September 10, 2012 by Jeff
It’s common for campaigns to start off strong, energy is high, engagement is rampant…and then over time something changes. Today, after thinking about it and listening carefully to things being said at GenCon I’m contemplating my own struggling campaign and evaluating if it’s time to let it go or see if I can save it.
When my gaming group started playtesting D&D Next we decided, at my encouragement, to start a “playtesting campaign” (which I’ve written about before, on RPG Musings). It was an idea that had a lot of engagement from myself and the players. There was a high level of buy in to the setting, which the players helped me create. It was glorious.
This, however, was in the early days of the Friends and Family playtest of Next. As it turns out, it was too early to even think about starting a campaign. We went through one or two versions of the rules at that time. Then the first official playtest document came out and suddenly we lost the ability to make our own characters, so we re-imagined the adventure and started over with a new party in the same setting (who had no connection to the setting/story). Then we got the character creations rules and re-created the original PCs because they had more meaningful connections to the setting and the story…but it was too little too late.
It turns out that playtesting in this way and running a full campaign with it is…problematic. Fluctuating rules, changing characters, and irregular play experience has left everyone feeling a bit disconnected to the story, it seems.
I don’t know that there’s anyone to blame for this. I think the setting is awesome and the campaign concept still works and I still want to get back to it. The question at this point is, do I shelf the concept of the campaign for the time being in hopes of bringing it out when I have a more stable system or do I try and inject some more energy back into it now that we have some playtest rules that are more stable.
Let me walk through the options.
In one case, I can cut bait. I can scrap the campaign and save the concept for another time. I probably wouldn’t save the setting, I’d call it done, blow it up, and recreate Nexus in the future. I’d keep the idea of the sandbox, kitchen-sink setting where the players help me build the world and the story that will allow me to add in all the products that come out as we play. But start over with the whole thing in a year or two when we have D&D Next in something close to it’s final form.
In this case, we would continue to run short mini-campaigns in my group. Right now we’re running Gardmore Abbey, we also have interest in converting Eyes of the Lich Queen, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, and more. We would just keep on doing these mini-campaigns for a while and start another long term campaign when Next is ready for us.
In the other option we can try and add new energy into the current Nexus game. I have some ideas on how to do this, but it would take some buy in and work from the players and myself. I’d want to start back at character generation, maybe then also add back into the idea of adding some more to the setting to help the PCs better connect to the world, and even then it may not work.
The risk is that Next will continue to change enough that we run into the same problem and lose the energy again. However, it seems that we have character creation rules now…we’re not likely to lose the again. So I think if my players buy in we could still salvage this thing…so maybe we should just go ahead and fish with what we have.
If we choose to save the current Nexus then we still have one other issue to address. How to we run it. We were running our sessions in two parts. An encounter or two of our normal campaign each game session followed by a couple of encounters worth of Next. It worked fine at the time…but lately we’ve been rather enjoying running Gardmore straight through.
We could also do our mini-campaigns and then do a short, 1-3 session Next campaign in between each mini-campaign. Allow us to give each campaign the amount of time that, perhaps, they deserve.
This is where I tell you that none of this discussion or any suggestions you might give actually matter. I mean, it’s a decision that has to be made by myself and, more importantly, my players. However, I’m still interested in what you think.
Do I “cut bait” or do I “fish”? What would you do? Should we split each 6+ hour game session or focus on one at a time?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, make sure to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.
Also, if your still waiting for my lessons from a 1-30 campaign, rest assured, it is not forgotten…but it was put on hold for a bit around GenCon. But I am getting myself back into the habit and it’s high on the list.