Very interesting and a good read!
My lessons from the last decade:
- Campaign wikis are great for lore, player background stories and interactions with the world. I also think they work better for character development and many aspects of role playing, as most people are more comfortable and creative at writing between sessions than at speaking during a session.
- D&D 5e rules work. They are the best version of the rules in my opinion. Easy to get into, quite well balanced and without any really serious flaws. I would prefer them to be a bit more gritty and less Marvel Super Heroes style. The exploration/survival aspect is also too trivial.
- Sandboxes are great. I love creating and running them. But pure wilderness hexploration as in the Grenzmarken campaign is a bit bland and can feel meaningless soon. Who cares about how many arch demons from Hell your hero killed in a forsaken dungeon in the wilderness? Killing an arch duke in a city or just having the power to possibly do so, is much more interesting and also character defining. So social sandboxes with fame and factions are more interesting for everyone, I think.
- Dungeons are still the heart of the game and what the D&D 5e rules are made for. The players are on the edge of their toes and fully engaged most of the time: Thinking about tactics, spell selections, resting points etc. Everyone can contribute. The problem with social encounters is that usually it is just 1 or 2 players that are really engaged or relevant and the rest is fiddling their thumbs. I am just experiencing this again as player in DM Mirceas campaign.
- Now here’s a big conflict with the point about sandboxes: For the campaign to be interesting and meaningful, you need a social setting rife with conflict and interactions. But in actual play it seems to me that running dungeons still works best. It is also less demanding of the DM than running and improvising interesting social encounters. So this led to my current kind of preferred gaming style of running mostly dungeons and combat in actual play and running a social sandbox for character development and world exploration on the campaign wiki.
- There’s a also a social aspect of relevance at the meta-level: A smaller party size (3 or 4 max) would certainly make it easier to have more social interactions and character development during a session like we had in the past. But I also came to the conclusion that having a bigger party size makes the game and campaign much more relevant for everyone at the meta level. Many of my sessions with just 3 players felt a bit meaningless or bland in retrospective. If you kill the BBEG with a critical hit with just 2 companions at the table it doesn’t feel the same as with 5, where there’s always a lot of cheering, high-fiving etc. going on. It’s a bit like watching sports now in empty stadiums compared to fully packed ones in the past. It’s kind of stupid, but it really seems that among humans, everything becomes much more meaningful and long lasting in memory if there are a lot of spectators/companions.
– Peter 2021-04-05 20:59 UTC
This is a great post! Thank you for it! Is it just where you were in life or something about B/X based games that led to them lasting so long?
– Oliver 2021-04-05 22:39 UTC
It’s not just the B/X campaigns that went on for a long time; the D&D 3.5 and now the D&D 5 campaigns all went on for at least 30+ sessions, if not twice as much – even if I did not enjoy high level 3.5. I suspect that it has to do with how spell levels structure D&D gameplay: on the one hand, every new spell level attained changes the gameplay itself (suddenly you can fly, or fireball large groups of kobolds), and it also advertizes that change ahead of time in the rules: if you play until you get to level so and so, you’ll be able to do this and that. And immediately, people start dreaming.
See 2012-01-24 Changing Gameplay Over Time.
– Alex 2021-04-06 06:58 UTC