What’s a Good Campaign Framework?

In my quest to find a good campaign framework for BattleTech Alpha Strike, a game that I have played less than a dozen times, what should I be looking for, or include, if I can’t find an acceptable one that is already been created? You might be asking why even do a narrative campaign when you can just string a few missions together, write a little narrative around it, and call it good.

Well, that is a reasonable question to ask. I guess all my years of running an AD&D campaign (for 14+ years running), and playing in many other RPGs, has left me somewhat a narrative bigot. I never really like the Warhammer 40K competitive scene and playing matched play missions with a story bolted on seemed like a poor substitute for a truly narrative campaign.

I have found that you really don’t want the competitive/tourney minded folks in a campaign unless everyone involved is of the same mindset. Nothing turns a player off faster then rolling up with a “fluffy” list and being blown out in turn 1 or 2.

So, what do I look for in an “acceptable” campaign framework? I want a long running storyline that has ups and downs; that is engaging and exciting. There has to be continuity in that story, whether it is my character/army or my opponents. Each mission should have some affect on the following missions, even if it is a minor effect.

Remember that the narrative rules! The story takes precedent over winning the missions.

First of all I should relate the problems that I have encountered trying to figure out a campaign framework for Warhammer 40K before 9th edition’s Crusade narrative framework:

  • We tried giving the victor of a mission special abilities that were persistent for the remaining missions, like 10% extra points to start. That turned out to be a disaster if one side could pull off a couple of mission victories in a row early in the campaign. We scrapped that after the 4th mission.
  • We tried running long running, by that I mean no set end time like number of missions. What we ran into was that what factions people wanted to play would change as GW’s constant dribbling of codices would give folks new shiny factions to play with. Also, in 9th, GW was playing around with the constant updates to “balance” armies for matched/competitive play and suddenly an army roster was invalid, right in the middle of the campaign.
  • We tried campaigns with 10 people playing on teams. They had to play paired games vs the other team. The team results determined who the attacker and defender in the next round of games. The problem here was when, for life reasons, games couldn’t get played and there was no clear side that was victor. I didn’t have no victors factored into the results from the start, so we just carried over the winning team from the previous results.
  • The Crusade Narrative rules in 9th Edition were probably the best we had come up with. The reason was that the Crusade that you would build your army’s “campaign” on was only for your army. Let’s say that you and your buddy want to play a narrative Crusade; you would both pick a faction and build a 50PL roster. From that roster you would pick a 25PL list to play for each mission. And here was the cool part! You would have your own, asymmetrical, Agendas that you needed to accomplish during that mission. Those Agendas would sometimes line up with the mission’s objectives and sometimes not. So, it may be that you have to decide on whether you want to “win” the mission or complete your Agenda. Agendas were what would further the narrative that each individual player would build around their army. Really pretty cool.

    Units would earn experience points and gain small bonuses that they could use in the game. These bonuses might be the the ability to reroll attack rolls of 1 once per attack phase. Or gain and enhancement for one weapon in the unit.

    And the best part was, since the Crusade narrative was unique to each faction participating, players could play as many games as they could or even play others that were not even playing a Crusade as long as they played one of the Crusade missions.

    Another cool thing with the Crusade framework was that it had a mechanic to swap out units and add units; in fact you had to add units since it was similar to an Escalation league. Each mission pack was designed with 3-6 missions at 25PL, 50PL, 100PL, and 150PL. Teams get Requisition Points for each game, sometimes the winner of a mission will get an extra one. These points can be traded in for more units that can go on your roster. This allows for larger games and more customizing of forces for a specific mission profile.

So, as you may imagine, I lean toward the 9th Edition Crusade style framework since it addresses the fundamental problem areas of my first attempts at more than just stringing a bunch of missions together.

Also, the framework should be as simple as it can be and still be relevant to the missions. Too much book keeping turns some folks off. I know, some of you are saying, “good, they would have dropped after so long anyway”. Well, that maybe true, but seeing how much bookwork is required could stop someone from even trying the campaign or game for that matter.

There should be build limitations to help tone down the hyper competitive from spamming all the most efficient units in their army. I have found that you really don’t want the competitive/tourney minded folks in a campaign unless everyone involved is of the same mindset. Nothing turns a player off faster then rolling up with a “fluffy” list and being blown out in turn 1 or 2.

Well, that is enough for now. I have a few campaign frameworks designed for Alpha Strike that I will look through and review in the up coming posts.