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.
My experience as a Writing Director for Living Greyhawk and Living Forgotten Realms has led me to have… let’s be nice and call them “perspectives” on things that current and past Organized Play efforts are doing right and could do better at, and as a new iteration of D&D almost certainly means a new Living Campaign, it’s time to make some of those “perspectives” known (especially since these jokers have given me a platform to do so):
What We Should Keep Doing
Simple Campaign Guide: For those who complain about the Character Creation Guide for Living Forgotten Realms or the lack of clarity in the banned list for Ashes to Athas and weren’t around for Living Greyhawk, I’m going to let you in on a secret: You don’t have a damn clue how good you have it. When I started playing Living Greyhawk in 2004, the Campaign Guide was sixty pages long. During the time I played, that grew to seventy-six pages! The first thing that made me hopeful about Living Forgotten Realms was that its Character Creation Guide was shorter than LG’s list of banned feats and spells. Even in its later stages, the LFR campaign guide is clear, concise, and does its job without trying to cover everything.
Diverse Perspectives in Administration: If you look at the gaming history of the individuals who have served as Global Administrators for Living Forgotten Realms, you’ll see a very diverse set of people who administered a very diverse group of campaigns, including Living Arcanis, Living City, Living Death, Living Greyhawk, and Xendrik Expeditions. Ashes of Athas took this one step further; while many of their campaign staff had experience playing, DMing, and writing for Organized Play, not all of them did, and most (I think) never held an administrative role in any Living Campaign before. This means, among other things, that when one staff member tries to do something because it’s “always been done that way”, someone is there to ask, “Why?” Trust me – this is a huge benefit, and we need to hold onto it.
What We Should Stop Doing
The Tournament Mindset: A long time ago in an RPGA far, far, away, what the organization did mostly was tournaments. “Judges” were supposed to run “modules” as close to as written as possible, and players were supposed to remain within the constraints of the module if they wanted to be successful (after all, only the monsters in the module granted experience and treasure). At the time, there was a noble intent – to provide a level play experience across tables and ensure fairness – and in some contexts (D&D Championship, I’m looking at you), it’s still appropriate. However, with 4th Edition D&D, Organized Play tried to shed this by turning “judges” back into DMs, “modules” back into adventures, and emphasizing quality of play over accuracy of play (see Dungeon Master Empowerment). It’s been marginally successful, but the game still has way too many “judges” and “modules”. With the new edition, the new Living Campaign needs to double down on the changes in approach that started with 4th Edition. A Living Campaign needs to be about a fun experience playing Dungeons and Dragons, not DMing adventures as written because “that’s the way the author intended it”.
The Four Hour Slot: Currently, every LFR adventure (except at Epic) needs to, in some way, conform to a four-hour time slot. To a certain extent, this is a necessary function of Organized Play due to the “convention slot”. I’ve been a convention coordinator, and I understand that. That doesn’t mean, however, that the full slot should be the basic unit of length. Using a two-hour unit would allow authors to write a shorter or longer adventure offering varied play experiences while still accommodating the needs of conventions. It takes more planning, but the payoff of not having to add less than useful encounters or to shorten an otherwise brilliant adventure because it’s five hours long is well worth it – and it also ditches metagaming like the “one daily power per encounter” philosophy we see too often in LFR.
What We Should Start Doing Again
Web Presence on Wizards Website. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some www.livingforgottenrealms.com. It provides the campaign administration a means to post adventures quickly, communicate with the players effectively, and doesn’t have red tape. But… it doesn’t look like “official” campaign space. With the D&D Community website in the shape it’s in and the evolution of web design, you can’t tell me it’s too hard for Wizards of the Coast to give Global Administrators access to individual campaign-specific pages to make sure content is accurate (like, for example, the DDXP page on the WotC site that as of this writing incorrectly identifies the LFR Battle Interactive).
DDI Content to Support Living Campaigns. Does anyone apart from me remember those dual-class paragon paths Chris Tulach wrote up for a variety of Living Forgotten Realms regions? They were published in Dragon, which made them general D&D content, but had specific LFR use in mind. Whatever happened to those? I don’t think it would be difficult to get the Writing Directors of the new Living Campaign involved in writing DDI content that relates to their story areas. It’ll support the campaign directly and (if my experiences with DDI writing are any indication) teach the Writing Directors a thing or two about how to write well in general, which will in turn generate higher-quality adventures.
What We Should Do For The First Time
Integration of Living Campaigns and Other Organized Play Programs. Yes, we do have rules to play Encounters PCs in LFR, but those rules look like an afterthought. Wouldn’t it be great to play your LFR PC in Lair Assault, or to bring your Lair Assault PC into LFR with a piece of treasure they got from the Lair? Or for your Encounters PC to already have a theme or item that was specific to the Encounters season to make them unique from other PCs in the Living Campaign? Policies like this can help the other Organized Play campaigns to be a gateway to Organized Play (and vice versa), and more people playing D&D across programs is good for everyone.
Effective Online Character Tracking. LFR tried online character tracking. It sucked. Hard. Primarily because it was all DM-side data entry. I’d like to see the new Living Campaign, through the Wizards website (or maybe even the Character Builder) support player-sided tracking of adventures played and rewards gained. Using checkboxes and optional comment entry. It’s what we already do with Excel when we find time; making the logsheet integrated into the system (and work properly) would make things easier to keep organized and encourage Living Campaign players to subscribe to DDI. Again, benefits to everyone.
Those are the eight major things I’d like to see happen for the next Living Campaign. Sure, there are lots of little details (Ravenloft! Planescape! Honey badgers!), but they’re just that – details. The core to a Living Campaign is not its setting, but its structure, and any structurally sound campaign is one I can have fun with.
–John du Bois is some weirdo who thinks his ideas are valuable and relevant because some people were foolish enough to ask him to be the Writing Director for the Netheril story area in the Living Forgotten Realms campaign. Most people humor him about this. His shenanigans can be tracked and recorded for future blackmail on Twitter at @johndubois and on a series of tubes at johncdubois.wordpress.com.