Monday, October 19, 2015

Campaign Design 101: What is Important?

Ever since I started playing role playing games one of my favorite things to do is campaign design. Something about planning a large scale series of adventures that tell an epic story has always appealed to me. I can't recall all the details of my first attempt at one, but I do remember it featured Asmodeus as the big bad ugly and the goal of the campaign was to slay him and stop his take over of the prime material plane. I do remember sitting at my desk spending hours mapping out elaborate dungeons and writing volumes of adventures. In the end the group I was part of made it about halfway before summer showed up and things like swimming in the lake and riding our bikes became more interesting. We always talked about getting back to it but we never did and by the time we were starting to game again our tastes had evolved to a different game and so again I was swept up in writing a brand new campaign.

Over the course of my life I have written dozens of fully detailed campaigns and have finished some of them. I have learned a lot about what makes a campaign work and what doesn't. For instance I have learned that campaigns designed to last over six months are not as likely to finish as those designed to last under six months. I have learned that players tend to prefer campaigns where they get to be the heroes instead of watch the heroes. I have learned that players like to make their own characters instead of have characters made for them. However, the most important thing I have learned is that for the Game Master the story is everything.

While players tend to look back at their characters and the cool things they did, the Game Master looks back and remembers how excited the players were when they found out the secret to opening the temple. While the players will regale people with stories of heroics, the Game Master remembers the look of fear on a players face as their character hovered on the brink of death. In the end, the players and their characters are important, but if the Game Master does not enjoy the story, the campaign never has a chance of really taking off.

I am sure there are Game Masters out there who will disagree, but for me as a Game Master there is no doubt that I need a story that gets me excited. I have to read an adventure and be transfixed by the story I see unfold. I have to have that same feeling I had when I was a kid reading through Keep on the Borderlands. I have to want to see the story play out in front of me, I have to want to show up to the table, I have to want to see the story begin and end. If I don't have that, well, I just don't have fun. While the players having fun is just as important, it is my belief they have a lot more fun when the Game Master is having fun as well.

Over the next couple of blog entries I will be laying out a story line for the campaign I am creating from the ground up. This is the first step of game design for me, and I think that is true of a lot of other Game Masters as well. I will start at a beginning and eventually end at an ending. When I am done with the story, I will move onto the next phase of campaign development and then the next. I hope you all enjoy the ride.