Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I need to work on a proper Amnesia review soon, but I hope you'll indulge me as I share my second experience as a novice DM. On night two with my group, two things stood out:

First, character creation is an exhausting, complicated process, especially to newbies. We spent the latter half of the night on it and never quite make it through the process. Everyone seemed tapped out, and it made me quite worried, especially since the last session was an exhausting, complicated introduction to combat. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a deal-breaker, but I feel pressure to find the fun quickly.

Second, an inexperienced group can get involved in campaign creation and produce fun results. The last time I tried my hand at being a DM, I dreamed up a setting my players might like and let them react to it. This works, but part of the fun of role-playing games is the collaborative storytelling process, and I wanted a campaign that embraced this right from the beginning.

After humming and hawing, the exercise below came to mind. By drawing on properties they like and converting them into campaign settings, I could build a campaign that would immediately catch their interest, involve their participation, introduce them to the world of D&D, and then play with expectations as the story unfolded.

Here's the exercise:

Inspiration Brainstorm
Step one is a quick, creative exercise that asks each player to answer a few questions. Make sure everyone is equipped with a pencil and paper.
  • List two cartoons you liked as a kid.
  • List two television shows you liked, or that you like now.
  • List two movies you liked, or that you like now.
  • List two other books, videogames, plays, or other miscellaneous settings with characters in them.
Share Your Inspirations
Next, share your (DM) examples of campaigns ideas converted from other settings. This lets the players know what they are up to, get the juices flowing within your group, and sets a casual target to hit. My examples are listed below.

When you feel ready, go around the table, asking for one item from each players’ list. Assign each item a number and think out loud about how it could be adapted to a campaign setting. Jot down a note or two so you remember the important bits. Repeat this step as many times as you like.

Now read off each number, idea and setting that inspired it. Have players write down the number of any campaign they think they would especially enjoy. Gather the numbers, and find consensus. If there’s none, more discussion might help.

Some players might be disappointed when an idea they liked is overlooked. This is good. Mention that these ideas can be used when creating their character background. (I forgot this mention, but will try to remember it for our next meetup.)

Starting Town
Have the players choose a starting town size from some multiple choice options you create. If they start in the same town, try to get a consensus, with you as the tie-breaker.

That’s it. You’re ready to go. If it was anything like my experience, everyone will open up sharing their notes, and contribute to a campaign that piques their interest, is enticingly familiar, and sure to hold exciting twists.

Example Campaigns
These are rough, often inaccurate sketches, but the point is go fast, be low pressure, and keep sifting until you find that one idea everyone keeps talking about. These are actual examples and notes from the creation of this campaign.

  • Inspector Gadget—you begin your adventure in teh service of a bumbling wizard who solves crime in your city. You do the work, he gets the glory.
  • Scooby Doo—you are specialists known for investigating undead presences. Mysteries are not always what they seem.
  • The Fugitive—after being wrongfully imprisoned, your adventure begins with a jailbreak. You have to find out who framed you, and why.
  • Dawn of the Dead—a plague spreads through town, turning everyone into mindless undead. A small group of survivors struggles to find a source of refuge.
  • Lost—an airship has crashed on a strange island. A group of survivors struggle to survive and explore it.
  • Dexter—a sect of vampires, working for the city, feed their compulsion for blood while obeying an oath to feed only on evil creatures, while staying one step ahead of their discovery.
  • Super Mario Bros.—the ruler of a faraway Dragonborn nation kidnaps a beloved princess. A small group of heroes travels from nation to nation through desolate sans and icy peaks to find her.
  • Final Fantasy—great titans roam the earth, airships soar the skies, and chocobos scurry across the land. An epic tale about a rising villain that is harnessing the planet’s magic for some nefarious purpose.
  • James Bond—the secret service of her majesty takes on deadly missions of state-sponsored subterfuge, full of high society and nifty gadgets.
  • Deadliest Catch—what job is more dangerous or profitable than recovering magic artifacts from forsaken dungeons?
  • Avatar (Airbender)—prophecy foretells the coming of five warriors who master the arts of five nations and bring the world together.
  • Call of Cthulu—a moody, psychological horror about the ancient forces that shaped the earth long ago, calling to you from the shadows of civilization.
  • Saving Private Ryan—a small group of reluctant heroes play a pivotal role in a greater war.
  • Romeo and Juliet—a party of allies made up of friends from two warring families are caught in a political conflict full of prejudice and difficult dilemmas.
  • Amazing Race—compete against another group of adventurers.
  • Rama—otherworldly cylinder exploration; start as fantasy.
  • The Office—commander asshat in delicate political scenario, hijinks ensue.
  • Hunger Games—capitol city over 12 impoverished districts, mutants in world, all districts go up against capitol, drawing to fight for district.
  • Knight Rider—government agents with a freaked out warforged companion.
  • Road Rovers—5 dogs, good Shepherd brings them in, evil Parvo cat man w/ assistant, Groomer.
  • Rainbow Bright—fey vs. shadowfell; party is representatives of fey, with close ties
  • Dune—highly valuable travel / psychic resource, start as nobles, get caught in native conflict
  • Double Indemnity—heist campaign
  • Kill Bill—multiple distinct enemies, marked for revenge—wire-fu style
  • Arachnophobia—therapy for members of our group that hate spiders
In our group, we had consensus on Hunger Games and Road Rovers so the campaign ended up as a blend of both, and we had near consensus on Kill Bill. Fun stuff.

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