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Friday, February 22, 2013

What to run?

(Forgive the lengthy rambling. I'm working a few things out in my head as I type.)

So my group is talking about wanting a more extended campaign instead of a series of short adventures and round-robin GM-ing. After Night's Dark Terror (which ran almost a year), we kind of took a break from longer campaigns. I totally understand wanting to play the same character for a longer stretch though. The question: What to play?

I had suggested running an LL/AEC megadungeon campaign for them, using either Barrowmaze, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, or Stonehell. All outstanding products, BTW. (I wish I'd written one or all of them!) The thinking was that it gave the campaign a definite structure, or at least a sort of axis to revolve around. Also, if the PCs had a base of operations (nearby town, etc.), it would make it easier to change the party makeup when one player couldn't make it or one that missed the previous session came to the next (PCs coming or going from town).

I didn't get a lot of buy-in on the idea, so it left me wondering what to try next. I considered Kelvernia, but the cross-genre aspects were a turn off to some. I realized that you can't please everyone, so I should focus on running something I wanted to run. The trouble was none of these choices really "grabbed" me.

I pondered various settings, modules, systems, etc. for a while, but none seemed a good fit for various reasons. Some of them had to do with me, but I couldn't ignore that player buy-in was crucial to not only the campaign's health, but my enthusiasm as a GM as well. It's hard to sit down behind the screen week after week when the people at the table aren't having fun. Then it occurred to me that I could try approaching this in a different way. I decided to start with what I knew about the players at my table and what motivated them (much like Robin Laws' player types and hooks), then I could look at those things and see where it led my imagination. I've always been more creative with a springboard instead of cut loose in a void.

By the way, if you haven't read Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering, do so. NOW.

In the end, a series of distinct, but not wholly incompatible, trends emerged. Without naming names or pointing fingers, this is what I found defined my group as an aggregate. Some are more typical than others, but needed to be accounted for, IMO:

  • A desire to see characters progress and "power up" through experience, influence, skill, loot, etc.
  • Escapism into a fantasy world where the character can do cool things competently, including a reasonable amount of good old hack & slash.
  • A chance to influence the story and the world around them.
  • Opportunities to role play and character development through role play, including intra-party relationships and conflict.
  • A fondness for military and martial themes (wars, invasions, special ops, etc.)
  • A fondness for dark/horror themes.
  • Different character types should have their chance to shine.
  • A chance to think and act tactically, trying unorthodox or unexpected things. Also having the potential to be rewarded (in-game or meta) for doing so.

Not everyone displays all these traits, but almost none of them are utterly exclusive to one player. 

So what was my takeaway? 

1) A sandbox environment with no predetermined story arc. There should be good chances at combat, treasure, and magic.

2) The rules should allow for on-the-fly rulings that let players be creative and clever when dealing with the challenges in front of them, as well as a variety of challenges besides just dungeon crawls and combats.

3) Next, some sort of conflict like a war or rebellion would be a good hook generator, with a chance for the PCs to become involved, willingly or not. 

4) Ideally, there would be enough diversity and detail in the setting to make it immersive without being overwhelming, and provide RP opps for those who wished to interact with things like NPCs and forge ties to people and places. 

5) Lastly, there should be some element of darkness or weirdness to the place. It's shouldn't just be orcs and dragons. There should be real horrors out there that aren't going away because you can swing a sword.

What do I do with all this? Well, it gave me the germ of an idea. Let's just say that it involves LL+AEC and a published setting, but not a D&D one. Further bulletins as events warrant.


  1. Interesting stuff, Bighara. How did you boil down those list of attributes about the player group - open discussion, email polls? I'm wondering how such a thing could be generalized for use by other groups (koff, my group, koff).

    1. I pretty much based it on my impressions of the individuals. Mind you, I've been playing with some of these jokers for over 30 years!

      I'll pimp Robin Laws' book again. He outlines several different player types (of course, most players are really more than just one type) and what motivates them. I find it a very handy model when designing campaigns or adventures.

  2. I'm familiar with Robin's stuff, some of it was in one of the 4E DMG's - which players are investigative, or instigators, that kind of stuff.

    I was wondering more how you figured out the guys like horror, or military action - like a grand checklist of fantasy gaming campaign elements for establishing preferences. Like my players all say they want castles, but no one wants to do any bookkeeping.

    1. Well, again, a lot of it is knowing the people at my table. I've seen how they play and what they like to GM. The horror was easy. I've got 2-3 people in my group who have run CoC for us and/or at cons. The military stuff is mostly about one guy who loves to play a grizzled vet type and ran SW's "Tour of Darkness" for us for several months.

      RE: castles, they can be a lot of book-keeping. I would think most of it could be handled between sessions, though.

    2. PS about castles: Check out Blackrazor's "B/X Companion" for some concise dominion rules.

  3. I want you to name names. I mean, which one of those silly labels are you applying to me? :-)

    1. Yours was "Incredibly annoying git." but that was cut from the final list. ;-P

      If you can't figure out who's who on that list after playing with us for so long, you are less observant than I gave you credit for.