DM Guidelines (Cybergems)
- 1 Campaign Styles
- 2 Campaign Premise
- 3 Starting Resources
- 4 Advancement
- 5 Encounter Design
- 6 Worldbuilding
- 7 Extra Advice
There are a number of ways to handle the between-battle parts of a Cybergems campaign.
The most Gempunks-like way. A player's point limit is exactly as much of a fighting force as that player controls, not counting hapless civilian workers. When players capture vehicles or equipment, the point limit needs to be raised so they don't have to abandon absurd amounts of existing resources.
The players are members/owners of some sort of organization, with exact point totals and deployments carefully determined and tracked. In order for force conservation strategies to matter, the enemy organization(s) should have equally well-tracked forces.
This campaign style will almost inevitably result in many unwinnable or unlosable fights.
This campaign style doesn't use point limits, because players don't get to freely refresh their resources. Because players are likely to lose their resources at unequal rates, they should be encouraged to share even more than they normally would.
Some mechanisms, like duplicators or diplomat, would allow people to generate near-limitless forces without serious restriction: Therefore, Serious Grind lets people buy an Artificial Point Limit, at the cost of 2 points per point in the point limit. This Artificial Point Limit is used to determine the point limit for force generation devices. The Artificial Point Limit may optionally be extended to be used to pay for consumable items, like Drugs, grenades, and bombs.
Item crafting in this system only allows you to disassemble items and make items and spare parts of equal value, not generate an actual income.
In many near-future settings, there are vastly powerful organizations with militaries the sizes of which no practical player force could begin to compete with directly. Therefore, it is important to determine why the players don't have to compete with them. Perhaps the players are intentionally avoiding detection using stealth and disguise tactics. Perhaps the world's largest military would theoretically come to their defense if any of the world's other large militaries attempted to interfere with the players' actually quite obvious actions on a small tropical island. Perhaps the players' actions are not so drastic that such forces would consider getting involved.
For the Adventurer Campaign Style, 50 points should be a reasonable starting point limit. For the Serious Grind Campaign Style, the group as a whole could have more like 500 points, with no more than 50 points for any individual character. Higher values are more complicated, and probably not ideal for a first campaign.
When players acquire new equipment in the Adventurer Campaign Style, the point limit should be raised so that, after sharing equipment fairly, they do not have to abandon much, if anything. Sometimes a major battle or bribe can cause the players to lose resources: in such a situation, you may decrease the point limit so they can't afford to replace those resources.
In Serious Grind, players can collect as much as they can get their hands on. In addition, other venues can be declared as resource generators: wages to give a steady influx of additional points, factories that create points-worth of some limited category of items or augments, and so on. Opposing forces should also get additional points at some specified rate.
In terms of encounter design, the advantage a tactical RPG has over a tactical wargame is that entry into the conflict is not so overly well-defined. An assault on a fortress could start with an attempt to scale the walls, or the battle might not start until they're well inside, because they've disguised theirselves as government health inspectors. An ambush in a bar might be detected or avoided entirely.
That's not to say you can't have any fights with clear planned beginnings, but you will be missing out if you don't let the players have some opportunities to come up with ways to arrange battles in their favor.
When the players come up with a clever plan to safely defeat an opponent, it can be very satisfying to watch it succeed or fail catastrophically. But when the plan isn't fantastic, a fair fight is the best kind of fight. Consider calibrating fights such that if they only strategize as well as they usually do, the fight will be challenging yet beatable. If you don't know how well they usually strategize, it's better to guess low for a few encounters; players are usually scared off more easily by losing during their first battle than by winning without enough of a challenge a few times.
Encounter Pricing (Adventurer Style)
In order to maintain some campaign flow, it's better if the players win more than half of the encounters they fight. However, in order to make sure the encounters are fun and challenging, the encounters should not be trivial. Therefore, the point value of an encounter should be somewhere between three-quarters and equal to the combined point values of all players.
You can use higher point values, but there should be sufficient advance warning of such a battle that the players can arrange to fight on their own terms or not at all.
You can use lower point values, but the battle won't be very interesting if these opposing forces don't have a significant situational advantage. Forces with no hope of actually harming the player characters should simply be handwaved to defeat, rather than going to the trouble of rolling for initiative, placing out models, and so on: when a 200 point Paragon player character is confronted by a handful of 5 point thugs, the player should just say "I kill them" or "I scare them off" or something, and the campaign can continue.
The ammunition rules exist primarily as an appeal to realism. If a force has already used up all of its bullets, for example, it would be unwise to use its full point value to determine the strength of the opposition. Using a single encounter's-worth of forces to enact a hit-and-run strategy to wear down the force's ammunition over several minutes, hours, days, or weeks is perfectly valid, however.
Encounter Pricing (Serious Grind Style)
With this style, the players are free to send forces against impossible odds, with no real chance of actual success, aspiring only to inflict disproportionate harm to the enemy. Vice-versa, sometimes the players may send an overwhelming army to crush a few weaklings; if you feel that the weaklings are incapable of inflicting significant harm or unwilling to be so suicidal, you may have them surrender or flee, but otherwise they should strive to inflict disproportionate harm to the army.
The players are likely to occasionally find theirselves outmatched. Be sure to have some defeat condition that doesn't involve annihilating the entire party in mind when making an encounter. Ravenous beasts can be willing to feast on some of the fallen as the survivors flee; organized people can attempt to capture as many player characters as possible, and place them into prison. If a prison is built by competent people, it may be necessary to institute some contrivance in order to make escape possible.
Even with Serious Grind, imprisonment is a useful policy, as it gives the players a reason to surrender when presented with battles they cannot win, leading to the potential for prison-assaulting scenarios later on.
Cool set pieces are cool. Many abilities are dysfunctional on a completely flat field. The random map generators for The Cold War II Campaign Setting are designed to inspire you to fill your maps with dangerous, useful, or inconvenient features.
In order to rationally interact with the world, it must have some meat to it. Although statting out and describing the motivations of every NPC in the world, every cave, and every building takes far too much time, you should at least have some idea of things like social structures, major characters, demographics, architecture, and geography.
It's very tempting, when the players provoke some form of conflict, to say "well, I said there would be a thousand soldiers in this town, so that's what you have to fight", but if you want to be able to do that sort of thing, you should consider reasonable encounter design when deciding how powerful various forces in the world are.
Introducing the World
The less players know about what's going on around them, the less able they are to sensibly strike off in their own direction, rather than bumbling about looking for something to do. The beginning of a campaign, the entry to a new territory, or when the players seem lost, is an excellent time to spring action on them to deal with immediately, especially the sort of action that introduces antagonists, reveals clues, or otherwise makes them aware of resources to make use of or problems to solve.
Having a few major NPCs who try to help, hinder, or work at angles with the players can spice up the campaign significantly. From a tactical RPG angle, it's good to have some major opponent characters for the players to be fighting against. If the players could ever want to fight against a character (or the character could ever want to fight them), that character shouldn't be significantly stronger than the entire party. If the character needs to be far too powerful for the players to defeat at their current point limit, then you need a very solid justification for not having that character go out on a player-slaughtering trip.
For major villains that the players are trying to foil, it's perfectly reasonable to have the villain level at a rate comparable to that of the players: after all, the villain is also a proactive adventurer of sorts.
Sometimes it is more efficient to fast forward past a scene with an obvious resolution than to play it out, like a battle that all players are sure is trivial. Even challenging fights can have stretches of rounds where the players don't have any new decisions or rolls to make, such as a battle where both sides have depleted their very long ranged attacks, and now need to run forwards for a minute.
Note that this is not a tool for steamrolling over disputes: if someone thinks that the consequences are uncertain, then you should play it out so that you may educate them or become embarrassed about your miscalculation.
"Refluffing" is the practice of taking an existing game element, and changing the name or description (the "fluff", as it were) without significantly changing the mechanical content of that element. It is a popular technique, because it allows players to introduce themes they find interesting without risk of unbalance.
It's far from a perfect technique, however. Partial refluffing, where one character or group uses refluffed material, is a lot like giving those characters free disguises that they cannot remove.
Sometimes people may wish to attempt something that is not explicitly laid out in the rules. It is primarily the DM's responsibility to find a ruling that seems reasonably plausible to everyone, although the DM is encouraged to accept suggestions. Keep in mind that this is a game that subscribes to a level of realism where characters can jump from the wings of airplanes onto other airplanes in order to hijack them in flight, so it is not strictly necessary to adhere to the physically possible in all rulings.
Sometimes it may not be practical to bring certain types of characters on certain kinds of adventures; an airplane can't very well go adventuring in a dungeon, and a very dedicated hacker can't do much about tigers in the jungle, so the airplane or hacker player should temporarily retire the airplane or hacker and spend those points on something else for a while. Other times a player may simply get tired of a character for some reason, and want to play something else — while it's good to keep players excited about their characters, preserving continuity helps keep players excited about other players' characters, so you may want to consider getting them to keep playing with those characters for one or two more sessions, possibly with an eye open for the possibility of a dramatic exit.
The retired characters presumably continue doing something while they're retired from play: perhaps people would like to run a side-session with them eventually, but most likely you should just narrate what it was they did when it comes up. It's not a good idea to make drastic or terrible things happen to characters who were temporarily retired for reasons not entirely under the player's control, unless that player gives you express permission, but characters retired by choice are a perfect target for plot hooks.
Retiring characters is not particularly appropriate for Serious Grind.