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Campaign Design: Analysis and Considering Goals

Now, if you're keeping up with this web log, you know that things have been looking up lately RPG-wise, with Simon and Cristel moving up from Brissie, Rhys' co-worker Kev from Canada turning out to be a gamer and getting Rhys interested in the hobby (again, as it turned out). You've probably even read my murmurings about various campaign ideas.

A couple of days ago, I saw this slightly older article over on The 20' by 20' Room about campaign design and setting goals. Since then I've started to think more ruthlessly about the whole campaign idea. Instead of starting at "Hmm, which of these books on my shelf will form the basis of a campaign?" I'm approaching the idea more along the lines of, "Now, what do I actually want out of a campaign?"

I'm doing a few things in order to try and answer that question. One is to think about the last and first real campaign I ran, the Black Talon: Corsairs campaign using the Heavy Gear 2nd. Edition rules and source material and figure out what worked and what didn't. I've seen some interesting and insightful adventure / campaign post-mortems on The Forge recently, so I set up a thread over there about the campaign. So far, it's had a decent amount of interest and some thought-provoking commentary.

Another thing is to turn the basic question on its head and ask myself, "What don't I want from a campaign?" Here are the answers I've come up with so far:

  • I don't want to be bored. So what bores me?
    • Juggling statistics.
    • Combats which come down to "I Roll, You Roll."
    • Games where the only meaningful action is combat, and the only meaningful risk is the player's continued participation.
    • The sense that, while things are happening, Nothing's Really Happening.
    • Rolls that result in dead ends if the result is negative.
    • Heavy pre-session preparation.
    • Dicking with the rules so that they do what we want.

  • I don't want to be frustrated. So what frustrates me?
    • Being unable to work around someone's unfortunate absence when the unavoidable strikes. (Corollary: Locking players into an ongoing, multi-year commitment with attendance at each session also sucks and is impossible to achieve.)
    • Procedures (like combat) that sacrifice engagement and excitement for checking modifiers and balancing tactics against risk in the name of "realism" or some such.
    • Being tied to a game line's "metaplot".
    • Getting bogged down in making sure all details are known and / or factored in before making a roll.

Now what answers to the original question do those negatives indicate? What do I, as a GM, want out of my campaign?

  • I want everyone at the table to be engaged, even when the current moment mightn't be about their character.
  • I want everyone at the table to have the opportunity to contribute to and build upon the game world during the session and right there at the table, even when the current moment mightn't be about their character, not in a wiki or blue booking session between games (or at least, as well as in a wiki or whatever).
  • I want the campaign concept and action to flex around absent players with minimal "injury".
  • I want to give players the opportunity to create interesting and engaging characters.
  • I want to give players the opportunity to drive their characters via interesting and engaging situations.
  • I want the important, engaging, interesting stuff in the campaign to be about characters, not fights (not saying there should be no fights, but fights should be a function of character and not vice versa.)
  • I want the campaign to have an identifiable point at which it can end on a good note instead of dragging on for ages out of inertia alone.
  • Heck, quite frankly it's safe to say I want Story Now.

One thing that article on The 20' by 20' Room doesn't have is an example campaign design document and goal, so until the author can create one, I'm going to have to cobble my own together. So, can I sum the above up in a Goal of no more than two sentences?


P.S.: If I hear anyone so much as mumble "mission statement", I'll shove my Dilbert books right up their swivel-chair-spread behinds! So there!

Next: Items of Play

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Neat stuff. I really like how you break tings down for you into needs and wants. Good place to start.

A lot of my thinking about this has come through breaking down my current long-term game, Tantaene Animis Caelestibus Irae, and the lessons learned from it. The design document for that game is here.

I've been working on a more detailed post for 20x20, some of my current thinking can be found on my livejournal.

Thanks, Jere! Glad you stopped by, and I'm looking forward to your additional material.

I did take a look at your Tantaene Animis Caelestibus Irae page earlier, but I didn't see the Play Structure, Rules and Logistics sections that time. The broader social contract, organisation and maintenance stuff contained therein is most interesting, albeit brief (which indicates to me that extensive dos and don'ts aren't mandatory). How much of those pages did you put together before you started recruiting players?

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