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2009-09-09 Preferred Campaign Style

The pseudonymous Yax asks on Dungeon Mastering: What kind of campaign style and mood do you enjoy the most? This page started out with the comment I left on that blog, but then I started adding some more info.

I prefer sandbox-style, location-based games, where players can pick and choose between the various plot hooks. A typical wilderness with various villages and towns, lairs and dungeons provides for all of that.

I’m sure the above requirements can be met using a city adventure. But consider readability: If I can look at a map, pick a region, and read that part of the book, I’m fine. If I look at Ptolus, I get the feeling that I should be reading the entire book before getting started. Do I need to check organizations, churches, noble houses to actually understand this particular section? Again, a typical wilderness with very few organizations and plots covering the entire area nicely provides the modularity I’m looking for.

This lack of interdependence also enables me to exchange some of the elements, or let players dramatically alter particlar elements without requiring me to figure out a gazillion consequences for the rest of the book. This also precludes the kind of meticulously planned adventure paths.

At the same time, I want more than just a series of excursions – just picking plot hooks, modularity, and a lack of of interdependence are not enough. Some of the plots must be player driven. Players must be encouraged to drive the plot forward.

Players must have enough in-game time to explore where they want to take their character. If the forces of evil manage to keep up constant pressure, nobody will build a tower, a castle, form a guild, or raise a temple, research spells, or wage war.

This means that I want multiple challenges for the various power levels of the game. I don’t feel like preparing too many of them, and I don’t feel like preparing things in vain. This means that I’d like to run multiple adventures at the same power level. The D&D 3.5 rules resulted in players levelling up every 2-3 sessions. I like to double that. I prefer slow advancement. Gaining a level every 4-6 sessions is good enough for me. Assuming we play a particular campaign twice a month, it will take us about 20 months to reach name level (gain eight levels to reach level nine, each level requiring five session, with two sessions per month).

I also don’t like the upper levels of the game; I’m happy to retire characters around level ten. They turn into non-player characters and can be pulled out of the closet for the rare high-level challenge.

The mood of the campaign is a tricky thing. My first impulse is to say that I like everything. I guess I don’t like evil campaigns. But other than that – anything goes. In fact, I think I like some variety in my gaming moods.

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