Pain of Campaigning: Actually Planning

After a long hiatus of actively DMing, I was roused from my gaming slumber. The results are a bit unusual and probably not going to be to everyone’s liking, but after droves and droves of articles detailing how to run games, I figure I’d do an article of my current work in progress: XIX.

xix

The strange confluence of events inspired my current D&D project

  1. My impending departure from Miami and return to Maryland would put me in an area ripe with players in friends interested in RPGs.
  2. The release of the PHB 2 (and some of the grousing about “too many options”) made me consider a way to let people get a flavor of it all.
  3. My own article, and Original Sultan’s comments supporting my “War is Hell” flavored D&D campaign caused me to consider a fun way to have high fatality games.
  4. The strange convergence that unwittingly occurred between a long gestating fiction project and my first ideas for this game.

I decided I wanted to have a game where characters died (and over the course of the game a lot would die,) not through my own mean-spirited intent to kill, but through insane difficulty and the need to sacrifice lives for military objectives. So, I decided I would make a game where there were a preset number of characters, far outstripping the number of players, but I had trouble initially settling on a number and method of deciding the composition of a party of characters, but not necessarily full-time PLAYER characters. Then, in struck me, why not just have one of each class? Hence, I came up with the idea for eighteen characters (PHB 1 & 2 + Artificer + Swordmage) , but quickly remembered (thanks to The Game) the impending release of the Monk. Hence, 19 characters… or the much cooler campaign slogan: XIX.

Sensing that XIX could be a ready-made theme I decided to just have be important to well… everything. I had already decided on a military-based theme and figured “why not have the party have the unfortunate task of dealing with a large force of varied power, numbering precisely 1900 monsters?”  (Imagine a Battlestar Galactica-like opening scene at the start of each adventure with the total enemies remaining). And why not have them defending 19 hapless towns? At this point, having overcome a few initial intellectual hurdles, I had a few logistical problems crop up.

Problems

  1. I needed a “timer” to force the characters to actually do something against the horde of monsters (or “Profanes” as I later flavored them). It couldn’t be so arbitrary that the players felt like they’d lose on a whim, but there had to have some flexibility so I could move the game along.
  2. I needed a reason why some CR 25 baddy wouldn’t just waltz in and slaughter the characters at first level.
  3. I needed a way to succinctly hand out information on the setting and foreshadow some of the events to come.
  4. A reason to avoid the Video Game RPG pitfall of neglecting fully half of playable characters in favor of leveling up favored characters.
  5. Satisfying the people that LIKED having their own character without undermining the whole point of the “massive team.” Also, making sure I didn’t have to level up 19 freaking characters.

Solutions

I wrapped up Problems #1 and #2 with a neat little bow: a magical barrier of blood powered by the poor frail Elders from the 19 towns. Those very same barriers will only survive 19 months (shocking, huh?) and would degrade, only recognizing more and more serious threats as time passed. The PCs would also have to consider those poor old folks, as keeping the barrier up would eventually cost those noble oldsters their lives. I envisioned instances where the Players would take on a mission, leave some other characters at home base, only to have a bunch of “leftovers” from earlier missions storm into their once-safe territory.

For problem #3, I quickly settled on creating a prophecy. With my own fetishistic obsessions with the number 19 in this game, a prophecy revolving around the number seemed like an easy fix, provided I could write one that didn’t make me gag (I’m not fond of my poetry skills).

Problem #4′s solution came to me from its source: video games. Games like Chrono Trigger and X Men: Legends incentivized using certain characters together. Continuing my number 19 obsession, I whipped up 19 different combinations of character types that would unlock specific advantages (later dubbed The 19 Harmonies) for the party usable in every encounter. Moreover, successful “unlocking” a Harmony would result in EVERY character getting XP and the award of yet-to-be-defined prophetic bonuses/resources (something along the lines of plot magic). I decided to tie this in with the aforementioned prophecy, making the Prophecy/Ritual of the Elders become a force unto itself, willing the PCs to win against their seemingly insurmountable odds.

Problem #5 resulted in a compromise. I decided that each player could designate a “Primary” character that was reserved for them to use when they showed up and acted as their default persona for role playing between missions. I intended to farm out the character leveling process to interested players anyway. This “Primary” rule guaranteed that I wasn’t stuck acting as custodian for the whole stable of characters. So, at least one character per player would be their responsibility, with the option of players taking on a whole “team”, with the understanding only one could be their primary character.

Conclusions

There you have it, my background planning for my D&D game. If interest on the subject is high I’ll actually post the XIX Prophecy and the XIX Harmonies I’ve created.

Comments

  1. A high-fatality game in a system I’ve never mastered that still makes me actually want to play in it. That’s impressive. That’s really impressive.

    More?

    Ravyn´s last post: Giving Personality to Intelligent Magic Items

  2. “If interest on the subject is…”

    HI!

    *waves*

  3. Wow! Wishing you were running this closer to the Midwest. I’m interested in seeing more

    Vulcan Stev´s last post: Gaming in the Universe of… Batman

  4. I’d definitely like to hear more about the harmonies as well.

    Thacko´s last post: Puppies are people too.

  5. wow, I don’t envy you having to run and keep track of all of that…

    hopefully the players will enjoy it and it will be worth it!
    where-abouts are you running this game? ^^;;

    MacGuffin´s last post: Races of Avion 2: Avion’s visitors from Avire

  6. I believe he’ll be running it in the northern Maryland area, because that’s where the magic happens (and not in every bedroom you’ve ever seen on Cribs, sorry those were all lies).

    I also volunteered to help him keep track of characters and to level them up, because I’ve only played in a 4E game a few times but I’m currently on the 14th Adventure of my campaign, so I’d love the chance to make and level up more characters!

  7. Wow, I really like this idea! Very cool. Please keep us all informed on this one, I’d really like to hear more!

  8. This is a fantastic concept. It will certainly keep you busy for the next year or more. Just be careful that you’re not biting off more than you can chew.

    In campaigns with this kind of huge story-arc you run the risk of wanting to do so much and not having the time to do it. And the longer it takes to get where you want it to be, the greater the likelihood that you’ll realize it’s just way too much work and you’ll burn out.

    My advice is to plan the campaign into chapters (19 seems too many). Whenever you reach a chapter break, take a break from this campaign. Even if it’s only for a few weeks. Let someone else DM a couple of Dungeon Delves just so you have a chance to recharge to DM mojo.

    Take it from some one who’s been there, it will make your overall campaign that much better in the long run. Keep us posted on how this plays out. It sounds great.

    Ameron´s last post: The Spoils of War

  9. Yes, please post up the Harmonies. Or better yet, move to NC instead… =)

  10. Yes, please post more on this. Sounds like a great idea to steal and I’m curious about exactly how you’re working out the concept.

  11. JackOfHearts says:

    I really like some of the concepts here. While the recurrent XIX theme might feel a bit contrived at times, the whole idea of having a stable of heroes in a high fatality game with various “unlockable” harmonies definitely sounds cool.

  12. TheMainEvent says:

    Thanks for all the words of encouragement, everybody. Judging from the comments I will be putting up another post on the subject. Once I deliver some more crunch and substance constructive critiques will be welcome too.

    @Ameron: One thing I plan on doing is having an open invitation to guest-DM sessions. While 4-6 characters are out having an adventure its very easy to imagine another 4-6 characters doing something else. I’ll just keep some DM Magic in my pocket just in case a guest adventure ends up too devastating (TPK)or too wealthy (artifacts for all!)

    I anticipate a large number of players, but only marginally good attendance (like 50-75% average) so that means the book keeping will be easily farmed out. Also, people like Bart want to help out but will in all reality only be “guest players” anyway.

    @JackOfHearts: I have no doubt the XIX theme will become overdone and annoying, but part of my next post will include some meta-conceptual reasons as to WHY the number might be popping up. Essentially, think Lost except the creator actually came up with a reason for his magic numbers rather than plastering them all over the place and later stuck with trying to explain them.

  13. Very, Very Cool.

    The Last Rogue´s last post: Session 3.1 – Now With Tentacles

  14. (really wants this thread to hit 19 comments)

  15. OriginalSultan says:

    This is definitely a really neat idea for a campaign, especially considering that many of us have been dying to try out different characters but don’t have the time to play in enough campaigns to use them all. I am looking forward to it.

  16. Thasmodious says:

    I’ll add my voice, or keyboard, to the cry for more. This is a nice concept, I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

  17. @TheMainEvent: You must have known that criticising Lost would get me to chime back in. :P

    They’ve actually, surprisingly, left the numbers and strong numerology out of the last season or two. I’m not exactly sure why, but it does seem to coincide with when Brian K Vaughn began overseeing the writing (and writing some of the better episodes himself), so maybe he scaled back some of the non-character based aspects of the show. No matter what, this season of Lost has been hands down the best season of any television show I’ve ever seen (on par / just ahead of the first 2 seasons of Lost).

    As to the XIX theme, I’m all for taking the Lost tactic and sneaking it into tons of small places where it can be noticed but doesn’t really have any effect. I think the key is that it doesn’t end up being ridiculously important all of the time, and that when it is important it doesn’t clash or fight with the players and what they want to do.

  18. i have to ask, will anyone be named “Xix”?

    MacGuffin´s last post: Races of Avion 2: Avion’s visitors from Avire

  19. Definitely a fun read. I look forward to the campaign notes and details. Seems like it’ll keep everyone on their toes DM and player alike! I’d definitely like to get a look at those prophecies and harmonies as well.

    Is this post 19? Craziness.

    Teachernine´s last post: Saga Digital Library