Sometimes I worry what my readers think of me. I know logically that nobody goes over this blog with a fine-toothed comb, looking for contradictions so they can shout “Aha! This person says he/she doesn’t like racial stereotyping, but there’s clearly a reference here to arcane archers! I have to let them know I’m onto them!” But I cut my teeth on Internet message boards full of young people who did exactly that, and old habits die hard. So I do wonder whether anybody recalls my screeds on how Pathfinder is going in a direction I don’t want and how it’s not for me any more, then notes how much I’m talking about our new Pathfinder campaign. I would not blame anybody who finds themselves with occasion to ask “what gives?”
The short answer is that yes, we are playing Pathfinder. But we’re going at it with a healthy disrespect for what the system thinks is a good idea, tossing out whatever we need to play the game we want. And the first major thing we’re doing to that end is our signature items.
Campaigns are about characters. It doesn’t matter what plots you weave or how clever your battles are or what house rules you wrote if the players aren’t excited to apply characters to them. I wanted to avoid gushing about my players’ characters like a proud grandmother, but a lot of what we’re doing in Faith is about them, so if I don’t describe them at all you’re just going to be lost. I’m still not going to do a blow-by-blow of the campaign, though. You’re welcome.
For character design, I only gave the players a few directives:
- Each character must have a different deity, and the only acceptable deities were the character who ascended to godhood at the end of a previous campaign, The Great Tower of Oldechi.
- Each character must be from a different era in history, as determined during our Microscope session.
- The campaign’s high concept is anime, specifically but not exclusively shounen combat anime. The characters were encouraged but not required to fit a Five-Man Band.
Posted in Campaigns
I’ve been referencing Chrono Trigger a lot as I talk about Faith, my players’ latest attempt to ruin not just one of my settings but several settings throughout history. But that’s not because I’m trying to run a Chrono Trigger campaign, because I’m not. If I was, we’d be reskinning thing much harder to fit with the four allowed magic types, I would have a system for double- and triple-techs, and I definitely wouldn’t be running in Pathfinder. But I still wouldn’t limit the campaign to only three players and I would be using my own world maps. The important things about Chrono Trigger to me aren’t the three-person party or Porre Village specifically. They don’t make things feel like Chrono Trigger to me as much as Lavos and Spekkio and tag team moves, and how my players and I feel about a work is the most important part of creating an tabletop adaptation for it.
When I say “adaptation”, I don’t mean “a copy in a new medium”. We’re not turning a book into a movie, trying to hit the same story beats while improving what we can with visuals and making the fewest concessions for time and budget constraints. Adapting something to tabletop gaming isn’t about doing the same thing over again. It’s about getting the feel of the original work and duplicating that feel in a new story with new characters because we like both the original work and the agency tabletop gaming gives us. We want the room to make a campaign that’s more of an homage than a copy, where we can leave our own mark on it while enjoying something we like in a new way.
As part of planning for Faith, our time travel campaign where the characters go through history adjusting events so their respective gods can become top-tier members of their pantheon, I realized I would need world maps. That’s maps, plural. Chrono Trigger, our thematic launch point, had one world map for each era and expected the players to traverse all of them fully. A simple “yeah, this island is tropical or whatever” wouldn’t suffice for our campaign. The players need the ability to make intelligent decisions based on the current timeline and what they think they can do to change it, and that means I shouldn’t arbitrarily limit their ability to move. I mean, I’m going to limit it. It just won’t be arbitrary.
I made several world maps, one for each era, and decided to hide them from the players so they couldn’t review them until the dramatic reveal. Upon further consideration, I realized that was dumb. I should expect characters to know something about their world, at least as much as most modern people know about other countries, and letting the players see only the world map from their corner of history doesn’t actually add anything to the campaign. This way there’s some chance I’ll get players interested in things like “why is this continent bigger than before?” or “why did this island rotate?”. Questions like that tell me what the players want to know, and thus what they want to see in the game, and thus what I should put into my adventures. So here they are:
I’ve wanted to use that as a post name forever.
There are a lot of “nevers” in conventional DMing advice, and I’ve been on something of an unofficial quest to violate all of them. Consider “never give the players wishes”, but when my players got on a genie’s good side their wishes fed into the campaign plot and basically wrote another campaign for me. Or “never railroad the players,” but the Zelda campaign’s incredibly rigid story structure helped make it one of my best campaigns. Or “never give a player in-character authority over other players”, but I’ve done this for more campaigns than I haven’t, and it’s always worked because the players aren’t petty about their characters’ power structure. Even “never let a player use an unbalanced option that makes them stronger than other players”, but I let a player have a deliberately overpowered version of a spiked chain* and nobody batted an eye. For the most part “never” doesn’t actually mean “never”, it means “consider carefully your intentions and any foreseeable repercussions before you”.
It is with this in mind that I consider the advice “never use time travel” and intend to spend my next campaign willfully ignoring it.