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Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:01 am
Posts: 21
 Post subject: help on running campaigns and new campaign set in Iobara
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2016 9:30 pm 
Hi I have run a few campaigns in the past, two 3.5 dnd campaigns (one FR and one home-brew) and one pathfinder campaign, all of which were ended prematurely due to my problem of starting well but then having trouble making plot-lines and preparations that end up being to railroad-ish for the players. The same group was in all the campaigns, each one was a work in progress of making a more open player oriented game without such long descriptions of events (something I am prone to, like having a 500-word description for a new type of monster, and every room in a secret demon cult hidden beneath a dilapidated whorehouse described in minute detail). I also have the problem of having too many combats and not enough role-playing events, as I am a meticulous planner for sessions and found it hard to plan for endless options and run the game ‘on the go.’ The last campaign I had improved vastly but in the last few sessions I fell back to my old ways, and since I was quite ill at the time I ended the campaign there.
My new campaign will be set on Golarion in the sub-continent of Iobaria (I think it is big enough to classify as almost being a sub-continent of Casmaron). Playing in Iobaria will allow me to run wild developing my own towns and features away from some of the more over developed areas of Avistan and Garund. I have the information on Iobara from the Varnhold Vanishing episode of the Kingmaker adventure series which has an article that fleshes out some of Iobaria, gives me a map, but is not too in depth on details of the area, allowing my mind to develop the place more fully (another good point in being that Iobara is pretty much a wilderness with no overarching government, but great background – plagues, cyclopes, an old human empire, centaurs etc). I will find a good rural spot not too far north to develop my main town, and have a weird rural Lovecraft theme to the campaign (including meddling Old One cults, derro, Darklands aberrations and visitors from the void, the Black Dominion). So a science-fantasy campaign is what I’m looking at running. Good thing the Pit of Gormuz is not far away and the weirder nations of Casmaron too.
So really I am looking for help and advice on how to run a game I can both prepare for to develop interesting locations and characters (a strong point of mine) and run a more ‘open’ style of play where I am not railroading players into decisions. On the Iobara campaign side, I am looking for ideas, locations of more information on Iobaria, Casmaron and the Old Cults and Black Dominion (in my version of the game the two may use similar methods and uphold the same gods but are at odds with each other). Just any weird, wacky and dark science fantasy ideas would be great, later I will make a post fleshing out the background of the first adventure and campaign (I don’t want to dump too much text on the players but I will hand out the Iobara article in the Varnhold Vanishing as a reference for the players and a description of my town and recent events. Perhaps getting the wordy stuff out the way before the campaign begins will help me be sharper and quicker with my descriptions in-game).
Thanks, I know this post is a bit of a ramble but I hope to get some good advice on both fronts of my areas discussed above. Please move this post if in wrong sub forum.

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 Post subject: Re: help on running campaigns and new campaign set in Iobara
PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2016 2:54 am 
It's been my experience as both a player and gm that highly detailed campaigns are lost on most players. A good combo is 50% roleplay and 50% combat. At the start of campaign, plot details should be at a minimum to let the characters focus on who they are, if that's what they want to do. You still have to set up the world vision, but as you say that can be done before the game.

I just started my own homebrew and the first thing I did was simplify the world. First, no teleporting except through designated gates to designated locations. Sure, at higher levels they could use windwalk but at least some effort will be needed rather than popping to where ever they want on a whim. There's also very little roleplay when using teleport.

Another thing I did were some system changes. We've been playing PF for awhile I wanted to try some alternate systems like the consolidated skills and background skills. I also limited the ranks to 10, but I think 5 could be better (I haven't decided, but I will ask the players). There are so many other ways to buff skills that a player dedicating to being good at one skill makes the roll trivial. At least with a lower base, it will make skills that should be tough have a chance at failure.

Finally, the last thing I would recommend is use a slow xp progression at least for the mid levels. That's the sweet spot for roleplaying. It's where their character comes in to their own, but still have challenges without having to save the world each day. This is where the campaign details should come in as well. By now, the characters have well established personalities and will be focused on the world around them.

Open world is tough to plan for, so I just ask the players what they want to do (giving them a few options and ideas) and spend the week prepping for that. I also ask for feedback from the players and hopefully they'll be honest. This helps me focus the story. Do they want bigger challenges? Do they want to be more inclusive in the story? Are they having fun? Being a GM is a lot of work and if you need more than a week to prepare, just tell the players that. They usually understand. All but one of my players is a GM and we all have our own style with strengths and weaknesses. I say just play to your strengths.

One last thought, I recommend planning on two endings. Have an over arching story with some grand world saving finale and have one that is more localized like a chapter of a book closing a story arch. It's easier to write to a short term goal than to focus only on long term goals. I'm writing this partially as a reminder to myself to take my own advice ;) I hope this helps you as well.


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 Post subject: Re: help on running campaigns and new campaign set in Iobara
PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2016 3:24 am 
nattramn wrote:
So really I am looking for help and advice on how to run a game I can both prepare for to develop interesting locations and characters (a strong point of mine) and run a more ‘open’ style of play where I am not railroading players into decisions.

Your issue does not really seem to be one of content, but one of preparation. You over-prepare a particular area and then drive your players through it whether they want to or not. This is actually pretty common in RPG games.

My suggestions would be as follows:

1) Pull back on the details. Give yourself something to "create" during the game so that you're not just delivering text and driving the players into your inflexible scenarios.

2) Save some time at the end of a session (and/or before the next) getting the players talking about what they want to do next. While you want your players to feel like they are in an open world, you can't prepare for 360 degrees at all times. You need to know what they are likely to do if you're going to leverage some of your prep time for a smoother gaming session. Trust me, being prepared half as much for two directions (or a third for 3) is better than being over-prepared for 1 direction your players really don't want to go.

3) Get your players to tell, and create, some of the story. For the telling, if you've got a lot of text to deliver, see if you can't hand some of it off to a character that might know some of it. Let the player sell it. For the creation, make sure what the players are doing changes their environment in ways that they can appreciate. And, most importantly...

4) Respect the spaces between the words. When people read a story their minds are constantly filling in the blanks. They are painting a picture that is unique to their view of the world their character's are inhabiting. For example, you may have a very different concept of what a "beautiful barmaid" might look like. If you spend 10 minutes fleshing her out you might actually be painting a picture of a woman that just isn't so beautiful to them. So try to focus on only the unique details that are needed to set the scenes and trust that you players are creative enough to flesh a lot of it out themselves.

5) And, finally, you do have to accept that not all players are the same. Just because this group (or a portion thereof) can't stay focused while you're in the middle of what you think is important expository doesn't mean that there aren't players out there that would really eat that up. If you're pounding square pegs into rounds holes... it may be an exercise in futility. Compatibility matters.

Good luck.

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 Post subject: Re: help on running campaigns and new campaign set in Iobara
PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2016 6:03 am 
Well, let me give my $0.02.

First off, your post gives much away of what ails you ;-D.
As for advice:
If you really like to plan things out and think things through I would suggest a 3 group force play. This means: 3 separate (evil?) groups that oppose eachother. This could be 3 different cults, believers of outcasts deities, this could be three guilds (either upper or underground) or on a bigger scale three great houses or even kingdoms.
Each of the three groups have their plans (e.g. for world domination) which they try to enact. The players are either hired by one or are in some other way a play ball of the settings. This setup helps for long term gaming where one of the 3 factions will get the upper hand forcing the other two to cooperate to bring it down again. Players play a big or small role in this.

Another setup (More short term) is one single group or person with 'an evil plot' e.g. a town with a count (or noble) with his advisors, where one of the advisors is part of a cult who wishes to replace the count with a doppelganger in order to enact certain town decisions that will enable him to summon an avatar of his god (aka demon).
In this case you can meticulously plan out the steps the 'evil advisor' needs to take to get what he wants. This plot will continue regardless of the players UNLESS they start interacting with it. E.g. one other advisor is killed and the players are asked to investigate the matter, during the investigation they start thwarting the required steps of the evil advisor. This will require to change his plan to continue. It will not be something which you can prepare in advance so when the plot is thwarted you need to think in the shoes of the evil advisor to rectify the stuff that the player thwarted.

In both cases things 'advance' regardless of the players, so no rail roading is required. They can however interact on any level in the plot and either thwart it, help it or ignore it. This also means that e.g. a summoned demon can be the outcome of the story!


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