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View Full Version : Mass Effect / Space Opera Storyline - I need help creating a story for my campaign!



EccentricOwl
2012-01-24, 03:19 AM
Episodic advenutres: I got 'em in droves. But that's the limit of my abilities. It's difficult for me to come up with large-scale, overarching campaign models.

I personally prefer using published material when possible; and, while I've got no problem coming up with or finding individual adventures, making a satisfying and coherent story is much more difficult.

I'm running a game set in the Mass Effect universe using the Eclipse Phase ruleset. Your thoughts? Any campaign models you've heard of or are working on? Where to start?

Flame of Anor
2012-01-24, 03:34 AM
Well, I mean, how are you dealing with the actual plot? I suppose you could fit in a game in the few decades between youumanity joining the Citadel races and the adventures of Commander Shepard, but otherwise you're kind of out on a limb--who knows what the galaxy will look like after ME3? (Obviously there won't be one correct answer for that...)

Siegel
2012-01-24, 05:27 AM
Look at the kinds of characters your players are creating. Ask your players what they want from the game and what they want their characters to experience. Ask what their characters want. Let every PC come up with a NPC that is important to them and one that is opposing them or was doing so in the past.

Start from there, don't try to build a story and then fit the PCs in there. Look where and what the PCs are for inspiration.

If you do this than the players have done 50% of your job and it will be more fullfilling for them since everything will be about them.

Jerthanis
2012-01-24, 09:00 AM
Here's the Mass Effect plot I came up with:

An unverified source reveals that the Salarians have Genophages for each of the other major races, and are about to complete the Genophage for Humanity. The Salarians deny this, but of course they would. Now the Council (with the Slarian rep recusing himself) has put together an elite group of special agents to forcefully break into high level Salarian compounds and computer systems, investigate thoroughly and quickly before the Salarians can cover their tracks one way or the other, and discover the truth... and who leaked the information and to what purpose.

EccentricOwl
2012-01-24, 09:28 PM
@Siegel: That's a more player-centric style, and it's not one I'm used to. I am used to writing out plots ahead of time; more like the Pathfinder Adventure Paths. It's important to fit PCs into the story, but I find that it creates a very satisfying story if it's already rather coherent.

HOWEVER, you're right - it's more satisfying for the player if they've got a bigger and more personal stake. I've definitely been trying to do just that.

@Flame of Anor: Well, I was actually thinking about setting it 5-6 years before the main series - Mass Effect 1 and 2 both make many references to the Skyllian Blitz, the conflict between the (rather generically evil) Batarians.

@Jerthanis: Intriguing.

Mark Hall
2012-01-24, 11:12 PM
I had one group where I was going to more or less play Jack's escape... they were a group of biotics (and one CitSec who got too close) who wound up on a Cerberus research facility. I was going to start them fighting their way out, then freebooting... with Cerberus on their heels, wanting to clean up their loose ends...

Flame of Anor
2012-01-25, 02:53 AM
Here's the Mass Effect plot I came up with:

An unverified source reveals that the Salarians have Genophages for each of the other major races, and are about to complete the Genophage for Humanity. ...

If you do that, I suggest you make the Salarians (or, at least, the regular STG) not the actual antagonists--throw various twists and turns, splinter factions, terrorist organizations, etc., at the players. Go easy on new alien races, though, that might come off as silly or copying the main plot.


@Flame of Anor: Well, I was actually thinking about setting it 5-6 years before the main series - Mass Effect 1 and 2 both make many references to the Skyllian Blitz, the conflict between the (rather generically evil) Batarians.

I think that's an excellent idea. Make sure to shake up their expectations--give the players a ship that's almost comical in how much worse it is than the Normandy, have most Turians dislike them, etc.

Soylent Dave
2012-01-25, 06:16 AM
Episodic advenutres: I got 'em in droves. But that's the limit of my abilities. It's difficult for me to come up with large-scale, overarching campaign models.

I personally prefer using published material when possible; and, while I've got no problem coming up with or finding individual adventures, making a satisfying and coherent story is much more difficult.

The first step to making a coherent, overarching campaign is to create enjoyable episodic sessions - so it sounds like you've got that part sorted.

I'd worry about creating minor, more episodic stories at first - partly to settle your players into the campaign world (and their characters), but also to introduce them to some NPCs. It's the relationships they build with various NPCs, and the things those NPCs are doing in the background (antagonistic as well as friendly) which will turn the campaign from separate episodes into an overarching story.

Think about space operas on TV - they usually start out pretty slow, with episodes that are really just telling an individual story; then, as the series progresses you realise that there is stuff in the individual episodes which links into a larger tale (e.g. Babylon 5 mentions the First Ones in series one, and BSG talks about the Cylon Plan early on - but you don't find anything out until much later in either series - because you wouldn't care)

With a campaign, you don't actually have to decide ahead of schedule which NPCs or storylines are going to expand into your overarching story - just see which characters it makes the most sense for you to recur, or which storylines it makes sense for you to expand (or which your players want to follow up on), or use as foreshadowing etc. (NB it doesn't actually matter if you don't know it's foreshadowing when it happens; your players get the fun of thinking it was...)

It helps if you have a vague idea as to what you want your overall story to be about - but you don't have to worry too much about how you're going to fit your players into the 'big' plot right at the start; let them play around in the campaign world for a bit and you'll probably find an organic way to fit them into it - they'll kill someone important, or witness something they aren't meant to, or do something else PC-ish, and before you know it they're caught up in a galactic war...

EccentricOwl
2012-01-27, 01:12 PM
I think that's... actually kind of difficult. I mean, sure, people in Hollywood churn out cheap overarcing plots all the time (if that makes any sense) but I'm afraid I generally have trouble getting that 'overarcing' thing down.

Yes, I can definitely have my players work with me to create plots that represent their characters' backstories. But maybe it's just my own fault, but I can never see that taking center stage; in my current mindset, tha'ts always the 'side-story.'

I think that foreshadowing is important, you're right, and it's definitely something that I have done and already do. The final villain in the Kingmaker adventure path for Pathfinder is alluded to in the first few sessions, for example.



So, what do you mean 'organically' fit them into a story?

Flame of Anor
2012-01-28, 12:21 AM
I think that's... actually kind of difficult. I mean, sure, people in Hollywood churn out cheap overarcing plots all the time (if that makes any sense) but I'm afraid I generally have trouble getting that 'overarcing' thing down.

The simplest way of doing this is just throw in cryptic references and clues to the bad guys throughout the campaign. (It's even better if they also make sense and fit together, but eh.)

Examples of slightly more in-detail ways to do this:
Rogue salarian scientists doing something nefarious? Maybe your players will overrun an evil outpost of some sort, and there'll be a salarian with an insignia/tattoo/whatever they've never seen before. He kills himself before they can get any useful intel. Maybe a Spectre (or justicar) is making sneaky attacks on the villains. He or she could show up in a battle and then mysteriously disappear afterwards, not to reappear until least expected. Bonus points if you make it look at first like he or she is a bad guy. They'll be subconsciously expecting that from comparison with Saren, and the reveal will throw them for a loop. Your players occasionally fight a certain type of weird alien creatures. It's not on any of the records...who is gen-engineering them, and why? Biological weapon, like Benezia was trying with the Rachni? Maybe they're just some rather mentally-dull newcomers to the galactic community, who just like to fight a lot. (Fake-out, they're not the real main villains!)


So, you see, there are various ways to do it. It's not that hard*. Feel free to use any of my ideas!


*not that I have ever actually tried it

EccentricOwl
2012-01-29, 02:49 AM
See, those are all plot threads that definitely help. I appreciate that; simply put, plot threads can be very useful. It seems like I'll end up tying up lots of little plot threads into one big one; maybe working with the idea of an established and nice organization as the enemies.

Of course, the players - mine, maybe not yours - are suspicious and cruel people. :P Therefore, doing the opposite of what they're expecting from the excellent Mass Effect game series is a lovely way of turning expectations on their head- therein I appreciate the ideas.
@Soylent Dave - you're right. Every session being fun is more important than the big picture, in a way. At least for some campaigns. Kingmaker has really gotten the 'big picture' thing stuck in my head; it's so long-term that it's hard to have episodic sections and sessions.

Foreshadowing is what I'm hearing and seeing a lot. And that's just fine. Foreshadowing makes it seem like I have more planned than I really do. :P And sometimes that's all you need to make things into a big plot.

Also, it seems that a piece of advice I'm seeing is to adapt what players THINK is the 'main plot' to become more and more important. If the players seem really really interested in the drug trade, perhaps making Red Sand and other drugs part of the focus is the best plan of action. It's not easy for me, like I said; coming up with an overarcing story isn't easy. But at least now, I have something to work with.

I'm thinking I'll have it centered around the Salarian Union possessing versions of the Genophage for all the other major races of the galaxy. However, since the Union is apparently very factionalized and house-oriented, I don't think that everyone knows about it. Instead, different noble houses contracted different groups; one house might have hired ExoGeni Corporation to do research on previous extinction events while another purchased the services of an in-house corporation; the Salarian Union central government might actually have one genophage that others in the galaxy know about, one which could only be used on races no longer relevant - like the Krogans or the Rachni.

The 'beginning' might deal with corporate intrigue; players are finding clues that different corporations have been hired to perform services for the different houses in the Union, pointing to somewhat nefarious deeds. I'd have ot throw off their trail once or twice here to make sure they don't get everything down pat. Also, it serve as a good example of the universe; players can get into character and figure out what their group does and how they operate.

The 'middle' might deal with the players side-tracking slightly; maybe they'll deal with a new semisentient minor race (an idea I like! Thanks Flame of Anor!) before finding out why different groups were interested in it, which should make it clear that some of the Salarian houses possess genophages for, say, Turians. They might be able to do some real damage to the corporations which have not been very pleasant to them.

The 'end' is a bit more of a mystery to me; I think that one of the Salarian factions might have a genophage tailored to one of their rivals (or even the minor species above) and be willing to release it. Doing so would be devastating.

Ideally, I can foreshadow any or all of these events with a few subtle clues across each session. It gives it a much more coherent plot, even if each week the players fight a different group in some way or another.

I'm actually pretty iffy on the endgame, though.

Soylent Dave
2012-01-30, 08:41 AM
I think that's... actually kind of difficult. I mean, sure, people in Hollywood churn out cheap overarcing plots all the time (if that makes any sense) but I'm afraid I generally have trouble getting that 'overarcing' thing down.

Yes, I can definitely have my players work with me to create plots that represent their characters' backstories. But maybe it's just my own fault, but I can never see that taking center stage; in my current mindset, tha'ts always the 'side-story.'

So, what do you mean 'organically' fit them into a story?

Okay, some examples from the campaign I'm doing at the moment-

The heroes are aspirant knights to an order of demon hunting templars (basically - actually it's post-apocalyptic and there aren't any real demons, but none of the characters or NPCs believe that, so...)

In an early session, the characters were involved in a trial by combat as part of the 'are you good enough to join the order?' test (also testing if they were noble enough to yield when defeated, not butcher a wounded opponent etc.; usual cliché knightly stuff).

During which they met - and fought - some other NPC applicants, one of which they bonded with (totally surprisingly - I expected him to be a throwaway character), so I've filed him away to use again, because he's someone they care about - gives me lots to do there, don't know what I'll use him for yet!

I also introduced, intended to be the villain of that particular scene, a nobleman who was trying to buy his way into the knights and who didn't understand the point of a trial by combat, someone who fought dishonourably and was actually much better at fighting than the inexperienced PCs - with the intent that he'd try very hard to kill one of the PCs and they'd bond with each other by helping to save him.

What actually happened was that I rolled really badly, and the player kicked the crap out of him - which let me do some dirty stuff like still trying to fight when I was on the floor, refusing to yield etc. - and actually resulted in a set of PCs who REALLY hated this guy (who rather obviously failed his trial by combat and gets booted out of the order). So I've got an NPC who the players a) HATE and b) got humiliated by the PCs (neither of which I really expected - he was written to be a 'villain of the moment' not anything recurring (that's why he's such a cliché...))

Now the PCs are accepted into the order (but still aspirants), and they've been interfering in politics of a nation (they burned a witch without waiting for the local lord's approval, tsk tsk); I needed a name for the noble they'd annoyed - by making it the same as the failed aspirant, it makes the previous encounter feel like foreshadowing, and links the two (otherwise unrelated) stories.

(and when they found out that the local lord *wasn't* the same guy, but a relative, it makes things seem a bit bigger - while ensuring their reactions weren't quite as clear-cut (is it a family vendetta against the Templars or have they genuinely made a political mistake?)

Okay that was a bit longer than I expected... but that's basically what I mean by organically; stuff happens in each session that you run, and (at least in my experience) a lot of it is utterly unexpected.

Turning that unexpected stuff into part of your main plot is relatively straightforward - if you know how your NPCs are going to react to something, and how they interact with the world, then the PCs actions can have consequences.

Those consequences help create your overarching plot, bit-by-bit.

Some of the NPC reactions will occur offscreen, but that doesn't mean they don't impact the world (and that the PCs shouldn't see the effects at a later date). And of course there are times if the PCs don't do something, it has an effect on the world, and things change (that they may not discover for quite some time).

You don't need a complex web of intrigue set up to describe all of this - you just need to know (or decide) how various NPCs will react to whatever it is the PCs have done, and what effect this will have on the campaign world as a whole - when you do this with major NPCs, you often come up with session ideas, as well as big things happening behind the scenes.

(I'd had the witch-burning and consequences storyline written before we started the campaign - but I didn't know that the Lord's name was going to be 'Helshon' until they met his cousin. It also gave me the idea that this particular noble family are making a general grab for power and influence, which is why they'd sent one of their number to try and join the Templars - which builds into the larger plot (already storyboarded) that the nation they are a part of is about to declare war on its neighbour (and the Templars might eventually have to pick sides))


@Soylent Dave - you're right. Every session being fun is more important than the big picture, in a way.

Also, it seems that a piece of advice I'm seeing is to adapt what players THINK is the 'main plot' to become more and more important. If the players seem really really interested in the drug trade, perhaps making Red Sand and other drugs part of the focus is the best plan of action. It's not easy for me, like I said; coming up with an overarcing story isn't easy. But at least now, I have something to work with.

I always like being told I'm right :P

Yeah, adapting what your players are grabbing, what your players like is always a good idea (even better if they think they've stumbled onto or discovered the main plot, when really it's half that and half the campaign coalescing around their actions)

Your campaign story outline seems like a fantastic starting point - and the level of detail you have for each Act seems spot on to me; that's pretty much the amount of detail I'd have at this point, and I'd be adding more as my players did things (annoyed NPCs, built alliances, found evidence etc.)

If you know how your world works, and how each NPC you use interacts with it (at least enough so that you know what he's going to do once the PCs have left the building), then your overarching story will almost write itself.