What Will The 5th Edition Living Campaign Look Like?

I’ve started a forum thread over at the Wizards LFR forums to discuss some of these ideas. Feel free to weigh in there, or in the comments here, or both.

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet over the past week or so about what the 5th edition of D&D will look like. Here at Roving Band of Misfits, we’d like to take a different approach. If you listen to the podcast, you know that Hamblin and I play Living Forgotten Realms and Ashes of Athas. In the days of 3.5, we were involved in Living Greyhawk as well (I even co-wrote a couple of mods) and we may have dabbled in the Living Arcanis campaign. Hamblin has played LFR enough to have multiple characters, one of which is in epic tier, and we both retired characters from the LG campaign. All that to say, we’ve been around the living campaigns for quite a while, and on both sides of the screen.

This week, I’ve lined up a few guest authors to join Hamblin and I in talking about what we hope D&D’s 5th edition living campaign looks like. Today, I will tackle the topic, and tomorrow it will be Hamblin. Then, on Wednesday, LFR admin Shawn Merwin of Critical Hits weighs in with his thoughts and on Thursday, LFR admin John DuBois will give his thoughts. On Friday, Ashes of Athas admin Teos Abadia (Alphastream) will address the subject, and finally on Saturday, non-living campaign player Sarah Darkmagic will give us her thoughts. Between us all (Sarah Darkmagic notwithstanding), I would guess we have literal decades of living campaign experience. I hope everyone enjoys these articles, but even more than that, I hope all of you readers (even those of you who don’t like living campaigns) weigh in with your thoughts and comments on what you hope the living campaign looks like in D&D Next.

When I look back at all the living campaigns I’ve participated in, I can name at least one thing that I liked about each of them. I can also name one thing I didn’t like so much. So of course, I have to say that no living campaign is going to please everyone. There is no perfect living campaign – I can admit that. But here are a few things I’d like to see in the next D&D living campaign.

Meaningful Regions

One of the biggest gripes I had with the Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) campaign was the elimination of regional play. In the days of Living Greyhawk (LG), a character’s home country was based upon the player’s real world location. This led to regional “flavor” that was very real because players mostly played adventures set in their region of the game world. Playing in Virginia (LG’s Geoff) “felt” different than playing in Pennsylvania (Keoland); all the players understood the laws, culture, and politics of their region because that’s where they did most of their adventuring. When LFR did away with that, regions and countries lost all identity. Rather than learn about a country’s identity through play, a player would have to be interested enough in the culture to actually look it up somewhere. Most didn’t.

Now, I understand why LFR did away with regions. It put a good chunk of adventures out of reach of most players. If you couldn’t travel to New England, for instance, you could never play a Bissel adventure. It rewarded players with the resources to travel, and punished the ones who couldn’t. I get that.

So let’s bring back Time Units (TUs)*. You can still play any module you want, but playing out of your region costs more TUs. I know that some people thought tracking TUs was unnecessary bookkeeping, but by charging a character say, quadruple TUs for playing out of region**, we would be incentivizing regional play, and could possibly bring back some regional flavor without penalizing players who can’t travel.

*In LG, every character had a pool of TUs that were spent every time they played an adventure. When the character ran out of TUs, they could not adventure again until the next calendar year, therby restricting how fast a character could level. Most players had multiple characters because of this rule.
**Better yet, set up “zones” in the game world, and charge TUs by how far a country is from the character’s home country.

Do Something to Boost Local Cons

Some of my best gaming memories took place at conventions, most of them small and local. Many small local cons took a hit when LG style regions went away, and I’d like to see something that incentivizes going to local cons. This is a social game that we play, after all, so anything to encourage the gathering of people around the game table is a good thing. And no, I don’t have a specific idea for this one.

Expansion of the “MyRealms” Model

I think that the very best thing about the LFR campaign was the creation of the MyRealms module. MyRealms basically told DMs, “make up your own adventure. Follow a few rules for campaign consistency, but tell the story you want to tell.” It allowed DMs to create their own modules that fit into the campaign. There was one drawback: DMs could only run MyRealms modules that they had written. Why not open up MyRealms distribution to anyone? Stat blocks could be stripped out of the mods in favor of book and page references, and a “5 star” attributes rating system could be put into place to moderate quality (see more on that below).

Also, I’d like to see the “official” modules embed clear, open ended plot hooks into the adventure that DMs could build from in MyRealms adventures (even if the hooks were only “optional inclusions when running this adventure”). MyRealms were supposed to be a way for DMs to let players “follow up on hooks/leads” they encountered, but I never saw anything to help DMs out with that in the modules I played and ran.

Pay Authors and Admins

I would support a $5-$10 charge (about $1-$2/player) to download official (i.e. non-“MyRealms”) campaign modules if I knew that every dollar of that was going to module authors, campaign admins, and DM rewards. While some would argue that seeing players enjoy the fruits of your labor is a reward unto itself, I would counter and say that being an author or admin in a living campaign is often a thankless job.

Greater Use of Technology to Support the Campaign

So here’s my “dream big” wish for the next campaign. Use the internet to its fullest potential. Supplement the campaign with internet based tools.

First, I imagine a community-edited wiki about the game world, NPCs, modules, and major events. Within the wiki, I would be able to download modules, “5 star” rate them afterwards, and vote on module results to go back to the admins. I don’t need forums on the wiki, but I do need a way to send meaningful comments and feedback about a module, especially since I’m envisioning a campaign where anyone can upload a “MyRealms” module to the wiki for anyone else to use. And yes, I realize that opens authors up to “non-meaningful” feedback as well. Welcome to the internet. I could also track all of my characters on the wiki, including their adventure history, favors, and other relevant stats. I don’t need a character sheet there, but if it hooked into a DDi character builder in some way, that would be pretty great. A way for players to talk in character and describe how time is spent between adventures would also be an optional, but very cool, feature.

This grand wiki would be supported by a Google Earth type globe/map. There would be push pins in the map that link directly to wiki articles on modules, events, or general history of an area. And of course, the wiki could link back to the map as well. Wondering where East Japeepee is? Click the link in the wiki article, and up pops a Google earth globe with East Japeepee highlighted. When my character is awarded land somewhere, I can use Google Sketchup to build a castle or keep on that land, and upload it directly to the wiki’s Google Earth. If I want to detail a new town using the same program, or input a town from an existing (paper) map, I could do that as well. This would make the campaign interactive at a level we haven’t seen yet. The technology is already there, we just need to use it.

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21 Responses to What Will The 5th Edition Living Campaign Look Like?

  1. John du Bois says:

    I didn’t bring this up on my post, so I’ll address it since it came up here: I’m really opposed to the return of Time Units. As a late starter to Living Greyhawk (I started in late 2004), the primary function of Time Units to me was to keep me from playing the higher-level adventures for longer periods of time. Many of the gaming opportunities presented were unavailable to me for nearly three years because either (a) I literally could not by the rules get a character of high enough level to play the adventure, or (b) in order to get to the required play level, I was out of Time Units and couldn’t play the character again. Does an arbitrary restriction on how often a character can adventure in a calendar year (which may or may not correspond to a campaign year) really provide a benefit to the campaign, or is it just a bookkeeping tool that restricts play opportunities?

    • Benoit says:

      Would this problem be solved if players were allowed to create characters above first level? I know that’s a feature of LFR, and though I never did it, I know people who did. This would open those higher level adventures to everyone, while retaining the TU mechanic.

      • John du Bois says:

        Depends on how high of a level you can create. With the current LFR system, the problem still exists – some adventures are only playable at 17-20, and if you spent all your TUs to catch up to your friends, you still can’t play with them. One of the reasons TUs were discarded is because they restricted play opportunities without a clear benefit – I’m unconvinced of the benefit of TUs.

      • Benoit says:

        For me, the TUs would (hopefully) foster more “in region” play, because I think that regional flavor was sorely missed in LFR. Adventuring in Cormyr didn’t “feel” any different (usually) than adventuring in the Dalelands. No one had any sort of investment in their “home” region.

        Are TUs the best mechanic to foster regional flavor? Maybe not. It was the best I could come up with though. 🙂 I’d love to hear other ideas on it. Ideally, it wouldn’t penalize players who can’t physically travel to “real world” regions to play regional mods.

      • John du Bois says:

        I’ve found that the best way to incentivize behavior (both in a gaming context and in a real life context) is to provide a reward for desired behavior rather than a punishment for undesired behavior (which is what an extra TU cost really is – you’re punishing a player for playing out of region by denying them other play opportunities with that character). What I’d rather see, and what is done to a minor extent, is an extra cookie for playing in region or in meta-org. Let’s say there’s this region (let’s call it, for the sake of conjecture, Netheril) with a meta-org tied to it (none in particular, but for the sake of argument, we’ll call it the Harpers). An author or writing director who wanted to encourage you to play the same character in all the Netheril adventures might, say, offer extra information in the adventure, automatic successes in skill challenges, or even extra rewards at the end of the adventure if you have certain story awards offered in previous Netheril adventures. Or that author/writing director might say that when you’re working for the Harpers in a certain adventure, members of the organization are loaned a magic item or given a consumable because the Harpers have a particular interest in keeping their members alive, and the story award you get for success might be a little better for members. Because it’s framed in the context of giving a reward instead of a cost, it’s more likely to produce the desired result. It has the added benefit of working organically within the story rather than working with an artificial mechanic outside of the story of the mechanics and the core rules set (which is another design goal of LFR – to use as few rules as possible outside the core 4e rules – that I forgot to mention in my post 😉

      • Benoit says:

        That could definitely work, if it was made explicit that always playing the same character in Netheril would grant some benefit. The campaign should probably also go back to the LG model where taglines were added to module blurbs: “This module will be of special interest to characters with the X theme/from X place/who have played X mod.”

        Maybe even awarding characters “regional points” – if you have 10 Netheril region points with a character, you get one in-adventure benefit, while those with 20 get something much better. Regional points could be awarded for playing an adventure in a region, with bonus points (or penalties) based upon character actions in a given adventure.

        Regional flavor is tricky. You want players from a real world area to all play mostly mods from the same campaign area, with occasional forays further abroad. From my experience with LG, that’s what created an organic kinship and culture around a certain in game region within a real world gamer community.

      • John du Bois says:

        The “regional points” system sounds a lot like Arcanis’s faction points as well as the affiliation system some LG regions (Verbobonc in particular) adopted near the end of the campaign. I think it works well in a system where you are trying to keep characters in a single place. We disagree, though, on whether keeping characters in a single place is desirable – though I do acknowledge the benefits of both the LG regional system and the LFR one.

      • Benoit says:

        Aw, and here I thought regional points was an original idea…

      • John du Bois says:

        By now, you should know better than to think any idea is original 😉

  2. Stan Shinn says:

    One thing WOTC should look at is the way Paizo and Pathfinder have managed organized play.

    Another thing — I really would advocate a lower level of bureaucracy in terms of play reports and boon tracking or whatever. I think if each player and GM had an ID, they could (either player or GM) log to a RPGA type blog a brief play report tracking XP, rewards, etc. But what is tracked should be very, very slim, and ideally players could do the tracking on behalf of the group.

    • John du Bois says:

      Stan – are you advocating less tracking than LFR currently has? All you’re asked to do now is hold on to your story awards and keep track of your own gp, xp, and stuff. I do just as much tracking for LFR as I do for the home game I play in. While I haven’t played Pathfinder, I’m not sure how much more Organized Play can decrease tracking apart from saying, “ok, do whatever you want”. Can you give a specific example of what Pathfinder does that we can learn from?

      • Stan Shinn says:

        I’ve actually not played LFR — I’ve only played Pathfinder Society (their organized play). In Pathfinder Society, the GM fills out Chronicle Sheet at the end of each 4 hour session. The Chronicle contains this following information:

        Pathfinder Society #
        Player Name
        Character Name
        Items Sold / Conditions Gained
        Items Bought / Conditions Cleared

        In addition to this, the GM has to go online and fill out a subset of this information (Pathfinder Society #, Faction, XP and Prestige I believe). So the GM is doing paperwork plus the online tracking. In practice, most GM’s don’t track the Items ‘Sold / Conditions Gained’, ‘Items Bought / Conditions Cleared’ and ‘Gold’ on the paper Chronicles even though you are supposed to. My point is that, at least with Pathfinder, the burden of record keeping of things like Gold and Items Sold ought to be with the players instead of the GM. Players could enter this online, the GM could ‘sign’ it online, and paper records could be printed out as a backup if desired.

        Maybe LFR is already efficient in this regard?

      • Benoit says:

        LFR is “efficent” in this regard, as long as you consider “the honor system” to be efficient. There is no online tracking, and the DM doesn’t have to submit anything to the campaign.
        Scratch that – the DM does have to submit results (e.g., did the players kill NPC X, or let him live?) but not player rewards. Neither do the players.

      • John du Bois says:

        That sounds a lot like what LFR did at first. Then they realized that tons of data was being entered inaccurately, and switched to a system of each player tracking his or her own progress. This does generate the possibility that people are recording events they didn’t actually play, but the campaign staff decided that they’d rather be producing quality content (and that DMs and players would rather play the game) than having audits and performing other “LFR police” duties. It’s a system that works pretty well, and my only beef is that online tracking isn’t an option (see Thursday’s post for more).

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  4. Pieter Sleijpen says:

    In regards to regions and TUs, as I said in the LFR forum post, aren’t you correlating cause and effect incorrectly? The fact that there were regions did not create the wished immersion and sense of ownership. The fact that each region consisted of a relatively small group of players who more or less all knew each other with players having a clearly visible impact on the story (mostly through BIs and premiering content) and everybody talking about specific events is what created those. That sense was created through not be allowed to play regionals outside of the area. Simply allowing regional adventures to be played all over the world will break all of this regardless of whether you increase costs or not.

  5. Brian Gibbons says:

    There will never be another Living Greyhawk.

    One of the often-overlooked aspects of LG’s success is that it was launched at the very peak of Living City’s play numbers. When it was launched in August 2000, LG was the campaign you played a few modules of at a con focused on LC. I played a lot of LG at its inception, but it wasn’t until six month after the campaign’s launch that I went to a con specifically to play LG; it was almost a full year from launch before I played at my first all-LG convention. It took even longer than that for our local gaming group to move to offering LG modules.

    LFR was crippled from the beginning, due to the need to support the entire weight of RPGA play on its own.

    A healthy gaming community needs some X number of modules each year to survive, between the needs of the Big Three conventions, regional conventions and local group’s monthly/semimonthly gamedays. A new campaign is going to have a difficulty time meeting that level from day one. This is especially true when you consider the lead time necessary to put out scenarios; it’s likely to take a good six months for everyone to get a handle on a new edition, for campaign setting information to be released and for the initial obvious holes to get patched, but campaign staff will likely need to be working on adventures many months before even the initial PH is released.

    LG had the luxury of slowly ramping up its adventure releases, which gave it the chance to work the kinks out of its processes, as well as allowing it to make significant changes before players got too invested in the status quo (revamping the entire reward distribution system, for example).

    We already know from LC’s experience that conversion is a trap, and given that WOTC has historically seen campaigns supporting previous editions as competition for its new edition, I would not expect LFR to exist beyond the launch of D&D Next in any meaningful form.

    This means that any hypothetical 5e campaign will, again, be forced to hit the ground running.

    Living Greyhawk also had the benefit of starting with the network of gaming groups, conventions and volunteers developed by Living City. All of the first Triad members in my region (as well as their next two replacements) had been hardcore LC players; 11 of the first 12 regional modules in my region were by authors who had previously published LC modules. The gamedays and conventions at which we played LG were already-established events built on LC gamers.

    That robust network doesn’t exist any longer. My local gaming community, which had regularly run public living campaign events since 1996, has nary a single public LFR group. Conventions which once boasted of 100+ LFR tables are now scrambling to find enough DMs for 10. Volunteers, authors and organizers have faded away, and a theoretical 5e campaign will be forced to start close to scratch, building things from the ground up.

    Living Greyhawk was a product of its time; it benefited from a number of unique circumstances. Were organizers to start up a campaign today, offering everything that LG did, it is unlikely that it would ever come close to the success of Living Greyhawk, due to the foundations that LG was built on no longer existing.

    • Alphastream says:

      I don’t fully agree. LG was also genius. The flaws were often genius. I’ll stick to regional play, which was a fantastic fit for Greyhawk but was also a way to gather and focus volunteers and to create rabid fans. Sure, there were many significant issues with regions, but the emphasis on a story that mattered, on belonging, on your PC having a say and influencing the campaign, and on the way adventures were written, playtested, slot 0ed, premiered at cons, played at other cons, and then released for regional home play all created strong quality effects that led to the campaign’s growth.

      LFR improved upon that growth, but the growth did not hold. The play-everywhere feeling was too much. What could have been a few different regions so you could have the best of the LG experience was instead “My Waterdeep PC is 20th level and adventured in Waterdeep 3 times”. The attempt to appeal to everyone meant insufficient flavor. The lack of story and setting meant interest faded. LG was, at its best, as good or better than most home campaigns. LFR has been fantastic at times, and has increasingly adopted more story and flavor (and reduced the number of regions and concentrated the experience) with better results.

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  7. Ian says:

    I generally prefer to reward good play rather than punishing bad or mediocre play, which is why I’m not in favor of TU.
    I like the idea of regional points, or something like faction points from PFS. What I think would work the best, and be very, very cool, is a system in which you build up points for playing in a region. As you build up these points you can spend them in game for various effects, like remembering you have a small boat docked in the harbor at Neverwinter, or getting a Netherese spy to track someone down for you. These points would then go away when you play in a new region. This would provide a benefit for playing in region, and the sorts of rewards given would allow the authors to tell the story of the region. This sort of system allows for PCs to have resources attached to them for their work with organizations or their general fame in a region, allowing for more and richer stories than faction points.

  8. Alphastream says:

    I agree with those opposed to TUs. In general it was a way to stop PCs from out-pacing the average player, but I’m not sure that is a good goal. Just write content for what players can/should play and it should work out. I would even rather see additional “non XP” ways to play so you could “play everything” but still be at whatever level the campaign desires.

    For regions, it should be possible to have that in some way. The key is to have a sense of belonging and a way for the players to feel connected. There are various ways to do that and still play content widely. I felt as connected to my LFR region as I did to my LG region on day 1. The difference was that in LFR I could play everywhere but had few in-region adventures. Hence, I never saw much of my region and felt no attachment. In LG I always played all my region’s adventures with the same PC (and this was true of most players). You were very connected. Had LFR released two heroic regions with tight story, and perhaps have half the player base from each region… that could have really created that connection while being accessible. Other methods, like factions in Arcanis or PFS, can also produce that sense of belonging (though it can be harder to avoid them feeling confrontational).

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