The Next D&D Living Campaign: A Newbie’s Perspective

The title says “a newbie’s perspective.” That’s not entirely accurate. Sarah Darkmagic is very involved in the D&D community, as a blogger, podcaster, and freelancer for Wizards of the Coast. She has DMed home campaigns. She has run “learn to play” sessions at conventions. She does not, however, participate in Living Forgotten Realms or Ashes of Athas. I thought I would reach out to her, and get her perspective. What could the next living campaign do to get players like her involved?

When Benoit asked me to write this post, I got nervous, real nervous. I started playing D&D just 3 years ago and my organized play experience is limited to non-LFR activities. Sure, I’ve run games at PAX East, GenCon, and DDXP, but I haven’t run or played anything from the living campaigns like LFR or Ashes of Athas. You might ask why I should write anything at all then. It’s a good question; one I asked myself. The reason I’m writing is that I want organized play to do well, actually, I want it to be even better. I honestly believe living campaigns are part of that. And, to me, they are one of the few D&D groups that still intimidate the hell out of me (and some of my friends) and I would love for it to not be that way. So these suggestions come from that perspective and an honest and caring heart.

Create a Participation Funnel

 Many of the suggestions in this article are really subsections of this one. It would be awesome if we could create a way to take someone who enjoys D&D and make them a dedicated living campaign player. While it’s rare for me to see complaints of a lack of players (although that might be a lack of info on my side rather than a universal axiom), most convention organizers seem to suffer from a lack of DMs. If we spend some time finding and breaking down the friction points that help people get into a living campaign, and from there, engage at higher levels, I’m hopeful we could find more DMs and other contributors.

Provide Ways for People to Help

Look at open source projects, like jQuery and Drupal to see how they get a variety of people to participate in the community. Currently, it feels like the only ways one can contribute to LFR is through adventure writing or by being admins. There’s a lot of other awesome work that could and should be done. Recruit and train evangelists for the campaign who have the time and energy to be active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, podcasts, and the like. Perhaps some could keep a blog up to date with news stories and tips from other LFR DMs. Others could work on categorizing the various adventures to make it easier for DMs and players to find the adventure that works best for them.

A Centralized Location to Find and Register for Games

I know how to get in on an Encounters game. I’m not as sure as how I would get involved in an LFR adventure. We concentrate a lot on conventions, but not all living campaign play takes place at them.

Create Pages for Different Audiences

Currently, the Living Forgotten Realms campaign website and community group are heavily optimized towards existing players. The community group is a bit better, but the terms used on its page don’t match what is used on the campaign site. For instance, the community site says players need to reference the RPGA Character Creation Guide found on the campaign website but that title doesn’t appear on the page. Different pages would also help with the jargon issue that plagues a lot of what we do, both in organized play and out.

More Pre-Gens

Currently there are four pre-gens, not enough for a full party. I’d love to see more female characters in there. It’s a small issue, but one that’s important to me.

Space for New Players (and DMs)

While I run games at conventions, I shy away from running living campaign games. My biggest fear is that I will ruin the experience for the players at the table because (1) I don’t know much about the setting and (2) I’m much more into story than great monster tactics. With my home group, my players know me and know if I’m going to provide them with the experience they want. At a con, there’s no way to signify that. Often, the best we have are Learn to Play sessions, but they rarely are part of a living campaign world. What if Learn to Play could set the players up for either Encounters or a living campaign? What if, as a DM, I could say I’ll run these certain subset of adventures and the people who sit at my table will already have an idea that I am new at this?

Space for the Casual Player

 When I talk to my living campaign friends, a lot of them assume that I want to learn how to create “better” characters; that I want to learn all the nuances of the various feats and magic items. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in those topics, but not everyone is looking for improvement or even to improve in that way. Personally, I want to learn how to tell better stories within the D&D ruleset and my favorite challenge is improv. The idea to move from “judges” to “DM” as mentioned by John Du Bois earlier this week helps with this a lot, but it bears repeating from time to time.

Overall, I think it would be awesome to create a recruitment working group that works on making living campaigns more accessible to the new or casual fan. Then maybe people like me wouldn’t be misinformed about the campaigns and we could do more to help the hobby grow.

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2 Responses to The Next D&D Living Campaign: A Newbie’s Perspective

  1. Draco says:

    When I talk to my living campaign friends, a lot of them assume that I want to learn how to create “better” characters…

    I stopped going to RPGA games because they were full of CharOps type players. It was difficult to find anyone who was interested in role play. This problem is no doubt aggravated by the disjointedness of adventures. One day your PC is in Waterdeep, and the next adventure (s)he’s in Cormyr, with no real reason other than that’s where the adventure happens.

    Encounters has done a lot to fix that, by focusing on a single storyline that takes place in one location.

    A problem that both formats have is that your party can be completely different from one part of the adventure to the next. Suddenly, three of the four companions you left town with have become completely different people.

    I’m a bit picky with my suspension of disbelief, but this sort of thing makes it hard to really play the kind of games you can with a consistent group that grows to know each other.

  2. Alphastream says:

    Good stuff, and it captures why outside perspectives are necessary. Despite being more firmly in the online age, I don’t think today’s organized play campaigns have done any better at selling themselves than older OP campaigns. Outside of Encounters, it is very hard for players to hear about a program like LFR or Ashes of Athas or Living Divine… and we are much easier to find than some campaigns (the official Shadowrun web site had the wrong information on their living campaign for more than a year!).

    Even when players find the information, it is confusing. It would be great if folks could be in Encounters or download a super-low-rules intro adventure and then at the end have a clear on-ramp to LFR. And surely we could design better web sites than the Events site. Wizards should be promoting all the OP programs with clear information – and they should re-evaluate the Events page at least twice a year to make sure the information is clear and bringing in players.

    At the same time, the largest selling point has long been word of mouth. Your comment about evangelists is a good one. There used to be many ways for volunteers to become involved, from online story events to conventions to authoring to playtesting to meta-organizations… and usually the people organizing these were within driving distance. You could actually socialize in person while you evangelized and socialized. That community has been lost, even while connections lengthened (Authors and playtesters for LFR and Ashes of Athas adventures are often in different continents). It would be great to see a reason for the local communities to come together again, while still being part of national and international networks of OP gamers.

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