I’m Deuterium Ice, you may know me a bit from Tales from the Hydian Way and Confessions of a Newb GM. I have been doing an article series about how to run adventures, but @TheAngryDM is doing that with attitude, so I’m shifting to something less obvious. When we were recording next week’s Tales from the Hydian Way it became clear to me how I could help and how I can use my own experience, foibles and all, to give ideas and guidance to people doing campaigns to try to make them more interesting.
How the heck do you do a campaign well? What have I learned from doing the Lepskin campaign? Is it really a campaign if all you do is finally decide to stop one session? These are things I care about, but the basics are too basic for me, I’m past them and I want to look to something that is bigger than not messing up a single encounter.
I care about bringing people to my table. I want players focused on the table we’re at, not worrying about the tropes I trot out to stroke their egos and arcane knowledge. I’ve had enough of being talked down to at the table or away from it, being told again and again what others think I should do without actually coming to my table. The challenges of each table are unique, but we can each glean some new nugget of truth from the common pool.
I try to find a way to take my players and actually get them engaged in the game, not just acting as spectators that I throw short adventures in front of. I deeply value the ability to create a structure that allows the players to go off the path that I’ve laid out and go their own way. Moments like when I give two pieces of information to a party and, instead of being interested in following that to the next point in the simple plot I have given out for the day, they jump ahead to where I had been planning on going at the end of the night and now I have to come up with a way to make it not what they expect.
As GMs we care about where a campaign is going and how we can direct it as well as what we’re doing to ensure it gets there. Guiding a player group in a sandbox can require anything from a light touch to a flashing arrow. It’s all about learning how to read your players and how to communicate with your players. I have a hard time with this, because I’m horrible at reading people and their intentions, mostly I’m horrible at reading sarcasm and mild disapproval.
Eliciting feedback is one thing, but to get meaningful feedback is a completely different one. The chorus of “it was fun” is a great ego stroke at the end of a night when you weren’t sure it was going to work out, but it is more valuable to get feedback about how NPCs are coming across and if the players are liking the direction the campaign is going. Getting this feedback is great, but then you have to do something with it. I’m going to be covering how I’m dealing with it, and other methods of using feedback in constructive fashions while not letting the players run roughshod over your own plans.
Having plans and plot isn’t an anathema. Doing the work ahead of time so you can fall back on it to bring players into a deeper story when they go off the blazed trails makes it so you can be calmer at the table, and relax so you can have fun. I’m a dude who’s always running scared, but being able to have a quick note or two that I can scan and talk about with a short pause is such a help at the table that I can’t recommend it enough. This also goes for what the BBEGs have their minions do. I have notes for the incremental steps for the plans, almost a Gantt chart of what the final plan is. Having the BBEG’s plan laid out lets the players’ activities slowly uncover little plots within the big plot and gives a sense of scope, even if it’s window dressing.
I’m going to be looking at things, like those mentioned, in a little bit deeper detail and trying to go down the rabbit hole a little more with them. The time for me doing little pieces about this or that is over and I know I’ll be able to bring something much deeper to plotting out a larger campaign, and dealing with the weird curve balls that player throw at you.