Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Yeah, But What About Me?

Scot Newbury has posted his final postmortem on his Realms of Rylon campaign. I love these sorts of things as tiny windows into how other people play the game.

It's clear he had some of the same problems with 3.x that I had:

One of the items I truly struggled with as the campaign matured was encounter levels. The campaign was played using 3.5 D&D rules and for the most part things went as expected for the first five or six character levels. I was a “good GM” and followed the charts and tables in the books for determining the level and number of creatures to encounter and managed to keep it all within the flavor of campaign I had designed.

But then it went wrong, horribly wrong.

The campaign initially started out as a low magic, high roleplay campaign and it worked really well and everyone truly enjoyed it. The issue came to light as the party advanced in levels and we started to have more combat encounters - I advanced the opponents but neglected to take into account the lack of magic in the party. I’m not talking just spell casters here I’m talking about there were few magic weapons, armor or items to help with these more powerfully opponents and things got out of hand rapidly. I was suddenly dealing with the need to fudge not only attack rolls but also damage rolls to keep characters alive (a draw back of having character prophecies but we’ll leave that for another time) and more than once the “big baddie” bowed out of a combat for some trumped up reason as opposed to just finishing off the party. Before I even started this campaign the players’ had dubbed it “Scot’s Campaign of PC Death” and it was starting to resemble that.

This was a pain for me, but not a deal-breaker. However, issues with combat much ended my brief fling with 3.0, and it looks like the same issues gave Mr. Newbury a few headaches, too:

I think the single biggest item that comes to mind from the perspective of slowing things down was combat. This is an area I think that a lot of groups struggle with as it seems that the higher in level the group goes, the longer it takes to get combat resolved. I’m not talking game terms here, I’m talking about real time. The Realms was a D&D campaign and while a number of combats only took a few rounds (less than a minute in game) they lasted for hours in real time. Things like pre-rolling, standardized actions and timers helped but when you spend most of an evening with a single combat it slows things way down.

As I get older, my gaming time shrinks and grows more precious. I just don't have time for one or two hour combats every session. Or even most sessions. And since most of my gaming is online, via chat programs, that only makes the time issues more acute.

Finally, I'd like to touch on this interesting observation:

To continue the analogy the fruit was there, ready to be picked, great plots, colorful characters and interesting places to visit and explore - trouble was there was too much of it. I know that like my statement above that will sound odd to some but when you have more plot lines than you can count on both hands, a list of named (and potentially important) NPCs that went into triple digits and locations that spanned a continent and two time lines (did I mention I introduced time travel?) it was impossible to handle and became stagnant. My group was great through this, offering suggestions and letting plot lines drop by the wayside but in the end with all the elements, power level and pacing issues it was unsalvageable - not even an attempt at a campaign reboot could save it.

I wasn't there, so I can't say what happened, but it did spark off memories of a similar stumble on my part. A few interesting plotlines the PCs can get involved in is a wonderful way for players to feel involved in the campaign. But it is very, very easy to overwhelm your players, make them feel lost, swept along in a flood rather than powerful actors able to shape their own destinies. If players feel like they have to keep all these different balls in the air, it can just grow to be too much. Eventually, some will learn to handle it by tuning it all out, and it becomes as if you didn't have any of those neat background elements at all. The player and the character become isolate from the campaign, and it's only a matter of time before that isolation drains all the interest out of the character.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brian, your comments above let me know that I'm not the only one to trip up in the GM chair.

I think that a lot of GMs want to please their players at the table by giving all of the characters their time in the spotlight but in my case I overdid it - something I'll be paying attention to more in the future.