Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ten Years Later (a.k.a. Back In The Saddle)

I've talked before about the Deathwatch game that I run every other week on Saturdays. Currently the game is on a small hiatus. One of the players is running a 3-4 session short and giving me time to plan out where I want my game to go from where it is. In game, there is going to be a 10 year skip where the players have spent much of the time in stasis due to wounds, corruption, and suspicion acquired in their final battle (which was fairly epic if I do say so myself.) I've found the prep, which I just started to finalize and put down on paper/computer is taking my head in some interesting directions. Today, I want to talk about that.

Fresh Eyes
While a 3-4 session hiatus may not sound long to some of you, when the game is every other week that is effectively a 2 month break from the game. This break is being extended a bit as well because we have missed a couple of sessions due to events out of our control (missing players, big events happening at the FLGS we play at, etc.) In a very good ways though this has given my brain a chance to recharge. When you are planning for a game regularly, you can get bogged down in the short term. You start to forget about things like theme and feel and worry about the details like mechanics, crunch, and mission parameters. This break, as well as being able to play in a Deathwatch game, and my own exposure to some other 40k (and other space opera stuff) and I feel like I have a fresh perspective on the game. It has me excited for the game again. Not that I ever didn't enjoy the game, but that "new game" excitement or even "mid-campaign" excitement is rare enough that I'm excited to be excited. Who doesn't do their best work when they're excited to see the results?

Lessons Learned
The other thing the hiatus is giving me is a chance to go over the lessons I've learned about the system and the game. I've begun to identify some of the things in the game I don't like - both in my GMing and execution of aspects of the game - and things that I want to see more of. More to the point, I've learned a lot about the system and how it works. It's been long enough since I looked through it that I should read through again, but at the same time there are some new approaches to things I want to - and plan to - take to use the system I have in ways that fit my game. You learn a lot over the course of a year running a game, even when you only run it every other week. This break is actually giving me a chance to look it over as a whole and decide where and what I want to make changes to. Hopefully this will give me a better handle on things, and let the players express their characters as the individuals they've grown into.

A Shift in Focus
One of the big lessons I've learned, and one of the things I think I failed at in the previous runnings of the game, is where my focus was. Now, part of this failure is because of the size of the game. It has fluctuated wildly since the beginning. At one point we were up to 8 or 9 players (not counting me) and currently we're down to 5, with one of the players more of a .5 since he has to run the store we play at. Character wise the game also got big. Due to the nature of Deathwatch and me wanting to focus on the large scale battles and missions - along with the needs for making teams and the number of players - I allowed for backup PCs to be present and occasionally go on missions to earn XP. This left me with a cast of nearly 14-15 PCs, of which 5-8 would be active at any one point.  The game worked, kind of, but I think we can do better.

To do this, I am capitalizing on two things. One is how the last mission ended (almost everyone died/got scattered to the void.) The second is that by the time my game starts up one of the players will be leaving the area and likely to not be a part of the game again. I'm sad to see the player go, but it helps give me a chance at something the game may need. With the player gone, I will be down to 3 regular players and one player who is only sometimes able to be at the table due to work/the store. I would like to use this (the players will have to vote) to narrow and refine the focus of the game onto those 4 players primary characters. Those characters are heroes. More to the point, they're heroes that have proven themselves time and time again...and then they vanished. Ten years later, the battlefield where much of their fame comes from is a very different place. I'd like to use that to focus on them as people as well as warriors, and keep the game with a more personal focus even while still doing the action.

Back To The Roots/Bold New Directions
One of the things you see a lot of creators say when they are rebooting a beloved franchise/thing is that they want to "bring [it] back to its roots while taking it in a bold new direction." I often joke that this is slang for "you'll barely recognize it." Which makes it amusing that in a large part this is exactly what my goal is for my Deathwatch. I want to go back down to the roots of what Deathwatch is supposed to be about: a Kill Team and the bonds of brotherhood that are formed between the members of this highly lethal and motivated death machine. However, I also want to take my game in new directions. I want the focus to be on the individuals and what they can do more on the events going on around them. I want to focus on their heroics and deeds and have those matter rather than have it be "just another thing that happened." Frankly, that last part is all too easy to have happen in the 40k universe and I want to try and address that. Mostly though, I want to get my focus back on telling stories that have combat/action rather than running action/combats that may have stories.

I think I can do it. I think my players will be on board for it too. Hopefully it will work. As it stands I've got another month or so before I get the reins to the group back. That gives me plenty of time to get some planning done, go over the books again for ideas, and refine down what I want to do with the game down to a narrow and fine point. If you have advice on ways to approach this I'd love to hear it.

Also, as a preview, since I am currently planning major changes in two of the three games i run, it is likely that I'll be posting about "rebuilding your world" this week. Hopefully it will be helpful.


  1. Just started reading the Horus Heresy novels (I know, bit late, but I've just finished the Ciaphas Cain books, and needed a change), and they really did make me think that it's possible to run a game of eight foot tall demi-gods and it could still be about characterization. In the past I've always looked at them as being so above humanity and its problems that they come across as bland, almost automaton like beings.

    It was this thought that lead me down the Imperial Guard route when i was thinking about running a W40k RPG (Review of the play test thingy here: http://shortymonster.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/eleventh-hour-an-only-war-play-test/ ) as they do have more human problems. well done to the Horus writing team for changing my mind a bit though.

  2. Yeah, humanizing space marines can be very tough. Luckily for me at this point in the game the players are around rank 5-6 as space marines and their actions have put them at a level above. I feel safe now in treating it as a more epic level campaign and giving them that almost god like reverance you sometimes see. I am interested in seeing how they react to it.