So we've hit a big moment in our Gamma Terra game. We're off the rails. Not that we were really on rails, exactly. More like we did a two-shot mini-campaign with a pre-set adventure, then had a stated goal which led to only a handful of places. But now it's wide-open. We need to set goals and execute them.
We've ended up with in-game and meta-game needs. It's a good example of when the PCs want someone but the players want something not entirely overlapping.
The PCs aka In-Game:
In game, our PCs want a stable base, more technology, and a life. As much as exploring the wastes is fun, they have real concerns and needs that must be addressed. We basically have decided to re-establish a viable civilization in the area we're in. We're going to:
- lay the groundwork for feeding a large number of people;
- establish military forces, including eventually unfreezing the rest of our brigade of the 20th Homeland Division;
- set up friendly relations with adjacent powers;
- set up hostile relations with our biggest threat (the racist Knights of Purity);
- otherwise make America again.
This is a large series of logistical tasks punctuated by some cool adventures. The cool adventures, though, are just the risky things we're willing to do while the logistical tasks are the most critical aspects in-game. Farming, finding water supplies, learning and teaching skills and languages, organizing, etc. - critical. But boring. Boring but critical.
The Players aka Meta-Game:
My favorite post-apoc bit is wandering around, doing things for people re-establishing civilization. Not the actual re-establishing civilization.
One of the meta-elements of the game that's critical to me, and I'm pretty sure everyone else, is not Playing House. While our PCs want to establish a base of operations, ensure stable food and water supplies, etc. etc. that stuff isn't very fun to play out. It's the five hours you spend in your video game shuffling gear around between characters, fetching wall materials for the village, clicking on NPCs to get their trigger words so they'll cooperate, etc. You buy the video game to have fun shooting stuff up, start building the world up because that's giving a framework for your shooting stuff up, and then spent most of the time saying, "Man, I wish I could be shooting more stuff but I need to finish this wall and click on these NPCs and shuffle gear around first."
For us, we want that done off-screen or in a one-minute A-Team montage.
We want all of that stuff to be background. "Okay, roll vs. Armoury." "Made it by 4!" "Your reloading operations go well, everyone gets 100 rounds of their chosen ammo type." Done. Roll vs. Administration and, poof, between sessions we got food distribution set up. If suddenly an army of Hoops mounted on Podogs with trained Parn hunting-beetles show up to disrupt the food caravan, boom, we go take care of that and have actual fun.
We'll train soldiers, but off-screen. We'll actually lead troops into battle if everyone is on board for mass combat, or just roll for the results with a bonus based on our successful session of shooting up the enemy's command structure.
Ideally, it's just going to so-happen that whatever McGuffin we need to re-frombotz the deteronic phased-fusion array to get power for our new communications net is in a robot-guarded rad-zone edged by mutant plants and hostile Grens. Or that we make some Politics rolls and the Mayor of Radville says, "Okay, tell you what, we'll join your confederation . . . but you have to Pass the Test of the Holy Bomb first - you know, one of you wrestles an Orlens to the death!" Or join a Deathball league for a session or two until we win the championship and the hearts and minds of the local mutants. And so on - have a framework that the PCs would see as the main bit, but only play out the bits that are fun to actually play out.
Another meta-element is that we, the players, want to be in charge of the sandbox. We want to decide what to do. So even if an NPC is nominally in charge we want the players to be deciding. We want to settle "Fight the Fit vs. fight the Purists" or "Raid the nearby city or befriend them" or "Go for the Robot Farm or the mysterious thing Softie detected" at the table between us. We don't want to have to make rolls to convince the local leader to let us do that. We don't want missions assigned to us by an unfrozen Brigadier General NPC and make the GM tell us what to do. Or have to make rolls to convince him or her, or whatever. (We, meaning I, do have a plan for this, if the GM will let it fly.)
In other worlds, we're happy to have "Make a viable civilization" as our in-game goal provide a structure to our adventures. We're fine with nominally having NPCs in charge of things. But we only really want to spend time playing the actual adventures. We want to make the actual decisions and get right to executing them. The GM is on board with this, which is critical. We all want to play out Gamma World, not post-apocalyptic community organization meetings. And as much as I'd like to fly Warbot around the world going to see the shattered globe, I get that the GM is much better off with a limited sandbox than a series of "Then you fly to the nuked-out remnants of Tokyo" adventures.