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.
When the guys at Roving Band of Misfits asked me to write a bit about “What Do You Want from a 5E Living Campaign?” at first I didn’t know if I really had much to say. Having spent the last decade administering Living campaigns, writing for Living campaigns, DMing Living games for campaigns, and generally observing things on the other side of the table from the players, I didn’t think that what I wanted in a new campaign really mattered. I have been steeping myself in Living campaigns (or their equivalents) for way too long, and years ago I recognized that personal preference is only one piece in a very large and complex puzzle.
However, this question forced me to do something I haven’t done in a long time: sit and actually think about my personal preferences, not just in Living campaigns but D&D in general. It didn’t take me long to recognize the answer: storytelling and socialization. From the first time I picked up dice in the late 1970s to an upcoming playtest for a DDI adventure I am finishing, it has always been about the story and the camaraderie. I want the same thing in a Living campaign: the ability to meet up with players, young or old, experienced or new, and create a story with them—and then not just create the story, but have the desire when it is done to share it with others and hear about their experiences.
That social and storytelling aspect has always been what drew me to the game, and it is what excites me most about Living campaigns. Living Greyhawk was my first, and I went to it because I had no local home game. The gratification was instant: lots of fun players, lots of great games, and lots of good stories both in game and out. That drive to tell stories and share with others is what has always encouraged me to DM, and write adventures, and try to always give players something fun to do.
All of the campaigns I have been involved with and the great peers I have worked with taught me a little more about people, the game, and the ins-and-outs of Organized Play campaigns. I would love to see the best of each brought into new programs. The format of Living Greyhawk created a small but intensely rabid and loyal fan base. Those lucky enough to live in areas with dedicated and talented volunteers were treated to stories in which their characters were immersed in the setting and had a large place in the world. Living Kingdoms of Kalamar did the same, but with a little more flexibility and less paperwork. Xen’drik Expeditions (and before that Mark of Heroes) offered a more focused storyline with less of a barrier to entry. Living Forgotten Realms opened up the concept of a worldwide campaign to many more players, allowing fun without too many extra rules.
In the end, there is never going to be one Living campaign structure that suits everyone’s desires, unless, like mine, the main desire is simply sharing great stories. However, there are certainly a lot of insights that can be transferred from one campaign to another. Take the current D&D Encounters program. Imagine if the end of each Encounters season coincided with a big convention: DDXP, GenCon, PAX, etc. While the Encounters season would end with a climactic session that wrapped up the season at the game store hosting it, a larger and more profound climax would occur in an adventure or two playing at one of the big conventions. Players would bring their Encounters PCs to the convention to play the finale with people from around the world. Better yet, have players dedicate themselves to different factions when playing the Encounters season based on the store location or choice of the players, so that the adventure(s) at the convention also reflected some minor conflicts among the factions. Results could be tallied at the convention so that in the end one faction “won.” Then an upcoming product or DDI article could reflect that victory. In that scenario, you have just combined the concepts behind several different campaigns (regionality and “interactives” of Living Greyhawk, ubiquity of Encounters, factions of Xen’drik Expeditions, and integration of Living Forgotten Realms) to have one campaign that might cater to multiple player types. You are creating local communities, you are encouraging a world-wide connection between D&D players, and then you are spreading that worldwide story through your online presence, your published products, and word-of-mouth.
While there are obvious obstacles to such a plan, and each campaign type also comes with drawbacks, it fits what I want in a Living campaign: get a bunch of diverse people together to play D&D, and then have an experience worth talking about after it is over.
–Shawn Merwin is a freelance game designer who has written for Wizards of the Coast and other RPG companies. He administered and wrote for many organized play campaigns. His Know Your Roll column is hosted by Critical Hits, and he can be found on Twitter at @shawnmerwin.