Thursday, June 23, 2016

Campaign structure – Encounters and conspiracies

Last week I discussed the different arenas that my campaign, Operation Sandman, is going to focus on. Each arena is a different aspect of my campaign that should hold challenges and fun toys for my players to interact with. To reiterate, my areas of focus are:
  • Combat
  •  Research
  • Social
  •  Infiltration
This week, I am going to discuss how I am going to weave these different aspects into a campaign structure that will work well for us ad-hoc GM’s. Ironically, being an ad-hoc GM comes down to  preparation. But we do not plan in a linear fashion, we try to make a robust frame where we try to make sure that we always have something for the players to do.

Honestly, this post initially intimidated me. I wasn't sure how to set up my campaign structure both robust and somewhat versatile. I am always at a loss halfway through my campaign because I just can't figure out where to go next!

Fortunately, there are several systems out there which can help us. Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents makes use of the conspyramid, which is a tree and node diagram of how the conspiracy is put together. This is the perfect system to allow me to think of where I can 

Each level of the conspyramid relates to a higher threat within the conspiracy, with ever fewer nodes until you get to the core of the conspiracy. The lower level would be street level thugs, while the top level would be the big bad himself. The conspyramid can also give you an idea on how the conspiracy can respond to possible threats to it.

To bring this to a GURPS campaign. In Gumshoe, Night’s Black Agents’ system, the higher in the conspiracy you get, the more powerful a foe gets. And in GURPS, of course, we have BAD.
The higher you get into the conspiracy, the more BAD your foes get.

But now we tie this into something I’ve discussed before – In GURPS we have many strategies to defeat an opponent. I’ve mentioned the strategies available in my campaign above. Each encounter and challenge in my campaign should tie into one of these four fields. This also means that
The higher you get into the conspiracy, the more strategies are available to the conspiracy.

Tying it into ad-hoc GM-ing
But now we know how each part of the conspiracy will respond – I also want to have some tools to challenge my players. And once again, I go for Lady Blackbird. Lady Blackbird has a bunch of challenges for each area of the world, like giant space squids, or goblin smugglers and ties a difficulty to them.


Bill Cypher would be proud of my usage of pyramids, conspiracies and other crazy things

We now combine the two
  •  Each node of the conspyramid contains a party or tool for the conspiracy to respond to the players
  •  Each node has a favored strategy, but the higher we get, the more strategies become available to each node
  • Each node has a number of challenges associated with it, based on the nature of the node and its height in the tree

An example
In my campaign, General Remmington feels that the Operation is doing its job too well. Because they are doing their job so well, their funding is getting cut and the General knows that a bigger thread will show up eventually, making use of the false sense of security instilled by safety will be humanity’s doom. Because of this he has been tasking his own black ops teams to allow certain monsters of the week to escape their grasp.

So we get the following diagram.

General Remmington himself is a former military man with his own elite guards and lots of protection from the flunkies around him, putting him at a BAD of -4. On top of that he is not only a combat arena challenge, but as the player’s superior he is both a social, research and infiltration challenge. The perfect final boss.

But let’s look at the bottom of the tree. The random monsters of the week that Agent MacKenzie, as the leading man in the Black Agents squad lets loose on hapless citizens, those don’t get any BAD. They are also usually just pure combat challenges, so out-researching or infiltrating them should be easy. Agent MacKenzie, himself a competent agent should at least be a good infiltration and research challenge, especially because he is Zeroed, so a -1 BAD on most things, while Zeroed itself also prevents direct research against him.

We can quickly see the structure coming together. This week I will post several conspyramids, each tying into the different factions in my game, and expanding on the challenges posed by each part of the pyramid!

In conclusion
Now I have my structure, it becomes quickly clear what challenges and encounters I can give my players, and how I can keep everything tied together neatly. I also see clearly how each part of the pyramid ties into the next, and how this results in encounters flowing into each other in different arena's, preventing the players from being locked in eternal combat while I try to figure out which threat to throw at them next. 

1 comment:

  1. You might consider making the top man more BAD than that. For perspective, the typical mook at that level has 10+BAD in his critical stats (say, his Guns skill). I would probably expect the big bad to be more around BAD 5-8. Likewise, deathsquads would probably be more dangerous than BAD 0 (that would give them skill 10).

    This also implies a structure: if the first level is BAD 0, it's more like street gangs, drug-dealers, minor informants, chump change guys... but that also means your heroes are dealing with day-to-day stuff: They're in Dubai, tangling with some minor drug-types when UH OH, something nastier shows up, or it's revealed that someone/something nastier is pulling their strings.

    This might give you a bigger structure if you go BAD 0 to 6, but that also means you can afford to let the players deal with their problems a lot faster.

    Alternatively, you have bigger steps. The first one is BAD 2, then it goes to BAD 4, then to BAD 6, and ends at BAD 8. But they'll need a lot of time to deal with each level before they're good enough to handle BAD 8.