Last Sunday, I finished the D&D 3.5 campaign that I had been running since last August. The game ran on roughly an every other week schedule. I started with 6 players, added one more player for a few weeks, and had a regular guest PC whenever The O was in town. There were a few times when we reached 8 players at a time, which is something I’m going to try to avoid in future games. (As I’ve said before, even the original Dungeon Master had trouble with large groups.)
Throughout the course of the game, I developed a style of adventure planning to minimize the amount of prep work that I did. Part of that involved making heavy use of miniatures, dungeon tiles, and battle maps. I also developed a method of dungeon creation that I detailed in an issue of Roleplaying Tips Weekly.
I relied heavily upon those materials that I owned to inspire the encounters in my game. There were many times when I just wanted to use a particular map, so I worked backwards on how to introduce it into the game as an encounter area. For example, I owned a few maps and tiles with lava flows on them, so I decided that one dungeon where a good dragon was imprisoned was in a volcano, and the choice of encounters and monsters flowed (ha ha) from there. There was also a time when I really wanted to use all the Sahuagin and Kuo-Toa I owned, so made an adventure with an evil island resort (where they ended up summoning another monster I wanted to use, the Aspect of Demogorgon.)
Speaking of fights, there were plenty. Probably more than any other game I’ve ever run. With such a large group, it was really hard to run prolonged roleplaying encounters that involved everyone. Not only was combat a way that everyone could stay involved, but combats are much easier to plan than other types of encounters. That said, I did try to include other bits of roleplaying, and tried very hard to work with every character’s backstory via sub-plots, and also let their chosen background influence the world. So even if a lot of the driving action in each game was combat, there was still character development going on with the PCs.
I decided early on that I didn’t want to do a lot of world-building. Mostly, I plotted the overall areas with very simple descriptions: the north was cold and contained gnolls and Frost Giants; the south-east was a desert land with various lizard creatures and dinosaurs; and so on. At the end of a session (or between sessions) I tried to make sure I knew where the PCs were headed next so I could plan everything I needed to know for the next session, but rarely planned ahead for locations further on than that. I thought this was an OK balance between player freedom and railroading. They had the chance to venture anywhere they wanted, as long as I had notice. There was at least one time when they changed their minds about where they wanted to go and I had to say, “I haven’t planned anything if you go elsewhere from where you said”, and they seemed to be fine with going back to the original plan.
I received an invitation to join the beta of the RPG-centric Wiki site Obsidian Portal, and decided this game would be the perfect opportunity to try it out. This allowed me a place to put all my NPCs, game recaps, house rules, and important information in one place the players knew about. Possibly most importantly, I put the XP and loot gained online, so there were less confusion about what items had been gained and how much XP was given out. (There was still some, but at least it was easier to look back.) This meant that I didn’t generate treasure until after the game was over, which had the disadvantage that when players searched bodies or opened chests, I had to say “you scoop it all up and you’ll figure out what you have later.”
There was a lot more work I could have put into background materials for the Wiki, but I also found that my players weren’t all that interested in diving into a lot of the background that I did put up. Maybe if there were more of it there it would have been more enticing, but in general, my players were more concerned with what happened during the game then reading about someone’s complex backstory.
As a quick review of using Obsidian Portal in general, it’s only gotten better and better since I signed up for the beta, and the customer service is top-notch. The guys who run the site take suggestions in their forums very seriously. There was also one time where I lost an update due to a problem with the site. I received an email a few hours later with all the data I had lost, along with an apology. I doubt you’d see that kind of thing in any other mass wiki site. I have but a few complaints about Obsidian Portal. One is that $60 a year is pretty steep to pay for a hobby that I already spend a lot of money on, and I didn’t know that they were going to switch to a pay model that restricted the number of campaigns. (New users can still get 2 free campaigns.) Secondly, there’s some emphasis on the social networking aspects- being able to “friend” other people, rate campaigns, look at other people’s NPCs, etc. I find that part nearly useless to me. I don’t mind that other people look at my campaigns (and even steal stuff) but I have no need to connect with other users: I just need a solid tool to chronicle my campaign (which it works great as.)
There were a few other electronic tools I used. I posted to ChattyDM’s forums, wrote DM-perspective recaps using his Patented Method, and solicited help with a few issues I was running into. In particular, I received a lot of great advice when planning the campaign’s war-based finale. I made heavy use of PDF versions of books (especially the Rules Compendium and Magic Item Compendium) and an online SRD. I also chatted online with and drew on experience from TheMainEvent, whom I have played quite a lot of D&D with over the years.
Scheduling the game was a continuous problem. I anticipate this only getting worse as we get older and kids start coming into the picture. Thankfully, this has not been a problem yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. (Dammit, gamers, stop getting older!) It also didn’t help that I live over an hour away from where we would game, adding to my time investment.
Along those lines, I did end up spending a lot of money on this campaign. Minis, dungeon tiles, and Colossal Red Dragons add up after a while. This is not the players fault, it’s my own enjoyment of owning such things coupled with getting a new job that almost doubled my take home income. Gas prices are really high too, so it didn’t help that I had to pay for the round-trip. (One of those times when I’m glad I don’t have a girlfriend or anyone else I have to justify my spending to.) I think I’m going to make it clear in my next campaign as part of our social contract that I don’t want to spend any money on food during the game. I’ll continue to provide the D&D resources and pay for my own trip, but I want to be fed.
Finally, and most importantly, I was reminded fully of how much I enjoy DMing. When I had a long drive, or when I was feeling depressed, I could engage my brain towards thinking about how to make my campaign more awesome. Creating fun scenarios for the players, making characters come to life, joking around with friends, watching epic struggles, and seeing people be creative are what D&D is all about.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to all the session recaps in order:
- Adventure 1: The Tricentennial
- Adventure 2: The Trouble with Teena
- Adventure 3: The Fall of Morning on Crescent (where the overarching plot kicks in)
- Adventure 4: Owlbears in a Blender
- Adventure 5: That’s Just Wrong
- Adventure 6: Bachelors & Breath Weapons
- Adventure 7: The Heist
- Adventure 8: Crescent on Morning (introduces the real quest that runs for the rest of the game)
- Adventure 9: THIS! IS! MUTA! (my least favorite adventure that I ran)
- Adventure 10: Draube vs. the Volcano (first recap with pictures)
- Adventures 11 & 11.5: Hotels over Inn-is-Mouth
- Adventure 12: Your Mom’s an Ogre (an adaptation of Pathfinder #3)
- Adventure 13: Fear & Loathing in Van Legas
- Adventure 14 & 14.5: Garycon ’08 (dedicated to the memory of Gary Gygax)
- Adventure 15: Daudhir Park is Frightening in the Dark
- Adventure 16: I’m freezing my purple worm off out here!
- Adventure 17: Druid in the Big City
- Meanwhile… (a short post to introduce the finale)
- Adventure 18: The Finale
- Elsewhere… (the epilogue)
- List of quotes we wrote down through the course of the campaign (Special thanks to Bartoneus)
- The Flickr set with all my campaign pictures
In conclusion, I’d like to point out that I may be the only person in history to ever Rick-Roll his own campaign.