Friday, May 27, 2016

Operation Sandman - the premise and where I went wrong

Years ago, I moved away from my humble gaming origins and ended up on the other side of the country. And one of the things I noticed immediately, was that I missed gaming. Fortunately, I quickly found a new group of gamers who were willing to put up with my gaming antics. They came from much more humble origins than my university friends, mostly used to d20 and d10 games, with the occasional Warhammer 40k-inspired game in there. After gaining their trust as a GM with stint in Lady Blackbird and Thirteenth Age (More about those games later), I promised to run something new for them – GURPS.

The Players
I picked GURPS for this particular group of gamers because they all fit the stereotypes that I think work well with GURPS:

Two of them are rules junkies – they like the nitty gritty details that GURPS can provide. We have had discussions of the implications of using an anti-tank sniper rifle on unsuspecting humans (Fun times…) and what martial arts would fit wielding a scythe best. These players are very happy with the amount of detail GURPS lets them use, while trying to min-max within the real world boundaries of the game.

Then we have the two character actors– They are both are the kind of player who wants to explore the details of what it is like to be X or Y, while also serving his sense of humor. He liked the advantages and disadvantages that GURPS provides to so many players.

A close friend of mine is just horrible with rules. She admits that she doesn’t have the brain to memorize every move, special power and option that is available. She just wants to do stuff! Fortunately, my brain can handle converting the stats of the game to just a straight up penalty where she just has to roll 3d6 and tell me if the result looks pretty. And finally we have the ultimate cheetoists, they just joined the game because it sounded cool. They share a lot of properties with my less rules savvy player, but mostly they want to just sit back and enjoy the show, while eating Cheetos and having a laugh, which is why GURPS just asking them to describe what they are doing and roll 3d6 as a result also fits them well.

The Premise of Operation Sandman

So now we have the players – let’s talk about the campaign. The campaign I concocted was a mix between X-Com, Black Ops and The Madness Dossier, called Operation Sandman.
The basic premise: To combat an alien invasion organized by the Greys in 1943, several prominent figures in US history, including Oppenheimer came together under the name or Argus. Argus founded an elite organization to fight the alien invasion, an organization called Operation Sandman. Since those days, the Operation has fought almost every supernatural known threat known to man, ranging from chupacabra to the horrors of the deep.

Operation Sandman basically just renamed the Company from Black Ops to the Operation, and added in some of the less mind-warping elements from the Madness Dossier. Particularly, the idea of a timeline B which hosts all the creepies and crawlies attracted me.

I picked Black Ops because I wanted a game that made the players think of Buffy, the Laundry Files and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. while also catering for the gun and stats crazy players. I particularly enjoyed the thought of having the players face down werewolves, aliens and completely weird beings. I also like the thought of being able to use tropes from all of the source material to come to a game that is about secret conspiracy and big explosions at the same time.

To design the game, I used the following GURPS books:
  • GURPS Action 1 – Heroes
  • GURPS Action 2 – Exploits
  • GURPS Black Ops (3rd edition)
  • GURPS High-Tech
  • GURPS Horror
  • GURPS Load-Outs: Monster Hunters
  • GURPS Monster Hunters (Eveything)
  • GURPS Powers
  • GURPS Power-Ups 2 – Perks
  • GURPS Power-Ups 3 – Talents
  • GURPS Power-Ups 6 –Quirks
  • GURPS Social Engineering

I will discuss later why these books were used, but for now it is good enough to know that these products were used.

Where did it go wrong?
So now we get to the point where I admit that mistakes were made. I am just not a fan of prep, but in contrary to Mailanka, I am perfectly fine with improvising a game. This worked brilliantly in the past where I dealt with Lady Blackbird. But during Operation Sandman, everything slowed down to a crawl. My players were complaining that the plot didn’t move forward and that they missed interaction with the world.

Both of these problems were caused by one simple cause: I hadn’t done the prep from the ground up. I will discuss this in detail in a later post, but the problem I faced wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared a toolbox of ready challenges and was grasping each game for new challenges for the players.

So how are we going to fix it?
I have noticed in the past that when I have a proper world to bounce my ideas off, everything comes easy. So that’s part one of my problem: I need to build a world, and that’s something we will discuss next time.

But there is also another problem: I hadn’t given my players the tools to interact with the world and to co-tell the story with me. And that is a second set of posts where we will investigate player agency – including its powers and risks.

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