Lift your eyes to the sky… and tremble, for we are not alone. The invasion is underway, and they are among us. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance, and the world will never be the same again. In this time of conflict, we need X-Com: Defiance – November’s Campaign of the Month! Prepare yourself, then join me as I discuss the state of affairs with cgregory, one of the GameMasters behind this classic.
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
My name is Carl and I’m one of the two GMs behind the screen and one of two Carls in the group. DSMfive is the other GM and runs about a third of the adventures. Originally, it was going to be three GMs behind the screen, but our good friend Andrew passed away shortly after the start of the campaign. Our entire group is from Ottawa, Canada. I work in IT at a hospital, mainly getting hospital equipment to talk to each other. My wife usually joins our campaigns once the snow starts falling.
Tell us about X-Com: Defiance in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?
Originally, I planned it as a campaign that would take place a number of years after aliens had successfully invaded Earth with some inspiration coming from computer game series X-Com, Deus Ex and originally the TV show Defiance. Before getting too far, I decided to put it to a vote whether the campaign should be before aliens attacked, during the invasion, or years after the invasion. The votes were split fairly evenly between before and years after. So I decided to start with before any alien invasion and let it lead up to the invasion.
XCom has a board game, so I’d run the invasion in a night by having the players play a game of XCom the board game. The results of that game will determine the post invasion setting part of the campaign. Shortly after starting the game in February, XCom 2 came out and I quickly finished it only to find out to my horror that they stole my plot for the aliens in my campaign. That wouldn’t have been too big a deal, except many of my players were also playing the XCom 2.
We also started talking about how it should be easy in a Shadowrun based game to have other people GM some of the adventures. So DSMfive and Andrew both offered to Co-GM. I thought it would be a great idea as we each have different strengths and styles when it comes to GMing. Unfortunately Andrew, a good friend of 12 years, passed away in April. He’s been greatly missed.
The Campaign focuses on the adventures of alien conspiracy enthusiasts André de Vries the cyberarmed soldier played by Len17, Alan Quartermain reincarnation of the great South African hunter or escaped psychiatric patient played by carlotoole, Grace Sun decker and stuntwoman played by Mazula, Jaiyana “Jax” Kumar-Singh the elven party face, former Bollywood star played by DSMFive, and Roy Anderson ork and party rigger played by cgregory.
How regularly do you play, and where do you play?
We usually play every Friday at my house. One of the most useful tools for keeping track of combat is Next Pass. Mainly we play using a Chessex mat and some minis. For fantasy campaigns, I use the Terraclip Dungeon tiles.
Your campaign is listed under Shadowrun, which X-Com is not a normal part of. Have you blended the two universes together, or are you merely using the ruleset? How simple or difficult was the process of putting these two entities together?
I’ve kept many elements of the Shadowrun universe, but I have made some major changes. Instead of dragons, we have aliens. Meta-humans and para-critters are a result of an alien virus mistakenly released into the world by the players rather than a rising magic levels. This virus doesn’t affect most humans or animals, but a sizable percentage of the population begin mutating. There is still magic in this world, it just isn’t responsible for the creation of meta-humanity like it was in Shadowrun.
The game takes place during 2016, but the technology is far closer to the levels of 2050 in Shadowrun due to two reasons. The first is the reverse engineering of the three alien ships that crashed landed in the 1980s and the second is that some of the aliens that survived those crashes have infiltrated a number of corporations with Thin Men and advanced research in certain fields that they have a need of. The main reason for placing it in 2016 is that I love using real world events and news to affect how the campaign plays out, plus the number of alien conspiracies surrounding current day events provides plenty of hooks to use. For example, the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the American election have both been incorporated into the campaign along with some of the alien conspiracies surrounding them.
The very first published Shadowrun module DNA/DOA, which was written by Dave Arneson, really served as a basis of how to bring XCom and Shadowrun together.
Character: André de Vries
It’s surprising how well the settings mesh. Carl was annoyed when he played XCOM 2 and found that they had “stolen” some of his plot points.
As Len mentions XCom 2 came out shortly after our campaign started and much to my horror the alien’s reason for invading earth was very similar to what I had originally decided was their motivation in my campaign. This wouldn’t have been an issue, but many of my players also were playing XCom 2. The alien’s motivation has since been changed and I’m far happier with the new motivation.
Without spoiling the game, can you tell us anything about what you have in store for the characters in X-Com: Defiance?
In the short term with XCom losing government funding, Allan Quartermain believes he can solve their funding woes by finding where the gold from King Solomon’s mine is. After finding an Astral Gateway, they are transported to a Steampunk Cowboy (or Cowpunk) metaplane, where they are transformed into Cowpunk versions of their Shadowrunner selves and run into an old western mining town with a gold mine problem. Unfortunately for the players, metaplanes they can reach can also be reached by those alien races that are psychically gifted as well as the spirits of the dead.
While Allan’s metaplane initiation leads them further into the metaplanes in search of Solomon’s gold, they will need to complete Jax’s initiation, where she needs to come face to face with what the alien’s experiments did to her daughter, in order for the group to return to Earth.
There are some pretty out of this world (pun intended!) applications of custom CSS on your campaign. How much development went into these areas, and are we likely to see more added as time goes on?
Probably a lot less development time went into the CSS of this campaign over some of my earlier campaigns with far less CSS simply because I have greater experience now with CSS and Obsidian Portal’s default CSS setup. Also some of the ideas for the CSS came from helping other people on the forum try and figure out how to do something they wanted to do.
The main wiki page was created by using a rainmeter skin for my desktop and taking a screenshot of it, then cutting out the elements that I wanted to animate. For the main landing page, I used as a 3D solar system Wayne Dunkley shared on codepen. Then added a spaceship and tractor beam as well as images of the known aliens the party has intelligence on. Codepen is a great resource for advance CSS ideas.
So, changing gears now, how did you get into tabletop gaming?
I got started way back in grade 5 with the old red box D&D set. Our teacher had introduced a number of his students to the game one day. I got hooked and I started DMing a game every recess.
Len17 (André de Vries):
I haven’t been gaming as long as the other guys in the group. I deliberately avoided D&D when I was at university, for the sake of my grades. I played computer games like Baldur’s Gate, then played Neverwinter Nights in online co-op mode with a DM, then decided I might as well play D&D with actual people.
Aside from Shadowrun, what other systems have you played? What others do you still play? Are there any systems you have not played that you might be interested in?
Every edition of D&D including Pathfinder, Rolemaster, Savage Worlds, Dresden Files, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy, Dark Heresy, and probably a couple others that I’ve forgotten. The last couple of years have mostly been Shadowrun, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds and D&D 5e. Night’s Black Agent is one system I haven’t tried, but would be interested in trying out.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps you coming back?
My profile says I’ve been a member since March 11, 2011. DSMfive had found this cool site that he thought would help with immersion in the Shadowrun Campaign Geek the Mage First that he was planning on running for us.
If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?
I’d probably have to say that it helps make the campaign and characters more immersive. While we do use the adventure logs for summarizing what occurred during the sessions, more often it is used for telling the story of what the characters feel or do after a session. Or for telling a side story about what occurs with some of the NPCs (like Jax’s vampiric little girl)
What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?
For me the biggest highlight has been the either the fun that the players have had with my introduction of William Shatner as a recurring nemesis ever since they stole his penthouse suite and battled him in a VirtualRPG LARP while being bodyguards to a pair of technomancer children in the adventure UnCONventional Warfare or their reaction on learning that the terminally ill children kidnapped from the hospital had been turned into flying cyberzombies by the Aliens and the Illuminates Of the New Dawn.
Len17 (André de Vries):
The biggest moment was obviously the simultaneous shooting of Donald Trump and the Liberty Bell. But my favorite highlight is the time we confounded a bunch of Star Trek con attendees by hacking a shipment of VR simchips, to replace “Star Trek Beyond, Featuring the Original Cast” with one of Jax’s Bollywood musicals that had William Shatner composited in. Shatner is now our nemesis. 🙂
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.
I think my last couple of campaigns has been successful due to focusing on allowing the players to mold the campaign world. Players are invested in their characters because they created them. When you give your players a say in the formation of the campaign world, they become more invested in the campaign. Try to put yourself in the player’s seat as often as you can. Try to determine whether or not what you’re doing as a GM would please you as a player. It’s likely that, many times, if it would please you, it would please the player.
So there you have it gentle readers, another month, another great campaign. As we wrap up this entry, I’d like to remind you to nominate your favorite campaigns so that they might soon be featured here. Until next month.