Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Varieties of "The Estate"

A central component of The Strange core campaign setting is the Estate.  I won't dwell on defining this organization as it is so prominently featured within core rule book.  Suffice it for our purposes that the Estate is a nongovernmental organization seeking to protect the Earth from potential threats from the Strange.  There are several different game experiences one could create with players as Estate agents.  After a brief mention in a previous post, I wanted to talk in more detail about the different ways you can portray the Estate that will affect how you tell stories within your Strange campaign.  Different styles of play call for different approaches to the Estate.

Paul Long --

  1. A hard-boiled espionage campaign
One could take the nongovernmental aspect of The Estate seriously.  In this approach to the campaign, the players have no real credentials to perform investigations, carry firearms in many locations, etc.  The players are basically vigilantes -- albeit well-funded and well-organized vigilantes.  

In such a campaign, players will need to keep a low profile.  They will need to use stealth to infiltrate buildings -- rather than flashing a badge -- and avoid capture by law enforcement.  They will also need to worry about whether they leave behind identifying information.  Law enforcement organizations may be quite interested in who it was that broke into the church with all the television crews outside (as in the Eschatology Code) or into a research facility (that the local government does not realize is actually a front for the September Project).  

This approach makes it difficult for the players to detain NPCs.  You can not simply grab people off the street (even "bad" people).  Doing so will generate a lot of attention.  If the players encounter quickened individuals or people from other recursions, they can't do much about it.  If the players attack these people, they will look just like gangs to the authorities.  The players will have to tread lightly.

The players will need to continually worry about the possibility of the government cracking down on The Estate.  If they leave too much evidence, the FBI may start appearing at the main campus of the Estate and asking uncomfortable questions.  They would likely want to know what is going on in those laboratories on site.  All of this is complicated by there being any governmental organization that is actually focused on The Strange and may not like the interference of "amateurs" -- like the Office of Strategic Recursion.

This approach may also limit the sort of technology that the players can use.  Stockpiling heavy weaponry will draw a great deal of attention.  So too will taking mysterious high technology devices through customs on a repeated basis.  

These complications may be exactly what you are looking for.  If so, a hard-boiled espionage version of The Estate may be great for your game.  This style of story is common in the Delta Green gaming system.

2.  Secret society campaign

One could take the espionage version even further and restrict the resources of The Estate.  Rather than being a famous foundation with a large public profile, The Estate could be a loosely connected set of individuals who happen to know about recursions.  This approach takes away the home base where the players could lay low between sessions.  In this case, the players don't even have badges to wave -- not even unofficial badges -- or excuses to visit scientists, deliver prizes, or conduct research.  These players would have no more authority than they do in their day jobs (though you could have players whose day job is police officer, FBI agent, etc. if you choose -- they certainly would be limited in how they could use this authority).  

The secret society campaign would be much like the espionage campaign -- but without the resources behind the Foundation.  It would emphasize the limited influence of the players and their vulnerability to many threats.  A rampaging homonculi from Ardeyn may be much less of a threat than a couple of FBI agents asking questions of your neighbors.  The struggle for resources and continued anonymity would be central concerns for the campaign.

This approach to the Estate is consistent with a low-power campaign with frail characters facing impossible odds.  This style of campaign is common in Call of Cthulhu.  

3.  Pulp hero campaign

This approach goes the opposite direction.  In a pulp campaign, the players are so good at what they do that they rarely need to worry about their unofficial status.  They can flash a badge and most people will accept it -- possibly with an occasional deception skills check.  They don't need to concern themselves with local sheriffs or showing up on a surveillance camera.  Their focus is squarely on finding the bad guys and punching them.

This version of the Estate is almost entirely consistent with the material in the core rulebook.  The Estate has a large campus where massive research projects are underway.  High technology frequently goes into and out of the facility.  People from this facility fly around the world and occasionally flash badges (!?!).  This is just the sort of behavior that would generate a lot of unwanted attention from law enforcement -- unless you don't want it to.

This campaign backgrounds questions about official authority.  You can focus on the players interaction with the major elements of the campaign (rogue creatures from other recursions, agents of the Circle of Liberty, whatever you want the campaign nemesis to be).  An extreme version of this could be DC comic's Justice League (in many iterations).  In most versions, the Justice League does not have formal authority yet they rarely argue with local police about their authority to fight Brainiac.  Why?  Because that is not the story the author wanted to tell (or the story the readers want to read).  The author wants to focus on the heroes using their abilities against a super villain.  For the most part, the stories simply ignore the legalities of an international vigilante force with the capability to destroy entire armies.

This approach to the Estate casts the characters as super-heroes.  This maybe just the sort of story you are looking for.  If you want to focus your stories on players using the foci to do things that normal humans can not, this could be the version of the Estate for you.  The Estate becomes an independent Hall of Justice or Avengers Mansion that is generally well-regarded by the public and the policy (unless you want a little Gyrich -- Gy-wrench? --  to throw a monkey in the system and force the Estate to pursue the government's goals).  

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