Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Pen & paper campaign outlook

For the last two years I have been running a Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition campaign as a DM. As we only play every two weeks, we only made it to level 8 in that time, but as a DM I get additional "play time" out of the campaign by writing and preparing the adventures and encounters. Now one important thing to keep in mind (because very few other people will tell you), is that there is no one way to "do it right" when playing a role-playing game. There is a huge panoply of different opinions over what a role-playing game is about. And once you played different campaigns with different people in different circumstances you realize that what works best for your campaign depends on the people around the table. And it isn't as easy as asking them what they want to do, because they usually aren't very clear about it themselves. You just need to experiment a bit, try out different things, and see how your players react. If everybody had a good time at the end of the evening, you are on the right path.

What I have learned about my particular group is that 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons is a very good system for them. They all played World of Warcraft, and the 4E powers system and class balance is very much suited for them. I try to get a balance between role-playing and combat in my adventures, but I do notice that if I do a session without combat my players get itchy, while they are perfectly happy to do a session with only combat. I still think that a certain balance between the two types of content is best, but I know not to overdo the role-playing requirements.

Now I have also been experimenting with different kinds of adventures, or adventure sources. Currently we are in Madness at Gardmore Abbey, which is a pre-made 4E mega-adventure which I am playing close to as it was written. The Reavers of Harkenwold was another adventure I ran like that. Other adventures I took and modified, for example the Keep on the Shadowfell, which I shortened to a "best of" version and rewrote the story. And then there were adventures which weren't originally 4E adventures, like the Standing Stones of Sundown or Ravenloft: In those cases I used the basic story of the adventure, and created a 4E-style encounter-based adventure myself based on original material. Finally my next adventure will be completely original, written with the help of a fellow blogger (/wave Stubborn).

Now all of these adventure sources worked. But the experimenting and stitching together of different adventures did have one negative side-effect: My campaign isn't much of a campaign. It is a series of adventures with links between them, but no over-arching story. And as we didn't know where we were going from the start, we also did fairly little in the area of character backgrounds and personal stories, which to some extent explains the lack of interest in role-playing. I feel we could do better than that. But probably not in the current campaign with the current characters.

So my idea is to still play two more adventures after Gardmore Abbey in this campaign, to get players to the paragon tier of the game. And then we will do a complete reset and start a new campaign, still 4E D&D, from level 1 up. But this time I will use adventure material which is designed for a full campaign, not a mix of adventures from different sources. So I will be able to explain the campaign world to the players first, including the general role of the group in that world, before they choose which characters to play. And I will borrow some rules from other systems, like 13th Age "One Unique Thing" to create with each player a background story which fits into that campaign world. So hopefully the overall result will be somewhat more coherent than my current campaign, and lead to better identification of the players with their characters.

It might be too much conversion work but the Pathfinder adventure series are excellent, there's quite a variety of styles and themes available now. They're using the modified d20 rules of course so perhaps it's not worth the effort for you to convert them to 4th edition but they would give you a coherent campaign to run.

I've converted some Eberron 4th edition modules to 3.5 myself for my group and it wasn't so hard as the games have a common vocabulary even if the stats are quite different scales...
I actually bought the Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords adventure series. But ultimately I decided to go for the ZEITGEIST adventure path instead, with the added advantage of getting away from the bog-standard generic fantasy setting.
Recently I am definite fanboy of the narrative styled rpg game called Dungeon World. It's basically DnD but without combat encounters.

I understand that your current group isn't that much into this kind of games, but i thought I'd recommend it anyway just in case things change on your end.

It is a really good game (and the one it's based off of: Apocalypse World, is even better) if you like the story over tactics and dicerolls.
Tobold I strongly recommend you take a look at the Scales of War campaign published in a series of Dungeon magazines.

I'm a little more than half way through in my own campaign but have read all of it. I find it great!!

It takes the PCs from level 1 to 30. You have all your combat maps made (I display them on 42" inch screen I embeded in my gaming table).

Some "chapters" are too combat heavy or less well written, but this hasn't stopped you in the past. You'll still need to prep things to your liking, but you'll be saving alot of time yet still keep it personnalized.

It's biggest flaw are the monster stat blocks which use Monster Manual 1 and 2 models. I often replace them with the Monster Vault version to spice up things espacially if I removed some combat encounters.

Take a look at it. It's the best 4th ed campaign material I've found yet, period.
Grats on choosing Zeitgeist! Adventure 2 especially is one of the greatest I've ever run, for 4e or other systems (but then I love 4e).

Tons better than anything Wizards has ever done.
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