The Gears of War Tabletop Report: Finale

So, you guys may have forgotten about this, but once upon a time on this site I did a small series talking about my experiences running a custom ruleset tabletop game for, of all things, a game based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War. Ultimately I stopped doing the session reports because they were digging into my time a little too much (I needed to be writing more important things, like the next book and whatnot), but the sessions themselves didn’t stop.

Until this last Tuesday, that is. Tuesday evening was the final session of the campaign. I won’t say it was a great one, because it was my first time being a DM, and it was a completely custom system that I built and had to do on-the-fly adjustments to … but there were definite fun moments and our team did have some good times.

So how did it end? Well, the players managed to prevent a surviving faction of UIR soldiers from setting off an experimental heavy-metal bomb (atomics, something the Gears universe isn’t very familiar with) in the middle of the COG defensive line on the Jacinto Plateau. Basically, they almost died, but saved the day, and in the end, were rewarded with a ship—something they’d been looking for all campaign. Sure, they had to fight for it, but with a gratuitous selection of high-powered weaponry, the players were able to find it, defend it, and then lay waste to everything that approached while loading it up.

The best campaign ever? Not by a long shot. But … they did have fun. And I did too.

Now to never be a DM again. At least, not while I’m working two jobs (writing included). It just cut into my time far too heavily. I’ll leave it to my more financially stable players.

Granted, it would have been a lot easier had I not been working with an entirely homebrew system. One that was my own design (and that meant that further on, the cracks began to show).

Actually, I do want to talk about that for a moment. It was not perfect. Not by a long-shot. However, that’s a far cry from “can’t be fixed” or “was a disaster.” In fact, there were some things that my players liked about it. Adding dice to rolls instead of adding numbers for skills, for example. Why roll a single d20 trying to get a four or lower when you can roll two d20s for the same number? Or three? Or four?

They liked that. Even if it did mean they needed more dice. However, combined with some of the other systems … sometimes it could to be a little much.

Actually, that was one of the largest flaws with the system: Too many dice at times. And too many numbers. I’ve still got all my documents and whatnot, and I won’t be getting rif of them. But the system does need a general streamlining.

Which I think would be the first fix: I’d go through and cut the numbers by half. Maybe more. Reduce the amount of dice rolls so that players can focus more on choices and action than rolling dice.

I’d also fix the class system. While the level-deck was a neat idea, it was a little too uncoordinated for my player’s tastes. There was simply no way to really know what you were going to become. That fix, however, is fairly simple. Well, sort of. All the players agreed that having a selection of class-themed decks to pick from when choosing their character would have been the best option and would have let them go through and look before making a call.

Finally, the game was simply too combat heavy. Combined with the absurd number of rolls, it made some things drag. It wasn’t that combat couldn’t be fun—it was—but that it often took too long and fighting was usually the player’s main recourse. There wasn’t much in the way of “diplomacy” or social checks. There were those things, and they did use them … but rather than letting players have a 50-50 choice,  it was more like 20-80. Part of that was the universe: You don’t negotiate with Locust. But the other part was a failing in the ruleset to allow for enough flexibility for out of combat options or good combat avoidance (they did do some sneaking, but that was usually all it came down to).

But in the end? They did have fun, and it was a positive experience. Being a DM gave me a greater appreciation for how players play and what they do, which I hope I’ll take to heart when we start our newest campaign in January.

But I am glad it’s over. I’ve regained some precious time I can use to unwind/work on other projects/write with. Did I have fun? Oh yeah. There were some great sessions that I don’t think I (and I know the players won’t) forget anytime soon. Like the crane climb across two skyscrapers. Or the flooded city that led to one player being trapped in a shipping container by a giant, predatory fish. Or the team’s first battle with a berserker (more running away quietly, really).

Crud, there were a lot of fun memories from it across the year. From running from berserkers to the team utterly upending my plans on more than one occasion.

Does the system I built need some work? Absolutely. And you know what? I think I may go ahead and work on it next year as a side project. Polish it up and whatnot. Because as a table-top, it did work, and I think better than some expected. Some polish, some refinement, and I think it could be a pretty good system for a lot of things, from an X-Com game to … well, anything involving guns and cover, really.

In any case, as fun as it was, I’m kind of glad it’s over.

Until January, at least, when I’m a player once more, and my Luchador Kobold, The Mighty Bolt, takes to the table!

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