Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Slow Burn (out)

This weekend, our Firefly RPG resumes with its next episode. Though I know the direction I want to take the campaign, I'm having a hard time fitting it right into the flow of things. We've established this lighter, action-adventure tone with most of the episodes so far, and I'm wanting to take the series into a more epic, dramatic direction. I'm not sure if I can pull it off, though.

Frankly, even if I can pull it off, I'm not super-excited about it. Overall I'm finding myself starting to get a little stifled with Firefly. It'll be time to move on soon. Honestly I look more forward to hanging out with my friends than actually playing the game. Still, my naturally-dark tendencies are beginning to besiege me. I'm feeling the urge to return to Call of Cthulhu, or some kind of zombie game, or something.

Once Firefly concludes, that might be my last stab at long-term campaign play. It's just not what I do. Short-term, open-ended games...from one-shots to about four or five my thing. This is disappointing, of course, because many games are built for much longer commitments, but my gaming ADD is way too severe. I'd much rather have an exciting, fun series of one-shots than a campaign that sputters and dies. Part of how I've even kept Firefly going for so long is in all the "gimimcks" I've been using each episode, tricking my brain into thinking we're playing a different game every session. And now that my ideas are circling the drain, so too is my motivation.

I do have a couple of ideas to fight this, if I ever want to give the long game another try. One is to try out a "sandbox" style RPG, a game designed to more-or-less follow the players' whimsy, rather than being pushed forward by me. I just recently picked up Stars Without Number, an incredible little sci-fi sandbox game (though I'm actually more excited about its post-apocalyptic spinoff, Other Dust). My concern with this has always been an inability to control momentum. I realize as a GM that it is my responsibility to control momentum, but that's much easier to do when the entire adventure/campaign is of my own design. I remember my failed attempt at a Fate Core sandbox urban fantasy campaign. We spent an entire afternoon, collaboratively designing the characters and every aspect of the world. By the time it was all done, we had a pretty impressive setting...and absolutely no friggin' idea what to do with it!

Games of a more collaborative nature are another idea. Stuff like Apocalypse/Dungeon World, or Hillfolk. Games where the story is formed through play, with the players. I'm less optimistic about this approach, as this is basically what I'm doing now with Firefly, but maybe with a change of scenery and a different attitude, it'd work?

I've also thought about "open" campaigns. This has been my default idea in the past. It's never panned out, but it's such a good idea, in theory. In an "open" campaign, the game and the characters are designed in such a way that the game can be played whenever. Each adventure is its own, closed-off session, with little carrying over to the next one. Shadowrun and Mouse Guard are two games that do this by their design alone. Theoretically, you can do a Shadowrun mission, complete it, and come back a year later with the same characters and play without missing a step. Like I said, this idea has never panned out however; my suspicion is, without any compelling motivation to return to the game, the game never gets returned to.

I've also thought about long-term adventure campaigns. Stuff like Masks of Nyarlathotep, which I was all prepared to run before the separation and then never went back to. I figure, once the whole adventure/campaign has been studied, all I need to do is follow it, and be ready to wing it as necessary in-session. This is the most appealing option, but it comes at a strong cost: prep. Lots of it. Ironically more prep than an adventure made from scratch, I've found, as I find the need to read all the material and have it organized and ready for play. This was a problem I ran into in the early stages of planning for Masks; above and beyond all else, reading that entire 200-page adventure was important, and having it all fresh in my head to jump around if the players don't follow the "default" plan was daunting.

So, that's what's going on in my brain at the moment. If you are one of the cast members of Firefly, worry not; the show WILL continue!

Unless, you know, you all are getting tired of it, too. Then, you know, we can talk. Because I can totally do something else...

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