Friday, October 28, 2016

Musings on Network Campaigns

I've been working on the "Of Cultists and Unspeakable Horrors" genre document which is a setting within the MEST :: Mythos genre. IIRC, it is the first setting that Aggro and myself played using his "Of Werewolves and Tesla Coils" setting nearly six years ago. That's where I started in this hobby.


Include here is a link to my Google Drive with what I've got thus far for the campaign book. The instructions on page i and page ii identify the basic flow of how to use the campaign book. This post continues from the Character Progression entry from last week.

There are several Campaign structures available to MEST. Each structure type has its advantages and disadvantages and as a result they should be applied according to the genre or setting. For example, the Mythos campaign use the Network Campaign structure. Here are the various structure types. In all the versions, the idea of character progression exists, but it is a feature attached to the campaign rules itself and not core. This means that the campaign rules could be used without the need to use the Champions rules.
  • Free-form Campaigns. This is standard and is what most tabletop skirmish miniatures game resort to; its completely ad hoc. Play a Mission. Play another Mission. No prior Mission affects the current Mission. This is the simplest campaign structure with zero cognitive load; it's a "no-brainer".
  • Exploration Campaigns. This is for the Zombies / Survivalist genre. I'll create another blog entry showing what I've got going thus far and link it back from here. It's really just a bunch of linked Missions like the Free-form Campaigns. But, it will have a layer of instructions for inventory control and time management in order to create tension. A variation of this would be what I'd use for the Dungeon of Death genre book; a bunch of dungeon bashing Missions connected by visits to Ye Olde Shoppe for supplies. Maybe also for Retropocalypse but where it could Vault explorations instead of, like, dungeons. It would be a tribute to the Fallout Shelter game.
  • Influence Campaigns. This is the next in line for complexity. Imagine that a series of Missions as fought in Free-form Campaigns has the additional rule that whichever Faction was the Winner in the prior Mission receives a bonus in the current Mission. That's what Influence is, and the bonus is known as Elan. Influence Campaigns are a bit more varied and use a network graph displaying Locations with Connection lines going between them. Winning at one Location will provide an award at any other Location connected by those lines. 
  • Network Campaigns. This is a step above the Influence Campaigns because it introduces different types of Locations and Connections. Each Location may also identify via icons for Resources, and bonuses for specific Factions which are fighting the Mission there.  Some Locations will have Gates that require that some other Location or icon be fought first. Winning the Mission at the Location awards the Resources which provide long-term benefits. As before, having a Controlled Location will award Elan to be spent at the connected Locations fought. With this arrangement of features, the Influence Campaigns lend to creating a sort of unfolding storyline.
  • Map Campaigns. This is for the Victorian Sci-fi stuff. It is a deeper work-in-progress; trying to simplify. I've been working on this for quite a while now and I think that visually it looks really awesome but the added features though nice make this more of a strategy game. High cognitive load but lots of flexibility. Ideal for regimented play for 2-5 players.

Features of Network Campaigns

As mentioned before, for the Mythos campaign in the "Of Cultists and Unspeakable Horrors" setting, I'm building out the instruction set for Network Campaigns. There are 5 campaigns identified within the campaign book.

The General features of the campaign are as follows:
  1. Each campaign has a variable number of Missions from 3-6 and one that is 5-9. 
  2. The players decide how they'll pursue each Mission within the campaigns. 
  3. Basically the Campaign Attacker (there's an Campaign Initiative phase I don't identify here) picks a Location to Resolve. The Mission is fought at the place.
  4. Except for the first Mission, each Mission has an Interim Period of 0-2 Weeks on the calendar since the last Mission in the Campaign. This is decided by vote from the players.
  5. The Week decides such factors as Moon Phase, Weather, Wind, and Bonuses.
  6. Each Location may have Resources that provide benefits to a player during the resolution of a Mission. Some Resources will unlock Strategic benefits.
  7. Some Locations are Gated; they require that other Locations first become Resolved by fighting a Mission.
  8. Presumably, Champions which acquire Strategic Skills will affect how each Location or each Week provides benefits to a player during game-play.
Campaign Network
Here's what a campaign looks like. This is the first one labeled "The Confrontation at Henley Woods". It allows for 3 to 7 Missions within the campaign.

The Confrontation at Henley Woods. Campaign.

Quick Network Tour
The routine is as follows; actual definitions are within the draft of the document.
  1. At the start of the Campaign Turn, players decide who the Campaign Attacker is by rolling dice. There can be modifiers for this coming from what are known as Campaign Skills, and also from Resources (see below).
  2. The Campaign Attacker then picks a Location - one of the named elements on the diagram above - and decides to have a Mission there. 
  3. The small squares can't be picked yet because they are Dependent Locations which require whatever they are attached to be resolved first.  
  4. It can't be "Bonney Shores" because the red outline prevents it from being accessed until all connected Locations are first resolved.
  5. Therefore it will have to be the Location named "Henley Woods" for now. Once "Henley Woods" is Resolved, the Dependent Locations become available.
  6. Notice the (?) question mark on "Bonney Shores". This means that at least one of the Dependent Locations must first be resolved before access to the "Bonney Shores" location is allowed.
  7. Notice the Faction icons. The players of these Factions will receive a bonus of +1 Elan when fighting a Mission there. Elan does wonderful stuff and I'm still adjusting its flexibility. 
  8. Notice the Resource icons; they are small, black and white. The one shaped like a skull is Lore and the masked one is Totem. The plus-sign is Medical and the yin-yang is Strategy. These provide different kinds of bonuses during the Campaign Turn, during a Mission, and during the Postmortem phase (new for Campaigns; injury, death, rescue).
  9. Notice the Terrain icons. Both "Bonney Shores" and "Henley Woods" have 2 Groves and 1 Rock Formation for every 12" x 12" section of the battlefield. "Bonney Shores" has a shore-line, while "Henley Woods" instead has a causeway; either a road, river, or railroad tracks.
This is a key feature of all of the campaign structures, especially for the Network Campaign types. With all five campaigns resolved, the total duration from start to finish is about 52 weeks or one entire year. 

This here is the start of the year and shows what players may encounter for environment and bonuses during the course of the "The Confrontation at Henley Woods" campaign. This takes place in the 1921 AD in the New England area from January 9th until February 22nd at the latest.

Calendar for "The Confrontation at Henley Woods".

Quick Calendar Tour
The calendar is used as follows; actual definitions are within the draft of the document.
  1. Except for the first Mission of each Campaign, and the last Week of each Campaign; each player secretly votes to have an Interim Time of 0 or 1 Weeks. Votes are revealed and a the total must be 1-2 weeks; any 0 becomes 1 Week.
  2. Players then write in the Mission number at the bottom of the Calendar as a reminder. 
  3. Notice the bottom row labeled "Bonus". You can see some strategy here in picking the Interim Time. The Agency and Amateur factions within this setting may want to pick January 17th or 30th because there are no bonuses here. Where as the Cultists factions may want to pick January 9th or February 7th.
  4. Notice the Moon phases. Each week has one of the phases. This allows Cultist factions to perhaps pick those weeks that have the best chance for Night Missions because many of the Mythos creatures will have the Night-vision trait. Everybody else will need to carry lanterns and torches for lighting.
  5. Notice the Weather. Its Snow for the majority of the weeks in January and February. There some Overcast skies on January 30th and February 15th.
  6. Notice the Wind. This is only critical if Smoke or Gas grenades are used. Really windy with a +3 Wind level on January 9th. It can be seen that February 15th has Mud in effect and +2 Wind. Later in the year, it can be seen on March 16th there is Heavy Fog.

To Do

There's always a lot to do. It takes a lot of effort and lots of time to craft this stuff.
  1. Each Campaign has one Finale Location which identifies a Scenario. These are Mission descriptions specific to the Campaign and should be clever and thematic. I need to write them.
  2. The pages i and ii of the draft document are just summary pages. I'll write the general campaign rules into the Campaign Rules section of the MEST book. Then I'll extract them into the genre book.
  3. I need to spec out Recruitment Lists and finish the Faction rules. Almost ready.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Musings on Character Progression

So ....

Again, I've been very busy.  Work is crunching me but I'm still standing.

Here's what I can reveal of my latest efforts for MEST as far as the Campaign rules. These two items I've been developing in some variation for nearly 5 years now, and I think with the materials that I've been adding (which are still works-in-progress) to the Advanced Rules, I'm finally able to show something relatively solid.


I'll be covering Character Progression here, and Network Campaigns in the next blog entry. Include here is a link to my Google Drive with what I've got thus far for the campaign book.

Character Progression

There are very few modern game kits with decent character progression. I've been reading a bunch and taking notes. The Internet really helps.

Within MEST, all characters used in play are normally nameless cannon fodder based on several templates known as Archetypes. Actually, Common Archetypes because there's a list of them; Average, Acrobatic, Brawler, Leader, Veteran, etc. Except for how they are assigned weapons, armor, and equipment they are identical their assignment of traits and attribute values. With the 2.x version of the rules, we've introduced Variant Common Archetypes which add one or two additional traits to each of the baselines. Trust me; each one plays quite differently, but I get ahead of myself. I just want to squeeze in that the Advanced Rules also allow for Custom Archetypes, but that will be discussed at some other point in type.

Experience Points

Characters are awarded Experience Points [ XP ] during and at the end of each Mission they survive. These XP can come from a variety of sources. There are direct awards to a character by having it complete an Agenda card, resolve a Resource card, or defeat an opponent in combat. There are also soft awards; Victory Points [ VP ] and Resource Points [ RP ] will translate into XP that is distributed among all characters as a player sees fit. There's also one more source; time. For every week of time which has passed within a Campaign (A MEST campaign) since a character last participated in a Mission, it also is awarded 1 XP. This feature of time presumes that during a Campaign when a character is not present, it might be out and about doing less-interesting battles or investigations or whatever.

The average time between most Missions within a Campaign is usually 1-6 Weeks by default, and 1-6 Months (6-24 Weeks) betwen Campaigns. 2-player Campaigns themselves last about 6 Missions, plus or minus.

Champion Characters

Characters which a player hopes to progress with XP are given names and assigned a Reputation of level 0. These are Champions. Reputation behaves like a light-weight version of the Fear trait and causes characters without Reputation to have second-thoughts and make them likely to acquire Fear tokens. As a Champion progresses, its Reputation will increase thereby instilling more fear in their opponents.

Improving Characters

When a Character has acquired enough XP, a player may roll on an Archetype-specific Progression chart. The basic concept looks something like this:

  1. Allow each character a single roll on its Progression chart.
  2. Roll a red and white six-sided die and find the row scored.
  3. Examine the cost shown as REP. It is also a threshold (see below).
  4. See the options available. These can be "List of Choice", a trait specialization such as Fight or Tactics, or an Attribute bonus such as CCA or FOR.
  5. Pay the cost by reducing available XP.  Unspent XP is kept with the character for use next time.
  6. Recalculate BP value of the character.
  7. Done.


REP is the Reputation required and also the basic cost in XP to acquire. Not having enough REP increases the cost by double for every level less. For example, a REP 2 character improving Tactics will cost 2 XP, but a REP 1 character doubles that cost to 4 XP and a REP 0 character doubles that again to 8 XP.

Here are some cool effects of this gaming feature.
  • First, players are always allowed to check every character at the end of each Mission as long as there are XP for it to be spent. This encourages a player to be mindful of his roster of characters (Champion Roster).
  • Next, it enforces that concept that certain improvements should become easier to purchase as the character becomes more and more experienced.
List of Choice
There are multiple Progression charts, one for each Archetype. If this entry is scored, a player may roll again on any other chart. Once. If "List of Choice" is scored again, that's it. No more rolls are allowed for this character at this time.

Specialization Trait
If any trait is shown, a player may pick one and make it level 1. If that trait had already been assigned to the character, then improve it by +1 level. The rules as they are currently written recognize that some traits can't be taken beyond level one such as Nimble or Boxer.
  • On the Progression chart these are marked with the red checkbox icon. 
  • If a key icon appears, such as for Slippery or Acrobatic; these traits can't be improved unless the character already has it assigned.
  • Bold text traits such as Diplomacy are Campaign Skills, and these will be covered later in a future blog entry.
  • A crossed-circle icon if shown such as for Scholar indicates the entry is expensive and at minimum will double the normal cost.

Attribute Enhancement
If an Attribute is selected then players will add a plus-sign (+) to the trait for the character. If the attribute is already with a +, then make it ++. If already ++, then increase the value of the trait by 1. Having a + adds +1 Modifier die for all Tests involving that Attribute. Having ++ provides +2 Modifier dice instead. Therefore if my character were to have REF 2+ and your character had RCA 2, I'd receive +1 Modifier die when targeted for Range Combat.

Other Things
  1. Reputation itself can be improved, and there are rules for that online here.
  2. In the images shown, there are some red icons. These are restrictions


This system of improving a character will allow players to manager their Champions in a wise manner. When it comes to a Mission, do they want to have their prized character to participate and risk injury or death? Or do they leave the character at the side board to progress at a much slower rate?