A campaign, which actually lasts

So I have been playing a Star Wars Saga Edition Campaign for more than a year now, we are just past our 14th gaming session, which is the most a campaign has got to live in the past five years. So far I would say this is a successful campaign, despite some shortcomings and concerns.

The whole idea of starting a new Star Wars campaign began as my friend met some guys while playing Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO who seemed cool and were interested in trying Saga Edition. They have all played pen and paper RPGs before, but not this one. My friend also invited me to join, and I was glad I could finally participate in a game as a player. I only knew my friend as we sat down for the first session and haven’t stopped since, and most of us became good friends by now.

The campaign had its ups and downs in the past fourteen sessions, but the team has great dynamics, which helps us past the the bumps during the campaign. All five of the players have different playing styles and personalities which balances the party out, and thus we manage not to stray too far from the main plot. Two players (including myself) have a bit stronger personalities and so taking the initiative in most social situations. The two characters we play are a bit opposite in alignment (my lawful versus his chaotic), so it provides a good moral balance altogether, since two other players play soldiers who do what they are told and give advice if asked. The fifth player is a bit more introvert and usually just sits back and goes with the flow, rarely influencing things. Despite all the differences in habits, gaming style, our GM provides equal opportunities for all characters to shine, so nobody feels out of the game, there are no tag-alongs in the party. I think this is one of the most important things: to keep everyone engaged and have their moments.

As most RPG groups we tend to joke around and initiate off-topic conversations during the sessions, however, it has gotten a bit out of hand lately, it started to distract us from the actual game. We have invented a house rule because of this, whoever goes off-topic, pays. Since this little new law we started playing again, and the campaign started to move forward faster.

Last session we had some difficulties recalling details of our last session, and it made a big in-game argument between characters hard, since none of us remembered what exactly happened last time. This is the curse of playing only once a month, and now I see that someone ought to have kept notes or written a campaign blog with all the important stuff. It’s too late now to do retroactively, but I will surely be making notes from now on…

So to summarize, good chemistry and engaged players are the things that make a campaign last longer. Even with a mediocre story(telling) the players can have a good time, roleplay and stay enthusiastic about the next gaming session. Also, characters with plans and purpose helps…

Coming up next: A few weeks ago I had to come up with a short adventure in a very short time, and I found out that brainstorming can be a tremendous help and source for inspiration, I’m going to reflect on this topic a bit.

 

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Handouts, handouts…

Last time I mentioned some other handouts besides the “big one”, which were fleshing out some other aspects of my campaign, those that are worthy of a longer introduction. Their length varied a bit, but I tried to keep them sweet and short, in the end they were between one and four pages. Every handout contained some flavor text to get the players more engaged, I believe if they only see system mechanics in those PDFs then it’s not fun at all.

In “The Children of Stone” I wrote about dwarves only, their beliefs, their place in the campaign, the situation of the particular group the players belong to. This was the longest of these smaller handouts, since I wrote one and a half page of a story as flavor text. I also introduced the seventh ability all characters have, Honor. This will work as all the other abilities, the players will roll checks, adding their Honor bonus to the roll. This score starts at 10, and can increase or decrease over the course of the campaign, depending on how “dwarfish” the PCs act. And by this I don’t mean the getting drunk and head-butting the crap out of everyone type of dwarfish. Honor will be about respecting the clan, living and acting according to Moradin’s traditions, etc.

I wrote a 1-pager about the campaign’s starting town, Millerstone. I don’t intend to spend too much time in this little town, however I thought it would be worth describing where the characters were raised and where they spent their past few decades. I just gave an overview of the town’s atmosphere and main profile and also described a few buildings that are worth mentioning.

One of my players decided to go with a paladin, but he didn’t really find a path he liked at 3rd level, so I created a new oath for him, the Oath of the Ancestors. It’s based mostly on the Oath of the Ancients, but I tailored it to dwarves instead of the fey. It resulted in a pretty awesome oath in the end, I will translate it to English and upload it sometime in the future.

Altogether I managed to write up a whopping fifteen pages of material for my players, and it was nice to see that some events and names came back in their character background stories. I also added quite a few pictures to my handouts for more visual stimulation. I already downloaded 50+ pictures on my hard drive which I intend to use somewhere through the campaign, even if I don’t know the exact purpose yet. I just saved all images which I liked and thought that I could use it later. You can never have enough pictures for your campaign!

Another thing I was keen on as I wrote my handouts was clarity, both in phrasing and also in layout. I like to use more paragraphs, divide my text a little bit more, so I wouldn’t confuse my players and also provide a nice, clean layout which is easy and enjoyable to read. Also I think it’s worth giving a name to the handout like a chapter of a book. As a player, I would love to have a handout called “The History of the Damned Legion” rather than “Handout 01”. I like to think of my handouts as small chapters of a bigger book or encyclopedia, not just as separate few pages about some stuff.

Coming up next: Probably a “Lessons learned” type of post about the Star Wars Saga Edition Campaign I am currently playing in, since it has been going on for more than a year now and it has been a while since I played in a campaign which survived so long. So there are some things I would definitely highlight how campaign can live more than five gaming sessions.

The setting: Draekath

Yes, the name suggests dragons (or drakes), and it was fully intended on my side, since the kingdom was founded on an empire where dragons ruled and battled each other. One day, the humans, dwarves and elves  rose against the tyranny of their lieges and defeated the dragon lords one by one, either killing or banishing them from the surface of the continent. So the kingdom of Draekath was founded, the humans crowned their first king, and the other two races retreated to their own kingdoms. Since then a thousand years have passed, alliances have been forged and broken, disasters and wars struck all races and now the campaign is about to begin…

This is the basic concept of my campaign setting, which didn’t take much time to think about, but cost much more effort to build up and flesh out. I began with writing down a few paragraphs of flavor text, with only a few facts, like the name of the king and his elite royal guard (all members being dragonborn).

Then I sat back and tried to think about a brief history line until the starting point of the campaign, and I ended up with more than a full page of events. The timeline included various moments from the history of Draekath, some concerning all the races, but mostly concentrated on the dwarves (I’d say 60-40 for the stocky fellows). I also left some open questions, which can be a nice adventure hook for the campaign later (like the dwarves defeating a dracolich, but never finding its phylactery).

Next came the geography of the continent which was the most brain draining task for me by far. So far I mostly designed my setting from the bottom up, expanding the region the players knew as it was needed, saving a lot of work and also leaving me free to introduce new and exotic places as I wished. This time I decided to lay down the foundations in advance, still having some space for coming up with new areas if I think I would need anything else for the game (or the players decide to go another direction). In naming the places of interest I tried to mix styles a bit, so the map wouldn’t contain only names like The Dark Forest, The Foggy Lake, etc. Of course, there will be one or two such, but I came up with some names which reflect the race of the inhabitants, like a dwarven kingdom called Dvergurfjall (“Dwarf” and  “Mountain” put together in Icelandic) or the forest Vyhlatellin (I was just trying to find an elvish sounding name, and in the common tongue it would translate as the Grove of Autumn). One of my players has studied cartography, and he offered to draw the map of Draekath for the campaign, which I will post as soon as it’s ready. Needless to say, an amazing addition for the game!

The next thing for this handout was to introduce the most notable personalities of Draekath, the NPCs everyone in the kingdom knows. Here I wrote a few sentences about the person itself, his role in the kingdom and sometimes a piece of gossip as well, which can be a great hook for the later stages of the campaign.

Finally I had to decide on the pantheon of my setting. I have given it a lot of thought, and I am going to use the gods from the 4th editon of Dungeons & Dragons, because I find it simple enough (not too many deities), and has enough flavor for my taste. As usual, Pelor is the most commonly worshipped in Draekath, but I am not expecting my campaign to focus greatly on faith. Well, except for Moradin, of course, since he plays an everyday role in the lives of the dwarves.

So, these five main chapters make my “big handout” for the players, helping them to get hooked on the campaign and hopefully inspire them to write some really good background stories for their characters.

Coming up next: There are some other handouts I have created, which I’m going to talk about in a short post, and also just write a bit about how I compose my handouts.