Now, for most of this blog I've been crowing about my own successes here. And overall, the campaign has been a tremendous success. My players have said as much.
But it hasn't been all Hollywood Blockbusters and Oscar Awards all around. There have been a great deal of problems in the game. It's easy to celebrate your own successes on a public forum. It's sometimes a bit more difficult to talk about what you did wrong. Especially out in public.
But let's talk about that. My failures in this campaign. I was going to write a single post about the subject, but then I found myself writing pages of text. Clearly, this isn't going to be something I tackle with a single post. So, we'll probably see a series of these throughout the blog.
A Tough Game
The Rogue Trader campaign has easily been the hardest campaign I've run in recent memory. The only other game that gave me this much trouble dates back to '03-'04. Yeah. Seven to eight years ago. I still remember it vividly. And no, that was not any game that I played with the Minions of the Monster Master. With the Minions, we were fortunate enough to knock it out of the park almost every time. (Much love to the Minions, BTW, for mentioning one of our old, great campaigns. They even put up pics!)
But even though I remember the '03-'04 campaign being fraught with mistakes, misfires, and downright failures - I also remember having a really good time, and learning a lot from what went wrong. More than I learned from my more successful campaigns.
One problem our campaign has faced (and we've been extremely lucky to weather this) is a changing player roster. We lost players. Gained players. Had players come and go. Thought we were going to lose players, but then didn't.
The game started out with the loss of Casey, one of our most energetic and enthusiastic players. Losing a good player is very difficult, especially if that player brings a lot of energy to the table. A player who is like a cheerleader for your campaign is, in my opinion, invaluable. Players like that get everyone excited about the game, and maintain its momentum.
Then, we had another player Nick, who had to leave the game for months at a time due to work. We had another player, Doug, who thought was going to have to leave. To fill his spot, we invited another player, Rob, into the game. And then, it turned out that Doug didn't have to leave.
All of this resulted in a game that eventually got too big. At the top, it had a total of seven players. In my opinion, that's too many for a game like Rogue Trader. Because of the way I'm running it (sort of like Birthright), each character has to command either a sizable group of people, or make key decisions about important parts of the ship. This means that often, the game will focus solely on one character. In a big group, it's very difficult to get that spotlight onto every single person. Also, a game of this kind is going to feature a lot of long periods of political discussion and interplay. In a big group, quieter players can lose out.
I don't know if I would call this a mistake per se, because it was no one's fault, but it was probably one of the biggest problems in our game.
Now, luckily, this continually changing roster of players did not kill our campaign, as it might have with many groups I've been in. I think we can credit that to the fact that our group as a standing, set-in-stone, gaming night. But making game night a regular thing, our campaigns don't tend to die off before the end. As a result, so far, we've completed three different campaigns in about six years. That means that we seen the beginning, middle, and end to three different campaigns.
How the Game is Supposed to be Run?
In my opinion, if you read the adventure in the back of the Rogue Trader core book, or read through Lure of the Expanse, the designers seem to want you to run the game like Star Trek. Even though you command 30,000 or even 100,000 people, you and the command crew are the only ones that really count. So, of course you deploy to the unexplored planet with your Navigator. Of course you enter the ruins with your lead Astropath. Can you run a Rogue Trader game like that successfully? Of course you can. And I think you can do it very well, because the game is designed to support that sort of play.
However, we had already run a game very much like this in our previous campaign in the Iron Kingdoms. I wanted something different. I wanted a game that felt like you were in charge of a dynasty, not just a ship. A game that would be like Battlestar Galactica, but where you don't play Starbuck or Apollo...you play Admiral friggin' Adama.
Now, a game like that can have it's problems. Like T-Bone of the Minions stated, you can end up with a game where all you do is manage people. As T-Bone manages people in his day job, he surely didn't want to do that on game night! So you have to be careful. Another problem that I ran into was that I've never run a game like that. Nor are games of that nature ubiquitous.
At that point, what I wished I had understood was that I was now taking the game in a direction far outside the confines of the rules and how the rules were even organized. Sure, there are things like the Endeavour System or Profit Factor which help create a sense of epic-ness, but there simply aren't (currently) solid rules on mass combat or mass ship combat. There is a small write-up on squad-based combat, but it's very short and unfortunately shallow.
What I wished I had done was....
What I Should Have Done
I should have done was understand the game a bit more before running it. And then implemented some solid, defined house rules. Things like house rules for mass combat. Mass ship combat. Things like that.
The reason I say that is that often I've had to do these things sort of on the fly. And while it has worked, the small sub-systems I've come up with have not been consistent. It sort of cheats the players, because they have a hard time knowing what to expect. We'll see how I do implementing these things from here on out.