300 and other landmarks

This is our 300th post here at Campaign Mastery! Over the last couple of months we’ve seen a number of other landmarks come and go, but this is the biggest of them. While we thought about making a fuss over the others, it just didn’t seem that long ago that we were last celebrating – 150K back on February 8th. So here we are, just seven months later.

200K Visitors!

As of this writing, Campaign Mastery has had 212,982 Visits. Seven months ago, that total was just 150,466. That’s 8,930 visits a month! Our thanks to everyone who stopped in to take a look, whether or not you stuck around.

125K Unique Visitors!

Again as of right now, Campaign Mastery has had 128,637 Unique Visitors – up from 90,906 in February. 5,390 A month! But more significantly, that means that of the 212,982 Visits, Eighty-Four Thousand-odd were from repeat visitors – 84345, to be exact – or 39.6%! For the last 7 months, the difference is 24,785 out of 62,516 or 39.64% – an amazing level of consistency. It wouldn’t be possible without the readers who find something worthwhile here, week after week – we thank you all.

300K Page Views!

This figure is no less remarkable: 394,444 Page views, up from a mere 280,735 seven short months ago. That’s 113,709 in seven months, or 16,244 a month! This shows that our content – as we had hoped an intended – is overwhelmingly of an evergreen variety, still relevant months or years after we’ve offered it to the public. It’s one thing to promise that, or list it as a goal; and quite another to deliver it. And if any of our readers haven’t gone exploring in the archives, here’s an invitation to do so.

Just Around The Corner: 400K Page Views and 225K Visits and 150K Unique Visitors!

Those seven months were just 182 days long. At that rate, it won’t be very long before the next set of milestones roll around. 400K Pageviews will obviously be the first to arrive – that’s due in a mere 9 days!! 225K Visitors won’t be far behind – a mere 35 days from now, at current rates. 150K Unique Visitors is the milestone that seems most distant – just 46 days away!

Once again, we’d like to thank everyone who’s been here for any part of that 300-post run! We hope you’ll stick around, as there’s exciting news just around the corner…

If that sounds cryptic, here’s a first hint: This month’s Blog Carnival, being hosted by Johnn at Roleplaying Tips, is on the subject of Assassins

Anniversaries and other celebrations

All this brought to mind the subject of Anniversaries and other milestones. These are something that I like to celebrate in my games when they roll around – the anniversary of the campaign is a time when my players have come to expect something special. It doesn’t always happen, but whenever I can, I do a little something special on such occasions. Nor does it always work out as planned, as I revealed when I wrote about this last in My Biggest Mistakes: Magneto’s Maze – My B.A. Felton moment.

Rather than rehash old soup, I thought it an appropriate time to discuss exactly how I go about creating such a “special” adventure. They come in three basic flavors: Returns-to-theme, Revelations, Spectaculars. Each of these is founded on one of the three attributes mentioned in the title of this article – Returns-to-theme adventures are adventures that are consistent with the campaign’s theme, fairly self-evidently, while Revelations are consistent with the Campaign’s Style, and Spectaculars are consistent with the Genre. These form a hierarchy of narrative structure elements.

As with any true hierarchy, each level is dependant on the next as you travel from summit to foundation. An adventure can be true to the genre without being true to the style of the campaign or the theme; an adventure can be true to the style, which automatically makes it true to the genre of the campaign as well, without being true to the theme; or an adventure can be true to the theme, which automatically makes it true to the other, more encompassing, levels of narrative hierarchy. Or it can be an outlier with respect to all three.

The Theme Layer

Not every campaign has a theme, but quite often even if a GM does not incorporate an overt theme, one will creep into the game anyway. Some campaigns have several themes working in coalition; a campaign without a theme always feels rudderless to me, ‘just a bunch of stuff that happens’. I always try to build a theme into my campaigns rather than letting one develop of its own accord, because a deliberate choice permits me to maximize the adventure potential of the theme. Sometimes these themes can defy easy definition, but they are always there:

  • The Rings Of Time Campaign – “The converse of responsibility is authority” and “Morality is relative – but the Gods are absolute.”
  • Fumanor: The Original Campaign – A post-apocalyptic fantasy as society struggles to recover from an almost-successful attempt to destroy it.
  • Fumanor: One Faith – The struggles of a newly-unified Faith comprising members of multiple pantheons against the political, social, theological, and economic ramifications of that unification.
  • Fumanor: Seeds Of Empire – The growing pains of a society that has grown too large and complex NOT to become an empire.
  • Shards Of Divinity – The indulgence of individual liberty and the quest for unlimited freedom.
  • The Adventurer’s Club – “The whole is stronger than the parts” in a larger-than-life Pulp World.
  • Warcry – Destiny collides with Free Will in this time-and-space spanning Space Opera superhero campaign.
  • My Original Champions Campaign – Evil believes that the end justifies the means; How far will the forces of Good go to thwart evil?
  • Zenith-3: The D-Halo Campaign – If the multiverse needs pseudo-divine beings to order it, can they be trusted? Is it better to destroy the universe than be subject to the decisions of cosmic authority? What is the true cost of “Liberty Or Death?”
  • Zenith-3: The D-Regency Campaign – There are a number of themes to this campaign, but it hasn’t started yet so I’m going to keep my powder dry and my surprises up my sleeve. All right, just one: How far should heroes go when confronting the ultimate evil?

A theme is an adventure subject that the campaign returns to, time and time again. Sometimes, the campaign explores multiple facets of a theme within the context of the game world that the GM is using, at other times a campaign is all about the discovery of what has been the theme all along. Themes are usually confrontational in nature because that generates a lot of plotlines, and often have a philosophic aspect, because a philosophy impacts many different aspects of life – which also generates a lot of potential plotlines.

Many adventures that a GM runs may have nothing to do with the theme, included just because they are a good story or an interesting idea or because the GM ran out of time to think of a more appropriate adventure! This can only go on for so long before it becomes necessary to re-establish the theme, and that’s where Return-to-theme adventures come in.

But, in order for these to qualify as a “special” adventure, they have to expand beyond a dramatic recapitulation of the theme, they need to heighten that theme to melodrama. If the theme is ‘liberty’ then it’s not enough for the PCs to encounter a runaway slave, they have to be temporarily deprived of their liberty or strike a significant blow against someone else’s enslavement.

The Style Layer

Some adventures don’t match a campaign’s theme but are nevertheless within the usual style of the campaign. These are either filler (no matter how excellent) or they derive a secondary connection to the theme by means of some revelation about that theme or other content of the campaign. The first anniversary of the teenaged-hero spinoff from my superhero campaign, “Project: Vanguard” contained revelations about the origins of one of the PCs (the results of collaborating with the Player), and a master plan by a mole within the team to capture all the PCs on behalf of an enemy they didn’t even know they had which succeeded – it was only by another character making the supreme sacrifice and by the skin of their teeth that the PCs got out trouble and were able to turns the tables on their captors, and even then they had to work together more closely than they had managed to date.

In many ways, this was a “coming of age” plotline for the PCs, one that meant that the entire campaign underwent a subtle paradigm shift. And that’s a key factor in any Revelation plotline that’s big enough to be a “special anniversary edition” – the campaign has to be significantly altered by it. If the “Revelation” isn’t big enough to have that effect, it’s not good enough for a “Special”. “Revelations” – even off-theme revelations – operate as Specials by changing the context within which the theme exists.

The Genre Layer

I’m not going to go into details concerning Genre; that subject was examined in detail in part one of the series on Pulp Adventures that I co-wrote earlier this year. Adventures that are within the genre but not the style or theme of a campaign are always possible. Just like Revelation plots, however, these need to be something exceptionally bigger and more dramatic than a run-of-the-mill genre adventure if they are going to qualify for a “Special”. Introducing a villain who is going to be central to the next year’s gaming, or a major plot thread – those qualify. Writing a major established villain out of the plotline also qualifies.

As the type of adventure descends the narrative hierarchy, the less of the energy and excitement and significance of an adventure stem from established campaign elements, leaving a greater shortfall for the GM to provide if the adventure is to achieve the same overall total impact. If it’s not an “anniversary special”, this doesn’t matter; this is why such adventures can be designated “filler” (no matter how good they may be), they have no long-term impact. This is no longer the case when discussing specials like “anniversary issues” or “end of season cliffhangers” or “big finishes”. That’s why these adventures have been classified as “Spectaculars”.

The Optimum Source

It follows that the material most suited to big anniversary adventures is material that is both Revelatory AND Paradigm-shifting AND thematically-linked to the overall subject matter of the campaign. Shifting as much of the Burdon of generating significance and excitement off the GM’s shoulders and onto those of the campaign itself not only avoids any suggestion of artificiality to the ‘epic adventure’, it frees the GM to concentrate on all the other aspects of his game, elevating the overall quality of the game session still further.

As a bonus, by causing the GM to touch base periodically with the Theme, Style, and Genre of the campaign, this practice reinforces those all-important aspects of the campaign, permitting the GM greater latitude at other times, confident that such divergence will be only temporary. This liberates the GM to focus on crafting the best stories and characters, regardless of whether they fit the preconceived concepts of the campaign – wherever those goals may lead.

It can take a lot of effort to craft an “anniversary special” or other exceptional adventure, but the rewards are worth that effort.

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