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Standing at the Crossroads

Have you ever found yourself standing at the crossroads?

When the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons arrived I jumped right into gamemastering a new campaign. I decided that rather than play through published materials I’d design my own campaign that revolved around a world-shaking Event and the continuing world-reshaping fallout from that event. I put a lot of thought into it and hammered out a broad outline (I like to fill in details as I go to incorporate the reactions from my players) that would span levels 1-20.

For various reasons I decided to use Harn as my campaign world. As my players were unfamiliar with it, I decided to start them in a corner of the world where I could introduce the politics, religion, and socio-economics of the setting. The beginning sparks of the Event would happen here.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), what was intended to be a 1-2 session opening turned into an 8 session (and possibly more) mini-saga. My players really got into the setting and its Tolkienesque vibe (I took my own advice [1] and allowed the players to make standard PCs, but the rest of the world more resembles Middle Earth than Greyhawk or Golarion) and at this point while they have some hints at something bigger happening, I haven’t gotten to the Event yet.

My players are really enjoying the campaign, so now I find myself questioning whether I’d be threatening that by moving ahead with the Event. I find myself revisiting many old campaigns (both as GM and player) that started off awesomely, but the sudden change in tone was less well-received. I’m wondering whether I should tone down or remove the Event or proceed as I’d originally planned.

Have you ever found yourself at the crossroads of a campaign? What did you ultimately choose to do? Was it satisfying or did you regret your decision? Did you ever get a chance to revisit the crossroads and take the other path? How did they compare?

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Standing at the Crossroads"

#1 Comment By galbeagle On February 19, 2015 @ 6:21 am

In my opinion, don’t be in a rush to push your players into something if it’ll soon. They are having fun. Let them. The time will come eventually when they will be ready for more, and then you can incorporate your campaign organically. I have been guilty of pushing a party into an adventure when they were perfectly happy role playing a state dinner. There is nothing more encouraging than hearing your players say, “Okay, let’s go over there like the GM wants.”

#2 Comment By galbeagle On February 19, 2015 @ 6:25 am

GRRRRRR autofill. Last sentence should say “…nothing more discouraging than hearing…”


#3 Comment By Solomon Foster On February 19, 2015 @ 6:56 am

I was once in an Amber campaign that started off in absolutely brilliant fashion. It was in a pocket world, and our PCs interacted in really fun ways, and there were intriguing long-term mysteries about what was going on in the greater Amber multiverse, and it was mostly pure wonderful. And then we “escaped” the pocket world, and suddenly it was just another Amber game. And to this day, more than a decade later, if you get the players together we will reminisce fondly about the early days of the game, and mostly roll our eyes at what came after.

I would strongly suggest listening to your players here. If you’ve got something good going (and it sounds like you do), focus on working with that, and save your grand schemes for later or another game altogether.

I don’t have any great examples from my own GMing. There was one campaign where I had figured out the grand conclusion going in, only to realize at the last minute that my great storytelling finale denied the players agency, and the players had already figured out a better ending for me. I tossed my planned ending out and the result was one of the best GMing experiences of my life.

Actually, my experience has pretty consistently been that my long term plans do not survive contact with the players….

#4 Comment By shawnhcorey On February 19, 2015 @ 7:05 am

I would say stay with what works but keep dropping hints at something bigger. Eventually curiosity will overcome them and they’ll start exploring bigger things. More carrot, less stick.

#5 Comment By Joseph Collins On February 19, 2015 @ 7:18 am

I’ve had it both ways – I’ve killed a great campaign by introducing The Big Thing (I blame the ‘Shaman’ supplement that killed all the gods off), but also had a great campaign where the PCs fell in love with their home city only for me to smite it with a Bug City reskin (lifted from Shadowrun and grafted onto D&D) – they struggled really hard to save the city because they loved it SO much. The only problem is I would be hard pressed to say why one worked and one didn’t; the Bug City came second, so HOPEFULLY I learnt something from that first mess-up.

#6 Comment By John Fredericks On February 19, 2015 @ 7:30 am

Walt, I am RIGHT there with you. I’d say take it slow, listening to players. However, sometimes it can be hard to get enough from all players to build adventures on.

Not their fault, people are busy with real life. Luckily, one of my players is also a GM, and he feeds me a lot of good ideas. Recently he suggested that my +1 sword is missing a piece. I’m going to tie that in with an abandoned observatory where the piece is hidden. (The sword will have planets and stars on it). So even little gumdrops they give you can work.

And if you really want “The Event”, can you tie it into some of the players’ backgrounds, desires, or even classes? Even a loose connection goes a long way. I’m finding that these kind of links to characters, even if tenuous, are GM gold.

#7 Comment By John Fredericks On February 19, 2015 @ 7:31 am

And the connections are harder to do at con games, so make the most of them for the ongoings!

#8 Comment By John Kramer On February 19, 2015 @ 7:43 am

I say, play to find out. Ever since I read Dungeon World, that’s been my m-o when running all games. Ask questions, and then act on the answers – find out if your players WANT to take part in something epic like your “Event”. If not, go in the direction they’re interested in, it’s as much their game as it is yours – no need to hammer an “event” into the campaign if they’re not interested.

#9 Comment By Jason Kennedy On February 19, 2015 @ 7:54 am

This sounds like a good place to have a sit down with the players and ask them about were the game is going and if they would like to continue down the path that the game is following or if they would like to go to this world shaking event path.

It is unlikely asking the players about this would ruin their enjoyment of it if you go down this road. However not asking, then going down that rode might ruin the game for the players.

#10 Comment By Joseph Collins On February 19, 2015 @ 8:05 am

Maybe try throwing a few hooks for the ‘big event’ in and just see if they bite.

#11 Comment By Tomcollective On February 19, 2015 @ 8:30 am

Introduce your Event far, far “off screen”, and bring it to them with news and rumor. Have them deal with fall out and refugees first, and work your way to “ground zero”. Your going for a slow fade, as opposed to a fast cut.

#12 Comment By Joseph Collins On February 19, 2015 @ 8:45 am

Oooh, I like that. Introduce the Event but far enough away (physically and emotionally) that it can be ignored, for now at least. It would introduce a sense of impending disaster too. Nice.

#13 Comment By shaninator On February 19, 2015 @ 8:32 am

Yeah, I wouldn’t force it on them. In my opninion, a GM is always overreaching when they plan material out for 20 levels anyways. Players do a right good job of screwing all those plans up. If they’re having fun, let them take the lead.

#14 Comment By RodRedline On February 19, 2015 @ 9:20 am

I’m not encouraging you to be selfish, but in a sense the most important question here is “Are you, Walt, enjoying the status quo?”

If you aren’t, ask your players straight out if an event like this and its consequence would reduce their fun. If any of them give you a definite yes, then you have a problem on your hands and you need to work out a compromise. If not, stage your big event and be happy.

As far as compromise goes, maybe you could say, “I’ll run things as they are, but could you commit to doing this idea as the next campaign?” Or run the Big Event, but agree beforehand that if the players who object find they really are unhappy with the changes, you will use an “escape hatch” that allows them to heroically restore the world to a relatively normal state.

However, if you are enjoying things as they are, you should still level with your players about your story, but only introduce it if they have a strong preference for going that route. If not, then everyone is already having fun, so steady as she goes, Cap’n. I mean, the fun is why we do this stuff, right?

#15 Comment By Nightwatch On February 19, 2015 @ 9:59 am

Talk to players to see if it is something they see their characters being interested in. I have hammered in events or my plans and had the game change so drastically that nobody enjoyed it. Communications with players is only way to find out if it is something they would be down for.

#16 Comment By Scott Martin On February 19, 2015 @ 10:03 am

I was nodding along at all of the above comments–imagining “like, like, like” as I went along.

I particularly like Tomcollective’s approach, assuming it can work with the event you have planned. Use the event’s increasing effect on the locale to prompt greater action and (much like D&D in general) exposure to the wider world. It’ll feel like foreshadowing and looming threat, rather than taking away the setting they love.

#17 Comment By Angela Murray On February 19, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

I faced the opposite of this and it killed a campaign. I was envisioning the game as one thing, but the players were discussing some things that had happened in game and logically posited the way things would go. It made sense, but I was unprepared to take a ‘typcial supers game’ into a ‘post apocalyptic warzone’. I ended up flaking and giving up on the campaign, much to the players’ dismay. I really wish I could go back and just follow it through. It could have been such an interesting game.

#18 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On February 20, 2015 @ 10:09 am

Thanks for all the great advice!

My current plan is to stay the course, albeit at the reduced pace, while reacting to my players. I’ve also been tweaking the Event to better match the direction things are going. I’ve introduced some elements already, so I’ll see how the players take to them.

#19 Comment By black campbell On February 21, 2015 @ 9:21 am

Oh, Angela, that actually sounds GREAT! Now I’m thinking a “Supers destroy civilization, supers meets Mad Max” game…

#20 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On February 21, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

And now you’ve got me hearing Tina Turner sing “We don’t need another superhero/We don’t need to know the way home” in my head!

#21 Comment By Angela Murray On February 21, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

I actually wrote about it a while back on the other blog I’ve written for, over [2].

I really wish I hadn’t flaked because it could have been such a cool game, but it was so far out of my set of expectations for the genre, I didn’t know what to do. 🙂

#22 Comment By Tomcollective On February 22, 2015 @ 11:43 pm

It’s not too late! Comics actually always have a “get out of timeline free” card! You could have introduced something that would have restored the state of the world, or allowed the players to Terminator that out of existence, or cast a ritual spell, or appealed to one of the space gods to zoink someone out of all space time forever, or revealed that they were somehow taken prisoner and inside The Matrix du juor, or they could track down “super god like powered child character” who could manipulate reality in their favor, or called upon them to seek out the probability nexus, and destroy all possible realities that end the world, or (you probably get the point).

A lot of Justice League stories end the world before putting it back together again. If you can, reassemble your team and have them stop the apocalypse!!