Catastrophe: When Your RPG Campaign Starts Badly

“Nightbane” is my latest campaign and I got my players energized about the game.  Everyone showed up ready to play and then it went horribly wrong. I claim partial credit for the calamity, but the system itself also

The Flaming Carnage of the First Session
The Flaming Carnage of the First Session

contributed. Regardless of culpability, I write this post as a cautionary tale to those that come after. Perhaps seeing my mistakes will save your campaign some misery.

As regular readers know I am not one to prattle on about my campaigns. I find  the endless rehashed encounters and “you had to be there” moments from RPG campaigns posted in forums and blogs tedious at best and self-aggrandizing at worst. Face it. Most people do not want to hear about “Kroldor the Mighty’s” latest round of Orc slaying. That said,  some descriptions of the first session need discussion to understand what went wrong. i shall be brief.

“Nightbane” is a modern horror/superhero world. Imagine if the television shows “Heroes” and  “X-Files” spawned and that is “Nightbane.” There are all sorts of evil creatures, science and magic in the world, but the heroes have the talents and supernatural power to fight the good fight.  My campaign runs in Los Angeles and the four players chose the following classes.

1. Nightbane–powerful shape-shifter class with a twisted visage

2. Thanatos–powerful shape-shifter class with an angelic shape

3. Native American Mystic–human spell-caster

4. Spy–think Jason Bourne with less morality.

We  run through a few encounters and introduce the party to each other. ( I came up with a reasonably clever way to do the meet-up that did not involve meeting in a bar, but that is for another post.) A villainous priest sacrificing innocents met his end at their hands and the party was off and running in the campaign.  Then it all went wrong.

I overlooked a key element of the game…the damn name! It is called “Nightbane” because the author wanted everyone in the campaign to play Nightbane characters! I realized this after the second combat with a giant scorpion/human hybrid.  I looked through the book and chose monsters based on their hit points (SDC in Palladium rules)  and attack damage. I failed to notice how often they attacked. The giant scorpion attacks…often and has supernatural strength. A human cannot even get close or really do damage without heavy weapons and armor.   Humans without super-human abilities certainly get better skills and blend in more easily, but this is an RPG campaign. None of that keeps you alive when the scorpion does enough damage in a single turn to kill a human.

Conversely, the Nightbane and Thanatos come with massive SDC, a plethora of powers and regeneration. The scorpion did not last a round against the Thanatos…alone! Now I have a group that is partly extra-squishy human and the other half laughs off tank rounds.  Yes, the humans have skills and spells, but they are not even close to enough to offset the risk from  the “designed to kill a Nightbane” monsters.  RPG campaigns often involve combat and excluding two players from the combat is not a viable option.

I am the GM and could tweak/create monsters to challenge both sets of characters.  Now every encounter has an “extra-squishy” villain option for humans and tougher critters for the Nightbane? I did  not choose that option because it makes my life harder and the verisimilitude aspects annoy me

I like my bad guys to have a modicum of intelligence. Just like players, you squash the easy, but dangerous targets first and delay the big guns until you can concentrate your firepower. Not doing so betrays the story for mechanics and that bothers me. Bothers me like this question: “Why doesn’t every bad guy in the DC universe carry around Kryptonite, just in case?”  Lex Luthor needs to start importing the stuff and passing it out to every villain on the planet. Though the mineral is relatively common, hundreds of low-level thugs carrying it make it tough for the writers to use Superman as a character. Rather than deal with it, they just ignore this obvious counter-measure.

I will not take that path.

So the happy medium is…there is no happy medium. This campaign is about supernatural creatures fighting other supernatural creatures.  Period.   So, we are doing a rebuild of all the characters and everyone is a Nightbane.  Not an elegant solution and perhaps even the lazy solution for the GM, but one which will generate more of that most precious and desired commodity from the campaign.


Trask, The Last Tyromancer



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.