The Campaign Chronicle is a regular blog series in which I publish my notes, thoughts, and plans for my tabletop role-playing games for which I am game mastering. These feature world-building notes, recaps of game sessions, and notes to keep in mind for future sessions. Enjoy!
This post will cover the interim between Session 0 and Session 1, in which I establish the starting scenario's specifications, the minimum necessary NPCs, notes, locations and encounters, and how I go about organizing them into the notes for Scenario One.
The Mumon Rift WARS
Pre-Session One Notes
With the Savage Worlds Mod completed to a satisfactory level, and with the PCs all created and the knowledge that they would be working for The Gambler, I had enough of a basis to begin working on the first scenario for the campaign. I knew I needed The Gambler as an NPC, as the primary quest-giver even, but beyond that it felt like I had a fairly open field for creating NPCs. And so I instead looked at the PCs and who each of them were, and what I wanted in our first session based off of that.
The Gambler & Europa
Ultimately I had a group that was combat-ready, but also with plenty of tools to avoid or redirect combat. But there wasn't any real through-line between them all. Three Kizen, two of which were Earther, one of which was our only Gongen. Two Mavericks who were not Kizen, but not affiliated with the same Gang (in fact, one of them was wanted with the gang the other was affiliated with), so it was obvious that these characters wouldn't come together without some sort of intent beyond their own. And so I decided to make it the Gambler's decision. They all owed the Gambler, to some degree, and are now working with him in order to pay off their debt. And the Gambler, and the Cartel at large, deals mainly in the trading of secret and useful information, and so having a group that was representative of a variety of backgrounds and factions was perfect for such an endeavor. They weren't easily identified as Cartel informants or bruisers, and their mismatched group meant they could easily gain access to other groups or organizations that otherwise would close their doors.
Now, of course there are always player characters that try to game the system, and make off with more than they should. The Gambler would be supplying them with a ship and with intel, so he needed a way to ensure they would follow through with their jobs. I did this by introducing a mental Kizen character at the Gambler's side, called Undermine, who instilled dormant triggers in some of the PC's minds. When certain conditions were met, those triggers would activate, causing the affected PC's to turn on their allies. It seemed like a GM-fiat move, but I sincerely felt like a powerful gang leader like the Gambler wouldn't let a group like this have such a clear advantage as being across the solar system with a ship his gang owned. However, if the PCs played nice with the Gambler, he'd be more trusting and more willing to loosen their collars a bit.
With the Gambler being the primary quest-giver, and also potentially having some strong end-game implications depending on how the PCs acted (or reacted) to his jobs, I wanted to make him stand out. He's a notable character in the card game and original RPG, and I wanted him to be someone the PCs would remember even after they haven't dealt with him in a few sessions. The easiest way for me to do that was to give him his own, unique voice, beyond me just talking. And so, after reading about the Gambler in the WARS: Battlefront RPG book and also re-familiarizing myself with the flavor text on his TCG card, I came up with a distinct, gruff, calm voice that had an accent as if from Texas/Louisiana. He always sounded like he had the upper hand, and he knew it. I imagined a wide grin on his round, bald face, probably with gold teeth shining in the light of his installation.
Speaking of his installation, there's a lot of mystery surrounding the Gambler's base on Europa. It's location, it's size, and how many Cartel folk actively live and work within it are all purposely kept hidden from everyone except those who need to know. And so I made a simple installation map on Roll20, with plenty of hallways and rooms and a basic layout, to represent one part of his installation. I then chose one large room, and filled it with a series of bunks, or more aptly labeled as cells, which the PCs would start in. I placed each of the PCs' tokens into their own cell, and then knew that the Gambler wouldn't come and get the PCs on his own. He'd send his lackeys.
Three-Gun & Mayhem
So now I needed two lieutenants in the Cartel gang that may come up in future sessions, especially if the players do anything to piss off The Gambler. I wanted them to be combat-focused characters, and Wild Cards, as they'd represent a tough fight if ever it came to blows with them. One of them was to be a Kizen of physical strength, the mirror image of the PC Holden Riggs, and the other was to be a gun-toting crackshot, with a weapon for any situation. I built them as Seasoned Wild Cards and finally landed on a pair of names I thought were rather fitting: Three-Gun (as he totes a rapid-fire pistol, a long range rifle, and a powerful shotgun) and Mayhem (which is actually a recycled name from an old superheroes game I ran years ago, but the two players who participated in that game I was certain wouldn't notice).
And then a cool idea came to me as I was filling out Mayhem's character record: I knew that the first session would be combat-light, which would ultimately make the beefy PC Holden Riggs feel somewhat superfluous. What if Mayhem recognizes Riggs for his physical prowess, and after the dealing with the Gambler is finished, challenges Riggs to a one-on-one fist fight, just to see who would win. Dick-measuring contests are commonplace in Maverick society, as bragging rights can hold weight in many situations, and if Mayhem is an established Cartel lieutenant with an inflated ego, he may want to assert his dominance over Riggs early on. It would also create a cool callback and rivalry for Riggs should they ever cross paths again in the future, which they likely would.
On Mayhem's character record on Roll20, I added such in the GM's Notes section to ensure I kept that in mind.
Joker Danniko, Undermine, & Goldtooth
I wanted more NPCs, however. More notable characters to populate this part of the solar system and to call back should the story require them. However, as this session was also the jumping-off point into the WARS universe for most of the group (every player except for one and myself were brand new to this setting), I didn't want to burden them with too many names to remember. These next three NPCs were created as potential characters for the PCs to interact with, but not necessary to the plot of the session nor integral to the overall arc of the story.
Joker Danniko is a named character from the WARS universe who is affiliated with the Cartel and is a really cool card in the TCG. I wanted her there simply so that Sean could see her and know that she's a potential ally/enemy in the game. I made her a Heroic-rank NPC who focuses on melee combat and Kizen manipulation, making her a powerful foe if ever the PCs turned against her.
Along with her, I created another Cartel Kizen, known as Undermine. A Veteran-rank NPC with powerful mind powers, I had already determined that Undermine wouldn't say a word to the PCs, and would only be seen sitting in the corner of the room where the Gambler resided. He helped ensure that the Gambler's will would be carried out by the PCs, and he did this with his subtle mental triggers. I also had to make sure that the PCs had the opportunity to become aware of Undermine's mental activity, and so I marked in my notes for a Spirit or Smarts Roll to "feel a stranger's fingers picking through your brain". Luckily, I knew exactly which artwork I would use for Undermine.
Finally, I wanted a small, relatively low-rank, uncooperative NPC to stand in their way in the session, providing them with their first real confrontation and way to deal with a potentially hostile character. And so I created Goldtooth, a Novice NPC who worked for the Regulators and would stop the PCs on some trivial matter. Not hard to deal with, but likely one that would send ripples through the next few sessions, depending on how they deal with him.
The Small Blind - Scenario One
This first scenario needed to be an introduction, and I wanted it to take them to a place where they could easily interact with members of every faction and every race in the WARS setting. What better place than the Rats' Nest, the most popular bar in the entire solar system? This bar, located as part of the installation on the asteroid Ceres, would be the focal point for the next session or two, and would be a place where the PCs could return to later in the campaign, depending on their actions in this first session.
So now I needed a reason why the Gambler would send his group to the Rats' Nest on Ceres. The best option that came to mind was this: The Cartel has a number of informants on Ceres, but one of them - a man by the name of Trigger who is responsible for keeping an eye on Quay activity on Ceres - has gone silent recently. The Gambler needs to know why. That was a strong enough hook, and would lead the PCs down an investigative route that could potentially open up into some cool actions scenes. I knew, going into Session One, that I would only need a handful of details beyond that, as my experience with most players is that they fill their play time by interacting with each other and with NPCs, and 'progress' isn't always as quick as the GM expects. So I jotted down some notes:
- Trigger abducted, not killed.
- Trading sensitive information that would put one group at a disadvantage.
- Gongen? Good connections to Suematsu Haru.
- Disadvantaged group gets wind of Trigger's info trade, and abducts him.
- Who is he trading with? Quay?
- Last seen outside his apartment on Ceres.
This was enough information to provide investigative PCs with key information, while also ensuring the story was consistent and made sense. Any other details, like specific timelines and such, I would make up on the fly and jot notes down during the session.
All in all, I felt like I was ready for scenario one, The Small Blind, and ready to introduce these players to the wonderful Solar System of 2391.