Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Makes a Good Campaign

As a dungeon master I find that I spend a lot of time trying to make sure my players are having a good time. It's vital to ensuring that everyone keeps coming back. But what makes a good campaign? Truth be told that's a pretty fluid concept. What make a good campaign will change based on who the players are. However, in the 20+ years I've been playing D&D I've found there are several themes that make the players constantly wanting more.

1. Epic stories. While the players may think for the first 5-10 levels that they are doing random dungeons, they soon discover that the customs official they helped when they were level 3 ends up helping them smuggle an artifact into the city at level 12. Or the teenage assistant of their employer is actually an evil genius plotting world domination and they don't discover his plot until level 18. When things come back to the party they realize their actions have consequences and it helps create a richer story and a more compelling universe.

2. Compatible players. If you have four players that are all getting along and working together, and player number five is constantly getting killed, or attacking the Tiefling because his character hates demons, then there's going to be serious conflict. Tell him to get his shit together and stop being a chode burger. If he continues to steal from the party, and just make everyone bitch after or during the session then it's best to kick his belligerent ass to the curb.

3. Location. Your mom's basement is not a good location. Depending on your group, the local gaming store may or may not be a good location. If you want women to play D&D with you then the gaming store is probably a bad smells of feet and Mountain Dew. I like to use coffee shops that have a hip appearance. You can buy food and drinks, plus you can lounge around on cool couches. There's a bar I used to use in New Orleans that had a bunch of hanging vines overhead. It was a great place with open air and a relaxing atmosphere.

If you prefer to use the home of one of the players, I recommend picking the home of the one with the nicest place. Something with windows and sunlight. You'd be surprised how much this can energize the party. I know as gamers we fear the day-star, but suck it up. It's worth it and your pasty skin needs vitamin D anyways. If your party is mostly non-smokers I would recommend picking the house of one of the non-smokers. The smoker in the group can suck down his cancer sticks outside. I currently play with mostly smokers so we're chain smoking during the game. Which doesn't bother anyone in my group, but it can bother some people so it's worth keeping in mind.

4. Mix it up. If the game is nothing but kill monsters, move to next area, kill more monsters then it's going to get stale fast. Entire sessions dedicated to skill challenges can really mix things up. At the very least throwing in 1 skill challenge out of combat and one skill challenge during combat in every session will really keep things excited. I'll post in the near future a more detailed description of various skill challenges that I find really liven up the game.

5. Betrayal. Throw in an NPC that betrays the party in some way. Or if one of the players has betrayal in his back story, make sure that character comes back to bite the party in the ass. Nothing gets the blood flowing than making the players mad at an NPC and eager to kill him. My party recently learned that their employer is building a machine that will end the world and they've been inadvertently helping him. Since the party is made up of good characters, they are rather eager to find their employer and stop him. Of course he's packed up shop and moved.

6. Back story. Players should have detailed back stories for their characters. If your character is just a human rogue then there's really nothing exciting about him. Oooo, I roll to hit...I hit...I do 24 damage. Whoopie. There's no spark. The character is two dimensional. Even if you're not a roleplayer, knowing that your character is a living, breathing entity really helps add to the campaign. It determines what skills he uses, and what feats he takes. It determines how he interacts with the rest of the party and whether he chooses to fight or talk.

And seriously...this is important, and I can't stress it enough...but the "my parents were killed when I was a child by " is SO cliche it is actually retarded. Don't use it.

Making a good campaign will vary largely based on who is playing and who is running the campaign. Trial and error is really the only way to go, but keep an eye out for the temperament of those around you give some of my suggestions a try. It'll make the difference between a fun time and a failed campaign.

Until next time...

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