July 11, 2012 by Jeff
My 4 year 1-30 Forgotten Realms campaign is over and now it’s time to move on to our next adventure, Madness At Gardmore Abbey. After 4 years of running one campaign our group decided it would be nice to use this opportunity to try out some new things before D&D Next becomes developed enough that we can feel good about using it as our main system (assuming it is that good). And after 4 years of making my own adventures, encounters, and story lines the options that I put up for a vote amongst my players for this first post-1-30 round was published adventures (note, I wasn’t the only person in my group offering to run something).
The most popular choice was Gardmore Abbey. So we’re sticking with 4e for the time being, but going back to heroic tier where we haven’t played in several years. As soon as I saw that Gardmore was starting to pull ahead in the voting I pulled it out and started reading. I’ve now read through the whole thing and have a good idea of what I’m doing with it. That said, just because I’m running a published adventure doesn’t mean I don’t care about the players feeling connected to the story and feeling like it has a dynamic pace.
So there are some things I’m thinking about as I do my prep and some things I’m attempting to do to help the players feel more connected to the game and get more enjoyment out of the story and role-playing.
First, I am making restrictions on character creation. Well, not many, not since we decided to keep the adventure in the Nentir Vale (rather than move it to another setting) but I did create some character creation preferences as well. Some bonus, 1st level, feats if you choose a class or race that best evokes the story and setting. I’m not too worried about imbalancing things with a few bonus feats, they’re 1st level, so they’re only “so” powerful and the players won’t be using these PCs beyond 3 levels.
Second, I’m asking my players to look at the background information about the setting and trying to find inspiration from that to make their characters, rather than make a character and then see if you can fit it into the setting. I’ve told them that making a character you want to play is the number one priority…but see if you can do it by getting ideas from the setting.
Along with that I’ve asked them to contact me regularly and talk to me as they work on their characters so that I can help them fit what their doing into my vision of the Nentir Vale (which I have limited knowledge of anyway).
While character creation starts to wrap up I also am planning to give the PCs different quests (the adventure has 21 quests listed, about half a dozen of which can act as initial adventure hooks). This could create some interesting role-playing (“hey, we found a cool sword”, “uh, yeah, I need to take that and give it to someone, actually”) and connect them personally to the story (and in some cases each other).
All those different quests will hopefully act as a way of bringing them together at the right time and place to start the adventure and form a party.
Likewise, I’m interested in trying to keep things dynamic in the adventure…luckily, the adventure has a lot of that built in. It specifically says, “if you kill a lot of those and then leave, this is how things change while you’re gone”. That’s awesome, I don’t have to worry about it.
I’ve also used leveling as a way to highlight what the PCs were doing was important and when. I abandoned experience points a long time ago. I’m glad for it and don’t miss them at all. Good riddance, I say. But now I’m running a campaign of 3 levels in a published sandbox-style, dynamic adventure…it’s hard to know when/how to level the PCs using the same method. They could, after all, hit all the high points of the adventure right at the end…I can’t justify giving them two levels right after another after weeks of no leveling.
I mentioned that there were 21 quests in the game, I created a spreadsheet to track them all, and I considered just splitting them up. Complete 8 quests, get a level. This does feel a little like a compromise between what I want to do (level them when it feels right with the story) and experience points.
So those are the things I’m contemplating as I work on running Gardmore Abbey. I like the general direction I’m going, although I’ve had some blowback. I have some players who seem to be struggling with restrictions and being given guidelines on building characters. They just aren’t used to it, they’ve never dealt with it before, and I’m afraid it’s going to lead to some of them just not investing at all about their characters.
Likewise, quest-based leveling could feel just as uncompromising, uninspiring, and mechanical as experience points, so I’m even less sure on that idea than I am on the others.
What do you think? Am I being too limiting on my character creation ideals? Is quest-based leveling just experience points with easier math to track, but otherwise has all the same baggage? If it is, is that all bad?