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.
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.