Those of you who follow this blog but don’t play in the campaign must be wondering what the hell is going on after reading the latest game recap. That game session saw the adventurers leaving their previous campaign world to find themselves in Stonehell Dungeon. That’s quite an unexpected and abrupt change so some clarification is in order.
At the start of the Watchfires & Thrones campaign, I had originally intended to run a classic sandbox hex- and dungeon-crawl campaign set in my longtime AD&D game world of R’Nis. I had been developing new material for that world ever since I began documenting my return to my gaming roots with the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, meaning that I had accumulated quite a bit of material over the course of the previous year and a half.
On almost the night before the campaign started, I decided to completely switch gears and start from scratch in a new pulp sword & sorcery world. In hindsight, I know this decision was based on me feeling burned out with R’Nis and wanting to try something completely new. I’m also unashamed to admit that I was inspired by what some other very creative people were doing with their own campaign world, truly imagining the hell out of them and creating settings that I enviously wished I had thought of first. Compared to these masterpieces, my own game world seemed pretty bland.
The players and I leaped headfirst into this new world and there was a lot of fun all around. I was loving the change of setting and play was fast and furious. The players were enjoying not knowing what sort of cockamamie creations they were going to face each week and even the prodigious body count couldn’t blunt the fun we were having.
Then I figuratively shot myself in the foot.
You see, I have this habit of being unable to say “no” to any offer to write something game-related for publication. This would be bad enough without my insane desire to make more work for myself by self-publishing my own material. So when we found ourselves with a long period of time off from the game between Father’s Day and Independence Day, I had the opportunity to look at my schedule and what I needed to do both personally and professionally. And holy crap was I screwed.
The first casualty was the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, which you probably know is on extended hiatus until I free myself up some time to do proper “not phoned in at the last minute” posts. That bought me some time, but not enough. Something else would have to change.
The next thing that would have to go would be my game, but after returning to the role of referee, I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice. I just needed to find a way to reduce the amount of work I had to do between each game session.
Since I had decided to base the campaign in a world that I had no material for, there was a lot that needed to be done from week-to-week, and I often found myself furiously putting material together just before I left the house to play each Sunday. That’s no way to run a campaign if you want to actually enjoy it. I was drawing hex-maps and stocking them, designing a new megadungeon, and doing research for the world backstory in order to find a way to introduce some very unorthodox ideas into a fantasy role-playing campaign. While I still think that this campaign setting is a very cool one and a great change of pace, it’s not one that I can maintain and truly allow to bloom with the time that I have. I simply wasn’t satisfied.
In addition, there were a few things that I had introduced to the campaign in order to test them out and see how they worked in actual play. Some of these were very successful; others less so. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was allowing the players to run multiple characters at one time. It was originally my intention that they would switch back and forth with characters when one was unavailable or a change of pace was needed, but that wasn’t how things worked out. This required several changes to the game itself, a reassessment of how much experience points were awarded each session, and, worst of all, it encouraged a sense of detatchment from the overall campaign world. And if the players weren’t becoming invested in the setting, I couldn’t be bother to do so too. That’s a shame because that investment and sense of wonder is the prime reason I prefer to play these games and be the referee. A change was obviously in order.
Rather than reboot the campaign—a last ditch effort if there ever was one—I decided to change worlds and put myself back in not only a game world where I feel most at home, but one that has accumulated a great deal of material over the years. That factor alone will reduce my prep time immensely. I also wanted to implement a strict “one PC at a time rule” in order to encourage a connection with the campaign world, and swapping the campaign setting would allow me to slowly introduce the players to a world with more depth and history than the one they had been playing in.
Luckily for me, this swap wasn’t as difficult or far-fetched as it might normally be. The Black Gut, the megadungeon that the PCs were exploring, featured many gates and portals to different locations and worlds. At the end of the last session, we had stopped with them right next to a chamber that held one such gateway. If I could just get them through it, we could start fresh with new adventures.
Rather than railroad them all, I was very open with the players about what I wanted to do and presented them with my proposal. I made it clear that I wouldn’t make any gross change without their agreement and participation, which they thankfully gave me. A little metagaming later, a reduced number of PCs stepped through a gate between worlds to find themselves in Stonehell Dungeon.
There’s going to be some more modifications but I’m waiting for the party to reach civilization. Most of them will require training at that time to advance so it will be the perfect time to introduce those changes. I think that despite the suddenness and magnitude of the world change, it will be for the best in the long run, and I simply can’t wait for our next game session.