“We’re done. We’re ready for whatever…”

That was said to me by some of my players last session.

Maybe not verbatim but definitely that meaning.  They were done doing stuff and were ready for whatever I had in store.

This really disheartened me.  And in some ways it confused me.

During my last post I talked about how they finished the first quest and they were free to roam the Koronus Expanse.  And I was really excited about this because it means I didn’t have to railroad them.  I didn’t have to explicitly control what they do.

I wanted them to feel slightly underpowered in the beginning.  I gave each of them a boon (kinda like a wish) and they each got some totally bitching archeotech (analogous to magical items) equipment.  So now they are powerful, they are much richer, with a spaceship that they had to work together to protect.

It also meant that I could slow down the missions and take more time to write them since my players have the option of fucking off around the Koronus Expanse.  I prepared a lot of star systems to explore so that there were real things they could encounter.

I wrote missions and populated a job board for them with options.  Quests they could take to represent people coming to the party and looking for explorers to hire.

I prepared a lot for the first session of freedom in the Expanse.  We sat down and I presented them with their badass equipment.  I was eager to see what they wanted to do.  After most of an hour they all sort of just looked at me.

“We’re ready for whatever.”

I-

What?

You can do whatever you want?  I’m taking my hands of the wheel for the first time.  Does no one have anything they want to do?  I think in the moment my façade broke and my exasperation showed.  Not a single player in seven had something they wanted to pursue.  The players talk a lot but I was hoping this was the moment that character building moments and events could take place.

After I prompted them they finally decided on a mission.  But I’ve been thinking about that moment all week.

Maybe the issue is that the world is too big?  The ‘blue sky’ problem definitely comes up.  When someone comes up to you and says, “You can do whatever you want!” you get far more intimidated and stumped than when someone says, “Choose A or B.”

A bit of it must be that the people aren’t familiar with the Universe.  And there isn’t shit I can do about that.  The lore is all available but I’m not going to demand that they read it all.

Also the fact that its a sci-fi universe is more difficult as well.  Dungeons and Dragons should just be called “Familiar and Safe Tolkien Fantasy Tropes.”  Its way easier to function in DnD campaign because its much smaller in scope.  A sci fi universe typically involves spaceships and galaxies.  You don’t have magic to rely on, you have to get clever with your thinking and how you use technology.

Part of the opening missions was teaching them about the various things that can be done.  How to information gather, negotiate, evaluate stuff.  I was hoping that would carry over but maybe they thought the only reason we were doing this was for a specific events.  I suppose I can still be explicit about what needs to be done but I want to put currency back in the players hands by pitting them against interesting challenges.  If I write the challenge and then prompt them on how to beat it its less satisfying for them.

I think in my effort to teach everyone first and let them free second I’ve accidentally set up a standard of “you don’t need to do anything because its all preordained.”

On another level I think that some of the players aren’t really fully invested.  No one asked me to run a campaign because they wanted one.  I decided to run one and asked who wanted to play.  And that distinction is important.

Ellis is going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5.0 campaign and some players seem to be much more excited.  They are really diving into the rule books and looking at how their character is going to develop.  This is a campaign that people asked Ellis to do, so they are far more excited.

This isn’t a bad thing but I think my Rogue Trader campaign isn’t necessarily a huge deal.  Saturdays (when we play) isn’t necessarily “we play Rogue Trader on Saturdays” as much as it is “we all hang out on Saturday and play Rogue Trader.”  It seems the same when its written but the difference is that for some of my players they don’t care if we play or not.  Hanging out is what we do on Saturdays.  They don’t look forward to playing Rogue Trader, they look forward to hanging out.

Hell, one of my players brought board games to play when he came to session on Saturday “in case we didn’t play.”

In the end we have fun and that’s what I prioritize.  I have fun and I think most of my players do.  Their personal engagement might not align with mine but in a group of seven players its probably hard for all of them to be on the same page.  Writing for Rogue Trader has been a fun and unique challenge.  Learning to manage my players and expectations will just be a new challenge.

And don’t get me wrong, some of my players get really invested in certain scenarios and that’s so much fun for me to write for.  Its a mixed bag but hopefully with time everything will be sculpted into a deep, rich campaign.

I just wasn’t ready for, “We’re done.  We’re ready for whatever…”

-DTM

 

 

 

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Flee to the Koronus Expanse

Rogue Trader is an RPG system set in the 40k Universe.  The primary setting is the Koronus Expanse; a vast region of space beyond the Halo Stars.  It sits behind two great Warp storms: the Screaming Vortex and the Void Dancer’s Roil.  The gap between the two is known at the Maw.  What makes the Koronus Expanse the primary place setting is that until recently it had been lost.

Faster than light travel involves entering an alternate dimension known as the Immaterium, more commonly known as the Warp.  A realm made of emotion made manifest and an infinite number of daemons.

The route through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse was re-discovered within the last two or so hundred years.  It’s an entire segmentum of the galaxy with hundreds of millions of planets for the taking.  The players play as a party of explorers under the helm of a person known as a Rogue Trader.  A Rogue Trader has been granted the right to represent and claim planets and territories in the name of the God-Emperor of  humanity.

So go explore and have fun!

So naturally I did not start my group in the Koronus Expanse.  I started them in the Calixis Sector.  I have seven players and five of them have never played Rogue Trader, it’s a brand new d10 system they need to learn, and the classes do not translate straight across to fantasy (i.e.  there is no designated ‘tank’ or ‘healer).

I wanted to start my party in the Calixis Sector because its a much easier place to introduce the world.  It’s a part of the galaxy under the influence of the Imperium of Man.  I never liked the “you all meet serendipitously” method of starting a campaign- so I like to start them in a “you’ve all been hired for X” plan.

Writing the ‘Opening Mission’ was the most difficult thing I’ve written by far.  Mostly because I wanted to introduce almost all of the mechanics of the game to them.  Combat, Space combat, interaction challenges, exploration challenges, covert ops challenges, space travel, warp travel, investigation, purchasing personal things, outfitting the ship, entering and exiting port, etc…

So I wrote an escort mission.  My players began on the Hive World (industrial/labor planets) of Gunpoint and they commandeered a ship that was provided for them and they set off.  A lot more happens in between missions but the short hand goes like thus:

The players were assembled on the planet Gunpoint.  They were briefed: they had to go to a penal planet of Sheol XVII.  They needed to escape Gunpoint, however, because there were armed men hunting them.  They were promptly ambushed but managed to escape.  Once upon their ship they fled the planet.  The first mate aboard the ship was named Havoc, and he explained a little more of the situation.  They made their way to Sheol XVII.  Having duped a pair of ‘police’ ships, they got inside the planets perimeter.  They picked up a man named Killian Rage.  Havoc and Killian Rage go way back, having known each other for several decades.

Killian explained that Sarvus Trask, a prominent Rogue Trader, was hunting him.  Sarvus betrayed Killian; he used him as a scapegoat for a political deal and had him imprisoned as a sign of good faith.  So now Killian Rage is attempting to return to the Koronus Expanse and Sarvus is trying to stop him.

Once they escape Sheol XVII they go to the feral world Endrite to raid a facility belonging to Trask.  They successfully make it planetside, make their way on foot to the facility, and raid it for all of the supplies.  Unfortunately though, the supplies that were supposed to outfit their ship were merely cleaning chemicals.

They then went to Thical, a prominent hive world near the Maw.  They went to fence the stolen goods but they were met with a counter proposal from their agent: retrieve my stolen valuable thing and I’ll pay you well.  The players expertly infiltrated the facility and found the relic, but had to chase the men down to retrieve it.  They returned it to the agent who paid them and re-supplied their ship.

As they were about to leave Thical Sarvus Trask found them.  In the final days of the re-supply he encountered and captured Havoc in the city.  Amassing a fighting force, he appeared suddenly, murdered Havoc in front of them, and stormed the players ship on the dock.  It was a fight for their ship and their freedom.  It also turned out that their one time ally had been paid to turn on them and dealt a serious blow to the ship.  During the battle several players were critically wounded including Killian Rage who had his left arm completely chopped off.

They escaped after repulsing Sarvus Trask and fled to Port Wander, the final stop this side of the Maw.  On Wander they got their ship re-supplied, hired a new crew, and fixed their broken components.  Once ready, they plunged through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse.  Port Footfall is the stop on the far side of the Maw.  Once on port, Killian introduces them to his old flames father, Zulfikar Raheem, who pays them handsomely.

And then Killian leaves, unsure whether he’ll ever see the party again.

So a lot of this mission was a “connect the dots” sort of mission that allowed me to teach my players the various components of being alive and in the 40k universe.  A lot of this was just me being like, “Hey, this could be totally cool.”

But a small portion of the missions were me reconciling my last campaign that was a failure because I had never GM’ed before.  My first campaign as GM was fun but it got super duper turbo derailed because I didn’t understand how to tell the story.

Killian Rage was an NPC pirate lord in my first campaign.  For me, and I think for my players, he was one of the popular elements in the campaign.  So I began having him show up just to keep interest high and to give them a “Team Rocket” sort of half-antagonist.  He was eventually killed by the party.

Killian Rage represents me in the campaign they are currently playing in.  I gave him no voice, I made him very Mary Sue, and he didn’t talk much but he always knew or had just what the party needed (because I am the GM).  His plan to get them to the Koronus Expanse was a representation of my first campaign and how it goes terribly wrong.  Killian assumed it would be really easy since he knows everything he needs to but doesn’t consider that others will act in ways he can’t predict.  My players behaved in ways I didn’t predict.

Sarvus Trask kills his blood brother Havoc in front of him and Killian becomes ‘disarmed.’  He literally lost his left arm when Sarvus Trask cut it off, a nod to my loss of control from the first campaign, and his brother  Havoc was killed in front of him, a nod to Killian dying in the first campaign.  And when Killian lost Havoc he was lost without him- a feeling I felt when Killian was killed in the first campaign.

So the ‘Opening Mission’ ends with Killian introducing the party to Zulfikar Raheem.  Zulfikar agrees to pay the party when he learns that Killian lost Havoc.  Zulfikar had a daughter once, but she fell in love with Killian and left with him to go on adventures.  She never returned, and Zulfikar blames Killian for her absence.

So when Killian returns asking for a favor (that he knows he has no right to ask) Zulfikar only grants that favor when he learns that Killian is experiencing the same grief that he is.  He pays them, but as a mockery to Killian.  As Killian is leaving the facility, unsure of his future in the Koronus Expanse, he dons Havoc’s blood stained cloak and leaves.

The mockery and departure of Killian, and generous payment to the players, is a reminder to myself that this campaign is happening because of the mistakes I made in the first one. I learned from my experience and here we are now.  My first one was a confused mess but it makes me a better GM for my players now.

My players are here, they’ve earned their wings, and now I don’t need to escort them anymore.  

I feel like this campaign is already way better than the first.  For instance, people actually liked Killian as an NPC.  I even had an instance of a player conversing with him in character.  That last session where they make it to Footfall and Killian leaves- I have been told was a really good session by a few and in one instance a players favorite they’ve ever been in.

That makes me smile to think about.  I think I have a lot of room to grow as a GM in this campaign and I look forward to it.  So yeah, I feel better about this campaign.  Especially now where we get to the point where its really easy to lose control.  But I’m ready.

And don’t worry.

Killian will be back.  Eventually.

-DTM