Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Deepnight Revelation campaign: half-formed thoughts and notes (no spoilers)

I stumbled across the epic Mongoose 2e Traveller campaign Deepnight Revelation [paid link] in an RPGnet thread about the campaign. It sounded amazing: a 20-year mission into unexplored space at the helm of one of the most powerful starships in the galaxy, with the players running the command crew.

Deepnight Revelation box set

So much of this is like catnip to me: The multi-year mission, 10 years out and 10 years back; the amazing name, which is both the campaign and the titular starship; the epic scope, which involves confronting an existential threat; the Star Trek-like conceit that the players are almost certainly in charge of the mission (though they don’t have to be, and the box set accounts for that in multiple places); and the subversion of the typical “you’re in debt up to your eyeballs and have a half-busted freighter, go make your way in the universe” Trav premise. I’ve also nursed a lifelong desire — thus far unfulfilled — to play at least one published mega-campaign, so there’s that.

What other folks did

I did some homework before buying the box set, Googling and looking for more info about the campaign. That turned up an excellent review on Reddit — which hides its spoilers so you can read it without encountering them — that covered pros, cons, and ways this campaign actually played out for the author’s group. A second thread also proved useful, especially in seeing some of the tweaks and behind-the-scenes work required for an undertaking this massive.

Taken together, these two threads convinced me that despite loathing game prep this prep-heavy campaign was worth picking up. It’s perhaps fairer to say that I loathe most game prep, and am just fine with games like tremulus where a couple hours of prep will cover an entire campaign. The work-to-payoff ratio makes sense there — and it seems like it could make sense here, too, with a campaign designed to take roughly 50-60 four-hour game sessions to complete needing a correspondingly larger one-off prep investment. (And, notably, some prep along the way as well.)

Railroading

I also loathe railroading, but buying into a campaign concept — “we’re journeying from point A to face the danger at point Z” — isn’t the same as railroading. I’ve looked at some tentpole published campaigns and felt like there was no way to avoid railroading the players, but this didn’t sound like one of those.

After a full skim of the Deepnight Revelation core box [paid link], I’ve concluded to my own satisfaction that that first impression was accurate. The endpoint will always be the same, but how the journey plays out matters.

Sometimes you want to make decisions that affect the fate of the entire crew and the future of their years-long mission, but sometimes you want to take the shuttle into the irradiated asteroid belt yourself and see what happens next (without torpedoing the campaign in the process…). I played a lengthy Ars Magica campaign with a huge pool of characters, and it was one of my all-time favorites; that approach is solid gold.

Shared tracking resources

Just a cursory skim of the box set makes it clear that some sort of multifaceted, group-accessible tracking solution would be needed for this campaign. Maybe that’s a Google Docs spreadsheet or two, or a giant whiteboard, or a small whiteboard and a wiki — and so on, you get the idea.

I love the idea of a whiteboard for the most important frequently-changing values — stuff like the Crew Effectiveness Index, which is the modifier for rolls made to resolve events at fairly high levels of abstraction (e.g., “How did the refueling mission go?”), and the available store of supplies.

CEI, CEIM, DEI, CFI, OMGWTFBBQ

I’m still digesting the box set’s mechanics for resolving the many large-scale and abstracted elements of the Deepnight Revelation‘s journey — something multiple folks on Reddit noted as needing extensive reworking in their groups — and so far they don’t look like a mess. But one, I’m not done reading yet, and two, they’ve lived and breathed and run the campaign, and I’m just noodling over it at my desk. So we shall see!

That’s what’s rattling around in my brain at the moment. Now I’m going to tuck back into the handbook and poke things a bit harder.

Categories
PbtA Story games Tabletop RPGs

Takeaways from running Urban Shadows for a year

After running an Urban Shadows campaign for a year, I have a few takeaways to share.

One of my starting points with any RPG is “Does it do what it says on the tin?” Urban Shadows very much does what it says on the tin, and it’s a fantastic game.

1. After our group character creation session, I spent 1-2 hours turning the hooks, antagonists, and threads the players created into Threats, and I made debt tracker sheets and consolidated move lists for my GM folder.

That was the extent of my prep for the entire campaign.

2. Before each session, I thought about what had happened in the previous session, what the antagonists were up to (all noted on their clocks), and what the PCs had planned for the next session.

Occasionally, I wrote myself a sentence or two of notes so I wouldn’t forget stuff.

3. During the game, I took notes as often as possible without interrupting the flow of play. My group alternates weekly games, so with a two-week gap between sessions (and a shoddy memory!) notes are essential for me.

4. I also created an NPC Rolodex using a 3×5 index cards and a card box. Everyone important enough to name got a card color-coded for their faction with a quick description, notes, and a Drive.

This became unwieldy, and I may need a better solution when we go back to the game.

5. Likewise for my debt trackers. I left a half-page of room for each faction and they were totally full within a couple months. I should have had at least a full page, probably double-sided, per faction, and they should have been lined sheets.

6. Out of five regular players, three loved corruption, one avoided it like the plague, and one was somewhere in the middle. We retired two PCs around the one-year mark due to corruption, with a third just a point or two away from retirement.

7. My table included a mix of PbtA veterans, newbies, and folks in between. One thing I can confidently say that everyone loved about the system was how failures are handled. The whole table paused, excitement in the air, anytime a failure came up.

8. Using only player-created hooks, and logical outgrowths from those hooks, as toys in the sandbox produced an overwhelming amount of threads to keep track of. I regard this as a feature, not a bug; the Threats provided clear calls to action to mitigate option paralysis.

9. With 1/4 Threats fully resolved and another 1/4 on the ropes, we still have 2/4 of the original Threats in play after a year. This created a logical pause point to take a break from the game, and it should make picking it up again easier.

This is one of my favorite campaigns that I’ve run, and it’s a perfect fit for my preferred zero-prep sandbox style of play. Highly recommended!

I’m happy to answer questions about this campaign or Urban Shadows (paid link) in general — just fire away in the comments!

Categories
D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Crimhthan The Great and over 3,600 sessions of OD&D

Thanks to a G+ share by Alex Schroeder, I got a chance to read A bit more about Crimthan The Great’s Game and Group. It’s a blog post by Daithi MacLiam, then 78, about the more than 3,500 sessions of OD&D (paid link) his group has played together since 1974 (after starting with Chainmail in 1971).

I love reading about long-running campaigns. Like the Rythlondar campaign, a D&D game in Michigan begun in 1976, and extensively chronicles by its players, there’s a lot to unpack in here.

Starting with Chainmail Fantasy and continuing with OD&D we played our 1000th games in January of 1982, our 2000th in December 1995 and our 3000th game in September 2008 and this past weekend April 4th and 5th we played our 3687th and 3688th games.

By contrast, I’ve played 304 gaming sessions since 2008 (as of this writing) — roughly half the number Daithi’s group played during the same period. And I’ve never played anything approaching even a thousand sessions of the same system; the closest I’ve come is probably more like a couple hundred (maybe, at the outside, 300), running multiple AD&D 2nd Edition (paid link) campaigns back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I find long-running campaigns fascinating in part because they’re so foreign to my gaming experience. Rob Conley has been running games in the same setting for many years, and I know there are more folks out there doing this. I need system variety in my RPG diet, but I’d love to start a D&D game and keep it going in perpetuity alongside all of my other gaming.

Our typical gaming session used to be about 12 hours in length which works out to about 36 days of game time on the average. […] On the other hand since we passed about 70 years old the length of our games has decreased to about 8 hours split into two – four hour segments with a long break in the middle.

Two 4-hour sessions in the same day is like a mini-con every game day. I hope I can do that when I’m in my 70s! Hell, I wish I could manage that now — and Daithi has 40 years on me.

The original core group of players have had between (I am guessing here) 550-750 characters each. In spite of about 450 TPK’s, each of us have retired about 10-18 characters apiece. But on some game days we have went through 8-10 characters each.

Four hundred and fifty TPKs! Going through 8-10 characters in a session is nothing to sneeze at either: That figure makes the Rythlondar campaign’s top recorded PC death total — six — seem tame.

Looking at wandering monsters in OD&D vs. B/X D&D showed me part of the deadliness of OD&D, but seeing these numbers gives me a whole different perspective.

Daithi’s post was a great read, and I look forward to hearing more war stories from his group’s OD&D campaign.