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Goals vs. Burning Empires

Remember a few months ago I posted about what I want out of my gaming and analysed my gaming catalogue based on those criteria? I want to examine my current RPG of the Moment, Burning Empires, using the same criteria and see where it fits. My opinions will also be shaped by some recent attempts at gaming, which I’ll probably go into some more.

Those few months ago, I came up with the following goal that I could evaluate games against:

The goal of the campaign is a set of interwoven stories (with beginnings and endings) created as the campaign progresses, not beforehand, by all of the participants at the table. During the process of creation (i.e. the campaign), each participant will be engaged in not only creating his or her character’s story - the character, the challenges it faces and what the methods it uses to overcome those challenges mean to it - but also assisting the other participants in creating the stories of their characters.

There are also a few real life concerns that weren’t expressed in that goal, which I explain a bit more here.

On to the evaluation:

  • Burning Empires
    • Pros: Each Burning Empires campaign is based around a strong, clearly identified central concept: The defence of a single far-future planet from an invading alien enemy. The conflict of interest is also clearly identified: sacrificing what you hold dear for the greater good vs. remaining true to yourself and probably losing everything to the enemy. Burning Empires has a very neatly organised structure, from the whole campaign right down to individual sessions, the latter of which are measured out in scenes (which also organise spotlight time and define framing) and manoeuvres (one to two per session). This means that everyone knows how long a session and a campaign will go for and can plan accordingly. The game expects no between-session prep from the GM (or anyone else); interaction of PCs and the world's Figures of Note will guide the GM in coming up with a situation for the new session just before starting. The rule-set is rules-medium; detailed, but based around a strong central mechanic and not overly complex. The text avoids chapters of setting info by building it into character creation and even the rules of play; you’re nearly guaranteed to run an Iron Empires-esque game even if you’ve never read the Iron Empires source material. Each planet is fairly open slather, and players and GM alike are encouraged by both rules and text to add detail and make the game their own; everyone can invest in the setting by creating parts of it, which in turn leads to investment in PCs as they're shaped by the setting. Burning Empires works best with three to four players (plus GM), so a small- to medium-size group is good.
    • Cons: Not quite a pick-up-and-play game; first session needs to be devoted to group prep and character creation. The game has a strong competitive streak, with players pitted against GM. While this ties directly in the central concept and reinforces the last-stand nature of the fight against invasion, it might be a bit too much for some. The competitiveness means that, while being a player down won’t kill the session, it’ll put the PC group at a significant disadvantage.

If it’s not already obvious, I’d like to run some Burning Empires soon. I think, though, a lighter backup game – say, InSpectres – would be handy for those moments when not everyone can make it.

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