This is just perfect. I’m going to use an Ultimate Combat! booster to provide context to what I view as a failed RPG campaign. See if you grasp the cleverness.
First of all, because even though I explain little as a GM, I will explain references I use in this blog, Dismay was a pretty popular card. I am inclined to run Shake Up more than Dismay as killing two cards in play has … wait for it … a bigger effect than killing one.
I considered various flavor text from this booster as defining themes of this post.
So much pain from such a small twist.
No, not a small twist.
To kick twice before returning to mother earth is devastating.
Well, this should be the theme of every post.
The school of experience is a great teacher, though the tuition is often quite high.
Two problems with this. One, it’s not actually on theme, once I get to the point. Two, boring.
Early attacks oft repeated add up.
Of all of the flavor text in the 13 options (there are cards with the same flavor text) available to me in this pack, I think this sums things up best.
Or, put another way, early mistakes repeated oft add up. Or, put another way, repeated mistakes oft add up early.
My current assessment is that I committed a well known, rather egregious, and one would think easily avoided sin given that I know more than the average coati. I didn’t allow the PCs to be the stars. While I often have pieces of a metaplot going into a campaign that I build as I go along, in this case, I had a metaplot from the start due to having written the basis for Rokugan 1600 over five years ago. Rather than have the PCs have their piece of the action, the PCs got dragged around from idea to idea.
Let various deconstruction that won’t encompass everything continue.
My assessment is that I do well with ideas. Ideas are easy. As I’ve said before, the problem is execution on those ideas. Here’s the other problem that was a core problem with R.1600 – you can’t just keep coming up with more and more ideas. Besides the obvious of providing more resolution, I can understand how players get frustrated when there feels like too many things to care about. And, even if they focus on something, there are wasted ideas that the party never has time for.
A thought came to me. Ideas as a player can be helpful. Should be helpful to GMs. Rather than having the GM have the burden of being responsible for everything involving characters, the world, play, the player coming up with ideas provides direction and personal engagement for the player (assuming the ideas ever get used). I keep thinking that I’m completely different as a GM and a player, which is true in a way but probably not true in another way. I keep considering possibilities as a player to engage me and my PC, and that’s good. Whether it was fictions written for campaigns, characters referenced in those fictions that didn’t even exist prior, activities for my character(s) to pursue – that’s stuff to build on a campaign. As a GM, I’m not disciplined. I can’t just run with something to a straightforward conclusion but keep riffing on ideas with more ideas.
Having a preconceived story that set up the campaign only likely made things worse than usual with taking an idea and trying to make PC activity fit around it in ways the players weren’t interested in. I made a comment after yesterday’s session where I felt like trying to reset or reboot on R.1600 was not a good idea with this group due to there being too much baggage. In a way, due to not being better at GMing, this campaign started with baggage.
If you look in the 4e corebook for L5R, you will see a number of adventure styles listed. Location-Based, Open World, Character-Driven, Episodic, The Epic, Relationship Mapping.
While listed as adventure types, let’s take them as campaign types for this exercise. Which style was R.1600?
I, the GM, am not sure. Drops glaive-guisarme.
I’m very accommodating. As a player, that makes it easy for me to play in things, even if I don’t like them. As a GM, that means I lack a coherent campaign vision. Odyssey talks about writing things down. We did write some things down early on but didn’t maintain a manifesto.
The players were perfectly happy to play nobodies in a war setting set in Rokugan. Playing a nobody doesn’t interest me, so I didn’t realize that and how that would inform play. By nobody, by the way, I don’t mean playing a peasant or something, I mean that there’s no recognition from on high as to who the PCs are. BTBTW, it occurs to me that this is yet another reason I don’t engage much with dungeon crawling nor do I find random death remotely interesting – I want my PCs to matter to the greater world.
Getting sidetracked, I wonder how I would feel about my PC being locally important but unimportant in the grander scheme of things. For instance, let’s take a Vampire game where my PC is a primogen or whatever but that nobody beyond the city gives a double eagle. Would that interest me? I don’t think so. Not to say I would actively be annoyed by such a setup, I just don’t think I would care as much about what goes on if that’s the grandest ambition. Of course, not everything is about Glory/Fame/recognition/whatever, just that I would find it less interesting if the world didn’t extend beyond me more greatly.
Not only did I not have a clear idea on which type of campaign this was, but, obviously, how would the players if the GM wasn’t even clear? And, why didn’t we clear this up to begin with?
I keep thinking about how one of my players in a previous campaign viewed that campaign as a sandbox when I didn’t and how I may be inclined to play that is more player driven than either I or the players expect. This is a repeated error. That’s kind of the point of this post – I keep repeating errors, which I’ll come back to.
Speaking of structure, I just blogged about how the season structure was an attempt to provide more discipline and more ability to rechart course. It didn’t help because …
What Does A Campaign Mean To You?
This was a question asked after the session as we had talked for quite a while about what the go forward plan is.
That highlighted something. Very few of my campaigns have gone on very long and even fewer have had endings. When I look at campaigns that were most meaningful to me, it was longer ones, generally, and, in particular, two that had endings even if one of the endings was scripted out.
No, that wasn’t what got highlighted. What got highlighted is that I think of campaigns as something that persist indefinitely. I may intellectually understand that campaigns are intended to have a resolution, but endings aren’t my thing. I noted that I prefer TV to movies. TV has more sessions and has no clear end. I really enjoyed book series like the Spellsinger series because it didn’t have to end. Even Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogies left open the possibility for more. Elric may have had an end, but, then, there were more stories.
So, having a plan to end a campaign with points where a campaign could end is anathema to what I am actually interested in. Does it bother me when, say, HoR campaigns end? Not really, but, then, HoR is something odd, and, even when the campaigns do end, I don’t feel much resolution. In my mind, The Princess Police doesn’t feel like it ended, and, by using material from it, I extended its life through R.1600, seemingly to the detriment of my players.
So, this may be another reason I enjoy convention one-offs more than much of my campaign play – no expectation of a campaign. The focus isn’t on my PC or my storytelling. The focus is on doing stuff in the moment.
So, would I be interested in a seven part series of adventures? A 20 part? If I didn’t think of it as a campaign (ironic given that military or political campaigns do kind of need to end). A significant problem, methinks, with fixed length campaigning is that I don’t have any reason to care about my character. Oh, just like a one-shot, I may care about what I do with my PCs or what happens, but I don’t feel linked to a particular character. So, I won’t care about character advancement (see my Ide Courtier in the marriage campaign we played) and I won’t care about having a personal story arc.
Now, how important is advancement? I’m not sure. I know for many that it’s hugely important, and I’ve played HoR at times where all the campaign meant was mechanically advancing a character sheet.
But, what I really enjoy is having a personal story arc. Of course that’s possible with fixed length campaigns. That’s possible with any number of sessions including a single session, as I’ve had a number of cases of feeling like my PC (that I didn’t create) had a story arc in a one-off. It’s just that I view the focus on limited duration RPing to be elsewhere to where I don’t expect to be able to feel the character in the same way. For example, it can take a varying number of sessions to feel a PC, and, in some cases, you need to change PCs to have a proper campaign fit. If you don’t have a fixed number of sessions, you may never get anywhere as the campaign just stops being played, but a known length to a campaign means you have to plan something that doesn’t necessarily make sense to plan. In other words, you can be forcing something that maybe shouldn’t be forced.
Better groups probably handle these things better than worse groups. I don’t know. I guess I forced a story arc at the end of HoR3 (for my alt character!), and that made that campaign more satisfying (since it was not remotely satisfying with regards to my main character).
Then, I haven’t been involved in much fixed length campaigning, so ignorance may lead to unfounded concerns. Yet, I know that when I play home games of limited sessions, I tend not to care about my characters at all. The last such venture, with Savage Worlds Spelljammer, I know I didn’t advance my PC for ages and don’t even recall whether I ever advanced my PC, though my githyanki did get to help murder a mind flayer who was also his employer, so there was some personal achievement.
Wisdom is making good decisions. To keep repeating the same mistakes of firing up a new RPG campaign only to get frustrated by how things don’t work out as envisioned, even with initial character creation where I can see that my players aren’t on the same wavelength I am before we actually start playing, is making bad decisions.
Sure, I have enjoyed world building for campaigns like FSTH or R.1600 or even Gaki Mura, which players have praised after it petered out. But, my experiences with repeated problems only remind me as I try anew of past frustrations, and I get really prone, entangled, dazed, and fatigued when players are noticeably unhappy.
Gaming is about fun activities. Now, those activities aren’t limited to play and not every single activity is going to be fun, but there should be net fun. Just like there are nigh infinite deck building options with CCGs, there are nigh infinite possibilities for electing to do fun things over doing things that aren’t the fun.
I stopped haranguing card floppers to flop more because I realized that not everyone enjoys flopping as much as I. I think I stop trying to run campaigns. That I mostly want to world build/expand works when I’m a player and is too little of what players need out of a GM. I can see running one-offs at various times for various possible reasons. I can see running someone else’s game (that’s what HoR GMing is), though guest GMing in campaigns has worked out really badly when I made up my own adventures, so I need to make sure I’m running someone else’s adventure.
Meanwhile, what I should do is be a player more often. Get back to playing in local convention RPG sessions, for instance. I can see how HoR structure has had influences on me that could be limiting my perspective.