The best sims are original sims – member-created universes in RPing
Then the torpedo struck. A massive explosion threw him clear of the ship and over the side, tearing the small warship in two in the process.
The captain came to a minute later. As he floated in the Arabian Sea, he saw a flash in the middle distance. A streak of light climbed out of the ocean and turned north, dropping low and hugging the sea. Another flash followed a minute, doing the same.
At this point, he realised what the streaks were. Cruise missiles.
As two more missiles followed from their underwater launcher, the captain prayed that a Third World War had not just started.
– ‘Fighter Ops’ by Silent Hunter
What are original sims? Of course, all sims are original ideas, unless you’re being a very bad simmer. What this article will look at are truly ‘original’ sims – those where the entire gaming universe is created by the sim creator and are not using a pre-existing setting. These sims allow a player not to worry about canon, having created his or her simming world from nearly the ground up – although certain things will already exist in the real world e.g. Terran geography to make things easier – as well as getting that satisfaction that this world or these worlds are entirely theirs.
I have created a number of original sims over the years and this is what I’ve learnt. In particular, I will talk about three sims that I’ve worked on:
- Covert-81: A Cold War-set espionage sim at AJJE Games, now defunct. This was inspired by and styled after shows like MacGyver, Airwolf and The A-Team, with the benefit of nearly twenty years of hindsight and declassification. Featuring two covert operations teams, from the East and the West respectively, this was a globe-trotting adventure of high technology, intrigue and mullets.
- Fighter Ops: A near-future (2015) air combat and naval warfare game currently running at Phoenix Roleplaying, influenced by Top Gun and the superb Japanese anime Area 88. The current scenario involves an RAF Eurofighter squadron deployed to a possible war with Iran, but I have others planned.
- Sierra Charlie Four: A British policing sim, based on shows like The Bill, Scott & Bailey and Law and Order UK. Like American cop shows, only with fewer guns and lower heels.
This is the relatively easy part. Each of us consume a vast amount of media in any given week, from TV shows to newspapers, which can all provide suitable fodder for simming concepts. If you’re interested in it, you can probably find a way to sim for it. I’ve had a long interest in espionage (having watched all the James Bond films for example) combine with a more recent interest in military technology, that led to the creation of Covert-81, set in a period that I find fascinating.
There are a lot of genres that I feel would be worth having a go at:
- Crime-fighting: Something we don’t see a lot in simming
- Special Forces
- Non-fantasy history (i.e. before the adventure of global real-time communications), with the potential for swashbuckling, global travel and people going “I say!”
However, this ‘if you like it, go for it’ approach needs a slight bit of caution – you need to be reasonably sure that there is enough shared interest in your club to make a sim viable, or disappointment is a certainty.
- You will have to create a good many things from scratch whatever you do. Characters at the very least, certainly an organisation or two. Entire sectors of stars would be something that you may have to think about, if you’re doing original sci-fi in a ‘sandbox’ setting.
- Depending on the nature of your sim, you may also have to do a great deal of research to ensure the accuracy of your setting, as well as making sure that little things like incorrect aircraft or for a certain side or anachronistic technology don’t jar the enjoyment of the players. For example, Covert-81 not only required me to find information on the contemporary (early 1980s) military technology of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, but also the perception of that technology by the other side.
- Any GM will have to create characters to provide antagonists for their players, but an original sim creator needs to do this more than most. Without a Khan or a Darth Vader to chill the blood or ham it up, you’re going to have to go for your own distinctive NPCs, good and bad. For example, Fighter Ops features a traitorous US Navy pilot who is now working for Iran and an ‘Essex Girl’ (think Jersey Girl) RAF intelligence officer.
- In the NPC department, it is very handy to have someone whose job is to provide exposition for a world that you know and the other players generally won’t. I did this in Covert-81 by having the two heads of the opposition sections provide the mission briefings and the useful data. For an idea of what I’m talking about, look at Nell Jones and Hetty Lange in NCIS: Los Angeles, or M in the James Bond films.
- You are going to need a good backstory that will bring your players in and keep them intrigued. While I can’t reveal plot lines for Fighter Ops at present, it won’t just be the Iranians that our RAF squadron are going up against.
- Have an attractive banner. Sierra Charlie Four’s banner was done in the style of one of the logos of The Bill, using a checkerboard effect and a bold Arial font.
- It is really best to get some recruits during the development of your sim. Not only is this going to make a disappointing failure less likely, it allows for you to bring someone else on board to help with the creation and bounce ideas off. In AJJE, I was required to get six players before my sim was accepted anyway.
- Leveraging social media, which is something that clubs should be doing already, is also useful – post something about your sim on your blog or in your newsletter. Using external sites (say a military discussion forum) is an idea, but hasn’t really worked for me.
- Remember that you know more about this setting than most, but roll with player additions to this setting within reason – I added a small-scale Balkans conflict to Fighter Ops after a player put something bigger in, with a mutual adjustment being made. Also, you will need to explain a lot, but do it subtly – a site wiki can really help here (I’ve added aircraft pages to Phoenix’s Wiki).
- When starting a new chapter or mission, pre-write an introduction that really sets the scene and bring your players into the world.
You will have multiple failures if you’re a prolific sim creator like me. Fighter Ops is in fact the third go at the concept and a good number of my sims have not even gotten off the starting blocks. However, when you succeed, you’re going to really enjoy yourself.
Plus you won’t have to worry about canon.
This post is based on a talk that the author did for Fall Fest 2012.