Seven Campaigns I would love to play

In the Danish roleplaying blogosphere, there’s a challenge that’s been going around: which seven roleplaying campaigns would you love to play? It all started with Johs’ post, later followed up by Peter and Oliver. I figured I’d like to give this a shot as well – and so, here are seven campaigns I would love to take part in.

One caveat before we start. I find that I often enjoy the types of roleplaying games – and particularly campaigns – that grow organically out of what happens at the table. That seems to be one of the strengths of systems like Apocalypse World and Spirit of the Century: that the world is very vague until such point that the players start making their characters. This means that there is not one person in charge of creating the world, which in turn can make a much richer world than what the GM can make on his own. Nevertheless, having a strong concept before starting out can help focus the game – so I guess that is what I’ll be setting out here: strong concepts. Some would have to be developed by the GM before the game, others by players and GM in cooperation.

Also, many of these are bound up on particular worlds, taken from comics, computer games, books or similar. Of course, that would merely serve as the starting point for a further development that would likely see the game turn into something quite different.

The Heroes of English Magic

We are currently watching the brilliant BBC series based on Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. I never finished the book – it is rather long – but I am really impressed by the series. It is gripping, funny, beautiful, dramatic, and set in a completely wonderful world, soaked through with a particular idea of magic. I’d love to try to do a game set in that sort of fantasy world.

The game would most likely take place in Britain, because the United Kingdom seems to have the folklore and the culture for that sort of a game. I like that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell is set in Napoleonic England – it confers some wonderful dichotomies between the posh society and the crude masses – not to mention between the rigid, cerebral world of academia and the visceral, chaotic world of superstition, fairies and power. Of course, another version might be to set it in Denmark, and replace the fairies of Clarke’s vision with Giants and Vølver from Danish mythology.

There are two obvious systems to use for such a game. Mage: the Ascension is a system that I have always wanted to do more with. I’m not sure this game would fit that system, though. I might prefer to go with Ars Magica – part of the essence of Strange & Norell is that the magicians spend a lot of time studying and reading, and that seems to be better captured by Ars. I would probably include some form of power gained from experience, as that seems to be part of the difference between the titular characters of Clarke’s story: That Norell has lots of knowledge from books, while Strange learns a lot from his experience in the field.

Alternatively, the game might use some entirely different system. Nine World might be adapted to fit, as might Sorcerer, though I’m not sure Sorcerer supports the kind of game I would want it to be.

Bookhounds of London

I have yet to try Trail of Cthulhu or any of the other GUMSHOE games. Now, the Bookhounds of London setting seems perfect to me. It gives players a great entryway into the occult world of Lovecraftian horror, more than many other Cthulhu games. It also opens for a lot of mundane interaction, and some very human antagonists, trying to prevent the PC’s from getting the books they want. In that sense, there is a lot of good story before you even start getting into the weird stuff.

I think that if I did it, I would want an overarching plot that is light on horrible monsters, and heavy on terrifying mysteries and madness. A plot that slowly graduates from being merely about humans looking for human things, to slowly encompassing more and more otherworldly stuff. There would probably be some weird creatures here and there, but the main stuff would be at the very least something that could be explained away as something mundane.

Magic and Madness

In the world of fantasy literature, Grimdark Fantasy seems to have a high star, with Joe Abercrombie as Exhibit A. Some of this has seeped over into gaming – not least in the form of the game, Darkest Dungeon.

Darkest Dungeon is what Diablo might have been if it was a 2D, party based game where the foes are Cthulhoid instead of demonic, and the heroes aren’t really heroes at all, but a misfit band of expendables. You return to your ancestral mansion to find that it has been taken over by strange and threatening forces. You must gather a party and venture into the darkness in order to gain intelligence and strength, until you are ready to face whatever awaits in the eponymous Darkest Dungeon underneath the mansion.

In the game, you have two kinds of “health”: physical health and mental shock or sanity. Running out of one will kill a character in the short run, but gaining too much of the other will make your character erratic and dangerous to his comrades in the long run. This seems an interesting mechanic, though one that it would require some thought as to how you might capture that in play.

The feel of the game actually reminds me a fair bit of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRPG). It has the same non-heroic character types, with Grave Robbers, Bounty Hunters and Plague Doctors instead of Paladins, Clerics and Mages. It has the same deadliness and insanity, and like Darkest Dungeon, Warhammer centres around the threat from insidious, inhuman, corrupting, maddening Ruinous Powers.

That is of course a prelude to saying that a roleplaying game based on that kind of (grim)dark fantasy could easily be done in WFRPG. I would prefer 2nd edition, but I did like several aspects of 3rd edition – among others, the “party sheet,” welding the characters into something more than just a bunch of random people. Other options would be using a game that’s Powered by the Apocalypse – like Dungeon World (though I’m not that keen on that game) or maybe something like Vincent Baker’s ideas for Apocalypse World Dark Age.

For a setting, I see in front of my mind’s eye a small village, set out in a vast, dark wood. The next nearest city is miles and miles away, and the forests are not safe for lone travellers. Wolves, witches and worse are lurking among the trees, while anyone inside the village might be corrupted by the eldritch forces at work. Players have to alternate between paranoid investigations, village politics and frantic hunts throughout the woods (without any mention of who is hunter and who is hunted).

World of Stars

I have fallen in love with the mechanics of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World, and the host of other games it has spawned. At the same time I’ve been watching a lot of science fiction series of a particular ilk: Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (and Firefly, though it isn’t a completely neat fit). It struck me that the two might make a great match. And thus, the idea of World of Stars (or Star Worlds, or some other name) was born. I have vivid images of a campaign set in some corner of the stars, in which Sisko and Apollo clash over the running of the effort to protect some planet while Ambassador G’kar is hiring Mal and his crew to conduct some clandestine operation. It makes perfect sense for me to write the different character archetypes up as playbooks, and turn the Cylons, the Bajorans, the Alliance, the Reavers, the scheming politicians on earth and the wide assortment of other threats into, well, Threats and Fronts.

This is actually a bit more than an idea for a campaign. To me, one of the brilliant things about all the games that are Powered by the Apocalypse is that “system” and “setting” are so tightly intertwined. These games don’t interchange chapters (or paragraphs) on game mechanics with chapters (or paragraphs) on fictional natural laws, culture or history, such as World of Darkness usually does. Nor is it pure mechanics, like games like GURPS. Instead the two are so tightly linked as to be inseparable.

This is part of what makes the games great, but it is also a challenge: you cannot simply change out the setting and keep the system – if you want to adapt one, you must adapt both. In other words, making the game I’m envisioning means writing my own hack of Apocalypse World. This is by no means beyond me – but it is a bit of a challenging idea. Of course, one of the good things about AW is it’s modular design – it’s fairly easy to swap out parts of the game that I want to change, and see what works.

Night Witches

I’ll be honest, I don’t know that much about Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches, beyond the fact that it is Powered by the Apocalypse, and that it features a band of female, Russian pilots during WWII. It sounds like it could be an intense, action packed and emotional experience, though, and I’d love to try it out. It seems like it would be perfect for a short and intense little campaign of no more than five to ten sessions.

Movers and Shakers

A lot of campaigns are actually very narrowly focused on the player characters themselves. I wouldn’t mind playing something more political, though. I’m thinking of the players as movers and shakers in a society, having access to big resources and to big decisions about the direction of their society. I think I might like to make it something slightly sci-fi, but fantasy could work as well. I think part of my interest in this kind of game started with Birthright. I played a computer game in the setting, and I was quite fascinated with it.

I have a long-time love of Alpha Centauri, the Civ-game about going off to a different world and creating a colony there. I got a GURPS book based on that setting, but I don’t have a lot of love for GURPS, so I would probably do it in some other system. Maybe Fate would do the trick?

Another option would be to set it in Sigil, as part of D&D’s Planescape setting. That would offer loads of opportunities for political intrigue, weird stuff going on and mercenaries from all over creation. Players might be factols (the leaders of the political parties in the setting) or they might be representatives of some company, place or world.

No matter the setting, it would probably be more of an ensemble piece, in which there would be more characters than players, with each player changing between different characters depending on the circumstances. If someone orders a raid on some facility, the whole troupe of players take on the roles of the soldiers running the raid. Someone trying to assassinate another player takes on the role of the assassin, while the victim plays himself. And so on and so forth.

On the Verge

When I was younger, I had a great fascination with TSR’s Alternity system and the settings it spawned. In particular the very elaborate Star*Drive setting, outlining a very complex and interesting space opera setting. I would love to do a campaign in that setting, having the players travel around the Verge (the main area of space for Star*Drive) in some old spaceship, doing odd jobs, trading, and of course uncovering some major plot or happening. I’ve considered having them be part of some military force, but that seems too restricted. I would prefer to have a band of free operatives who can stake out their own claim in the Verge, and make a name for themselves by solving problems for the different governments in the area. There are a couple of variations – the Lighthouse, the big space station slash carrier ship that sails from area to area would be a perfect base of operations for such a game.

Spirit of the Century

I have a great love for Spirit of the Century. I like the feel of it, the ease of creating a story and the way the aspects underline the feel of the game. If I were to do a game of it, though, I would probably work with the players to create some point of departure – a mission, perhaps, or more likely a common resting place where the players can all hang out between adventures.

One of the good things about SotC is the flexibility of it. When I ran a campaign of the game, I would design it based on who was there on any given day. The game has a lot of tools to use in quickly designing a scenario, so that you don’t need a lot of planning. I usually prepared a scenario in about 30 minutes. That also makes it a great kind of campaign for busy people with erratic schedules, because if someone is missing on a given day, you just design a game that doesn’t include them. That probably makes it the most likely game for me to run any time soon.

So, there you have it: seven campaigns I would like to play. There are others, obviously. I would definitely be interesting in playing Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Primetime Adventures, Orpheus, Shadow of Yesterday or a number of other campaigns. The above are seven specific cases I would love to delve into that go beyond playing a plain vanilla version of some system or other.

What would you love to play? Let me know in the comments below


6 responses to this post.

  1. Oooh. Alternity, I’d completely forgotten that system. I bought a few books for it, but never got to play. It seemed like a lot of potential for scifi.


    • Posted by Elias Helfer on June 27, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Alternity is one of my old loves. I thought it emmed with potential. I particularly liked that progression was of skills only. You might end up a better shot, but the same bullet would kill you no matter what. Also, they had a great setup for creating an interesting sci-fi universe.


  2. I’ve never actually played any space opera. I’d love to try it some time. It’s a bit out of my comfort zone, but I enjoy challenging myself 😉

    Also, Spirit of the Century sounds like an awesome system. I would love, love, LOVE to try it some time. Please, do keep that in mind 😛


    • Posted by Elias Helfer on June 27, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      Spirit is an awesome system. Also, it’s perfect for a Round-Robin style of GM’ing – everybody will just create a character, and when you’re the GM, your character is somewhere else – or he’s an npc somehow.

      I’m just now realising that I don’t actually think I’ve ever played much space opera. Hmm, this situation must be rectified!


  3. […] med sit oplæg til syv spændende kampagner, han gerne ville spille, og siden har Peter, Oliver, Elias og Thais budt ind med oplæg – og spørgsmålet er, om Kristian, Thomas og Simon også gør […]


  4. […] At least one of the Danish «7 campaigns» blogs was in English, but this is the only one I could find at the moment (please feel free to link in comments): Elias’ blog Filemonia. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: