Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Behind The GM Screen] Campaign Planning: This Time It's Personal

A new academic year has begun and I finding myself getting ready to run a new campaign at GUGS. This time I'll be running the new Firefly RPG from Margaret Weiss Productions, but I'm going to be taking a different approach to my planning for this campaign.

With last year's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign, I started out with a main arc in mind and then tried to weave the characters' backstories into that arc. While that campaign wasn't a total disaster, I do think this was a mistake in retrospect. I was too focused on developing the central arc and not focused enough on the characters themselves.

Re-watching Firefly and Cowboy Bebop recently has reminded me of an important aspect of storytelling: characters should drive the story, not the other way around (and that is even more true in roleplaying). In both shows, the main arcs are tied to the characters' backstories rather than being some external event or force that arbitrarily intrudes in their lives. The main arc of Cowboy Bebop comes from Spike's history with the Syndicate, and the main arc of Firefly comes both from Mal's animosity toward the Alliance following the war, as well as Simon's rescue of River.

How does this affect how I'm going to run Firefly differently from my Doctor Who campaign? This time round, I'm not going to construct a main arc in advance. I'm going to determine the general themes for the 'series' at the character creation session and then let the players make up characters accordingly. From there, I'll take the characters they've created and build up story arcs for each, with perhaps one or more of their arcs intersecting in much the same way as Simon's arc forced Mal into new confrontations with the Alliance.

The Ashen Stars RPG had a really neat method for building up character arcs for each PC which I'm considering applying to Firefly. I can't recall the specifics (I still need to redownload the PDF and my hard copy of Ashen Stars is currently packed away in a box miles from here), but I believe it had the players themselves suggest three possible story hooks for future episodes involving their arc. Of course, that assumes the players are comfortable contributing their ideas in this way. Some players will be, but others are much more comfortable just leaving it to the GM to come up with arcs for their characters. Still, can't hurt to offer the option, right?

The other method I was thinking of using was assigning 'screen presence' in the same way as is done in Primetime Adventures, as a way of working out whose spotlight episodes will occur at which point in the campaign. Assuming (as the Firefly RPG corebook does) that each session works out as an individual 'episode', I can run a minimum of 14-16 episodes, maybe even a full 'season' of 22 episodes if I'm lucky. I won't go into detail on how the 'screen presence' in PTA works, but I should be able to address each character's arc at least twice over the course of the campaign, with the most prominent arcs featuring a bit more as a central arc for the campaign (much like Spike and Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, or Simon and River's flight from the Alliance throughout Firefly). And who knows, depending on what everyones' plans are for next summer, or how I'm feeling about things by this time next year, I might continue it for a second season.

So I don't have a plan for the campaign yet, but I know what I'm going to do about forming one. Hopefully it'll work out better than my 'The Doctor is missing' arc for the Doctor Who RPG did.

This week we're wrapping up the taster oneshot sessions, so I won't be doing character creation for the Firefly campaign until October 7th. I'll be back after that with an update on the kind of characters my players have come up with, and what kind of series we're thinking of creating together.

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