September 17, 2010

The Real-Time Campaign

Imagine, if you will, a RPG campaign world set in our time, in our world. The adventure tonight is one based off of something that happened within the past week, in fact, since the last time the group met to play…something that happened in the real world.

As an example, a few days ago (in the real-world) there was a massive and destructive explosion and fire in California that destroyed over 50 homes. Soon thereafter officials came out and explained how it was a gas main that caused the explosion. Other news reports picked it up and propagated the report while adding their own articles, such as how dangerous gas mains are around the country.
This real-life incident would make an excellent adventure background. Perhaps the explosion was not a gas main, but instead the result of a new type of explosive, one with incredible destructive force in the size of a pen. The device may have been set off prematurely or to cover-up the laboratory where it was designed. The players may have heard of the new explosive and have been assigned to investigate the explosion. They would need to find out who built the new explosive, secure a sample of it and then find out who is conducting the cover-up.

A campaign could be designed based off of this concept of utilizing real-world incidents and weaved into an ongoing set of adventures. Each week’s adventure would be based off of something that happened since the last game session. This would make for a dynamic and ever-changing campaign, with a feel of the “now”. There would be a unique sense of high energy. No longer would a player feel like they are in a mythical world (though in fact they still are), but rather interacting with the real world but in a fantastic milieu.

The players would need some sort of catalyst for having them investigate weekly incidents. Perhaps they work for a branch of the government, such as specialized branch of the FBI or some other secret organization. Perhaps there is a diabolical organization bent on taking over the world and most, but not all, such incidents are related to them and their plans. A GM could take it even further and rule that the incident was the work of Fey creatures who are secretly trying to disrupt our world so they can return to claim it as their own.
Adventures would have to be fairly short so they could be completed in one night of game-play. Carrying over a recent incident for several weeks will diminish the feeling of immediacy. Starting fresh would also allow for the “new” each session.

A couple of problems present themselves to me as I write this.
The first and foremost is prep. This style of new weekly adventures requires the GM to do a lot of prep work and do it frequently. Each week she would have to scour news articles and incidents to see how it can best fit into her campaign design. After that she would have to write the actual adventure. All this would require a fair amount of time, time with a definite deadline. I believe it would be more pressure filled than normal adventure prep.
Another issue is the overall concept of mixing real-world with a make-believe world. Is the integration of RPG fantasy and the real-world an uneven fit? Going back to my example about the explosion in California. At least 3 people died from the explosion. Is including their deaths trivializing their lives and deaths? Should real life tragedy and a game mix? Is it best to leave the real world out of our make-believe worlds?

If a GM and gaming group can get over these hurdles, such a campaign style would make for a dynamic and engaging game. You can’t get much more “real” than including stuff from the real world as its happening. Allowing the player characters to interact with the current news adds something extra to a game.
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