Design Advice for Living Campaign Operators

I play in a “living campaign, “ (LC) specifically “Living Arcanis.” I enjoy the campaign and contribute to it as a module author and as a regional leader (Invisible King.) I am not monogamous, though. I have played most of the other big (LC) games, at least a couple of times each.

It is from this background that this post springs. While many of the LCs have good stories and modules, the mechanics of the campaign need some work. This post will not discuss the relative merits of d20 vs GURPS vs Shadowrun or any other system. I am talking about the nuts and bolts of running a massive-muliplayer tabletop campaign. Things like rules, experience tracking and module releases are on my radar, not the game itself.

Also, these suggestions come from several games, not just Arcanis. I am not picking on anyone, just putting together a wish list of things I want in an LC.

1. Few rules. The game rules may be more complex than quantum physics, but the LC does not benefit from it. Adding a plethora of complex rules to run the LC just makes people leave. Bookkeeping is not a fun game to play. One LC, that shall remain namless, is unofficially known as “Living Accounting” by the players.

2. Low barrier to new players. LCs live only so long as they players. Players come and go from living games, so making it easy to join is critical. A central location for “getting started” must exist to keep the game alive. This website needs character generation instructions, story summaries and game day/convention schedules. Brevity is necessary also. Having a 100 page long character creation document is not helpful.

3. Rule by fiat . One voice makes all the decisions. Even if 50 people run the LC, only one person can make a change. Period. They can just rubber stamp decisions of the group, but there can be only one final authority.

4. Do not micromanage game balance issues. A “broken” spell/power/feat got past playtest and is breaking modules or tearing through encounters like a laser. Unless it is truly grotesque, do not fix it. Every errata you release is just more rules. See Rule #1. In the final analysis, does it really matter if some PC can fight better than expected?

5. Do not miss deadlines. If you say a module will be available on January 1, then get it out, no matter what. Some convention or home game is counting on that module.

This one I will directly lay at “Wizards of the Coast’s” door. A few years ago, I ran “Legacy of the Green Regent” for my home group. It was a fun little campaign. We played a module that left the PCs trapped in some nether world. The next module in the series continued the adventure and offered a way home. Nice idea, if they had ever released it! It just disappeared and was never released. As far as I know, no explanation was ever given. I quit running the campaign after that.

6. Make player’s time and effort matter. Arcanis, Greyhawk and a few others directly track experience (XP), much like in the d20 PHB. Each module gives you X experience points. Reach a certain number and you level up. Play more and get a higher level PC. I like this system.

WOTC introduced a variant system where everyone in the LC levels up at specific times during the year. This keeps everyone at approximately the same level. Nice idea, but this created “disposable heroes.” No one cared about their characters, since dying just meant coming back as a “brother” to the original PC. Same PC, different name. One upside was the games under this system were hysterical. The players played their PCs like they were refugees from “Highlander .” It was like playing “Doom” in “God Mode.”

“Better to burn out than fade away” –The Kurgan

7. Online play tracking. DM should be able to enter the results from a game and have player XP added automatically. Reduce the paperwork, make your player’s happy.

8. Do not track time. Some LCs attempt to limit game play time by assigning a “time cost” to each module and you have a finite amount of time to use each real-world calendar year. If you want people to play, let them play as often as they like. I still do not understand the value of this.

9. Produce quality modules.¬† Nitessine over at Worlds in a Handful of Dice explains this better than I can.¬† If your modules require a drunken¬† gameday named “Shit Saturday ,” look into new writers.

That about covers it. I am sure I forgot something, but am willing to take any suggestions. I hope someone from Paizo or WOTC is reading this and takes some of these ideas to heart. I know it will make their upcoming LCs better.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.