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When a Campaign is Srs Bizness

I gave my regular group the “Player’s Handbook” for my new campaign yesterday, and it’s a whopper: 24 pages of house rules, cultural and linguistic notes, carefully-selected full-color illustrations, lovingly-rendered photoshop maps, and an appendix that goes all Silmarallion. In short, this is not a beer-and-pretzels game, this is a heavy-duty RP campaign.

Alas, the first thing I had to do, was nix a player’s character concept, which is something I really dislike doing, but in this case had to be done. This particular player loves to play outliers, but is an excellent player and usually makes them work, so I try to accommodate him when I can. For a regular dungeon-crawling game I would have allowed the character without blinking an eye. But this time the concept in question was kind of a “three strikes” problem: I just couldn’t reconcile it with the “facts” of the setting, the underlying philosophy of the game, or the themes of the campaign.

This game, with its detailed background and carefully-crafted world, is in some ways a return to my gaming roots. Once upon a time, the only kind of games I ran were set in detailed homebrew worlds usually used The HERO System, so characters were carefully built with custom abilities and hard-wired disadvantages (“Psychological Limitation” was always one of my big favorites). And really, that’s the kind of game I love best… but it’s been a long time since I was able to pull one off. It takes a lot of prep work, and a lot of concentrated mental energy, but when it works it really works well.

I have for the past several years been working in more or less the opposite mode of that, trying to minimize my prep time and do as much “off the shelf” as possible, and the results have sometimes been just fine, but have tended to leave me unsatisfied, which led to my decision last year to drop gaming. So when the itch to do a really immersive, Big Damn Campaign, I was initially resistant… but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. So I finally decided that if I was going to do it, I was gonna go the Full Monty, as they say. There’s no point in putting in the amount of work required to do half the campaign I want, and not putting in the amount of work required to do the whole thing.

I found it very interesting, therefore, when Gnome Stew this past week posted a piece called No More Average Campaigns, which echoed my own thoughts very closely.

I think that if you looked at the table play alone, you would have agreed the campaign was average. There was laughing, there was action and drama, and people were paying attention. At the same time, there were no raised voices in excitement, no long term character plans, no in depth role playing. It was quite average.

I realized that I was putting a lot of effort into this game, and getting very little return in terms of increased player engagement and excitement. It was frustrating, and after one of our hangouts one of my players asked me, “Why do you want to run an average game, when the next game could be great?”

He was right. If I was going to invest my time to run something, why not run something great? Run a campaign that everyone is going to be excited to play. A campaign that has everyone talking between games, and dying to get back to the table to play the next session. So the next morning I killed my All For One game and announced that I was running Corporation (again).

Of course, there’s a big risk here; I might be the only one in the group who’s excited by this idea. Or the group might just not gel. Or having to come up with histories and lineages and proper elvish terms for things all the time might wear me down. There’s any number of things that could kill this new game.

On the other hand, it could be awesome… and that’s my target. We’ll see if I can hit it.

-The Gneech

Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
don't beat yourself up too much, an Alchemist is just a class i've been considering for a while, but it'll fit into another campaign better than this one.

For the divine classes you listed (pally, oracle) would they be following Luan, or would there be sects following the various Great Spirits?

Apr. 1st, 2012 09:56 pm (UTC)
It would depend on the race. Dwarves generally revere Morch (although they call him Motradj). Elves tend to favor Lúan or Duényras (wisdom). Halflings do whatever the locals do wherever they are, although they also quietly have a very loose sort of pagan-style set of traditions they practice among themselves ("Being friendly neighbors with the spirit world, we calls it!").

The humans of the Dawn Reaches don't have a real organized sense of religion. Educated people pretty much understand religion the same way the elves do (as related in the Books of Rifashidal), but the common folk only have a vague idea of there being gods or powers and tend to put lots of different names on them.

In Fallspoint itself, the seafaring folk offer tribute to the Father of the Sea (essentially an aspect of Dyr), while the farmers and other such folk simply make vague references to "the powers" or "God." A human paladin would therefore likely be devoted to the concepts of "goodness and law" generally if they were from the common folk, or possibly specifically devoted to Lúan if they had an educated background.


Edited at 2012-04-01 09:57 pm (UTC)
Apr. 1st, 2012 11:53 pm (UTC)
When I've had time to digest those 24 pages you gave me, I fully intend to get invested into things, but I will be doing that with an eye towards the groups balance as well. I'm not as of yet set on any one particular character concept (primarily because I just started thinking about them), but whatever I do settle on is gonna have goals and desires much like Kyriela used to have. Oh Kyriela, how I miss you. ;)
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