UNDER THE HOOD
For this episode of Play on Target we return to the concept of Campaign Prep- this time focused more on the crunchy bits. Once you’ve decided on a campaign- what do you do next? This connects to our earlier episode, How Do You Approach Campaign Planning? I’m pretty pleased with how this show turned out. There’s a strange tension in being the host. On the one hand, you get to direct the conversation and keep things on track. You can hear me restating ideas to track where we’ve been. On the other hand, you have to dial back your own input a little to follow the flow of the conversation and give everyone else a chance to answer. Also note the very cool new graphics on the landing page. I did the old ones; these are much cleaner.
It’s interesting to see how much all four of us have moved to a more explicitly improv and reactive approach over the years. That kind of improve isn’t necessarily easy- it takes serious thinking at the broader scale to make it work. It takes know about the world and about story. We had a GM who had great ideas- superb conceptual campaigns. He could generate awesome and interesting stories and sessions. But he never managed to grasp the free-flowing sessions which should have riffed on the players’ ideas. You could tell when he wasn’t prepared. Instead of coming up with concepts or building on what we wanted to do, he’d shut things down and kill time until the end of a session. Part of that came from the strength of the vision he had. He knew what he wanted and how things ought to look. But sometimes that didn’t take into account the characters’ (and players’) desires.
I don’t mention it as much in this episode as it probably deserves, but the most important shift I’ve made in the last ten years regarding campaign prep is focusing on collaboration. That can be minimal- simply having the players create their characters and then building a campaign to that. I did that with a recent superhero game where they choose Year One versions of existing comics characters. Who they chose defined the world and the plots (Thor implies Asgard; Nightcrawler means Mutants). Or it can be much more intense- having them build the history or city for the campaign. That cuts out a good deal of the classic GM approach to campaign construction, even some of the nuts and bolts bits. It does mean having to pick a system or develop your own mechanics to match that. I’ve done that with several campaigns successfully- Last Fleet; Relic Hunters; and Changeling Lost Vegas.
I’ve written a number of posts on Campaign and Session Prep, here are a few particularly useful ones:
- Prep Where Prep is Due
- GM Prep: Three Things
- Session Prep Sheets
- Building a Campaign: NPC Tricks
- Gamemastering NPCs (A Five-Part Series)
- Taking Moorcock’s Advice on Games
- Sandboxes & Finales
- Secrets, Rumors, and Hearsay: Player-Facing RPG Materials
If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at www.playontarget.com.