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Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

I'm planning to run a sci-fi campaign with my friends later in the year, which brings with it its own complications. Largely the access to information that the players will have.

Since they are going to begin as mercenaries from the same planet, they will probably be very knowledgable about events in their planet's recent history (since it will be the basis of their backstories) but most likely less aware of the machinations of other empires.

Would it be fair to say something like "you see a shuttle at the spaceport belonging to a faction you only have vague knowledge of - they're a high-tech civilisation with unknown motives" and then provide actual documents/extended descriptions if they decide to do further research?

Likewise, I'm thinking of only giving them information about factions and nations they would be unfamiliar with in character from a biased perspective, to encourage investigation (along the lines of "so, this guy Vinter says his empire will give us freedom and money, but this other guy from a different planet says he's a dick, what do we do?") and inter-party debate.

Equally, I'd like to avoid every bit of investigation boiling down to "hire a hacker or use wikipedia" in order to provide plot hooks (like "the enemy have something valuable in their base, let's find out what.") State-run information control like in China is a valid part of the setting, but almost feels railroad-y. The other option is to make Space Wikipedia have all the flaws of actual wikipedia (for example "your search reveals fifteen tenuous references to anime episodes and the fact that Marshal Kraye was on Who Wants To Be a Space Millionaire in his youth" if they screw up the Library Use roll.)

Could people who have run high-tech campaigns offer advice?

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Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

Bass Concert Hall posted:

Give them about as much information as the average person has about the scary evil empires in the real world, and make it about as hard to get the real scoop on them as it is in real life. I don't think most people are very knowledgeable about the rest of the world at all. For example, ask someone on the street about Iran and you'll maybe get this much:

-It's a big desert country next to the other big desert country we invaded
-They're bad guys
-They're muslims
-Their leader, ackmedinasomething, is a smug prick with a sweet dinner jacket
-They're trying to make A-bombs
-There are riots going there right now

Not all of which is necessarily either objective or true!

That's what I was aiming for, really. It seems I had little to worry about.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

I'm sort of worried that my campaign will be the same way - the villain has a plan, but he's not a sort of "MUAHAHAHAHA I AM EVIL SEE THIS GIRL TIED TO A RAILROAD" villain.

What I'm planning is having a "Doomsday Clock" in the background along the lines of "X sessions passed, the villain achieves Phase 1 of his plan" up to "He completes his plan and now needs stopping before he can capitalise on it."

Is that particularly unfair? There'll be things to do other than challenge him, and I'll be flexible with the time limit (if the players stay in one place for a long time because a combat or encounter took a long time mechanically, I'll delay the clock by a session.)

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

RagnarokAngel posted:

Not at all. Just remind them that theres urgency if theyre the type to rest after every fight. Most campaign villians exist in a vacuum where their plans hinge on how close the PCs are to foiling him.
The biggie is though, never make it impossible to win. If he succeeds the heroes should be down but not out. Maybe he completed a ritual that makes him way too strong for them to win at their level, so they must flee and return when they're stronger, that sort of thing.

That's what I was planning. Even if he "wins" his plan is still very up in the air (he thinks that by crashing a satellite into an important city, he can stage a coup by playing the factions affected against each other, and ultimately gain control of an entire planet) and so it will simply be on the PCs consciences that X million people died - but in turn the vengeance may be sweeter.

And the possibility will even exist for them to join him while he's plotting, and backstab him.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

RagnarokAngel posted:

They might think something is off though if that happens. Might want to consider something they can carry on them that gives a very small buff, like a token or something that gives +1 to attack rolls once an encounter, or to defenses for a round once an encounter.

This way it's not overpowered, but they feel the need to keep them on them, because they're not taking up any slots, so why not keep them? Say the tokens are channeling power through them.

Our DM did that in a campaign. It didn't go so well.

She ruled that while one character held the Mystical Plot Symbols, their power increased to give an untyped damage bonus equal to the square of the number of items held. My character somehow acquired four of them, and when combined with his already substantial attack bonuses and other magic items, was doing 2d6+32 damage on a basic melee attack.

The penalty for using them was a cumulative penalty to Will defence every time you took an extended rest. Unfortunately, Will was already my lowest save and no enemies seemed to be attacking it, so I just had a marvellous time roleplaying my character getting increasingly unhinged and corrupted until by the time he reached the final boss he out and asked if he could join the forces of evil, needing to be slapped out of it by the rest of the party.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

Ulta posted:

I confirmed something last night I had suspected all along. Pcs love building stuff. Let your Pc's build a fort and run a battle in it. This personalized and makes the fight important to them ("My walls held off the trolls for 3 rounds". "That chokepoint was a sweet idea"). Plus it takes the burden off of you to make interesting terrain.

I ran a mass battle last night, letting the Pcs use Jenga blocks to construct a fort. They all had a blast.
Pics below

http://m.flickr.com/#/photos/41363558@N06/3811523170/

Looking at this and PierretheMime's post, I'm freshly inspired to work on how I'm going to handle the "dynamic base" in the sci-fi campaign I want to run. The idea is the players will begin as two-bit mercenaries doing contracts for a larger cartel, who get shut down by corrupt officials.

They're out on their own with their money, their mechs and a caravan to live in. As they do missions, interact with factions and (hopefully) get towards stopping the villain, they'll have the opportunity first to capture a base camp for real, with hangars and workshops, and then to recruit ground crew, their own grunts and so on until they've got a base and an army to fight the (massively rich and influential) BBEG in a straight fight if they want. There will be liberal opportunities to invent bizarre defences, custom weapons and to hoard the random crap I know the players love to pick up during campaigns.

And of course, there will be base defence missions from time to time, tailored to what they've been doing.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

One thing that I'm pondering hard in preparation for running a sci-fi game is is it too unfair to play human NPCs who the players are fighting "in-character," that is to say if they start a fight with special forces they should expect competent opponents?

Central to the campaign will be tussles and encounters with paramilitary and mercenary organisations, ranging from green from the arena pushovers to renowned "do not gently caress with these guys" groups with black market gear. As a result, I feel it would be appropriate to roleplay the NPCs as such, not purely through mannerisms but also through fighting style and stats. Trained ex-Space SAS men will not fight like Stormtroopers or redshirts, but would instead use cover and terrain along with fighting on their own terms.

However, if the players dont cotton on to how teamwork and tactics are vital in futuristic firefights, they'll get cut off and cut apart by these NPCs "played like PCs."

Is this acceptable DMing? Bear in mind only supposedly well-trained and smart NPCs will be optimally played like this, and average grunts will be stupid, easily fooled and inaccurate. It will therefore work both ways, with "inexperienced" NPCs breaking formation in mass combat, wasting powerful weapons on overkilling targets and not fighting smartly.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

Male Man posted:

Try easing into it slowly: start with the mall security and then move your way up through the skill levels. If you notice a snag in your players tactics, you can try to teach them a maneuver by having their foes use it. If you can get them to coordinate just a little bit, then they'll probably end up surprising you, rather than the other way 'round.

That's the plan - unless they're really stupid they won't end up fighting the most elite soldiers in the country after one or two sessions, they'll start with weaker forces and fights they can win.

I'll stress in the "intro and character generation" session that picking your fights is key to the campaign rather than running in madly or being Chaotic Random.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

DeclaredYuppie posted:

Another thing you might do is early on establish some methods they can use to spot the differences between the real top-tier guys and the off-brand thugs. Spotting marking and patches on their vests, body language, etc so they at least have some warning that they may be getting in over their heads.

It's going to be a bit more obvious than that - it will be the difference between the guy that looks like a soldier complete with power armour and heavy weapons and the guy in a tank top and jeans with an AK.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

I've been thinking about how to have a plot in my campaign which the players will be a part of, but at the same time avoiding railroading or "go here do this to see plot" missions.

The result is a flowchart covering what I think are the most likely general responses to each session's conflicts and challenges (like "beat boss" or "fail to beat boss," or "agree with villain" and "disagree with villain.") and how they will lead through the campaign's events. I want to get across a sense that if the players fail, it could be as much through their own inaction and apathy as any unstoppable force the enemy present - the old "evil wins through good's inaction" trope.

I figure if I explain that the campaign world will move without the players' action right at the start, then that's fair warning for when things go off without them, and so on. I know this is related to my earlier post about the "doomsday clock" idea, but I was wondering if secretly using a flowchart of plot points with branching paths which ultimately leads to one of three "endings" (win, lose, or join the villain) is still too restrictive. The flowchart only contains one-sentence outlines of what should happen next based on prior decisions, and I hope it will lessen the amount of ad-libbing I need to do if they kill an important NPC or completely miss a vital clue.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

ItalicSquirrels posted:

As long as you use it for that reason, you should be okay. If you refuse to deviate from it, you're back to square one again.

That's the plan. It's really not specific, and if they come up with a better idea I'll go with it.

However, I know the group and I know they have a tendency to completely miss plot hooks and NPCs while obsessing over minutiae of no importance.

It's also mostly to keep my ideas in order so I don't end up getting confused about where they've been and who they've met.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

tendrilsfor20 posted:

One of the more ambitious ideas I heard (and tried to implement myself) was to enlist 5-7 nerdy friends who are not in your player's party or their roommates or something in an email list. Call them up, tell them, "Hey, you're the evil necromancer. You're the leader of the orc war tribe. You're the reclusive elven king. You're Cinderbottom the Red Dragon." and each week have them send you their action. I had a list somewhere of stuff I had my guys (Dark Sun Sorcerer-kings, in my case) do or have available, stuff like "March on the elven lands," "Send gift to rival chieftan," "Throw party to get subjects to love me." stuff like that.

Then you have every week (or two weeks) a list of things happening in your world to give to the players, and after game (in which they, say, defended the elves from the orcs) you can email involved players and get their reactions.

That's awesome - I go to a wargaming and boardgaming club that's completely discrete from my roleplaying circle, and what I may do is ask the guys there for their opinions on how the villain should react to the party's actions.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

I'm running a mass-combat heavy campaign where the players are frontline officers in a future military (one leads an infantry platoon, one is an artillery officer, one has a tank unit and one leads a lance of combat mechs) and would like some feedback.

Is it a good idea to have the grunt enemies focus mostly on the players' own grunts while the boss-type enemies single out the players as threats? I'm thinking this, if it works right, will lead to the classic action movie battle where in the background tanks are blowing up, infantry are storming pillboxes and helicopters are gunning things down, while the players/heroes themselves are engaged in fights to the death with enemy aces and elites and ultimately winning the day.

I figure if the players are also fighting the battle of grunts, wargame style, it leads to two "levels" in the encounter - the more efficiently they mop up the weak enemies the better, since they'll then have stuff like air superiority, artillery and fortified positions to fall back to which will make the "boss fights" easier. If they mismanage their forces, they may find the boss gets reinforcements, or they don't get the air strikes they request as the bombers got shot down.

I very much like Rogue Trader's system of spaceship battles where every player not only takes a role in commanding the ship but also managing other aspects of the battle (it makes playing the Rogue Trader so much fun, especially when you can put on your best starship captain impression and be all "Helm, ahead full! Gunnery, maintain full broadside! Engineering, get us ready to warp in ten seconds or we're all dead!" and am trying to make something similar for a ground war.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

I've got a bit of a problem, TGD, and I'm trying to work out if I should just carry on regardless or do something about it.

The gist of my campaign is that the players are futuristic mercenaries, and as a result they're very salvage-happy to the point where they've been picking weapons that allow for "clean" kills.

This ordinarily isn't a problem. But they've managed to assassinate the pilot of an encounter boss prototype mech and have captured it pretty much intact. They also have the right in-game stats to operate it. This thing is incredibly powerful and I was kind of hoping that it wouldn't get captured (they have a tendency to panic against bosses, fire everything and then overkill them gloriously) but at the same time I feel it was mostly due to their clever planning that they got it.

My options, as I see them, are:

1) Let them use this unit after a session of downtime to get it repaired. This risks throwing the balance of the campaign out because it's seriously powerful.

2) Come up with some reason why they don't get it (for example the corporation who made it intervene and say "return the prototype or else, this isn't a loving movie.") However, this seems really railroady.

3) Let them use it, but come up with a table of "malfunctions" to represent it being a prototype. Each time they deploy it, roll on this table and have something go wrong because it's not being properly maintained and is still work-in-progress (these things might be "the laser cannon's power output is down 20%" or "the front left leg is dragging, your movement is reduced.") This seems pretty grognardy and passive-aggressive, though.

Option 3 is more in keeping with the "this thing is experimental unfinished technology which usually has a team of 15-20 specialists monitoring it at every point and fixing every slight flaw as soon as it returns to base" angle that goes with the unit, and is the one I'm thinking of going with (with perhaps Option 2 as a background thing if they're gullible enough to contact their corporate contacts and say "hey guys we found your main rival's latest prototype want to help us fix it?")

Am I taking the right approach? And if not, what courses of action would be better? I really don't want to punish them for inventiveness (and sniping a dude with a railgun equipped with a "see through walls" scope and getting away with it is pretty cool) but equally I don't want to have to start upping the ante ridiculously in combat (and going for a video-gamey "you know those bosses you fought? They're mass-produced now" thing.)

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

Thanks for the advice - I guess I should add that they already are quite deeply in favour with an empire who are prepared to let them get away with almost anything in exchange for the PCs assisting them in their invasion of the planet the campaign is taking place on. They were initially part of the private army of an immensely powerful local warlord (which was what got them the attention of the invading empire who were looking for allies planetside) and so have a substantial army of ordinary tech level units. Last session, they stormed a mountaintop fortress to depose a dictator and rescue hostages, and the session before they used overwhelming force to smash a naval base in a Pearl Harbor style ambush, if that gives an idea of the sort of adventures they're having.

The idea was that this unit would be the absolute proof that a rival interplanetary empire to the one the PCs are supporting (who technically control the planet behind the scenes but aren't supposed to intervene in local politics) was supplying experimental and borderline illegal arms to local dictators to use the inevitable brushfire wars as arms testing grounds.

I should also add the reason "no-one's thought to take it away" was this literally happened last session as part of the battle for the fortress, and the session ended on a cliffhanger so there hasn't been extended downtime. Currently no-one except those present at the incident know it's been stolen - the unit is on a cargo helicopter en route to the PCs home base while they press on with their offensive.

Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

rock rock posted:

This, and pretty much everything else he said. DM fiating away something the players are going to be excited about is not cool. And we all know the rule.

Well, it turns out the events played out very differently.

The players decided to strip down the hull and turn the unit from a hyper-advanced jump-capable close assault unit into a "scoot and shoot" artillery platform which can lay down barrages then escape.

This is totally awesome and I'm fully encouraging it because the idea of a quadruped artillery platform loaded down with battleship guns and cruise missiles is hardcore as gently caress.

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Bob Smith
Jan 5, 2006
Well Then, What Shall We Start With?

Tekopo posted:

I'm planning to run a small campaign with my group of friends and since it's going to be my very first experience as a DM, I'd like to know if my campaign idea is workable or complete crap.

The basics of it is a standard "taking down an evil ruler" thing, but I was thinking that in the inevitable final fight, the evil ruler turns out more of a Machiavellian figure, with his small kingdom acting as a buffer zone between two empires and pretty much preventing a war with them. Whatever the heroes would do next, the campaign would end, with potential for a larger campaign based on what they did or if they enjoyed my DMing style.

What I'm worried about is that the players will be annoyed by what they will perceive as a no-win situation (either kill the ruler and potentially start a war, or keep him alive and accept the subjugation of his serfs, or something different, if they get creative). Is this a good idea or should I try something different?

I ran a campaign along those lines, except in my case the players were trying to orchestrate an end to a war of superpowers to set up their location as the buffer zone in question.

It was interesting, especially because my players decided the best option was to go along with the separatist leader and ultimately ended up being part of a massive diplomatic incident. I enjoyed DMing it.

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