Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Ultimate Game

A November Challenge for My Fellow RPG Blogger-ites*!


What, for you, is the Ultimate Game?

Imperfect grammar aside, it's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. With my 40th Anniversary coming up next year, and my age ever increasing (can we get someone on that please? Thanks), I'm wondering if I've already run my greatest campaign, or is my greatest campaign yet to come? Would I know it if I saw it? What would it consist of?

Now this isn't necessarily the same as my dream game. My dream game would be a game impossible to achieve. It would require conditions, people, and other various elements I not longer have viable access to. It couldn't happen.

An Ultimate Game is, by contrast, possible. It is a game that, if I could meet the appropriate conditions, could be done now, or in the coming months. Not easy perhaps, not guaranteed, but likely enough to make a go at it. 

So, what would my Ultimate Campaign look like? What would yours look like?

For me...


For me it would be Space Opera Science Fiction. 


The style of game I'd most like to put together would be an open-universe, sandbox, or storybox in which the PCs start out as low-competence (but not incompetent) galactic adventurers, and can potentially go anywhere and do anything. 

Beginning as a Blaster-for-Hire, and ending up a General, or even the Governor of a Planet is not out of the question.


Fast. I want a faster paced game then I've been seeing in the last few years. I want to go back to rewarding action, even if it's social action, and penalizing taking thirty minutes of real time (or more) to decide what to do just because you think your in a 'safe area'. Screw that. I'm going back to dropping asteroids on you if you overthink what's going on.


I would really love to run a game where PCs could come in, and out of the story. This means that not every player must be there for every session (or more accurately, a session can occur even if one or two people can't make it), as well have players with multiple PCs. I've really enjoyed troupe play in the past and I'd like to try it again.


Yes, system is last. Why? Are you new here?

Just teasing. System is last because to me it's the least important element compared to the ones I've already mentioned. It's not 'not important', but it can be figured out later. 

My preference would be one in which PCs improve over time, but it happens in small increments over a long period. Alternatively, you might get middle ground competent fast, but becoming really amazing at something takes a long while.

Well, those are my general parameters. What are yours? How doable are they?

My real fear is, I've already done this. That is, I've already run my personal, Ultimate Game. What if my best gaming years are long behind me?

Surely not. Right? What about your Ultimate Game? Already happened? In your near future?

I'd love to hear from you.

Barking Alien

*Is to a word.


  1. Running a Traveller campaign right now, at age 47, after taking a decade off (10 years?!?!).
    You are still in the running, son. Build that game, it will happen!

    1. Thank you sir! As a 47 year old Traveller fan myself I thank you for keeping the dream alive. Spread the love!

  2. Mine would be a WEG D6 Star Wars game taking inspiration from Firefly. Players start off living on a played out mining colony turned to agriculture.

    1. A man after my own heart...ok...minus the Firefly. :)

  3. Great idea but this is going to have to go into a full post - hopefully this week!

  4. I have to think about this before I answer, because my favorite aproach (the PCs as a noble house) doesn't mesh well with my favorite genre (military sci-fi).

    I'll come back to you when I have that sorted out ;).

    1. Please do. I may have an idea or two for you regarding your seemingly incompatible parameters. ;)

  5. What a great question. I honestly don't know how to answer it.

    I would love to run something open and sandboxy, with simple rules. It would be a genre-bender of a sort, but with a space opera basis, I think. Something like Warhammer 40,000, Fading Suns, Dune or Star Wars. Maybe even Starjammer. Something spacey but with a bit of swashbuckling and fantasy in there too.

  6. Adam, you are a man after my own heart. As much as I love Star Wars D6, the PCs can never blow up the Death Star or turn Darth Vader back to the Light Side unless you ran an alternate history style campaign.

    In an open sandbox style game, not only can the PCs arise to influence galactic events, the challenges they face to do so are completely fresh and unknown to them.

    As for system, as I've hinted I have a soft spot for D6. ;)

    1. I wrote a post on this a short while ago (though can't seem to find it), but I can never understand the thinking that goes, 'I'm not the one who blew up the Death Star so what is there to do?'.

      Really? In the Star Wars Universe? How do they keep making films or episodes of Star Wars Rebels?!? :P

      There are tons of unknowns, unanswered questions, and new things to see and do in a universe so vast.

      This is one of the reasons Star Wars remains a favorite game setting for me to this day.

  7. Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that playing in the Star Wars universe is pointless if you can't blow up the Death Star. Star Wars RPGs are a great way to explore a beloved story franchise.

    I only meant it for sake of contrast to highlight the appeal of an open sandbox universe.

    I guess it's a give and take situation. Playing in the Star Wars sandbox is fun, but an open sandbox has fewer fixed plot lines.

  8. Genre/Setting:
    Despite Sci-Fi being my favorite, and being a bit tired of medieval fantasy, I would probably choose a low fantasy semi-realistic medieval setting, since the scale is better suited for my ideal approach* (see Approach). I seem to work better when using IPs I know in deep: paradoxically, I think I am more original introducing clever twists to stablished settings than inventing my own worlds. So, basically, I’ll chose Game of Thrones, or maybe Dragon Age.

    The players are a noble house and have to deal with all the issues in their lands. They are powerful from the start, and get to choose if they are heroic, cruel, or just pragmatic. I have found that when “bandits attacking villagers” become “insurgents assaulting your taxpayers”, people get much more involved.

    I am quite lazy about preparing adventures, but I am good at improvising. This approach is perfect for that: set the stage and let the players guide the plot. But, more than that, it is very enjoyable as a GM, because I get as surprised as any player by the twists in the story.

    Whatever comes out. I can expend half a session with the players discussing and trading insults in-character (we often do this in Dragon Age). Or it can be a big battle about to bring glory or death to their house.

    This approach brings out the best from some players, while disruptive ones are policed by the group itself. But, above all, they need to be participative, and make versatile PCs that have an impact in the world. An “optimized” fighter who is just that is likely to get bored.

    Requires a small group (no more than five) and regular attendance.

    It will benefit immensely from having good social interaction rules, and needs at least some mass battle and realm building ones. Oddly, right now, I’ll choose Savage Worlds, despite not knowing if it has any official supplement dealing with realm building. I could work with most pseudo-medieval games that don’t get overboard with magic, but I am very picky with systems and I like them to be simple and, at the same time, that its dice rolls are fun by themselves (The One Ring being a perfect example). If the PCs get some personality traits from the start (The One Ring and Savage Worlds do this), all the better.

    Have I run this? Kinda, in my only A Song of Ice and Fire campaign. But it was at a moment we were reforming as a gaming group, and the patched nature of the PC cast strained credibility (think of a soap opera that changed half its cast after five episodes). And I also had two passive players which I couldn’t engage enough.
    That said, a later Star Trek game had a somewhat similar feel: the PCs making all the big decisions and looking for compromises. It “only” lacked the personal stakes and moral ambiguity Game of Thrones has.

    *I think I may get the best from both worlds from something like Rogue Trader, which puts the players in command of a space-faring merchant prince dynasty. But, apart from not liking the system, that game has a big problem of scale too: if you have tens of thousands of crewmembers in your ship, why would the PCs go on dangerous and often menial missions? I am eager to hear your suggestions.

    (Sorry for the long post. I need a blog ^_^)

    1. If you treat Rogue Trader like Star Trek-with-skulls it's a bit easier to manage. They are the bridge crew and even though every bit of common sense says you don't send the bridge crew down to planetary surfaces to explore, that's just how the fiction works.

      Don't send them on menial missions -- no one ever saw Kirk managing cargo transport -- but do send them on dangerous adventures, because they're the heroes of a gaudy space opera and that's what they do.

      If you must have an in-universe explanation then the one that has worked for me is that the Rogue Trader and his retinue are supposed to be almost like ambassadors and so they need to be seen. If they send a bunch of minions down to a planet that doesn't look good and will harm their reputation. It's always handy to have rival Traders running about too, so you can explain that the reason why Planet A rejected the players' deal and went with the other Trader is because the other Trader bothered to turn up in person.

  9. Genre/Setting:
    Futuristic SciFi with a virus that has spread prompting all sorts of different reactions for trying to survive. This would allow some worlds to be shattered shades of their past (post apocalyptic/western/dark ages feel) along with planets that are gleaming beacons but have strict quarantine regulations (very futuristic but luxury goods may be hard to come by since survival #1 priority) or a mixture these things. I also would like to make it so the virus rapidly mutates and that all but few species can be infected (with different symptoms from race to race). Not a zombie virus killing or resurrecting but more a driven mad by the virus. So the infected would be self destructive, have no fear, paranoia, and full of rage being common among all infected. One specie could get a high fever, skin color could change, or boils could develop.

    Open sandbox. Trying to find safe harbor from the virus in which rumors would lead to PCs chasing rumors and running afoul of enemies that may have created virus or have other plans.

    Fast paced - more reactionary with little down time to rest or plan before next thing happens. Just keeping story rocking and rolling. Also episodic so a game night has a cast for that night but not necessarily same cast for next game night. This allows same player to play different PC or play game 1-2 players down. Joined together with maybe flashbacks or other quick story methods to fill in blanks.

    Probably start with something and hack it to fit what I wanted - not sure after typing this what system I would run honestly.

    This was interesting exercise, I have done this game on smaller scale with PCs trying to get out of an infected town with different town areas under different NPCs control but a galactic scale would be great. Thanks again for exercise.