What I would like to see from the D&D Next Living Campaign

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.

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11 Responses to What I would like to see from the D&D Next Living Campaign

  1. froth says:

    while i agree there should be some shorter adventures wholeheartedly, i wouldnt want to see this stuff in ddi.

    • John du Bois says:

      The DDI idea was more an idea of designing DDI content (like paragon paths) toward the Living Campaign. I agree that feeding Living Campaign content back into DDI would not necessarily be a good idea, particularly because there’s a decent amount written into adventures that is idiosyncratic to the adventure (like some of the hazards and NPC stat blocks in the upcoming Netheril adventures). But paragon paths like the ones Chris Tulach wrote targeting the LFR regions – or if you want to go back to LG, the Knight of the Hart prestige classes written as web content – increase awareness of the campaign through channels frequented by those unfamiliar with Living Campaigns, and if we want to keep Organized Play growing (which I suppose I assumed was a goal), reaching that population is essential.

  2. Madfox11 says:

    Funny that when you do play around with the standard length, you get complaints about the xp not matching the time spend on the adventure (in this particular case the xp was that of a 2-hour adventure, but RP had a significant chance to make it a 4 hour game)… I always have found such complaints really odd, and I would absolutely love it when we could play around with time slots that differ from the 4-hour sessions because that strict time limit is IMO one of the bigger weaknesses of Organized Play games.

    • John du Bois says:

      I’ll take it one step further: I’d like to see there not be standards of experience per time – the adventure’s worth as much xp as is in it. That, however, is clearly a different can of worms 😉

      • Alphastream says:

        I think there are great benefits to playing with slot time, especially around certain demographics. You don’t want more than 2 hours for a brand new player… though you do want a second 2-hour adventure available for them. The Delve shows this off well, as does the latest Learn-to-Play.

        But, let’s not lose sight of the benefits of 4 hour play, and even how often we want 8-hour play. Stories also need that time and there are simply things you can’t properly cover in less time.

        One thing I don’t want is to strip story and RP from gaming to make it 1-2 hours. That’s the failure of the Delve. It provides an experience that is more like a board game and while a blast, it isn’t the best gateway to D&D for all players.

  3. Jason E says:

    4e LFR was/is my first Living Campaign. A four hour slot at my FLGS a couple of times a month fits with my life and time that I have free to play. However, after reading your ideas, I really like them. I think I would still lean toward 4 hour games, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional 6 hour game. They’ll make convention scheduling trickier, but likely workable. I would like custom Living Campaign monsters/ NPCs to make it back into the Monster Builder. (On a side note, it would be great to have a searchable Compendium-like interface where DMs could upload their custom monster creations for perusal and use by other DMs, but I digress).
    My biggest concern is that this plan to integrate players who favor 1e style characters, with those that like 3.xe or 4e style characters at the same Living Campaign table. Until we see specifics, it is hard to imagine how that would work. I am worried it will make for a confusing or frustrating gaming experience and driving people away from the Living Campaigns. I’m signed up for the playtests, because if I don’t contribute to the process, I can’t complain about how it turns out. Thanks for the article.

    • John du Bois says:

      I’m really curious to see how that “modular edition integration” thing works. I, too, think it’d be difficult to integrate any character with THAC0 with any character without. However, I also would need to see what the particulars of the system are to make a judgment, which is why I tried to stay away from anything we’ve heard about the rules system and stick to the Organized Play system as the focus of the post. Hopefully the combat system, at least, leads to combats that take less time so the shorter adventure is possible 😉

  4. Madfox11 says:

    I doubt they are talking about THAC0 or the weird saving throw and unarmed combat rules 😉 It is all about skills or simple ability checks, multiple type of attack powers or simple basic attacks and so on…

  5. Ian says:

    I wouldn’t mind adventures that deviate from the 4-hour slot, but I’d like them to belong to a separate category. Like a Special.

    • John du Bois says:

      I think that whatever we would do with a two-hour adventure would need to in some way produce a player expectation of adventure length. This could range from stating it in the blurb to a special code or class of adventure (like the Intro adventures in Living Greyhawk, most of which ran around 2 hours and many of which were quite good).

  6. Alphastream says:

    This has been a great series! Nice stuff, John! I’m especially digging your ideas for integrating different campaigns together. i think that has tremendous potential to bring disparate demographics together. The hardcore will want to play everything, but imagine the home player, the store fan, and the con goer all feeling the program worked for them!

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