My Top 6 Campaigns of All Time (Part 1)
If you were not actually involved in these games you may not be so interested unless you're the kind of person who likes to read about other people doing and saying dumb things. Personally I find it fascinating. Not only are the stories funny, but I learn about how other people play these wacky games we love which shows me things I should or should not do in my own games.
Let the following be a cautionary tale for everyone!
(Note that as I started writing this I realized it was going to be quite a bit longer than I expected, so Part 2 will follow in a few days).
System: Dead Reign by Palladium
*Not the actual name. That’s just what one of the players called it so it’s how I remember it.
This is probably the campaign I'm most proud of as a GM. It wasn't particularly long, just a few months of real time and maybe a half-dozen sessions, but the big success was how well I managed to immerse the players in the game.
Set in the near future after a zombie apocalypse, I started setting the scene even before the game began. For two weeks before our first session, I sent the players fake news reports detailing a new mystery illness that was sweeping across the world. The reports grew more and more dire until the outbreak was in full swing and the stories began to detail the fall of civilization.
In the actual sessions I made frequent use of props and conventions I rarely use in games. In one adventure where the party searched through an old abandoned mansion, they kept finding scraps of paper from a damaged journal. I actually handed the players each piece as their characters found it, each one strategically torn and weathered and stained with fake blood. As they collected the pages they were able to piece together what happened to the denizens of house and how to unlock its secrets.
In another session they found some computer files detailing information about the zombies collected by scientists early in the outbreak. I gave them an actual CD and they had to dig through the files to get the pertinent info they needed to combat the monsters. One of the players poured over it obsessively, trying to unlock the fake files I had loaded on the disk because she was certain there was something else important there even after I told her there wasn't.
Then there was the scene where the group had to convince a senile old woman to help them (she was leader of another group of survivors, I recall). One of the players' characters tried to win her over by appealing to her history as an actress and recited a scene from Romeo & Juliet with her. But I didn't just let him roll his "Performance" roll, oh no, we got down the Complete Works of Shakespeare and recited it right there and then. Of course, we were in a group of theatre nerds and the player was the ONE person who WASN'T an actor (not to mention I was playing an 80-year old woman playing a young girl), so it wasn't exactly Olivier, but we all got a huge kick out of it.
Anyway, we had a ton of fun with that game, and I have plenty of more stories (including the infamous moment where one of the players stripped the bad guy naked and forced him to help her before murdering him in cold blood) that I'll save for another day. The best part is that I brought it to a satisfying conclusion with both hope and pathos (one of the characters sacrificed himself to save the others), something that rarely happens in my games. It was without a doubt the best arc from start to finish I've ever run.
5. Love in a Cockpit: The Moon Brothers Saga**
System: ROBOTECH by Palladium
Date: c. 1996
**Again, not the real name. I’m terrible at naming campaigns.
I've written about this game before, but I had to mention it again because it still stands out as an impressive feat of storytelling. We had 15-16 year old guys running characters way more developed and interesting than any RPG character I've seen since. The three Moon brothers are some of the most memorable PCs I've had the pleasure of running into in any game in any system. The eldest brother that became a combat medic and refused to fight anymore to protest the war. The middle brother that developed PTSD from seeing so many of his friends (including his fiancé) die and ultimately became an alcoholic that flew more and more dangerous missions trying to off himself. The youngest brother that was a womanizing screw-up that rebelled against authority but ultimately became a father figure to his asshole commanding officer's little boy. This was brilliant stuff, and it was made up on the fly by antisocial teenagers. Incredible.
The only sign the characters were run by immature little twats were their names: Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo. And no, they weren't named after the artists.
Well, and then there was the fact that the youngest brother kept a very detailed “little black book” of all the girls he had hooked up, including his own ranking system of their attractiveness (which is easy to do since RPG characters already have a numerical attribute assigned to their physical beauty).
|14. 14. 16.
And then there was the constant stream of jokes they made at their commanding officer’s expense. That one was my fault – I named him Commander Assman (“It’s pronounced ‘Oz-man!’”) based on an old David Letterman joke, but the comedy ended up being straight out of Police Academy (which is either is awesome or terrible, depending on your point of view). There was also another non-Moon brother player who kept designing and mounting larger and larger prototype guns onto his mecha to the point where the mech could no longer move but if an enemy starship happened to pass in front of him (and he didn’t miss) it could blow anything out of the sky.
So yeah, maybe we were a bit childish at times. But it was still a damn good time.
Unfortunately this campaign never got a proper conclusion. We were re-creating the Macross series and got as far as the main Zentraedi assault on the Earth, but then we took a break to play something else and never got back to it. I actually still remember some of the plans I had to continue the campaign, and man, it was going to be a good one.
Oh, and I can't mention a Palladium game without a dig at Kevin Siembieda, so fuck Kevin Siembieda. (Dead Reign, above is also technically a Siembieda game but I modified it so completely it’s barely recognizable as such anymore).
4. Swords of Power
System: AD&D 2nd Edition
Date: c. 1996-97
This was my most ambitious campaign, back when I was in high school and thought a D&D campaign was the most important thing in the world. I cannot tell you how many hours and days were spent creating the backstory and history and maps for this world, as well as the NPCs and religious institutions and deities. This campaign featured more priests and clerics than any other game I've ever been a part of (probably because I spent so much time on the gods and religions, so there were a lot of interesting options to play). It also featured some of the largest gaming groups I've ever run - as many as 12 people at one time - which I don't recommend because it was god awful boring. Just a terrible slog that took forever to get through anything.
But those nights when we had 5-6 players, oh, those were the best games. So many memorable characters came out of those games. William Half-Squirrel, the half-native ranger who loved fishing ("fishing" was his code word for slaughtering the people who killed his mother in the first adventure). Halen, the Gypsy Prince Elf Cleric/Thief, who had to introduce himself to every... single... NPC... he met by loudly announcing "Greetings! I am Halen! Prince of the Gypsies!" Literally. I mean this happened like 6 times every session. Shaftobo, the "urban" elf wizard so obsessed with killing goblins that he developed a new magic spell with the sole purpose being to fight goblins, and the material component was goblin penises. Orf Gorfson the Dwarf, whose player eventually introduced his various cousins and uncles including Korf Gorfson the Dwarf, Gorf Orfson the Dwarf, Gorf Gorfson the Dwarf and so on.
Did you know that when you type "dwarf" into Google Image Search, this is the first image you get? Not a picture of a little person ("midget") in sight. Hey Google, not all dwarves are imaginary, you know. Kids growing up today are going to think that Peter Dinklage is CGI.
The campaign eventually got bloated and I became too ambitious. After defeating the Big Bad, the main party was split as some characters died and others were lost. I decided to try and run a bunch of short adventures featuring some of the original characters along with some new PCs. I wanted the players to swap different characters and try to tell different stories. It was one of those cases where I thought it was a great idea but no one else had any interest at all, and the campaign fizzled and died because of it. We never did get a proper ending to that otherwise momentous campaign (we sort of got one much later, which you will see in part two).
Did I mention that I shamelessly stole most the theme/premise and background for this campaign from Fred Saberhagen's Swords of Power series? Yeah, that's a whole other blog post for another day.
Anyway, that's Part 1. I'll be back in a few days with Part 2. In the meantime, please feel free to share some of your favourite games and campaign stories. Lately I've been on a kick for reading about other people having fun.