Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Dead Campaigns and Folian Mysteries

Last week I decided to finish my Chronicles of the Seventh Moon campaign. The main reasons were the fact that my group lives 300 miles away (I moved two years ago) and that, recently, one of my players moved to another (yet farther) location. Making the entire party meet is now something hard, particularly given the way the campaign was originally structured.

I started Chronicles of the Seventh Moon 4 years ago, using D&D 3.5. At the time I was heavily in the mood of a previous Legend of the Five Rings campaign (that lasted 9 years). In other words: a game deep in rival scheming factions, shades of grey, lots of NPCs and lots of setting minutiae. I really loved this metaplot-heavy style of running games (and, most important, my players enjoyed it). Usually I do this by creating progressively big event-based scenarios, which lots of detailed and fully-fleshed NPCs, each with his own agenda. In this mix I always add bizarre customs and strange societies (in Chronicles I basically took the various “D&Disms” and inserted them as fully social aspects of a faux-Medieval/Early Modern society). Then I throw my players in the cauldron and let things boil up. It requires a good deal of game preparation (from my part) and attention to details and NPCs (on the part of the players). Though, after a few sessions of presentation, each adventure runs really smoothly. I must have run games this way for the past 10-12 years.

However, after moving out of town, our games became sporadic and all those rich details and living NPCs turned into a problem – we had to spend an entire week before the scheduled game remembering all the facts, diplomacy and events. Preparing these games was also troublesome, as I was forced to read again all my notes (after all, between game sessions months would pass by). Finally, I realized that my players weren’t anymore paying attention to the campaign setting (neither were they investing into the game besides coming to each session). They just wanted to play my games, not to be an active part on the world-building aspect. All in all, it seemed that it would be easier for both of us to stop things.

I’m mentioning this because I’m impressed with my game tastes this day. Because of the OSR I became interested in the first editions of D&D and in the “Old School” way of running things. Improvisation, “light” settings/adventure structure, and an open “sandbox” approach, became my “mandatory” aspects. Coincidentally, these types of adventures/campaigns were a lot easier to run over long distances with a group that you meet only once every 4-5 months.

In fact, I tried to lure my old group into the OSR. First with the D&D Next “Caves of Chaos” playtest. Then, this weekend, I run their first OD&D (the Little Brown Books themselves) game, using Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ Tower of the Stargazer introductory adventure. It was fun watching them react in horror to terrible Ability Scores rolls (3d6 in order!), only to learn later how little these numbers restricted them. It was also rewarding to see their wonder at the value of Charisma. Three players rolled really high Charisma scores (almost Paladin-worthy!) and took advantage of the situation to hire hirelings. They not even were aware of the concept of hirelings and henchmen before this session. They quickly contracted lots of them and I must say that half of the adventure’s fun was their relationship with their hirelings (a memorable event was when the Cleric’s hireling succeeded at a Loyalty check, keeping a portcullis raised while half the party faced a giant spider).

Unfortunately, while the game was definitely fun, my group didn’t bought OSR’s premise. No, not one player told me explicitly that, but I noted their reactions when I mentioned my desire of running more OD&D games. They loved the game session, but for campaigns they still want Pathfinder’s massive amount of character customization and optimization. I see now that this aspect is now a mandatory RPG component for them. I pity, but I still have my hopes.

Oh, and now on some good news. Here’s my latest game acquisition:

Jeff’s Gameblog posts – “Folian Mythos” and “Internation League of Fiend Foliasts” are the responsible, though I especially liked Blood of Prokopius’ ideas on the subject – using a Fiend Folio-only world as an alternative material plane is something I’m tempted to try. It would be interesting to throw the usual D&D party in a bizarre and alien Fiend Folian world (maybe for a Barsoom-like campaign).