So last night, the new I Love the Corps campaign began.
Once again, this is presented as a sci-fi/horror TV series, but one that is represented in the style of a found footage documentary series. I very much wanted to show how I could set this campaign apart from the previous weekly campaign, despite having a majority of the same players and one new players, so the documentary style is a significant part of that. It is very much the kind of concept I probably wouldn’t have done with a fresh new group; the very particular style requires a group of players that really dive into the role play and love to do non-typical games, which definitely covers my current Thursday group. In retrospect, it is the kind of game that is PERFECT for a new group, because the particular concept is so familiar to people, they can throw themselves right in. I find the most unusual role playing game premises are the most memorable.
Horror with Humour, and no actual horror…
This game was definitely a lot more light-hearted in its opening episode than the previous campaign (though Cold Frontier had plenty of comedy moments). I think a lot of people think you can’t have comedy with horror, and I think is especially applies to horror role-playing games. I very much disagree with that. I always try and start one-shots with a bit of light-heartedness, as it derails the players perceptions, allowing you to catch the players off-guard more when the actual horror comes.
Yesterday’s game didn’t feature any horror at all. Yes, there were certainly some odd moments and teases for weirder stuff to come, but nothing horrific. In a horror game. But, I Love the Corps is a military action sci-fi horror game, and all the other elements were in there. I don’t think horror can be rushed. The advantage of a campaign, is you can have games entirely without horror if you want to, and that is fine. Last night’s game was the first game, the means of introducing a new host of characters. I have started campaigns with the shit hitting the fan almost instantly, and I find it is much harder to get established characters that way, and therefore to get your players vested in the game. So, in last night’s game, there was no horror, and no action other than a brief obstacle course (a two Beat Action Scene) at the end. And the players got a massive kick out of it. (And it wasn’t long either, just an hour and a half). They already seem to love each others characters, and the Friendlies they are saddled with.
“You see, Chris, what makes you evil is you give us hope.”
I now know, if any of them get dragged off into the darkness or suddenly decapitated, that horror will have such a greater effect… you see, nearly all RPGs are horribly violent. Players are usually no stranger to death, and character death in particular. Yet seeing someone die SHOULD be a moment of horror. But, in any other game, it is hard to make players other than the owner of a character truly feel a death. The key, is to make the players fall in love with the character’s first. I feel in Cold Frontier, I did this pretty well, but, not necessarily with the player characters. And though there were many Friendlies the players were fond of that were brutally dispatched, there was such a huge cast, so it was difficult to create a universal love. So this time, there is a smaller cast of principle Friendlies (5, which was going to be 3, but I needed to make 2 marines due to squad requirements that need filling, ie: a handler for one character, and a squad leader), and 3 of those are (largely) non-combat documentary crew, so HOPEFULLY there will be much more of a focus on player characters and how other players connect to them.
Highlighting Character Development and Background
I think a lot of role playing games get lost in hack and slash or their setting equivalent, or being all about mystery solving/social politics or just having “HERE IS A SANDBOX, GO!” and can often lose all sense of story. Meanwhile, I Love the Corps has story, scene and beat as rules terms. There is no escaping that. But, you could still get lost in action and plot and yet lose the most important part of any story; the principle characters. ESPECIALLY when what you’re doing is at least partially horror, where you don’t want any character to feel entirely safe. So, you need to make sure, as a GM, that each of your characters seems fleshed out and important, so if they DO go, that loss is felt. That doesn’t mean the character needs to be likeable in character… but you’ll find the assholes are beloved out of character, if you help that player get it right. So how do you make players not just feel vested in their characters, but each other?
In Cold Frontier, I made sure each player, if not each character, had at least one ‘pre-credit scene’, and made sure each of them had a secret to their background. This made players genuinely excited when someone got a pre-credit scene, as they were about to learn something exciting or horrible. This then allowed me to ensure that that episode had some degree of focus on that character. It gave that player a feeling of importance… and also some fear, once of the players worked out that characters often died after having one of these scenes (which wasn’t consistent or by design, but I let them have the fear, regardless).
I still felt, however, that players weren’t always taking advantage of situations that could have advanced their characters and the story more. What was the problem? Each character was shining in isolation, but they didn’t really gel together. Out of character, the group really bonded, but in character… well the game started with a Sergeant who was loved OOC for his ill thought idiocy, and a pariah IC, and two of the first six characters weren’t even marines. And the most beloved marine died early. And soon enough, I ran out of actual marines. So, despite the player’s love of the game, there is still a lot of improvement to be made. But then, this was my first long-form campaign to be completed with the system, so there is no knocking myself here. Just a constant quest of self-improvement.
- Firstly, as already discussed, amping up of ‘the fun’ to make people fall in love with each others characters. The documentary approached has helped with that in a ton of ways. It is something exciting and new, an unusual approach, and the players dig that. In a world where it is still acceptable to start your D&D game in a tavern and go to a dungeon to simply kill and steal, a wholly different feel that goes beyond system and genre is always appreciated.
- The documentary style allows for personal interviews. This means players get their equivalent of ‘pre-credits scenes’, but these scenes are a lot smaller, give less away (more about implication), but a lot more constant (dotted throughout the game) and give so much more about a character in a continual way… whilst also making the players laugh. “I’m have nothing against cyborgs… some of my best friends are cyborgs.”
- Giving power to the players: it wouldn’t be a military documentary of there wasn’t a guided tour of the base, right? This could have been tricky, as I was playing the Sarge. That’s a lot of the GM talking at the players. Screw that! The Sarge did what a Sarge might do… passed the menial job to his Corporal. This caught the player off-guard a little… being asked to show characters under the control of the GM a base that the GM hasn’t described… but he dove into it, and loved every moment. He thought of all the generic stuff the base would have, made it fun in the way he showed people round, and then paused to allow me to add in the specifics. It had everyone in stitches, made the players feel empowered and made sure each other character had their moment during the tour. I then had the Sarge takeover to fill in some specifics I needed to lay down. Success.
- Action at the end: everybody had already a good feel of their characters… and then, a chance to show what they might be like when the bullets fly. A non-lethal, competitive situation… and increased bonding! Next episode, they launch into some proper action, with me feeling confident that if something horrible is even implied, the players will get much more of a damn.
We’ll see how it goes.