Another new EP GM needs advice for campaign

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Nakraal Nakraal's picture
Another new EP GM needs advice for campaign
After several weeks getting attuned to the setting I plan preparing a campaign with possibly 3 good players. I skimmed several "GM advice for new EP campaign" threads and got many tips from them, though I need to place some of my own things for your advice. 1. I read that character creation might have the players create broken chars unless they first play a one-off using pre-gens. I don't like one offs for several reasons. Any tips for players to avoid creating broken characters (like one I spotted saying boost Frey no matter what)? Also is the latest spreadsheet ok to create chars. Do we need to check thoroughly chars for math bugs or are we good to go as soon as they finish the char in the xls? (File is named Eclipse Phase Character Sheet v.95.xls) 2. I want to have the players established in the world but with no "overseer" to guide / tell them what to do, unless they choose someone to do so. I love open-endedness and ethical dilemmas all over. I usually only railroad first couple of sessions in a new campaign, just enough to get it rolling. Even if they eventually align themselves to some faction, this might not be Firewall. I guess this will be ok despite Firewall being the "default" campaign? I have a slight suspicion that a transhuman in an (almost) post scarcity world will have trouble to put himself in trouble unless it's something big ala firewall. So are we in danger that the characters might lack a force to drive them to do "things" unless they are in Firewall? 3. Which EP world concepts should I include in the pregame discussion and which should I leave to gradually introduce in game throughout the sessions? Could a good starting point explaining the world be the environment in the movie Elysium (for like the recent past)? I mean could I say to the players the world in the movie is similar to BF 40-60 in EP (possibly the world when they were kids). After establishing this base concept I work my way up. 4. The following is a crude layout of the initial campaign arc. Feel free to advise to drop things you feel wouldn't work or add others. The idea is to start players as employees or independent associates of a hypercorp. Maybe the first adventure is a typical minor job for said Hypercorp. But then, second job / adventure leads party to a crossroads were the interests of 3 or more factions collide and they may have to choose who to back - if any. I plan to choose the colliding factions based on their motivations (eg the Hypercorp vs Firewall vs Reclaimers, or anarchists funding a revolution etc) I have one more idea but I am not sure it will play good on the table. Prior to the campaign start, maybe even before char generation, have each player play a solo mini-adventure involving his background and faction, mostly in regards to the Fall, how the upheaval affect them and how they acted. Thinking of avoiding having the players roll for anything during those solos, rather being short stories solely driven by their actions Eg Refugees form a Triad in the habitat of the original colonist turning his life upside down, the Fall evacuee must survive a hell to actually escape a crumbling earth etc 5. A couple of other considerations: Consider a faction which aims to bring instability and chaos in the world whenever order seems to prevail. Something like a great "equalizer" (Inspired by "the Agent of Chaos"), how would such a faction work with the setting? Skimming the forum I got the impression Mars is the best place for groups new to EP. Considering that we are experienced group, and our forte is intrigue - political brawling based campaigns, is there a better option?
DivineWrath DivineWrath's picture
Making effective characters
Making effective characters is a whole topic in of itself. Especially when you have a point buy system. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition had character classes built in such a way that it controlled how a character progressed. Each level gave hit points, attack bonuses, save bonuses, skill points, spells, etc, and did so in such a way that it was difficult to make a broken character (unless that was your goal all along). There was some customization, but not a whole lot. In point buy systems, you have a lot of freedom to spend points in whatever way you want, even in ways that makes broken characters. It can be hard to know how to build a character if you are playing for the first time. A. It helps to design your characters together. At the very least it makes it possible for the group to figure out who is the face (people skills), the tech guy, the healer, the fighter, etc. Getting 2 or 3 characters of the same role makes things weird as it makes it difficult for characters to stand out, or explain why they are important when you have other characters with the same role. If need be, you could make an effort to further distinguish them. For instance, 3 tech characters can be made distinct by making one the hacker, one that builds stuff, and maybe one who grew up on the streets and thus knows a little bit about crime. Its hard to avoid this problem if the group isn't made together and its hard to know if someone has picked up useful skills like pilot or seekers. B. Specialize a little. Don't over specialize. A tech character should have high ranks in a few tech skills. Not too many as every rank beyond 60 costs double. You could potentially buy another 60 skill for the price it costs to bring a skill from 60 to 80. Its alright to have a number of your job skills at 60, especially if they aren't used as much as your 80 skills. Don't expect to know every skill in your field. A scientist character isn't going to get 80 or even 60 in every science skill. Don't be afraid to skip some skills. Opt for skills that offer the group options. You don't need to cover every skill if you've already given you group 1 or 2 options. C. Figure out what are the group skills are. Or idle skills. When the hacker is trying to break into a computer system, does the fighter have something to do? Does it help with the current objective (like break into a computer system) or is the fighter cleaning his weapons? This being the future, its unlikely that the fighter character has never used a computer before (he should have one in his head called mesh inserts). Does he know skills to help the hacker? Does he know skills that helps the group and the mission? This being the future, it shouldn't be strange that the fighter knows some technical skills like building weapons, or how to build a combat synthmorph. A good test is to look at the character sheets and ask other players "When character x does y, what might your character do?". In most games, characters tend to know how to fight. In this game, it means that characters should have at least 1 ranged weapon skill and fray. Combat is a situation where adding more people with guns can have a major impact on who wins. D. Characters aren't one trick ponies. A hacker might know how to drive a vehicle or pilot a shuttle. A fighter might know some medical skills. The face might know how steal something when someone is distracted. Don't be afraid to break the mold. In fact, breaking the mold might be why they were hired instead of some other character. A character that can only do one thing is going to be idle when they can't do that one thing. A character that can do multiple things is going to be called to do something more frequently, and might even be the reason why they do one thing instead of something else. A hacker who can pilot a shuttle might be why your group is trying to sneak aboard a station with combat morphs they already have instead of farcasting over and trying to figure out how to get combat morphs there. E. Gear is useful. Don't get attached to your gear. Even morphs are considered gear. Have a hacker character with infosec of 80, get a Menton and use the COG boost to push it to 90. Want to climb walls, go for days without sleep, orbe a war machine? There are options for that. You can die but be brought back life in a world where your morph was destroyed. You might have to buy a new one. You can have your ego transmitted to another habitat, forcing you to leave your gear and morph behind. You should know how gear can be used to improve your character, and what you can do without it. Your skills, your software, and your rep/credits can go with you to places that your gear can not.
Trappedinwikipedia Trappedinwikipedia's picture
Nakraal wrote:1. I read that
Nakraal wrote:
1. I read that character creation might have the players create broken chars unless they first play a one-off using pre-gens. I don't like one offs for several reasons. Any tips for players to avoid creating broken characters (like one I spotted saying boost Frey no matter what)? Also is the latest spreadsheet ok to create chars. Do we need to check thoroughly chars for math bugs or are we good to go as soon as they finish the char in the xls? (File is named Eclipse Phase Character Sheet v.95.xls)
Broken characters are most easily avoided by using the package based character creation system from Transhuman. It can be hard to tell which skills are really important in the big list without playing the game, so often fairly useful skills like Scrounging and Protocol get get skipped. This method is also faster for new players, which makes it a lot easier to do character creation as a group, which is helpful. The excel file should be pretty free of math errors, but checking isn't a bad idea. It is a little out of date though, so some useful implants and gear won't be in it. (Pretty much every character building software has this problem right now).
Nakraal wrote:
2. I want to have the players established in the world but with no "overseer" to guide / tell them what to do, unless they choose someone to do so. I love open-endedness and ethical dilemmas all over. I usually only railroad first couple of sessions in a new campaign, just enough to get it rolling. Even if they eventually align themselves to some faction, this might not be Firewall. I guess this will be ok despite Firewall being the "default" campaign? I have a slight suspicion that a transhuman in an (almost) post scarcity world will have trouble to put himself in trouble unless it's something big ala firewall. So are we in danger that the characters might lack a force to drive them to do "things" unless they are in Firewall?
It's very easy to not play Firewall games, so that shouldn't be a problem. Between motivations, and the fact that EP isn't totally post scarcity there should be stuff for the party to do. That said, depending on what characters people make, you might have a game which is very different from a "normal" RPG party of, basically violent ne'er do wells. As a GM, I think its a very good idea to limit the scope of a campaign for Eclipse Phase, as there are a *ton* of options for making characters, so if you just throw the players at the setting, you'll likely get a party which really doesn't make sense together. Something like "You're a freelance intelligence contracting microcorp", "You're detectives for the NQPD", or "You're a team of gatecrashers" helps to define the focus of the game. Firewall is nice because people from everywhere can work together, but its not the only organization where that's true. The Transhuman Character creator makes some character concepts harder to do, so you might want to take what kind of character creation method into account for that.
Nakraal wrote:
3. Which EP world concepts should I include in the pregame discussion and which should I leave to gradually introduce in game throughout the sessions? Could a good starting point explaining the world be the environment in the movie Elysium (for like the recent past)? I mean could I say to the players the world in the movie is similar to BF 40-60 in EP (possibly the world when they were kids). After establishing this base concept I work my way up.
Elysium is a decent touchstone for the past, but what the world was like 50-70 years ago isn't the most important stuff to cover, as so much has changed. For explaining the setting, I'd pick a location for the game to start, and start by explaining The Fall, and how it effected that place specifically. So if you were starting on Mars, start with the fall, and move to the creation of the TQZ, the massive influx of infugees, the importance of terraforming and infrastructure for the exploding population. Mars had ~5 million people on it pre fall, and now has ~200 million, so that's the dominant theme. Detail other places as important for backstories, like Scum Swarms for people who are placing Scum characters, or similar. Work out from there, but use The Fall and the starting location for the game as a base.
Nakraal wrote:
4. The following is a crude layout of the initial campaign arc. Feel free to advise to drop things you feel wouldn't work or add others. The idea is to start players as employees or independent associates of a hypercorp. Maybe the first adventure is a typical minor job for said Hypercorp. But then, second job / adventure leads party to a crossroads were the interests of 3 or more factions collide and they may have to choose who to back - if any. I plan to choose the colliding factions based on their motivations (eg the Hypercorp vs Firewall vs Reclaimers, or anarchists funding a revolution etc) I have one more idea but I am not sure it will play good on the table. Prior to the campaign start, maybe even before char generation, have each player play a solo mini-adventure involving his background and faction, mostly in regards to the Fall, how the upheaval affect them and how they acted. Thinking of avoiding having the players roll for anything during those solos, rather being short stories solely driven by their actions Eg Refugees form a Triad in the habitat of the original colonist turning his life upside down, the Fall evacuee must survive a hell to actually escape a crumbling earth etc
For the outline, what kind of hypercorp are you thinking? Might matter for how things go down. There's not a whole lot to dissect here though (yet). In general, the pacing for an EP game should have less combat in it than say, D&D. Combat is pretty brutal in EP, thanks to the death spiral, and high-profile so it'll bring complications. Don't use it for filler, make sure each fight is there for a reason, or the likelyhood of a big derail or (temporarly) TPK goes up a lot.
Nakraal wrote:
5. A couple of other considerations: Consider a faction which aims to bring instability and chaos in the world whenever order seems to prevail. Something like a great "equalizer" (Inspired by "the Agent of Chaos"), how would such a faction work with the setting? Skimming the forum I got the impression Mars is the best place for groups new to EP. Considering that we are experienced group, and our forte is intrigue - political brawling based campaigns, is there a better option?
There's (terrorist) organizations which in practice operate similarly (Green Dawn). Without some serious backing, I'm not sure how long an indiscriminate organization like that would last. Most conspiracies have some serious backing, either from factions which support them (like Anarchist saboteurs supported by anarchist habs), or some serious secret backing, like Firewall's or OZMA's. I can't see a lot of people supporting a group with a "mess up everything" ethos, given how recently the apocalypse happened, and how fragile transhumanity is. So they'd need some kind of serious backing. Operationally, there's a lot of ways to really mess up a hab, as there's no biosphere anywhere people usually live. Sink an Aerostat. Transgenic fungus which eats life support equipment. Indiscriminate dissembler swarms in populated places. Basement nuclear enrichment. There's a lot of ways technology allows ill intent to manifest, and a lot of ways to stop it. For political brawling most of the EP setting would work, depending on exactly what you want. Mars is good because it runs closest to a lot of easier to grok sci-fi, being basically cyberpunk at its core. That's why it gets recommended so much. It is an intrigue heavy area, with a lot of actors. Venus is good as well because there's a lot of political maneuvering happening there, both internally as a new faction blooms, and externally, as the hypercorps and oligarchs of Venus and Mars trade soft-power blows. Mars or Venus would probably be best for a new group which wants intrigue. They both have it, but both places are less Transhuman-weird than say intrigue on Locus or Titan.
Nakraal Nakraal's picture
Wow, you both got me a bit
Wow, you both got me a bit terrified abt char creation. Maybe we must play a one-off after all. Regarding the hypercorp the pcs will be affiliated with I was thinking abt Cognite. Could the pcs be heads of "a freelance intelligence contracting microcorp", unaffiliated with a Hypercorp (and doing jobs for whomever hires them)? I was under the impression that each HC would have their own "free agents". Our games even in fantasy DnD have less combat than average. Our DnD fantasy games were in Birthright were the players had domain rulers as chars. Most of the sessions had to do with diplomacy, backchanneling and intrigues. Sometimes there would be 3-4 sessions without an initiative roll. Having said that research isn't their forte. They like it as long as it is a secondary thing, like combat. They prefer to influence/affect the world they interact with rather than discovering a series of hints leading them to the solution of a mystery. A terrorist faction with circumstantial minor support from third parties was what I was thinking about the Chaos Agency thing. And yes the moment they would hit big the rest of the world should hunt them, this is just about what I was planning to have.
Trappedinwikipedia Trappedinwikipedia's picture
I think a one-off, even just
I think a one-off, even just a super quick one is worth it. That, or allow people to remake their characters. I find that people's first characters tend to have weird skills, or just not really make sense in the world. It's not a huge problem, but figuring out how the system actually plays is nice. Character creation can be really complicated, or just getting a lot of skills. It kinda depends on what the character is. I've actually made characters even recently, which had some issues. I think Eclipse Phase is a good fit for a group which plays like that, I've had some games where combat was similarly infrequent.
Jetpack Jetpack's picture
I think it's a good idea in
I think it's a good idea in any game with skills to allow a "re-roll" once the player gets a feel for the game. If the player says that their character should have known a skill after the first couple of sessions, allow a point move to that skill.
DivineWrath DivineWrath's picture
Sorry about making you
Sorry about making you terrified about character creation. I like details so I offered details. Like mentioned above, you should allow players to make some changes to their characters once they get a chance to know them better. Maybe after once after the first session and again after 5 sessions. Whatever seems fair and reasonable.
Nakraal Nakraal's picture
I always let players make
I always let players make small changes after during first couple of sessions in any kind of campaign, even if they know the system well. I guess I must be more generous this time. Maybe something in the lines of 150 pts allowance for each one to realocate within 5 first sessions in combination with carefull pre-game char visualization will do the trick.
Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
I have a different solution
I have a different solution to this same issue, but it takes a little bit of note keeping on the DM's end. See, I always have something on hand to take notes on whenever I DM, and one of the things I make a point of doing is noting character skills as they use them. Until a character uses a skill, I genuinely don't care what's on their character sheet. I make it a point to my players that the moment you use a skill is also the moment it's 'confirmed' in character creation terms. Basically means if the skill's not on my notes, they can chop and change it however they like until they're happy with the skills. The moment it's used however, that's final, cannot change it after that point.
MrWigggles MrWigggles's picture
EP, is my favorite game to
EP, is my favorite game to run. Its also a very large game to run. Mechanically, nothing is that hard to figure out really. It goes back to rolling 2d10s. But the space of actions, that are happening around the players is kinda of big. It also requires a different mode of thinking too. A lot of scams, and tradecraft stuff that works in other games, doesnt in EP, because its much harder to isolate someone from correct information. Like, I was listening to an AP from RagNerdRok, and they were on a luxury submarine in the ocean on Ceres. And they were running a scam on the captain about the engine room. They were verbally trying to convince him. The gm either forgot or lamented, and let the scam work. But the Captain could pulled up real time data on the engine, could send an IM to the head engineer on duty, both of those actions are trivial, and would render the scam moot.