Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Workshop on Fronts for The Strange part I

I previously wrote about the notion of developing "fronts" as a way to plan out a dynamic campaign.  I am now in the process of planning out my actual campaign for my Wednesday night Roll20 game.  As a result, I am returning to my previous discussion of fronts to help guide the development.  I won't go into great detail on the nature of fronts (that is what the previous post did).  Instead, I use this space to work out how I plan to use several fronts for my upcoming campaign.

It should go without saying that if you happen to be playing in my games, you probably should not read this.

This might get a little bumpy -- it is basically a set of working notes -- but I think it could be useful to see one person's attempts to implement some of the key ideas from fronts for campaign planning in The Strange.

For this workspace, I am going to focus on the following:
  1. Who are the fronts?
  2. What are their motivations?
  3. How will their effect on the world be experienced by the PCs
  4. What can the PCs do to affect each front?
The first answer is pretty simple.  While each front will not share equal time in the campaign, it is useful to have several options for opposition to the player characters.

I am using a relatively standard set-up for the PCs as operatives of The Estate.  That leaves me needing to focus my story hooks on the nature of the opposition.  One certainly could tell stories that focus on the internal dynamics of The Estate, but I am not planning on those for the near future.

I am planning for there to be three fronts:  (1) the Auroleaus University Provost's Counsel [see my article in the CypherCaster for some details on them and the Holstenwall setting], (2) the Office of Strategic Recursion (OSR), and (3) a specific group tied to a planetevore.  

My goal with the set of fronts is to have a variety of tones and types of opposition to draw upon.  The Council gives me an opposition with a gothic horror feel.  The OSR gives me a high-tech, super-spy tone for opposition.  The specific ontovore group gives me a form of opposition that operates through very different sorts of mechanisms -- but that will be more clear when I elaborate on their means and goals.

For each of the front, I want to define a motivation, effect on the environment, and how the PCs can affect their efforts.  

Provost's Counsel

The Provost's Counsel is seeking to manipulate the laws of physics in their recursion (Holstenwall) and Earth to develop life-extending technologies.  These attempts are taking a variety of forms.  Some of the scientists are using electrical technologies (think Dr. Frankenstein's lab in the Universal Films version of Frankenstein).  Others are using various alchemical technologies (think Dr. Frankenstein's lab in the Hammer Films version of the story The Curse of Frankenstein).  This has created an arms race between various researcher factions to deliver results.  

The efforts of this front affect the PC as various groups within the faction have begin visiting the prime recursion of Earth.  Some seek to take materials from Earth for their research in Holstenwall.  Some want to use the physics of Earth to facilitate their research.  These efforts place the various researchers from Auroleaus University on the radar of The Estate.

As the research teams continue to move back and forth between recursions, the walls separating these worlds begins to erode.  What began as isolated expeditions expands to allow for other groups from Holstenwall to pursue their own goals on Earth -- including groups unrelated to the Provost's Counsel.  As the front proceeds, the players are likely to encounter two changes in the campaign world.  First, the reports of incidents related to gothic horror tropes will increase in the world.  Isolate reports of monstrous creatures will multiply.  Second, the nature of the creatures will change as the various research programs progress.

The PCs can affect this front by thwarting individual research programs -- and possibly even the entire Counsel.  If the PCs thwart a lab focusing on the creation of reanimated corpses to create powerful guardians, those creatures will not be among the forces the players encounter later.  If the PCs fail to thwart a lab creating alchemical oozes, those may show up later as the threats multiply.  Player success and failure shift the mixture of threats they face down the line.  

One challenge will be to communicate the latter effect to players.  Simply not seeing a creature type is hard to notice -- yet this is the way that the players will affect the front.  I need to develop a means to make this affect more obvious.  

Use of the Front in Improvisational Design

Taking a hint from the improvisational campaign design used the Armitage Files, I am using the front-based development approach to allow the campaign to follow the players' lead.  I will provide the players with several potential leads.  Some will be related to this front while others will connect to the other fronts.  The leads they choose will tell me about the sorts of stories the players want to participate in.  In this case, I will seed the story with potential leads about gothic horror threats.  If they follow these leads, they will learn more and more about the threat of the Counsel.

In the next post, I will develop one or both of the remaining fronts.  


  1. Hiyas!

    Great stuff! I wonder why the epithet "fronts" & not "factions"?

    1. A front need not be a group of people. An impending natural disaster (think the comet from FF7, or the collapse of the biosphere from global warming) could work as a front just as well as a faction could.

  2. I believe it's from Dungeon World

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  4. I ran across the terminology in Apocalypse World and a blog post from Sly Flourish (linked in the original article -- itself linked above). I think Dungeon World is itself based on Apocalypse World.