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Campaigning at the Con

Campaigning at the Con: Introduction

by Mike DeSanto
Oct 31,2002


Campaigning at the Con: Introduction

Welcome to the first installment of Campaigning at the Con. This column will discuss organizing and running and Episodic Convention Campaign. The essence of the convention campaign is several game masters working together, sharing a game world with their convention events.

The ideas I present here are all the result of my experience running Davenford, a Convention Campaign that ran for three years at the Strategicon conventions in Los Angeles (Gateway, OrcCon and Gamex). Davenford was a fantasy campaign using the GURPS system. Davenford started with four GMs running games, and increased to seven over the three years it ran. I consider Davenford a successful experiment, and hope that the lessons learned will lead to even more successful campaigns in other conventions.

In each installment I will give instructions and advice about one aspect of running a convention campaign. Examples of how Davenford worked, or did not work, will be included throughout. Upcoming articles will cover subjects like organizing your campaign, keeping PCs under control, marketing, working with convention organizers, and expanding your campaign once it is established.

So what exactly is an Episodic Convention Campaign (ECC)? First of all, it is run at a convention, or a group of regional conventions. This means that the people running the games do not know who the players will be. It is a series of events, run by multiple GMs, using the same setting. Each GM is responsible for creating and maintaining a portion of the game world. The events all occur in the same world and the future of that world is affected by the various outcomes. The player characters themselves evolve over time by gaining experience from event to event. The events are Episodic, because each event tells a complete story. They are not like multipart tournaments, where you have to play in all the parts to find out what happens. All the events taken together form a campaign, because they are all part of a single story (called a story arc). The campaign story may be recovering from a natural disaster, or repelling an invasion, or dealing with a political uprising. Not all the events need to be directly related to the campaign story arc, but enough should be to explore the story.

This all may sound familiar to many people, because the RPGA has two similar games - Living City and Living Greyhawk. Similar, but with significant differences. As far as I remember (it has been a long time since I was an RPGA member) the 'Living' games are national events, far beyond the scale of the campaign described here. 'Living' events are written by the RPGA membership and provided to GMs running at conventions. Each event is several times at each convention, as well as many conventions. There may be a story arc, but the outcome of a single event will not directly affect the setting.

In the ECC described here, each GM writes their own adventures, and each event is run only once. Whatever happens in that event becomes part of the campaign history. All events take the story arc into account, even if they do not affect it directly.

So, the 'Living' games have less of a campaign element than the ECC described here. The GMs and players do not have the level of control allowable by a smaller, local game. The 'Living' campaigns are terribly ambitious, very well run and deserve all the popularity they have. I simply do not intend anyone to do that much work!

My primary motivation for starting the Davenford campaign was laziness. I found that for an average convention module I was spending an hour or two on the story and NPCs, an equal amount on setting, and at least four generating characters. That makes three quarters of the time spent on the module was not on the most important part - a compelling story. Running an ECC gives half the time, character creation, to the player.

Setting design is spread over several GMs, so each designer can spend the same amount of time they would normally use for one or two modules to really detail one aspect of the setting. When all the components are brought together, you get a more detailed setting without extra work.

Also, an ECC is a self-expanding setting. By keeping a file of locations, NPCs and items encountered in each event, the undefined elements of the landscape slowly fill in. Soon you do not need to create, for example, a tavern in the Merchant's quarter, because there are already three on file.

The final reason for running an ECC is the size of the story you can tell. In a normal event, the PCs drive off barbarian raiders. In an ECC one group drives off raiders, another cuts the lines of supply to the barbarian army, and another scouts the position of the main barbarian force. Together they play a significant part in turning back a major invasion and save thousands of lives.

The biggest draw to an ECC for players is the ability to make their own characters. It can be difficult to play a character you only know from a four sentence summary. Add the fact that ECC characters gain experience, and you get an irresistible combination.

A less obvious benefit is the power of PCs to affect the world. In an ECC, a player can work with the GMs to plan their character's goals so eventually they can become a knight, purchase their own starship, or become master of a local guild.

Davenford started when I sent the ideas above to the some of the other GMs who ran GURPS games at the Strategicon conventions. About six of us decided to get together and work out the world and the rules for GMs and players. I will cover the setup in next months column - Getting it Organized.

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