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      CommentAuthorNeil Gow
    • CommentTimeJul 15th 2010 edited
    A few weeks ago, Malcolm and I were joking about starting CAMCAM, 'the CAMpaign for real CAMpaigns' as a sort of joke about the way that our respective games are rarely played in campaign format, despite being directly designed with campaign play in mind. Recently, the posters on UKRPG have been speaking about the same thing, namely how they prefer 'trad' games because they deliver more in a campaign, whereas 'indie' games tend to burn bright and then fade away. (I'm paraphrasing like mad here - just go with it)

    I've been mulling over adapting the notes I added to Malc's 'Between Continents' thread into some sort of campaign meta-system for Empire, probably for the 'space' version if/when it arrives, but these conversations have given me pause for thought. Why? Because even at my own gaming table, the last three games we have played in campaign format have been 'trad' games - Buffy, Pendragon and D&D (OK, the next two (Starblazers and Dresden) buck the trend a little...). I only know of two people who have ran D&H campaigns and one BtQ despite them both seeing tons of con play and one-shot play.

    So what gives?

    What do independent games designers have to do to convince people to play their games in campaign format? What are 'trad' games doing right here?

      CommentAuthorJames Mullen
    • CommentTimeJul 15th 2010 edited
    The attraction of campaigning is similar to the attarction of MMOs that allow you to level-up and upgrade your character through various tweaks, buffs, special abilites, rare artifacts and so on. Trad games have long lists of upgrades and regularly produce splat books with even more cool things to add to your character.

    The attraction of one shots is that you get to play through a complete story in a single session, with the opportunity to play a protagonist or antagonist in an exciting drama. Indie games are very story-oriented and have rules that support characterisation and spontaneous drama in play.

    So, if you want to convince people to play a campaign in indie mode, you can either a) focus on character development and offer the chance for lots of upgrades and other booty as PCs progress or b) design your game to work best with epic, multi-episode, world-spanning stories that require players to explore their roles over many sessions, instead of in one short story. In other words, move the narrative framework from 'Movie-style' to 'TV-style'; this latter is also a very succesful style for CoC, which offers little in the way of character advancement beyond some slightly better trained skills, but has spawned some truly epic-length campaigns that can take years for a dedicated group to completely explore.
      CommentAuthorNeil Gow
    • CommentTimeJul 15th 2010
    Absolutely James.

    I think a lot of games in 'indie mode' (I like that!) also chew through the material far faster than their 'trad mode' cousins. Average fight for us playing D&D? About 30-45 minutes maybe (But God, we love it!). Average fight in D&H? About 3-4 minutes. Less farting around, more cutting to the nub of the issue. Thats a given.

    However, what I was highlighting were games that are specifically designed to be played in 'campaign mode'. Say, for example, Hot War or Beat to Quarters. Is there anything that can be done to enhance their campaign-attractiveness.

    I've heard tell that people like the fact that trad-campaign games have ongoing support - are things like the Miscellany and the Hot War transmission the answer?

    Is it a case of leading by example? Would lots of campaign length actual play show the way here?

    Why not go the whole hog and publish a campaign book? Never mind 'examples of play', provide a series of scenarios around a common framework and invite players to create their own characters! The trad games that encourage campaign play all without fail have epic campaigns that graphically illustrate how to run a campaign; indie games, without fail, do no do this, you are expected to construct your campaign from some examples of play, a few suggestions for game management and your own prejudices.

    There may be some facetiousness and Devil's advocacy in the above paragraph, but when I seriously think about it, a big practical difference between trad & indie games is that the former all have ready-made campaigns published alongside them and the latter do not.
    Maybe it's something to do with the people who buy the majority of small press games? There are many people, myself included, who enjoy games that pack a punch into three or four sessions. Maybe that's where it comes from. But it's probably not the whole story!

    But then again, there are many, many small press games out there that offer opportunities for great campaign play: 3:16, D&H, Hot War, Dogs in the Vineyard, to give four examples. Extended play, to my mind, offers different things to the three or four week game. my experience last year with the Dogs game in New Zealand, that lasted over seven towns and 17 or 18 sessions, was the first period of extended (longer than 3 - 4 sessions) play I've had in a long time. And it offered a vastly different experience to playing the same game over one or two sessions.

    To address the point made by James, maybe there is something to be said for the 'campaign book'. Although, given the collaborative nature of games like D&H and Hot War, it would require something of a different approach to the more traditional model. That could be a very interesting thing to think about.

    So what gives?

    Our group plays 4-6 weeks of something and then moves on. A couple of us would like to play longer campaigns (both for the stories that develop, and the guilty pleasure of levelling up in some way), but we’re a big bunch of GMs with no players and so we have to keep chopping and changing to make it fair and pander to our need to try out the next hot new thing.

    I’ve run a six week Hot War and I’m thinking of pitching Beat to Quarters in the next auction too. I think both games are great for the length of time we play for, but would be more wary about a long campaign. Aside from the conditions imposed by the group dynamic here are some other factors that might provide insight (or be complete rubbish, delete as appropriate):

    Tightly focussed. Both games are tightly beaded on the character and what they do and what they want to do. They do that stuff a lot. When you’ve completed a bunch of missions for BtQ, or you’ve cycled through a couple a Agendas in Hot War, you kind of come to a natural stopping point. You sort of want to do all that again, but with a different character, or trying things in a different way.

    Fatigue. Also there’s a certain amount of burnout. In a more “Trad” set up, there’s an over-arching story and plenty going on beyond your characters. The small press games above are all about the characters and what they want to do. Which is good short term (a month or two), but beyond that it can be hard work of trying to think of things you as a player genuinely want to do in the same environment, with the same character. That bloke’s story has kind of been told. I’m over-simplifying, but I think you should see what I’m saying. More traditional set ups have well-supported other things going on (as well as being able to focus on your character if you wish), its easier to cruise every now and then and still have stuff happen.

    After the short length of play time players are naturally used now to the set up, their natural curiosity means they want to know what happens beyond the Iberian peninsular or What happened to Manchester? Sure individual groups can make all this up themselves, but years of “training” has led them to believe there will be a source book about it, or a new funky rules section that allows them to do something different or give them a bunch of hereto unknown options.

    From the guilty pleasure point of view, Hot War has fluctuating numbers on the sheet from session to session (hell, within a session), and doesn’t get the Level Up effect over time. If you’re playing D&H this can happen if they fail some missions, but also, there are a limited number of options for fighting Frenchies and the incidentals and over a few weeks keeping it as exciting as it was in week one is hard.

    Recently announced is the re-release of Serpent River for Earthdawn. Assuming its like the original its ace. Earthdawn, the Barsaive boxed set, Throal, several other books really didn’t sell the game world or give you ideas, they were a bunch of dodgy fluff in comparison. Serpent River did a tour of Barsaive (via the river) and every paragraph had an idea in it. Some things were explained well, others were curious ideas, some were just flavourful fancies, but the point is, you read that book and after a few pages had tons of ideas for your next couple of games. If you wanted something that would make Hot War and Empire more campaign-worthy (and I’m not saying you do mind) then I’d suggest something like that.

    For example, BtQ would have an almanac or Ship’s Journal of a certain scholar’s voyages round the Mediterranean and what happened on that voyage. The customs of Barbary pirates, interesting characters, the behaviour of courtly wimmin, how he discovered a French spy, the best bordello in Cadiz – essentially stuff you put in Miscellany, but put it together like a story (and a Journey a group could follow in the footsteps of), with the different bits all mixed up and rich and colourful, packed with ideas for people to rob or copy. The back section of the book could stick it all in order or provide game stats. (Also see the Hardware catalogue in SLA Industries – all the rules are done in a couple of paragraphs – but the gear is set out like a shopping guide, full of flavour text etc., so that the players really want a BLA Blitzer without even knowing if the stats are any good. The section itself though is a joy read compared to a dry list and has the opportunity to drop in gaming ideas in the text.)

    Let me know if you want a hand writing it ;)

    Hope that helps

      CommentAuthorNeil Gow
    • CommentTimeJul 16th 2010
    Cheers Gaz

    Certainly from what you and James have said - and it was partially in my thoughts too - the presence of campaign material would be one step in the right direction. Indeed, a number of people have suggested some sort of West Indies or East Indies station material for BtQ, so framing that within a flavourful set of linked military missions might well be of use.

    Can I ask you to expand on one thing you said, namely that "More traditional set ups have well-supported other things going on (as well as being able to focus on your character if you wish), its easier to cruise every now and then and still have stuff happen."

    This is the bit that I am not seeing. There's nothing in say D&D, Savage Worlds, Traveller, RQ etc. that I can see - beyond the leveling improvement thing - that specifically has stuff going on within the rules elsewhere. Now, Pendragon, yes. I can see it there, but not a lot of other games. I can't deny that people play extended campaigns in them (cf. my soon-to-end D&D campaign) but the rules don't seem to specifically help that - or do they?

    That kicked off a strange thought, Neil. Perhaps the rules in trad games help that by not addressing it.

    In an indie game, there are frequently portions of the rules pertaining to character development from a story point of view, e.g. in Hot War you tackle and complete agendas, in D&H it's personal missions and so on. In a sense then, these rules proscribe the personal development of your characters, creating a very definite personal story arc with a beginning, middle and end. The game for the player is therefore about developing that arc within the rules
    provided, their story is rarely ouf of the spotlight and they overcome 'random' challenges in ways that support or exploit their arc-traits (if I can use that clumsy term to describe agendas, missions and similar mechanisms)

    By contrast, a trad RPG has no mechanics for a character's personal story: the challenges faced can still stem from the PCs backstory or arc, but there is no objective way of injecting such challenges into the campaign and the player gets no mechanical benefit from doing so. This actually means they are freer to take their character's story arc in any direction they want, if they want to, or just ignore it and immerse themselves in the on-going adventure spun by the GM. So if the GM wants to drop any random bit of action into a session, they can do so without worrying, "Oh, I haven't given Scott a chance to bring his vengeance plot into this, bugger, I'll have to come up with something that puts him in the spotlight now."

    I'm not claiming this is what actually happens, but I am asking: does it?
    Kind of what James said.

    If we take Savage as an example, most of the setting books have a bunch of Plot Points. Shizzle that's going on, adventures you can drop in and out of and an over-arcing story with a big showdown at the end. I've been playing Hellfrost and recently there's a bunch of stuff I want for my character, and I've got scope for it, but initially I didn't really know what I wanted, what my axe wielding maniac was all about etc. but that was cool, because Bez had all of this stuff that was going to happen at me, without me as a player having to try. If I'm tired after a hard day at work I know I can show up and kill ice goblins without having to think about it. If I'm more perky I can work out why one of my followers is so mysterious or go looking for the Head of the Thieves guild and see about that damn double dealing. All good.

    If I play Hot War for instance, I've got to advance my agendas to get the most out of the game. In Beat to Quarters I'm going to sit down and the first thing the GM's going to say is "What do you want to see happen tonight?" - every week. Its more effort, and those kinds of games (as wildly different as Hot War and Empire are from each other) are tightly focused - and while the rules encourage a certain type of playing and behaviour, they also serve to make it a requirement.

    Now you could play D&H in a more traditional way, with the GM doing all the heavy lifting, and players turning up every week to get Frenchies thrown at them - all military mission and just do personal ones when they're feeling fruity... But that's not really what its all about and someone reading the game and running as written is more likely to avoid that kind of game.

    I think the key thing is that when I say a "traditional set up" I don't care what system, I mean the style of playing. All these crazy small press games encourage a different method of playing. They tend to be more participation intensive, where the "old way" is more forgiving. For a one shot, intense normally floats a lot of people's boats. Week in, week out, a lot of players find it daunting, or perhaps even not what they want. In my "trad" home games there are some weeks that are higher energy than others, and they mostly tend to float at a slower pace, with more padding and asides.

    When we played WFRP3 with Kenners last week I get all petulant when asked for the Innkeeper's name "This ain't one of your hippy games, why've I got to come up with his name?" Good session, good GM, good players... the difference is sitting down for WFRP 3e (and given the pitch before the game), I'm not expecting to join in to that degree, I've already got my pipe and slippers out ready for a traditionally served-up game, where the GM has a written adventure with boxed text in it.

    If he'd been running a player-led D&H session I'd have been telling AK where the Taverna was and the name of the Spanish lady I was going to roger before he'd got his jokers out of his deck.

    Campaign (as in months of gaming) wise its going to be easier (less effort) to play WFRP than it is D&H. I'd personally get bored with not getting any input in WFRP after a few weeks, the same as I might get burned out from being the driver in D&H over the same period.

    As discussed elsewhere, most games are a mixture of different styles, as per a table's preference. Its just easier to add in the more hippy stuff to a trad game (and just cruise when you need to) than it is to play the (generally more proscribed) small press games in a different manner.

    Traditional game books give you the tools to play how you want (but don't support a particular type of broad gaming). The small press ones tend to tell you exactly how to play - for more hard example see Apocalypse World with its game text such as "Don't write a plot in advance, and I'm not even fucking kidding" repeated several times. I know that a lot of the "rules" are how I run games anyway, but the trick would be (for AW) is that you provide the illusion that the players aren't doing the heavy lifting when in fact, they are. But I'm really starting to drift off topic now...

    All I have to add is that, as written, Duty & Honour, 3:16, Hot War and Beat To Quarters have everything you need to run a long campaign.

    So, huh, I don't know why we don't see more campaign play of them. They offer more help than many conventional RPGs.

    I did think it might be the table dynamic. In a trad RPG the GM is the one bringing "his" story and the players just turn up with their characters. The GM will do all the work and so "drives" the story (socially as well as in play) to ensure that it all hangs together.

    I have seen campaigns fall apart in trad games as we all evaluated the GM as "failing", but as long as he kept his shit together the campaign did last. Mainly through peer pressure, social jockeying, etc.

    But, in the games mentioned above the rules do the work for the players and GM, so it's not like there is any more work on the players or GM's part (possibly a lot less for the GM, though all the games I've mentioned benefit from the GM doing prep between sessions).

    So, great observation. No idea why it's the case. I do think that a "campaign book" might be a tipping point for someone to step up to the plate as GM/facilitator and make a campaign happen and stick. But, honestly, the books do everything that players need.
    Curiously Gregor you reckon there's no more work on the Player's part, but I'd argue there is - especially as you say the GM has to possibly do a lot less - if we consider "you get out what you put in" if the GMs not doing it, the players have to (even if there are more of them and the extra effort is spread thin).

    Another thought while I'm here, some traditional games seem impenetrable at first with tons of source books, so there might not be the initial buy-in. But, they do have tons of support. Even if a group doesn’t use published scenarios, reading through all those books gives the GM tons of ideas and inspiration. The latter being the key – source materials inspire the GM to think “I could do this”, regardless of whether the result looks anything like the original source or not.

    Small press games have easier accessibility. Trying to explain what’s good about Earthdawn takes too long and people not in the know switch off, as opposed to saying “It’s Starship Troopers” or “Sharpe”. However, without a wealth of (specifically) gamable ideas in the form of source books (or whatever) then the group (and GM in particular) has to root out his own Muse. You’re in quick with the small press stuff, but its harder to see what you continue to do to get legs out out of it. The more old school method takes a while to warm up, but then you’ve got a world of possibilities. Small press games tend to be laser-focused, others are more sand box.

    Pendragon was mentioned above, and Kenners has mooted at one point that it’s the original Indie game. Laser-focused in its intent, with a rule set to back up what it wants to achieve and how it wants to play out. That really is set up to work as a campaign and is vast in potential scope. Its got the immediate buy-in (you’re knights who do good and kick dragons in) alongside the aspirational goals (join round table, have family to carry on your name etc). Plus, loads of support materials with cool ideas in.

    I think that’s my key one here – you need to provide groups with things that’ll inspire them with Game Ideas directly and without too much work. Asking them to read all the Bernard Cornwell novels is a bit much. Distilling a bunch of ideas from them into a 96 page book so that every paragraph has at least one thing that makes the reader think “ooh, that’s neat, I could use that” will generate more campaign play.
    I don't entirely agree. In my experience a player's work in a trad game between sessions is "fun" as they're mostly optimizing their character with XP or spending gold, allocating training/learning time. It's no different for the player in any of those games mentioned above. A player could turn up for a game of 3:16 having done nothing between sessions if they want (much in the way we didn't do much betweeen CoC sessions). The pick/roll Between Missions stuff is trivial and usually is done at the end of a session. For Hot War the game happens at the table so I'm not seeing any prep "work" the players have to do.

    The zero sum game you talk of ignores the effect of the rules set. I would contend that system matters.

    (GM Effort + Player Effort) * System Efficiency = Effort Delivered

    I argue that a system that is more efficient eases the burden so that "less in" equals "more out" (than before), owing to a better way of translating effort to the table.

    Of all the times I have run Pendragon maybe three players ever have read Mallory (and I'd guess that I'm talking about 15-20 players here) and maybe half had seen Excalibur. (A player talked to me of his fear that it would descend into Monty Python as the other players might not aapreciate the genre sufficiently. It was not the case but I considered his concern.)

    I'd expect the hit rate to be higher for Sharpe (D&H) and Hornblower/Master and Commander (BTQ) and Starship Troopers and Aliens (3:16). Maybe it's be break even with Mallory for Day of the Triffids/John Wyndham, but I'd expect most people have seen 28 Days Later (Hot War).

    I still have a gut feeling that despite the impenetrable trad book the GM, elevated socially into a position of status, struggles through and makes campaigns whole cloth. For a variety of reasons. I wonder if the "making it easier" and taking the GM off the podium that indie games do changes that dynamic.

    But, I mean, I have no solid answers. Only observing what worked and didn't work for me in my campaign gaming.
    I think we've got some cross-over Gregor, but similarly I can only add what I've got from my experiences too. I'd like to think that coming at things from a punter angle might shake up the mix more than just the CE boys jawing! ;)

    I reckon a Sharpe game (to pick one) would require less effort in short term, but in the long term it requires more (hence the lack of campaigns). Its easy to be Sharpe for a few sessions, but how do you keep it fresh and interesting for extended periods without the extra weight of external ideas to mix it up? I reckon it takes progressively more effort to bring the awesome.

    "Its better to burn out than fade away" as Highlander has it.

    But, like you, I'm just guessing at it...
    Ha! I would say that no games designer has tablets of stone with the words of God on them. Just because I've published a game shouldn't put me on a pedestal or anything. Seriously. So I think we're on a level footing here, Gary.

    You know, I'm reading your following comment and it's got me thinking:
    Its easy to be Sharpe for a few sessions, but how do you keep it fresh and interesting for extended periods without the extra weight of external ideas to mix it up? I reckon it takes progressively more effort to bring the awesome.

    In a trad game set up the answer for me, looking back, would have been easy. As GM it's my story so you're playing through the world in my eyes and I always have good ideas (for my evaluation of good) for where the campaign would be going. So for trad we know this works, right (at least some of the time when the GM's story is interesting and the GM keeps motivated/on target for getting through the campaign).

    So, what if I'm playing it with D&H? Well, perhaps it's that the story will come from player contributions more than from my grand plan as GM. Is it that it's easier for the GM to come up with stuff on his own and direct players through it, rather than work with what the players are giving him through their characters?

    Maybe. I know that as a GM in trad games I had to work with a lot of different player characters that players would pitch at me. But that's at the outset once it's in motion I'm the classic GM as Entertainer and custodian of what is actually going on in the campaign.

    But is there a development of those PCs during play with D&H that takes stuff out of my hands as GM (and it puts it firmly in the hands of the player and the resolution mechanic)? And I need to adapt to that and work with what they are creating rather than what I have envisioned? Maybe the GM has less buy in, and while the players have more influence they look to the enthusiasm the GM has?

    So, is that a skill that GMs need to learn? To give away their sole vision and enjoy working with players ideas continually? It's totally do-able. Neil could keep rolling forever with a D&H campaign I'd bet. And he'd think it easy to react to the unfolding Personal Missions of PCs.

    Is that because Neil has his own enthusiasm and wants to have the game go places he alone couldn't think to take it?
      CommentAuthorNeil Gow
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2010
    Just as another information point, I asked each member of my gaming group, 'blind' - ie, they have not seen this thread - about this tonight. The general consensus was (iirc)

    1. The lazer-focused nature of indie games tends to burn through the issues and bring them to a conclusion very quickly thus 'ending' the characters narrative.

    2. There is not always a lot of attention paid in the rules to extending that narrative easily within the game - i.e. how and when to make new personal missions, or new agendas in HW etc.

    3. There is a certain sandbox nature to trad games which allows the players to namble around a bit and play into the system, character and campaign. Indie games, less so.

    However, the most telling one - which I mentioned, but I think is relevant, is this.

    Many people have their first experiences of various trad games around a familiar gaming table where they are played at their normal pace. Many people have their first experiences of various indie games around a CON table, played at the frenetic fast burn, death or glory pace of such games. Monkey see, monkey do follows. (And from a D&H angle, this is exactly right - rarely do people actually feel the impact of a successful or failed mission in a D&H con game because it rarely runs over more than one mission - that impetus to push the character is lost, disposable)

    Gregor Hutton:So, what if I'm playing it with D&H? Well, perhaps it's that the story will come from player contributions more than from my grand plan as GM. Is it that it's easier for the GM to come up with stuff on his own and direct players through it, rather than work with what the players are giving him through their characters?

    Its striking a balance. I think most of groups are happy having a GM with ideas that incorporates our own things as he goes along. Its up to the skillz of the ref as to whether he can do this on the fly, or needs a week with a book to do it. The trick I like to see

    Either way the GM has some work to do, but in most small press games, all the players have "work" to do as well - and its getting their contributions that may be a barrier. A lot of players struggle with the high level input over long periods of time. (Some people don't ever want to run games in the traditional environment and would rather be "just" players.)

    I personally want to be involved all the time, which is why I run a lot of games - but there are some players even in my own group that don't want that level of involvement. The issue with getting the small press campaign going is that you need a bunch of "GMs". A more traditional set up, you can have more your meat and potatoes roleplayers round the table.

    Gregor Hutton:So, is that a skill that GMs need to learn? To give away their sole vision and enjoy working with players ideas continually? It's totally do-able. Neil could keep rolling forever with a D&H campaign I'd bet. And he'd think it easy to react to the unfolding Personal Missions of PCs.

    I think I've covered it above, but yeah for sure. I run games with an idea of what's going on, but I'm not going to prevent cool character brought stuff if its working. My personal preference is to try and have that seamlessly joined so the players are none the wiser (or they are perfectly wise but are willing to go along with it, because the stitching is good enough).

    My theory on the lack of campaigns is probably more mapped to players coming up with enough of those personal missions, or even wanting to. You could pick up a bunch of people from this forum and run all year no diggity, but "out there" its not as common to find that bunch of players. Whereas if you go to a games club with Cthulhu you're fighting them off with a stick (bizarrely, as its one of the" least suited to campaign style" games going).

    Gregor Hutton:Is that because Neil has his own enthusiasm and wants to have the game go places he alone couldn't think to take it?

    I totally get what you're saying. And feel a bit bad that we keep picking on Neil's game, but he started it... ;) Reading Apocalypse World at the minute, where I think that might get more chance or the longer run, is that you do all the same stuff you would for other games (especially small press ones), but disguise the player's contribution behind a Wizard's curtain. More well read players will know what's going on, but (as I mentioned in my preference above) as long as you can't really see the joins, its all good - and for those who are just there for the ride, they're not aware how much they're adding or the GM's making up on the fly, so they're happy too. In several other games it specifically tells the players that they've got the responsibility - and some of them find it hard work.
    But players in 3:16 don't have to do ANY work between sessions. I think D&H is the same. You turn up and play.

    Maybe it just is the "priming" of how you first experience them as Neil suggests. I know players have (wrongly) written 3:16 as only good for one shots , which in my opinion is bullshit.

    I don't think we're picking on D&H -- I see it as a very good game. I think D&H also has good support (forums, almanacs, etc.) much like a trad game so I'm doubly confused why it doesn't get more campaign play.
    Gregor Hutton:
    I don't think we're picking on D&H -- I see it as a very good game. I think D&H also has good support (forums, almanacs, etc.) much like a trad game so I'm doubly confused why it doesn't get more campaign play.

    Likewise. As a minor addendum to this, the thematic and mechanical nature of D&H seems to beg for campaigns. The very world itself 'campaign' - indelibly linked to long-term military activities such as the Peninsular Wars, and stemming from our wargaming origins - in it's gaming context, is custom made for a game such as D&H. The mapping over of a military campaign onto a D&H game campaign seems, well, just a sensible thing to do.

    Anyhow, that's a minor side point. I just though the very word was so stunningly appropriate for D&H/BtQ.

    Gregor Hutton:But players in 3:16 don't have to do ANY work between sessions. I think D&H is the same. You turn up and play.

    I'm making a hash of getting one of my points across, I don't mean pre-game prep as much as stuff people come up with in-game. For you or I, I imagine you're similar, we could come up with personal missions all day long; when the referee goes around the table asking for a couple of things each player wants to see in that session we'd have ten and be working out which are the favourite two.

    A lot of players though would struggle with that, find it hard work - certainly week-in, week-out in a campaign. The small press games have a really sharp, clear idea - you're a Hicks from Aliens, you're Hornblower. There are a bunch of clear things you can think of that you want to do immediately and got a short run of games, there's plenty to go at. Three months down the line, not so much.

    Now, I know that things develop during game and recurring enemies pop up out of nowhere when an off the cuff comment is followed by a bad flop of the cards for the player etc., but I'm struggling to see what I'd genuinely want to do as a player after say six weeks of campaigning in D&H. For people with less enthusiasm than me, its an even bigger gamble. I'm probably going to pitch a BtQ game in the next round of potential games, so hopefully we'll see - after six weeks that guys might be aching for more.

    A lot of people really struggle with that whole "what do you want to do?" question and would rather have a GM narrating that French Capitan slaps them across the face with his white glove (as a surprise), rather than have thought pre-game that they'd rather like a duel at some point.

    Gregor Hutton: I know players have (wrongly) written 3:16 as only good for one shots , which in my opinion is bullshit.

    Ooh good one. Now, I've said something similar (if you remove the word "only"). From my limited experience it makes a good pick up and play game, but I don't want to play a campaign. I've had a decent couple of missions, but afterwards, wasn't left wanting to carry on with that story or brimming with questions I wanted answered or things I wanted to do. Maybe it was the GM, or the other people round the table that didn't make it sing, but ultimately I'm not convinced.

    I think it was one of the CE that commented you need to play through about 20 missions of 3:16 to really get the most out of it. This may be true. But that's a big commitment up front when you're not that sure to start with (or even if you are fairly sure for that matter). There's the question often when a game is pitched "What do you do?" - some games seem great, but after reading them you still can't imagine what the players actually do (I seem to remember Nephilim having an interesting presence, but even after reading several source books including the GM's guide I still had no idea what your players actually did every week).

    In the small press games, you can quickly get a tag on what you do - but it looks, certainly on the face of it fairly limited. I get to play a space marine blasting aliens? Cool? What are we doing next week? Blasting more aliens? 10 weeks later... Now I'm sure there's more to it than that - but where's the resource demonstrating this in a fairly quick and accessible way?

    I'd pitch Pendragon to loads of people and often get responses like "But aren't you all knights, aren't you all the same?", but of course you're not and you can point to the passions and traits system that makes you all different. Then you'd get people saying "Oh yeah, you play your own Grandson and stuff" which doesn't happen very often, most people don't play that long - but there is the perception there that its a long haul game - and it has the winter phase mechanic which support the longer term play. Pendragon is from a time when most games were played as campaigns - there wasn't the wealth of books about that there is today and so there's plenty of empirical evidence to indicate to people that its the way to go. "You have to play Pendragon, so that you eventually get to be your own son" - or whatever (they're not really getting it with that statement) - but the new games are in a vicious circle of not having any campaigns already in the bag for others to read about and "get" - so not as many people think to play it as a campaign.

    There's also a bit of a skeleton here from the bad old days too (this is no reference to the CE folk, but one of the CE games is a classic example). When Cold City was released there was still a lot of that Indie vs Trad stuff going on, the war or who was superior at its height. So you got people giving you the laser-focused pitch "Its monster hunting in Berlin", (cool! I'm in!), swiftly followed by folk tittering behind their internet hands and patronisingly scoffing at people who thought that it was about monster hunting in Berlin (wait, what?). To this day I can get vague murmurs about Trust, but no one I meet can satisfyingly explain what its all about long term. So as much as I like the idea of the set up, I'm probably not going to try a campaign of that thanks.

    Now here's an interesting point. I've challenged various people to give me a one liner of what Hot War is all about and they can't. Even the ever willing Mr Stokes couldn't. You simply can't laser-focus a Monster Hunting in Berlin line for the sucker. But I've run a six week game of that and can see where the story could have gone on afterwards, one player was hitting me with his next agenda about a nanosecond after he'd completed the first. The game takes longer to pitch and explain, but that's a Good Thing for campaign play. Initially trying to get people on board for one shots was hard - but as soon as the convention evidence was out there that it was good, people flocked to it. With the structure of the agendas and complex world set-up you can easily see where you could play more of it for longer. Cold City had the better con game hit rate, but lacks the "evidence" if you will to make it a campaign game. From what I've seen anyway.

    So it might be that the very thing that makes some of these games attractive instantly "You're Sharpe!" - mean they feel a bit too superficial for campaign play - or at least its not immediately obvious where you'd go with it. If there were some campaigns out there, then more people would play campaigns?

    A different point to note is that most of the people who play the small press games and are actively interested are the "GMs" of old - i.e. those who bought and read the books and game and ran them. To take my group, we've got four GMs constantly fighting for the chance to run something. If you ask them what that something is, it changes from week to week as there are so many instantly accessible games out there, its easy to dive into something new. One player really wants to play Earthdawn, I'd love to run it, but its fighting against a tide of "lets play Apocalypse World, its like Fallout 3" and 47 other games. In groups where you've got the sort of folk who are on board with the small press games, typically they are often reading something new or eager to try out more games, so the chance of getting a game flying as a campaign is ironically smaller.

    Gregor Hutton:I think D&H also has good support (forums, almanacs, etc.) much like a trad game so I'm doubly confused why it doesn't get more campaign play.

    The forums aren't chocker with weekly reports of how the weekly campaign is going though, for example. The almanacs and miscellany very much keep the game alive, but not much in them points to campaign play. I'd argue that the discreet parts need weaving together - so not a list of interesting NPCs, a collection of curios (which are all good, and have proved very useful), but to support the campaign style, have all that mixed in together.

    I've written War and Peace again, so I'll sign off for now...

      CommentAuthorNeil Gow
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2010 edited
    First off, no problem using my games as examples, as I strongly believe they cover the bases being mentioned and hey, as Gaz said, I did start it!

    The eye-brow raising aspect of some of what has been said here by Gaz - and I must say, I am greatly appreciating your input - is this idea that campaigns play better in games that engage less with the character and story and that, in some way, allows the players and GM space to namble around and play in a campaign? What I'm taking from this is that non-character-crucial activities actually help campaign play by slowing things down? And here I'm talking about shopping, travel, securing an inn for the night, wandering monsters and even dungeon crawls (which are essentially a resource drain before the important stuff at the end). In some way these add a 'depth' that adds some of the widgets that are needed for successful campaign play. Its not something I adhere to myself, but I have heard it a lot on this issue.

    (Momentarily distracted by the Saturdays compilation hour in MTV Hits. Wiping drool off laptop. OK composed again!)

    OK, a little inside track on the design of Empire might help illustrate my disconnect here. I'm said often that my games are written in a manner that is perfect for me and my group. They are written to accommodate our preferred playstyle. Everything you see within them is how we play. And as a group we struggle to get significant gaming from one-shots. Last night was the end of our two year D&D campaign, prior to that its been 18 months of Pendragon, 18 months of Buffy and 18 months of D&D (with some fail games in between that never got traction). We *do* run one-shots, playtests and such in our occassional mid-week group, but the impact is never the same. The 'voyage-mission-challenge' structure of BtQ (and primarily, its BtQ that I boggle about under this issue as it has a much wider scope for campaign play) directly, there, in the book, tells you to link missions together. Now, it doesn't SHOW you - I'll take that - but then again, there is nothing I have seen in say, D&D, that does either.

    Which leads to the next point - inspiration and understanding.

    One of the things I had to wrap my head around when I was deciding to may D&H was how much support I put into the game for people who knew nothing about the genre. I was aware that I was creating the classic 'niche within a niche within a niche' game but I reasoned - look, theres a picture of a flipping redcoat on the front, you're only going to buy this if you actually know what it is and if you do, you don't need to have your hand held! Subsequently, I discovered that this was right only to a part. Many people are aware of the genre but don't have more than a passing knowledge - and by that I mean having seen one episode of Sharpe. This is particularly prevalent amongst the American players and the addition of the curios/battles etc in the Miscellany was a direct response to Shane Ivey's request for such to help him get a better grip on the genre.

    However, what I reject is that people have some innate understanding of say, Middle Earth, Glorantha, 1920s America, the Spinward Marches or the County of Sarum* more than they have of the adventures of Hornblower. If fact, in the 10 hours it takes to watch the Extended LotR trilogy and read the books, you could watch all of the Hornblower series and probably about four or five of the books. Of course, this is being trite because the campaigns we play as adults are a conglomeration of a load of inputs from many years. Just think about, for example, the number of movie references which accidentally slip into games? However, if you want to play any game with an established background, there is a bit of homework to be done - be that watching some stuff on the History channel or taking four Dresden Files novels on holiday with you....

    It also strikes me as a bit too simplistic to boil the games down to 'Killing the French'. Thats like saying D&D is just 'Slaughtering Orcs'. Is Star Wars 'just about killing Stormtroopers'? I think not. However - and this is my BIG TAKE from this thread so far - I think you are spot on that appearances may be deceiving and that to overcome the Monkey See, Monkey Do problem, we need to SHOW people how to do it, rather than accept it as taken.

    Thats something I will be working on, certainly.

    Which leaves BtQ and I'm just bemused. Because BtQ sits as a kissing cousin to that favourite of rpg genres; the pirate game. Nobody has a moments problem thinking about pirate stuff to do and where is the groundswell of material for that? Treasure Island and a few dodgy films? And games usually in one area of the oceans! BtQ gives you the world, on a plate, half a dozen navies to challenge, cultures to meet and enslav... educate, adventure on sea AND land and hundreds of years of our naval tradition to draw from. Yes, this is the voice of tongue-in-cheek frustration!

    I'm really getting good stuff from this thread guys, so as I head off on my holidays (to the Barbary State of Tunisia, no less!) I'd just like to say thanks. Loads of stuff for me to think about on my hols.


    * We mused last night about how Pendragon was seen as one of the stand-out games for campaign play (which it is, IMO) and yet, rules as written, it is about as laser focussed as you can get. You all play knights, you all play Cymric Knights, you all play male Cymric Knights of around the same age, serving the same master in the same feckin' county at the same time!

    ps. As a GMing tip to Gaz for his upcoming game - if you want it to last longer for campaign play, do two things. First, slow down the game slightly and make the incidence of military mission challenges less frequent. Being able to throttle that up and down a little allows you to change from 'convention' mode to 'home table' mode easily. Secondly, you can easily switch the importance of the 'what cool shit do you want to do?' section to something more casual-friendly. Maybe ask between sessions what missions you would like to focus on, or if there is just one thing people want to see, whilst at the same time adding a little more GM-lead stuff. If you look at the adventures I have in the back of the Miscellany, there are a number of very fixed points and usually when I sit at the table, even in an open con game, I have a number of twists and encounters prepared in my head to slip into the game when appropriate. Thats another design quirk of the game - you can dial the player-input right down if needed and still play the game as it stands. Cos I loves you all. Even the CoC deviants *wink*
    What a great thread. Maybe we should just leave it here and spin off daughter threads for any other stuff coming out of it?

    Enjoy your hols, Neil. See you at GenCon in the US.

    Oh, my Between Missions stuff in 3:16 runs the same way I ran the Winter Phase in the Boy King Campaign in 1991-92. :-)
    I’ll be brief as G-Unit has asked we wind things up, but a couple of parting shots…

    Neil Gow: this idea that campaigns play better in games that engage less with the character and story and that, in some way, allows the players and GM space to namble around and play in a campaign?

    I’d probably more say, “don’t have have to engage so intensely”. I like the other stuff going on bit, but rather than be shopping necessarily, have other things going on. Prelude to War for Earthdawn is good. A current 4e player would probably be horrified at the lack of details and broad strokes of ideas, but for me it was ace. Your players still have all their own shenanigans going on, but now the King’s dead or a stone fortress has landed in the middle of the country. It’d be like playing D&H and then having Portugal decide it was going to side with France half way through.

    Neil Gow: Now, it doesn't SHOW you - I'll take that - but then again, there is nothing I have seen in say, D&D, that does either.

    With the weekly one hour shots that D&D gives you plus pre-packaged campaigns, (or the Great Pendragon Campaign for example) you get shown through the additional product?

    Neil Gow:However, what I reject is that people have some innate understanding of say, Middle Earth, Glorantha, 1920s America, the Spinward Marches or the County of Sarum* more than they have of the adventures of Hornblower.

    They probably don’t, but in BtQ if your mission is Get the Despatches to Gibraltar, then you need to know some detail about sea voyages, what the individual seamen do, what officers get up to and all the other shizzle that brings it to life and what the game is about. Whereas if I’m guiding the giant cradles down the River of Cradles, I don’t need to know any boating stuff, who the Lunars are or anything much else beyond “I Don’t Want to be Eaten by a Lunar Wyvern Rider”. The minutiae that bring BtQ to life are easily glossed over in other “fantasy” games. I often struggle in Cthulhu to remember if phones have been invented and other bits, but when a Dark Young is trying to eat your face, it all falls by the wayside.

    Neil Gow: Which leaves BtQ and I'm just bemused. Because BtQ sits as a kissing cousin to that favourite of rpg genres; the pirate game.

    I hadn’t thought about it, but it is an odd one. Perhaps its because pirates by definition can do whatever they want, whereas BtQ characters have a Captain and Military Mission they have to follow – the whole game has certain restrictions on what they can do (even if the players are allowed tons of plot control, there’s that implied feeling that you should do certain things, because, you know, its Hornblower).

    Neil Gow: Secondly, you can easily switch the importance of the 'what cool shit do you want to do?' section to something more casual-friendly. Maybe ask between sessions what missions you would like to focus on

    Oh yeah totally. They can just do what they’re told, who wants their stoopid ideas ;)