Running A Time of War – again/still
It has been ages since I posted about my Mechwarrior campaign. There has been a lot to say, some of which ended up in Shadowscasts 6 and 7, but there has been a lack of time to do much more than that. To make a long story short, we put the campaign on Indefinite Hiatus. To give it a bizarre hook, we are starting it (sort of) up again in a few days.
Inflation and the growth of ideas
The campaign, Hair of the Dog, was never intended to be quite as ambitious as it wound up being. One of the founding ideas was to do a sandbox campaign, but I expected a different kind of play in that sand when I started drawing the ideas together. I was expecting a rapid build to a climax, which in PBeM terms could have been about a year and a half. If that were translated to table top play it could have been about 6-months of weekly games. What we got was a world that we could have played in forever. The game actually ran for two years, and was called on account of breeding. The story did not collapse nor did the players or GM lose steam; the story was just taking off. It took two years, but the approach taken by the players built a massive foundation from which they could then act in a number of different arenas with varying levels of success. In a film, I suspect those two years of gameplay would be a montage with a voice over the actor would come to hate later, but as in a lot of those openings, there is rich, rich material to be mined within. Despite all this energy and involvement, the sequence of events that we completed was actually nothing more than the core idea I had when I first laid the premise out for the players. In a follow-up post, I will discuss the idea of ideas that go nowhere, but in this post, we definitely had and still have many places to go.
I do think the idea came to me in a montage, now that I think of it….
Why did the initial scope of the campaign change?
What I expected from the group was a reaction. I expected a strong offense and a concerted effort to push the Lyrans off-world to allow for a period of unfettered preparation for the return invasion. What I got was deviousness, and careful planning designed to first achieve parity with Lyran forces on the ground, and then wipe them out with none being the wiser. They went far underground and hid. It was nice to be surprised, and as the Lyrans spread across the map, and the bodies of their victims began to pile up, I enjoyed wondering when the group would act. It was also interesting to see them war with themselves over approaching things like a real-world war or as a Battletech war.
Because we maintained good lines of communication, I learned very early on that the planner in the group was moving in a hide-and-build direction, so the sandbox grew from one planet and a timeline of just a few years, to… well, Battletech. In a very real sense, this is what makes roleplaying the best use of clothed recreation time, bar none.
We chose to put the game on indefinite hiatus because of time pressures, and a growing failure of the medium to allow for convenient access to files, notes, and other resources. With the players merrily building a force and recruiting rebels, we ended up with a lot of notes and detailed future battle plans. The method of wrapping the game up is discussed in detail in Shadowscast 6 so I will not get into it here. The new campaign will be starting with some different implementation and a different set of players (bar one) in a few days. We have miles to go before we sleep, it would seem. Some of this is details in Shadowscast 7.
What changes have been implemented?
The new version of the campaign is called Glimmers in Annwn. It, unlike Hair of the Dog, is a generation game featuring characters and plots running concurrently in 2744 and 3038. Although a sandbox like its predecessor, the main premise is not to be realistic for the sake of realism. The main premise is that ‘all will be revealed in time’ – to those who look. Other differences are a smaller group of players in a more rigid social structure. The characters will be on active duty in an SLDF Brigade operating in space. Unlike being based on a planet during the 4th Succession War, this group of characters will be assigned to the SLS Pioneer in its role in the Star League Expeditionary Brigade. Although their ‘world’ is smaller, they get to travel. This means the regular environment for the characters is considerably more limited than the large and open planet Oliver was, while the palette from which to draw action and excitement is considerably broader.
Learning from mistakes
One of the things I grew to dislike about the setup for Hair of the Dog was that once it was set in motion, there were very real limitations on customizing mechs. While the setting did offer numerous ways to overcome this limitation, the direction the story went, did not involve them. As a large part of the fun of Battletech is the identification with the mechwarrior and their cool piece of combat machinery, that became one of those glaring oversights I wish I had taken into account earlier.
In this campaign, both players have expressed an interest in Aerotech and LAMs, so the premise and the selection of the Expeditionary Brigade stems from that. Rather than assign mechs and equipment based on the availability charts for the mid 2700’s, I have asked the players to build aerospace fighters, mechs, and LAMs with which I will stock the SLEB as new equipment undergoing trials. I have let it be known that much of this equipment will not survive the Succession Wars and it is one of their challenges to build in reasons for that which they will enjoy running in play. In the early days of Battletech, reading about the design flaws or shortcomings of the different models was a real enhancement of the game. This is a tribute to that feeling.
Finally, due to the length of time for a text-based, online mode of play, I am changing the experience point structure and scenario system to allow for character training and development in a more reasonable period of time, while running shorter, more mission-oriented scenarios. Even though the events of the story are not set, the conditions and duration of a “mission” can be, and can easily be made to represent dozens of similar sorties and training exercises over the course of the game. In most cases, these missions will occur fairly far apart in time and the timeline will advance at a steady rate. To prevent an inadvertent loss of important story threads or PC – NPC interaction, the players will be the ones indicating when the current story is done and that time should advance to the next ‘big thing’ the universe has to offer.
What’s to come?
In the coming weeks, I will be posting the dramatic conclusion of Hair of the Dog, and likely more about setting up and running Glimmers in Annwn. I hope you will share your own experiences with A Time of War, or ask questions about how things work as we go~
- Unwritten Contracts of Gaming (cobaltkobold.com)
- There will be consequences… (bookscorpionslair.blogspot.com)