Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Increasingly Inaccurately-named One-Shot Campaign

I'm going to talk about another one of my one-shot campaigns, since it was really fun and it looks like something similar is about to happen again with the evil campaign. I was living in a town called Montegut in high school. It was kind of the middle of nowhere, but it was a quiet little town and most of my friends lived nearby. Or with me, in the case of my friend Chahlz (actually Charles, but we say it as if the word were one syllable).

My friend Ethan would sometimes come visit to play Magic or just hang out with me and Chahlz. We got tired of that one day, so we figured, why the hell not, let's play D&D instead. Yeah, just the three of us. I figured that might be a little rough, since the game is designed for four players, but I could balance the challenges somewhat and maybe add in an NPC helper of some kind. Or, because I'm actually okay at this DMing thing, a helper that is part of the plot. So they set to making characters and I set to making the game.

For my inspiration/blatant thievery, I looked to Vagrant Story, my favorite video game of all time (unless I've played Final Fantasy Tactics recently). I didn't steal the plot or characters or anything like that, but I did blatantly steal the whole idea of an abandoned magical city. And a bit of the city itself - the city was surrounded by a violent river, so they had to pass underground to get to it. By the way, play that game if you haven't. It's a one-man dungeon crawl and it's awesome.

So I made a small town for them to exist in, and I designed the whole city and top ground layers and bottom layers, with an eye for Vagrant Story's aesthetic.

This game was the closest to a straight hack and slash game I've ever run. But Ethan and Chahlz have great chemistry together, so they were constantly role-playing, even while they were looting abandoned bedrooms and such. And their characters would get really excited over the loot, even if it was just a well-preserved tapestry of some kind.

I can't quite remember what Ethan made (some kind of spellcaster, I think), but I know Chahlz was a spear-focused Fighter. Their NPC guardian who led them there was a Paladin on a crusade to discover the secrets of the city and to eventually invade the abyss, to find some way of stopping the frequent demon invasions. Probably somewhat foolishly, but it didn't actually make it that far. I know I eventually wanted to expand into a campaign that traveled between the planes frequently.

Anyway, the first time they played, they had a ton of fun and got through about half of my dungeon. And we picked it up again the next week they were both free. For a little over a month, they'd call and say, "Hey, do you wanna get together and play that one-shot campaign again?" I commented that it wasn't really a one-shot anymore, since we had played it like three times. So, with a nod to Douglas Adams and his Hitchhikers Trilogy, I dubbed it the Increasingly Inaccurately-named One-shot Campaign.

Still, all good things must come to an end. As we kept playing it, we told stories to our friends about it and our inside joke about what to call it, and they eventually wanted to play, too. It was fun and this little dungeon-crawl was on the verge of turning into something awesome. Once again, I figured, why the hell not? So we added my friends Blake and Charlie. And for some reason, the session they were introduced was the last one. I know it's not their fault directly. They're very fun people to play with and they always make interesting characters.

I think the introduction of the other people changed the dynamic we had, though. The party doubled in size and it wasn't the same. That might have ruined some of the appeal for Ethan and Chahlz. The new characters also took some time to get invested in the story, and they were simply absent for some of the formative events.

I think the bigger killer was the complexity creep, however. I had gotten to the point where I was comfortable eschewing a battle map when the encounters were fairly simple. And with a two-person party, that was all the time. I'd describe the room so they have some positioning, and as long as there was only one monster, the battles could be like, "Am I close? I swing at it," or "I charge at it". Positioning doesn't really matter when all they need are yes and no answers to these few simple questions. But adding in a third and fourth really required a battle map. We had one really big battle in that session that drove this point home for me.

Yet another problem was that by adding people, it was just harder to get everyone together for it. That wasn't as much of a problem in high school as it is now, but people still had jobs and other things they wanted to do with their time.

So, that's the story of my Increasingly Inaccurately-named One-shot Campaign, a game that started simple and was ruined by complexity. I'm not sure what the lesson is here. Games may not survive drastic changes to the party dynamic? This is consistent with my other experiences. Try to run with the minimum number of people? Well, maybe. Steal from video games for successful games? Well, obviously!

My friends should feel free to comment on the details they remember from this game, because many of them have slipped my mind.

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