Friday 23 December 2022

Campaign? No. One-off? No. It’s a Bash!

I sent out invitations to “Fun City” and one of my dear friends wrote back:

Is this intended to be an ongoing campaign or a one off? I admit to being sorely tempted.

First: Small Victory Dance! Always celebrate when your friends express interest in what you write.

To answer his question: “Fun City” is a Pathfinder First Edition campaign. It is not a One-Off. I prefer the term bash as in: “Fun City will be the latest bash set in County Playground.”

Let’s take those one at a time.

“Fun City” is a campaign because it is a continuing set of interwoven adventures. Each single session will be a scene or an act within an overall story arc. “Fun City” (the Pathfinder First Edition campaign) will also span multiple playing sessions as the Player Characters learn more about “Fun City” (the place).

However, it’s going to be the most flexible and forgiving campaign I’ve ever run, for a number of reasons.

  • I expect some of the players will drop in and drop out, as everyone has different demands on their time. I want to be flexible and accepting of player schedules.
  • The last campaign I ran, I got deeply caught up in the background details and tried to, uh, make them the foreground of what the players faced. I’m not sure how successful that was.
  • I put a lot of pressure on myself to have a deeply compelling complicated campaign last time. Not going to do that to myself any more.
  • This time around, I intend to stratify and simplify the setting. I’m still enthusiastic the setting. I will provide background details if the players want them, while the majority of my efforts will be focused on “let’s have a simple and fun time tonight with the game pieces in front of us.”

A One-Off, by contrast, is meant to be a single self-contained adventure. Ideally a one-off lasts a single session. “Make It Big,” the last one-off I ran, went for two sessions. I guess that says something about my skill at estimation. I estimate I can only get better.

I considered running a sequence of unconnected one-off sessions for “Fun City” and decided against it.

  • My personal preference is to build a setting full of interesting people, places and things, all connected. With a campaign, it’s easier to share my enthusiasm for that unified setting.
  • Some of the players may drop in and drop out, but some will want to game regularly. For those regulars, I want to provide an opportunity to take a character from Level One up to Level Double Digits. That “growing a character” is something I always enjoyed as a player, and I want to provide that as a GM.
  • It’ll be easier for players to contribute to a setting they’re familiar with.
  • I have the time and resources to prep a campaign.
  • I want the game world to be internally consistent. A campaign just logically seems to flow from that.

The noun bash is what I think of in my head, though, when I think of what I’m doing. Instead of “a campaign set in County Playground” or “a one-off set in County Playground” I consider what I’m doing as the latest bash set in County Playground. All three of the definitions for that noun line up in a way I admire.

  1. (informal) A forceful blow or impact.
    • Just to be clear, I am not advocating in favour of hitting players here.
    • The Player Characters, on the other hand, frequently give and receive bashes with the NPCs. Often to much merriment.
  2. (informal) A large party; a gala event.
    • There might be eight characters at the first “Fun City” session. That there’s a large adventuring party.
    • I like attending a gala event. Hosting them, too.
  3. (UK, informal, often in the phrase ‘have a bash’) An attempt (at doing something).
    • Yeah, that also tracks. I am making an attempt at creating maps, at trying new tools and using existing tools in new ways, at evoking an engaging setting, at showing my friends a good time.

When I was pulling together this blog post, this diagram came to mind:

Complete        Where                  The GM hands your PC his lines
Extemporized    this Bash                  and a script. "Your cue is
Chaos           probably lands            when the dragon bites you."
|               |                                                   |
V               V                                                   V

I am not enthused about running a series of unconnected one-offs like the far left would imply. County Playground is already plenty comical because, hey, that’s how I roll. Some structure would help.

On the other hand, I don’t want to veer too far to the other end and structure out everything.

The final point I wish to make here is that in preparing for this I found email messages from November of 2007, back when I had a different setting but the same comic tone. It warms my heart to think of every dice roll, every pun, every word written in every email or blog post and every word shared across a gaming table for the last few decades contributes to a fulfilling time. I reserve the right :-) to throw out all the terms used above and say that I’m working on a Pointillist style of RPG Gaming and I hope you’ll contribute to the art.

Monday 19 December 2022

Moderating My Desire For Crunchiness

I like role playing games that are crunchy, like Pathfinder First Edition. I could extend that word from crunchy RPG games to include other interests. I prefer Linux over other operating systems, Vim over other editors, and extensive world building in my RPG settings. I like getting into the details.

Occasionally this has led to problems

Obsessing over the details can slow things down. Some examples:

  1. Let’s say this is the first time you are playing Pathfinder 1e. You learn that you could do a Full Round Action, a Standard Action, a Move Action, a Swift Action, a Free Action, an Immediate Action, and/or something that is Not An Action. By the time you finish understanding all of that, I would bet it is next week.
  2. I did up a campaign, and created a Epub book as a guide for my players to create PCs, and I gave the book an ISBN. Because I thought I might sell that Epub book on Amazon to… someone…. The logic of that escapes me now.
  3. I am the GM who likes drawing up a wiki that details out how the opponents fight with each other, manipulate their underlings, and motivate the characters. After a long day at work, coming back to this once a week, it’s doubtful my players have the same enthusiasm for this exposition that I do. I remember vividly the night I was trying to rush through some world building to force a plot point and one of my players in my gaming group said, “Please. It is too much.”
  4. I like role playing games. In a pandemic, my group has shifted to Virtual Table Top games like Roll20. This expects a map. I’ve created a lot of pressure on myself to produce “High Quality” maps, so we can obsess over whether the character is five, ten, thirty or thirty-five feet from the target monster.

That last point is really telling. When I first started playing RPGs, we sat around a table in a comfortable room. No one in my group could afford miniatures nor figures, so we played without a map.

We had a blast.

I have a plan to solve the problems caused by Sybaritic Crunchiness

I’m staring a new campaign called “Fun City.” My goal with this is to share my enthusiasm for these topics with my friends, without drowning anyone.

My specific approaches to achieving this goal:

  1. I’m going to expect players to drop in and drop out of the campaign. I’m going to expect new players to join and for familiar players to say, “I don’t remember who our opponent is, and I’m exhausted. May we wing it tonight?” And we will wing it, and that will be okay.
  2. I’m going to leave the background for the campaign in the background. If the players ask, I will answer their questions. If they don’t ask, I will let the campaign world simmer, and eventually turn it into a novel or six.
  3. I’m going to work on a small number maps, not a volume of maps.
  4. The maps I do work on will be of varying levels of quality. That is okay. The initial maps might take a while to get adequate. Later maps will be better and will be done in a shorter amount of time. All art works that way. At least, the majority of art that I produce has worked that way.

In the past, I’ve started a campaign, devoted time and energy to the details, set unrealistic expectations for everyone, and felt burnt out. I’d like to break that habit.

I started a new job in October of 2021. It’s fulfilling, but so often I find myself looking at the task list in front of me and thinking, “I’d rather be Gaming with my friends.” When I dig into why I’d rather be Gaming, what specifically I like about RPGs and Pathfinder and world-building and map making, I find soon enough I can’t stop thinking about ideas I want to share with my friends.

So, I’m going to moderate my approach. Build something to share, and always start each session by thinking, “How may I best share this enthusiasm I have with my friends?” The best nights in the past have come from that starting point. Future sessions will grow out of those seeds of enthusiasm. I will build a city one piece at a time, and the end product will be fun.

Fun City, here we come!