Welcome back to the XCOM D&D Project, my blog series where I attempt to work out how to run a game using D&D 5th Edition rules inspired by the XCOM video game series. In my first entry, I set up the basics of what I want this game to be without solidifying any mechanics. In this entry I want to dive into two aspects of the XCOM games and work out how to make them function in a tabletop game. To start, I’ll examine how different tabletop RPGs handle running an organization and managing a base.
I did not do deep-dive into tabletop RPG history for my research, so it’s a certainty that I’ve missed something relevant to this topic. However, I found a few sources among games I own, and a few I could find easily online. The most comprehensive rules I could find about both running an organization and managing a base came from Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign. The book includes rules for starting a kingdom or settlement from scratch, managing a kingdom’s upkeep, expanding a kingdom, constructing buildings, managing an army, and setting up infrastructure, as well as an in-depth description of what nearly every conceivable fantasy or medieval building would do to benefit your settlement. Like most things Pathfinder, I think their rules are a little too complicated, but it provides a solid framework that could be promising with some tweaking. On the other end of the spectrum, Apocalypse World limits running an organization to a single playbook the hardholder, and the rules for running the organization are very light and up for interpretation. Blades in the Dark also has very light rules, but with a bit more depth than Apocalypse World. I also found rules for running a mercenary company in Rifts, but I’ve never played Rifts and don’t really understand the system so I gleaned very little information from reading it. I think for an XCOM-based game, something closer to Pathfinder is ideal, but I don’t want it to be quite as complex.
Founding An Organization
With the premise I’ve established, starting up the XCOM-like organization provides less flexibility than an open-ended sandbox campaign would. The organization is put together by multiple kingdoms to stop an invasion that’s a problem for all of them. Still, there’s plenty of room to flesh out the details here. What are the cultures of the kingdoms that are establishing Fantasy XCOM (FCOM? Sure, let’s use that as the shorthand for now)? Did the kingdoms get along or were they only united by a great mutual threat? Is there a dominant kingdom in the organization or is the funding and staffing split evenly? More questions like that can give the organization some character without any mechanical effect. When those have been decided, the first choice with mechanical implications should be the location of the first base. Using the original XCOM: UFO Defense as a reference, the location of the first base only has a few effects on the game as a whole. If the first base is too far away from populated areas, then you are less likely to encounter many demon invasions, but otherwise it has little effect beyond which specific kingdom you’re influencing the most. XCOM: UFO Defense’s first base was pre-made, but I think giving the players the ability to decide the layout of the base would be a good way to get the players invested early on in the management of the base.
Organizations within Organizations
Something the new XCOM games do is make a clear delineation between between the various branches of the organization. The science branch has its own menus and segment of the base. The construction branch has its own menus and segment of the base. The military branch has its own set of menus and a large segment of the base. The command center is its own area with important functions you can only access there. It’s all separated so you won’t get anything mixed up about what contributes to what branch. I think this is an important aspect to borrow for this game, because tabletop games are already less organized than video games. Perhaps each player could be assigned oversight to a branch of the organization, as a way to reduce the number of mechanics each individual player has to know. If that is the case, then careful consideration will have to be made with each branch to make sure that each is engaging but at the same time not so important that one branch can entirely screw over another. Alternatively, the importance of communication could be emphasized here and each organization would be able to screw the other over with poor communication.
Expanding the Base(s)
In every XCOM game, expanding your base is an integral part of the game. Adding more buildings to each base allows for expanded functionality or improved specialization. In most XCOM games, players can even build more bases to expand the organization’s range of coverage and add more room for buildings, equipment, and personnel. Adding buildings and building an entirely new base are very expensive, but it almost always pays off in the long-run. In the original XCOM games, the buildings that could be added were almost all critical buildings like laboratories, storage facilities, construction areas, hangars, radars, and barracks, whereas the newer ones had supplementary buildings like psi-labs, turret emplacements, and comms towers, with only one building, the shadow chamber, critical to advancement in XCOM 2. Each option provides a different experience, and I’m not entirely sure which would work best for a tabletop game. However, adding new bases is a feature that will certainly be in this game, especially considering that, as a fantasy game, planes and other modern forms of transportation would not exist, so a base’s range of coverage would be significantly smaller than in XCOM.
Before starting to solidify any of the mechanics, I want to take one more entry to examine the elements of an XCOM game that I have yet to address. In the next entry in this series, I will look into XCOM’s handling of research, personnel management, and finally the overworld and combat missions. After that, I should be ready to formulate the rules for this game.