Monday, April 06, 2009

The Perfect Campaign

For those of you who just dropped in from RPGBN or other quality places, there's no doubt you've already read the news about WoTC's move to pull all WoTC-related PDFs from the various download sites such as Drive-Thru RPG and Paizo...and you probably also have heard the sad news concerning the ailing Dave Arneson. The fact that the former event has had the poor taste to concur with the latter event only makes both seem worse.

Therefore I will not try to contribute any furhter commentary on either. To quote that song by REM, "Let's try and find a happy game to play."

So, how about a campaign that lasts a long time? Yeah, I suppose we'd all like something like that, so I'm not really bringing any new suggestions to the table here. I've been playing on-and-off for a little over ten years and have yet to get a character past 5th level, not because she gets killed or retires, but because the campaign just fizzles out. Sometimes it's because one or more players leaves the group, or maybe the GM just gets bored. It's hard to say, but it just happens. And it has happened so often that I actually have a sense of dread for my poor character who has just reached 5th level. Rather the same sense of dread one feels when the 3-year bumper-to-bumper warranty has just run out and there's a strange new noise coming from the transmission. But what makes this so funny is that in all honesty I really do not care so much about gaining levels as I care about gaining experience. And when I say experience I'm not talking about XP either. I mean real campaign-setting worldly adventuring experience of the kind that turn ordinary game sessions into memorable stories and perhaps legends.

So how about a campaign where more XP is needed to gain levels? Or maybe let XP only count half? Yeah sure it would make the game take twice as long, but think of the extra time spent as opportunity for character development and growth. If I had my way in that regard, the game referee would not need to spend near so much time coming up with "epic" level encounters to challenge the player characters. Of course after a while, players might get bored with fighting the same level of creatures, so it would be up to the referee to find new ways to make the gaining of XP more challenging without pouring on more creatures or badder creatures. Players who like "kobold bashing" or "grinding" probably would not enjoy playing in my Perfect Campaign.

So, how about lots of new traps, monsters never before encountered in anybody's 'manuals", and maybe some new and imaginative cursed items to place in the path of ambitious PCs? Okay, so there would be players grumbling about "killer referees" spoiling the game for them. So maybe the ref should find other ways to challenge the players besides with deadly combat. Maybe the players could face other challenges that involve non-combat abilities. Maybe these could even help earn XP for the players if they succeed. We could call them "skill challenges"...........or maybe not!

So how about skills? Yeah okay I can see a few of you fellow old-schoolers rolling your eyes at me for such heresy. But seriously, there comes a time in a well-developed character's career that he or she has scaled enough walls, picked enough locks, or practiced his lute enough that he deserves a small bonus whether his chosen class dictates so or not. Now I know there are folks that play versions of The Game in which skills are bought with XP..and that's fine, but so much can be said for the personal satisfaction of having earned a skill through practice and mastery rather than having paid for it via a game mechanism. And maybe the character does not even know when he's actually achieved mastery of a new skill. Maybe it's the ref's little secret and the player is left to figure out that lately something has gotten a little bit easier to do.

So how about a sort of character sheet for the ref? Now I see you new-schooler folks rolling your eyes at me (all theee of you) and wondering why in heck anybody would spend so much time developing a character just to give control of that character over to the referee. Of course the player gets to keep a character sheet. I don't want the ref having to do all the work, but there are certain things about one's self that most people do not know. Remember the first time you ever successfully hit a baseball? Did you know your batting average at the time? Okay, so sports metaphors might be lost on a few of us, since we gamers don't like to venture out of our social stereotypes for fear of being penalized as 'multiclass', but you get the point, right? To quote Han Solo (perhaps a more familiar icon to us), "Never tell me the odds."

And that, my friends, would be The Perfect Campaign. It might be winter of 2025 before poor Janara the *cough* Fighting-Man has her own Barony, but dangit, the getting-there would make for one helluva saga.

So in closing..tomorrow is game-night once again after a three-weeks layoff. Perhaps a Level Drain spell awaits?

Also, remember Dave Arneson and his family in your prayers or meditations. Like others have said more eloquently than I can, his contributions to our hobby are great and he deserves to be memorialized with the perpetuation of the game he helped create.

Fight on!

4 comments:

MacGuffin said...

hey, I hope you don't mind, but I quoted half of your first paragraph in a post.
http://ideamancer.blogspot.com/2009/04/omg-wotc-made-business-decision.html

In case you do mind: let me know, and I will remove it asap.

Chgowiz said...

Or play Holmes D&D where you're limited to 3rd level.

trollsmyth said...

But seriously, there comes a time in a well-developed character's career that he or she has scaled enough walls, picked enough locks, or practiced his lute enough that he deserves a small bonus whether his chosen class dictates so or not. Now I know there are folks that play versions of The Game in which skills are bought with XP..and that's fine, but so much can be said for the personal satisfaction of having earned a skill through practice and mastery rather than having paid for it via a game mechanism. And maybe the character does not even know when he's actually achieved mastery of a new skill. Maybe it's the ref's little secret and the player is left to figure out that lately something has gotten a little bit easier to do.

Yikes, ok, too long a quote. But that's very much how I handle skills in my Labyrinth Lord hack. Your character spends all her free time researching elven love poems? You get a bonus when attempting to seduce the count. Or when writing your own poetry. Or when attempting to distract the elven princess with your small-talk while your companions sneak out the window. It's flexible, it rewards players who make their characters a bit more well-rounded, and encourages lateral thinking.

I haven't chosen to slow advancement, as I find Labyrinth Lord advancement to be slow enough already. And I do want my players to get a chance to enjoy the endgame sometime before Alzheimer's makes me forget if you want to roll over or under on saving throws. ;p

Spike Page said...

Sorry TS, I tend to get a bit wordsy with my words..as it were.

For what it's worth, I do actually look forward to the end-game. I cant' help but to grin a bit whenever I contemplate Janara in all her half-orcish majesty, not to mention how she would bring about her own particular vision of "Camelot".

"On second thought let's NOT go to Janaraland..it is a silly place" :D