The King is Dead

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Don't tell my players, but I kind of want to ditch my current campaign.

http://fantasy-npc.deviantart.com/journal/ARTIST-OF-THE-WEEK-on-Fantasy-NPC-SBraithwaite-424865922#/art/The-Duelist-404083205?_sid=2c114276
The Duelist by SBraithwaite
Our little gaming group has been playing a 5e Forgotten Realms campaign for a few months now. I’ve been splitting DM duties with +Alan Vannes and running a GMPC who becomes my PC when Alan is running the game. We’ve worked our way up to 6th level by fighting some yuan-ti, killing a young dragon, and leading an army of sylvan creatures against a horde of gnolls. It’s been wild and (mostly) fun and pretty chaotic and most everybody seems to be having a good time.

And I’d kinda like to dump the whole thing and start over.

Partially, this is because I’ve been super over-indulgent during character creation and advancement, so the characters are… Well, they’re not so much over-powered as they are overgrown. They’re sort of like Great Dane puppies with super-huge paws and heads too big for their bodies. They’ve all got maximum hit points, feats and ability score increases, and really high stats, but at the same time they’re stumbling around with their limited magic and 6th level proficiency bonuses. They’re too strong for level-appropriate challenges and too weak for higher-level challenges. It’s weird.

Also, I’ve discovered that I’m kind of crap at describing wilderness exploration (which sucks, because the Silver Marches setting was my idea).

My strengths as a DM are NPCs and intrigue, so an urban setting (like Waterdeep or Lankhmar) would probably be a better match for me. I chafe against medieval social structures, so something with more upward mobility (like an Early Modern setting – or Waterdeep) would be a better match for my sensibilities. I also prefer swordplay over spells.

In other words, I kind of want to dump our traditional high fantasy game and start up a swashbuckling campaign instead. 

I sincerely doubt that we’re going to actually do this. We’ve put in a lot of work on the campaign so far and some of the players are really invested in their characters (others have changed characters several times because they keep not meshing with the others). Heck, I’m one of the players who is really invested in his character. I love Braul.

Nonetheless, here are some thoughts I’ve had on running such a theoretical swashbuckling campaign:
  • As much as I love the idea of Altellus, it’s probably too much work to be worthwhile. The players would have to have a bunch of handouts and crap in order to get up to speed on the races and the world. It would be much, much more effective to simply utilize the resources in the Players Handbook.
  • It would be perfectly possible to run a game with no magic users. Between the berserker barbarian, champion and battle master fighters, the open hand monk, the Unearthed Arcana no-magic ranger, and the assassin, thief, and Unearthed Arcana swashbuckler rogues, you’ve got effectively 8 different classes that don’t cast spells. If we utilized the cinematic healing rules from the DMG, then we wouldn’t need healers. Add in blackpowder weapons for some pyrotechnic fun, and everything’s cool.
  • That said, I do think it would be neat to have a game with magic users who can’t cast direct damage spells, forcing them to explore and rely upon utility spells. In that case, I’d probably open up totem warrior barbarians, bards, eldritch knight fighters, way of shadow monks, and arcane trickster rogues to play. I’d be tempted to add some clerics and wizards, but I’d probably resist the urge.
  • I’d probably get rid of the Duelist feat and turn its parry feature into a core rule, adding something beyond opportunity attacks to the basic reactions. It would add a bit more strategy to the cut-and-thrust of the sword fights. For that matter, I’d definitely incorporate the optional Actions in the Dungeon Masters Guide into the game. Everyone should be able to attempt a Disarm; battle masters should just be better at it.
  • Also, characters would want to remember that final blows can be fatal or not at their choosing. They really, really would not want to kill everybody they fight.
  • Preferably, we’d stick closer to the tiers of play outlined in the DGM: Local Heroes (levels 1-4), Heroes of the Realm (5-10), Masters of the Realm (11-16), Masters of the World (17-20). I’d love to see the characters start off as local – even neighborhood – friendly Spider-Men heroes, fighting burglars and kidnappers (in the vein of Backswords & Bucklers) until they get noticed by the powers that be and are recruited for more city-wide or state-wide missions. Eventually, they should be in a position where they can found their own mercenary consortiums or marry into money (become Lords of Waterdeep), and then finally engage in politics on a global scale (like Napoleon). This would probably mean a slower accumulation of experience points at low levels, so I would need to find ways to keep the in-story rewards going between level advancements.
  • Does Wizards of the Coast even remember that firearms were introduced to the Realms in 2nd Edition? Did the Spellplague get rid of them or something? Firearms in my game would have an Armor Piercing quality, thus explaining better in-game why people have abandoned heavy armor for swashbuckling around in leather jerkins. This would require listing an armored and unarmored AC, but I’d probably want custom character sheets anyway. (It would probably be simpler to have the Armor Piercing quality mean that bullets simply bypass any and all armor, though I’m sure someone would want to argue that magical armor is resistant or something.)
  • If firearms bypass human armor, why wouldn’t they pierce Natural Armor? Hmm, maybe dragons and beholders have learned new tricks to stay clear of adventurers…
  • Lifestyle expenses and downtime activities would be important elements of play. We’ve been all but ignoring them in the current campaign, and that’s probably been a mistake. They really help flesh out a character. They do seem to take a lot of time, though, so I might need to trim some of the timescales (and definitely use Blog of Holding’s business rules). Carousing, gaining renown, and sowing rumors are must haves for a swashbuckling game. Training to gain levels might even add to the verisimilitude of the setting, as PCs have to seek out master fencers to learn new tricks.
  • I’d really, really like to do a roundtable character creation session. I don’t want everybody sitting there with their PHBs, furiously scribbling down class features and spells. I want to do it more in the Dungeon World/FATE collaborative style and make the players build their back stories together. Common bonds and real relationships would be important to the campaign. I imagine them as friends who have known each other for a while, maybe even growing up together in the neighborhood or city where play begins. They’d all still have different backgrounds and races, but they’d still be pals. 
  • I might give Wil Wheaton’s “every character should have a secret” thing a try. Maybe. I suspect it would backfire with my group. 
  • I probably wouldn’t stick to the ability score array offered in the PHB, but I wouldn’t use the overpowered one I used for the Realms game. That 8 really bugs me – I don’t know any player that wouldn’t rather reroll the whole set than get stuck with an 8 – but 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 is completely unnecessary for Fifth Edition. Bounded accuracy really does keep things reasonable. I’d probably go with 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10; I’d have players griping that they could roll better on their own, but I also know that some of my players could roll worse.
  • It might be fun to basically randomly generate the new setting – and I think I’d go with a new setting, rather than adapting the Realms or another pre-existing world to an Early Modern style. This could even give the players a chance to do some world building. That would really build some investment in the campaign.
Anyway, this is all hypothetical and probably not going to happen. We’re taking a break to let Alan run a Savage Worlds super powers campaign, but everybody’s still bubbling with ideas for the current campaign. I’ve got some ideas on how to retool it (stop running a GMPC so I can pay better attention, put everybody to work for the Harpers so we can jump into action quicker) and I’ll probably use some of the ones I listed above.

Crap, I just realized this is basically a retread of a post from last month. * Sigh * The temptations of swashbuckling remain ever present.
 

4 comments:

  1. This still sounds exciting to me, and I totally think you should go for it!

    I might allow a tiny bit of magic power to players, e.g. those from feats.

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    1. Yeah, I think I might allow utility magic after all. I’ve got this idea that the high elves are hoarding all the really powerful magic, shielding the “lesser races” from their own folly (thus making the elves the semi-sympathetic villains of the setting).

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  2. Wow. A classic GM problem: the New Shiny.

    I don't know how to best combat it myself. Often I do what you implied: I don't tell my players.

    Because often, one of them will go along with it. Its a weird thing in our hobby, the capacity to drop a campaign if a new shiny appears. It feels like there should be some sort of anthropological look at it. There has to be some sort of precedent to it before RPGs came into being.

    Did plays used to get interrupted in mid-stride by new ones?

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    1. Perhaps it’s related to the interlacing technique of medieval romances? Drop a plot, pick up a new one, weave them together, start a different plot, go back to the original, etc., etc….

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