For the last few months, I’ve really been hankering for a BHAC. For various reasons, they’ve never been a large part of my role-playing, and, as I get older and get a clearer view of how important fun for fun’s sake is, I find that this is a void in my gaming history.
Oh. You don’t know what a BHAC is?
It’s a Big, Hairy, Audacious Campaign.
The label comes from the business writings of James Collins, specifically Built to Last. He and co-authour Jerry Porras explain that one of the common denominators of exceptionally successful corporations is that they regularly set BHAGs — Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. These are nearly impossible, company-shaking goals that will shape the future course of the business for a generation or more. Somehow, the top corporations studied by Collins, Porras and their students manage to both set and achieve these BHAGs, and they provide decisive business advantages over the competition.
BHACs aren’t quite that high-minded, but they do have two key elements in common with their inspiration.
The basic idea of the BHAC is to build a campaign — whether a one-session change of pace, or a traditional multi-year epic — around the seed of a truly outrageous, grabby, inspiring idea that will never appear in anyone else’s campaign (except possibly if people that hear about it are inspired to copy it). This idea is laid out on the table when the campaign is suggested to the game group — a BHAC is not a big reveal halfway through a campaign or near its end. In fact the BHAC is built around something so world-altering that it would be impossible for anyone to keep it hidden.
By starting off with such an audacious central concept, there will hopefully be a higher than normal degree of buy in for the campaign. The message is sent that this will not be another ho-hum, run of the mill campaign. The player’s imaginations should be sparked, they should want to engage with the audacious aspect of the campaign, and it sets the stage for larger-than-life play. It is a clear message that being ordinary will not be par for the course.
There are two concepts that were my direct inspiration for the BHAC concept. The City Built Around a Tarrasque, which is just what it sounds like, sort of, and Vault, Judd Karlman‘s epic Burning Wheel campaign rooted in the idea of playing in a city built around the portal into the underworld, made me aware that I was hungering for something more audacious, something more extraordinary in my gaming. The former is entirely original, and gets the mind of almost anyone that has played AD&D going with ideas. The latter derives inspiration from familiar sources, but works them together in interesting, epic ways. I’d kill to play in — or GM — a campaign with a central concept that is half that grabby.
BHACs are not limited to fantasy play, either. Science Fiction games are just as ripe for letting your imagination run away with you. Some indistinguishable-from-magic technology or universe-destroying threat is enough to let players know that this is not your average Traveller (or Space Master :) ) campaign.
It is even possible to use BHACs in less fantastic settings, although a willingness to roll with alternate histories may be required. A game intended to explore the consequences of Julius Caesar backing down and leaving his army on the European side of the Rubicon is BHAC-ish, although perhaps not inspirational enough unless you have an entire group of Roman Empire enthusiasts. Playing the leaders of a nation-wide slave revolt in the United States of the 1840, on the other hand, should get anyone’s wheels turning, American or otherwise.
So, yes, I’ve got a hankering to play a BHAC or two. Do you?