Good Campaign Design Should Not Hurt Your Players

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0744

A good friend asked me this the other day:

“All players are starting out at level 1. Now, one player dislikes playing his character and wants to start another character. He is asking to carry over his XP to the new character.

“I dislike this option (which might be due this player’s actions and way of PVP gaming/antagonizing) but I will have to prepare for other players asking the same question some time in the future and I want to give every player the same baseline from which to start. I don’t want to measure with different scales.

“What is your opinion on this?”

Great question, my friend! It’s been awhile since I’ve answered a question like this, and I’m going to give you an answer different today than if you’d asked me a few years ago.

Put on your design hat. What you’re talking about is Campaign Design, which is the 5th Sphere of Influence. [] The rule you want to design lives at the campaign level.

That level inherits what you create, use, or choose from: your preferences, the players’ preferences, the game system, and the game world.

And you need to pursue the constant goal of design as per my motto: to have more fun at every game. That’s the lens through which you evaluate your decision.

So first thing, avoid punishment. Years ago I’d want to wield rules to punish bad behaviour, such as undesired PVP or character swapping. I’d also want to make the game more difficult by default because I thought more challenge always meant more fun.

But that’s not true. I know that now.

So instead, what could you design to make this possibly recurring situation more fun?

Think bigger than the player at the moment. Think what would be fun for you, what would be fun for your player and group, and what would be fun for your world and campaign.

Just spitballing here, but ideas might include:

  • No XP penalty but new PCs bring in a quest for the party to complete
  • No XP penalty, but half is repressed (e.g. a curse) until a certain condition is met, a condition once removed that helps the entire party
  • Run a funnel session to create backup PCs — perfect for when a regular session gets cancelled last-minute
  • New characters start with 0 XP but earn XP at an accelerated rate so they are on par within a couple of sessions — great for promoting PCs-as-henchmen
  • New characters get no XP penalty but must have a detailed background involving at least two other characters in the party

You might not like any of these ideas, but my hope is you see the thinking behind them. Good game design is tough. But rewarding. And definitely an Epic GM skill. Hope this helps.