Turn Up the Volume

Starting a new campaign is always a taxing proposition. It’s typically full of complications, from getting the new players together, to settling on a type of game, to putting all the pre-campaign information together. What turns the volume up a few notches, so to speak, is when the game is improvised. Most DM’s probably think that these kinds of games are easier to get going, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is true is that, once it gets going, there’s nothing to it—you simply have to create the story as you go, keep it untangled from previous adventures, and give all the things a normal adventure would have at a moment’s notice. If you have a fair amount of DMing experience, are familiar with adventure flow, can get someone to take notes, and are flexible enough to let the players take the reigns, then you’re a prime candidate for running an improvised game. But at the beginning… that’s where all the work is.

A sudden, intense burst of effort must be undertaken to properly prepare for an improvised game, otherwise the entire campaign will be plagued with pauses, delays, and lapses in flow. You see, when you have everything prepared, it goes to say that everything’s right there. But what happens when you’re improvising a game and you need a map of a specific building? If you didn’t do any pre-campaign preparation, then you have to stop the game, go online, find one, download it, and print it out. The whole process many not take that much time, but by the 47th time you do it, the pauses will have added up.

Pre-campaign preparation must be done. For the most part, you have to come up with everything you think your campaign would need before the first adventure. This means having a large pool of resources in which to draw from: NPCs of all sorts, “stock” monsters for the PCs to fight (with different templates added to different monsters for variety), maps of different structures, a list of NPC quirks, and a list of names for anything that could be named.

Since Endless Dungeon has become such a plot-heavy campaign, the group and I (well, mostly I) decided that we should have a less stressful, more easy-going game. A game where not everyone has to show up and where the characters can do anything they want (like kill someone if they don’t like the look of ’em). This, of course, sprung forth from two ideas:

  1. We were tired of game days passing us by because one or more players made plans on game night.
  2. I was tired of asking players, “Are you sure you want to do that?” whenever they tried to do something… questionable. This way, they can do whatever they want and face the consequences, if any. In a campaign like this, I will have no compunction about the city guard ganging up on an evil character, and putting him in jail for the rest of his life. If someone likes the paperwork of making a new character every game, let ’em do it!

After weeks of deliberation, we decided on a city game—a “D&D meets Ocean’s 11” campaign, set in the not-yet-published-world of Ptolus. I spent weeks scouring the ‘net, looking for tidbits about this world and previews of the setting book. I then consolidated them into a single document and printed them out for the first game.

When we all sat down to play, the adventure flowed wonderfully. Each character had multiple times in the spotlight, not to mention very developed personalities. Though the players knew little about the world, they accepted everything as truth, went with the flow, and had no shortage of things to do inside the massive city. Anything was possible. Go enjoy some pictures from tonight.

Alas, this evening wasn’t simply the first night of our new campaign: it was the last night in our game room. After tonight, the dining room table will go into storage, and our next game will take place at Brad’s (he’s been nice enough to give me some storage space in his closet for my D&D stuff).

Goodbye, West Sunset. We hardly knew you.