Big games

I’ve been a bit quiet here lately, Intrepid’s out, doing well and doesn’t have any news to speak of, while London 2051 has been stuck in a creative rut it’s only now starting to climb out of.

So rather than that I thought I’d write about is another project of mine ‘Athesia Reborn’ a game ran twice annually for the Essex University Roleplay Game Society. It’s been running for 7 years, usually hosts ~25 players, lasts from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and has recently transitioned from using D&D 4E to a system of our own devising.

In the beginning…

It all started with the bright idea of running one big game for the Society, just a one off game using the then standard 3rd edition D&D. We had 2 plot writers (including me) and another 2 GMs who would help run it.

The format was a central ‘council chamber’ where the heroes met and politicked before separating into sensibly sized groups and playing some D&D. Rinse and repeat with different groups each time. At the end of the weekend we all gathered for one massive (chaotic) battle.

It was so fun we decided to do it again (twice  year, in the same world that we suddenly had to flesh out).

This lasted for a couple more years and we ended up layering a system over the top of D&D to handle the fact that the heroes were all lords, generals and other important people.

In the end though it was a lot of work creating all this D&D content and 3rd edition was almost impossible to balance (especially with 16th level characters) and the game ended up fizzling out, until…

Athesia Reborn

With the advent of 4th edition D&D, which seemed much easier to write for and balance, I decided to restart the project, set 1,000 years after the old one to smooth the rules transition and with a mysterious disaster that had overrun all 5 kingdoms with the forces of darkness and the players would have to reforge a new kingdom as the object of the game.

This time, however, I decided I would be the only dedicated GM… but I would deputise 5 (later expanding to 8) players to be GMs, each was given one region of the map and a lot of autonomy over what happened there. They still had characters though, they just couldn’t get involved in their own plot.

These were termed Senior GMs and we also had a few players who could GM but didn’t have their own plot areas (they ran other people’s adventures).

Apart from that the game ran similarly to before, players would be promoted to GM for one session at a time and then revert to playing their character. Each weekend had a primary plot region that would provide the big bad for the weekend.

These final battles also evolved, becoming more structured and came to involve multiple stages, each which required multiple sub-objectives to be competed, so the players split up a bit more.

All was well and good for a while, but in the end I have to tinker and while 4e D&D was easier to prepare and run than 3e (in this context at least) it was still a burden on the game. By this time I’d sworn off D&D completely anyway so a year ago I decided to do something drastic…

Athesia 2.0

D&D is dead, long live my own unnamed collection of systems to replace it.

It consists of three parts:

  • Kingdom Building: For managing the fledgling kingdom, expanding its borders, fighting massive battles and so forth. Each player has a Legend which determines what they can do: Champion, General, Lord or Scholar.
  • Story: These missions are quite freeform, with a simple system for managing conflict resolution and a more balanced than normal level of narrative control between players and GM.
  • Battle: A skirmish wargame where you take your hero and a small retinue and try and defeat some monsters.

This separation allows for a lot easier balancing and stops the usual tension between winning (Battle) and playing in character (Story). Also each system is very easy to pick up and you can ignore bits of the game you don’t like.

It’s still undergoing some changes and balancing, but both games that have used it so far have been successful and it looks promising for the future. The wiki for the game (with full rules) is here:

That’s all I have to say for now, as it gets improved and revised I may post more here. I’d also be interested to know if people find this idea of a big game interesting… interesting enough to make a more generic version once the kinks have been worked out? Is anyone else in a position to run such a thing? Has anyone else tried such a thing?


2 thoughts on “Big games

  1. I have never heard of a game specifically designed for multiple GMs and simultaneous parallel play. Pretty that that, alongside your skirmish rules, would sufficient USP to get people interested. Goes against the current “small is beautiful” trend but – as you say – for occasional special events (conventions?) it could be excellent.

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