Friday, September 25, 2015

Decisions and Values

A little more than a week before our official start date, I have the campaign options narrowed down to two that I actually like. Both are developed at a high level in my mind; both will require more fleshing out over the next several days before we play the first session. Until recently, I had only one option that I felt good about, and a handful of other, disjointed paths that weren't coming together. I'm happy with both options I'm considering now; either should result in a good game.

The choice is a classic debate of homebrew vs. published, and it mostly boils down to whether or not to favor the prevalence of powerful governments and organizations in the world. A secondary consideration is the value of having locked-in anchor points with prewritten details and histories, along with overarching histories of races, kingdoms, and a select number of high-profile NPCs.

I'll spend the next week figuring all this out; in the meantime, below is the set of core values to which the chosen setting must adhere. These line items represent to me the most critical elements that the campaign world needs to provide:

Value #1 - The setting must accommodate a player-driven campaign. By this, I mean that the goals and desires of the PCs should be the main determinants of the campaign's path, not sidelined while the party goes along for the ride in my haunted house. The common term for this is "sandbox"; the setting must provide a large variety of adventuring paths to explore at (mostly) the whims of the PCs.

Value #2 - The setting must be able to feed the primary motivations of the starting characters. This value adds more specificity to value #1. Not only must the setting provide many adventuring options to the PCs, it must also provide the means to satiate the high-level goals of the starting characters as detailed to me by the players. The primary motivations given are "discovery," "exploration," "riches," and "vindication."

Value #3 - The setting must provide verisimilitude. Of course no fantasy world is going to seem real in the way our actual lives do; what's important is that the setting is believable within the context it defines. For me, realism within the fantasy world is a golden rule. It stands upon a pedestal. One of the reasons I stay away from the newer D&D editions is that I find them to be "gamey" in ways that distract from the sense of believability more than I would like. The rules system cannot do this, and neither can the setting.

Value #4 - The prep work needed to run the setting must be sustainable. We are a group of adults (technically speaking) with busy lives. I have a family, a career, and other hobbies and commitments outside of D&D. I have some time to prepare and run a D&D game, but that time is not unlimited. Many RPG campaigns start strong but sputter out after a handful of sessions due to the DM not being able to meet the time commitments to maintain the game. Running a D&D campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. The amount of prep work required of me must be something I can sustain.

Value #5 - The setting must "speak to me" and keep my interest as DM. If lack of time is the biggest reason for campaigns falling apart early, loss of interest by the DM is second. Campaign worlds built around bizarre or gimmicky premises tend to lose their novelty once the honeymoon period is over. The setting for our game must be robust and multi-faceted enough to hold my interest (and the interest of the players) through many sessions and levels over multiple years.

Value #6 - Preexisting player knowledge of the setting must not be exploitable. I would likely not run a Ravenloft game for a group of players whose Ravenloft knowledge eclipsed my own. Such a situation puts too much pressure on me to abide by perceived canon material for fear of being called out on differences, and carries too much risk of certain plot lines being spoiled by players who already know the books. Running a setting that doesn't present the PCs with a sense of trepidation for the unknown would be unfair to both me and the players.

Will be good to get our first game in so I can finally stop thinking about this stuff. :)

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