Cool Planning Tool: The Campaign Survey - RPT#184 - Roleplaying Tips

Cool Planning Tool: The Campaign Survey – RPT#184

Readers Tips Contest Update – Ends August 16th

If you’ve entered the Readers’ Tips contest that’s currently running, chances are you’re going to win something. Summer vacations and a botched issue delivery last week (see All For One And Three For All below) have impacted the response rate.

Currently, I have 25 contest entries in my Inbox from 15 people. There’s 15 prizes, so the odds are very good of winning right now! The ezine is already a winner though, as we now have more Readers’ Tips to put in future issues. Thanks!

I’m extending the contest deadline to August 16th to give readers who responded with all those Out Of Office replies last week some extra time to enter.

Full contest details can be snagged by sending a blank email to:
[email protected]

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Most Embarrassing Game Moments

Ah, humility is a wonderful thing, and it’s so much easier over the Internet. Several readers have forwarded me their most embarrassing gaming moments, in response to my “Awful Green Things From Outer Space” story. I’ll be featuring a few of them from time to time. Thanks to all of you.

This week’s guest article is an interesting way to get everyone thinking about the same concepts before you actually start gaming. Thanks to Randall Farmer for some really good thinking on the subject.

John C. Feltz
[email protected]
“It’s a GAME MECHANIC, not reality!”

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*** Undiscovered Summer Special: Game Master Starter Kit ***

Ever wanted to try out a new RPG with your group, but didn’t want to fork over *that* much cash just to get started? Well, here at Eilfin, we’ve got you covered. From now, until the end of August, you can order Undiscovered, a complete game in a single book, and receive a free adventure module and game master screen with your purchase. The screen includes a CD filled with over 300 pages of setting information, adventures, short stories, and optional rules!

Visit us at:

[Comment from Johnn: I own the Undiscovered RPG. It’s a well put together product, and I highly recommend checking out the free Quickstart Guide and Demo Adventure at the link above. Maybe this issue’s survey will generate a match for your group and Undiscovered? Support the indy game publisher.]

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Cool Planning Tool: The Campaign Survey

A guest article by: Randall Farmer

Just by way of introduction, I have been GMing since the days of Greyhawk. I have always run rather long duration campaigns. However, about eighteen months ago it became clear that my 4th campaign was having problems due to a set of circumstances involving game and real world conflicts, and I wanted some ideas for what sort of new campaign my players would be interested in (to prepare for the current campaign flaming out).

To aid my research, I came up with the following new campaign survey. Given the subject of Issue #97:

6 Tips For Starting & Planning A Campaign
RPT#97 – 6 Tips For Starting & Planning A Campaign ]

I thought you might be interested in how I approached the early stages of planning for my new campaign. The results of this survey were later tabulated, and later (after a great many intermediate steps) led to the campaign being designed, play-tested, and now run. I’ve got 7 gaming sessions of the actual campaign under my belt as of this writing.

One important note

I am a rules experimentalist who does not balk at designing rulesets and house rules for whatever new campaign I am going to be GMing. Some of the survey questions assume that some rule tweaks might need to be done for the campaign pending the survey’s results.

Also note that I discovered the Roleplaying Tips Weekly E- Zine about a couple of years ago and have incorporated many of its tips into the design and running of my campaign – for which I greatly thank Johnn and the other participating GMs for their ideas.

First, some notes on how to fill out and use the survey; these should be distributed to all the players along with the actual survey questions themselves.

Note 1

All questions are either answered multiple choice or with a numeric rating. The numeric ratings are from 1-5, where:

  • 1 means “Fully agree”
  • 2 means “Sort of agree”
  • 3 means “Neutral”
  • 4 means “Sort of disagree”
  • 5 means “Fully disagree”

Note 2

The “setting” questions in the survey involve the campaign tactical style, not the actual campaign mythos. For instance, one could do a Tolkienish setting (the characters have insignificant powers compared to the bad guys) in a Thieves World mythos (you’re in a city; there are lots of city politics and power games going on).

Note 3

The words “I” and “me” refer to the survey respondents, not the GM.

Note 4

The purpose of this survey is to find out what things are agreed upon and which are not. Of course, if something is not agreed upon, then the chances of it showing up in a new campaign should be proportionally limited.

Note 5

Just because something is on the survey and agreed upon does not mean that it is playable – especially when regards to conflicts between different survey questions (and their agreed upon answers).

Game Rules

As a player, I want to know as many of the rules involved with my character as I can, down to the most mundane level. I don’t like things being fuzzy.

  1. I want there to be a single ruleset in the campaign. I don’t even want the opposition to use any other rulesets.
  2. I want fixed rules I can argue with.
  3. I want a ruleset that is expandable.
  4. I want a ruleset that can fit on one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.
  5. I want the ruleset(s) to be something I’ve seen before. If you agree with this, please indicate what ruleset(s) you would like to see.
  6. I want a ruleset with enough scope so that characters can utilize just one piece of it and have it be simple. It should also have aspects that are complicated enough to challenge any of us.
  7. I want a ruleset that is fully known to the characters at the beginning of the campaign
  8. I want a ruleset that is complicated enough to make players think about its use at all times.
  9. I want to use a ruleset that has been purchased from a store.
  10. If it does not have dice rolls, it is just ‘set up’, not a real FRP ruleset.
  11. I want a ruleset that is the same for all characters (e.g. Magic the Gathering used as a stand-alone ruleset).
  12. I want enough rulesets and options so that if I change my mind, I can change what my character is doing.
  13. I want the ruleset tied to the game mythos so tightly it cannot possibly be used in any other campaign.
  14. I want each character to have its own ruleset (or exclusive special area of a large scope ruleset).
  15. Individual powers my character has should have only fixed results in all situations.
  16. I want the ruleset to be ‘modern’, involving ‘cards’ and ‘card swapping’ between characters.
  17. I want the ruleset to be simple enough for my cat to run a character.
  18. I want lots and lots of rulesets (enough to keep my head spinning).
  19. A ruleset that involves ‘finding powers’ one’s character can use as part of ‘expeditioning loot’ would be interesting.
  20. Individual powers my character has should be fully delineated in as complete a manner as possible (e.g. a ‘verbose’ ruleset, such as D&D 2nd or 3rd edition).
  21. A ruleset that ‘tops out’ is not for me.
  22. I want to be able to ‘self expand’ the ruleset.
  23. The closer the ruleset is to a ‘board game’ style ruleset, the better.
  24. If it does not have firearms, I’m not going to like the ruleset.
  25. If it does not involve magic, I’m not going to like the ruleset.
  26.  If it does not involve psionics, I’m not going to like the ruleset.
  27. The ruleset should not involve ‘making powers’ (powers that design other powers).
  28. The ruleset should be stable over the life of the campaign.
  29. A ‘profession oriented’ ruleset is preferable to one with ‘ad hoc’ power gain.
  30. The ruleset should not involve ultra-flexible, programmable, or ‘wordable’ powers.
  31. The ruleset should be based on mundane ability-like skills (e.g. basic GURPS).
  32. The ruleset should involve a large amount of growth in power from ‘beginner’ to ‘topped out’.
  33. After 10 years of the campaign, my character should still be ‘low level’.
  34. The capabilities of the character (using the ruleset) should be tied to the capabilities of the player (gaming the ruleset).
  35.  I prefer a numeric ruleset (D&D) over a qualitative ruleset (FUDGE).

Game Mythos (Grand Strategy)

  1. I want a short campaign with a fixed endpoint, and it should last only a few months or years.
  2. I want the characters to grow as the campaign progresses.
  3. I want the characters to be (or grow to be) very powerful.
  4. I want a campaign with a lot of infrastructure so the characters get lots of help.
  5. I want the campaign to be ‘ruleset irrelevant’ (e.g. would work with any ruleset).
  6. I don’t want the GM to work within a campaign setting – continuity between scenarios is not needed (e.g. the D&D ‘multiverse’).
  7. I don’t want a GM, I want a Judge (that is, to have no input past initial campaign design; campaign expansion is by module purchase only, if allowed at all).

Which of the following 5 statements best represents your view of what you want a GM to do:

  • I want the GM to work with fixed scenarios only, doing no ongoing adjustment to the scenario based on what the characters are doing.
  • I want the GM to work with a relatively fixed ‘future history’, treating the world as static save for what the characters do and change.
  • I want the GM to work within a very loose structure, based on only a few known guide posts, working just ahead of the characters.
  • I want the GM to work with an extremely minimal structure (e.g. the proverbial 10 page mythos), judging character interactions with the outside universe based on what ‘seems right’ and lots of ad hoc dice rolling.
  • I want the GM to work with no structure, basing everything on ad hoc die rolling and perhaps a ‘1 page mythos’.
  1. Characters should be as ‘human’ as possible.
  2. The campaign universe should be as Earth-like as possible.
  3. I want the campaign to be a continuation of one of my recent campaigns (and their mythos) in some fashion or other.
  4. I want the campaign to be a continuation of one of the campaigns I ran over a decade ago.
  5. I would like to see the next campaign be in an existing fictional setting (if you agree, place several interesting fictional settings in the ‘comment’ line below).
  6. I would like to see lots of ‘nonsense’ and ‘fantasy’ in the campaign.
  7. I would like to see lots of ‘magic’ in the campaign.
  8. I would like to see lots of ‘psionics’ in the campaign.
  9. I would like to see lots of ‘machine tech’ in the campaign.
  10. I would like to see lots of ‘high fantasy themes’ in the campaign.
  11. I would like to see lots of ‘cartoon themes’ in the campaign.
  12. I would like to see lots of ‘low fantasy hack and slash themes’ in the campaign.
  13. I would like to see lots of ‘religion themes’ in the campaign.
  14. I would like to see lots of ‘horror themes’ in the campaign.
  15. I would like to see lots of ‘comic book themes’ in the campaign.
  16. I would like to see lots of ‘romance novel themes’ in the campaign.
  17. I would like to see lots of ‘political themes’ in the campaign.
  18. I would like to see lots of ‘military themes’ in the campaign.
  19. I would like to see lots of ‘political /military thriller themes’ in the campaign.
  20. I would like to see lots of ‘economic themes’ in the campaign.
  21. I would like to see lots of ‘cute fuzzy wuzzy fantasy themes’ in the campaign.
  22. I would like to see lots of ‘science fiction themes’ in the campaign.
  23. I would like to see lots of ‘mysteries and mysticism’ in the campaign.
  24. I would like to see lots of ‘really obscure creative things’ in the campaign.
  25. I would like to see no themes in the campaign – inconsistency is more enjoyable.

Game Mythos (Tactics And The Like)

Which one of the following 8 options best describes your desired ‘game morality’:

  • I want us to be ‘saints’ who never do violence.
  • I want us to be ‘good guys’ that resort to violence only as a ‘last resort’.
  • I want us to be ‘greedy neutrals’ that do whatever it takes, whenever we need to.
  • I want us to be ‘benevolent despots’ that believe that the ends justify the means.
  • I want us to be ‘evil thugs’ (with the proverbial ‘hearts of gold’).
  • I want us to be ‘really dark and evil creatures of horror’ with no redeeming social value, just in it for the power.
  • I want us to be morally inconsistent (e.g. ‘utter good guys’ who rape, maim, and kill without regards to any ongoing consequences).
  • Other – please explain.

Which one of the following 5 options best describes how you would want the characters to match up to the ‘bad guys’:

  • I’d like a Tolkienish setting where PCs had insignificant powers compared to the bad guys.
  • I’d like a ‘Nine Princes in Amber’ setting where the PCs are essentially Gods and nearly everyone else is powerless.
  • I’d like to see a ‘Thieves World’ setting with little difference between top and bottom powers that be.
  • I’d like to see a David Eddings ‘Belgariad’ setting where the only people with ‘real powers’ are the PCs, a few NPCs and the (small number) of enemies.
  • Other. Please explain.

Which of the following 5 options best describes the way you would like to see the campaign run:

  • I would like to see the campaign run with miniatures at the individual character level.
  • I would like to see the campaign run with miniatures at the army level.
  • I would like to see the campaign run ‘imagination style’ at the high level but with detailed melee combat.
  • I would like to see the campaign run ‘imagination style’ at a higher level (and without melee details).
  • Other. Please explain.

Which of the following 5 options best describes the way you would like expedition time to run:

  • I would like to see expeditions take up mere hours of game time when adventuring.
  • I would like to see expedition take up days to weeks of game time when adventuring.
  • I would like to see the campaign run without any concept of game time.
  • I would like to see the expedition take up months of game time when adventuring.
  • Other. Please explain.
  1. I would like to see characters die and be replaced upon occasion, such that after two years of the campaign, the likelihood of any starting character surviving would be nil.
  2. I would like to have a sheaf of characters to choose from, deciding which one I am going to run on a scenario by scenario basis.
  3. I want everyone to have just one character, and for that character to essentially be unkillable (with the GM intervening to make sure there are always ways out).
  4. I love having lots of ‘guilds’ and ‘organizations’ of peers around to interact with.
  5. I despise ‘enchantments’ and ‘items of power’.
  6. I would rather utilize a complex multi-option power (with results that need to be interpreted) in a melee than a numerical attribute.
  7. I love quests.
  8. Having other player characters as enemies is just fine.
  9. I really like the characters being on their own, without any guidance, or any idea about what to do or what should be being done.
  10. Roleplaying detracts from running a character and campaign enjoyment.
  11. I want the campaign to end soon after it starts.
  12. I want the campaign to be disjointed sets of scenarios in the same mythos, with different characters in each.
  13. I love ‘dungeon trashing’.
  14. I want the GM to provide us with characters.
  15. No exploration. The universe should be given to us to start with, fully developed. I would rather the ‘opposition’, whatever that may be, comes to me.
  16. I like having numerous low to medium powered bad guys (“cannon fodder”, like orcs) to kill.
  17. I want the campaign to hand out loot so infrequently that you see it only once every half dozen ‘adventures’ at best.
  18. Interactions with Greater Beings and Gods should only be on an adversarial level.
  19. Anything that allows any aspect of ‘foretelling the future’, even ‘possible futures’ is wrong.
  20. I despise the idea of ‘multiple universes’ in a campaign.
  21. Having ‘new things’ show up in the campaign detracts from character development.
  22. I despise the idea of ‘time travel’ in a campaign.
  23. Enhanced physical combat should be a very rare capability.
  24. I don’t want to ever have to make any decisions, other than at the melee-tactical level.
  25. ‘Action at a distance’ powers (e.g. psionics) are not fair, and should not be in a campaign.
  26. I have no problems with having to ‘discover the ruleset’ (or rulesets) as we go along.
  27. I like having ‘alternate timelines’, ‘planes’ and other strange aspects of reality to explore in the campaign.
  28.  I would rather put my mental effort into dealing with ‘the opposition’ as opposed to dealing with ‘ruleset issues’.
  29. Spell casters should be common if not ubiquitous.
  30. The more ‘world’, the better.
  31. Healing and resurrection should be extremely difficult to come by at all times.
  32. The GM should be the ‘evil enemy’ (as opposed to having an ‘in game’ enemy).
  33. I just love dealing with questions like “how many liters of water, to the deciliter, do I need to take with me on this wilderness trek to ensure my survival?”
  34. Movement should be very difficult, avoiding things like fast flying, teleportation, and the like.
  35. The opposition should win regularly, killing characters, and forcing players to start over.
  36. I would rather see lots of ‘tactical melees’ rather than ‘projects requiring strategic thought’.
  37. NPCs should be enemy types only.
  38. ‘Thieves’ should not be specifically superpowered (or as rare as possible).

Expedition Mechanics

  1. Expeditions should run with all of the players involved.
  2. If I have to pay attention to the expedition as it goes along, it is ‘too demanding’ for me.
  3. If I can’t roll dice, it isn’t worth it.
  4. The campaign should involve intense player creativity, including things like art, music, writing, etc.
  5. I would like to see more logic problems and thought in the campaign (and fewer ‘luck activities’).
  6. Expeditions should run with an individual character (mine); anyone else present should be just a kibitzer.
  7. I want the campaign to run itself, such that the GM can basically sleep through expeditions.
  8. GMs who have to leaf through reference materials detract from the expedition.
  9. If it is not pre-rolled or computer generated, it is not fair.
  10.  Players should only run one character.
  11. I want the capability of handing in question sets for answering, when I need to.

Which of the following 7 responses best describes your feelings toward ‘game conflict’:

  • I win when my character slaughters lots of enemies.
  • I win when my character thwarts an enemy utilizing whatever works for my character.
  • I win when I beat the opponent and the other characters don’t.
  • I win when I outsmart the GM.
  • I win when my character is more ‘powerful’ than the other characters.
  • I win when lots of NPCs bow and scrape to me as a powerful adventurer or whatever.
  • Other. Please explain.
  1. I don’t want to use Email for anything involving the campaign.
  2. I don’t want anyone else using Email for anything involving the campaign.
  3. Handouts and GM generated ‘mythos’ documents aid the campaign.
  4. Maps and the like from the GM aid the campaign.
  5. If we can’t ‘map dungeons’, it isn’t a campaign.
  6. Campaigns that require ‘callers’ or ‘expedition leaders’ should be avoided.
  7. There should be no discussion of mythos during an expedition. All mythos information (if any) should be through handouts or email.
  8. Melees should be computer moderated, making the tactical level be as much like a computer game as possible.
  9. A campaign set up such that my hard-won campaign knowledge is useful at the strategic and tactical level is a good thing.
  10. Expeditions should require no rules discussions.
  11. Guidance from friendly NPCs (for various reasons) is a positive thing.
  12. Melees should be run as fast in real time as they are in game time, forcing players to make split second decisions about their characters.
  13. The GM must decide things by logic, avoiding the use of dice at all costs.

Decision Making About the New Campaign

  1.  Which section of this survey, 1 through 4, is most important to me?
  2. The GM should consider this survey of utmost importance when designing the new campaign.
  3. Fooey! I would rather be playing Settlers (et al.), not another FRP campaign.
  4. All in all, I would rather see ‘totally new things’ in a new campaign, not things seen in previous campaigns.
  5. Any new campaign should be an utter surprise to me.

Comments from Johnn:

Surveys can sometimes be dry and awful things, but I found this one to be very interesting! Maybe the first question should be ‘I hate surveys’ if you think your players would be squeamish? LOL.

Anyway, just reading it reminded me about all the options and styles that are possible in our little hobby. A GM shouldn’t take his players’ opinions and preferences for granted.

I can see some great uses for a survey like this:

  • Starting a new campaign with a group of strangers. This would let you know their preferences up front and reduce the sometimes uncomfortable trial and error period.
  • New player. Have new players joining your group fill the survey out to give you a fairly detailed profile of their expectations.
  • Crucible. Have new players read the other players’ surveys so they can quickly learn who they’re playing with.
  • Mid-campaign check-in. Is your game currently serving the needs of its players? Use this survey to find out.
  • Road map. Use this survey right now to create a preferences list of your players. Consult it often to see if you’re on course.
  • Post-campaign analysis. Have players fill the survey out at the beginning of the campaign and, once the campaign ends, see how close the game actually came to meeting the groups’ preferences. Where did the game deviate? Why?
  • Passport. Gaming with a new group? Fill out this survey and hand it to the GM so s/he can get to know your gaming better.

Thanks for the great survey Randall!

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Readers’ Tips Of The Week:

Super Hero Generator Sites

From: Michael

While searching the web for things to use in my own Super Heroes game, I came across this site. It is a character generator that will help in creating some interesting twists in super heroes.
Lee’s (Useless) Super-Hero Generator

I came across another site that actually has a program you can download that will draw the character you want. It’s pretty cool and it’s free.

More on Dealing with Rules Lawyers

From: Agis Silverfish

RPT#177 – The 10 Commandments Of The RPG Player
RPT#179 – The Logic Death Guide to Players

Yes, Rules Lawyers can be very annoying, but a number of them can become decent Gamemasters. Sometimes, the thing to do is tell them to run their own game with their own rules!

Some Rule Lawyers will rise up to the challenge and create their own campaign, with a plus: they have something to prove. On top of that, they will know what it feels like on the other side of the screen. That will probably make him or her a more collaborative player in the future.

On the other hand, for some of them there is no greater horror than GMing, and that will keep them quiet – at least for a little while.

Hope this helps.

P.S. Great newsletter! Keep it up!