The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens

Riders of Rohan run over orcsSo, assuming you’ve considered pre-campaign decisions and successfully started your game its now time to keep running a campaign. Not just treading water, but also have it be interesting, engaging, and fun. Maintaining interest, engagement, and enjoyment from all players and a DM can be incredibly difficult, but here are some of the most common problems that can interfere with these positive aspects.

Character Involvement in the Story

There is something going on in your campaign, whether it’s the first part of a 13 part epic or your PCs have cleared out a goblin warren or an orc encampment, but the question is how much do these events continue impacting PCs. Most players enjoy the feeling that their characters actions send out reverberations through the campaign world. So, even if your planned arch-nemesis twin brother is at least five adventures from even being alluded to, maybe that disgraced mayor that slunk away should become the righteous paladin’s rival for the time being. On the other side of the spectrum, maybe you just plan on running another module out of the Forgotten Realms, but a pesky goblin shaman actually rolled a stabilization check in the last encounter. Rather than just forgot about the little guy, even if the PCs groan when he makes himself an annoyance again, the continued co-evolution of the campaign world and the PCs makes the players interested in considering the repercussions of their actions and makes for a more engaging set of decisions. Ultimately, whether your story is fast, loose, and barely planned or methodical and plotted your campaign will benefit from having the PCs characters see consequences from their previous actions.

Player Balance and Usefulness

You may have read my discussion of Min/Maxing, but this is its insidious cousin. If you have a meticulously planned out Cleric/Monk/Divine Fist that adequately heals the party, cannot be hit, and thrashes most of the big bad guys, what does that leave for everyone else to do? Players may not feel the need to be the best character in the party, but most players do not enjoy actually being useless. First, you have to consider the possibility that someone actually did make a useless character. It certainly isn’t a nice thing to call your player useless, but it may be that they have a complete lack of understanding of the rules in general and roleplaying at large and that they have no real intention on learning. In that case, you’re stuck. However, in most cases it is not nearly this drastic a problem. If someone enthusiastically interacts with NPCs, give them intrigues and plots to chew on while that Divine Fist plows his way through the combat encounters. Alternatively, you can ‘nerf’ one of your players, but do this only as a last resort. My play group developed a running gag about ‘rust monsters’ after instead of simply taking away a randomly rolled short sword +5, I almost literally had an encounter with a limitless supply of rust monsters attack until the damn sword was destroyed. My players were smart enough to see through the famed ‘rust monster encounter’, but I think they probably appreciated that there was a consistent in-game reason for the weapon’s destruction rather than an unsatisfying deus ex machina where I took it away. Generally speaking, everyone is happier when you buff up lagging PCs rather than brutally nerfing an overachieving character. No one likes to see all their hard work undone with hand waive. Give people something to do to and try to assist lagging players rather than penalize excelling players keep the PCs interested, engaged, and having fun.

Campaign Consistency

As I alluded to in the rust monster example, many campaigns struggle with keeping a logic and consistency. In that instance, the nerfing was accomplished, and although grumbling occurred, no one could argue about monsters forcing them to make saves and that they eventually failed. On the other hand, PCs will be frustrated if they go from dungeon-crawling to courtroom drama in most instances (they probably aren’t prepared for it), UNLESS it springs from an in-game logic both satisfying and interesting. If they violated town ordinances and knocked the sheriff out cold to break into the rat infested sewer and are consequently arrested, the trial and/or jail break will seem more like just desserts than the DM arbitrarily opting to force them into Law & Order: Elf Crimes. The stronger the internal logic of the campaigns rules and interactions the more engaged the PCs become in their choices.

Closing

In short, to keep your campaign humming, consider your PCs’ involvement in the story, their balance and usefulness together and as a party, and the consistency of your campaign logic to keep the campaign interesting, engaging, and fun!

The Pain of Campaigning I: Story and Pre-Game Decisions
The Pain of Campaigning II: Starting the Game
The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens
The Pain of Campaigning IV: Put a Little Politics In It
The Pain of Campaigning V: Suitable Villains
The Pain of Campaigning VI: Give Your Villains Some Panache!

Comments

  1. OriginalSultan says:

    Ah yes, the rust monsters. I do remember that encounter. Still, I have to say that generally The Main Event generally buffed up lagging characters instead of nerfing excelling ones, which tended to go over much better with the players themselves. As he matured as a game master, and as the D&D became increasingly balanced, there came a point where none of the characters were really ‘useless’. Some were better than others at certain things, to be sure, but eventually we reached that oh-so-special place of having every character fulfill some useful role to the party.

  2. Whenever I introduce a magic item that screws up the balance of the game I try to find a way to get rid of the item “a la rust monster” but more often than not, when the time comes to get rid of the object forever I bail – somehow the PCs have noticed the magic item wasn’t right and find a reason not to use it to its fullest.

    The DM weaves the story but the players are telling it too and it helps if they want to tell, and live a good story.

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  1. [...] Pain of Campaigning I: Story and Pre-Game Decisions The Pain of Campaigning II: Starting the Game The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens The Pain of Campaigning IV: Put a Little Politics In It The Pain of Campaigning V: Suitable Villains [...]

  2. [...] Pain of Campaigning I: Story and Pre-Game Decisions The Pain of Campaigning II: Starting the Game The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens The Pain of Campaigning IV: Put a Little Politics In It The Pain of Campaigning V: Suitable Villains [...]