What Would Be Your Best Campaign Ever? Part I

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1007

How do I make my Hobo Princes campaign my best one?

There are a few campaigns it would need to top, including Riddleport, Temple of Elemental Evil, and the one I ran in Vancouver ’90-’92.

Aiming to make each campaign better than the previous keeps your sabre sharp. On our quest to become master storytellers we want to push ourselves each session, each adventure, and each campaign to skill up.

Alas, my hobos have been neglected. I realized the other day we’ve been basically dungeon crawling for three years. Time to shake things up.

It’s pretty simple on paper how to GM your best campaign ever.

Four simple steps:

  1. Envision what your perfect campaign would be like
  2. Understand where your campaign is at today
  3. Figure out the gap
  4. Make a list of things within your influence and control you can do to close the gap

I believe the biggest challenge, and the reason many campaigns fail, lies within #1 — knowing what you want with total clarity.

This is the downfall of many strategies. And it’s a shame. Because you’ve lost pretty much from the start. Talk about Impending Dooms.

Today, let’s work on #1 for ourselves.

Let’s take five short minutes to figure out what our ideal campaign would be like.

Daydream, write in a notebook, or log your thoughts. It doesn’t matter the mode or medium. What matters is doing the thinking.

There are a couple of typical GM traps with this exercise. Avoid them to increase your chances of having your best campaign.

Trap #1: It’s About You, Not Them

A little sacrilege here.

In speaking with other GMs about this, they fall into the trap of describing what they want players to do.

“My ultimate campaign would be full of intrigue where my players followed all my clues and uncovered every surprise. They trigger all my plots and it all ends in an epic finale where the players finally confront the villain and make him pay for his crimes.”

There’s some good elements in that vision we can hold onto for figuring out our perfect campaign.

But anything that depends on other people doing things sets you up for disappointment.

Our beloved game is interactive. Players play, in part, because they can make choices. And those choices have impact.

So when musing on your ideal campaign, avoid the trap of making players do this or that to achieve your objective.

Instead, envision what you can do to set players and your campaign up for success.

Perhaps you work hard to use the three clue rule so players have the greatest chance of your goal for encountering every surprise.

And you create an epic villain or truly evil villain who has devious tactics and many other awesome traits you run with cunning storytelling so the end confrontation is amazing no matter the circumstances.

Focus on improving your GMing. Your players will follow.

Trap #2: Focus on Tools

In retrospect, my best campaigns since 1980 to present were successful because of a great story, fantastic NPCs, and awesome adventures.

Many campaigns ran entirely from simple systems like GM binders or index cards to keep my information organized for sanity.

If your ideal campaign involves VR gadgets, digital TV mapping on the game table, and 3D printed doodads (all on my wishlist, lol) I believe you’re underestimating yourself by a lot.

It’s funny to say this, because I produced Campaign Logger as the ideal aid for the overwhelmed game master, but you don’t need tools to have an awesome campaign.

Create a strong plot, one or more great villains, a clever milieu. Roleplay entertaining NPCs, design pulse-pounding meaningful combats, and queue up some personalized treasure.

Embrace the medium of interactivity and learn how to improv and lead a table.

Understand the table presence you can have with a little study, effort, and practice. Charisma is a skill (I did not really believe this until I started going to Toastmasters) and you can keep everyone enthralled with amazing storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my tools and GM aids. My battlemats and minis, condition markers, props, Campaign Logger, and random generators.

The GM trap is to think these things are what makes you a successful GM. The trap is to think you must have these things to be great.

These cool tools are enhancements. They help you whether you are already a great GM or not.

But a great GM gets their greatness from within, over time. It’s already inside you. Just let it out and polish.

Tell Me What Your Perfect Campaign Would Be Like

I described above the major elements of my ideal Hobos Prince campaign. I have a bunch of work to do to make that happen. The good news is it’s fun work because it’s RPG!

I need to get a bit more specific to complete Step 1, but those things frame it up nicely.

What about you? If you are running a campaign right now, what would make it your best campaign ever? What’s your vision for it?