So…much to my surprise and chagrin, I’m considering running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, using 5th edition. Before any of the veterans of the editions wars gets started: shut up. I haven’t played D&D since one session in 1993-ish, and before that 1984.
That last high school campaign ended with the characters taking on the “ultimate evil” of our campaign and winning. What the hell do you do after that? Our answer was more James Bond: 007 and Car Wars. I haven’t returned to fantasy since; in fact, I’ve actively avoided it.
The guy managing the local Meetup group for RPGs saw a sudden jump in interest after one of the members started running D&D 5e on their Meetup night. He’s a bit butthurt, since he had envisioned the group as a place where folks would get together and try loads of different (read, indie) games. Membership is high, but participation is low — Albuquerque is one of those places where you find a group and stick with it, mostly due to the commute time if you live on the Westside — but with the D&D game, suddenly people were coming out of the woodwork. Two tables of D&D are running and there is a waiting list. Apparently, people prefer D&D to Dogs in the Vineyard, and Night’s Dark Agents, and Apocalypse World, and all those artsy-fartsy games.
He asked me to run a game, and since he gave me his set for free, I feel a bit obligated. I made the mistake of mentioning his conundrum (people don’t want to try a different game every damned week; they want something to sink their teeth into…) and got four people say “You run it, I’ll play…” So without even trying, I’ve got a viable group. What the what!?! One of those is a regular in my other group (and an important part of the fledgling Black Campbell Entertainment), and his response was “I’d be interested to see what yu’d do with it…)
Well, now, so am I. I busted out the books and looked through the rules — it’s almost exactly the old AD&D I remember, but with some improvements. I’m intrigued by the tiefling, which weren’t around when I played. Thinking on it, I started laying out some rules for myself to avoid a lot of the “traps” of fantasy games…
First, start small. A county or province or whatever…I don’t need the whole world mapped out and an 80-page primer on the world to get started. (Yeah…the guy from 1993 wanted us to familiarize ourselves wth his world bible before playing…he also gave my ex-wife a female cleric character that was mute.)
Second, game balance — fuck that. If someone wants to play a starting character and another a more experienced one, I think I’m going to let them. Players don’t necessarily advance at the same rate in a game, as it is. Let them play what they want. That said — keep the levels manageable. Level 4 and down to start.
Third, no random tavern meeting BS. They should all have some sort of connection, or sets of connections that meet up. They need a reason to adventure beyond killing monsters and getting treasure.
And on that — monsters, magic, treasure…these things should be rare or at least uncommon, to my mind. Dropping in on the monster of the week isn’t exciting or shocking. After a while, it’s just another day on the job. Keep the magic use to a minimum and make it something surprising, even if it’s a PC using it. Make them get the bits for the spell, make them have to have time to enchant. Monsters should make sense — why is this thing here? Where did it come from? What’s the impact on the surroundings?
Connected to that: You don’t need to use the whole Monster Manual. pick things that make sense for the story and the campaign arc. I’m thinking of cutting out the old stand-bys like orcs and kobolds in favor of focusing on the main PC races as bad guys.
Alignments. Hate ’em. Always did. It might not be a bad place to base your character’s actions on. I was thinking of the notion of a tiefling that wants to be good…but in the end, that’s not their nature, and no matter how hard they fight it, sometimes, mature is going to trump nurture… But that brings up the necessary questions of what is good and bad in this game? What god/s and their antitheses exist (or don’t but we think they do..?)
You don’t need to have the universe jump, fully formed from your head, but anything that might be connected to the players’ motivations and back stories should be, at least half-assedly, laid down.
But, as always, I could be full of shit.