This post is a follow-up to my first post on TT, “Every Campaign is an Experiment.” By way of The 20′ by 20′ Room, I found out about an online gaming magazine I’d never heard of, Places to Go, People to Be, and read this nifty article: “Theory 101: The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast.”
After a minor implosion in my gaming group based in part on my stiff background expectations for the PCs — and after reading the above article — I decided I wanted to lay out all the cards for my approach to our upcoming campaign. So here they are: the bones that make up this particular soup — and along with them comes a question. If you were about to start a new game, would you want your GM to tell you about this stuff?
For starters, I’m going to be using published adventures almost exclusively. This is going to be a weekly game, which is twice as often as I’ve ever run a game before (!). With my day job, relationship, freelancing and interests outside of gaming, I don’t want to get burned out trying to come up with 100% original material every week.
At the same time, I’m not interested in playing “adventure a week/kill things and take their stuff” D&D, with no deeper underpinnings. I’ll be modifying every adventure to incorporate the following things:
- The campaign theme, airship privateers.
- PC backgrounds.
- The metaplot.
Plus, of course, tweaking them mechanically to suit the party (“Oops, I forgot that you don’t have a cleric!”) — and as I learn what people enjoy the most, tweaking them for style as well. One thing I expect to do from the outset is try and keep the pace pretty quick: lots of action (which fits the setting — Eberron — very well), fairly rapid advancement, and liberal skipping of boring stuff.
The central element of the campaign theme, of course, will be the airship the party starts out on. I’ll have deck plans (in 1″ minis scale) and a full crew of NPCs for the PCs to interact with. The ship also has a history, and secrets for the party to discover — and fairly early on, they’ll wind up in control of the airship.
The metaplot will tie together (and run through) the different adventures, and also help to give things more of a unified feel. It probably won’t be part of every adventure, but if I handle it right it should get more noticeable as the campaign progresses (just as it would in a TV show, or as it did in our recent Stargate SG-4 game).
The PC backgrounds are key, because I want to weave them deeply — and obviously — into the game after a few sessions. Which brings me to the theory bit: based on the above article, this campaign will fall solidly into the “trailblazing” category, but with more player input in the form of elements from their characters’ backgrounds being foregrounded during play.
My last long-running game, the Selgaunt Campaign, was a “bass playing” game, with elements of trailblazing (the tower dungeon sections). It was also slow as molasses and sometimes needed more direction, so those are both things I’m looking to avoid this time around. (Don’t get me wrong, though: it was a lot of fun to run, and by and large the players enjoyed it. I just know that there was room for improvement.)
And in part, looking at the Airship Privateers campaign as a trailblazing game is a function of the “only published adventures” approach: by definition, most published adventures (and almost certainly the ones in Dungeon) follow this model. What I find interesting is how handy it is to have a frame of reference for the approach I want to take. I could have explained what using published adventures would mean before I’d read that article — hooks will be clear, and the fun is in how the party handles them — but I didn’t know where that approach fell in relation to others (illusionism, participationism and bass playing).
And there you have it: all of the theory and back burner thinking behind this campaign, just before it gets altered by its contact with the realities of play. I’ll let you know how it goes!
In the meantime, back to my question: as a player, do you want to hear this kind of thing? Or is it akin to movie spoilers, and best avoided? As a GM, have you ever taken this tack — and if so, how did it go?