Well, my players were fairly quick to respond to my questions about a new Hunter: The Vigil campaign. I got all their answers in, and looked them over.
Here’s a little secret about asking these sorts of questions before starting a new campaign: you gotta be ready to listen to the answers. The very act of asking the question tells the players that they’re going to get to call the shots on at least some of the campaign elements. If they aren’t – and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for a GM to do all the work in designing a campaign – then don’t ask the questions.
However, if you do ask the questions, don’t expect any sort of unified voice to speak through them to map out the game for you. That’s the pr0blem with open-ended questions that have little context. You’ll get answers all over the map, and many of them will only tell you what the player doesn’t want, rather than what he or she does.
What it does give you is a look at the acceptable ranges for the parameters you questioned, and a very solid idea about what matters to the players.
So, what did I get from the responses?
- Everyone wants in, though there are scheduling concerns.
- Everyone’s okay with me ditching a lot of the World of Darkness canon about the various types of monsters (vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.) and making stuff up.
- Everyone wants action in the game, though not necessarily a lot of combat.
- On a light-dark scale, the players tend toward a range near the middle, shading slightly to light. So, not a grim, gritty game, but not silly either. Some difficult moral and ethical choices, but those aren’t necessarily central to the game. A little bit of humour is good, but shouldn’t dominate the mood. And the characters should be heroic, though perhaps flawed.
- On a lethality scale, fairly lethal, with some qualifiers. The players tend to want normal humans to go down pretty easily, but the heroes and the supernatural threats should be tougher.
- On the supernatural scale, we got responses all over the board, with the compromise idea seeming to be that anything goes for the bad guys, but fairly limited supernatural resources for the player characters. This question is the one that gave the widest spread of answers, though, so I’m sort of postponing it.
- Campaign structure-wise, there were strong votes both for road trip style and stay put style. Pretty even split (as even as you can get with five answers), so I’m hoping we can work out a compromise.
Based on the responses, I came up with four rough frameworks of games that I would be willing to run, and sent them out to the players for their votes. Here’s how I envision the process to go:
- Everyone votes on the attached campaigns, giving me your first, second, and third choices. I will compile the responses, giving a first choice three points, a second choice two points, and a third choice one point. The choice with the most points becomes our campaign structure.
- Everyone gets one black ball vote. I would rather you didn’t use it, but I want to have the option there. If there is an option that you absolutely will not play in, black ball it. It gets taken out of the running. Again, I would rather that it didn’t get used, because of the way it can let one player scrap a campaign framework that everyone else loves before it’s fully fleshed out. On the other hand, I need to know if there’s something that is completely out of the question for one of the players. So, you have the black ball if you need it.
- Once we have determined the campaign framework, I would like to have two sessions to flesh out the campaign and create the characters. The first session will be a sort of round-robin Q&A to fill in the basics of campaign world, where we will take turns asking and answering questions to collaboratively add details and structure to the framework. The second session will be a group character creation session.
- When those two sessions are done, I will build the first story, looking to run 1-3 sessions. I will also set up a campaign wiki on Obsidian Portal and invite everyone to join it.
- When the adventure is done, I will schedule a game session.
Which begs the question of what the four campaign frameworks are, right? Well, here’s what I came up with.
Thereâ€™s weirdness out there, and thatâ€™s what MoJoWeb.com is all about. A popular website with the conspiracy and neopagan crowd, MoJoWeb.com makes enough from memberships and advertising to finance a small cadre of investigators.
Maybe youâ€™ve believed in this stuff all along, or maybe something happened to make
you believe. Or maybe you didnâ€™t believe, and just needed the job.
Doesnâ€™t matter. Youâ€™re all believers now.
Your job? Finding the truth about the weird things that get overlooked by the more conservative journalists and officials â€“ the weird murders, the monster sightings, the alien abductions, the Elvis appearances, whatever. You check it out. And you bring the story back to post for the elite members of your site.
Setting: One city as home base, frequent travel to the sites of interest.
Mood: Moderately light, though the supernatural is a real threat, so not silly. Big on the creepy. Remember Freakylinks? Thatâ€™s my inspiration.
Theme: Curiosity, discovery, horror. Seeing the things ignored by the mundane, and trying not to be eaten by them.
Supernatural Level: The supernatural is rare, but powerful. And very strange. You may have the opportunity to gain some supernatural abilities, but they will not be big-league stuff.
Conspiracy Level: Low to non-existent. Some people know stuff, and know other people who know stuff. As far as you can tell, you are the most cohesive and organized group out there. But you might be wrong.
This used to be a good neighbourhood. People cared. Made their homes here, raised their kids here, built their lives here. Sure, it was never a rich neighbourhood, and it never got gentrified like some of the places around here, but it was a good place.
Not so much, anymore.
Youâ€™re not sure when things changed, but theyâ€™ve crossed the line some time in the past few years. The working-class families are still here, but there are more crack houses, more gangs, more crime. It just isnâ€™t safe anymore.
But thereâ€™s more to it than just urban decay. At some point in the past few years, youâ€™ve had a glimpse of the darkness thatâ€™s gathering, the monsters and secrets hidden behind the familiar faÃ§ade. Youâ€™ve seen something evil lurking in the heart of your home.
And you are not, by God, going to let it go on.
Setting: One neighbourhood in a city. This is a very location-based framework, with little taking place outside the neighbourhood, and nothing taking place outside the city.
Mood: Grim but resolute. Moderately dark. About X-Files level. Big on the unknown and seething malevolence.
Theme: Redemption and reclamation. Steadfast heroism, the defense of the home, the salvaging of hope.
Supernatural Level: The supernatural is dark and threatening, even at low power levels. Any supernatural abilities you pick up â€“ and opportunities to do so will be very rare â€“ will require great sacrifice and mark you as suspect.
Conspiracy Level: At most, the compact level. Realistically, you might know two or three other people in the city that know about this kind of thing, and maybe one or two outside the city.
The Shadow Wars
Maybe itâ€™s in your blood, or maybe itâ€™s something that happened to you. Maybe itâ€™s the result of long study, or strange pacts with mysterious beings. Whatever the source, you have theâ€¦ letâ€™s call it a giftâ€¦ that makes you aware of the big picture, the secrets of the world.
You might call it magic, or enlightenment, or the tao. You might see it as strange luck or just really being in touch with your own body or soul. You may not even know if youâ€™re still human at all. However you interpret it, youâ€™ve found out that there are others like you.
And others that will do anything to destroy you.
Because, whether you knew it or not at the beginning, thereâ€™s a war going on between those who would destroy humanity and those who would save it. By virtue of your awareness, youâ€™re drawn into this secret conflict, and you need to pick a side.
Youâ€™ve chosen humanityâ€™s side.
Because, no matter how strange you may find your abilities, theyâ€™re positively mundane next to the creatures that hide in the darkness and seek to steal the light. Once youâ€™ve seen them â€“ and you have â€“ there can be no question as to which side youâ€™re on.
And the war needs you.
Setting: The battle can take you anywhere, from the great cities of Europe to the frozen Antarctic research station, from the caves of the Grand Canyon to the neon- lit alleys of Tokyo. Or you may take up residence in a place of importance, as defenders. Or in one of the Free Cities, home to intrigue and deceit. You get to call it.
Mood: Suspicion, fear, dedication to a cause, secrecy, paranoia. The stakes are high, and the matter is serious. If you fail, people die. Or worse. Think Casablanca or Sandbaggers or Ronin with supernatural elements.
Theme: The burden of power, the lure of the dark, questions of trust and honour. The price of victory. What will you sacrifice?
Supernatural Level: Moderately high. I have an idea for a system of narratively based supernatural powers for the PCs that can be as blatant or subtle as people want. Everyone will have the potential, and those who spend experience on it will get better at it, but I donâ€™t think it will unbalance things if you decide not to focus on it for your character.
Conspiracy Level: Moderate to high. There are several different power groups on both sides of the war, and they can act as mentors, allies, enemies, or something in between.
Agents of Aegis
You are the grim wall between the creatures of the night and the unwitting mortals. As members of Aegis, you are an elite force of agents sent into hot spots to root out the evil. And burn it down. Then salt the earth. Then burn the earth some more.
Aegis does not fuck around.
On the upside, you get to travel the world, see exotic places, meet new people. On the downside, you mostly see the worst parts of it, and then cause an explosion.
On the upside, you get a bunch of neat toys: high tech tools, mystical rites, magical relics, ancient Egyptian potions, the works. On the downside, theyâ€™re often not enough.
On the upside, you have the backing of a powerful, wealthy, mysterious organization. On the downside, theyâ€™re likely to kill you if you step out of line.
Welcome to Aegis. Welcome to the last job youâ€™ll ever have.
Setting: Globe-hopping adventure, baby!
Mood: Exciting and cinematic. Think James Bond vs. the things that go bump in the night. Hellboy, but less silly.
Theme: Good vs. Evil, the price of victory, the tough decisions about collateral damage.
Supernatural Level: Pretty high. Lots of big, scary monsters, lots of toys for the PCs.
Conspiracy Level: High. Youâ€™re working for the big boys, but youâ€™re not the only big boys on the block.
So, there you have it. Four options, one of which will be further expanded and defined until it’s a playable game. I’ve only had two votes back, so far, so I don’t want to talk about which framework is the frontrunner for fear of skewing the responses from my players.
I’ll let you know which one they pick, and then what we do with it.