Wednesday, December 30, 2009

State of the Campaign II

Waaaaay back in February of this year, I wrote a quick "State of the Campaign" post, discussing the Labyrinth Lord game I was running with OpenRPG. A lot has happened in the intervening eleven months, and while it may be a touch premature to write a year-in-review (since it's not quite 2010 yet), a critical inventory is long overdue. So here are my thoughts, not quite a year on into the campaign. Er, campaigns...

Yeah, multiple campaigns. See, when I started, one player was there every week, but for a while we had new "costar" every other session, a player who'd last a game or two, and then drop out. Such things happen, due to scheduling conflicts, tragedy, the shifting nature of life, and the fact that I run a not-quite-normal campaign that isn't a perfect fit (or even a good fit) for everyone. I don't take it personally, and so far almost everyone has been incredibly polite about it when an issue has come up.

Anyway, when a new group was coming together, the character my regular player was playing had developed in interesting ways and we were experimenting with some neat ideas that we didn't want to have deflected by bringing in new players. So that game turned into a solo campaign, the player created a second character, and now I'm running two games in the campaign in kinda-sorta parallel. That means more gaming for me, and gives the campaign a cool Westmarches vibe, with the two groups hearing about each other's exploits. Luckily, the player who is in both is awesome when it comes to keeping player and character knowledge separate. In fact, she seems to really enjoy it when her two characters learn things and fashion opinions about each other that are not quite accurate or true.

Labyrinth Lord
So far, the rules continue to deliver. The gaps have been especially useful in the solo game, where things have taken a strong social turn. Dungeon delving isn't just in the back seat to more social and cultural aspects of play; right now, it's in the trunk, with duct tape over its mouth and a blanket thrown over it. I'm certain that won't last, but the flexibility of the system is really serving us well.

Primarily, what's really working great is what Labyrinth Lord doesn't do. It doesn't dictate how romance should work, or give us mechanics for "social combat" or anything like that. It gets out of the way and allows us to RP that stuff the way we want it. So far, it's working great, and entire sessions can pass without anybody rolling any dice.

When I do need rules, Labyrinth Lord doesn't suffocate. When a character got swallowed by a chaos creature and transformed in its gullet, it was a matter of maybe an hour to create a nixie class. [Note to self: post this to the blog.] I've also completely thrown off my original, self-imposed limit of only using stuff from Labyrinth Lord and have embraced monsters and magic from the full range of D&D, from the little brown books all the way into 2e. There's some 3e stuff that might show up later, specifically from The Book of Vile Darkness, but that's going to take a bit more tweaking to get right. Best of all, I can use stuff from Taichara's Hamsterish Hoard without any tweaking at all. I'm also looking forward to including stuff from JB's Companion addition to the Moldvay/Cook line.

There are a few nits that I've been picking at, though. First, the addition of more armour classes seems unnecessary. Leather, mail and lamellar, and plate would probably serve our needs just fine. Maybe, maybe a separation between mail and lamellar. Maybe.

Also, things have been moving veeeeeeeery sloooooowly when it come to leveling up. It's taken about six months of steady, weekly play to get character from 1st to 2nd level. That seems a bit too slow to me. I'm not sure if the problem is me, or the players, or what. I need to investigate this more closely and make certain that I'm giving enough treasure. I suspect the real culprit is a lackadaisical attitude towards tracking the treasure. Everyone's having fun with the social and exploration aspects of the game, but nobody is really into tracking every coin or jade disk they lug out of the ruins. Part of me is tempted to just let things go as they have been, and let the players take a more proactive attitude about it, but I suspect that this path leads to frustration and social friction that I'd probably better head off before it becomes an issue.

The setting continues to delight and thrill me. The players seem to really enjoy it as well, and people repeatedly tell me that I have got a fun world to explore and play in. I'm not sure it's quite as flavorful as I wanted it to be, but that may be because my original conception of it was kinda out there, and it's best to let player settle slowly into the aspects of the world that are most unfamiliar, to avoid any "Tekumel-shock syndrome."

Most of the action has taken place on the island of Dreng Bdan, and that hasn't changed much yet, but I know that won't last. The solo campaign has already shifted its focus to the Elemental Planes. There are opportunities for such a shift in the group campaign right now as well, including the potential for a move into an Underground Wilderness campaign.

Efficiency and Pacing
We're still not communicating between sessions as much as I'd like us to be, and this is causing some social friction in the group game. I'm hoping we've got most of that behind us, but frankly, I suspect there are some issues in play style that will continue to trouble us off-and-on. On the one hand, these issues have interrupted valuable playing time and have flared up into open animosity between the players on occasion. On the other hand, having players with divergent styles has pushed the game in interesting directions. So far, I think it's been worth the added stress.

In-character, however, things have been awesome! One of the players is practically brand-new to RPGs and he has done an amazing job of really getting "stuck in" to the world and his character. Honestly, if you want to really improve your RP, the best thing you can do is forget how these games are "supposed to be" played and go back to that little kid who waved a stick in the air, called it a sword, and just had adventures. The magic of Labyrinth Lord is that it makes this very possible, giving us just enough to keep the world consistent and to adjudicate exactly who shot who when it becomes an issue.

In the solo game, things have really gotten to an amazing level where the RP so overshadows the rules we hardly ever roll dice much anymore. I think we're more comfortable with a level of free-form play than many, and we're wallowing in that right now. The RP in both campaigns has me really jazzed to get back to playing as soon as our short break for the holidays is over.

If there's one thing I'm not happy about, it's the state of my blogging. The honest truth is, I'm having so much fun actually playing, and prepping to play, that I haven't felt a strong desire to blog. I'm also a bit at a loss for what to blog about; the deeper down the rabbit hole both campaigns go, the harder it is to talk about them. I'm sure you've experienced something similar, where the experiences and assumptions of a campaign become so particular to that campaign, that it takes hours of back-story and explanation just to describe the simplest things. That's a triumph for any campaign, because it means you've really made the game your own. But it sucks for creating bloggable material.

I'm not sure what to do about that. I'll probably start by being less hesitant to throw up some stuff from the campaign and see what you, the readers, respond to. There was a far stronger response to the post about noble hierarchies among efreet than I was expecting. It's likely that I'm thinking too hard about what is fun and useful for you.


Anonymous said...

Just as a suggestion in case you finally decide to accelerate levelling up: Why not simply giving XPs not individually for treasure and monsters but all-inclusively for missions accomplished, be it a raided dungeon or the marriage of a pc which turns out to be socially favourable for him/the party? Such conduct allows to measure the increase of power/levels of the characters very accurately.

JB said...

I think you'll find the Companion a nice little addition to your campaign (at least for some of the ideas presented in it). And no, there are no social attack or romance rules included to interfere with your role-playing.

When I ran (and ran in) deeply immersive D&D campaigns of the past, I encountered much of what you're describing, especially with the slowing of advancement. However, the immersion did not generally occur until characters had already reached mid-high levels (it took time for players to "know" their characters and develop in-game relationships with each other and NPCs). If adventuring has truly taken a back seat (as opposed to being shoe-horned in between role-playing sessions) you may want to chuck the whole XP system as written, either reducing the amount of XP to advance to one-tenth normal, OR simply awarding levels due to in-game goal accomplishments.

Alex Schroeder said...

As for blogging, how about just posting snippets of stuff you liked, without explanation or backstory, and provide those only when people ask? That way you'll also get to know your audience a bit better.

Alex Schroeder said...

Looking at this post again (coming from the future) I wonder why you're using OpenRPG – shouldn't simple text-only chat (such as IRC) work just as well? I guess I'm trying to understand independent game experience and communication platform are. They seem to be very independent, as far as I can see.

trollsmyth said...

Thanks for the comments!

On Advancement: Yeah, I'm going more towards an accomplishment/style advancement, based on an article Katherine Kerr wrote for Dragon Magazine way back when.

OpenRPG: We're actually using MapTool. It's (mostly) a simple plug-in-play option that saves a log, allows us to roll dice, and allows me to run a server with the push of a button, so we don't have to rely on anyone else to have their computers up and running.

But yeah, we could use generic IRC. In a pinch, when we haven't been able to use our usual software option, we've instead used AIM, web-based chat programs, and even Wave. So yeah, the play experience is fairly independent of the platform across the spectrum of text-based tools. (If you want to discuss text vs. talking, however, that's a different matter entirely, with significant differences between the two.)

That said, MapTool also comes with mapping software that allows you and the players to move counters across the screen, supports fog-of-war, and other nifty tricks. We don't use any of that, but I imagine such goodies might be important to some folks.