We’ve had to sharply change gears on how we play the Battlestar Galactica campaign since the Fall of the Colonies. Up until the Cylon attack, it’s been mostly a Cold War spy/police procedural where one set of characters have been ferreting out the Cylon conspiracy, and another set have been dealing with the politics of the Colonies and how they are hampering the search. Now it’s a post-apocalyptic survival game.

First thing we’ve done is create groups of characters that have a certain sphere of influence. We can mix and match as works, but there are 1) political characters involved in the civilian fleet and the politics of running a small town on the run, 2) military to handle fighting Cylons and finding Earth, and 3) civilian characters whose fight crime, boredom, and dispair in the Fleet.

We’ve had two short episodes since the Fall. Our version of 33 only took about a day’s time, as the characters figured quickly that the Cylons were tracking the fleet and managed to locate the devices that were aiding the enemy. I had the white disk thingees we see in the miniseries (the one on the DRADIS console) play the role of trackers, tied into the DRADIS and navigation feeds, and powered by the ship’s power grid. Unplug them and they’re useless. There was an Olympic Carrier moment, but a shoot down is averted early on.

However, unlike the show, where the tiny government gets its act together fairly quickly, we’re addressing the chaos that 60,000+ people on about 92 ships (our Fleet is a bit bigger and has two battlestars and a few support ships surviving) that have had almost no time to mourn, come to grips with the enormity of what has just happened to them, and who are packed like sardines in some ships with terrible sanitary conditions, would face.

After the events of 33, the next adventure revolved around Vice President Jones — a player character — trying to get a decent census of the people in the fleet, and a sense of the conditions. Because the president and military are fixated on finding possible Cylon collaborators or agents in the fleet, they have stopped traffic between ships while the crews — tired, overworked, and grieving — try to figure out how many people they got and what their food/water/air situation is. There’s simply been no relief for people who are stunned by the Fall, and many can’t or won’t cope. When he arrives at the freighter Epheme, he finds the ship — which has pressurized container vessels packed with refugees — on the verge of mutiny. The people have been sealed inside the containers, because they have overloaded the ship’s water and waste systems. The ship has no water, and the sewage ship has yet to get to them. The place is an open sewer, and inside the containers, it’s worse. The characters have to avert a mutiny, convince the government to lift the no-fly order (and risk agents moving through the fleet), and then try to sort out how to move people.

The contrast between the lives of these people and the government types, sitting on Colonial One with only a small staff and press corps aboard, is marked, and made more obvious when the rump Quorum (only ten members chosen from the highest ranking officials from each Tribe they can find) votes to move from the small liner to Cloud 9 with its spacious staterooms, plentiful meeting spaces and convention halls, and amenities like dry cleaning service. Politicians, even in during the end of the world, still act like politicians.

It also gave us the chance to introduce a new PC, Quorum member from Aerilon who is a Cylon collaborator. His minder, a Cylon humanoid agent, got him from gang member and dock worker to community organizer, to politician in a few short years. He knows he was working for the enemy, but never expected them to actually attack. It should be an interesting tight-rope for the character to walk.

So what’s the point of all this? In your campaigns, it’s important to realize that — especially in fast moving, large events like battles, emergencies, etc. — the characters will never have full knowledge, or even accurate knowledge, of what’s going on around them. Think of the Boston Marathon bombings…even figuring out who the suspects were with mounds of photographic evidence took days, and over a week to start connecting them to those who aided them. In this game, after 3 days the Colonials still don’t have firm numbers on their survivors, don’t know how many lawyers to run courts, doctors to treat people, computer specialists, miners, and what have you they have in the fleet. To make these sorts of events real, you need to feed your players information. Then contradict it. Then do it again. Get them confused, worried, and make them act on imperfect knowledge. That’s how it really works, and when they screw up the consequences should lead to good drama and role play.