Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

What Do You Think of the 'Living' Campaign Idea?

Started by jburneko, April 30, 2002, 07:48:57 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


In another thread Joshua Neff wrote this:
It seems to me that the best RPGs will do this--give you the tools (the "instruments", if you will--heh heh) to make a beautiful racket, but the noise each group makes will be wildly different.

And it occured to me that so many of the major publishes are stating explicit design goals that are the EXACT opposite of this.  With the advent of d20 and the OGL it seems like many designers are trying to produce games that encourage a uniform play style such that any five randomly sampled gamers will get along and have a similar gaming experience so long as they are familiar with the game.

Wizards of the Coast pushes the idea with their 'living' campaigns where, supposedly, those who participate in their officially sanctioned adventures get incorporated into the history of the world.  The idea is that the whole world is all participating in the exact same game.  Many other companies are following suit.  I've even seen it happening to non-d20 games.  Some companies are trying to use the internet as a method of creating a 'mega-game' where everyone can post their exploits and those get incorporated into 'official' world of the game.  I believe both Shadowforce Archer and The Last Exodus have goals along these lines.

I think a lot of the efforts fall apart mainly due to a lack of coordination but in theory what do you all think about the idea of such 'mega-games' that try to promote uniform play and the concept that the whole world is really just playing little pockets of one GIANT ongoing game.


joshua neff

Personally, I don't like 'em. Too much like a bloated concept album or one of those money-grubbing comic book crossover "events".

I'm interested in hearing about other people's RPG games, for inspiration & to learn new & better ways to achieve my goals, but I don't care to have them all linked & I definitely don't want any sort of uniform "this is how the game will go". One of the things I love about InSpectres is how the structure of the basic scenario is fairly uniform, but within that you can play with it so that Ron's games are completely different from Zak's & completely different from mine. Or look at Sorcerer--the setting I'm developing right now is very different from my own that I'm currently running, & extremely different from Schism. I think that's a good thing.

Maybe it's just my natural anarchic tendencies, but uniformity really turns me off.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

J B Bell

As the Subject says.  I guess it may be some people's bag to imitate the "massively multiplayer" setup of certain popular computer games, but to polish the band metaphor yet again, I think this is like trying to make all musicians be part of some mega-orchestra.  It has a certain appeal, but when you look at it, it's doomed to mediocrity at best, from an artistic viewpoint.

I like the inherent small scale of RPG activity.  I like how it puts people into a context that's rooted in geography (internet play notwithstanding).  I like that we interact across vast distances mainly through static text documents.  Call me a Luddite, if you want.  I'm actually working on a new way of doing online RPGs that I think is quite innovative and could become a major new mode, but personally, "success" to me looks like lots of gamers playing their own games in their own ways in their own communities based more or less on geography and of course mutually compatible play-styles.  Why do we all have to follow the model of the super-corporation to feel like we're doing something worthwhile?

Grump.  Harrumph!

"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes

Buddha Nature

I could be wrong on this but I remember back in '95 (?) when Legend of the Five Rings (the CCG - it predated the RPG) was just starting out (I was playing in demos with homemade boxes for the strongholds) they were telling me that their plan was such that victories at tournaments would alter the major storyline.  This continued into the RPG.

I think it is a cool idea except that only so many people will have any influence on the storyline (those who have the time and money to go to conventions) which was the downside I saw of the L5R idea.

I think TORG (though never having played it) did something wherein your game was in an alternate reality, so if you were playing in their "campaign world number 9" supplimet and your friend was running a game in the same world, they were two parrallel dimensions.

Some ideas on how you could make it work would be to:
A) Pick a genre, lets say fantasy
B) have the creator start with a basic single land, naming and creating its inhabitants, and giving it some history.  Then say something like "but no one has been past the surrounding mountains, no one knows what is there..."
C) Create a website where people can begin to generate and populate the rest of the "world."
   1) People would submit their ideas and proposals and either
       A) There would be a single person or group that "okayed" submissions and inserted them into the map of the world.
       B) The submissions could be voted on by anyone, and after a certain amount of time if they met a certain threshold they would be inserted into the map.
       C) There would be a big map (maybe just a grid) and the beginning land would be in the middle and people who came to the site (first come-first served) could claim control and desgin of a section.
   2) After some more places are designed, what could happen is that if you wanted to either import some part of one game into yours or export your party to theirs (they would have to be next to you) you would ask the designer of that idea (email) for permission.  If they okayed it the history of those ares would/could be altered to show the change.
       A) The problem I see here would be that there would be limits to how much you could do in another's land.  For instance, I love epic stories--world changing stories, but it would be tough to do such things except with extensive coordination between GM's

Wow, look at that blueprint!  You could totally do something similar in a few different genres (everyone gets a world in a sci-fi genre or everyone gets a dimension in some kind of dimension hopping genre)

Okay, brain slowing down now...  Green elf needs food, badly!



Hello Again,
For the record I'm not really keen on the 'living' campaign idea or the mega-game idea myself but it's an idea that has always facinated me.  I'm curious to see if the idea has any merit at all or is it inherently flawed.

That blueprint is an interesting idea but it suffers from the core problem I see for ALL game designs that relly on on-going evolutionary worlds, metaplot driven or otherwise.  What happens in five years?  That is, so you started your game and it's going great, people are contributing and five years go by.  What now?  You're stuck with several problems.

1) Is this an infinitely expanding universe?  What happens when someone new wants to join the game and add on to the world?  Where does it go?

2) The classic 'catch up' problem.  After long periods of time it gets harder and harder to add something new, original and worth while to the world.  You have to learn everything else that has come before to add any fresh ideas.

3) What happens to areas who were created by groups who no longer play the game and no longer contribute on a regular basis to those regions?

These problems don't just face the outline above but they seem to be universal to any kind of design along these lines.  Are they solvable or are all these projects created with the flash-bang mentality of, 'In five years this game will be dead anyway, so as long as it's hot RIGHT NOW, it doesn't matter.'


Mike Holmes

Sounds a bit like the Wiki world that I'm working on. But in our case you just post whatever. What about conflicts? Every post is just somebodies viewpoint in the world. Nobody is right, and everybody is right. Seems interesting so far.

Interesting that I think my Sim side likes MMORPGs and the Living City ideas. If it's essentially just exploration, it's just more grist for the mill. It's only when you include Competition and Story requirements that things get messed up. BTW, ICE did something similar with their game "Run Out the Guns" in that you carried your Pirate character from one game to another, represented by going from one ship's crew to another. Worked pretty well.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Ron Edwards


Historically, the whole "living campaign" or "megacampaign" notion has not panned out well in application. It goes way, way back, even before TORG. I was just talking about QuestWorld last night with Sean W, and that was an early example from the late 70s.

I noticed that the line of supplements from AEG that were supposed to do this with L5R petered out fast, in favor of a plain old publisher-originated traditional metaplot. I noticed that Fading Suns kept talkin' about its ongoing story that, in actual print, went sput sput and just vanished. I noticed that Vampire LARP never did feed back into Vampire metaplot in the way that, at least for a bit there in the early 90s, people said it would.

Most notably: all of these games have relied on switching format in the long run in order to stay afloat, rather than pumping content into the setting via gamers' actual play.


Gordon C. Landis

First off - what *is* the goal of folks attempting this approach?  Jesse mentions a few possibilities, "uniform play" and "the whole world's playing one giant game".  "Uniform play" - I'm not sure what is desirable about this.  I can see some good side effects from a *degree* of uniformity (like sharing GNS goals), but in general, what do I gain?  In theory, it might make it easier to find a play group, but in practice . . . I don't see a real win here.  And "the whole world . . ." - why does that matter, to me as a player/GM?  I guess it might mean the game line is "healthy" . . . but my bottom line here is that there is NOT a real benefit to the consumer in such a scheme.  It's a marketing plan, designed to broaden the sales base.  Nothing wrong with companies' trying to make money, and having a broader base isn't a bad thing for the hobby, but it doesn't seem to be a wildly successful concept - that is, I haven't heard tell of an RPG company making tons o' money this way.  Even WotC doesn't seem to make much money on the RPGA.

A *possible* benefit I see is a reduction in the "overhead" a play group (usually the GM) needs to invest in prepping/maintaining a game environment.  My experience with 7th Sea (which I suppose ended up as more a standard metaplot thing than this mega-game notion, though early plans/press seemed to point towards a mega-game) taught me that, at least for me and most play groups I've known, this is a false hope.  Working with extensive amounts of someone else's' material is always going to be work.  If their material is good (as, IMO, some of the 7th Sea stuff is), the work may be worth it.  But it's work.  And I think any mega-game is going to run into many of those metaplot issues - companies discover that they can sell more books if they "ration" information across multiple publications and etc.

Other benefits . . . I'm open to ideas.  But unless I know *why* someone wants to do this, I'm not sure what to say about its' interest/viability.  I suppose "just 'cause it'd be cool to have folks all across the country involved in a single story" is valid - and reading John Wick's account of the L5R CCG storyline tournament at GenCon(?) 3-4(?) years back makes that notion seem very cool - but I think you'd need to confine your "shared" elements to a small set of pre-established events/actions/actors to make it work.

One other thought - such a structure might also impact the "why don't RPGers talk about the fundamental aspect of their hobby - actual play?"  By having a shared context, critical thinking about actual play might be fascilitated - "ah, you handled that PC-inspired revolution in Northeast Fergrealm much better than I did."  "Well, I think you were on the right track, but . . . "

On a bit of a tangent, I've been thinking back lately to my very first RPG experiences.  We had the 3-books-in-a-white-box D&D.  We had the Avalon Hill "Outdoor Survival" game map (as recommended - the whole Orkworld-like "here's a map - you fil it in" style goes way back to the birth of the hobby, IMO).  We had to make up everything else ourselves.  And while this may have lead to Ron's dreaded plethora of Fantasy Trilogies Inspired By My Campaign World . . . in terms of playable world-creation and shared imaginative commitment among the players, I'm not sure anything else has ever worked out as well.

Anyway, there's my thoughts -

Gordon (under construction)

Jack Spencer Jr

See the Dreaded Metaplot thread for any comments I may have.

Reimer Behrends

Quote from: Ron EdwardsHistorically, the whole "living campaign" or "megacampaign" notion has not panned out well in application. It goes way, way back, even before TORG. I was just talking about QuestWorld last night with Sean W, and that was an early example from the late 70s.

This is different for the RPGA's Living Campaigns. We're talking thousands of players here; even the Living City campaign that took a hit following conversion from AD&D2 to D&D 3E is up to 1,800 paying players again, according to Ryan Dancey, whose Organized Play company runs the show now (prior to that there were thousands more who had played in it). The last numbers I know of Living Greyhawk are in excess of 6,000, and I believe that Living Force has crossed the 2,000 threshold. The other Living Campaigns (that mostly deal with less popular settings) seem to have regular players in the range between 500 and 1,000.

-- Reimer Behrends

Reimer Behrends

Quote from: Gordon C. LandisFirst off - what *is* the goal of folks attempting this approach?  Jesse mentions a few possibilities, "uniform play" and "the whole world's playing one giant game".  "Uniform play" - I'm not sure what is desirable about this.

The "uniform" part is a red herring. There's little feedback that you can have on the campaign in general when there are hundreds or thousands of players. The common form of "feedback" are critical event summaries, which basically summarize events from "first-run" tables and then the campaign follows the majority.

Quote from: Gordon C.LandisI can see some good side effects from a *degree* of uniformity (like sharing GNS goals), but in general, what do I gain?  In theory, it might make it easier to find a play group, but in practice . . . I don't see a real win here.

The practical benefit is that you can simply take your character and play wherever there's an opportunity (for the RPGA, there are usually monthly gamedays where you can play). The GM has to do relatively little preparation and also typically gets to play the scenario in so-called "slot zeros". The obvious downside is the rather episodic and strongly plotted nature of such a campaign, where scenarios can be played in almost any order, and the fact that (unless you order the scenarios for home play) you play with a different group composition each time around.

Quote from: Gordon C.LandisEven WotC doesn't seem to make much money on the RPGA.

Actually, they've been losing money, AFAIK (but it gives people an opportunity to play or introduces them to roleplaying, which may make it an effective marketing effort). Ryan Dancey plans to make money with Organized Play, but then he's got to run his campaign in the Forgotten Realms, which is probably the best setting when you want a large number of participants.

For what it's worth, the RPGA actually has provisions for people running their own Living Campaigns (so-called member-run  campaigns).

-- Reimer Behrends