Retooling

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I recently found I was in an unhappy place with my 4e campaign. We’re a year and a half in and have pulled down maybe 15 or 18 sessions. We seem to end up canceling due to conflicts more often than we actually run a session. I’d taken to running one shots from LFR and Dungeon on down weeks but the main game was suffering from severe lack of momentum. I suggested wrapping up the game in 2 or so more sessions, but some of the players have expressed interest in continuing. They’ve suggested adding a couple more players and just going ahead with whoever can make it that week. Which would work but would require a major retooling of my plotting and GMing style.

I tend to run “tight” games – the events take place over a brief time period and have some sort of urgency. Stop the big bad before X happens, get to the artifact before someone else does. One session directly leads into the next with not a lot of down time in between. Because of this structure the PCs always are together and someone entering the picture or vanishing is jarring to continuity.

There are a couple of different directions the campaign can go in the Paragon tier (we’re meeting tonight to talk about that) but it looks like I’m going to need to set things up in a more modular or episodic format. Make each session a bit more self-contained and allow the PCs to go back to HQ between each adventure, all while moving toward an overall larger plot goal (to be determined by the players. I can provide more info about the 3 “paths” for the game that I see possible if anyone wants). It’s not how I’ve tended to think in my games over the past decade or so – I think the Crusaders supers game in Columbus was the last time I ran an “episodic” game.

I’m trying to think of models to use, and of course turn to television, and specifically geek tv. I’ll need to be more Torchwood season 2 and less Children of Earth. More mid-run DS9 than season 7. Anyone have any other good “episodic while still touching on larger plot progression each session” examples? I definitely don’t want a pure episodic thing, like TNG or the majority of X-Files. Has anyone run a game that was structured this way and has any advice to share in de-compressing the story arc?

(this is all assuming the PCs survive the war against an aboleth and an upcoming Githyanki invasion, of course)

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4 Responses to “Retooling”

  1. Rob Says:

    As I run my own tight (some would say overplotted) game, I find myself wanting to run something on the “Samurai Jack” / “The Fugitive” / “Littlest Hobo” model: there is an overarching metaplot, but it’s so stripped down and simple as to be iconic / archetypal / almost not there: there’s a hero, driven to wander, and a villain, one’s chasing the other, someday they will meet, and that’s about it. Then each “episode” the hero gets pulled in to some local doings or exploration, but by the end of the episode they’ve got to keep moving on.

  2. Moth Says:

    Have you ever just thought of pulling a Lost or Heroes? All of the possible players have been tainted by temporal instability. They pop in and out at random, sometimes more are in the same place and time at the same time, other times less, sometimes it is an even swap, person A appears but person B disappears. Have the people who pop out be only a short time out in their own timeline, but possibly a long time from the “present”.

    When a player returns spend a quick recap on what they saw and/or did, but since it was a short time they couldn’t do or see much. Have some visit the future where they see a potential critical moment and then come back to tell the players what they need to stop from happening (or make happen) and you now have a new goal to drive the story forward. Have some pop back in time and do something that has a butterfly effect on the “present”, small action, big effect.

    Just a thought to incorporate the character chaos into the story. You could also pop someone into a different timeline even if they are present at the game just to further develop something where they need more time to accomplish a goal. “If we only had the time to clear this passageway we could escape”, person is sent back in time for a solo mission to clear the passageway.

  3. Drunken Carp Says:

    If your players are cycling in and out, no one will see the overarching plot but you. I’d recommend just running LFR modules for whoever shows, as they have a minimal amount of continuity.

    And you can add more, seamlessly: swap out the NPCs who show up for the beginning and end of each adventure with a small cast of recurring NPCs, relocate all the urban adventures to the same large city, so you re-use locales, and Bob’s your uncle.

  4. 71Gamer Says:

    There’s a cool thing you can do similar to the first 3 or 4 Eberron modules, if you have those lying around (you can find em online for $5 each)–You start by finding a piece of a relic, and the same benefactor keeps hiring you when she learns about the location of other pieces. The pieces are also being sought by agents of Vol and Lord of Blades as well, which can eventually become the over-arcing storyline and source of future conflicts. But the cool thing is there’s 7 or so levels of adventure, divided into 4 adventures, each with a unique feel and plot element.

    Keep the story small (lady X hired us to get item Y, but that puts us at odds with organization A and B), but keep the story large (item Y is part of a larger scheme that will make more sense as the party finds more parts). And if you keep the parts simple or memorable, and the enemies memorable (kinda easy with emerald claw agents, a changeling jerk and warforged Lord of Blades followers), the story can start to make sense on a grand scale with little effort, if that makes sense.

    In the end, this could lead to epic conflict with the Lord of Blades and perhaps Lady Vol, if you harass the party enough with their agents.

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