drag. Luckily, I have techniques to keep myself interested in a story and stave off writer's block. 

It would have been nice if the players both read the career specialization descriptions and attempted to keep their character role-playing within those parameters. Agitators and Figureheads aren't the same thing. And play to your Motivations, for pete's sake!

What would you do differently in the future?
Along with having fewer locales, I would introduce only a handful of named NPCs and keep them around as reoccurring characters. I would set up a firm timeline of events to serve as plot anchors and have the players respond to those events however they choose rather than going in with an open-ended campaign. 

Was this a success?
Yes. Everyone had fun.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Morning (well it is here in the UK anyway 😃) Mr Lockett!

I’ve just been re-reading this thread, mainly because it’s excellent but also because I find it kinda gives me some inspiration in those moments where I’m struggling to come up with another War Story for my AoR campaign.

Just out of interest... what caused the shift from moving your planned EotE from the Corellian Sector to Hutt Space? I know you’d had thoughts on setting the campaign in either sector but you seemed to have settled on Corellia & fleshed out some good ideas for it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/21/2017 at 12:35 PM, Concise Locket said:

Part 6: Recruiting Factions

 Saw Guerra's Partisans; of a group of rebels that had strayed from the main cause and weren't interested in playing nice with the greater alliance. They had, in fact, strayed so far that the head of Rebel Intelligence wanted one of his agents to put a blaster bolt in his head.

 

Now I'm going to have to watch Rogue One again, because from what I remember the Alliance wanted Jinn to talk to Saw because they had a history together, and they wanted her to get him to play nice. The head of Intel wanted Cassian to put the blaster bolt in Galen Urso's head instead of trying to extract him. 

 

On the topic at hand, I like what you've done here and I'm going to read and take notes. I'll most likely be copy-pastaing your posts into a Word doc so I can reference it whenever, and close one of the far-too-many tabs open on my laptop. 

 

Thanks for these posts and the work you've done. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/21/2018 at 4:28 AM, AceSolo5 said:

Morning (well it is here in the UK anyway 😃) Mr Lockett!

I’ve just been re-reading this thread, mainly because it’s excellent but also because I find it kinda gives me some inspiration in those moments where I’m struggling to come up with another War Story for my AoR campaign.

Just out of interest... what caused the shift from moving your planned EotE from the Corellian Sector to Hutt Space? I know you’d had thoughts on setting the campaign in either sector but you seemed to have settled on Corellia & fleshed out some good ideas for it.

My motivation are the people who would be playing in the campaign. They're a newer group, including one player who, prior to meeting me, had never played a role-playing game. Our first game was a short Numenera campaign and now we're playing Paranoia and Rifts (Savage Worlds). They responded favorably to the weirdness of those settings. Hutt Space - which isn't dominated by Humans and Imperial politics - seems like a good setting choice for a canonical game.

Over the past few months I've been trying to be more receptive to what works and what doesn't with my players. Rather than just ramming through a story line, I try to keep in mind who is going to be playing through the campaign. I'm more of a "spies and politics" type of gamer but most of my players like weird and epic so I'm working to come up with campaigns that they'll like and that I'll find smart enough to be engaging. It isn't easy but I think it makes games more memorable.

Thankfully, the group that played the AoR game does like spies and politics, so we're now playing a spy-based Infinity RPG game. 😀

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have  to say Concise Locket if I ever got to play as a character I’d want you as GM 👍 Your dedication to giving your players what they want is second to none! Kudos is well & truly deserved!!

Have to admit I’m pretty lucky with my group of players.... we’ve known each other for years & we’re all on a similar wavelength. They seem to buy into whatever I throw at them which is handy 😃 I’m never adverse to ripping up my idea of where a campaign is going if I think it’s not working for them tho!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...