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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: james_west on May 17, 2001, 08:30:00 PM

Title: Why They Tanked
Post by: james_west on May 17, 2001, 08:30:00 PM
I'm going to boldly post a list of just about all the attempts at multiple-scenario games I've been in for the past three years, and why they tanked (in order to salvage at least a little self-respect, I want to say that I've also both played and ran a variety of one-shots that worked very well.)

Of eight attempted campaigns, only one of them worked, in my opinion:

Recent Games planned as a campaign and Why they Tanked (or didnt)
(in reverse chronological order):

Gatecrasher (player, Fudge). (Spring 01) Just about everyone made up characters inappropriate for the game the GM had in mind, and it was clear that we were gonna follow the GMs plot or none at all. We got a lot of laughs in the process, though Diagnosis: this game worked very well for the stand-up comic in the group, but otherwise seemed barely to be a role-playing game at all, in any sense Im familiar with, in that we did neither much in the way of characterization or in the way of plotting tactics.

Heroes of Guobai Xiang: (GM, Feng Shui)  (Winter 01) I really wanted heroic fantasy (thus the title), and the players mostly made up characters with no redeeming moral qualities whatsoever. Diagnosis: lack of communication about goals.

Schismatic: (GM, player, homebrew) (Fall 00) The setting was strange enough, no-one, including me, seemed to understand it well enough to generate interesting, consistent plots in it. Diagnosis: insufficient prep time, attention to proper introduction to setting. I guess Poppocabba liked it well enough, hes working on these ...

The Dignity of Labor (GM/online homebrew).(Spring 00) This went really, extraordinarily well, got to the end. Diagnosis: Massive attention to mood and setting, many possible plot threads, and great player freedom with a group of players willing to use it all made this work well.

Belur (player/online D&D).(Winter 00) A fairly long-running online D&D game, which I dropped out of because I was beginning to find it painful. May still be running. Diagnosis: the GM and most of the players, despite their other advantages, typed way, way too slow for an online game to work (Id say a minimum typing speed of 60 WPM is necessary for online games). Also, theres only so long I can take this style of extraordinarily traditional D&D, no matter how colorful the descriptions.

Talislanta (player, Talislanta)(Spring 99) Painfully stereotyped fantasy setting, regardless of their press, and heavily railroaded scenarios in a poorly designed mechanic. Diagnosis: a game group I probably should have avoided, but I was desperate for a game. The GM was flexible, but seemed to have a fundamentally different set of goals.

Saints (GM/online Deadlands): (Winter 99) Had quite a few sessions, many of which worked well, but clearly stopped in the middle. Diagnosis: Used a wildly inappropriate game system, which played much, much too slow to be usable online.

Jade Knives (GM, house): (Fall 98) Only played once per month, didnt know the players outside of this, all players had outside pressure to do something else (mostly from wives/girlfriends) and this was what gave. Diagnosis: insufficient attention to social aspects of role-playing groups.

Title: Why They Tanked
Post by: Zak Arntson on May 17, 2001, 09:18:00 PM
Okay, I'll shoot for this one ... here's some campaigns I've been in and my analysis.  Maybe if we all get our gears working we can come up with some good thoughts on how to run GOOD campaigns ...

1) Rifts/Robotech crossover (granted, this was a LONG time ago).  I played a Rifts Homeless OCC [Occupational Character Class] (or something like that) because I was excited about the RPing possibilities.  Other characters?  Um, a Robotech fighter-pilot (complete with veritech fighter), a Glitterboy (another mech), a Juicer (drug-addled superhuman).  I guess you can see it falling apart without the help of either setting.

Problem: No established balancing of player roles.

2) AD&D, homebrew campaign.  One of the most successful campaigns I've ever Dm'd.  One player (eventually two), and it was ALL reactive.  I made everything up on the fly.  The story revolved around a single character from the "East" (martial artist-type) trying to survive in a "Western" (read: D&D Medieval) port town.

Success: Player drove the story, events reacted to the players' wishes.  Through the player arriving homeless and hungry in the port town, trying to make a living, making friends and enemies, a VERY fun and personal campaign was held.

3) AD&D Planescape - I've played & Dm'd a few campaigns.  First campaign: Unsuccessful home-spun campaign.  I tried to rail-road the PCs SO MUCH that they felt they had NO influence at all.

Problem: Players didn't have any influence.  No interest in their characters or the adventure.

4) AD&D Planescape - Ran a preprinted adventure.  Failed because I ran it as-is with no changes and an arbitrarily hard encounter killed some PCs (I would say unfairly) and soured the campaign.

Problem: Again, not thinking about the Players.  It was a case of "The adventure says X so I will do exactly this."

(Don't worry, I've had lots of fun Planescape adventures, they were just mostly one/two-night adventures and not full-fledged campaigns).


So, my personal analysis would be: When starting, make sure EVERYONE is on the same page to smooth out character creation.  Make sure the Players have influence on the story rather than being passive observers.  And as a DM be REACTIVE to the Players.  Be prepared to shift the focus of the adventure to keep things FUN.


PS - All this talk about campaigns is getting me antsy for gaming ... any Seattle-area folks with room for another?

Title: Why They Tanked
Post by: Mytholder on May 18, 2001, 02:44:00 AM
I'm game.

Legend of the Five Rings: (first two chapters of a campaign). Each character was a noble or agent of a noble house. Most of the campaign centred on the interactions of these houses. It worked because each player had some investment in the setting beyond their character, they had something to build up and work towards. Also, each character advanced and improved in completely different ways. By the end of the second chapter, some characters were imperial advisors or powerful generals, others were transformed into demons or ninja...but in each case, the character's final state reflected his beginning. The young assassin ended up as a powerful ninja, the humble assitant scribe ended up the advisor etc...

Legend of the Five Rings: (third chapter of the same campaign). An entirely new set of characters are part of an army during the civil war triggered in the first part of the game. Game limped on to the end, but lacked focus. No-one really cared about the army, just the results of the war. The game took off a bit once I cut the PCs off from the chain of command and gave them more independance.

Unknown Armies: Only two players really got the concept of the game, and carried the campaign until one of them left, whereupon things fell over completely.

Nobilis playtest campaign: Went fairly well. Nobilis is extremely robust, and can handle clashing concepts (one player can make a really silly character, and everyone else can have serious, roleplay-oriented characters, and it won't damage the same as much as it would in other settings.)

Hmm. Ensuring that everyone gets the premise is key. Actually, ensuring that everyone is *enthusiastic* about the premise is more important. They can be a bit hazy about the details if they really want to play the game...