Friday, 24 June 2011

The Expeditionary Campaign: 15 Things Players Will Need to Know

Been thinking a lot about the Expeditionary Campaign while at work today. It occurred to me that of the two dozen or so potential recruits I intend to invite (the list keeps growing) only about eight have ever played in Zama before. And  back then they were playing it using 4th ed rules.

So here's a quick run-down of the email I intend to send my potential recruits, complete with 15 things they will need to know to play the game. It'll be a while yet before I send it out, probably a month. The delay will give me time to set things up, tweak the setting back to OSRIC from the present incarnation and draw out the new maps and dungeons.

In the meantime, would anyone care to share their thoughts please? Am I underselling this? And if so, how can I go about improving the sales pitch?

Dear friends

It feels like an age since we last got together to game, mostly because of my crazy schedule. However, thanks to my awesome friends in the blog sphere, we now have a solution: the Expeditionary campaign.

In the ancient old days of the this hobbies' origins, Gary Gygax and the fathers of roleplaying games used to run massive campaigns at their local gaming group. There could be anything up to thirty players in each campaign, all of whom would rotate in and out as their schedules allowed, all playing in the same campaign, in the same party with the same DM. Think of these companies in the same light as a modern football team -not every player gets to kick a ball in every game. Someone has to be left behind to warm the bench. or the stands. But even so, the guys who didn't get to play in that particular game are still on the same team.

Basically, my proposal is to invite all of you to come game with me at my house. In the same campagin. In the same adventuring party. Yup, all XXXX of you.

Now don't laugh. I rather doubt there will ever be more than a dozen of us around the table at once. Because of my schedule, there will be no regular time and date for the sessions when we will play. Hell, I doubt there will even be a regular duration. Instead, at the beginning of each month, I'll email all the interested parties a list of dates and times when I'll be available to run the game. Those players who are able to attend get to play their characters. Those who don't get to leave their characters behind to guard the camp. That's where every session will begin and end: the camp. So threre's no real difficulty in having players who turn up only once every couple of months. Their character doesn't just suddenly appear in the middle of nowhere on their own. They've been guarding the camp all along.

Now for all this to work,  with the very real possibility of having up to a dozen players at some sessions, we need to use a very simple system. I was toying with the idea of red box D&D or one of it's clones, but OSRIC (a much improved version of 1st edition) I've decided to run. No moaning. No arguments. No point trying to change my mind. It's non-negotiable. I've already done a hell of a lot of campaign prep so we can get started quickly and I'm not changing it all now. Not for anyone.

So why OSRIC? Because it's simple, combats are quick and easy to run, I know it like the back of my hand, the rest of you will pick it up easily and ultimately, because you can all download the damn book as a free pdf from the designers web-site. So there's no excuse for anyone not knowing the rules.

As some of you already know, I've been designing and gaming in my home-brew fantasy world of Zama for about twenty years. So we'll be using that world to game in. Like any fantasy world, it has its own little quirks and ideosyncracies. So here are fifteen things you'll need to know about the campaign (not just the campaign world) if you want to play.

  • The world is called Edarnia. Sure, the campain setting itself is called Zama, but that's because the City State of Zama is where it all began. The sandbox, or region, we will playing in includes the City of Zama and its client states. The region is arrayed on the shores of a sheltered sea similar to the Mediterranean. Depending on who you speak to, this sea is know variously as "Our Sea", "The Middle Sea", "The Wide Blue", "The Poison Water", or the "Great Green". It seems like almost every race or human culture has it's own name for it.
  • It's a "spear-and-sandals setting". Human societies have far more in common with the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians and Egyptians of earths Classical Period than they do with the knights of the middle ages. Yes, there is a small corner of the world where certain Dark Age tropes exist (such as Vikings and Mongols) but these cultures are geographically very distant from where we will be playing. And remember, in this setting: real men fight with spears. Swords are for wussies and warriors who like having a back-up weapon.
  • Iron is the metal-standard. Or rather, a mixture of Iron and Bronze. Generally speaking, Iron (which can be sharpened without having to recast it) is used for weapons and bronze (which is very hard but can't be sharpened) is used for armour. This setting's version of plate armour isn't Milanese or Gothic plate -it's plain and simple bronze hoplite armour, as seen in films such as Troy, the new Sparacus series, and Clash of the Titans
  • The Gods of Zama take a very real and active interest in the affairs of mortals. They don't interfere directly, but they commonly make personal appearances at major religious ceremonies or observe important battles in person. They can also be cruel and fickle. Many of the settings mightiest heroes are demi-gods themselves. For an idea of how the Gods influence events in this world, think of how they appear in moveis like 300, Jason and the Argonauts and (again) Clash of the Titans.
  • The present generation of Gods are known as the Young Gods. Some Elder Gods and Primordials (the very oldest living gods) still exist, but they are rare and reclusive. The Young and Elder Gods are organised into family groups named Pantheons. Each Pantheon has its own major portfolio - the Pheonixian Gods rule over the sun, stars and the moon for example. The Mycenean Pantheon (which most of your characters will worship))rule over fire, magma, lava, oil and the like. In all the world, there is only every one God of the Sun, Ocean, Fire, Storm etc. But just about every Pantheon has it's own war god, crafts gods, love god etc. Finally, weather patterns are determined by the preferences of the Pantheon worshipped locally. Don't be surprised if you ever look at a map and see  rain forest right next to a desert.
  • Characters begin at first level. Attributes are rolled using the 2D6+6 in order method. Create you character before bringing him or her to the table. There won't be time to create new ones at the beginning of the session. Don't bother buying equipment for your first character You'll read why further down.
  • Zama is a humano-centric setting. Non-human player characters should be fairly uncommon. Elves, Dwarves and the like do exist, but rarely interact with human society. To reflect their dominance and adaptability humans can freely multi-class by combining any two character classes that do not share the same sub-type. A fighter-cleric, is possible, for example. But not a Fighter-Ranger or a MagicUser-Illusionist. Non-humans don't have level limits in Zama, but advance more slowly: it costs them 15% more Xp per level to advance per level.
  • Human characters will be Myceneans from the city state of Mysos. Why? Because the Myceneans are based on ancient Greeks (think Jason and the Argonauts) and are the culture the majority of the players are most likely to be familiar with. Additionally, Mysos is the only Mycenean city-state where women are legally, socially and militarily the equals of men. Outside Mysos and Zama, sexism and strict gender roles are the rule. Be aware of this and prepared to accept it if you wish to play a female character of any race 9not just humans).  In most "civilised" parts of the campaign world, women adventurers are considered repugnant aberrations who set a poor example for local girls.
  • Elves are residents of the Summer-lands (where human souls reside between lives unless they've been bad and where humans go to dream). Those encountered on Edarnia (and all PC elves) are exiles. This effectively means they have been exiled from paradise to spend eternity (elves dont die of old age in this setting) in a shitty mortal world, which explains why Edarnian elves are moody and bitter rather than cheerful and flighty.
  • Dwarves are generally considered mythical by most human cultures. Where they are known to exist, they're viewed (correctly as it happenss) as the "Smiths of the Gods", and have a status similar to that of clergy. This means that dwarfs can expect to be treated in two different ways depending on where they are: as "stunted" or "deformed" humans or as respected priests. Elves and Dwarves are the only races in all the world that know how to forge steel.
  • Gnomes and Halflings are the servants of Elves. PC's are likely to be the descendants of those who followed their elf masters to earth after their exile. Very, very rare and generally mistaken for (and treated) as children.
  • Half-Orcs don't exist. At least, not as an option for player characters. Only a few exist in the whole world and all are exceedingly vile and evil by their very nature.
  • Your first characters begin the game as passengers and crew aboard a Mycenean galley out of Mysos. Or rather, former passengers and crew. Your ship has somehow angered the Earthshaker (perhaps the captain offered vinegar in libation instead of wine), and been wrecked in an unseasonal storm. You wake up amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the wreck, on a sandy beech, with nothing but the clothes on your back and what you can scavenge from the wreckage. Lucky you. The only peice of kit any character automatically finds is his spellbook. Everything else is pre-determined by luck and random rolls. I'll hand out your gear on pre-printed cards at the first session you attend.
  • If you've been horribly evil in life, then you're soul is cursed to wander the Underworld when you die. And by the way, I mean the literal Underworld. Hell in this setting is right beneath your characters feet. When your character travels more than a few hundred yards beneath the earth, your literally travelling into Hell. Yes. That means most Dungeons in this setting are entrances to Hell. Lucky you.
  • Finally, and most importantly, this will be an "Old School" game. Characters will die and they will die often. Characters will die for doing dumb things, for doing heroic things and just as often (perhaps even more often) through plain bad luck. In this type of game, player skill counts for more than character skill. I don't care if you're not a thief. If you say you're looking for a trip wire or tapping the floor with a pole-arm to check for pit traps, you WILL find it if there happens to be one there. You can all sneak about and climb things. Thieves just do it better and call fall back on their percentile skill roll if things start going wrong or if the players imagination starts to fail them. If you're not sure how to play in this type of game then click on the link below to vist my blog. You'll see the survival guides tab at the top of the first page. Click on this to receive the benefit of my wisdom. Grasshopper.
If you are one of the lucky recipients of this email who has been offered this fantastic opportunity to partake of this old school, juicy goodness, please RSVP your acceptance as soon as possible. Details of the first, opening session will follow shortly after you get back to me. Don't worry if you miss the first session. I'll keep everyone who misses out on sessions fully informed of events with a campaign journal, which you'll be able to access readily from my blog.


Unknown said...

Wow! I so wish that I was in your neck of the woods. It sound awesome.

Trent_B said...

OK, thats awesome and sounds like fun.

My advice regarding the sales pitch:
1. Keep that document - give it to players once theyre confirmed players. Otherwise you will lose prospective players through TL;DR attrition.
2. Summarise that document into about a paragraph or two, highlighting the best or most significant things in your game. 3. Get an excellent image, but maybe not just a hoplite because that clearly doesnt do your setting justice...
4. Give prospective players an attractive document with just the summary and the cool picture with some contact details.

Not saying this is the best way, just food for thought. New players may not get excited by a page and a half of text is all =]

Much love!

Unknown said...

Fuck's sake Brian, you've been hard at work. This place is totally unrecognisable compared to the dead site I remember from back in the days of my Ashes of Middenheim campaign (6 years ago believe it or not). I'm impressed. ;)

Caliban said...

This looks great, Brian, and you've obviously put a great deal of work and thought into it. I'd join in if I could, but my schedule is pretty much all over the place as well.

Are you going to keep us updated with the game's progress via the blog?

Good luck

The Extraordinarii said...

This sounds so good, Brian is this going to be done old school style, with paper and pen maybe a map, RPG style? or will miniatures be involved?

Unknown said...

Brian this sounds fantastic.

@ TrentB - As a player I agree with your idea of a cool picture and summary to draw people in. Brian is often frustrated by mere mortals like myself who can't read a book in a matter of hours (Brian reads like athletes breath!)

@ John - Yes he has! You should see his man cave. Brian lives the gaming life when he isn't working, sleeping or eating. Dedicated to his profession :-)

@ The Extraordinarii - If he plays this like the War of the Burning Sky campaign we had in Edarnia last, I'd imagine it'll be proper Old School RPG with miniatures for big fights to keep track.

Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks guys.

@ Risus: it's a pity you arn't, it was you're blog article that got me thinking after all.

@ Trent: Great suggestions. Thanks. I'll go with that plan.

@ John: Yup, I started it up again in October after I realised I needed to store as many of my ideas online as possible -if only because they're vulnerable to virus' and loss on my own PC. Amber suggested I restart my blog and here we are.

And it should be obvious John, but I'll say it anyway. You're on the invite list too.

@ Caliban: I'll be using the blog to keep track of character levels and session reports, so there should be plenty to interest you even if you can't come game with us.

@ Extraordinarii: I tend to use minaitures to represent marching order and initiative order most of the time. I prefer to only bring out the battle-mats and monster figures for the really big, confusing fights where it's difficult to keep everyone's position straight.

And oh yes, they'll be in BIG trouble if they don't map. Especially if they don't make copies. Anything that happens to the real life map (loss, liquid spills, damage) happens to the game map as well and vice versa.

In fact, it will be important for as many players as possible to map. They cant rely on any one mapper turning up to every session after all, now can they?