The new(ish) game group has settled in nicely over the last two years. We started as a 5th ed D&D group — that was my sales pitch for two of the gamers — but they have tried out Hollow Earth ExpeditionTales from the Loop (which was very popular with the gnag, as most of them are of that particular late ’80s childhood.) I introduced them to a house rules version of cortex to run our end of Roman Britain campaign, swapping for the high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons. I floated the idea of a new science fiction campaign; I’ve been getting the itch to do sci-fi, and particularly space opera again.

The ideas I threw out were a Star Trek campaign in the reboot (and let’s face it, it’s a reboot) Discovery universe (minus the awful spore drive McGuffin). I like the aesthetic of the ships and gear of the show, and the more gritty tone fits me well. And I would get to use the Eaglemoss starships for battles. (The Discoverse ships are gorgeous! and I’m warming up to the Warhammer 40k aesthetic of the Klingon designs from first season (which I initially didn’t like…) I’m thinking of either busting out the old Decipher Trek rules set, or porting it to classic Cortex, which remains a house fave for rules mechanics.

The second choice was to try and catch lightning in a bottle one more time with Battlestar Galactica. I miss the old campaign, loved the universe we had created, and think I could do a nice variation on the themes without repeating myself. And I would get to use the Eaglemoss models for combat scenes.

Something tells me with the current crop, Trek would fly better.

One of the nice things about the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is the idea of the Cycle of Time — that these events recur in variations of a theme throughout time. With that in mind, here’s a little something from the “Starships of the Universe” page from Facebook:


What if, instead of the Twelve Colonies, you start your campaign on Earth? Maybe see the settlement of the 12 Colonies or Kobol as the outcome of your crew fleeing the creation of vicious AI here on Earth (something alluded to at the end of the show?)

Maybe your “Battlestar” class space aircraft carrier Enterprise can lead a rag-tag fleet of cobbled together spacecraft looking for a new home..?

25 years later…

We open on Argos, the marginally inhabitable world (our New Caprica, if you will) which has become a thriving colony, thanks to the Kobolians and their technology. While the humans and Seraph have their own planetary government, everyone knows it’s the Olympian Council,  led by Zeus, who is in charge.

Visiting the Forge of Hephaestus, we reintroduce Nike, now the Goddess of War after Athena’s disappearance. She is inspecting the massive galleons — half warship, half ark — being constructed to protect the world by the Smith God’s multitude of mechanical assistants. Among his other toys, is a strange craft that she was not able to get a read on, but was a ship designed to reintroduce plant and animal material on Kobol — a world that had apparently been reconstructed by one of the TITAN’s leftover  hekatonchires — the great utility fogs that can repurpose entire worlds.

This led to a diplomatic party scene, where Argos was culminating its 25th anniversary since settlement. Among the guests were diplomats from the Cyrannus Colonies (the 12 Colonies of Man), Earth, and the Pleiades Colonies. Hermes was introduced, just back from his mission to the latter, where he found a culture older than Kobol, the source of the “Aurelian Heresies” — thousands of years ld prophesies that pre-dated Kobol and were frequently referenced throughout the game — and currently more advanced than the Kobolians. Other guests included the twin children of Athena and Admiral Pindarus — Athena and Alexander III, young, handsome, and smart half-Kobolians on a mission to the various worlds of Man.

We got a taste of the politics of Argos — the in-roads the monotheism of the Seraph was making, the shaky “alliance” between Argos and Earth, and the internal beefs of the “gods.” Zeus asks Nike and Hermes to represent them at Earth’s 25th anniversary of the founding of the Earth Alliance.

Six months later, we picked up on a rescue mission in the California Republic, one of the four great polities of Earth, where an earthquake has destroyed much of the City of Angels. Alala — the Seraph pilot introduced a few months back with the addition of a new player is now commander of the new basestar, Galactica, and is commanding the efforts. She is warned by one of the pilots on CAP, the daughter of Hermes and one of the major NPCs that had been a bit player throughout the game, of a tsunami coming, and is rescued by said pilot in a daring move.

When they return to Galactica, a more modern, welcoming basestar, with a much more advanced look, we reintroduce Admiral Armenta — a character that started as a pilot in old Galactica, just before the Fall, and who had wored her way up through the campaign to wing commander. She is 50, now, and older, more tired, and a bit less idealistic. After some character bits with her old friend Alala, and her operations officer, the daughter of Pindarus and Tana, his Seraph wife, she makes ready for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Alliance. The ship bearing Hermes and Nike arrives from Argos about this time.

After some politicking in the Temple of Athena, in which we meet the older version of Pindarus, now 68 and the Princep (first citizen) of the Alliance, and his wife Tana — now ruler of the Athenian Republic (the city-state where most of the people who survived the Exodus live). There were a few bits of diplomacy, but in the end, the second night of the finale saw a day where the old characters getting together for an old fashioned picnic.

We learned about the fates of these long-running characters. Pindarus’ time as defense secretary putting together the Earth Defense Force, his marriage to Tana and its near collapse after an infidelity five years ago. His widespread cancers from a decade ago, cured by a bone marrow transfusion from Tana. He is now the first prince elected by planetary vote, he wrote a massive history of the Cycle of Time, and now potters about cooking and painting.

Zoe Armenta (formerly Arden, call sign Billboard, then Boss) became a lifer — commanding the fighter wings of Earth, then a basestar, before getting knocked up by her yeoman and taking command of the Sparta Military Reservation, training the EDF soldiers. She has recently taken over the new Galactica. She is married, mostly a settling for the most stable choice sort of match after two decades of short flings and throwing herself into building the EDF.

Hermes has been the chief diplomat for the Kobolians on Argos, but is more interested in furthering Athena’s dream of the worlds of Man (in all its iterations) united. Various NPCs that had been in the game for years were referenced or seen, and in the end, the last night had that same bittersweet quality that the Babylon 5 finale had. These are our heroes — old, tired, at the end of their working lives…but still standing. Still family.

Cut to 500 yeas later, Capricorn Colony in the Pleiades Colonies of Man. Starbuck (a Dirk Benedict-esque one) and Apollo are gambling at “Casino Planet” (this was some fan service for Jim, one of the gamers, who has been lobbying for a casino planet visit since he joined the group) on the Elysium Station over the colony. They are suddenly recalled to their battlestar, Galactica, when a massive fleet, led by the ousted Leader Baltar, strikes without warning. The vessels attacking are “Olympian”, and their mechanical Myrmidon troopers invade the station. After fighting them off in the hangar bay, they take their very futuristic vipers and race back to Galactica, where the ship is preparing for battle.

Apollo meets his father, Commander Adama, who informs him that Fleet Admiral Pindarus is reporting half the fleet has already been destroyed, their worlds nuked. There are refugee ships everywhere, and Galactica has been ordered not to join the main battle, but instead take the civilians out of the combat zone to the only safe harbor they know, the only world that could stand up to the Olympians…Earth.

Thus ended 4 years, 10 months  of one of the best and longest games I’ve ever run. The pay-off — seeing ones characters having come through their epic journey, succeed at rebuilding their lives — seemed to resonate well with the players. The coda 500 years later lend more power to the Cycle of Time, and suggested that the story wasn’t truly over.

Was this episode really needed? After all, they’d gotten to Earth and found a new home. End of story…but after investing so much in their characters, letting them see them aged, well-lived, and a new generation of heroes coming into their own (the children of the characters), gave a sense of continuity and closure. As finishing a campaign — especially one of this length — is relatively rare for a gaming group post high school or college, having that glimpse of what became of your characters is important for the players.

One way to go about this is for the GM to have a plan of what the world looks like five, ten, or a quarter century out. Another is to let the players each have a moment where they tell you what happened to their characters. Either works well. In this case, I asked what the characters wanted to do, long term. I had them roll their attempts at diplomacy or whatever, then I grafted on elements of the overall story arc to show how sometimes this or that didn’t quite work out.


Last night saw the rag-tag fleet finally get to Earth. Last session, we had ended on the fleet suddenly finding itself face-to-face with a “Ship of Lights” — a TITAN, the ancient machine intelligences that, allegedly, made the Lords of Kobol.


The characters found themselves overwhelmed by light and sound, and then we broke for the night…

This week, we opened on Admiral Pindarus and the Lords of Kobol traveling with the fleet confronting Prometheus, one of the two TITANs that have remained at Earth to protect it (the other being Atlas.) We learned, obliquely, that the TITANs have mostly gone away — “they have become that which went before, and which — if you don’t muck it up — you may one day become.” The planet has been under their protection since Hades showed up with a fleet of arks loaded with the Ophiuchans — the 13th Tribe of Kobol that traveled with him to Earth to “find answers” after his war on Zeus to control Kobol. (He lost.)

Hades was welcomed back by his progenitor, Prometheus, who had been behind the creation of Athena, as well. They were based on the most approachable Gods the TITANs could find to lead humanity after the TITANs had to reconstruct them. Like so many machine intelligences, they destroyed their creators — in this case through neglect, then by “accident”…the casual indifference and sense of entitlement made Nike almost lose her s#!t and she began mouthing off. Worse than Prometheus’ attitude was his indifference to her scorn; she (and the others) simply didn’t figure into his future, anymore. He was a mirror for the same sense of entitlement and power that the Kobolians had shown toward their human charges.

Hades was shown knowledge and power beyond his ability to comprehend and resist. A hoarder by nature, who could never let a mind-state go, once he had it; who was perpetually looking for “more” to know, have, or be, he had to become that thing the TITANs had discovered — “God”, the universal power, whatever — and he killed and stole Epimetheus’ body and became “the Blaze”, returning to wreak vengeance on his family and give the people of Kobol a real god. When things didn’t work as planned, Hades commited one of the few real sins against the universe: he traveled back in time to “fix” his mistakes. Over and over again, he retread the same section of space time until is was worn threadbare. That was when “God” decided to step in and put his finger on the scales.

Earth — which was recreated by the TITANs’ hekatochires utility fogs as Kobol — is supposed to be the home of it all, yet there were archeological finds on Sagittaron that predate some of this history. It had been 3000 years since Hades went to Earth, 2000 since the Fall of Kobol. Earth history was supposedly 10,000ish years leading up to the TITANs…but the finds early in the campaign had the Colonies destroyed 7,000, 10,000 years ago! And there’s the question of the “Colonies of Man” out by the Pleiades cluster…these predate Kobol, as well (and tied into our original, abortive “second fleet” campaign. They would have settled these colonies.)

Could it be even the TITANs don’t know the full story? Or aren’t telling?

Prometheus had informed the humans of Earth that the fleet was coming, and they were waiting for them, offered to take the Lords with him, but Athena informed him she “was already there.” The characters woke to their ships coming back on line, in orbit around Earth six days later, although the internal clocks of the Seraph showed no time had passed.

Contacting Earth proved easier than expected. While the moon had once been the repository of Mnemosyne (the moon had been turned into a giant computer for “Memory”), that TITAN was gone, but her knowledge base “Selene” was online and pumping translation programs to the fleet to let them decode the data, television, etc. A “princep” or first citizen had been appointed by Atlas shortly before the last TITANs decamped for eternity, and negotiations to have the pilgrims to Earth land began.

The people of Earth still remembered the Lords of Kobol, and worshipped them as agents of God (angles, if you will), so their appearance with Pindarus at the confab between the fleet leadership and the major powers of Earth eased their way. Earth is populated, but only by about 4 million people. These decedents of the 13th Tribe topped out after two millennia due to their access to advanced science through Selene, and the use of robotic farming and other high-tech, low-impact living. They haven’t ventured into space — there’s no point; they have all the food, resources, and space they could wish for. Their affluent, comfortable lifestyle has led to a post-scarcity paradise where the people are happy but unmotivated. Spoiled.

There’s plenty of room for the hungry pilgrims. The big issue: without their protectors, the Earthers must look to build some kind of defense, and the only folks with operating spacecraft are the Colonials. They quickly bang out a confederacy of the four major powers and several bigger city-states, but this new group — settled in Athens, the “city of Athena” — are already one of the bigger political units. To smooth the way, Pindarus makes sure the princep and quorum that will be the central (and mostly powerless) government will be in the hands of the locals, but he is the commander of the fleet (all three warships.)

Once the treaty is signed, Pindarus and Athena go for a walk to her temple on the acropolis, a perfect recreation of her temple on Kobol. There she gives him a few more suggestions for how to proceed, then suddenly, she’s just gone. Her wish was for Hermes and Nike to return to Argos and try to steer Zeus and their people away from ruling the humans there, toward an advisor position, with Nike replacing Athena as the Goddess of War.

We ended the night with the arrival of the battlestar Aegis, Pindarus’ old command before Galactica, now commanded by Oscari — one of the commanders that returned to the Colonies with Admiral Cain. Intense distrust over the fleet’s alliance with the Seraph is dispelled when Pindarus sells Oscari on the idea of a grand confederacy of human worlds — Argos, Earth, New Ophiuchi, and the Colonies — working together to stop the sorts of massive, solar system-levels of destruction they’ve witnessed on their travels.

We ended the night there, with the fleet having found safe harbor, some answers, and more questions… Have they managed to break the Cycle of Time?

One last episode remains for the campaign. We will be jumping 25 years into the future for the coda to this campaign.

Overall — a satisfying conclusion to the main story, I think.

I had dinner last night with a gaming buddy I occasionally play with here in Albuquerque last night. We got talking about the various stuff we’ve been playing, what we’ve wanted to play, and I mentioned that the Battlestar Galactica game that’s dominated my group’s sessions for years was coming to an end. He pointed out I’ve been attempting to wrap this for a few years, and he’s right…but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

This past week, the rag-tag fleet reached Earth, 4 years and 9 months after the campaign first got restarted with a crappy pilot session about people going missing from a mining outpost on the Armistice Line. (I found the date on my computer’s calendar: 27 April 2011 — just ten days after my daughter was born…) There’s still a few episodes left, mind you, but the main conceit of the game — reaching Earth and (hopefully) safe harbor is the subject of next week’s session. Other than a few more loose ends to tie up, the game is over. My friend, at this point, bet me $20 I don’t finish by March. How could I resist?

But now I have a hard date for the finish of the game: February 25, 2016.

For five years, this campaign has dominated my life. Discussing it with one of the players during the ride home the other night, we were talking about the game. It is the longest continuous campaign I’ve ever run; it was the longest campaign he’s ever played in. During the course of the game, it moved from a Cold War conspiracy-style setting, to a military and post-apocalyptic setting, to an increasingly science-fiction setting mixed with Greek mythology, to a political thriller, and then hard into transhumanist science fiction. There have been players that have come and gone, but we two had been playing from the start, and three main players since the Fall of the Colonies, about three and a half years…the characters are rich, well-developed; the setting feels lived in, realistic — despite the increasing science fiction aspects; it’s been, I feel safe to say, epic.

There were a few really big risks I took. Early on, I threw out canon from the reimagined show, but kept the good stuff from the setting. The Adamas were not the focus; the player characters took the place Apollo and Starbuck and the commander.  A bigger risk was going with “the Blaze” elements that got cut from Kobol’s Last Gleaming (a mistake, in my opinion); the “angry god” that destroyed the harmony of God and Man became the main antagonist, and the humanoid Cylons became “Seraph” — his “messengers” and replacements for the Lords of Kobol, Hades’ “family” whom he missed. I brought in Athena to replace a popular NPC and though I’d really screwed the pooch doing it. After a few sessions, it was obviously better. And in the end, I think I may have run my best game in the 37(!!!) years I’ve been playing RPGs.

Better than the excellent Babylon 5 game that was the first time I tried to do a coherent, planned out story arc. Better than the surprisingly good and long-lived Star Trek game at the start of the aughties, after I moved back to Albuquerque. Better than the very good espionage and Victorian sci-fi games from the ’90s, or the uproariously fun Shanghai campaign for Hollow Earth Expedition that faded away after this gam started.e..and like a good TV series, I want to see how it ends, but I don’t want it to stop.

Now the question — the same one I’ve been trying to work my way through for about six months, once I realized how close we were to the end — is “what next?” Or maybe more appropriately, “How do I top this?” and I suspect that’s my big mistake when thinking about the next games. I didn’t set out to top myself with Galactica, I just wanted to do the best game I could for people.

I sent out an email to the group, looking to see what they wanted to play or run. The newest player likes to GM, I was hoping to coax her into the center seat, but we’ll see. The big favorite seems to be a cyberpunkish sci-fi game, Atomic Robo, and I’m thinking I’d like to take a crack at either Space:1889 or Hollow Earth Expedition‘s Revelations of Mars settings, but I think that’s it for space opera for a while.

It’s been a while since the last AAR for the Battlestar Galactica game. We had the usual holiday nonsense, some winter wonderment (snow) that buggered up attendance, and a change of venue due to my daughter’s new school schedule, and the last few sessions were “talk about our feelings” episodes mixed with the setting is being fleshed out, and ti was being chewed on by the players and their characters. It was interesting, but not enough to require their own posts. Without further ado…

Since the fight at New Ophiuchi, the fleet had been looking hard for the Seeker ship — the massive Kobolian ark they’d seen being attacked by the Cylons. Eventually, they find the ship, but not before we had one of the characters biff their navigation test for the jump into the star system they were looking in. Their heavy raider comes in too close to a ring system around a gas giant and they get hit with a chunk of ice and rock that kills the raider, rips open the hull killing one of the PCs — our equivalent of the Leoben model — from exposure to space, and leaves the two pilots desperately trying to fix the ship while running low on O2. Eventually, right as they are near suffocation, the Seeker ship’s scouts find them.

After convincing the Seraph leadership of their non-beligerance, they suggest a meeting between the Seeker ship and the fleet. This leads to a long series of meetings where the admiral and the Seraph leadership councils try to hammer out an alliance between all involved. They learn the Seeker ship has a bunch of transports — mostly running empty from feeding the almost 13,000 humans and roughly 17,000 Seraph in Seeker 13 and Resurrection 5. (10,000 of the Seraph are still “on ice”.)

One night dealt almost exclusively with the admiral finally admitting his love for Tana — the Seraph model Three commanding Unity (the former Basestar 19.) He’s managed to impregnate her, and they marry in the hopes this will draw their peoples together.

As all of this is happening, the fleet is moving steadily toward Earth, stopping periodically as they run across ancient battlefields — ships that have been dead 300, 500, even 5000 years. The two worlds the Seraph had known were settlements of the 13th Tribe, and which had been locked into the “Gene/Tech War” 500 years ago — blasted and dead. The very old ruins of ships show another major conflagration that almost predates the Lord of Kobol and their rule…how long has the Cycle been going on, and what are they going to find as they get to Earth? These mysteries are intriguing and encouraging some, but many in the fleet are rapidly losing faith in Lady Athena and the other Kobolians…what are they leading them into?

Finally, they find themselves a light year from Earth, scanning the sky for any sign of life. They find ELINT from Earth and its moon, from Mars, and from Jupiter. Someone is home. Admiral Pindarus orders the final jump of the fleet — Jump 75, serendipitously — and they arrive near Pluto and Charon, and their moons. A search of the system shows a beautiful, Caprica-like, world with a moon that is unusually symmetrical in its gravity field, a featureless orb with a high albedo, which is pumping out signals and is very hot. That’s not the most unusual thing — Mars is swarming with some kind of activity — a utility fog large enough to engulf a planet. This, the Lords of Kobol tell them, is a hekatonchires, a planet “repurposer” In orbit around Earth and in the flux tube between Io and Jupiter, there is a Ship of Lights, like the one Hades/the Blaze traveled in! These are the TITANs’ bodies.

Before they can do much else, suddenly there is a TITAN amongst the fleet! The ship systems die, there is a loud growling noise that drowns out all other sounds, and bright, white light which oversaturated everything to white.

Next week…answers?

The latest “episode” of our Battlestar Galactica campaign was a response to how the game had been progressing with our last big action piece on New Ophiuchi. The characters had a bunch of stuff they wanted to do with their characters that probably could have been glossed over, but we 1) have a new player and I want to give her time to develop her characters, 2) there’s opportunities for good character development around the horn, and 3) it gave me the opportunity to do some development of NPCs.

Following their confirmation that the Cylons hadn’t done anything nefarious with the TITAN shard on the planet, and their recovery of a few of the Seraph from the Seeker ship that they had found in the middle of the dead from a huge battle between Cylons and Seraph.

In the end, they discover that the Seeker ship was the last of her kind, a museum of sorts to the early attempts to force conversion of the scattered human populations to worship of the Blaze. When the centurions revolted, a massive civil war rocked Kobol (prior to Galactica‘s arrival and the destruction of the planet by Athena) and a few thousand Seraph rescued their Kobol-human charges and fled to the stars.

The original intent of the episode (named “Eros and Angst”) was to give some small character vignettes and look for the Seeker ship. What we wound up with was a “talking abut our feelings” episode, where we had veered sharply away from the plot to focus on the characters. For some GMs and players, this can be frustrating. You set up a mission/adventure and suddenly the characters are…talking. This, however, is a good thing. The players are getting comfortable with their characters and the setting, and are interacting with both. This — to my mind — is the entire purpose of role playing games; this is an activity not just for killing monster and taking their stuff (although there is certainly a play for that), but for escaping your life to be someone else…even if it’s just in your head.

The evening started with the characters visiting those NPCs that had been gored pretty badly in the last two evenings. One was a young viper pilot who lost his hand in the fight with the Cylons, another was a Three from the Seeker fleet they had rescued after she had interposed herself between Hermes and a horde of rampaging Cylons.

I’m very pleased I got to use the phrase “horde of rampaging…”

This gave us a chance to see the new PC, Alala — a Seraph that had been involved in the scene where the pilot, “Spaz”, lost his hand to a centurion — start to really form a connection with her human counterparts. The CAG, “Boss”, showed a snese of responsibility and guilt for Spaz’s injuries, but also extended her kindness to the Three she hadn’t even met. She’s the face of this “alliance” between the humans and Seraph, and how the walls are breaking down between them. We got to see Hermes, the Kobolian, have a moment with the Three he’s dubbed “Soteria” (savior)…it’s rare that they’ve had people throw themselves in front of bullets, much less a creature that sees them as false gods and frightening. It’s had a real impact on the “god’s” psyche.

The admiral, Pindarus, had his time in the spotlight. He’s attempting to maintain a relationship with Athena, who is ever less human and more herself. She has been thrust into a role as leader, but is trying to keep the pretense she is here to advise…while dispensing justice to the miscreants in the fleet.

There was a meeting after a few days time between all the ship captains to cover the raft of stuff the characters thought they should do. They wanted to salvage what they could from the battlefield over New Ophiuchi, so the captains talked about the swag they found, the repairs, the dead recovered, but also talked about the search for the Seeker (not yet successful.) Nike (now a PC) sat in to represent Athena, and made her suggestions plain to the folks there. It was a nice “champing at the bit” moment where this superior being was becoming annoyed at an (unnecessarily?) subordinate position.

During the meeting, it became obvious to Nike that there was something wrong with the basestar commander, Tana, another Three. We’d established that the Kobolians are, essentially, as good a biological “human” as can be engineered, and one of their traits is a sort of ability to just know the probabilities of genetics with a look at, or a whiff of scent from, people. She knows immediately the Seraph is pregnant. Pindarus, who she’s been sleeping with, is the obvious father. This is a great set up for drama between Pindarus and Athena, as well as between Tana and Pindarus, and their respective people — there are still plenty that are not happy with the alliance on both sides and they might view this union as problematic. Pindarus, however, sees opportunity in this to create a strong symbol of unity. I suspect the seeds of a dynasty are in the offing…

Where the evening when “off track” was when Nike took a trip through the Hall of Remembrance with Boss. The sight of the thousands upon thousands of pictures of loved ones and places, the votives, the little notes, hits her very hard. The player did a great job here as the “goddess” realizes that these people have lost everything, and that their wee ships and few tens of thousands of people are it; all the eggs are in one basket. (It also is a good moment for her to realize that her own people are similarly placed — a few dozen on a lonely, cold outpost world from thousands of years ago [Argos], and the Seraph, too, are in the same boat…all these versions of humanity scrambling to find safe harbor somewhere…)

Nike drags Boss to the” off-the-books, but everyone knows where it is” speakeasy on Galactica to get roaring drunk — difficult with her physiology — and it wound up with a very drunk Nike decrying their situation and grousing about Athena in a lovely moment of “resentment for the smarter/better sister” that twined with her frustration at the Cycle of Time and her not knowing all the ins and outs that Athena might know. It was good roleplaying and made Nike seem a real creature.

This is all the more admirable when you research Nike and realize that in the old myths she had the depth of a greeting card. She is obviously an older iteration of Athena, not fleshed out. The player took this shadow of the Goddess of War and made her real in a half hour of drunken tirade that took the game off the main course, but into a thicket of great character development.

This is when “talking about our feelings” sessions get good. I would suggest when they happen, don’t fight it, don’t try to pull them back on track, but let the players explore their characters for a while, instead of the world.

[Ed. I know the player in question reads the blog, so if you want to comment on what processes you were using to develop Nike, please do. SCR]

After a two week break to play some Hollow Earth Expedition, we jumped back into the action with our Battlestar Galalctica campaign. The rag-tag fleet had send a recon mission to New Ophiuchi to confirm that the Blaze was absolutely, completely, posilutely, irrefutably dead…and ran smack into the middle of a fight between a Seraph “Seeker” ship and a small fleet, and Cylons in basestar. The characters were captured, tortured, and escaped, and the fleet jumped to preserve their location security.

However, they had not confirmed that things were still copacetic on the ground, in the nuked, long dead city of Hecatopolis, where a shard of the TITAN — the ancient machine intelligences that had destroyed Mankind, recreated Man after a fit of guilt and created the Lords of Kobol to rule over them — was being “jumpstarted” by the Blaze months ago. This led to the final battle between the fleet and the Cylon/Seraph god.

Concerned about the Cylon activities on the ground, Athena leads a mission composed of herself, Nike, and Hermes (see early AARs for more on this) and a group of Seraph to check out Hecatopolis in a couple of raptors. They find a massive field of carnage, thousands of Seraph and centurions strewn for a quarter mile around the shard. They find a few Seraph survivors, and Cavil — the Nine who was resurrected despite resurrection being defunct (and an agent of God?) has a vision: He finds out the Blaze has “returned to that which made us all” and gets his instructions for leaving some f his brethren to spread the Word to the humans, members of the 13th Tribe that either never made it to Earth or left that world for here, that still remain on the planet.

At this point, they are aggressed by a company of centurions, backed by a stories-tall decurion “tank” and we get to really see the Kobolians in action for the first time. Two fo the players have characters — Hermes and Nike — that they are playing, and Athena is an NPC, more because she is so fleshed out I didn’t want to hand her off to one of the players. Athena leads a 10-man fire team against the toasters and cleans house over the space of 20 minutes or so, Hermes (leading another fire team of ten) and Cavil try to get the Seraph survivors to the raptors, and Nike uses her flight suit/armor (wings!) to provide aerial support. We got to see how the character design I put together for the Kobolians — specifically an Asset called PHYSICAL EXEMPLAR came into play.

To try and model these paragons of bioengineering, this asset apply to all physical tests, giving them a third die. In play, this means they are usually first to act, hard to hit, and deliver a hell of a wallop. For mental assets, they have a few that are tailored to show their particular specialities: Hermes is the MESSENGER GOD which gives a die to any influence or social type test; Athena’s GODDESS OF WISDOM adds to any Perception tests (where deduction and intuition, etc. are parked.) The result was their support got chewed up — 6 dead, about the same injured, of 18; the Kobolians blew threw the bad guys exuberantly, but could still screw up. Hermes stumbles at one point. He has a pair of jams on his gun back to back. Nike misses a perception queue. Athena flubs an athletics roll and cannot get to the people she wants to aid, but overall, these “super-assets” gave them a super-human, but not divine, quality.

In the end, they discover that the Seeker ship was the last of her kind, a museum of sorts to the early attempts to force conversion of the scattered human populations to worship of the Blaze. When the centurions revolted, a massive civil war rocked Kobol (prior to Galactica‘s arrival and the destruction of the planet by Athena) and a few thousand Seraph rescued their Kobol-human charges and fled to the stars. Now, Galactica is looking to find the other fleet and attempt to extend their alliance with the basestar, Unity, to this new group.

We also had some nice character vignettes — the new PC, Alala (a Seraph) and Boss, the CAG, showing concern over the very young pilot that was brutally maimed in their escape from the Cylon basestar, and Alala’s sudden realization that the humans had some worth. Boss handles her PTSD through work, and playing busybody in people’s love lifes, etc. She’s — we realized — the “Leslie Knope” of the BSG universe. The admiral (a PC) has an increasingly complex and frustrating love life, stuck between Athena and the Seraph commander, Tana.

Overall, the campaign has continued to be a solid, rich game that we’ve all enjoyed tremendously.

The last game session saw a hard move from the “talk about our feelings” sort of episode to an action piece. It also saw the introduction of a new PC (and a gamer to go with it — welcome, Iz!), a Seraph called Alala, one of the new heavy raider/raptor pilots aboard Galactica.

Last week, we had a slow run with a lot of character interaction, and a lot of “getting to know you” side chatter. Some GMs get annoyed by side talk and out of character exchanges, but we’re not getting paid to put on a show; it’s play. And important is getting to know each other — I’m of the opinion a gaming group doesn’t hold together unless the members are interested in hanging out and being friends outside of the game room. we had ended that session with a cliffhanger — Arden, the CAG of Galactica, had led a two heavy raider recon mission to New Ophiuchi, the world where they had finally defeated “the Blaze”, if only to confirm that there was no change in that false god’s DEAD status.

They found a basestar duking it out with a ship that Alala identified as a Seraph “seeker” ship, massive galleons that were used to “recover” thousands of people from the various colonies the 13th Tribe had left in its wake to and from Earth thousands of years ago. The seeker was escorted by a few dozen transports and a resurrection ship. Before they could react, however, they were hit with some kind of electronic warfare emissions and their ships shut down. They were dragged into the bsestar for a nice night’s cliffhanger.

This week, Alala graduated to PC, and the game revolved around their being captured by the Cylons, which apparently intended to do awful things to them to find out information and — they assumed — then be either turned into puppets of the Cylons or worse… Two of the Cylons were “IL models” — similar to what we had seen in the Pegasus mini-campaign this summer: Terminator-esque flesh over machine hybrids.

This led to a panicked, vicious fight in the medical center where their interrogation/torture was to take place, with two Seraph and two humans battling a pair of these ILs and a squad of centurions. One of the NPCs is MIA/KIA, the other severely wounded, and both of the PCs escaping the torture chamber with serious injuries. A chase and evasion sequence through the basestar led to one of the Seraph (an NPC) splitting off to draw away the centurions, and if lucky, scuttle the ship.

The other two dodged bullets, fought their way to a heavy raider in “maintenance mode” that Alala hijacked, and they jumped back to the fleet right out of the landing bay of the basestar, doing serious damage.

The play lasted about three hours and saw serious back and forth of plot points as the characters desperately tried to avoid getting killed. In the end, they were able to escape with vital intelligence, and warn the fleet about the possibility of the lost crewmember giving up the fleet’s location. After a jump to a new RP to avoid conflict, we ended for the night.

Not a bad way to break in a new player, with three hours of action that represented about 20 minutes of actual time.

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.