Monday, December 10, 2012

Quick Example: Camelot 3000


For those of you not familiar with it Camelot 3000 was a mid-80’s DC comic book series that makes an excellent example of the sort of short campaign I’ll be doing here. And since I just reread the series, and since this blog is in part an attempt to purge vicious mindworms, here is a quick write up of how this would transfer to a game.

*Prospectus Pitch*
It is the year 3000 and the Earth is being invaded by aliens who have massive technological superiority. England is one of their first landing sites and, in response to the classic prophecy, Arthur Pendragon is rising to protect his land in its time of greatest need, rallying his reincarnated knights to England’s and Earth’s defense! This is a short, 6 session campaign for 3-5 players with each player having a primary and secondary PC. The Primary PCs are Arthur and key knights who also have positions of authority in their reincarnated selves. The secondary PCs can be selected reincarnates from any of the other round table knights who act as back up but have smaller story arcs. Expect sex and tear filled romance triangles and science fiction swordfights.

*The Character Base*
The PCs fall into four distinct types – of the main PCs we have one that is unchanged in personality since the original saga (Arthur), two that have a blending of 31st century personality and reincarnated personas (Gwen and Lance, both of whom hold important social positions in the 31st century) and one that is purely 31st century (Tom, the squire).

Arthur is clearly a Schwarzschild in that he is the key hero and his presence drives the game. While we could play his lack of familiarity with the 31st century for laughs his natural wisdom lets him acclimate very quickly, since it doesn’t do to laugh at the king.

Gwen and Lance are the head of the UN air forces and the richest man in the world, respectively, and therefore have a lot of pre-reincarnation clout. In addition the two of them, plus Arthur, make up the love triangle that should, in theory drive a lot of the plot.

Tom, Arthur’s 31st century squire and the young man who awoke him in Glastonbury Tor, is a special snowflake – he is not a reincarnated knight and doesn’t fit the initial campaign premise. He is also the campaign’s New Jersey who has to internalize the rules of knighthood and has the greatest character arc in terms of skill. This helps to minimize his special snowflake status as it gives him a clear growth arc and prevents him from claiming too much screen time.

Originally I had wondered if Merlin was also a PC, but basically he character shows up, tells the knights what to do and then vanishes again. Midway through the series he is captured by the enemy and Arthur has to start making his own decisions. That sounds like an NPC to me.

There are five other grail knights, and in order of plot importance (from smallest to greatest) they are Gawain (Hook: he’s a family man who wants to get home), Galahad (Hook: he’s a samurai who just failed his master and is driven by honor), Kay (Hook: he’s a con artist who manipulates the other knights), Percival (Hook: he’s been turned into a Neo-Man, one of the mute, brutish super-strong beings who act as foot soldiers of state security) and Tristan (Hook: he’s been reincarnated as a woman, and has his male persona take over in the middle of her wedding ceremony).

Of these Gawain is clearly the least important but Kay is the one who performs the unenviable jobs of keeping the other knights focused by being a dick to them and eventually betraying the knights to the enemy in a failed attempt to goose them into action. Unless you have a dynamic player group these sorts of steps are usually performed by NPCs, so we’ll keep him there. The other PC to player breakout – based on who has scenes with whom, is as follows

Player 1: Arthur &Percival
Player 2: Lancelot & Tristan
Player 3: Gwen & Gawain
Player 4: Tom & Galahad

Here is how the game SHOULD be broken out in a 6 session game:
Session 1: Introduce the 4 principle PCs, with Tom waking Arthur, then Arthur waking Merlin, then Merlin working the magic that wakes the other knights (once they see any of Merlin’s knight-talismans). Merlin arranges for Arthur to pull the sword from the stone on worldwide TV, then they wake the other two PCs. The Lancelot/Gwen/Arthur subplot starts.

Session 2:  the four PCs (and Merlin) split up and everyone gets a few minutes in the spotlight as they recruit someone else’s secondary. The love triangle continues, while Tom tires to talk Lance out of things and starts learning knightly skills. Merlin warns Arthur of an attack on new Camelot by ostensibly UN forces who turn out to be shape-shifted aliens, evidence that some parts of the UN are in cahoots with the aliens. Everyone gets a chance to show off their combat skills. Merlin reveals Morgan Le Fay leads the aliens.

Session 3: Arthur and Gwen’s marriage spreads hope to the beleaguered world, only to be interrupted by an assassination attempt. Arthur and Lance have to find a way to save Gwen’s life (in the book Lance’s laying on hands trick does it, but that’s not predetermined to my mind and the PCs might find another solution). The secondary PCs and Tom confront he assassin, where hopefully Tom proves his worth (he does). Kay sets himself up as the irritant that unites the rest of the secondary PCs.

Session 4: Merlin says he is turning his attentions to Morgan and the PCs are on their own to plan. The PCs free a bunch of Neo-Men to use as soldiers, which brings them again into conflict with alien troops. The romance sub-plot continues as Lance and Gwen have another tryst; Arthur banishes them(not that it sticks). One of the knights breaks into Merlin’s chambers and shatters his anti-Nyneve charm. Nyneve returns, dominates the wizard and spirits him away as Merlin wars the Pcs to start wearing their talismans. There is a brief mystery as to the guilt party until Kay is identified. Kay’s execution is interrupted by an alien attack, and he gets to redeem himself by saving someone’s life. This is a more dangerous attack and people can start to lose PCs. (In the book Tom is seriously wounded by radiation from a blaster, prompting the heroes to start questing for the grail, which as a GM might have floored me or been completely predicable, I’m not sure which… but at least I have until next session to figure out how to handle it.)

Session 5: The PCs put on the charms from session and suddenly the bad guys can’t scry on them anymore. They split into two groups, with one set searching for the grail and the other stealing a space ship to reach Le Feys’ planet (out past Neptune). The Grail searchers find the grail, overcome the guardian’s tests, save the wounded PCs and possibly have one PC ascend into heaven. The most righteous of the remaining knights is named grail guardian, but alien troops working for the UN mole (who is revealed to be Mordred) steal it in a blatant dick move by the GM.  The other PC team steals the ship, powers with Excalibur and heads to le Fey’s planet.

Now, if it were me I’d figure the two groups would stay separated, with Arthur and the space group tying to defeat Morgan in space with the others trying to defeat Mordred on earth and recover the grail for a pair of linked climaxes. The PCs pull a fast one – Lancelot brings the grail-searchers to the lady of the lake and begs passage through her magical waters to the waters of Le Fey’s planet, reuniting the PCs. So the GM has Morgan and Mordred teleport to her planet so the whole endgame takes place there. My read is that in a game group this would be another lovely bit of player initiative, and as such is rewarded with working, even if it does kind of minimize the other group.

Session 6: Endgame – the PCs are able to make common cause with the aliens that aren’t under Le Fey’s dominion – something only the female PCs can do, giving them a special moment –  and make their final climactic, it’s the last session and I can kill all the PCs I want fight to defeat Morgan and Mordred, recover the grail and rescue Merlin. The origins of last session GM dick move are revealed when we discover that Mordred has forged the grail into a suit of armor that makes its wearer immortal, so the whole sword-fighting thing is tricky. The heroes likely succeed and save the Earth, with the survivors being teleported home by Merlin to lead the rebuilding.

This is a little bit of a railroad but it follows a clear pattern – the first couple session are pretty scripted with introducing the PCs and the setting. The next session is less so as the players decide how to approach their problems with some NPC advice. In the fourth session the NPC advisors/GM mouthpieces remove themselves from play, the enemies lose their predicative advantages and we have the back half of the campaign where the players have all the initiative, as long as their paths eventually take them into conflict with Morgan on Planet Ten, where they learn the secrets of the aliens and have a climactic fight. It’s not a bad campaign design for a short game where everyone knows that the goal is to save the world in six sessions.

The fascinating bit about the comic book is that it has a serious Schwarzschild in Sir Tristan: the idea of a male knight reincarnated in a female body – especially the knight best known for his epic romance with Isolde – is such a cool idea that it warps the rest of the story around it. Tristan becomes the knight being tempted by Morgan and the red herring making a mystery of Sir Kay’s betrayal; she becomes part of a love triangle with Isolde (who is unknowingly working for Mordred) and Tom; as a physical female she horns in on Gwen’s GM created ‘meet the queen of the aliens’ plot; her jilted fiancé becomes the leader of the UN forces attack in session 2, the assassin in session 3 and a major threat in Morgan’s castle in session 6. The character just sucks up screen time. At least some of it is shared with Tom’s romance plot and Gwen trying to get Tristan to accept that being a woman isn’t that bad, but it does leave poor Arthur as a bit player in his own book sometimes.

Technically Tristan is not a special snowflake – the PC creation rules just said reincarnated knight, and she is that. The same is true for Percival the Neo-Man, but his condition doesn’t warp the campaign nearly as much. Let this be a warning and a lesson to GMs about what a powerful Schwarzschild can do!