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Aug

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month August 2022: In Over Their Heads

“To admit defeat is to blaspheme against the Emperor.” ~Imperial Army Doctrine

Welcome to the 28th Chalkydrian Drop Regiment! Often outnumbered and outgunned but never outmaneuvered. Troopers of the Imperial Guard fight and die facing the many horrors of the Spinward Front. They are often In Over Their Heads so they rely on comradery, black humor and as much firepower as they can muster to see them through the bleak universe of Warhammer 40k.

Charge up your Tri-plex Pattern Lasgun, check your grav-chute and get ready to give your life for your Emperor! Continue reading for our interview with GM JayDoubleA to learn more about the exploits of these brave soldiers of the Imperium!

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? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?
Answer

First off, thanks for this award. I know there are a lot of amazing campaigns on Obsidian Portal, so to be selected from all of them is quite the honour!

I’m a veteran RPGer, in my late 40s now, and been enjoying this great hobby of ours for some 35 years or so. I was born in Liverpool, but grew up in the Netherlands, moving back to the UK in my 30s. And back here I met an amazing woman who happened to feel the same way about me – we’ve been married for over 12 years now, with four kids (one of whom is a player in In Over Their Heads).

Outside of this, I’m a web developer in my day job (which will be relevant later on in this interview), I play guitar and bass (currently between bands), and I try to run and hit the gym a couple of times a week.

I don’t post on Twitter, and my Facebook is pretty locked down (unless they’ve reset the privacy settings again), so your best bet is to message me here on Obsidian Portal.

Tell us about “In Over Their Heads” in a nutshell. How did it come to be? What drew you to Warhammer 40K? How have you hurdled the issues of rank that often plague a military campaign?

In a nutshell? It’s a squad of Imperial Guard, and their adventures – or rather the mission they are sent on and the moments of R&R in between. There are “on base scenes”, where they try to navigate base politics, rivalries with other platoons, and getting shouted at a lot by their drill sergeant. And then there are the “on mission scenes”, where frightening amounts of firepower get deployed on either side.

I played the original Wahammer 40K back when I was a teenager, and kept semi-in-touch with the Games Workshop hobby since then. When I came across a link to the totally amazing All Guardsmen Party (http://www.theallguardsmenparty.com/), I was inspired to try my hand at running one of the 40K RPGs. My regular player group was up for giving it a go, so I started prepping.

Handling the chain of command has proven to be fairly easy so far. Their platoon commander is woefully inexeprienced, but is smart enough to actively seek the input of his NCOs, which includes two of the PCs. And these PCs’ players are then able to take input from the rest of the group, to steer their Lieutenant in the “right” direction. The more senior officers assign the mission and objectives, but are otherwise smartly avoided by enlisted troops not wanting to get into any unnecessary trouble!

How regularly do you play, and where do you play? Tell us about your current group of players.

Since I also run RuneQuest at the moment for my main group, and one of the players in IotH has his own campaign he runs, we aim to play Only War every third session. In an ideal world, that would be every third Friday. Obviously things come up every now and then, but we are doing every third game, rather than every third week.

Some of the group are people I originally met through playing AD&D back in Holland, around 25 years ago. Others are friends I have made since. The old crew from the games back in the day got a Mage game (not run by me) and a 3rd Ed game (which was run by me) up and running about 12 years ago, after reconnecting through Facebook. We used Skype, as that is what there was back then. Force of habit has kept Skype as the main platform, though I have recently been introduced to just how much better Discord is. I sense a change might be imminent for us..

We’re a pretty mixed group, spread out across the UK, the Netherlands and Israel – we’ve got computer programmers, a maths teacher, a Games Workshop store manager – but we all share a love for both the storytelling and the social side of things. I’ve found pre-game banter needs about an hour to be factored in when planning the sessions, as we’ve got a whole week to catch up on with each other before we kick off.

Alongside Skype, IotH uses Owlbear Rodeo for the maps, Google Jamboard for quick diagrams, and a custom charactersheet/diceroller that one of the players and I built in .net/javascript/sql.

Your campaign is notable for its many design innovations, with lots of CSS usage! Lots of boxes and custom buttons, which adds to its look. Where did your design knowledge come from and what advice can you give to new GMs wishing to improve their sites in similar ways.

This is where I have to give a LOT of credit to Frak_Lou_Elmo, who’s one of the players in this campaign. He jumped on the Obsidian Portal site as soon as I created it, and much of the original look and feel comes from him. He’s also added a lot of content – I told the players they should all feel free to add any stuff they liked regarding people, places, etc., as long as it didn’t contradict canon. Several of the major NPCs and the entirety of their regiment’s home planet, are player created, and I love them giving this input to the game.

As I mentioned before, I am a web developer by trade. Although my qualifications are all in server side programming, I have been doing the job for well over a decade, and have worked around some very talented and helpful people. I’ve picked up a lot of css and other bits and pieces over the years, and it’s been great having this opportunity to show some of it off just for fun. Doing the IotH pages all in css, without being able to just launch piles of custom javascript at every problem made it a very interesting challenge.

For anyone looking to tune up their sites, I’d say to ask – I’m happy to answer questions – and look at how other people have done things, e.g. grab the css from my site (https://inovertheirheads.obsidianportal.com/custom_css) if you want to see what I did – and find some online tutorials on the basics of css and the DOM if you are a total beginner. But most of all, don’t be afraid to ask someone how they did something.

How valuable do you find being Ascendant? What do you find to be the best features?

You know, I wasn’t sure what the specific benefits are. I “ascended” ages ago, because I wanted more image storage space for a previous campaign I was running. When I started on IotH, I already had the benefits, so took them for granted… Knowing how unhelpful this answer must be, I went and looked them up.

Undoubtedly the custom css, alongside the increased storage. Without the facility to let my creative side run wild, the IotH site would be functional, but nothing that really stood out.

How much time is usually spent preparing your game sessions? Describe a typical session.

There are ideas being considered, scenes pre-emptively being played through, all kinds of things going on in my head well in advance of play. Usually I will sit down for a couple of hours the evening before the game and put down notes, maps, find ambience and sound effects, stuff like that. A lot of my prep gets revealed in adventure log posts after the mission is completed. I have learned not to overprepare, though. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan in any RPG session, so having ideas for scenes and moments that can be put into the story however it might unfold is more useful than mapping out an entire session that will never end up going the way you thought it would, in my opinion.

We’re only a few missions in, so I don’t yet know exactly what would be typical, though I suspect the format of the current mission may be repeated a few times. Starting on the base, I have a number of scenes prepared for the PCs to interact with others on the base, either solo or in pairs. These are often continuations of previous interactions, e.g. a lieutenant from another platoon trying to get cooperation for some illicit trading of materiel started in the first session, whilst still on board the transport ship to their deployment. All these scenes are time-boxed to a few minutes, to prevent this part of the session from taking over the whole evening (with several bored players being reduced to spectators for hours at a time).

After that, there would typically be an on base scene or two involving everyone (e.g. a training montage, a night at the bar), then the mission briefing… and then we get to the shoot-y, kill-y, die-y, explode-y part, where tactics and dice rolls take over and the bodycount increases at an alarming rate.

In a way, it’s probably not too dissimilar to a session in many games, whatever the genre. You do stuff around your current base of operations, you find out what the mission/quest/job is, you hit the action. The most significant difference, given that this is a military game, is that a lot of the planning is taken out of the PCs’ hands. They get given the plan by their commanders, but still need to figure out an effective way of implementing it and coming out of it alive.

There are some amazing design aspects in your campaign (e.g. altered images, music videos for the different characters etc.) Who is responsible for this, and what words of advice can you give to aspiring creators on Obsidian Portal, who may not have a design background, but are wanting to improve the look of their sites?

Frak_Lou_Elmo has to take a lot of the credit for that. He had a lot of these initial ideas, which I was then able to use my technical knowledge to build upon. The theme songs section was entirely him, as well as much of the layout, the military font, and a load of other input. His hard work inspired me to put in more work of my own, and we have built off each other since we got going with this. To be fair, can we accept this award jointly? He deserves at least as much recognition as I do for this!

The advice, once again, is to ask. I am more than happy to help people, and if I don’t see your forum post, message me directly!

https://www.w3schools.com/ has some great tutorials for the basics of html and css – and a lot of what makes the IotH site work is that I wrote custom html, rather than using the text editor and its own markup. Once you’re comfortable with the basic html tags and assigning them classes, you can start messing with css. Trial, error and have fun! Oh, and learn how to use your browser’s developer tools so you can experiment with changes in real time.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I’ve used it and dropped it (laziness, there is no excuse) for past campaigns I have run, and used it as a player in friends’ campaigns. It was initially a friend’s game that introduced me to it, but I keep coming back now because we’re making something special with IotH, I feel. And I’m having fun doing it, adding to it, and see how far we can push the boundaries of what can be done with the Obsidian Portal platform. Getting player input (such as rotating the adventure log write ups) goes a long way to counteracting the laziness factor, too!

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

One thing? It helps me get the ideas out of my head and somewhere where they are more accessible to my players, and where they can be looked up without having to personally remember every detail. It’s like the most glorious notebook a GM could ever wish for.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far ?

As I mentioned, we’re only a few sessions in, but we’ve had a couple of memorable moments. I am going to invoke GM’s ego prerogative here, and say that for me, the highlight has been playing the NPC Sgt-at-Arms Williams. He is entirely and unashamedly a genre transplanted version of Battery Sgt-Major Williams from the old BBC sitcom “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum”, complete with shouting, abrasiveness and deep baritone Welsh accent (which I do extremely poorly, but very enthusiastically). It’s great fun (and somewhat liberating) having an NPC like this that you can be really over the top with, totally hamming it up, and the PCs just have to take it, because he outranks them.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Accents – develop a few. It doesn’t matter if they are any good (most of mine are truly terrible), as long as they are consistent. It adds so much to a recurring NPC if they have some kind of distinct voice. Even more so in games running online.

Listen to your players – often they will plan for something, or mention something. And sometimes this something is actually a far better idea than what you had planned. Which leads us to…

Be flexible – no plan survives contact with the enemy! And even though the players aren’t your enemies, they will scupper your plans in a multitude of creative ways. Roll with it, ride it out, have fun, just never fully take your hands off the wheel. You are still the final arbiter of what happens; just remember that the story is fluid, not set in stone.

Timeboxing – one on one (or two) scenes can add a lot to the story. But remember that means the rest of the players aren’t involved. I try to limit scenes not involving the whole party to a few minutes each, with an onscreen stopwatch to keep track of time spent. Obviously developments can take you past that limit, but try to stay within it wherever possible, to keep the game moving for everyone.

That’s all for this month folks! Don’t forget to head on over the the OP forums to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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