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Brave, New World

DF 2: Players Make the Campaign

by Charles Dunwoody
Oct 12,2005

 

Brave New World

DF 2: Players Make the Campaign

By Charles Dunwoody

Serendipity

Before I begin heartily extolling the virtues of the player, especially my players, I want to mention one of my best gaming days I've had as an adult. That was Friday, September 16. The day I made a sale and didn't even know it.

First, I wanted Magic of Incarnum really, really bad. The book was just what I wanted to bring out alignments in Darkness Falls, my new D&D campaign and the focus of this column currently. Normally, books come into Grand Rapids days late. But a comic store/game store (go Outer Limits go!) had them in and I was able to get one at long last, having been waiting since Gen Con.

Second, I received a within a day response to a gamer wanted ad I posted at an online D&D site. The player, Rom, is a DM, my age, a family man, and quoted Dale Carnegie in his sig. Not only that, but he had another player who was interested if I had room. I couldn't have asked for a better response.

Finally, I got home holding my Incarnum prize and pleased with having gained two new players, which brought us to five full-timers, for the new campaign. And found in the mailbox a letter, stuffed pretty well, from Paizo Publishing.

Anyone who has submitted anything for possible publication knows that well-stuffed envelopes with postage paid by a publisher are usually good things. Rejections and rewrites usually come via e-mail or SASE. That's right, writers pay for rejection. Publishers pay for acceptance.

For the life of me, though, I couldn't remember what I had submitted to Dragon. Or when.

Enclosed in the letter was indeed a contract for a Dragon Magazine article. I had submitted it in December of 04 and resubmitted it in January of 05. And heard nothing back.

Maybe the e-mail response never made it to me. Maybe I deleted it. Whatever happened, I didn't care. I signed the contract and put in the mailbox that night.

*blatant plug on*
Have I mentioned since the first column how great Dragon Magazine is? And how benevolent, wise, and intelligent Erik Mona and his staff are? Well it is and they are.
*blatant plug off*

Anyway, the only thing that could have possibly made the night better was actually playing D&D. But that night will soon be here. And getting the book you want, meeting two great new players, and making a sale you didn't know about makes for a pretty great gaming day.

Players Make the Campaign

Which brings me back to building the D&D campaign of Darkness Falls. As FunGuyFromYuggoth pointed out, "If you do as what they do in "Star Trek" and try to personally involve people in the larger conflicts, which means fleshing out character background and integrating it into the milieu (which is always alien even in the most hackneyed Tolkien-lite world of D&D), you've got something that will stir their blood a bit".

How does a DM personally involve his players in larger conflicts, help them flesh out their characters' background, and integrate them into the milieu? FGFY goes on to say, "It will mean negotiating and compromising with the players, as they have their own ideas, but remember that these games are most fun when they're collaborations and not the sole intellectual citadel of the GM".

I agree. Negotiating and comprising. Collaboration and mutual intellectual creation.

So we gotta work together.

And let's not forget what screenmonkey said, "Be thankful." Appreciate your players and all the work they are doing.

So thanks to my players for being part of the campaign. You guys rock.

The difference between writing a novel and GMing a game is the players. The novel is all about the writer and a passive audience.

The game is all about the players who are an active audience and co-writers themselves. Players make the campaign.

What the Players Wrought

With the player characters firmly in mind, I'm not going to talk about religion or the planes this time around. Instead, I want to talk about the PCs. Both the player and the character he is creating.

Rom read my ten-page campaign intro carefully. He asked about writing in litorians (Arcana Evolved) as a race. Specifically with both racial and evolved level options.

The litorians fit well into the world of Terra. Noble, honorable hunters, the litorians will fill a racial niche currently empty. And I had a nice, warm grassy plain for them to roam across.

The racial levels weren't hard to integrate. They are like level adjustments for playing monsters only better balanced.

But what to do about the evolved levels? No other race had the option for evolved levels in Terra. How to fit it in? Lob, I hit the ball back into Rom's court.

Rom, being a canny player and DM in his own right, sent the ball spinning back with an expert's touch. I'd included a great big green comet first introduced in Complete Arcane to the campaign. Rom suggested that a creature could evolve by using the dust from the comet to trigger the change. Great idea.

So now I'm adding Rom's ideas to the campaign. A great concept, mutual work and communication, and we end up with a result bigger and better than we would have gotten working alone.

I am going to tie a litorian prophecy about the startouched hunter who was destined to defeat the most powerful prey the litorians had ever known: that which devours the roots of the earth. Every litorian hunter yearns to be the startouched hunter who brings down the terrifying and deadly devourer.

The other players are bringing ideas and concepts to the campaign as well. Scott is interested in a barbarian, maybe a primitive human or Neanderthal (from Frostburn). I'll be able to tie gods of ice and prophecies of Ragnarok to the campaign.

Todd might bring in the idea of building and maintaining a stronghold. Phil wants to be a powerful champion of good opposed to evil. And Marty likes to put the smack down on evil, so maybe the Shining Crusade will recruit his character.

Tying It All Together

I created a small concept and a few pages about a campaign setting. My fellow players took those ideas and expanded them and made them real to them. Together, we have set up the building blocks of a great campaign: compelling PCs and a riveting story they are creating.

I'll be at work this week preparing both a litorian rule and roleplaying amendment and a Neanderthal one. One or two new gods may join the pantheon, and two whole new cultures may become part of the world of Terra and the campaign of Darkness Falls.

It's good to be the DM.

Character Creation Night

Of course, the campaign isn't real until character creation night. Here are the characters the players created.

Marty is playing a half-elf druid from the Great Kingdom.
Phil is playing a human paladin from the Great Kingdom.
Rom is playing a catfolk expert planning to become a scout and an evolved catfolk from the Litorian Nation.
Scott is playing an elf bard from the Great Kingdom.
Todd is playing a human fighter from the Great Kingdom.

The catfolk race has a level adjustment of +1. Instead of simply taking away a level, I gave Rom a 1/2 level--in this case a level in expert.

We decided on the catfolk in place of the litorian simply because it is balanced to fit in with standard D&D very well. And the feat Catfolk Pounce allows Rom's character one of the abilities he wanted. I'm still going to include evolved levels for the catfolk.

Phil has agreed to chronicle the story of the characters. Here's the link:

http://fallsdarkness.blogspot.com/

Everyone else is ready and willing to jump in and help out with treasure division, mapping etc. We are ready to go.

What I Learned

I already knew that no battle plan survived contact with the enemy. I have also discovered that no campaign guide survives contact with the players.

No one took one of the new races I offered. Or an incarnum class. Or has any interest in the prestige classes I listed.

Which is fine. This campaign belongs to the players.

I still think the work I put into the player's guide is an important road map. For me. I have an idea of what race goes where, what guilds are out there, and other basics. Even if the players aren't using those bits themselves, the flavor those bits generate will create the backdrop of the world.

And I added ideas the players gave me. So far, the catfolk (litorians) and the idea of evolved levels are the only addition but I expect to see more.

That's what makes DMing fun. I never know what is going to happen next.

This Just In

Kevin will play a warforged psion of unknown origins if he can get Fridays off from work. So I got one bite on the ideas that I offered. And no, I didn't bribe Marty into playing a druid (Kevin's first idea for a character)!

Kevin's psion warforged will stick out like a pit fiend in a room full of kobolds. He should have a lot of fun playing the stranger in a strange land. I encouraged him to think of his forged as a protector of the world and its people (Three Laws Safe!). Surely his people will be the same way. Right? I'll be able to tie his finding of his people into a future story arc. And I got to allude to two sci-fi writers in one paragraph.

Oh, and Rom brings beer. Good beer. I see his character growing into a wise and powerful hunter. Mmmm, beer.

Next Time

The first adventure and how it charted the course of an Epic level campaign.

May the Startouched Hunter Guide You (a litorian farewell),
Charlie

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