As you should know by now if you’re a regular visitor here – and with 2 new articles every week, why aren’t you, if you’re not!? – this month’s blog carnival is on the subject of mistakes, how you recover from them, and what lessons you’ve learnt for the future.
I made a couple of doozies at the start of the Zenith-3 superhero campaign, which I’ll be discussing in both this blog post and my next.
Player interest eventually wears out in any campaign, and when it does, it’s time to start something fresh. In the leadup to Ragnerok in my superhero campaign, a series of seemingly-pointless superhero slugfests had exhausted my player’s patience, and the campaign folded just as the meaning behind the never-ending stream of challengers was about to start coming to light.
After a few months R&R, I started a Torg campaign, but seven years later, it too faltered, mostly because there were too many campaigns competing for playing time and not enough players to go around; those players who were available weren’t interested in that campaign. Which was fine; I simply dusted off my long-held plans for a D&D campaign for the players who weren’t already doing something that week of every month, and the “Fumanor: The Last Deity” campaign got underway.
But, in the meantime, I had spent time writing up the remaining plotlines of the original Champions campaign more-or-less in the form of a novel – mostly so that any remaining questions about who was doing what and why would be answered. This project not only renewed my interest in the campaign and the genre, it captured the interest of a whole bunch of new players, who urged my to restart the campaign. With the stars in obvious alignment, I extended the draft with appendices and events to fill a five-year gap between the two campaigns (purely to generate enough new plotlines to keep the new campaign humming along) and character generation got underway.
The backstory was long and dense, and even with careful indexing and glossaries of people, places, and things, I was wary of inundating the players with too much written material. I had also conceived the notion of roleplaying the initial meeting of the characters and their collective briefing on the new campaign, for several reasons that seemed good at the time. It gave me the chance to establish the personalities of some of the big names of the existing team (of which the new campaign was to be an offshoot), for example. It gave me more time to prepare the new background material. It could also be interrupted by actual plot, which would serve to break it into more-digestable lumps – at least in theory.
Well, the mistake is pretty clear to see already, isn’t it? Instead of those easily-digestable lumps, there were brief interludes of distracting non-briefing which seperated page after page of lectures by NPCs – who were going to (at best) be background characters in the new campaign. In fact, the briefing totalled 46 printed pages of referee-delivered monologue with half a page or so of interludes!
After the first hour – which contained little information of immediate relevance – it was going in one ear and out the other. The first hour? – heck, “the first ten minutes” would be more accurate!
I would have been far better off if I had written the briefing up in prose format and given copies to the players a few weeks before play.
How do you recover from the fact that the players havn’t assimilated 99% of the campaign briefing?
Answer: you write scenarios which build on the main elements of the briefing material, and make darned sure that you give the players the essential information within the course of the scenario, preferably before they need to know it.
But wait — that means that the entire, long, drawn-out, interminable introduction scenario was completely unneccessary.
Yep, I had bored the metaphoric pants off my players with no good reason for doing so!!
Fortunately, the scenarios that followed were enough fun that most of the players stayed with the campaign – at least until most left one-by-one for other reasons (which I’ll talk about in my next post), and were replaced by others, but the campaign itself survived and prospered.
Lessons Learnt: Preparing for Dimension-Regency
It had always been my intention that once the campaign’s initial premise had been completed – “Superhero trainees lob off to a ‘safe’ world to gain enough experience to survive the real thing only to find that it’s far more dangerous than advertised” – the characters would rejoin the main group. I had populated the game world with problems that were waiting around to be solved when they got there. (They are only now reaching this point!)
My players had other ideas. This group was, according to the campaign background, the third such group of trainees to be set up by the parent team, and the players loved the descriptions of the ‘training worlds’ to which I had sent the previous (NPC) groups. They wanted the “Grand Tour” – a 6-month stint in each of the other training timelines.
First cab off the rank was to be a parallel world called “Earth-Regency”, “A 22nd-century world in which the Sun had never set on the British Empire”. There wasn’t much more description than that to go on – so I had to once again craft an introduction/indoctrination/briefing for the team prior to their embarking on a voyage to their new home.
Once again, there was a new world for them to come to grips with, and an alternate history for them to understand, and a new political foundation to comprehend – plus, instead of 1950s technology, there were the complications of 22nd-century tech. If anything, this was going to be a bigger briefing than the previous one!
Accordingly, I was determined to make it as digestable as possible. Instead of a lecture, I wrote it as a prose history – and in smallish chunks, delivered a month or two (or more) apart:
- King John II & Robin Hood to the US War Of Independance
- Crime & Punishment In Dimension-Regency
- Colonial Times – 1782
- Science & Technology in Dimension-Regency
- Science & Technology in Dimension-Regency Part 2 (it was supposed to be one part, but it just got too long)
- Imperial History 1782 – 1945
- Imperial History 1945 – 1977
- Imperial History 1978 – 1986
- Imperial History 1987 – 2015
- Imperial History 2015 – 2055*
- Special Dates within the Empire*
- List of Rulers of the Empire*
- Adventures Of Zenith-1 in Dimension Regency*
* These have been partially written but not yet issued to the players.
The next stage will be to compile all of these into a single document.
Hopefully, this gradual approach will let the players get their heads around the background and enable us to hit the ground running, showing that the lessons of the past have been learned.
- Blog Carnival: Game Master Mistakes
- My Biggest Mistakes: A slip of the tongue
- My Biggest Mistakes: Information Overload in the Zenith-3 Campaign
- My Biggest Mistakes: Defying Expectations in the Zenith-3 Campaign
- My Biggest Mistakes: Magneto’s Maze – My B.A. Felton Moment
- My Biggest Mistakes: The Woes Of Piety & Magic