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The Great Next Campaign Debate

Posted By Phil Vecchione On May 28, 2010 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 2 Comments

Recently my game group celebrated the one year anniversary of my Corporation game. After some discussion we decided that we would take a break from Corporation and try out a “new” game. For me, as a GM, this is a very exciting moment, because a new game means that exciting time of learning a new system, coming up with details for the setting, and writing that first story arc. It is also a time filled with angst and swings of depression, as my group and I debate back and forth on what game we should play next.

This time it was no different. After some debate we came up with a game that we were all interested in playing.  It was a process filled with negotiations, discussions, debates, and a few promises (of games I will run in the future). Since this challenge is one that every GM has or will face, I thought that I would step through how we chose our next campaign.

Narrowing The Field

In the moments when my group has made the decision to start a new game, there is a flurry of ideas, as everyone breaks out their wish list of games that they would like to play. I am no different, I have a short list of games that as soon as my players are ready to play, I want to run. Many groups just sit down and toss out game names, until they come up with their new game.

As a Project Manager (and previously a software developer) by trade, I come at this with a bit of structure. I use three areas to help focus the list of games from every game under the sun, to a short list. Those areas are:

Requirements

The first thing I ask my group, is to come up with a list of things that our next game must have. These are not specific games choices, but rather what elements within a game do people want to have and experience. It is fair to say something like, “No hit points like True20″.

These requirements will be used later to determine which games have what we are looking for.  Games that fail to meet most of the requirements are not considered, and games that have many or all of the requirements are put on the short list.

Here are some of the requirements that we came up with in the last search:

  • Lite rules– having enjoyed the lite rules of Corporation, we wanted another rule system that was lite.
  • Epic setting– Corporation was very “ground level” in it’s scope and theme. The players wanted a game of good vs. evil with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
  • Strong social component– While Corporation had good social scenes, the game had a strong emphasis on combat. The players wanted a game with less emphasis on combat and more on dialog.
  • Mechanic with a margin of success– I have become a big fan of game mechanics that have a margin of success. I find it to be very versatile during play.

Assumptions

In any group there are a some dynamics about your group that you need to keep in the back of your head while making your game selections. These assumptions are important to document. When they are not documented they tend to taint an individuals or group’s decisions, in ways that may not be clear. By understanding them, and discussing them, it helps to avoid confusion among the group.

Here are some of our assumptions:

  • One of our players likes games with superpowers or supernatural powers, and will always take a character who has them.
  • One of our players joins us via Skype (with video)
  • We will have one GM and three players for this game.
  • The GM gets final say on what games will get played.  (I am the kind of GM that if I do not feel passionately about a game, that it is near impossible for me to run. So whatever games we come up with, I am going to have to want to run one of them).

Constraints

Then there are things that limit choices. These are things that can be used along with the requirements to determine if a game is a good fit. The important part is to not only document the constraint, but also to understand the reason why. When everyone understands why something is a constraint, it becomes less arbitrary.

Here were some of our constraints:

  • No games that relied on battlemats, counters, etc– with one of our players on Skype it’s a pain to have to keep adjusting the camera, and moving pieces for them, and electronic tabletops have not worked well for us.
  • No fantasy games– this one was all on me. I am a bit burnt out on fantasy lately, and everyone in the group is already playing 4e in other groups.
  • No modern magic settings-- 3/4 of us are playing in a Witchcraft game already, so that itch is scratched.
  • No serious houseruling– I have a thing about doing serious houseruling to a game. Either the mechanics are fine as designed, or the game is not something I really want to be playing.

The Final Contestants

So after listing out our requirements, assumptions, and constraints we started out with a pool of candidates:

  • Houses of the Blooded  (my pick)
  • Burning Empires  (my pick)
  • Underground
  • Conspiracy X
  • Planescape
  • Pathfinder
  • Eberron
  • In Nomine
  • Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Cyberpunk
  • Cyber Generations
  • Necessary Evil  (my pick)
  • Legend of the 5 Rings
  • Scion  (my pick)

The list was not too big, and after we started applying our requirements and constraints, the list started thin out.

The short list

After some healthy discussion, done totally by email, the list above was reduced to four finalists:

  • In Nomine
  • Underground
  • Burning Empires
  • Necessary Evil

These were then discussed at length and everyone ranked the four in order of interest.  Then there was some more discussion and…

…In The End

We decided on In Nomine.  Here is how In Nomine shakes out:

Requirements:

  • Lite Rules– In Nomine has very simple mechanics, and an interesting d666 mechanic that  looks fun and supports the game.
  • Epic setting– The battle of Heaven and Hell. ‘Nuff said.
  • Strong Social Component– In Nomine stresses more social interaction than combats, and in fact has a pretty lean combat system.
  • Mechanic with margin of success– the d666 system uses 2d6 for achieving a target number, leaving the last d6 for determining margin of success.

Constraints:

  • No Battlemats– In Nomine has a pretty simple combat system that is does not require any mats, mini’s, and counters.
  • No Fantasy– The default setting for the game is modern times.
  • No Modern Magic– In Nomine does have magic in modern times, but its not about playing human urban wizards, so we passed it on this constraint.
  • No serious houseruling– I was comfortable enough with the rules to not to have to do any serious tinkering with them.

It took four days of online discussions, but the debates were kept calm, and in the end, everyone was interested in the final choice. So we are now in the early stages of putting together our new campaign and making characters.

Too Structured?

So my system may be a bit formal, but it has been a system that has evolved out of my group for the past few years, and it has shown to be an effective way to reach a consensus.  This system is based on identifying the group’s wants and needs, and then finding the games that best fit, rather than focusing on the games first. It has been my experience behind the screen and in the workplace that this kind of requirements focused approach yields the best results.

So how do you and your players come up with your new campaigns?  Do you have a formula, is there a vote, a GM fiat?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.




2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "The Great Next Campaign Debate"

#1 Comment By Razjah On May 28, 2010 @ 8:53 am

Most of the time for our group it involves a GM saying-”Hey, I’m thinking about running this game, is anyone interested?” I tend to start with a campaign idea and see give a list of systems and let my players vote on them. This way they can choose the system and I know that I am comfortable running it.

I really like this method, it seems better for people who have a solid group of people and have pretty solid schedules. I think it is a great way to make sure that the game isn’t just because the GM wants to run it. D&D 3.5 is good, the third time in a row gets a little repetitive. I have a question though- does your group rotate GMs or is it pretty much you

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On May 28, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

Each of my groups has a similar but not identical process. In each, each potential GM presents an idea (or two) that they’d be happy to run. We then select from among the proposed games.

It basically requires consensus: if one person has big issues with a game, it’s eliminated and we select from the games that are left. It’s tricky, because you have the same issue as GMs often have running a game– you can get mistake rejection of your game as rejection of you. That’s something we tiptoe around at the moment…

We tend to do the selection in person at the end of another game’s session. Usually we’ve planned on presenting games a couple of weeks in advance. There’s a lot of discussion and “I like” statements, which helps keep it in the realm of opinions instead of “you suck”.


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