FromtheGM

How a campaign universe evolves

CampaignThe other day, as I was facing wholesale defeat in the latest tabletop battle of our campaign, I started to worry that I was going to lose my commissar, Major Rael Dracos. He was surrounded by orks, and the last round of melee hadn’t gone well. My entire platoon was facing the 40K equivalent of Custer’s Last Stand.

And it was at that moment I realized the campaign was working as intended. I “cared” about this one-inch-tall plastic miniature that previously had been nothing more than a toy.

Success!

The Corvus Cluster is only a month old, but it’s already proven en enriching gaming experience.There is inspiration coming from many quarters–the battles, the campaign back story, and much more.

Consider our recent tabletop battles. Our first was the Border Clash on Veris Island.  My co-collaborator on this campaign, Kon, had an ork army he wanted to try out. I had Imperial Guard. Neither of us really knew the 40K rules, so we didn’t want to fight a battle that had any real impact on the campaign. Neither of us had a large army, either, so we went for a small skirmish action–just for “color.”

So we pulled up an idea based on the original back story of the campaign. An ork rok had crashed on Hegira, and the orks had taken over the southern continent of the moon. There were a string of islands on the sea that helped separate the continents, and as they weren’t originally of any relevance to a campaign we were developing, it was the perfect place to fight.

And that’s where we saw the power of a narrative campaign. As we were going to play on an island, Kon picked a name for his Warboss, Rumlar, from a list of pirate names. That gave him the idea of an ork trying to make a “name” for himself, and given the sea theme, he decided he was going to make Rumlar “pirate ilke.” (It’s gotten to the point now that he’s planning to put a pirate hat on his figure and make a small band of ork pirates.)

We fought the battle and called it a draw, although as newbies we completely cheated the orks out of some of their melee attacks. But that didn’t matter. Now Rumlar was a beloved character. Kon is happy with him. I hate the green bugger, but he’s given me a real arch enemy to go after. I’m invested in him.

And I need a counterpart. The commissar I added to my army survived the battle, so I gave him a name, Commissar-Major Rael Dracos, and I’m writing up a biography of him.

It’s these little things that matter. We recently fought a rematch of orks and Imperial troops on Hegira–also on  Veris Island–and the orks won big. I had my Commissar Dracos there, and as the orks surrounded him, I actually felt an emotional concern for the outcome of this game. It had become more than just a game. I hadn’t finished writing my biography of him, and I actually worried the commissar would die before I posted it.

Now that the battle’s over, there will be consequences. Rumlar now is going to attract more orks to his cause. We’ve decided, after two victories, Veris Island has fallen to the orks. It will serve as a staging area for a more formal “mini campaign” for control over Hegira–one that will be a bit more formal, a mini-campaign just like those you’ve seen in White Dwarf, with a clear winner or loser.

But that mini-campaign, however, owes its design to the background material that’s been written. The description of Hegira–a habitable, Mars-like world–was written before we ever pushed any miniatures about, and this will shape the campaign that follows. Rumlar would never have been a “pirate” if not for the background. It’s a perfect loop that feeds upon itself: back story shapes tabletop battles that shape the campaign that shapes future battles.

Another example of the power of this approach. In designing a map of the Corvus Cluster (just a first, primitive version), I noticed that one existing 40K world–Brimlock–was roughly in the region of the galaxy envisioned for this campaign. So I put it on the map and wrote up a brief description based on what Games Workshop has written about the world.

Two things proved influential. First, Brimlock is noted for its dragoons–both mechanized armor troops and actual cavalry. Second, it is known for the quality of the military equipment it produces, in particular “ornate rifles.”

So that’s got me thinking about painting up a Brimlock regiment. What will it look like? Well, it needs to be dragoons, so it’ll be a mix of mechanized armor and scout cavalry. For appearance, I’m thinking of something a bit different, so I may take Bretonnian heads–with the cool renaissance helmets–and put them on Cadian bodies, along with lots of equipment so they look like a WW I soldier. And I may replace each modern lasgun with a fantasy arquebus (an “ornate” rifle), although I’ll add a power pack and cable to make each look like a power weapon.

And there’s more to come. In November 2014, at the FALL IN! convention in Lancaster, Pa., the club will play out the “Lament of Brother-Sargeant Valerius.” And, although the back story is already posted, we’ll use the actual tabletop battle to add more detail. And at future conventions, we’ll run small mini-campaigns so that others can shape the Corvus Cluster.

Who knows where this will lead? It’s Interesting how the flavor and detail of the campaign is being inspired from so many sources. If this continues, I think we’re truly onto something.

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