Friday, March 18, 2011

D&D story arc one complete, thoughts and rants part one.

Recently our group polished off the initial story arc that I had presented as a rather leading option at the onset of the campaign. Not only does that mean these characters are now free to act and travel as they see fit, but it also means that I can blog about aspects of its content without spilling the beans. With that in mind I will be withholding a large amount of the PC aspects of the game itself and the more specific chunks of the narrative. In my mind collective storytelling deserves some privacy and consideration and as such I will instead focus more upon the meat of the Campaign rather than attempt to encapsulate its ongoing narrative.

An obvious concern when starting a new roleplaying group is facilitating the initial meeting of the party. When starting the planning for my current group, I only narrowly avoided overthinking this initial and ultimately almost meaningless fact to grave consequence. As this would be the first paper and dice roleplaying anyone in the group had attempted aside from myself, I would not be DMing for a group that would have any prior knowledge of not just the game itself but also of the setting of the game and how their characters and their PC’s backgrounds would be influenced by those things.

At first I was deluded with far too many overly complex metaDM ideas that pulled the players and plot by the nose thusly avoiding the initial and (apparently) cliché meeting in a Tavern. As someone who has been playing this marvellous game since late childhood I have only recently come to a rather levelling realisation about gaming that not only shocked me but also laid bare the main factors in my choosing the two games I currently enjoy (D&D 3.5 and Field of Glory) and my lack of enthusiasm for the formers recent update(s), and my waning interest in 40k.

Many games particularly some that have recently received updates (ahem), are heavily geared towards enticing the new gamer. The games are both easy to learn and easy to master, without too much depth or complexity to seem overwhelming. Although this makes perfect sense to your average executive selling a game it makes almost none to someone playing it. When viewed from within the perspective of the gamer, one would only spend a small and shrinking amount of time learning the game. If a rulebook or (gasp) rule system where to be engineered more for the new gamer than the gamer that is currently playing the game it would completely miss it’s basic function.

These games are little more than a wondrously constructed and mutually consented to set of physics and random circumstance and the rulebooks they are contained within should serve primarily as a resource to reference for clarity during the game. Lovely introductory fluff and simple game mechanics are no substitute for a good index and enough depth of thought to the rules to allow flex when flaws are encountered.

Keeping that in mind I thought it would be more beneficial to the long-term group dynamic if I kept 3 things in mind during the initial gaming sessions of this group.

· Some fancy pants crackpot scheme to avoid Pub themed clichés would likely cause long term damage to the PCs development both as a party and as individual gamers.

· Even if the PCs met in a bar, they would be clamouring to think of reasons to justifying their presence and limitless background potential would be squandered on a gimmick rather than occur organically through PC thought and interaction.

· Balance must be maintained between providing subtle plot nudges to motivate the PCs and allowing enough room for them to play and grow.

With that in mind I thought a good way to do that would be to provide a setting and a situation and simply see how the players reacted within them. It would be up to them to slowly start to piece together their characters backgrounds and later decide what it was that drove them to Guildton in the first place.

As no one had played D&D other than me, I was given a pretty loose rein. Given my library and previous knowledge I decided to start the Campaign in Faerun, and since my idea for a plot required a significant amount of isolation I thought the Galena mountain range in balmy and scenic Damara would do just fine. I then cobbled together a small hill fort hanging from its fingernails to a small yet deep harbour on the Northeast shore of the Moonsea. Founded by the Starlight Guild (chartered and headquartered in Melvaunt) just shy of 2 years ago with the intent to prospect, process and ship iron Guildton is the kind of grimy roughneck boomtown that makes frontier justice seem restrained. Populated almost entirely by guild employees and independent prospectors, the 200 or so souls that make up Guildton’s population are cut from a similar unskilled and likely desperate cloth. With such a small and focused population the only opportunities offered within Guildton are steady employment and appalling working conditions. Thankfully our erstwhile PCs where only present long enough to be offered a job by a senior Guild representative to recon a ruined tower that has recently received the tender repairs of what appears to be orcs.

Although brief and rushed to accommodate a poor time estimate in character generation, in hindsight it actually allowed for enough open ends to facilitate later character development and was enough of a nudge (ok bullrush) to get things down to the dice and choices that make up the game in decent enough time. One disappointing non-result on a random encounter table/day’s trek and they were concealed on a ridgeline reconnoitring a group of orcs who exhibit uncharacteristic discipline and craftsmanship.


  1. Great post. I also have been struggling recently with the How do I start the campaign question for the campaign that I am designing. The tavern meeting is a cliche, but sometimes I think cliches are not so bad. They are simple and easy to use. I think as the DM or Storyteller, the most important thing is why are the PCs in the tavern? and why are they meeting each other and not other people? If you can solve those problems then the tavern meeting becomes not trite, but a simple device to get the story going and no one thinks about it or even notices it. In the case of the campaign I am designing, all the characters start penniless and with the piece of information that work can be foundin a certain tavern in Riatavin rearding the caravan and trade industry.
    The other way to do it, is to go for a simple character solution. The PCs are friends and they can create their own meeting as part of their characters` back stories.
    But hey, why settle for one of those when you can do both. Allow the PCs to decide if they know each other or not and use the tavern as a device to bring together the groups and individuals in the gaming group.
    My final thoughts are the it really doesn`t matter whether the begining is trite and cliched or not since the begining is just a way to get the PCs to the starting gates. It`s the path beyond that is the most important and making sure that there are clear choices and a world full of places and characters for the PCs to interect with.

  2. I often get the PC's together through combat...Perhaps two players (let's say the elves) know each other and are traveling together - They happen upon a lone dwarf (PC) who is just about had enough of the three brigands who are choking-up on their clubs...And, blam. Elves save Dwarf, and off they go...Did the brigands drop something to the effect of, "Let's get them back to the cave and see what the boss says..." or "Now, let's get this Dwarf and then it will be back to 'x'"...
    PC's together, and then...

    Happy adventuring. Az.