X-Com RPG – Game Structure: Campaign Considerations

Prepping an X-Com Game

Some preparations are required from GMs both for new X-Com RPG sessions as well as entire campaigns, but not as much as one may think, and often just the fun parts.

Generating Unique Threats

GM Jack prepares for a new campaign by rolling on the Enemy Unknown Toolbox to determine Traits such as the origin, goals, technology, and biology of the invaders in this particular game. If he has creativity to spare he may dream it all up himself. After laying that groundwork, he may generate all the species he wants to throw at the unsuspecting earthlings throughout the campaign. In reality, though, he’ll likely generate only the species that commands the entire invasion: the top dogs, along with a handful of advance troopers: light infantry, scouts, perhaps some terrorists squads etc. Further species like elites, more terror troopers, heavy troopers, and technological unmanned weapons/vehicles can be generated later since they likely won’t show up for a while.

Painting Aliens

GM Jack will have to decide the aesthetics and style of the Invaders’ ships and technology, and apply that aesthetic to missions. This way flying against UFOs or rummaging out crash survivors is distinct from one game to the next. Thereafter, he applies the style of the selected foes as appropriate to maximize fear and danger, setting up interesting situations that maximize the aliens’ advantages and force the players to react, experiment, learn, and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Ex: Perhaps one raid involves the classic farmhouse and barn, another features a shopping mall, a rural motel, a rodeo, a corporate office, sewers, a stadium, a school, a gas station, a highway laden with semi-trucks and cars, an abandoned jungle valley, the Statue of Liberty, etc. You get the picture. The GMs job is to make each mission unique and memorable, as well as intense and lethal of course.

Trusting the Complications to Drive the Story

Giving a little forethought to the sorts of Complications to introduce when soldiers roll 1s is also beneficial preparation, since it is good when complications match the unique build of the aliens, or the sort of action taken when the complication arises. On the other hand, if a GM is willing to ‘wing it,’ most of the dramatic situations and tension in a given mission can be left up to whichever complications seem appropriate to the narrative when they show up. Trust the complications for fun twists to the same old mission objectives. They are one of the best parts of CortexPlus for contributing to narratives and plot directions you never would have expected or planned for, usually better than you would have planned also.

Example: Complications may include, military, or local law enforcement involvement, Civilians in danger, unsound architecture, concurrent natural disasters or even just storms, floods, and fires. celebrity involvement, collectors seeking alien artefacts, etc.

GM Creativity Aids:

I’m feeling a tendency to make a lot of random tables in this game: The Enemy Unknown Toolbox, nations/nationalities, Soldier Talents, etc. Something pretty much exactly like the tables Rob Donoghue posted at his blog for randomized Dresden Files locations are what I’m thinking (minus some of the qualifiers that suit the urban magic noir genre but not X-Com). Those tables would be perfect inspiration for GMs to come up with interesting landing sites and unique scenarios.

Here’s an example of two versions of a random chart of members of the Council of Founding Nations (from the year 2040). Either of these could be used for determining Soldier and Commander nationality, as well as location or destination of UFO activity. The left uses a d20 and the second uses 2d4 (of different colors or rolled sequentially), where one die is the ‘tens place.’

What else do you think X-Com GMs would need to consider before running a campaign or session? Other thoughts or comments?

Next time I’m very excited to explore Research in X-Com RPG, and the unique potential that CortexPlus offers for a truly unlimited Tech Tree. After that I’m excited to re-visit character creation for soldiers, with some ideas for how to flesh out and effectively roleplay those front-line troops. Watch for these topics very soon!

About Adam

I'm a husband, father, explorer of the inexhaustible, and synergy cultivator. Starting with D&D, my explorations into role-playing and game design have brought me to savor mining diverse systems, initially Cortex Plus, then PbtA, ORE, Forged in the Dark, and now anything I can get my hands on.