This is a continuation of my initial post about Campaign Inspiration – Part 1 – What it is.
Part of the reason I wanted to really push myself and write regularly on this blog was to get myself moving on a long-term goal I’ve had – make progress my science fiction game and get it past the initial draft stage of creation.
As most projects, the focus, mechanics, and flavor have all evolved over time, and at this point its mutated a bit beyond what I originally imagined and felt was right. As a result, one of my biggest issues is answering a simple and yet fundamental question about the game.
What do you do in the game?
Seven words, but frankly the answer can make or break a game. Or rather, not having a specific answer can break a game.
So I’m going to utilize my campaign/game inspo I’ve written up to help myself examine what protagonists do in my sources of inspiration and how I can apply it to my own game. It’s a long list yet certainly not exhaustive, and I imagine cutting it down a bit before the game would ever get published. Still, I think it’s a good example of a starting point for inspo, and I hope if you look over the list, you would get a feel for what I’m trying to communicate.
FILM AND TELEVISION
The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, specifically The Holy Mountain and El Topo.
Star Wars – all of it. Yes, even those bits.
The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky.
The HBOMax TV series Raised by Wolves.
The Alien film franchise and offshoots.
The Exo-Squad cartoon series.
Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Reboot).
Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The collected works of David Lynch.
The Mass Effect series.
The various flavors of Warhammer.
Dread from The Impossible Dream.
BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS
Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen novel series and companion novels.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Dune by Frank Herbert.
The BLAME! Manga series.
Phew! That’s quite a bit, but from this list, if I had to pull a couple of the most important influences to summarize the feel of a campaign, I would say it’s this:
Take Twin Peaks, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Star Wars and throw them in a blender.
So what do the protagonists (note: NOT the “good guys” but the actual protagonists) of these stories do?
Well in Twin Peaks you’ve got a murder mystery (and of course much, much more), but you’ve got various law enforcement coming together to try to solve an impossible mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. Is my game about law enforcement and murder mystery? I would say not. Twin Peaks is certainly more of a flavor/setting influence than a story influence. The protagonists of Twin Peaks are navigating a world where there is so much going on beneath the surface it can be tough to make sense of everything. They’re haunted by ghosts of ideas, and this certainly speaks to me, just not as an answer to the above question.
Okay, what about Neon Genesis Evangelion? The protagonists in this story on the surface level are trying to stop the end of the world (so to speak) by utilizing giant suits of armor to fight “angels” that are after something that can spark the end of the world. Beneath that, I would argue that the characters are trying to find meaning and belonging – something they can actually latch onto in their lives. Both of these aspects speak to me pretty strongly when I’m thinking about my own game, so we’re definitely getting closer.
In Star Wars, well, we all know what Star Wars is about, right? It’s about communists over-throwing a fascist imperial/colonizing dictatorship! I don’t hate this at all when I’m thinking about my own game either.
Part of my setting is that the equivalent to a fascist imperial/colonizing dictatorship just fell – think of the very ending of Return of the Jedi after, spoilers!, the Emperor dies on the second Death Star. What was left over? Dozens if not hundreds of massive warships, a huge leviathan but with its head – the Emperor – cut off.
I don’t want any ambiguity for my game – you’re not going to be playing as the destroyed empire, you’re playing as the other side. You’re not bounty hunters (or at least not just bounty hunters) – you’ve got some investment in this rebellious force that won this huge victory, effectively everything they’ve been working toward for years, but it’s only the start.
At the same time my setting is full of these large monolithic creatures – dead corpses of space gods floating in fixed points in space that are one of the major reasons FTL travel is even possible in this setting – they act as beacons for ships traveling great distances.
One of them finally wakes up at the exact moment of the death of the head of the evil empire, and what does that mean for the future of the galaxy?
Perhaps that’s one of the answers to the big question? Maybe part of what the protagonists do in the game is explore the nature of these dead space gods, these cosmic horror creatures that are starting to wake up. At the same time they’re working to establish a new order of the galaxy – one not based on the tyranny of a centralized fascist governmental body but through mutual cooperation to the benefit of all?
At the risk of going too much further and making this post too long for anyone to read, I hope this illustrates how useful it can be to the GM to try to understand the focus on their side of things. It’s a bit like Principles of a Powered by the Apocalypse game. When trying to decide which way to go – fall back on your inspo and think what would make sense in that kind of a story.