My Campaign Should Be On TV

by skallawag on May 17, 2010

My personal spin as a DM is to think of each individual gaming session as a television episode and have the overall arc of my campaign play like a television season. Television shows such as Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules and Legend of the Seeker have a genre similar to that of Dungeons & Dragons and can provide some insight and ideas into your own campaign.

Here are some basic elements to keep your campaigns fresh so you don’t get “canceled” by your gaming group.

The Dungeon’s Master team welcomes Skallawag into the fold. Skallawag, Wimwick and Ameron have played D&D together for over 20 years. Since Dungeon’s Master launched, Skallawag has provided many insightful comments. It took some coaxing, but we finally convinced him to write an article. We hope that this is his first of many articles and that you find his perspective on D&D as helpful and insightful as we do.

Ratings

You need to appeal to your gaming group. Your gaming sessions and overall campaign need to retain player interest. You might have an awesome campaign idea or story arc, so get your players as excited. Advertise and appeal to them, get their interest and tell them it’s commercial free and they don’t need to subscribe to cable.

Tone

Tone is key to keeping the game and genre fresh with you and your players. You should strive to thrill the players each week and throw in a twist or two. In addition you may want to add some humor (really, have some fun with this, but don’t go over the top). Critical elements of success may include keeping your players on edge or keeping them engaged with a continuing sense of lurking danger. Enjoy and evolve this part of your campaign, and use this to strengthen and facilitate your role playing elements.

Gaming Sessions

Each gaming session, the party will need to use their powers, abilities and intellect to solve mysteries, resolve conflicts and even battle evil. At the same time the party will evolve as heroes, explore the meanings of their powers, continue to follow and strengthen relationships. Constantly bring in new elements each session to keep it fresh for your players and add some twists to keep it interesting. Have a good balance of role playing and encounters each week so that you can appeal to the all of your players. Some players like to role dice while others like to role play – have your session appeal to both.

Characters and Character Development

Your players are the stars and treat them that way. Like a television show, there are some weeks where episodes focus on a specific characters and the rest of the party plays more supporting roles. Other weeks, episodes focus on the whole group. Make sure you spread the love, and evolve all of your player’s characters, including bringing in characters or entities from their past (the guest appearances) or touching on some items from their back stories. Recurring characters and villains are good tools to bring in to tie your campaign together (just think of Callisto from Xena).

Overall Story Arc

While your players and their own personal story arcs. continue through the life of your campaign, don’t continually let your supporting characters and villains drive the story and your campaign won’t be fun if you’re only sending the party on quests time and time again. Your players are the stars and you want them to be the driver and come back to your gaming sessions. Have your players drive your story, but don’t be scared to railroad your players using any of the above elements. Think of Gabrielle from Xena and her evolution from farm girl to warrior – the story was really about her.

Always try to think outside of the box. Keep an open mind and enjoy the campaign and gaming sessions as much as your players will.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Siskoid May 17, 2010 at 10:14 am

This is also how I think of my gaming session. (Unless playing Supers, then I think of it as a comic book series. Either way, it’s an episodic model.) Good advice there.

Don’t be afraid of season premieres and season finales. They’re good for switching gears, taking the game to another level, even making time pass in between seasons (to bring in new characters and other changes perhaps).

If the game is particularly cinematic, I’ll run teasers, theme music, previews of the next session. (This goes to tone. I wouldn’t use them if the game wasn’t cinematic.)

Lately, we’ve started to cast actors in the roles as a visual/role-playing aid.
.-= Siskoid´s last blog ..Fiend Folio: 10 Silliest Monsters =-.

2 skallawag May 17, 2010 at 5:10 pm

@Siskoid
Some good ideas there! I never thought of having a campaign split across multiple seasons, but it does make sense! I like the thought of adding theme music and casting actors to help with the visualizations and I will definitely need to add this to my next session as the DM.

In one of our campaigns, Ameron had used hockey player avatars to represent some of the human NPC’s. This was the closest we’ve gotten to using actors so far — us Canadians can’t get enough of our hockey!

3 Siskoid May 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Too true. I had a player in one of my groups that would drop his dice and everything if the game came on. Role-playing sessions were scheduled around the NHL schedule.

His characters tended to be based on pro wrestlers, however ;)
.-= Siskoid´s last blog ..Fiend Folio: 10 Silliest Monsters =-.

4 BK May 17, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I’ve used (and continue to use) PCs as centerpieces for story arcs with great success. At first I was hesitant to try this, but after I did it for one, the rest of my players decided to pay attention to more of their back-stories (a “must” if you take this approach in my book).

Over time, I’ve been asked to provide specific “flavors” to story arcs and encounters such as and adventure in a particular type of environment (a shipwreck on a jungle island), a quest (a druid “finding” her shape-changing power), or skill challenge (flooded river crossing).

As for “supporting actors” – a former villain in one PCs life coming back is a fun tease. We have one rogue who used to be an assassin’s apprentice in a dark cult but turned from that path. However, her old “teacher” didn’t approve of her betrayal and now pops-in every now and then trying to bring her back into the fold — or remover her from it.

What I’m waiting to do is have one of my PC’s old mentors show-up broke, broken, and betrayed only to have him/her eventually become the “vile betrayer” at a most inopportune moment for the party…oh the possibilities!

5 Dungeon Newbie May 18, 2010 at 4:33 am

Hey Skallawag, good to have you writing articles. I’ve noticed you commenting many times but never thought you would actually write an article. Your idea of treating gaming sessions as television show episodes is quite interesting. The style of writing and the creativity of it all is different from the usual still-good-but -just-different words of Ameron and Wimwick.
@BK
The old mentor turning evil story has been used many times and is almost a cliche. Still, the way you skillfully twist it into the story and background of the PCs makes it “new” in a way. It’s refreshing to have a good story for once!
@Siskoid
Hahaha. You really do keep with the television theme, don’t you?”But wait- there’s more! Here’s a Sneak Peak of next week’s episode, the Beholder and the Bee Holder!” Seriously though, I really like your blog and I hope you will read mine too! :D

Visit Dungeon Newbie’s Blog by clicking on my name

6 Siskoid May 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

@Newbie: So I take it you’ve read my article on previews? Your blog’s got some interesting stuff, I’ll put it on Follow for a while and check it out.
.-= Siskoid´s last blog ..Fiend Folio: 10 Silliest Monsters =-.

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