Monday, August 09, 2004

Speed Campaigning

Call me a gameslut if you will. In recent years my GMing style has gravitated towards reasonably short campaigns with finite limits. Personally, I consider the old days of the theoretically endless "ongoing" campaign to be behind me. I cannot see myself running one of those legendary epic-length mega-campaigns. I have too many gaming interests; my inherent fickleness for systems and settings just won't allow me to settle down with a single game for years on end. Heck, I've even re-envisioned the idea of the epic campaign to better fit my short attention span.

One of my current gaming projects is "Home Team", a Heroes Unlimited campaign modeled as a twelve-issue limited series. I hit upon this model as a way of paralleling the Secret Wars, the early eighties Marvel crossover event. During the Secret Wars the mightiest heroes on Earth are on a distant planet fighting an ultimate battle of good versus evil. While the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-men, and Spidey are gone, who will protect Marvel Manhattan? That job falls to the Home Team:
  • Jill Montgomery, Agent of SHIELD!
  • The Dingo, the Aussie from Outer Space!
  • Cyborg, the Mechanized Man!
  • Radar-Man, No Crime Can Escape His Detection!
We start each "issue" by leveling up our heroes; we don't count experience points. Basically, these folks start the mini-series as goobs but by the end of their Year of Glory as Manhattans superpowered defenders their team will be able to stand tall next to all the other superheroes that normally defend New York City.

I first worked out this basic structure for my unfinished Record of Adventure campaign. Take a level-based system, set a limited number of sessions for the campaign to run, level the PCs every session. For the Record of Adventure the idea was simple. I wanted to run a bunch of canned modules. By leveling fast we assured that the PCs always qualified for the level range of the next module. A good time was had by all. I think this "speed campaigning" technique could be used well with other level-based systems. My beloved '81 Basic/Expert D&D only goes to the level 14. Fourteen sessions can get you a lot of dungeoneering. My 2nd edition MERP rulebook only runs to 10 levels. I bet I could squeeze a nifty little Middle Earth campaign into ten sessions, maybe something set in the Fourth Age (i.e. after the third movie).

In the Record of Adventure house rules, I included a caveat that if the players ever screwed up a particular session they would not get to level. I actually enforced that at the end of a session in which they were trapped in a dungeon. (Incidentally, the Rcord of Adventure house rules write-up also contained the warning to the players "I am going to try to fucking kill you." I thought it was important to set the correct tone for the campaign from the get-go.) For a Basic/Expert D&D game that was tightly focused on dungeoneering, you could advance based on meeting mission objectives. It could even be as simple as clearing the evening's assigned dungeon level wins you an advance.