The big post-mortem on the Noises in the Dark campaign setting seems to have been relatively well-received, and I’ve been in search of subjects to talk about, so I’m going to make that campaign A Thing here in Octopus Carnival. I’ll post a few more specific descriptions of my setup and play reports for the actual field missions!
This will break up the blog’s so far relentless stream of fantasy posts with some modern articles, and give me something to write about that’s easier to do than coming up with stats for Dragon’s Dogma Bestiary monsters. After all, everything that’s here already happened. I’m not sure I can post the GURPS stats I made up for the Dreams of Ruin monsters or their environmental effects, but pretty much everything else should be fair game. If you really want to see those stats then throw some money in Mr. Grabowski’s direction so the material can be freed earlier!
In this post I’ll try to expand a bit on the basic setup for the X-COM side of the campaign, since that part is all me.
Step One: Recruitment
This was a forum-based game on RPG.net, so the first thing I did was to put up a recruitment thread. I laid out the basic premise of the game: it’s GURPS X-COM, with soldier PCs and occasional “strategic” interludes where the players themselves made decisions for the organization. Prospective players should post character concepts, and I would choose which ones would fill the group.
Recruitment was not on a first-come, first-served basis, as I had been burned in the past by doing that and ending up with one or more severely disrupting players. The lot I got from this round of recruitment was pretty nice, though!
Two of them would end up bailing out from the game before their first in-character post, but I wasn’t too upset with that - it’s pretty much the cost of doing business in forum games. I always recruit a number of players slightly higher than what I think I can easily handle for this reason.
Obviously if you’re planning on replicating this campaign in a face to face game, you wouldn’t have this issue.
Step Two: Choose Your Destiny
Once the initial group of players had been locked down, I presented them with a series of decisions that would shape the campaign to come.
Choose Your Enemy
As stated in the post-mortem, this was a choice between the original alien enemies of the X-COM games, and the Dreams of Ruin. There isn’t much to say about the former, as they weren’t chosen and I never developed them beyond this initial concept.
Choosing the Dreams meant that the initial incidents X-COM was created to investigate had more to do with traditional horror stories about fairies and witches than they did with classic UFO mythology. Strange things silhouetted against the moon, people vanishing into the woods, and a particularly notable incident where all the medical drugs stored in a hospital in Cologne went bad at once for no readily apparent reason.
Choose your Leaders
In response to this, a group of 36 nations founded the Council and pooled their resources to form X-COM. The idea behind the Council is nice: the nations of Earth gather together to repel a global threat! The reality is a little darker, as despite all delegates theoretically having the same amount of decision power, the richer members contribute with more money and see themselves as entitled to more influence. The ruling elites of each country also simply cannot resist using this clandestine military and intelligence organization to handle private issues that have little to do with aliens.
These negative tendencies are greatly amplified by having the Dreams of Ruin as the Enemy, since one of their main effects is to amplify negative emotions in their affected area. From the start I planned to have the corruption in the Council nations to play an important role in the story.
There were fierce debates among the Council members over who would be its commanding officer. Sure, they all wanted someone who could get the job done, but they were also looking out for the interests of their specific nations. Finally it came down to two choices:
The first was “Mr. Fox”, an American with a long list of shady black ops in his curriculum, in places like the Middle East and the Balkans. He actually went missing for years to get away from all that stuff, and they only managed to bring him back because the fate of the world literally depended on it. He’s pretty much a Big Boss expy. He has a reputation of taking good care of his men, recruiting the best and giving them top of the line training. The downside is that a lot of Council members don’t like him very much, and he has no time to spare sucking up to them.
The second was “Mr. Smiley”, a well-connected member of the British intelligence community. He brings from that line of business the idea that human assets are expendable if it means the success of the mission. As such, his agents are individually less well-trained than Fox’s would be, but there are more of them. And his connections mean the Council loves him, in no small part because he promises to look out for several of its member nations’ private interests. He is, of course, a George Smiley expy.
In game terms, the players were given the chance to vote for one of the two candidates. Choosing Fox meant the PCs would be built on 250 points, and would get extensive drone and robot support once that became available in the tech tree. It also meant that X-COM would eventually have a nasty falling out with the Council, due to his inability to stay on good terms with them by playing along with the corruption present there. As they would still be the only ones with any real chance against the threat, they would be forced to go rogue.
Choosing Smiley meant that the PCs would be built on 150 points, and would be part of a larger unit with several other NPCs. The opposition wouldn’t get any weaker, which meant that unit would almost certainly face significant casualties when it fought the aliens. Some of their missions wouldn’t involve aliens at all, but would instead be about doing dirty jobs for one member nation or another. This X-COM would be very well-funded, but less effective at combating the Dreams. The “big falling out” here would ideally be between the PCs and the organization.
Whatever commander they chose would lead X-COM, and the other would vanish from the game… or so the players thought. The commander they didn’t choose would go on to form a rogue organization that would make an appearance later. Yes, this would be a version of EXALT from the 2012 computer game. Or rather, X-ALT. The hyphens are important!
They chose Mr. Fox, which meant Mr. Smiley went into the cold to form his black ops squad in the service of those corrupt special interests in the Council nations. This makes X-ALT a “bad guy” faction.
Choose Your Science
The players were similarly given three choices of Lead Scientist for X-COM: Dr. Moira Vahlen, Dr. Raymond Shen, and Dr. Yuri Sokolov.
The first two were taken straight from the 2012 computer game. Here, Vahlen is a German doctor and particularly skilled in the biological sciences. Shen is a Chinese engineer and skilled in robotics. Sokolov, the original character, is a Russian and also a doctor, but his main area of interest is paranormal research - no one alive knows more about all those weird Soviet psychic research programs than him.
Any of the three would be equally adept at leading X-COM’s research efforts, and their different areas of expertise translated into different “free” starting technologies as the new lead scientist used the organization’s resources to turn their previous research into something useful in fighting aliens. Vahlen would give them advanced medkits; Shen would give them flying scout drones.
They chose Sokolov, who was a bit of a special case. He spends that time convincing his colleagues that he’s not a useless crackpot, so there’s no bonus tech… but he turns out to be just perfect for leading research into Alien Crazy, which in this case means magic.
Unlike the choice of commander, all three scientists are part of the team regardless, along with a number of other nameless NPCs - this is just to decide who calls the shots.
Step Three: Hurry Up and Wait
With all the choices made, X-COM installed itself in its brand new underground base in the remodeled Cheyenne Mountain complex, and began scanning the skies for the alien menace… only to find nothing for a whole month. At the end of that month something remarkable happened, but I’ll leave that for the next post on this subject. Stay tuned!