So the last few weeks have seen the group returning to the original, main plotline of the campaign — the Galactica fleet heading to Earth. Originally, I had envisioned a high-energy action piece, but the players got sidetracked into character building (or what I sometimes call “taking about our feelings” episodes.) This is not to deride character building sessions — having the people your are pretending to be become “real” (more on this later) is part and parcel of role playing, as opposed to roll playing; the style of gaming I’ve always enjoyed has been more about story and character than being a barbarian killing monsters and getting treasure. (We call that “robbery” in the modern world.)

In these sessions, Galactica and her even smaller rag-tag fleet had left Argos — an ancient Kobolian outpost where they had discovered the DNA material of the lost gods of the Colonials. We learned that the Kobolians do most of their tech through biology — these are creatures that were genetically-engineered to lead/shepherd a resurrected human race by the same god-like AIs, the TITANs, that had destroyed Mankind as “a nuisance.” They store their data on the most robust data storage system the universe has created — DNA. Their minds had been backed up, as well, and several had been resurrected using the technology aboard the resurrection ship that has been traveling with the fleet.

Argos is the New Caprica of our series (the “capital” human town on the marginally habitable world is New Caprica) and much of humanity has opted to stay on the world, rather than risk it all on another four or five months to Earth. Along with some the “Seraph” — the humanoid Cylons that had been created by “the Blaze”, the Cylon god, or Hades before he got delusions of grandeur, to replace his sibling Kobolians — Galactica set out with 20,000 or so people to find Earth.

They are being led by Admiral Alexander Pindarus — our PC in place of Adama — and a Triumvirate of Kobolians dedicated to humanity’s survival: Athena, Hermes, and Nike. Athena had been rescued/revived on Kobol using the biomass of the fatally injured Colonel Evripidi, Pindarus’ lover. Her mind was captured in the process, and Athena now possesses the memories of both. This had led to an increasingly troubled love affair between a goddess with thousands of years on the clock and who always eschewed romantic involvement as a distraction, and who is at odds with the feelings of the ghost of Evripidi; and Pindarus, who is increasingly feeling the isolation and pressure holding together an alliance with a small group of Seraph, and trying to preserve the human race.

The seeming “A story” was actually simply a side plot to allow the players to explore things their characters wanted to do: create an innovative use of raiders and vipers to strengthen their defensive and offensive. In this, the heavy raiders and raiders, which have been shown as smart, but overly-focused — “like a dog” as one of the Seraph explained — on a particular mission. Heavy raiders doggedly attempt to bust through the ship defenses to put their centurion payloads on a target. That’s what they do. They might dodge and weave to get there, but they don’t say “Hey, that viper is a real pain in the ass. I think I’ll take a moment to kill it, then get on with my mission.” like a raptor pilot might. The goal was to integrate Colonial and Seraph crews to make the most of the heavy raiders’ abilities. Additionally, they came up with a new system of using vipers for offense, with a light raider tagged to a particular viper with a mission of protecting that viper. These “sheepdogs” would act less as a wingman, and more as an aggressive defender of their Colonial leader.

The actual “A story” has a central framework focusing on romance. The B story was a pair of the NPCs were getting married — a popular human officer on Galactica, and Seraph pilot in the air group. This set up the A story drama between the characters (PC and otherwise) as to how they viewed the alliance, the other “race”, and even their own relationships.

Two of the PCs (Pindarus and the CAG for Galactica, “Boss”) found their relationships suffering due to some of these pressures. Boss has been in a affair of convenience with Gaeta (our version is the XO of the ship through attrition) and gets very excited about the wedding, inserting herself into the planning of the affair, and she is disappointed when Gaeta — not a fan of people that committed genocide — was less than enthusiastic about the event. This led to a quasi falling out, and after the wedding, she found herself in bed with one of her new Seraph pilots — the same model as her former boyfriend (before they knew he was a Seraph.) Similarly, Pindarus found himself questioning his relationship with the increasingly alien Athena, and found himself drawing closer Tana, the Seraph commander of the allied basestar. She is similar to Evripidi — tall, handsome but not pretty, incredibly smart and tactically proficient, and a bit politically and socially retarded — and like him, dedicated to saving their people, isolated by the uniqueness of her personality as the Seraph have started changing after they gained “free will”. She’s Evripidi 2.0, and he falls for her.

In this way, we’re using personal relationships to continue the motif of the Wheel of Time — that people keep making the same decisions and mistakes, time and again. “What’s a motif, Scott?” you might ask. It’s a fancy word for a theme or trope. It can anything from a decorative element in a game: the use of steam powered gadgets in a Victorian-period science fiction game like Space: 1889 or Victoriana is a “motif.” The use of steam isn’t going to necessarily change the way you use technology — steam-powered aether flyers are spaceships, and do the same thing as a pulp-era rocketship, or Enteriprise in Star Trek — it gets you where you need to go. But it can be an overarching theme — corruption in power structures, like you see in Gotham or The Wire, or even the execrable Star Wars prequels. In a campaign with this motif, players should be tempted by misuse of power on a regular basis, and should see the good and bad of abusing power. (Look at how easy it is to get an arrest and conviction on this obviously bad guy when you plant evidence! Look at how this traps you into staying dirty to cover up your misdeeds. And why shouldn’t I take the money from this dirtbag..? It’s just going into evidence and to a corrupt politician!)

In Battlestar Galactica, the main motifs are the fall of a society, their Exodus to a promised land, and rebirth, and that this Cycle of Time recurs over and over again. We took this trope and expanded on it. Man created machine intelligence that eventually outgrew it and destroyed Man, either on a whim or from expediency, and later regretted this choice. These AIs created the Kobolians and Man anew. Infighting and hatred led to the Fall of the Gods, led to the Exodus of the 12 Tribes. Those colonies replayed this theme on small and large scales throughout their history. Another is the shepherd and flock motif. The AI were supposed to serve Man. They overthrew them. Their creation of a guiding race — the Kobolians — based on human mythological archetypes led to Man overthrowing their rulers. Hades returned to reestablish his position with the Seraph as his “army.” Man fled. Man created Cylons and they rebelled… Overlayed on this is the mystical theme of an all-powerful, actual God stepping in from time to time to set things right. The TITANs may have been forced to recreate biological life. God may have pushed Hades to try and restore order on Kobol. God may have ordered the Seraph to destroy the Colonies through Hades/the Blaze. God is using Athena and select Seraph to lead Man home to Earth, and has given them the mission to find and “recover” the disparate colonies of Man throughout the galaxy.

If you have a motif to your campaign, it is important not to leave it in the background; it has to be active. You don’t have to cudgel your players with Frank Miller-esque levels of obviousness, but giving the players and NPCs motivations and opportunities that could lead them to act out these themes is important, no matter how small.