Sly Flourish's Twitter stream is always sharing great tips and pointers for improving your D&D game. One that hit me in particular a few weeks ago was the following:
#dnd tip: When preparing a new campaign, write a short "five things about this campaign" guide to guide both you and your players.This was struck even further home a few days later when Rule of the Dice's own John Williams invited me to join his home game (or maybe I invited myself, I don't remember), and he sent out a nice, concise background primer for new players to his campaign. This immediately made me realize that I'm an idiot.
— SlyFlourish (@SlyFlourish) March 24, 2014
Why don't I do this? I've been GMing for years, you think I would have picked up this really simple trick by now. Players will get into the game way quicker if they know what's going on. Games based on popular pre-existing properties are easy (ROBOTECH, Star Wars, etc) because the players already have a pretty good idea what to expect. Now that I think about it, the game I felt was my most successful was good in large part because I provided the players with key background points to hook them in before we started.
So long story short, here's the 5 Things You Should Know about my current D&D/Labyrinth Lord campaign. Yeah, we've been playing for months so this is not really helpful for my players at the moment, but it's helpful to me to remind me what we're doing, and it may be useful for any new players that join in (we just added a guy last week). And hey, it might be interesting for you guys, if you're wondering what I'm up to.
1. It's PBEMMost of my games these days are run Play-By-E-Mail. It's the reality of working full time and having a family (and taking classes on the side, and not having any friends close by, etc...). PBEM has it's own variety of merits and flaws, but here's the most important points to remember:
- It takes time. Because we go back and forth between emails, sometimes you're waiting for other players to reply. A few rounds of combat could take days (though I've found tricks to streamline this over the years).
- If you don't respond within 2-3 days, the story goes on without you. This is not to be mean, it's just a necessity to keep the game going at a reasonable pace, especially with 5-6 guys in the group. As long as at least half the party replies within the allocated time, the story moves ahead based on their actions and the decisions. The other characters don't die or disappear, they just play slightly less of a role in the story until their players get back on board.
- You get XP for writing and developing your character. In fact MOST of the XP comes from role-playing and moving the story along. I won't penalize you if you're not a big writer; as long as you say your character is doing something, you'll get along fine.
2. It's a Swash-Buckling Adventure on the High SeasI make no qualms about admitting this game is heavily
We also have a three pirate stereotype minimum. Please choose from the following list or roll randomly: Peg-leg, hook hand, cutlass, pet parrot, beard, eye patch, gold earrings, Jolly Roger hat, penchant for rum, penchant for buggery.
3. There's a Major War Going On...but you don't necessarily have anything to do with it. Two of the more influential kingdoms in the world (Stalomark and Tirglas) have erupted into a violent war after years of tension and minor conflict. While all the characters in the main group come from these lands or their neighbours, they are not directly involved in the fighting... at least not yet. Because the crew are sailing around doing their trading and exploring thing, it is inevitable that their travels will eventually cross them into the war-zone, but it will be completely up to the PCs how they play this. Will they choose sides? Will they fight, or try to profit off the war in some way? They have this choice, because...
4. The Players Will Dictate the Direction of the StoryUsually in my campaigns I set up a big bad or evil that must be overcome, and "gently" steer the players toward it. This time, I've tried to encourage them to set their own goal and motivation. Do they want to seek out and fight against evil? Do they want to focus on trading and mercantile endeavours to make their forture? Do they want to achieve fame and fortune by finding lost civilizations and treasures? I've given a few of the characters particular bits of information to motivate them based on their back stories, their organizations, etc, but it's up to them how they use them and how they can work with (or manipulate) their companions toward their goals. There's several antagonists that have been introduced to oppose them, though I haven't necessarily said they're "evil." They simply have different goals that are in opposition to the players. This is becoming important, because...
5. The Player Characters May Not Be the Good GuysI didn't even realize this at first; one of the players had to point this out to me. Because I didn't set them up with a specific villain, and because I've let them choose the direction of their game, the players have become very mercenary. Usually there's at least a few of the players who strive to do the right thing, but not in this group. There's no righteous paladin driving them to do the will of the gods. Their captain is a one-eyed homicidal elf who tortures captured enemies for the hell of it. The cleric refuses to heal his own party members if they get hurt doing something he considers stupid. Even those who are not psychopaths don't go out of their way to help anyone but their own crew,: they do what they have to do to survive. They don't fight fair, they gang up on enemies and stab them in the back. Just this week they were faced with an opponent willing to detonate a bomb in a crowd of innocent people. Unable to reach the bomber in any other way, the PCs literally hacked their way through the bystanders to reach him in time. It wasn't a case of "sacrificing a few to save the many." They were entirely just trying to save themselves.
Seriously. If my players were the crew of the Enterprise, this movie would have been called "Fuck that pointy-eared bastard, let him rot."
Hmmm... I just realized that I had actually intended to come up with 5 "background" or "story" points for my campaign, and it ended up being far more about the meta-game. Still important points to consider, but I may have to revisit this with more story-based ideas at a later date (first I have to finish part two of Tuesday's post).
Still, do you get what I'm going for here? Would you want to play this game? (For those already involved, God I hope so...)