Faraway: Outlanders II (2009)
What it is, where it came from, and what I was smoking at the time :)
As I stated on the Outlanders
setting page, this campaign is an “indirect” sequel to the previous one. Our group was short on willing GMs at the time, and the current GM was reaching the limits of his endurance, so I decided to plunge in once again, behind the Big Screen. I decided to run this particular campaign, because I had quite a bit of background material already in place, it's predecessor was well-received, and the D&D
elements would be easy to grasp by those new Players in the group who had not played GURPS
As with its predecessor, Season 1 of this campaign series features a group of modern PCs flung into a D&D-type fantasy world, with (to the extent that I could achieve it) a TV series feel, cinematic-yet-realistic, and a historically-accurate undertone. This one starts with a Lost-style plane crash, and has the PCs wandering around a creepy, swamp-island, along with a gaggle of other crash survivors all trying to reach safety, while being pursued by unseen creatures. Toward the middle of the season, they find themselves prisoners of a goblin army, and the ghostly Red Lady, only to be killed in a desperate escape attempt as the island's volcano erupts behind them. They wake to a medieval world to find that they have gained magical powers, are introduced to a wizard who takes them in as his retainers, and are soon entangled in a mission to defend a local village from invading sea-raiders, and at the same time, the encroachment of the goblin army, now forced to establish a foothold on the mainland after the destruction of their base on the isle. The campaign featured a 12-Episode season, intended to be followed by five more, and the possibility of a spinoff or two later.
For prospective GMs, this campaign would be an easy fit for the GURPS Banestorm setting, and the general plot and players involved is simple enough to be easily converted to other settings as well.
Who played who, who they met there, and who tried to kill them
- James “Awesome” Wesson
(Award Winner™ Phil Norfleet)
- U.S. Army Ranger, field-medic. Former quarterback for the Oregon State Beavers. Based heavily on the “Awesome” character from the TV series, Chuck. Hero (#2 Lancer).
- Adam Smith (Mike McNurlen)
- Self-employed repo-man. Former wide-receiver for the Oregon State Beavers. Based, in large part, on the Sawyer character from the TV series, Lost. Lancer (#2 Hero).
- Aaron Colt (Aaron Albrecht)
- “Professional student” and mixed-martial-arts fighter. Former half-back for the Oregon State Beavers. Based loosely on the Player's self. Big Guy (#2 Heart).
- Samuel Remington (Josh Freeman)
- Geek Squad computer service tech at Best Buy. Former third-string place-kicker for the Oregon State Beavers. Based heavily on the main character from the TV series, Chuck. Smart Guy.
- J.W. Barrett (Chris Smith)
- Assistant football coach, and former offensive lineman for the Oregon State Beavers. Not really based on anyone in particular. Heart (#2 Big Guy).
- Other Survivors of Northwest Flight 1138:
- Dr. Web(ster) Griles (Richard T Jones, Ref:Sarah Connor Chronicles); squared-away ex-trauma surgeon turned FEMA disaster coordinator, headed to Stuttgart to deliver a lecture on disaster preparedness to some German officials.
- Gary Sabrosky (Michael Emerson, Ref:Lost); slimy Associated Press reporter, on his way to the Mid-East to cover the war.
- Bill Decker (Kris Kristoffersen, Ref:Blade); sarcastic redneck trucker and outdoorsman, on his way to Paris to stop his daughter from dropping out of art school and running off with “some French bastard.”
- Captain Dawna Harding (Jada Pinkett Smith, Ref:“Captain”-Pitch Black); U.S Army MP officer, on leave, headed to recover her boyfriend, who PCSed to Germany after being deceived by her ex.
- Celia Strong (Amy Acker, Ref:Dollhouse); computer programmer/analyst and MMO-geek, sent to Germany by her company to recover some lost data from one of their subsidiaries.
- Jack Knotts (Giovanni Ribisi, Ref:“Engineer”-Galaxy Quest); slacker/musician on his way to Amsterdam to get legally stoned.
- William Weiss (Willie Garson, Ref:Stargate SG-1); clueless historical research writer, medieval history expert, writer of a “controversial” historical-fiction novel, Desert Wind (that has, predictably, attracted the attention (e.g. death threats) of the radical Muslim community), on his way to a book-signing event in Amsterdam.
- Kareem McKnight (Tyrese Gibson, Ref:Death Race); gang-thug with a chip on his shoulder, wannabe football player, suffering from a heroin addiction.
- Tina Rich (Alicia Silverstone); AKA Duong Thi Tinh, resentful and embarrassed of being adopted by a poor Vietnamese couple, attempting to marry into wealth, but her fiancée is killed in the crash (more upset by her setback than his death).
- Ahmed Hassan (Art Malik, Ref:True Lies); “engineering student,” impressed into Muslim terrorist service by his overbearing, zealot father, and suffering from an over-developed (for the job) conscience.
- The Mithrites:
- Ecgwynn, Sergeant of the Mithrite Order (Katie Sackhoff, Ref:BSG); scrappy daughter of a prominent soldier, gone mercenary after not being allowed into the Shields, and disowned by her family.
- Þorkell, Man-at-Arms of the Mithrite Order (Brad Beyer, Ref:Jericho); stereotypical grim warrior, accused of murdering his wife in a berserkir fit.
- Rægnald, Man-at-Arms of the Mithrite Order (Mark Sheppard, Ref:Firefly); royal heir to a neighboring land, usurped and betrayed by his uncle, and thought killed.
- Scarra, Magister of the Mithrite Order (Elizabeth Mitchell, Ref:Lost); secret priestess to pagan gods.
- His Honor, Sir Weland, Knight-Magister of the Mithrite Order (David Thewlis, Ref:Kingdom of Heaven); venerable, noble knight-wizard, “employer” of the PCs, and secret agent of the Black Wizard.
- Juliana (Summer Glau, Ref:Firefly); daughter of a displaced English woman from the WWII-era, English-speaking late addition to the team, rescued from “justice” at the hands of a Church inquisitor.
What I planned to do, and how I planned to do it
I planned to stick to a more “cinematic” feel, as I had with the previous iteration, though perhaps to a more literal extent, having been introduced to TVTropes.org
. The pacing and structure of the series, the season, and the individual episodes was based on the “standard” Hollywood template. I took a Player poll on the Message Boards regarding the overall “theme” of the campaign, and what existing show it should most resemble; the (rather weak) consensus was Farscape
; the latter half of the season, and future material, would be created with that consensus in mind (and in fact, some elements were thinly-disguised ripoffs of that show).
I had the Players design their Characters together, as a group, so that they would all work together and mesh well from the start, by design, using the cinematic trope of the “Five Man Band” as a basis for the Characters' roles in the group. After taking a Player vote on whether to keep the “surprise,” it was determined that the Players would rather know the nature of the campaign, allowing them to create Characters that would not be hampered by inappropriate Traits (a situation I have had bad experiences with in the past). I required the Characters to make use of existing occupational Templates, plus an additional 25 CP, rather than a typical “balanced” point level; minimum 100 points (later raised to 120). The only background element that I required was that the Characters would be on the same flight out of Seattle, headed for Amsterdam (and possibly beyond). The ultimate makeup of the group, backgrounds, and overall tone, was determined by the Players—the Players came up with the college football angle, their playing of D&D together at college, their trip to Amsterdam for their NFL buddy's wedding/bachelor party, and the “gun” names. Considering the group's final makeup, I modified my plans slightly to allow for a bit more “football” stuff in the game.
As usual, there were quite a few experiments and tweaks involved in this campaign:
- This campaign was the first “fully” 4e game. As such, it was also the first to feature elements from GURPS Action 2: Exploits and GURPS Mass Combat. I wanted to do a test-run of some of the new rules elements before we started the campaign, to see whether I wanted to make use of them during the campaign or not. Rather than just fudge a battle or whatnot, I decided to “work it into the background,” resulting in the Episode 100 football game (and my Mass Combat: Football mechanics). Alas, that GURPS Low-Tech had not yet been released when this game occurred!—Season 2 will wait until it is released.
- I purchased a gavel (~$20) from a local trophy store, and used it throughout the run. I used it to announce the beginning and end of the session, and to mark combat/action rounds. At the first session, I wore my black graduation robe to complete the look—alas, it was too hot to wear regularly. ;D
- 12 Episodes was going to be a stretch of my abilities—up to this point, my longest run was eight sessions. My saving grace was that I borrowed from my experience with Underground, and intended to develop each Episode only within the week before running it, with only some very basic, structural preparation before that week—any lack of “quality writing” was to be lampshaded by the fact that this is, as I put it, a “crappy TV series.” In addition, I attempted a more “minimalist” approach to my session notes, in an attempt to cultivate my usually-lacking improvisation abilities, and reduce the overall workload of creating a campaign from scratch.
- To assist the TV-series feel, I started off each Episode with, “Previously, on Faraway…,” and went round the table twice, having each Player quickly recount a scene from the previous episodes up to the current point. Later in the series, I realized I needed a “Next week on…” bit also, where I would give a teaser of what was to come.
- This was my first run using “Wildcards”—elements that would contain some unknown factors to be determined on-the-fly during the game under certain pre-determined conditions. One of my ultimate GMing goals is to find a workable system that would allow me to run a game where I do not know what the end will look like, and this was a next step in that process.
- I wrote up a pre-crash story prologue, the PCs' memory of what happened, and “blacked out” all but the first hundred words. The blacked-out story, posted on the Message Boards, would be revealed a hundred words or so at a time after each Episode, until their memory was complete. I calculated it so that total recall would be achieved at the season finale. As this was also the memory of the other crash survivors, the gradual revelation of the pre-crash story was to be a Wilcard element, affecting the NPCs' reactions to each other.
- I was introduced to this article later in the production process, and tried to incorporate elements of it—this turned out to be more difficult than it seemed on the surface, as I would have to fight my GMing reflex-responses.
- With the game being played at my workplace, with access to a large TV/monitor, this campaign featured greater “graphical” content than was previously possible. I used PowerPoint throughout; extensive use was made of photo-manipulations as illustrations, and in a few cases, YouTube video clips.
- I developed the “Village Model” to handle large NPC groups; it debuted in this campaign, to a somewhat-limited extent.
- There were, as usual, a number of refinements, both to the Outlanders background material and many of my House Rules; in specific, my D&D Magic conversion and my Immortal: The Gathering rules were updated to GURPS 4e standards, and improved considerably. This would also be the first live playtest for some of these elements. In addition to the usual House Rules in use, I ruled that “combat usage” of techniques defaulting from Sports (Football) would not be subject to the listed -3 penalty. I wanted to encourage the use of the Sports (Football) Skill as often as it would make sense.
- There's a running gag in the game where I have the wizard essentially quoting Star Wars lines about the Force when referring to magic (as “The Source”). There's actually more to it than that, though it hasn't been revealed yet…
- There have been continual difficulties in getting all the Players (at the time) to fully participate in the between-session campaign activities on the Message Boards. Recognizing this, I tried to limit the amount of such participation I would require.
- Chris, a new Player to the group at the time, had a work schedule that would cause him to miss quite a few sessions. I decided to create his character as an NPC that he would play whenever he was present. I gave the character Traits that would allow me to use him to “guide” the group (that is, to get them into appropriate trouble, get captured, etc.), and I didn't give Chris any normal CP awards at the end of a session when he was present, but upgraded the character as I saw fit, with his input.
Synopsis and Extras
Where the Players went, who they saw, and what they conquered
Prologue: Last Thing You Remember…:
Ep104: The Forest Labyrinth:
Ep105: The Goblin Port, Pt1: The Red Lady:
Ep106: The Goblin Port, Pt2: The Great Escape:
Ep107: The Four Strangers:
Ep108: The Wizard's Order:
Ep110: The Sons of Einarr, Pt1: The Missing Tribute:
Ep111: The Sons of Einarr, Pt2: The Heathen Army:
What went right, what went wrong, and lessons learned
Ultimately, this series went rather well.
GURPS 4e continues to impress me, as a vast improvement over the previous edition, though I have finally come across a rough spot or two in the course of things. The design of the PCs as a group worked really well, with only a few character-specific issues (mostly relating to Martial Arts issues, and a continual misunderstanding of Aaron’s character). The “football” stuff was a blast—showed up on several occasions. The concept of planning the session only a week in advance actually worked out okay for me—there were some things I certainly would have done differently had I taken more time to think them through, but it all worked out well, in the end. I achieved what I set out to achieve, regarding the overall cinematic feel, and the pacing of the series, as a whole, and the individual episodes; although not perfect, was pretty close to what I intended—went long on an occasion or two, but it “felt” right. Since I designed the campaign intending that I would not truly know how it would end, I would have liked there to have been a few more “surprises” for me, though there certainly were some. The PowerPoint presentation was a big hit with the Players (and has since spawned some imitators ;) ). This was also the first campaign for our group to feature everyone at the table having a laptop computer—I never really had cause to use MS Messenger to pass notes, like I had planned, but having all the necessary pdf rulebooks available to everyone was a big help.
All indications were that the series was well-received by the Players, and that they were excited at the prospect of future continuation—the best measure of success for any GM.
Though successful, the series was not without its failures. Some specifics:
- Though I successfully bested my longest GMing run by 50%, at 12 sessions, I definitely experienced some real fatigue as it went on. In retrospect, I really should have built in some breaks, to give me a chance to catch up a bit.
- The “blacked-out” amnesia story was a good idea, but when it came to it, turned out to be quite a bit of work to randomly reveal it, over time. As it was, the Players weren’t really understanding what they were looking at as it was being revealed, and so, really didn’t get into it. Since it wasn’t generating any real interest or conversation, and given the effort it took to make it work, I ditched the idea about midway through the season and revealed the whole thing. Too bad, really.
- Given the ever shortening amount of time we have to play on game-nights, these days, there wasn’t a lot of buffer time to take care of out-of-game issues. This, combined with the fact that, as I've observed, my Players have a hard time making “value judgements” as to their fellows’ performances, meant that I had some real difficulty making good use of the Golden Statue concept. By the end of the series, I stopped bothering to try to press the matter. Once again—a good idea just didn’t catch on.
- A number of the GMing experiments I planned to work on within the game were either too late in coming, or too difficult to manage, to get a proper test-run. That will come later, I suppose.
- Specific to the Highlander: The Gathering House Rules: I had written the two episodes with the fight versus the Immortals with some extra time allotted for the Players to pick out what abilities they would take from the fallen. That time was not nearly enough. In retrospect, I would have set those characters up with Power “Packages” that could be annotated on a 3 x 5 card or whatnot, and chosen by the Players as-is, to be tinkered with after the session was over.
- Once again, I felt, after it was over, that I had given the PCs too much power. I wish I could have scaled it all back a little (and I do have opportunity to do so at its inevitable return, should I choose to, given the ending).
- I ran into a problem with Character Improvement, once again. This time, though, it was that I was giving out the Character Points, as usual, but not allowing anyone to actually spend them regularly, given the nature of the game and time-frames involved—the first half of the season only took place over a few days. This led to a little frustration on the Players’ parts. In the future, I’m thinking of handling the Trait improvements myself, based on logic and some pre-arrangement with the affected Player, while using Temporary CPs/Plot Points for more of the “reward” aspects.
These are the campaign files that I used. My notes make heavy use of my own shorthand abbreviations, and are presented here in a raw, un-processed state—feel free to contact me
for clarification if you plan to use any of this.
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