Category Archives: GURPS After the End: Earthfall

Earthfall Season 1, GM Retrospective

Overall, I feel pretty positive about this run. The timing was less than optimal, and I felt like I was having to scramble the whole time to keep up. By the end of it, I was definitely ready to stop, despite player encouragement to continue. But there was also a good “energy” about it, and it definitely seemed like the players were having fun with it, as was I.

Lessons Learned

The Setting

Firstly, the setting for this campaign poses a problem I didn’t have with the campaign’s “spiritual predecessor,” that being the lack of a proper “mass die-off” of the human population. That meant whatever structures the PCs come across are likely to still be occupied by their owners, and operational to some degree. Not only could they not loot everything in sight, but I had to deal with more NPC encounters (mitigated somewhat by Wyoming’s low population). Secondly, unlike the typical zombiepocalypse, an organized “military invasion” doesn’t justify random alien encounters—realistically, they need to come from somewhere specific, for a specific purpose. Since the PCs followed a mostly-predictable path, I could usually work this out…usually.

Preparation, Again

The combination of requirements and limitations that come with online gaming and the more action-focused story demanded more of me than I was ready for. I had plenty to do for the first couple of sessions, but I didn’t have quite enough to work with midway through to keep things going smoothly. But this isn’t unusual. I was more satisfied with the handful of events where I more-or-less directly ripped off elements from movies. They felt more fleshed out and natural than my improvisations.

Early in the run, events ran on a prearranged timeline, which worked pretty well. After that schedule ran out, I started reflexively “steering” the PCs toward things I had prepared. It was late in the run when I realized I was doing this, so I overcorrected, resulting in my “horrible mistake,” which kinda ruined the ending—hoisted on my own petard.

Sandbox, Again

I had an easier time with the sandbox elements for this campaign’s predecessor, for some reason. I think the zombiepocalypse makes potential PC actions more straightforward, reduces the encounter population (as mentioned above), and makes encounters like “bandits” more believable. In the former case, the Monster Lake ranch would certainly have been unoccupied and free for looting, but in this case, I was lucky it was the weekend when they got there, or I would have had a bunch of NPCs to deal with—which I would have had to improvise on-the-spot, since I hadn’t expected that stop. I was a little surprised that having to cobble together a battle map from Google Earth in the middle of the game was not as bad as I expected, but it’s still a shame I can’t use it directly.

This campaign felt a little “patchy” to me; I didn’t have a clear sense of what was going on in the world. The population as a whole ended up standing around like a CRPG NPC waiting to be clicked to deliver their scripted dialogue. I should have had a basic idea of what the US military is doing, for one, and a disaster/evacuation plan for the civilians for another, at least. But now I have a better idea how the PCs will behave and interact, so I should be better prepared next time. For example, I clearly need a “Point of Contact” NPC for each settlement they pass through, assuming they keep to their Postman role. Also, as things progress, the quintessential “random encounters” may start to make more sense. I’m still using tarot to determine the situation in places the PCs visit, but I’ve been toying with having the players draw those cards during the game—might feel less scripted, but that’s a lot of pantsing during the game. I haven’t decided yet.

I tried to focus on keeping things energetic and progressing forward—I would say this was mostly successful, but there is definitely room for improvement. I need to keep Matt Colville’s words in mind: “This is boring. Someone needs to die!”

Other Points

  • For the aliens, I’ve been converting existing stats or coming up with new ones as they come up—not to mention redesigning the visuals—but that does mean they’ll be there for next time.
  • There were a number of points where I made some comment regarding the in-game situation that would have been better delivered by an NPC—I forgot about that lesson from Sea Dogs.
  • I never did succeed at getting James, Jr. in any serious danger to be rescued from, though I did come close once or twice. Gotta do better.
  • I skimped on the “Wilderness Travel” stuff from DF16 for the most part, mostly because I knew, in-game, it was going to be short-term. This may become more important as it progresses, but I will probably keep it simple anyway—at least, unless I can find a way to make it more entertaining. Plus having a functional truck means travel times are usually measured in hours, not days. I need to focus on the “montage” style delivery.
  • I need to do some more work on the Action Challenge System (ACS), and try to come up with some good scenarios to test it with next time. I’m fairly excited about its potential.
  • Post-session, we agreed that the next run will feature cooperation with X-Com, but not full-on employment by them

Next Time

There will be one. Soonish. The plan, as discussed immediately after the last session, is to try to make a quick turn-around. I do want to get in a full 12-session run next time. Of course, that means I really need to start prepping now

Earthfall, S1E8, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.25/5. When I started, I probably would have given it a “4.5” but when it was over, I’d definitely give it a “2”—so I took the average. 😛 This is not how I wanted to end the run. More on that, below.

The Ups…

Finally, at the end of the run, I managed to work in a “proper” tactical combat. I was happy with how it went, overall. It was difficult, but not too much so. No PCs were injured, though much of that is owed to the enemy’s use of non-lethal munitions, to sometimes-hilarious results. I also finally got to use the Fantastic Dungeon Grappling “Control Points,” which worked out nicely. It did go a little longer than I originally intended, but at the time, I considered that to be to my benefit. So, I skipped the additional action scene I had planned in Buffalo so we could move on to the session’s climax.

…And the Downs

I had planned to work in a “visit” by the Project Genesis “Entity,” but I had problems working out the particulars. I had a great idea at the last minute before the game, of the Devil’s Tower dream, which also let me work in a little Close Encounters joke. I just thought I would throw that scene out there, and the PCs would go on to complete their Cheyenne Mountain objective and look into this new thing later. It was mere seconds after I pulled the trigger on that event that I realized what a disastrously horrible, ruinous mistake I had just made.

For the noob GMs out there, remember this: the PCs will almost always obey a command from an in-game “authority” as if it came from the GM himself. In fact, they may drop what they’re doing right now entirely to do so. In this case, I had actually not considered at all that they might decide to do a 180°, go back the way they came, and straight on to Devil’s Tower.

I locked up. I had a bunch of “dynamic” stuff planned for Casper (moved from Denver, due to the previous change of plans). I could have relocated (again) along the new route, but it wouldn’t make in-game sense there, and I had just corrected myself away from that “make stuff happen” GM mindset that leads to railroading the PCs, so I couldn’t justify the move. If I had known this would happen, I might not have skipped the additional Buffalo scene, and it wouldn’t have felt quite so empty. I spent the rest of the session on the back foot, vamping to fill the time and trying to figure out how to work in the X-Com introduction under completely new circumstances. And cursing a lot.

It was such a stupid mistake, and I should have known better. Thankfully, the players aren’t usually aware when this happens unless I tell them. They seem to have enjoyed the ending anyway, regardless of the fact that it was so much less than I had intended. Not how I wanted to end the run.

Earthfall, S1E7, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Nevermind the last-minute scramble to assemble the necessary materials, I felt pretty good about this one, both before and after. I might have given it a “5” had it not been for a handful of minor errors, none of which would have amounted to much on their own.

Close Encounter

I finally got a proper Tactical Combat in, even if it wasn’t very long. I was a little concerned about overpowering the PCs, but it worked out.

Bob Lazar’s “sports model” disc seats three, so I had one Grey/Sectoid flying the ship, and two on the ground fetching the MacGuffin from the crash. They weren’t expecting company and weren’t kitted out for a fight, so they had to use their psionics. Arming them with beam-weapons would have weighted the fight too heavily in their favor (plus, the surviving PCs would undoubtedly loot those beam weapons, a bit too early to my liking)—even so, it still might have gone badly for the PCs if not for their numbers. GURPS has stats for Greys in both After the End 2 and Monster Hunters 5, but they aren’t exactly the same; I also referred to Psionic Powers for some details. The result: By game-time, I confused myself about what mechanics to use, and it got a little sloppy behind-the-screen. I really should have nailed down those particulars before the game.

I intended for the aliens to go after James, Jr. but, unsurprisingly, they didn’t get that far—I haven’t properly “endangered” the kid yet. I expected Woola to be (finally!) sicced on mind-controlled Robert; I didn’t expect Robert to get accidentally bullet-riddled in the process. RIP 😛

Action Challenge System™ (Alpha test), Part II

I did the first test of the ACS in Session 2, with the “war zone” scenario. The “disaster survival” scenario is another primary reason for its existence, and I had been looking for an opportunity to use it. I like how it turned out, overall—I think it gave the feel I was looking for. But it definitely still needs some work; I had to fudge quite a bit on-the-fly. Almost immediately after the session, I realized the contest should have been an “attack/defense” thing, rather than the binary “succeed/fail” thing that it was. More lessons learned now will mean a better result when it’s finished.


There were several places in this session where the players messed up my intended sequence of events.

  • I intended for the storm to hit some time after they passed Ten Sleep; I didn’t expect them to decide to dig-in there immediately, which meant I had to fire it off early, or they would have just turtles, and it would have been boring.
  • I expected the PCs to avoid Denver, but I didn’t expect them to avoid it quite so far as they are currently planning, spoiling some of my future plans, unless I find a way to compensate.
  • I expected the PCs would overnight at Damien’s house in Buffalo, and I was forced to scramble to refactor his ex-wife’s arrival when they decided to hit the road early.

All of the players’ decisions here were perfectly reasonable, and I should have thought of it myself. I realize afterward this means I’m probably railroading too much, trying to force events to occur. Earlier in the campaign, events were on a schedule and would happen when they happened, whether the PCs were there or not. That was better, even if it screwed with my intended narrative.

Earthfall, S1E6, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.25/5. I could have been a little better prepared, as usual, but it all seemed to turn out more-or-less as I intended, with a caveat or two. I think it probably needed a “little something more,” but I can’t really say what that might have been.

Damien’s Flashback

Damien’s player decided to make his Objective some undefined MacGuffin, which I later regretted, as the other PCs would lack motivation to go so far out of their way to retrieve it. It needed to be defined. Given a MacGuffin has certain technical requirements, I worked backward from the end result—what would the “Resistance” need, and what could Damien reasonably possess to that end, without it being at all “useful” to the PCs? I eventually stumbled across the “photos” idea, which actually fit rather well. And there’s definitely more to the story, to be revealed later.

The Prepper’s Bunker

AKA 10 Cloverfield Lane-plus-PCs. Overall, I liked how it turned out. It took a bit longer than I had expected, but I didn’t mind that. I was happy the PCs didn’t just try to immediately kill Howard, though I was prepared for it. I got some good use out of the “Shane” NPC (stand-in for the movie’s “Emmett”). I do regret not doing some basic prep-work: like figuring out what Michelle actually knows at that moment, and why she wouldn’t just bolt out of the bunker as soon as the door opened. I was fortunate that a PC got inquisitive enough to talk to her, but I didn’t give her potential response enough forethought either—and at this point of the movie, she hadn’t discovered the earring. Off-the-cuff as it all was, I don’t think I could have scripted the end result better, even if I tried.

Ambush at the Reservoir

I wanted to throw a proper set-piece tactical combat at the players. I pulled from How It Ends again—there was a similar vehicle-sandwich ambush, though the protagonists only had a pistol to their defense. I expected some typical PC shenaniganry, and for them to make short work of the bad guys. When it came time, though, I realized it was rather late in the session, and there was no way we could finish a normal tactical combat in time. But then I also realized the PCs had a machine gun, rocket launcher, and grenade launcher. I resigned myself to an abbreviated affair as a result. Ultimately, the players did what they do best, and attacked the problem head-on (almost literally), and I just rolled with it. I’ll just have to find another opportunity.

Other Stuff

  • I’ve been making a conscious effort to get the tag-along NPCs more involved. James has been pretty easy. Shane has been useful up to this point, but now that his “mission” is over, I may need to come up with something else. Robert, on the other hand, has been particularly difficult; I did finally figure out his motivation for being there, but I haven’t fully grasped what to do with it.
  • Alas, the players caught on to my “jurisdiction” gag; now I’m gonna have to get creative to keep it from getting stale. I’ve been trying to work out some others.
  • Afterward, I realize I should have done some basic lookups on Howard’s truck beforehand, just in case
  • Also, I realize I should have actually looked at the “gun room” image more closely before declaring “whatever you see is there”—I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but in an ATE campaign, gear comes and goes.

Earthfall, S1E5, GM Debrief


GM confidence: 4.5/5. Finally. I felt okay about this session beforehand, and I thought it turned out pretty well overall. There were some missteps, but they didn’t break anything—though they certainly could have.

Not Easter Eggs

There are quite a few references in this session that are worth pointing out. I think, to qualify as an “Easter Egg,” they have to be somehow hidden, so I don’t think they meet that requirement. You can decide for yourself, I guess. 😛

  • The guys in the station wagon at the collapsed bridge were taken from the movie, How it Ends, with a little modification. Events from the movie mostly happened as-is up to this point, minus the addition of the Alien Menace. Although the movie itself is a bit “dry,” it’s actually a really interesting treatment of what has been theorized to be a “gamma ray burst”—as discussed in this video. But you ask, “Why did the gamma radiation only affect certain people?” That would be telling… 😉
  • The prepper bunker in Jackson is from 10 Cloverfield Lane. I can’t get too deep into this one since the situation is still ongoing, in-game. I will say that I have had to modify the timeline and specific background details to make it fit, of course. The PCs will be interrupting the movie events before the midpoint or thereabouts. But an interesting consequence of the PCs’ involvement, should they rescue Michelle, is that her character development as depicted in the movie won’t actually occur, so she could remain as she began the story—too scared to help others.
  • Like the Sk’ran (see previous post), the Taareh race goes all the way back to the precursors to the Daniverse. They have always been an offshoot-human species with a proto-Egyptian culture. Their name has morphed many times over the decades; in fact, all their details other than the most basic have been a bit slow to materialize. They have appeared in previous campaigns, specifically in the first and third installments of the S³M campaign. But their most recent incarnation is in Rigil Kent’s spinoff MGT2-powered campaign, The Verge, where we co-developed many of the details that currently exist (such as the format of their personal names, their communal child-rearing practices, and physiology). This session required me to actually vocalize some of their modified ancient Egyptian language, for the first time, I think. Being Rigil’s PC, the idea to make Heinlein an “alien hybrid” was originally his off-the-cuff remark that I decided to use.
  • Regarding the “personal names” above: According to what I was able to find, the ancient Egyptian word for “agent” (and also, in this case, “bystander,” which I shamelessly stole) is wpwty—I am as unsure of the pronunciation as any Egyptologist, I suspect, but I gave it my best internet-educated guess. That was the second part of Grandfather’s name, the occupation. The final part of the name, the “assignment,” is an Egyptianized pronunciation of the word “Earth”
  • “Project Genesis”/“Gen-Hisis” also owes its origins to the pre-Daniverse works. This one has been a persistent crossover element throughout the Daniverse all along, and was to be a plot feature for at least three campaigns that have not yet seen production, and one that has (Dreamland). Obviously, I can’t go into too much detail here, for spoiler reasons.
  • The alien “beasts” that appeared in this (and previous) session have also been encountered in a previous campaign, specifically Dreamland. I’m getting around to updating the visuals for them, now that I have need of it, while reconsidering some of their basic physiological features. One of my design decisions in that campaign included each of the various species having some sort of “utility feature,” of which the current PCs have discovered one (the “jaw”) and put it to good use.
  • The “incident at Area 51” is a reference to the Dreamland campaign’s intended ending.

Other Stuff

  • The session began with a lot of exposition, which is normally a no-no. Realistically, I would have had Grandfather explain a lot more in the video recording, but I elected to keep it short, and abstract the rest, rather than force everyone to listen to me read off a script for an hour or two.
  • I got a little more focused than I should have on the PCs going to Jackson next. I got a little concerned when they started talking about going a different way so soon. I’m not sure how I could possibly prepare for that, but I suspect we would have somehow managed. I was fortunate to not have to.
  • I finally got to work in a proper Skill Challenge. I like the way it turned out. The time-based penalty for rolling over into the new round was that the bug would appear mid-operation, which did occur. The Challenge very nearly failed—might have been interesting to see—but I guess that means the difficulty level was “appropriate.”
  • I honestly had not thought of a PC recovering the bug “jaw,” much less using it to cut through the bunker door. I’ll surely be more mindful of that in the future. Now I have to figure out how long before it decays too much to use.
  • Chandler’s player had never defined his Objective and I didn’t expect him to bring it up…but now he has. Now I have to scramble to figure out what it actually is, or it’s gonna get weird.

Earthfall, S1E4, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. Even with an extra week to prep for this session, I still didn’t feel remotely ready. I wonder if I ever will? But it turned out fine, and honestly, I can’t think of anything that went horribly wrong.


  • I expected the PCs to stop somewhere, but I did not expect them to stop at the Monster Lake Ranch on the way South—I probably should have. I had to scramble for some basic details, like screen grabs of the map, and I had no idea what might be available there. I think it went okay anyway, and the players (mostly CommJunkee) were helpful in digging up relevant info.
  • The “Terror Pod” was a planned event, but I did not have a specific location in mind, and as such, I did not have a map or establishing graphics—there’s really no excuse for that. That whole expedition to the house was on-the-fly, as I stupidly didn’t consider the PCs tracking them down. Fortunately I did actually have some 4e stats for the creatures already. I was also concerned the event would either take up too much time or not enough, close as it was to my intended end of the session. Again, I think it turned out well enough, and brought across the necessary story elements. But this was a “first contact” with a new campaign element, and it really deserved more polish.

Other Issues

  • I had to verbally describe the aliens’ external physiology, as well as the state of Grandfather’s corpse, and my attempts felt really clumsy to me; I really should have written that stuff out beforehand—this stuff is important
  • I was reasonably happy with my handling of the party NPCs. But I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to have James try to talk Robert into coming along with the PCs after Meeteetse, without really considering their motivations; now that it’s done, I’ll have to figure that out after-the-fact—not ideal.
  • I was aware of the Wind River Canyon but I didn’t realize where it was located until someone pointed out that it was on their route; it is notable enough to deserve an establishing-shot graphic, at the very least—missed opportunity
  • I really wanted to end the session with the bunker-reveal cliffhanger—I was happy with the results; but next week will begin with a bunch of exposition as a result, which can be awkward to handle
  • I keep forgetting that James is supposed to be a Will Robinson-style trouble magnet; I need to step up his danger level in the future

BTS: The Sk’ran (AKA the Alien Menace)

Since I don’t have all that much to say about the session itself, I’ll take the opportunity to talk a bit about where the campaign antagonist came from.

The origin of the Sk’ran goes back to 1991 or so, from a collaborative comic-book project, featuring myself and Rigil Kent (Phil), and a few others. But it actually predates even that period, as a continuation of an older project that predated my inclusion. I believe the name carried over from that earlier project, as did the basic “anthropomorphic insectoid” appearance. This early concept included the basic “soldier” type, and a few others. When I joined the project, I redesigned the appearance, though I was never really satisfied with it.

The comic-book project is now long defunct, but the race, as well as the “Earthfall” invasion event, lives on in the Daniverse in multiple campaigns, some of which have seen production, and some of which haven’t (yet?). The most prominent of them is the Dreamland campaign, where I merged in elements from the original X-Com, and Half-Life, expanding the bestiary considerably. I also credit Half-Life with inspiring the “utility creatures” seen throughout. Many creature types were statted for GURPS 3rd Edition as a result. I also redesigned the appearance (again) for the existing creatures, with Half-Life integration in mind.

These days, I am still unsatisfied with the rather on-the-nose design of the basic soldier, but I haven’t had the time or energy to devote to a serious redesign effort. But this campaign is forcing me to produce some new visuals anyway, as the sketches I have are very old and…sketchy. These days, I would also add the movie-version of Stephen King’s The Mist to the list of creature design influences. I have been updating the old 3e stats to 4e as needed, but also rethinking the basic assumptions about their physiology. A part of me is glad I’m now forced to update these things, and who knows when I’ll be able to make use of them in the future?

Earthfall, S1E3, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. I was definitely feeling unready, again, but I started to get more comfortable by the end of the week, and I think it turned out reasonably well in the end. I’m sure I’ll probably start feeling confident just in time to end the run 😛

Search & Rescue

Obviously, I didn’t want a TPK the way the previous session ended—you really need to earn that as GM. If you kill the entire party, they should be slow-clapping afterward, not scowling and cursing.

The first half of the session was a new thing for me, and I had to invent a few things to make it work in a gameable way. I used “This Old House” from After the End 2 as a basis for what happens when you get buried by explosion debris. I was a little concerned that the damage would be too much, but I had already declared “no pulled punches” so I kinda had to risk it. I started to go with a “Skill Challenge” from D&D 4e, but it didn’t quite feel right—not a cooperative enough situation—so I borrowed the “Task Chain” concept from MGT2 instead—very similar. I would have liked to have had a few more “flavor” elements to throw in there, but I think I successfully imparted a proper sense of urgency.

I was pretty happy with how the “search and rescue” part went. It was a little like a Skill Challenge, but I felt like separating the results would work better, for no reason I can articulate. I wanted it to feel like I wasn’t cherry-picking the NPCs’ fates, but I did employ a bit of smoke-and-mirrors via a dummy “status” table with only “KIA” results, so I could force the parents’ deaths—for dramatic purposes. That would have worked better if the Fantasy Grounds tables functionality included an “elimination” ability, to remove already-rolled results, the lack of which caused me to have to jump some hoops at the end. Fortunately, it all worked out. I wish it had occurred to me to check Disasters: Hurricane for the use of the dog during SAR beforehand. Oh, well…

First Real Combat

This combat wasn’t arbitrary. It was intended to give the players a better idea what they’re dealing with. But when it came time for the fight, the tactical situation suggested the PCs would wipe them out with little fanfare, so I added a couple more bad guys. Then when the PCs started missing, initially, I became concerned the inverse would be true. But again: “no pulled punches,” so I pressed forward. Although the fight functioned as intended, I do think, in the end, it was a little too “static,” and made the enemy seem “tactically careless.” Afterward, I do regret having not been a little more aggressive, and some of the sloppy behind-the-scenes management. But at least now I know what the PCs can handle.


  • The escape ended with fewer tag-along NPCs than I expected, but more vehicles. I have to make sure Robert’s inevitable end, down the road, is properly memorable 😛
  • I’m feeling good about the cliffhanger on this one.
  • Next session is going to settle the question of the PCs’ next destination. Given the difficulties the players had in understanding what I wanted from the Objectives, I feel pretty safe in guessing where that will be.
  • Working on the campaign, I’ve been playing catch-up the entire time, due to RL work issues. Fortunately I’ll have an extra week to potentially get ahead, for once.

Earthfall, S1E2, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.75/5. I did not feel any more ready for this session than its predecessor. Despite that, I had just enough going to make it work, though it could certainly have done with a bit more polish, in my opinion. But the twist, and the ACS test made it better.


For the first half-or-so of the session, I asked the players questions about their PCs’ future plans, going back to work, etc., to get them thinking about settling in at Cody for the long-term. This was an intentional deception. Then I yanked the rug out from under them with the invasion, and started blowing up the city. It should be pretty obvious to them now that this will not be their “home.” I think that got the reaction I wanted.

Action Challenge System™ (Alpha test)

This was the first real test of the Action Challenge System (ACS), a concept I’ve been working on for some time now. It was, for me, the centerpiece of the session.

There are a lot of Action™ situations that I feel are inadequately covered by GURPS rules-as-written. I’ve found the Chase rules in Action 2 to be the most satisfying, so my intention has been to modify that concept to fit other situations, like mass combat, disaster survival, etc. We did something like this before in ConsOps when we used the Chase rules to do a “running gunfight”—with some lessons learned. Briefly, here are some ways the4 current iteration of ACS differs from Action 2 Chases:

  • Chase pursuit/flight contest is expanded to include tactical and survival contests
  • Chase maneuvers are expanded to include tactical or survival effects, depending on context, with consideration for multiple types in the same round (FREX “Move and Attack” is both movement and tactical)
  • Makes use of a proper map divided into “zones”—not always hexes—with (loosely) defined movement rates between zones
  • Passing into or out of a “threat” zone results in an “attack,” either martial or environmental (crumbling buildings, flowing lava, screaming bystanders, etc.); threat level determines the opposing Contest roll (I used the Frequency levels as a guideline)
  • Contest results can give a tactical advantage/disadvantage, allow/halt transit (by getting pinned down under fire, held up by a crowd, cut off by debris, etc.), instead of or in addition to closing/opening pursuit distance
  • I moved the skill/attack phase to the end of the round—it just works better there
  • Attacks are from/against an “aggregate” enemy rather than individuals, as the situation requires; damage is applied to the whole, and individuals are lost as enough damage is taken

The system needs a lot of work still, but I think it delivered the “look and feel” I was going for. I will discuss it at length in its own post sometime when it’s more fully-formed. Even though I know I missed a lot of little things in the process, I definitely consider it a successful test. We will see this again.


  • Introducing: the Alien Menace™—these guys have a long history in the background of the Daniverse. I really tried to get that War of the Worlds Tripod-intro feel.
  • I did have to do a lot of improvising in this one, as the PCs kept making choices I hadn’t anticipated. People survived that weren’t meant to as a result. It may make things more difficult in the future. But that’s just the GM-life.
  • I randomly determined the order and placement of the explosions/sinkholes in town well before the game started—the fact that the PCs kept running into them was entirely coincidental—really, it was.
  • Related to the above: The explosion at the ranch was “on a timer” and the PCs didn’t get clear in time—so now I have to improvise a way out 😛
  • I realize afterward that, of the PCs’ written Objectives, only one of them is actually “actionable” right now, which entirely defeats the purpose of having them in the first place (that being: having multiple choices, rather than one obvious choice for what to do next). Good news: that means I have a pretty good idea where they’ll go next, even though that isn’t what I wanted.

Earthfall, S1E1, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. I did not feel quite ready to run as I would like, from the start, but I felt it went pretty well. I can’t identify anything that went truly wrong, but I had a nagging, possibly-irrational sense that it could, somehow, have been better. But nevermind that…

The Characters

I’m pretty happy with the PC lineup—not Sea Dogs good, but good. They go well with the campaign theme, I think. Plus, there is a little more potential for inter-party conflict than usual, which could be fun down the road.

The Manhunt Narrative

I led it off with something a little different (for me), that being a mostly player-led narrative sequence. I asked a few leading questions, in turn, and let them narrate the events that would lead up to the “actual” start. I would say it went pretty well—I expected it to—though it did result in a couple of unplanned elements. One: I intended the deputy to be accompanied by a partner (that I intended to kill off), and wasn’t wholly prepared for him to charge off on his own without him. Two: I had not even considered the addition of the EMT’s otherwise-inevitable partner. I “should have known better” in both cases. I briefly considered offing the EMT-partner, but decided against it—wouldn’t have been the same.

The Wakeup

The “wake-up” scene garnered exactly the reaction I intended, by all accounts. The players did everything right, here, including playing up the suspicion that Heinlein might actually have killed the other deputy. There was a bit of a downside, though, in that they seemed to dawdle a bit trying to understand, and I had to nudge them forward. It’s no surprise to me that I kinda forgot about the EMT-partner, “Turk,” and he kept lagging behind my attention—there will undoubtedly be more surprise party-members that I need to keep relevant, so that’s something I need to try to improve.

The Long Road

I opted to keep the travel bits simplified here, as it isn’t the real focus of this part of the story. I wanted to keep it moving along. Aside from making people point fingers-of-suspicion at other PCs, I intended the dead deputy as a travel problem to overcome. It was at this point, as the PCs officially got under way, that the players started mucking up my not-so-careful plans and making me think on my feet:

  • In the previous version of this campaign, which I ran for the face-to-face group, everyone followed along on Google Earth on the big screen, and could see what was ahead as it was encountered. In this case, the players were keeping track off-screen without being so directed, and, annoyingly, finding things I didn’t notice (like the “ranch”).
  • I didn’t really consider how the campers might be equipped—things like bicycles.
  • I didn’t look over the PCs’ gear as thoroughly as I had thought (or intended), and therefore didn’t notice the ATV—though, afterward, I think it would have been less of a problem than I thought at the time.
  • I expected them to ask about horses. The “tractor” was definitely a surprise, though.
  • After the overnight at Meeteetse, now with the tractor, I did not actually expect them to go back to the campground. I was afraid it would be a problem with the timing of things, but the tractor actually made up for that delay. A little too well, actually—they got to Cody a little earlier than I intended. (Afterward, I realize I could easily have thrown in some maintenance on the tractor to burn some daylight.)

The Arrival

I wasn’t happy with the stuff after the PCs’ arrival in Cody. It just felt muddy, rambling, to me. I made several admittedly-minor “story” mistakes. I struggled to figure out how to bring the other sheriff’s people into the scene. I made a huge rookie mistake—calling for a Physician roll without consideration for what happens if it fails. (Logically, that character should probably not have been treating the patient at the time, in the first place.) Finally, we were in an awkward spot for a proper cliffhanger, which forced me to jury-rig something at the last second. It probably turned out better than it felt to me at the time, but I will definitely focus on how to handle all that better in the future.

GURPS After the End: Earthfall, Campaign Introduction

I wasn’t expecting to be running again so soon after the end of Sea Dogs. But the Olympus (Saturday) group found itself between GMs, and when the dust settled, I ended up next on the schedule again. Earthfall is, effectively, a “spiritual successor” to the previous After the End campaign I ran for the Core Group (Friday)—same overall concept, in a new apocalyptic setting. I should start running a couple of weeks from now—early August—barring any unexpected delays.


I originally pitched this campaign to Olympus in May of 2019, but retracted it in favor of Sea Dogs when one of the others started talking about a possible Post-Apocalypse run. Back then, I had done the usual Q&A barrage to sort out the particulars, all of which I kept for this run, pretty much as-is. One of the players wasn’t a fan of the former eschatological premise, so that was replaced. I’m keeping the nature of that replacement close-to-the-vest for the moment, but it’ll become apparent very early on.

This isn’t the first time I’ve attempted this current campaign in some form—I pitched it to the Core Group, in 2011, and a similar storyline was featured in a couple of sequel-concepts to Dreamland and Temporal Solutions (which tended to overlap a lot anyway). As an official “alternate timeline” of the Daniverse, all the usual background elements exist (even if they don’t actually appear). Plus, anyone familiar with the official Daniverse timeline will likely recognize the term “Earthfall,” and have a pretty good idea what it’s about as a result—though that could be a trick. 😉

The Player-Characters

The initial pregame Q&A resulted in a basic plan for the PC group: they would be “first-responders,” in a less-populated part of the country, on a manhunt in the forest when SHTF. We opted for a low-level start: 150 point, non-cinematic nobodys. Inspired by my Outlanders campaign, they would use names from classic sci-fi writers—though I can’t think of a catchy reference like the “Gun Show” at the moment, sadly. I decided on a town near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The “first-responder” thing morphed a bit in the working process: we ended up with one of the PCs as the kidnapper being brought in by a deputy-sheriff and some other manhunt participants, volunteer or otherwise.

I ripped off the Sea Dogs “Treasure Maps” concept here, as well. Each PC has an “Objective”—some thing he needs to do, place he needs to reach, person he needs to find, etc. It serves the same purpose as its inspiration, that is, to establish differing personal goals, to get and keep the PCs moving actively forward.

The Plan

Other than the new setting, my plan is basically the same as the previous After the End campaign. It will be a no-pulled-punches pure-sandbox making heavy use of Google Earth, tarot card draws, and random encounters. Unlike its predecessor, which predated the release of GURPS After the End, this one will feature material from that series as well. There is one potential issue with this run, though, which is that Google Earth isn’t accessible through the Fantasy Grounds VTT software—we can still use it, externally, of course, but it won’t be a part of the live-stream or recording for YouTube. This probably means I’m going to have to use a lot of screenshots, some of which may need to be created on the fly. I’m going to plan on doing a standard 12-week run, but that may change as we get under way.

Closing (Or Rather, Opening)

I feel pretty confident running this campaign. I’ve done it before, and I know what works and doesn’t. Given it’s a sandbox, though, I have no idea how/where it’s going to end up. Should be an interesting gauge of how I’ve improved (or not) as a GM.