Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Campaign Design Best Practices (Part 3)

9. Drama - Beginning The Session: Some people recite poetry or campaign literature at the start of each session. This, as we say in the business, is boring as fuck. I think I remember Monte Cook writing about doing that in his blog, no surprises there. Classier individuals play a theme song each time to set the tone and make starting the game a formula --it signals the transition from catching up with friends and prepping snacks to the exploring the game world. I usually ask my players where we left off, so they present their own perspective of what their situation was that I can then modify to my needs. Maybe they won't mention a key fact that I wish to ensure that they know; this way I know to re-state it for emphasis. This also freshens me up, in case there's something about their situation that I forgot.

10. Drama - Narrate From The Enemy's Perspective: You don't always need to present the PCs with a situation for them to disassemble. The PCs in an old campaign once expressed a desire to infiltrate the castle of the local tyrant for the purposes of assassination. I told them not to bother planning the infiltration itself, and instead spent ten minutes describing what kind of day the tyrant's guard assigned to watch the sewer entrance was having --his wife had left him, he had medical problems, and so forth. Then I narrated the PCs bursting out of the sewer and killing him. It was remarked upon as at least one PC's favorite encounter of the campaign.

11. Drama - In Media Res: Books and movies often have events begin halfway into a scene. Things are already happening and it doesn't take much to figure out what happened beforehand. One can also apply this to roleplaying games. Starting the game in the middle of a fight is always fun. Or beginning them in a precarious situation, like in a room with a slowly lowering ceiling, ala George Lucas. Almost any dramatic situation can be enhanced by simply dictating that the PCs start in the middle of it. Don't overuse this, though, or the PCs will get tired of it.

12. Drama - Experiment With Structure: I once began a session with the last encounter, with the PCs bound to a giant stalagmite. They roleplayed being tied up. One of the PCs was quicker on his feet and just went with it, while another one was furious and didn't go with it at all, so the first player pretended that the second had amnesia. Then I said "four hours earlier" and had the PCs scoping out a building and kicking in doors. The PCs caught on that we were doing the session backwards, and when the second player mentioned above received a critical hit, he ad libbed that it gave him amnesia. They made sure to include salient points about what they were doing and why, so when we jumped back another four hours it formed a continuum, eventually getting to the PCs waking up that morning, then jumping back to the stalagmite scene to resolve it. This session ruled.

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