Monday, 16 April 2012

Gearing up for Games Expo 2012

Hola! Not much activity here on the blog in the past few weeks, largely because I'm still lurking in South America. I've brought a few games down here to Argentina to amuse the kids, and we've largely been playing O Sole Mio and Guillotine, both firm family favourites and easy to transport, as they're card games. The iPad has come with us, and a number of games have been getting air time on that, including the excellent Battleheart. But enough of that for now, I say. Soon I shall - reluctantly - be returning to European shores, leaving behind the delights of Argentine wine, beef moaning about Las Malvinas.

On to business. This year I'm planning to attend UK Games Expo in Birmingham, and as part of this decided I'd run an RPG there. In my enthusiasm, I pitched three ideas at the organisers, hoping that one might be accepted, but also cautiously suggesting slots for each that would position them as wide apart as possible during the event's schedule - i.e. one on the Friday, one on the Saturday and one on Sunday. Much to my surprise, all three slots were approved and timetabled.

Not to worry, I thought. I'll probably be able to drop one due to lack of interest. As it turns out, one is already fully booked, another has four players on board (out of a maximum on six - a limit I set myself generally as a GM), and one has two. So, the moment I get off the plane I'm going to be feverishly planning my adventures.

So what's on offer?

SLA Industries: Assault on Precinct 130 [Friday slot]

I've played a lot of SLA Industries: much of my roleplaying time in the 1990s was spent playing characters in Mort, the sprawling dystopian capital of the SLA Corp's galactic 'empire'. With my then group it served as a sort of successor to a very successful Shadowrun campaign, and possesses many of the same characteristics as Shadowrun, albeit with a darker tone.

The pre-gen characters for this game will be up to four Shivers (SLA's police force) and a couple of Slops (SLA Operatives, the default character class in the game, essentially the media-friendly mercenaries who go out and solve problems for SLA). The premise is that the Shivers are part of a unit tasked with closing down an old precinct house in a desolate and devastated part of one of SLA's notorious Cannibal sectors. This outpost was little better than a listening post, but cut-backs amongst Mort's finest have forced the Shivers to abandon it.

The team have largely completed their task, removing anything that the armed gangs that roam the sector might find of value (including surplus weapons, ammo, and most of the communications equipment). They need to keep the post operational for another 24 hours at most, before they are picked up and the building is demolished by pre-placed charges. Readers will have recognised the similarity to John Carpenter's classic 1976 film, Assault on Precinct 13.

Right now I've got two people signed up for this, with four slots vacant, so will leave this to last.

Ethan Hawke doing an excellent impression of an SLA shiver...

Savage Worlds: Weird War Two [Saturday slot]

Regular visitors to this blog will also know I'm a big fan of Savage Worlds and a keen WW2 wargamer. I've never run a game in the Weird War Two milieu before, but this offers me the opportunity to plunge some characters into the midst of this setting, using a rules set I'm familiar with. I feel WWW2 games are well-suited to one-shot play, where combatants run into something odd/scary and have to battle to survive, despite being equipped with some fairly serious firepower.

In this case, also being a fan of Band of Brothers, I decided to use the background of the Battle of the Bulge and Hitler's offensive in the Ardennes forest in January 1945. Film buffs will also know about Ken Annakin's 1965 film Battle of the Bulge, which starred Robert Shaw and Henry Fonda, and which also serves as part of the inspiration for this scenario. More particularly Castle Keep (1969), another Bulge movie with Burt Lancaster and Peter Falk, is probably of most relevance to this particular game, which follows a similar theme to Assault on Precinct 160.

The characters are members of an American paratrooper unit send to secure a nearby chateau and use it as an OP (observation post). They are escorting an artillery spotter and a radio operator. Savage World works well with this sort of scenario in a convention game, as it can handle serious firepower and multiple combatants without bogging down. Given that I'm running these games in four hour slots (I think), I don't want to get bogged down with detailed number crunching once bullets start flying.

As with Assault on Precinct 130, I want to explore themes of isolation and paranoia in combination with creeping horror. More on how I plan to structure these in a subsequent post.

A young Peter Falk in 1969's 'Castle Keep'

Battlestar Galactica [Sunday slot]

The final scenario, and the one already sold out, is Battlestar Galactica. Of the three, this is the rules system I'm least familiar with. BG can be a tough milieu for RPG campaigns, because as GM you need to decide early on how far you will deviate from the original plot/setting, and how you will integrate your game into the universe without it becoming too predictable.

Having watched all the series, I've veered towards the gaps in the plot that were left unfilled, in particular the fall of the Twelve Colonies in the original mini-series, and whether there were any other survivors. For example, we know that there was some resistance against the Cylons on Caprica, but what about the other colonies and their deep space outposts? We see some evidence of this in the episode Night 2, in the mini series, which introduces the Ragnar Anchorage, an abandoned colonial armoury.

In my scenario, I'm focusing on the remote Hades sector and an airless moon on the frontiers of colonial space, which is used as a base for a small squadron of Vipers and as a prison for some of the toughest criminals from the Twelve Colonies. Again, an ideal setting for isolation, paranoia, and a sense of creeping dread. The scenario opens as the Cylons begin their assault against the Twelve Colonies.

In terms of the pre-gens for this scenario, I know I will have to have six. I'm thinking of splitting these into three factions: two prisoners, two wardens, and two military personnel, or even trading in one soldier for a lawyer who has come with release papers for his client. I'm going to play on the fact that many participants in the game will be familiar with the series, and use that to stoke up the level of paranoia even further!

BG: exploring themes of imprisonment and identity...

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