Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Musing on a Finished Campaign

I've been on a bit of a gaming hiatus after finishing up Crypt of the Devil Lich.

I feel like I learned a lot from running such an overly-structured campaign, and it's taken me some time to process it all. Here, then, are some thought-nuggets. I let these fall out of my head and lay in the proverbial dirt - take them for whatever they're worth.

1. No plan survives contact with the enemy. Your players will go the wrong way and kill the wrong people and it'll be your fault if you're caught off-guard, because you know they'll do that. So prepare to be caught off-guard, and enjoy it when it happens.

2. It's not "you versus them," it's you refereeing an adventure playground that your friends occasionally get killed exploring. If your GM starts thinking otherwise, run. The GM has the Monster Manual. He can kill you all whenever he likes.

3. What you enjoy won't always be the same as what your players enjoy. And that's fine! Consensus isn't required. Sometimes people have bad sessions or great sessions and sometimes they're the same session being experienced by different people. RPGs are awesome/frustrating like that.

4. Game with people who are good sports (and if they're not good sports, excuse yourself or game with different people. Life's too short). I was super lucky and played with some delightful people who were willing to play along with my "this campaign is really just a long experiment" contrivance and even invented the whole Church Police thing, burying dead characters with their magic items in the church cemetery instead of looting their bodies because they were Lawful Good, damnit! It should go without saying but when your friends are really into your game, it makes a big difference. Likewise as a GM you've got to be open to your friends' ideas and let them co-create the story with you. The screen isn't a platform to pitch your script idea or polish your novel; it's a game. You gotta be willing to play on equal footing with your friends.

5. For kicks, try running someone else's adventure exactly how you think the author would've run it. It'll be weird at first, 'cause obviously you've got your own style and like doing your own thing, but if you can stretch your comfort zone out enough to encapsulate someone else's vision, it can be really rewarding. It gives you a little more insight into the stuff other people like about gaming, and gives you a little more ammo for your criticism cannon.

6. If you're going to wing it, don't get caught. If you do get caught, at least make sure it's really interesting. If people lose interest, then you've fucked it up.

1. With regard to treasure... Static +1 bonuses are easy treasure to hand out but they're hard treasure to GM around. Every +1 bonus your players accrue is essentially permanent, unless you wanna be a dick and disjunction them or break out the magic-eating rust-monsters. That means those permanent +1s are going to contribute during every fight thereafter. That can really ruin combat-math. What's better? Giving away quirky single-use items. Yes, your players might steamroll an encounter above their weight class because they drank their potions of polymorph and turned into jungle giants, but that's a single encounter down, and besides, don't you think they'll remember it fondly? And isn't that what it's all about?

2. Read the whole adventure, then read it again. Change anything that strikes you as tedious or boring. If you're bored reading it, your players will be bored playing through it. If you still didn't pick up on a detail after your second read through, guess what? It was boring. Leave it out or change it.

3. Maps don't need to be complex to be interesting. Don't waste the session drawing every corridor or getting the dungeon layout just so. Likewise, not every room has to be an awesome blade-trap-with-enraged-air-elementals in order to be memorable. Sometimes interrogating the goblin NPC will be the highlight of the whole thing.

4. Most module layout is horrible. Seriously, it's like they expect you to memorize the damn thing. Do yourself a favor and make some notecards and type up a cheat-sheet for the most relevant stuff. Being a little extra productive before the game pays off in huge dividends.

5. Handouts are great and everybody loves them.

6. Long-ass rhyming riddles are garbage and nobody enjoys that shit.

7. Think ahead to the next adventure before you start running the current one. If you can throw in a little clue or scrawl or reference, it helps tie a whole bunch of disparate parts together. It's so worth it to see the wand of delay poison they got at second level be useful in the Final Battle, and to have your players recognize that if they'd only done X, they'd have the +7 Singing Sword of Mosquito Jones right now instead of this dinky +2 dagger, ah, curse the gods and their folly!