There’s been a lot of commentary over the years about different styles of campaign. Most distinguish between Episodic and Serialized campaigns, and many writers seem to assume that those are the only types of campaign there are. This is a position with which I don’t agree; there are more layers and levels within this classification than initially meets the eye.

Another criterion by which campaigns are distinguished from each other is Gamist vs. Narrative vs. Simulationist, which was last discussed in the comments section of my post “The Quality Of Rules” but that relates to the level of narrative vs. game mechanics within a campaign or rules system, and is only indirectly relevant to the subject that I want to discuss today.

This article is going to examine the ways in which different Narrative styles and techniques can combine with Episodic and Serialized campaigns to produce not eight distinctly different combinations. It will also consider how these different types of campaign can be Sandboxed – which is yet another campaign approach that has come into vogue in the last few years.

Definitions

The right place to start is defining these different terms, however vaguely, so that we are all more or less starting on the same page.

Episodic

An episodic campaign is one in which the adventures are isolated from each other, each having no impact on the next. The characters taking part may be the same, but even that is not necessarily the case, since the adventures are completely self-contained. What little continuity there is derives from this commonality of characters, as it can be assumed that in each adventure the characters acquire additional abilities, skills, and/or equipment which are therefore present at the commencement of the next adventure. However, even that need not be sacrosanct; the GM is perfectly entitled to handwave an interval of time between adventures in which various things have changed for the characters.

Serialized

A serialized campaign is one in which the adventures are deliberately linked to each other, and the real purpose of one adventure may be nothing more than laying the groundwork for a future adventure. Continuity is heavily enforced both for PCs and NPCs. Subplots or plot arcs may extend across multiple adventures. Time is generally more stringently defined and followed, with one adventure immediately following another.

Of course, there are multiple levels of serialization available to a GM – at its most extreme, such campaigns cannot even be divided into separate adventures, but are a continuous stream of events. At typical levels, adventures are clearly separate, but one adventure may be introduced or foreshadowed by events in a preceding adventure, and campaign developments continuously occur in the background. And with light serialization, events in one adventure are based on those that have occurred previously, but with some separation to allow room for developments to occur and consequences to manifest.

Gamist

This term has to do with the relative importance of game mechanics to events within the campaign. A purely gamist approach places the rules, as written, above all else.

Simulationist

The simulationist approach takes the view that the events within the game are those that would really occur, given the circumstances, and that both story and rules should bend to this sense of realism.

Narrative

The narrative approach to campaigns places the story above everything else. It is also known as the Storytelling approach for obvious reasons. In poorly-crafted campaigns of this type, the GM lays down railroad tracks for the plot and forces the PCs to follow those tracks; in better-crafted examples, the GM views the storytelling as a shared experience, with the players’ contributions given equal or even superior weight to those of the GM.

Sandboxing, Sandboxed

Sandboxing is the process of sealing off the world outside the adventure while giving the players free reign to explore and behave as they wish within the ‘sandbox’ – in other words, it’s a way of keeping a campaign within manageable limits. There are three basic approaches to sandboxing: Arm’s Length, Closed, and Open.

Arm’s Length Sandboxing

This is an approach that I have advocated in the past, where notes are only collated and world details established by the GM if the subject of those notes is ‘within arm’s length’ of the PCs. Don’t worry about creating Elven Culture, for example, until either an Elf enters the campaign and the PCs have the potential to interact with him or her, or the PCs are likely to choose to go to the land of the Elves. In order to work, this approach needs good communications between player and GM, and the GM must also be fairly adept at projecting his future needs from the current circumstances within the campaign. Even so, from time to time, this approach will require the GM to be creative on his feet and make sense of it afterwards, so this approach doesn’t suit GMs that require strong organization of their ideas. It works best early in the campaign, where options are limited, problems are small, and situations are usually locally confined. The virtue of the approach is that it doesn’t waste the GMs time detailing background elements that are unlikely to come into play, so there is a narrowing of focus that can be helpful to those with limited prep time. I employed Arm’s Length sandboxing when starting my Fumanor Campaign, and still do to some extent.

Closed Sandboxing

This approach to sandboxing deliberately excludes everything from the PCs worldview until the GM is ready to let it loose in the campaign. Until the GM has his elvish society worked out, there are no elves – either PC or NPC – permitted within the campaign; they are creatures of myth and legend.

Clearly, this approach is even more conservative in terms of prep time required, but it runs the risk of closing off the player’s interest in the campaign as well; the ‘sense of wonder’ can be easily overwhelmed.

Perhaps the best example that I’ve seen of this approach is literary – the Belgariad by (Leigh and) David Eddings – in which generalities and clichés are used for the rest of the world and only a single realm is explored at once. The characters are taken by circumstances on a cook’s tour of the Western Kingdoms, learning their ins and outs one at a time. Only once that is complete do events start moving at breakneck pace.

Open Sandboxing

This type of sandboxing has almost non-existent constraints. In many ways, it’s “Arm’s Length” sandboxing but with the PCs setting the agenda. They key is providing enough information on everything to serve as a foundation, while not overwhelming the players. Thus, if the players decide they want to visit the Land Of The Fey, the GM has to start work on detailing that land while controlling the rate at which the characters travel – delaying them, if necessary.

They way it works is to provide minimal details, representing common knowledge, at the start of the campaign, on the many different subjects of interest. Each PC can then select a ‘home kingdom’ or ‘home city’, and the GM creates those in a little more detail, sufficient to enable the player to understand the character background that he has chosen, without divulging that information to the other players.

The GM then needs only detail where the PCs currently are, and where they are going next; everything else can be held in abeyance until it becomes relevant. ‘Open Sandboxing’ is the technique that I have employed in my Shards Of Divinity campaign.

The flavors of Narrative

Reading these definitions, you get the sense that “Narrative” is like a light-switch, either on nor off, or perhaps that this is the way it should be approached, and further, that there is just one type of “Narrative” that can be included in a campaign. Neither perception is accurate, and it is correcting that inaccuracy that is at the heart of this article.

To start with, Narrative can be divided into three categories: short-span narrative, long-span narrative, and intermediate narratives of various kinds.

Short-span narratives are passages of narration where the GM is imparting information or description to the players, and these are common to all styles of campaign. Long-span narratives are more substantial bodies of text, sometimes broken up into multiple shorter sections. Since that usually means that different pieces are delivered in different parts of an adventure, or even over multiple adventures, this type of narrative favors those campaign styles with stronger continuity.

The implication, clearly, is that this type of definition of narrative establishes a one-to-one correlation with episodic and serialized campaigns. Does that mean that narration can be ignored as a campaign characteristic? Certainly not – but it does mean that a different definition, with different distinguishing features, is necessary.

It was some months ago that my thoughts had reached this point, but for a considerable time, such a definition eluded me. After some thought, though, I came up with the following, which distinguishes between types of narrative by its purpose.

Directed Narrative

Directed Narrative is narrative with a purpose beyond the immediate imparting of information. It is narrative with a direction, a reason for being present.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But, like an iceberg, there are hidden depths to this simple definition, because there is no indication of when that direction will be relevant. It might be immediate, or later in the adventure, or in a subsequent adventure – and that means that the definition of this type of narrative avoids the problem of the oen previously offered. This type of narrative can be used with either type of campaign, Episodic or Serial or points in between, and its meaning will change in subtle ways with the new context.

Undirected Narrative

The antithesis of Directed Narrative would obviously be Undirected Narrative, which of course is defined as narrative with no purpose beyond the imparting of information. Those hearing it are free to take it in any direction they choose, i.e. to interpret the meaning of the narrative as they see fit. This is clearly different to the short-span narratives of the previous definition because there is no restriction on the scale and scope of the narrative – an undirected narrative could be quite extensive and revealed in the course of many adventures. Once again, there are hidden depths to this seemingly simple definition, and the nature of the narrative can vary with the context of the type of campaign.

Intermediate Narrative

It might seem, at first glance, that these two narrative types are such polar opposites that there is no middle ground. And yet, that is not entirely true, because another variety of narrative is Narrative with a purpose beyond the imparting of information that nevertheless has no specific direction intended. This is idea-bait, concepts thrown out with absolutely no idea of how and even if they will fit into a larger scheme.

It might also seem that such narrative is a mistake on the part of the GM, and certainly it flies in the face of the advice that I have dispensed through these pages in the past, which concentrates on tying causes and effects together and being in control of where your campaign is going. But it’s important to recognize that this is not the only way to go, and the simple avoidance of railroad tracks in your plots is enough to make this type of narrative a viable choice.

Unstructured Narrative

And, there is a final type of narrative implied by this structure: Narrative without the capacity for direction. If EVERYTHING the GM tells the players is the direct answer to a question, and the GM vets those questions to answer only those that the characters have the capacity to answer. Deliberately excluding all narrative that the characters don’t have the skills to obtain – at least until they are in conversation with a character with the required expertise – is a kind of “non-narrative narrative” that deserves its own category.

Application

Okay, enough games theory; its time to take all this theory and turn it into something useful, namely, how to identify the different types of campaign that result from these combinations and how best to sandbox them. As I indicated at the start of the article, with four different types of narrative, and two types of continuity structure, there are clearly 8 different combinations to be considered. There is also a 9th ‘intermediate’ type (with multiple subtypes) to be addressed.

Why would a GM want to have this information?

  • Identifying the type of campaign and the sandboxing approach that best suits it helps the GM focus on the work that needs doing for his campaign at any given time, making game prep more efficient;
  • Focusing the Game Prep in this way permits the GM to retain only the background information that is necessary to his game at any given point;
  • Focusing the immediately-necessary knowledge makes it easier for new players and characters to join the Campaign;
  • I don’t think this type of stylistic analysis has been carried out with a view to the practical question of sandboxing the different types of campaign; and, lastly and most importantly,
  • one type of campaign can be transformed into another any time the GM considers it appropriate or useful – but knowing what you are changing from and to are necessary steps to managing the transformation process.

Episodic Campaigns with Directed Narrative

At first glance, this campaign style seems to be full of internal contradictions. How can your narrative have a purpose beyond the immediate if the campaign is episodic, with only weak or no continuity from one episode to another?

This contradiction is easily resolved when it is realized that the target of the directed narrative doesn’t have to be some over-riding megaplot, but can be the end of the current adventure. A few moments more of thought, and the perceptive GM will realize that even narrative that IS pitched at some ultimate plotline spanning multiple adventures says nothing about the participants in any one given adventure. The fact that one or more PCs will provide a continuity link between adventures by their very presence is enough vehicle for a directed narrative.

The result is that episodes of the campaign resemble the issues of a comic book; each is a self-contained plot, but there can be a broader narrative shaping the background, so that the context in which adventures take place slowly changes and evolves.

Sandboxing Episodic Campaigns with Directed Narrative

The restrictions that directed narrative place on an episodic campaign can be fine lines for the GM to traverse without creating plot trains. The best solution is to ensure that the directed exposition deals only with NPC actions and intents, and does not commit the PCs to any course not of their own choosing, this danger can be avoided. There should be nothing which will prompt the PCs to set everything else aside and deal with an urgent issue arising in the narrative. In other words, the narrative may be directed – but should also be a little more indirect than can be the case with other campaign structures.

Sandboxing this type of campaign can be challenging. Open Sandboxing is the approach that most readily serves; the other approaches tend to confer, manifest, and respond to, directed intent on the part of the GM a little too readily. That is not to say that they can’t be employed, just that the other sandboxing approaches require the GM to spend some of his time second-guessing himself and ensuring that he’s maintaining the sandbox and not constructing a sandCASTLE within it.

Episodic Campaigns with Intermediate Narrative

This type of campaign structure is very difficult to maintain, and almost always devolves into one of the other types eventually. Intermediate Narrative contains, by its nature, multiple ideas and avenues that the PCs may wish to pursue; but Episodic Campaigns generally can only develop one or two of those ideas at a time. The remaining avenues of activity are, of necessity, ignored – though they may proceed and develop in the background, and so provide context to other events. Johnn may be interested to note that I would classify his Riddleport campaign within this category, based on the game reports that he posts periodically in Roleplaying Tips (a link to the most recent one) and in various articles here at Campaign Mastery.

The key to keeping this type of campaign functional is self-control and self-restraint. Just because you can think up another dozen plot seeds, don’t drop them into the mix; instead, decide the number of plotlines which you are comfortable running simultaneously and add new plot seeds only to replace those that have been consumed by the players. In order to keep your campaign dynamic and evolving and not static, you can also update existing plot seeds that have not been investigated by the players, but be careful not to explain your cleverness to them – they should learn only those things that their characters would know. Be a reporter, not an omniscient gossip!

The Mouthpiece Approach

One technique that I would employ in such a campaign is to have a mouthpiece within the game for news – some character who wanders on stage, updates the players with the latest fact and rumor, and then exits stage left. This recurring NPC would probably have his own agenda (imposing some censorship on the news that he disseminates) but would otherwise be an honest reporter of news from the perspective of the man on the street. By working within this characterization and not speaking ex-cathedra, you impose an additional buffer between your players and any tendency toward grandiosity of planning – or of showing off your own cleverness. You might miss out on some immediate self-congratulations, but your campaign will be better off in the long run.

The Vectored Information Approach

The alternative is to have many sources of information, and to categorize the information by subject. Playing to opposites can work well in this approach, as can playing to type.

For example, let’s say that you want to drop in a plot seed about strange religious practices being rumored in a nearby village. You can either vector this information by type (directing it to the attention of the Cleric within the party) or you can vector against type and have the information be reported to a character who is as secular as they come, always willing to believe the worst about the church in general. Either of these vectors puts a very different spin on the news in question.

A key to the Vectored Information Approach is for the players to spend roleplaying time actually talking to each other in character about what they’ve heard. Choosing not to relay news of an event to the group is serious, and should eventually come back to bite the reluctant reporter, though some characters may choose to dribble such information out as it becomes relevant and not in a standard ‘let’s exchange the news’ format. That’s because the self-censor is choosing not to get the PCs involved in the events on behalf of the entire party without even giving them the chance to choose for themselves. Such behavior may be tolerable in an Evil campaign, but at any other time it should be unacceptable.

Sandboxing Episodic Campaigns with Intermediate Narrative

This type of campaign is more easily sandboxed than most; indeed, it’s virtually built in, incorporated in the practice of controlling the plot hooks and seeds that the GM introduces. While any of the three techniques of Sandboxing can be utilized, the style lends itself most readily to the Arm’s Length approach, with the plot hooks that he chooses to incorporate defining the breadth of that reach. The felicity of sandboxing to this campaign style is one of its greatest benefits.

Episodic Campaigns with Undirected Narrative

Some GMs have no capacity for large, sprawling plotlines that enmesh themselves in multiple adventures. Others find them second nature, and have to actively reign in their propensities to maintain an episodic nature to the campaign. I have to admit that I’m a member of the latter group. There are times when that’s an advantage, and times when it’s a liability.

This combination of campaign characteristics definitely suits the first group far more than the second. Ensuring that each adventure is treated as a mini-campaign which runs to a definite conclusion is the key to success with this style.

Sandboxing Episodic Campaigns with Undirected Narrative

The more control over the plotline that the GM gives up, the more difficult sandboxing becomes. The only way that I can conceive of successfully doing so is to rigidly focus on limiting the content of each “mini-campaign” to those elements that are immediately relevant to the current adventure.

There will be a constant conflict between the needs of this campaign style and the perpetuation of continuity of PCs, as each will bring with it the legacies of past explorations beyond those immediate relevancies; the longer this campaign style is maintained, the more unstable it will become. Only the completeness of the resolution of each plotline combats this instability, and even that is hard to maintain in the face of character continuity.

Open sandboxing commends itself most obviously as the most suitable approach to the needs of this campaign type, but any of the techniques can be made to work provided that the need to maintain the campaign style itself is properly prioritized. Doing so, however, introduces a new type of instability to the campaign, forcing the GM to spend perpetually more time on holding actions that do nothing but service the campaign style and do not contribute to its enjoyability, scope, or capacity for inclusion of new material. Eventually, all this work for no real return will sap the GMs enthusiasm for the campaign, and it will either shut down – or the GM will become sloppy or overwhelmed, and the campaign style will change quite radically. It’s my experience that the first will result at least 3 times in 4 – and that this type of ending is generally unsatisfactory for all concerned.

Even worse, one of the easiest solutions to these problems that the GM can implement is railroading – which brings more problems with it than it solves. Even the activities needed to maintain the campaign style can be misperceived by the players as railroading their plots – a sure sign that the campaign as it then stands is doomed, and radical change in style is needed in order for it to survive.

Making Episodic Campaigns with Undirected Narrative work

The only exceptions that I have seen to these patterns are those where the combination of Open Sandboxing and this campaign style have been employed at the commencement of a campaign with a deliberate shift to a different campaign style once those fundamentals have been established. One GM that I know set a hard limit on the amount of time he was willing to expend on non-productive campaign admin, and used that as his trigger for the transition in style. Another simply chooses to reboot his entire campaign when the needs of the campaign style become excessive.

These are both drastic solutions, but the need for drastic solutions comes with this style. Knowing and preparing for that is vital to the long-term success of campaigns that employ it.

Episodic Campaigns without Narrative Structure

In many ways, these are the simplest campaigns to run. Each adventure is complete unto itself, with no connection to those that come before or after it except continuity of characters, and perhaps not even that. Adventures can be as isolated as an episode of Law And Order or The Twilight Zone.

The strength of this style of campaign is that there is no continuity – so there is no need to do anything more than is needed for the adventure at hand, and any mistakes can be left behind. The shortcoming of this style of campaign is that there is no continuity – so resources, research, and creativity cannot accumulate and stockpile, and you have to start from scratch each time.

This style of “campaign” generally serves one of two purposes: Convention play, and campaign trials – the equivalent of pilot episodes. In the first, the style is self-contained because the gaming environment is self-contained; in the second, if the campaign proves successful, it will almost certainly transition to a different style immediately.

Having said that, I have met a couple of GMs who excelled at on-the-spur-of-the-moment creativity, who were completely comfortable with the concept of “one adventure, one campaign, brand new every time” – so it is possible. Personally, I have always found participating in such campaigns to be frustrating; there was always a sense of “there could be so much more,” or “this doesn’t go far enough”, whenever I did so. Others, especially those who could not participate regularly in more ongoing campaigns, indicated a marked preference for them, and I can understand their point of view. Individual tastes, as always, vary.

Sandboxing Episodic Campaigns without Narrative Structure

In some respects, these campaigns are the hardest to sandbox. It’s hard enough wringing coherence from an assortment of ideas generated on the spot without further encumbering them with self-containment. As a result, this type of campaign always has loose ends, as implied in the preceding paragraphs, and it is very easy for the PCs to escape the sandbox in pursuit of something that seems interesting or relevant.

The only form of sandboxing that has any hope of success is the “Arm’s Length” technique, and even using this approach, the GM will have to be adept at molding the directions in which the PCs “arms” point so that they perpetually lead back to the main plot. The best tool that I can think of for achieving this is to incorporate the concept of “relevance” to the information the PCs are given through the unstructured narratives the GM uses to provide answers to the characters.

Incorporating “Relevance” simply means that success in a skill check or die roll does not only give an answer to the question being posed by the character making the roll, it also gives an estimate of the relative relevance of that answer.

  • “It doesn’t seem relevant to recent events, but…”
  • “It seems a little afield from the main topic, but…”
  • “You think you’re on to something when you realize…”
  • “Quite obviously…” (the absence of any editorial comment regarding the relevance implies that the answer isrelevant).

By providing an estimate of the value of the information, the GM is defining the limits of the Sandbox. Of course, this technique requires the PCs to trust the GM to be completely honest in these communications, and that can pose its own problems – but it’s better for the PCs to penetrate straight to the heart of a problem or puzzle than it is for them to get sidetracked.

Serial Campaigns with Directed Narrative

This is perhaps the style of campaign with which I am most familiar, with the “Intermediate Narrative” version (below) a close second. Continuity-rich campaigns with overarching plotlines present the GM with the broadest possible canvas on which to present adventures for the enjoyment and participation of the players. Much of the advice here at Campaign Mastery is directed at achieving this type of campaign, dealing with the problems and complications of the style, and so on. Campaigns of this style most closely resemble a series of “24″ or mini-series, or an old-fashioned movie serial.

Sandboxing Serial Campaigns with Directed Narrative

This can appear a daunting task at times, since the real power of this type of campaign is the sheer scope that can be possible within it, but any of the three techniques will work perfectly acceptably, and have all been used by me with this style of campaign. It’s been my experience that the “Arm’s Length” and “Open Sandbox” approaches work best early in a campaign’s life, while the “Closed Sandbox” becomes progressively more useful during the middle and higher levels of a campaign.

Serial Campaigns with Intermediate Narrative

This is the style that I intend to utilize with the latest iteration of my Superhero campaign when it restarts later this year (the old campaign used Directed Narrative). I have a lot of smaller plot arcs that will be overlapping with each other, and a lot of standalone scenarios that will occupy the foreground when those plot arcs aren’t supposed to take centre stage, but there is no Grand Plan connecting everything together. With ten years worth of adventures without such a Grand Plan, it’s not really necessary.

Sandboxing Serial Campaigns with Intermediate Narrative

This actually poses something of a challenge to me when it comes to Sandboxing the campaign. I’ve thought extensively on the subject, and the only approach that seems like it might work at all (aside from “No Sandboxing”, of course), is the Open Sandbox. However, there are going to be two distinct types of adventure – those taking place in the dimension for which the Heroes are responsible, and those taking place in the team’s Native Dimension, and I am still contemplating the question of whether or not to employ different sandboxing techniques for each.

The major problem is that each plot arc will have its own ‘sandbox’, and while these will sometimes overlap or be contiguous with those of the primary plot, a lot of the time they won’t. It follows that subplots will automatically, and regularly, take the PCs “off the reservation”. And if your sandbox only constrains some of the time, it might as well not constrain at all – and that is the province of an Open Sandbox.

The minor problem is that I would much prefer to employ either Closed Sandboxing or the Arm’s-Length approaches, because they cut down on the amount of campaign prep – and finding the time to finish that prep is a major and ongoing problem for me. So the logistics are saying one thing, and the campaign style is saying another – and just how things will come out in the wash, I don’t know.

Serial Campaigns with Undirected Narrative

Just as was the case with the more directed narrative types and episodic campaigns, we are now increasingly headed into territory where the narrative type is in apparent conflict with the nature of the campaign. In this case, we have a serial campaign, with strong continuity, but with undirected narrative, the risk is that the campaign will simply tread water and go nowhere for long periods of time.

A serial campaign needs to get direction from somewhere, and if the GM isn’t going to provide it, something or someone else has to do so. In theory, the players are that something, but they need a certain amount of background information before they can make educated decisions – and the production of that information violates the fundamental precepts of sandboxing and undermines the value of the practice.

Sandboxing Serial Campaigns with Undirected Narrative

That makes Sandboxing this style of campaign a special challenge; it was in deliberate response to that challenge that I developed the open sandboxing style. A half-page summary of the society and politics of a nation is ample detail for an initial briefing, and a further page or two is enough to fully brief players whose characters have a special interest in that background element. More can be provided when it becomes necessary.

Another way of thinking about the Open Sandbox technique is “arm’s-length sandboxing with half-page summaries in advance,” but I prefer to think of the summaries as crib notes. Nor do I feel especially constrained to keep those summaries 100% accurate – there is always a gap between common knowledge and reality.

Serial Campaigns without Narrative Structure

This article is at last beginning the downhill stretch; this is the last of the major styles that need to be examined. It’s also the most soap-opera of the styles, both from a metagame perspective and in terms of its internal construction. In fact, the best description of this style of campaign that I have ever found comes from an episode of The Simpsons: “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

The PCs in this style of campaign are travelers through a world that is continually evolving and changing around them. Individual characters may have master plans – which may or may not be pursued to completion – but the GM doesn’t.

Sandboxing Serial Campaigns without Narrative Structure

Picture the overall “plotline” as being composed of plot hooks written on a series of index cards. At the beginning of each game session, the PCs can get involved in two or three of those index cards. At the commencement of the next session, though, they have all been updated – some in response to PC actions, some because the PCs weren’t there to interfere, and some in reflection of a conflict between NPCs. Which bait the PCs choose to investigate is up to them – but they will have to live and interact with not only the consequences of their actions but the consequences of their inactivity.

Of course, you don’t have to actually use index cards in this way, but the general principles remain. Everything is an ongoing story, and the PCs will be able to involve themselves in only some of these stories. This seems tailor-made for the “closed sandboxing” approach, or even the “arm’s length” technique.

Compound Campaigns

It’s also worth mentioning that it is very rare for a single campaign to have the same style consistently, all the time. It’s far more common for the style to shift around a bit – some standalone stories may be strongly episodic while the campaign ‘standard’ is serial in nature. You can even have different styles for the subplots as compared to the main plots.

However, the narrative style – which reflects how the GM interacts with the Players as much as it does the way in which the characters interact with the campaign – will usually be consistent throughout a campaign.

Sandboxing techniques may also change from adventure to adventure, but will also generally be consistent, even if the style of campaign temporarily deviates from the established norm for the campaign.

In other words, every campaign is really a compound of several different, related, campaign types and techniques.

There are two ways to handle this compounding of campaign types: blindly, or deliberately. The first is all too common, the second is rare. While there are far too many combinations of circumstance for me to dispense comprehensive advice in this area, it is always better to make a deliberate choice, in advance. At least then, the GM can prepare solutions to the particular problems and difficulties that may arise.

Changing Campaign Styles

The final discussion point that I wish to raise in concluding this article is to invite GMs to consider the effect of deliberately violating the rule of thumb given in the preceding section regarding consistency of narrative style.

A serial campaign can survive a single excursion into episodic behavior with a completely different narrative style, or vice-versa; all you have to do is ensure that the narrative style is appropriate to the adventure in question, emphasizing its unique aspects and flavor. Before that becomes possible, of course, it is necessary for the GM to understand the different combinations of style and narrative approach, and how they will work with the established sandboxing techniques available.

That’s the ultimate purpose of this article: giving GMs the knowledge to make deliberate choices about the style of their campaign, and to vary it with passing adventure-type needs. This is not just Game Theory – it is a practical tool for the enhancement of your campaigns and adventures.

Stop and think about your current campaign for a moment. Does it have a consistent style, or is it a hodgepodge compound? Are there things that you have been doing without realizing it that this article has brought to your attention – and are they beneficial, or a hindrance? Is there something in your approach that could be changed for the better – now that you recognize the pattern? Or do you have additional light to shed on one of the subjects that have been touched on? We’d love to hear from you!

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