Thursday, December 13, 2018

Generational Campaigns

Early D&D was dotted by long campaigns. Both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had sprawling campaigns with many moving parts. Ernie Gygax later had the Hobby Shop Dungeon. My own Mord Mar campaign has run for many years, in many iterations. But, each builds off the previous. Others too have run campaigns for years.
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This is one of the true joys of Dungeons and Dragons, and is often lacking in games today. In the beginning, the multi-generational campaign was hard-wired into the rules. As an example, I quote Blackmoor: "The Order is structured in such a way that there is only one man at each level above the 6th (Grand Master). At such time as a 6th-level character gains sufficient experience points to rank as 7th level he temporarily gains the appropriate attributes. He must then seek out the Grand Master of Dragons, and defeat him in a fair fight. There will always be a higher level to fight, even if there is no player character in the role." (Page 4, referring to monks).
Arneson's rule allowed the return to the spotlight for long retired characters. It created adventures. It made previous adventures seem important. These things are not possible in a series of disparate campaigns. 
Even Wizards of the Coast jumped on the verisimilitude bandwagon. They released products like Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The Expedition series followed in much the same vein. WotC counted on these products to draw in older gamers. They did.
5th Edition is using the nostalgia in a completely different way. Curse of Strahd, and Tales of the Yawning Portal are almost the original modules re-written for 5th edition. They do not pull history of players into the books. Instead, they push the books' histories into the players.
This has been an important strategy to bring new players into the game. And it has worked. D&D and the RPG industry is as strong as it has ever been. But, its been built on the history that came before today. Even the rules set is primarily built from the previous rules iterations. 
With this in mind, how does a modern DM incorporate the past into the future? That's the crux of this blog. Here's some strategies to help with both published adventures and home-brew campaigns.
1. Tie-in early. Add a Tarroka reader into the Rise of Tiamat. Use words like "lineage" and "bloodline." Don't give information on the current adventure. Let the players wonder which adventure is actually being run. 
2. Use the "Masters' Rule" from Arneson where appropriate. Druids and Monks both have a tradition of seeking out their betters. Both can have supernaturally long lives. Even paladins and warlocks may have a similar system. Return the PCs to the game if you can. 
3. Start and end your games in the same world and region. In your epilogue session, mention who has settled down, and who had kids. Try to tie these into previous characters. If Bill played a Dragonborn last adventure and is playing a human this adventure, maybe Karen is playing Bill's Dragonborn's daughter.
4. Cross-contaminate artifacts. If the players have the Sunsword after Strahd's defeat, have Acererak send his undead minions to claim it at the beginning of the Tomb of Annihilation campaign. If a character sees that weapon as their birthright, they will be in high gear to track it down.
5. If old PCs are still alive, have them show up. Maybe a chance meeting at a marketplace. "I knew your mother, she saved my life many times. I hope your group is as tight as we were." "You're adventuring with a Bucklebeer? Watch that one. His father once stabbed me for a magic ring." Let the old stories seep into the new game.
6. Have re-occurring villains. Not in just one adventure, but many campaigns. Strahd, Tiamat, Acererak and others are basically immortal. They have powerful minions that can show back up too. "Your grandparents thwarted our destruction of this realm. I only have vengeance for you now!"
7. Keep the retired adventurers who became queens or emperors on their thrones. Give the PCs some latitude when dealing with them. "Your uncle helped me gain this throne, and I shall repay the favor." Just make sure not to give too much.
8. Have a location that shows up in every campaign. One that is affected by the adventurers. Maybe they broke a hole in a wall. Let them know they've been there before. 
9. Have a construct that shows up again and again. Maybe it was a stone golem that the fighter removed the head of. The next generation runs across the same golem, now with a bronze head, and a club that has its previous head at the top. A subsequent generation finds the same golem, now with a mithril arm too.
10. Keep notes of the changes your players force upon the world. There are several websites available for this, and I use Obsidian Portal. Find one you like and keep extra notes. Review them before the next story, and re-use interesting elements.


1 comment:

  1. RPOL (role play on line) has a wiki system that can be used to record such game specific background data.

    The hardest thing in the games us brothers played was to stay still.
    Always traveling sometimes between planes or even dimensions.

    The bonds of family, and guild if given a place can help anchor a group.
    I have thought that adding a lifestyle level when visiting home would act as a method of bringing family in as regular NPC's.

    As a regular non-standard monster in my campaigns are "mundane" think zero-levels. Who gain skills without hp levels.
    The levels only reserved for a "magical" augmented Hero.. in most cases heroism is ruled by chaos. The talent appearing randomly. And starting at 1st level.
    Law for the most part rules the demi-talent.
    The heroic class embedded in a settlements class and social structure.
    I have an exemption where the Gods have gifted a family or clan with a heroic champion line. Most of the time, when the hero dies. Either retired or between adventures. The next hero in develops the heroic visions. And starts at 1st level.. but an adventurer killed in the service of his bonded companion party, will often pass not only the mantel of hero but a large chunk of experience points as well. Starting the new Champion at just under party level.
    IE.. the "reasons" and tradition that undergird what the DM has to keep the game going.