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.