I didn’t write anything last week because I have been on a bit of an XCOM: Enemy Within binge over the last couple of weeks. However, this has actually inspired today’s post, in that I have been giving some thought to how XCOM could be run as a roleplaying campaign.
This is a broad approach to how I would run an XCOM type of campaign; it wouldn’t necessarily have to be aliens, it could just as easily be a robot uprising or trimmed down to a straighforward WWIII scenario.
I have elected to write this with Savage Worlds in mind as this works well with the pacing and some other elements, as detailed below. That said, it would only need the slightest tweaks to run in any system with fairly tactical combat rules.
The rough idea would be to have ten tactical missions (each aiming to take a single session, maybe two sessions for the 5th and 10th missions), with the strategic elements covered through email between sessions.
The PCs would start out at 0xp, but with a few bonus starting skills to represent their military training. They would advance fast, gaining 10xp per session (over ten sessions, this would give them two missions at each rank).
There would be no arcane backgrounds allowed for starting characters, but potentially they could be picked up mid-game as a result of gene modifying or nanotechnology or whatever.
If any PCs die, they would be replaced on the next mission by a PC of the same experience total.
In addition to the PCs, there would be a pool of NPC extras; depending on player numbers, two or more of these could be selected to go on each mission. These would be selected after mission briefing, so that the players can consider what types of soldiers would be most useful (snipers, close combat specialists, medics, etc..). These NPCs would increase in competence as the PCs do, but will always be extras, so inherently less survivable.
Each mission would be fairly self contained, with maybe two or three short combats and scenes in between. They would have set goals from command (that might change during the mission), but would also have opportunities for the PCs to go above and beyond their orders by capturing alien technology, grabbing opportunistic intelligence or what have you. This would directly play into the strategic part of the game.
In between missions/sessions the strategic elements would be discussed and played out by email. New technologies might be researched, equipment requisitioned, intelligence gathered, etc… This would always be pitched as a balancing act; there isn’t the time or funds to do everything, so the players would have to decide what is important to them.
This is not intended to be a long campaign and should be paced with a beginning, middle and end. The first mission should introduce the new threat (maybe as an unexpected surprise in a regular mission), then a couple of straightforward engagements in the next couple of missions. Around the middle of the campaign, there should be an important strategic battle (assaulting an important base, defending a crucial location). Things would then step up in the second half of the campaign, possibly with players having to choose between missions that will immediately affect the direction of the campaign. The last session (or couple of sessions) should be a final engagement that will decide the outcome of the campaign; although this shouldn’t be stacked against the players, it should be a genuine opportunity for them to win or lose through their own actions (if they lose, just make sure that they go down in an impressive last stand, so that it is still an epic end to the campaign).
As roleplaying campaigns go, this one is probably going to be pretty light on actual roleplaying (though the right players could easily inject a lot of personality to their soldiers). It’s really intended as a short diversion for a group that enjoys tactical combat or who just want to spend three or four months killing stuff before moving back to something more serious.