Balancing Game Prep Approaches With Campaign Creation
  • Balancing Game Prep Approaches With Campaign Creation



    Just about anything can spark a campaign idea in my brain. Over the last few weeks I have been talking about approaching GMing and game prep. As someone who primarily GMs, and as many of you who GM probably have the same troubles, I am usually have more ideas for campaigns than I will actually even need. One of the nice side effects of social media is that I can post these things that I know that I will never be able to use, and either spark some interesting discussions or maybe give some other people some ideas for games that they can then run for their own groups. It ends up being a win/win situation and these ideas don't end up stewing away in the back of my head, or in a notebook, to end up eventually fading away to be replaced by something else.

    I have said a few times that a lot of my ideas come from the comics that I read. I read a lot of comics in a number of formats: monthly floppies, trade collections and original graphic novels, and digital formats. I probably never have some form of a comic book more than a couple of feet away from me most of the time.


    On a recent trip to the main branch of the local public library, I picked up a handful of comics trades to read before I go to Gen Con next week. Among them were the trades for the DC Comics published Gotham By Midnight comic. In case you don't know, this was a short-lived horror comic from a couple of years ago that featured a special police precinct in Gotham City that dealt with weird, occult crimes in the city. The head of this group of misfit cops and sundry specialists was the character of Jim Corrigan, secretly the magical hero The Spectre (one of the older characters published by DC Comics that is still bouncing around the comics). If you haven't read this comic, it is really good and I suggest it to comic fans.

    The idea of the comic is a combination of a police story (it isn't quite a procedural because it glosses over much of the nuts and bolts of police procedures and techniques) with a horror story, as Gotham City is dealing with the encroachment of a revenge-based occult creature. Part of the drama of the story comes from the interaction of The Spectre with this creature, since The Spectre is a creature drive by vengeance. Will the vengeance-driven magical creature side with the revenge-driven magical creature? Will the special police force have to figure out how to protect the city from it's own protector?

    Of course, as I read through the trade collections I thought, this could be a role-playing campaign.


    My first step was to figure out what is important to me about the setting. The setting is horror, but the police element is more important than a super-hero one. For a pitch, I would probably describe it as a horror game that is "Law And Order meets The Wire." The setting is very much a front line sort of setting, where you would play beat cops, Detectives, perhaps lawyers, and maybe a Medical Examiner or some sort of specialist hired by the precinct. Honestly, there are a lot of games that can handle this sort of thing, but I would lean on a horror game because it would probably end up with less backend work making up creatures and the like. A Fate hack could easily handle this, but Gumshoe games like Trail of Cthulhu or Esoterrorists (which reminds me that I need to pick up Esoterrorists in print while I'm at Gen Con next week) would probably have better direct support for a game that features law enforcement.

    I am leaning more towards the Delta Green Role-Playing Game, however. I know that the Agent's Handbook is the only book currently available for the game, but since I have all of the existing supplements for the earlier version of the setting and the Malleus Monstroum (perhaps my favorite bestiary for any role-playing game) creature book for 6th edition Call of Cthulhu give me the creatures that I would need. Why Delta Green? Well, while the game is geared towards playing a conspiracy of U.S. federal agents that are facing against Lovecraftian horrors, there are very similar skillsets between an FBI agent and a more experienced big city police detective, particularly in this age of terror scares and heightened security issues.

    Despite using the Delta Green rules, and material from the Call of Cthulhu game, I wouldn't make this into just a game of Lovecraftian horror. The Gotham By Midnight comic also featured antagonists that were murderous spirits, as well as more Biblical-based evils in addition to the cosmic horrors that officers faced. One of the important things about using Delta Green is the fact that characters are facing such overwhelming odds, odds against which they might not even succeed all the time, and games like this are designed with the idea of characters facing overwhelming, and often horrific, odds as a central part of the system.

    While my choice would be to use Delta Green, choosing between this game and something like Trail of Cthulhu ultimately depends upon what elements of the story will be important to the ongoing campaign. Both of these systems cover much of the same sort of ground, and if you want investigation to be an important part of the game, then a Gumshoe game might better fit your needs. I don't see this as an investigative heavy kind of game, mostly because the "bad guys" of the Gotham By Midnight setting tended to be a lot more proactive than you usually see in any sort of source material. This would mean that the bad guys tend to either 1) take the fight directly to the characters or, 2) do things in a big, scary and very noticeable way (which means that the characters don't have to figure out what is going to happen next, because it will be obvious when it happens).

    There is a lot of moving parts to something like this, and it would take some rules creation on my part. The professions for police-based characters are limited in the Delta Green Agent's Handbook, so it would require coming up with a couple of new professions for the game. While this isn't exactly low prep, it is something that sometimes ends up being a part of the GM's job. When you're adapting a setting to a game you like, there aren't always all of the pieces of the puzzle that you will need. That means creating the missing pieces if you want to use that system.

    It also means that game prep isn't always a simple answer. As a GM you weigh the needs of the game against the time and creative constraints that you might have. Of course, there is also always the option of farming out some of the houserules creation to the players. If they like this sort of thing, it can make a player more engaging in the game if they know that they're partially responsible for creating it. None of the games that I mention in this article explicitly talk about spreading the work of rules/setting creation among the play group, but that also doesn't mean that you can't do it. If the player in question knows more about the subject and can create more nuanced material than you can? That's all the better for the campaign in the long term.

    So what is your approach to adapting a setting you've encountered in comics or books or movies to your home role-playing campaign?
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Ghost2020 -
      I do a similar type of exercise.
      It usually breaks down into three categories for me.
      1) What games do i own that would translate well for this in style and tone?
      2) What type of prep am i looking at? (home rules, characters/NPCs, etc)
      3) Do i currently own the supplements needed to run the game?

      The game in question that you're writing about I would use GURPS, either 3rd or 4th edition. Since I'm not well versed on the nuances of 4th edition, i would resort to 3rd edition. Thus fewer conversions necessary between editions and most likely it's a shorter campaign. I would use GURPS Cops and GURPS Horror (the last two versions for the 3rd ed set) for sure, GURPS Spirits for special magic and any rules regarding mediums and there are several monster books to help fill in the gaps. If i wanted to play up a more heroic angle, some of the supernatural or more exotic abilities would come into play.

      If I wanted to play use the Palladium system I would go to Nightbane immediately. This would take a different turn as the players would play 'normals' or at least mostly normals with minor psychic powers.

      Great article!
      I agree, comics are a huge source of inspiration.
    1. Toriel -
      Very interesting article. I would really like to see some follow-ups or even an actual play account of that campaign.
    Comments Leave Comment