Monday, December 24, 2012

Campaign Ideas: The Mercenary Company

So Lance and I were talking about lethality recently. He enjoys the save or die effects and the unflinching bloodthirstiness of some earlier editions of the game, and I do as well. The problem is that as the GM, I have a responsibility to all my players to ensure they enjoy themselves. If I kill Eran or Karl, Lance and Eric are going to react internally in a very different fashion. They'll both set to the task of creating a new character, but I imagine Lance will be excited about trying a new character and coming up with something cool while Eric will be bummed and upset that Karl has died after spending so much time playing him. These are both normal and reasonable responses to character death. When Kethranmeer died, I barely restrained myself from having a big fat hissy fit, and I am the one that killed him. Which isn't so much of a reasonable response.

Talking with Lance kind of got me thinking about a more lethal style of game. Something with traptastic traps that offer save or die effects instead of save or oh the giant rusty spike in the point only graze you, take 2 damage. So I started considering a campaign style that wouldn't offer a complete disconnect when your character bit it. Something where you have a roster of characters to choose from. The most convenient method of doing this is like an adventurer's guild or mercenary company. Characters die, but you have more characters to pick from as needed. You can also have bench warmer characters built for crafting or other non-adventuring stuff. The fact that you are playing a mercenary company kind of maintains the sense of continuity between characters.

So the way I am conceiving of it is you start out with the command structure, these are the big boys, the veterans. Have them at 3rd - 5th level. Each one is in charge of some aspect of the company. One handles scouting, magical support, ranged support, black ops, healing, etc. They all have their department and their underlings. These are also the role-playing guys. They'll be the ones the players RP while they figure out what jobs the company takes and where the company goes, or what cause the group involves itself in.

Everyone else in the company is a level one character. Before each mission (and a mission could extend more than one scenario) the players choose their characters. The rest of the company could be precisely defined, or just made as needed, whichever the players want (but it would probably be prudent to have a spare or two set up beforehand if we go with the lethal nature). You choose your character, even one of the higher level head honchos, and play the scenario or arc of scenarios with those characters. If someone dies, you send for reinforcements. If everyone lives, huzzah! Loot is communal and shared by the company, so you'll always have access to that +1 longsword (no need for character wills like in earlier editions of the game).

This style of game would be more hostile to life than Pathfinder normally is. Save or die effects would exist. A trap might kill or maim your character on a failed save. A pit of acid might fuck up your Charisma a bit or a called shot to your back might cause Strength damage. Most of this would be resolved with Rule 0, i.e. because I say so and think it makes sense and want to add lethality to the campaign.

Now, you have what is essentially a limitless number of troops and you can send for reinforcements. So maybe you start thinking you can tackle scenarios like they did the Tomb of Horrors back in the day and just herd bodies (the folktales say sometimes this was goats and chickens and stuff, other times it is hirelings) at it to set off all the nastiness and pick up what is left after all the traps have been tripped. Smart move. However, as members die, you'll need more recruits to fill the ranks and new recruits will start back at level one. Leveling will be handled kind of oddly. Everyone gains experience points at the end of an adventure. So if the scenario nets you 5000 experience points and there are five players, you add the 1000 experience points to the command structure's experience point total, the rookies, everyone's total. It makes for a bit of bookwork remembering who is at what level (more of just a list really), but I'm ok with handling that, as it offers incentive to keep your company from having their lives spent like currency to trip traps or something. I'm also thinking of something like a reputation meter for the mercenary company that affects a die roll to determine how many bored adolescents sick of plowing fields decide that it'd be cool to be all scarred and tough and whatnot. As way of also instilling this, and to compensate for the excess gear that piles up from it being picked up by newer members when older members die, I would also keep the difficulty increasing, so if you spend lives stupidly and have to rebuild the company from a bunch of levels one characters, you could end up facing CR 6 enemies. Hopefully you are lucky and had a pile of left over loot and cash in the coffers to compensate. 

I can see this kind of campaign style having a lot of merits for our group. Eric can use the benchwarmers to do crafting, Lance can enjoy the lethality reminiscent of earlier editions, and Jason could do some management style stuff that he seems to enjoy in our Orcunraytrel campaign. For instance, the mercenary company can operate out of their own fortress or city or something of that nature. Cary seems to like being the talking man of the group, so perhaps he would enjoy some of the more talking aspects of managing a mercenary company, bargaining with potential employers and that sort of thing (Cary, if you're reading this, sorry, I don't talk with you enough to really know what you especially like about your DnD).

Part of this campaign concept is inspired by my love of Glen Cook's The Black Company novels. Those are some really really great books with lots of cool and fun characters in them. Man, I should reread them some time. Reading those books you get the sense that though the company as a whole is ancient and all of the current members have no relation whatsoever to the founders, there is still an element of pride in their traditions and the survival of the company as a whole. That would be kind of what I am going for, pride in the company and their reputation, rather than how much you like each of your individual characters. There would be a focus on the glory of that company, rather than how much loot and experience points your character can amass. I dunno, I was talking with Lance and got to thinking and kind of thought this would be a neat campaign concept. 

1 comment:

  1. I really like the idea of managing a quiver of different PC's and personalities. I really picked a Ranger because I've never really played one, and it was out of what I'll call my comfort zone. Looking back on it, I may as well could have played a fighter. Because I've managed to become the groups tank ... because magic?