From the Ashes of Angels
This was written for the earlier version of the campaign, where roughly half the players hadn’t played in one of my games before. You can read it or not. I don’t think any of this will be a surprise to those of you who’ve been in my campaigns before.
Executive Summary: There are no rails. I encourage the game to go in the directions the players want it to, not the direction I have in mind at the beginning. I run best off-the-cuff, and have no problem if the players want nothing to do with my supposed plot – as long as they have something else they want to do in its place. I might start the campaign rolling, but I could have predicted the direction of precisely zero of my past campaigns at their start. I’ve stopped trying. :)
I enjoy pushing boundaries of what my chosen game system can (or at least, was designed to) do. I like to go off the edge of the map, so to speak, and once I understand a system I use it as a starting point rather than a comprehensive guide. Expect that a couple of house rules or otherwise not by-the-book interpretations will show up over the course of the campaign. More than once I’ve pushed the boundaries too far into where they shouldn’t go. Usually I can make my way back, but on more than one occasion I’ve had to kill a game because I took it past what I felt was a point of no return. I pack it up, hopefully learn something, and not too far later I try something else.
I also like worlds that I can push in whatever direction the plot dictates. I generally do not like running in published worlds, hence most of my games are in custom-built worlds. Typically I do a fair amount of setup for these worlds, and then let the missing details fill in during the campaign development.
Like most GMs I appreciate it when players enjoy the plots I present. I prefer it when players take the plot and make it their own. All of my most memorable gaming experiences, for both me and the players, involve the players going off on a plot of their own choosing (ignoring mine) or taking the presented plot in a way I hadn’t intended. Because my players have repeatedly proven to be smarter than me I’ve taken to not necessarily designing a solution to my plots, expecting the players will come up with their own. Unless I force-fed it on a silver spoon I don’t think I’ve ever had a campaign go where I intended it to go. My games tend to be an open sandbox with a few predefined paths that players can take… or not. Usually (but not always) my games follow essentially the plot I plan at the start, but the path taken to get to the end has no bearing on where I expected it to go.
Traditionally my plots end up fairly grand and world-defining in one way or another. Unfortunately that has so far meant I haven’t been able to re-use any worlds I’ve built. I’m actually hoping to go lower-key in this game. Maybe we’ll end up destabilizing a country or two, but I’d like to leave the world in more or less the same state we found it. Considering my previous commentary about my games never going where I set out to take them, who knows how valid this hope is.
I tend to run hard combats. In my early days I aquired a reputation for TPKs. I think the reputation is somewhat less deserved nowadays. I’m not shy about punishing PCs for going into situations they are not equipped to handle, but I’m not gunning for character death. I won’t spring abushes well beyond their capabilities on PCs, but certain locations tend to be developed in strength independant of whether the PCs want to go there. If they go there ‘too soon’ they get crushed, ‘too late’ and they get a walk in the park.
I’m bad at coming up with names. If I stumble over a name for the NPC you’re attempting to talk with it’s a good sign I hadn’t planned on them being all that important. Having said that, I’ve had a lot of these surprise NPCs go on to be significant parts of the game.
I do not do customized voices for NPCs. I’m just bad at intentionally altering my voice in a consistent manner. It adds a lot when I’ve seen other DMs do it, but it’s just not one of my skillsets. I think I can put together consistent personalities, but I guess only my past players can tell whether I’ve succeeded at that or not.
In the past I haven’t tended to use PC skills in social encounters much. Generally the dialogue develops naturally between the NPC and whatever PCs feel like doing the talking. I’m thinking this has led to social skills being less useful than perhaps they should be. I want to try to put more emphasis back on PCs success/failure at talking with people more tied to their character skills rather than player skills, but I’m not currently sure how that’ll work out.
I LOVE to give out differently flavored versions of the ‘truth’ behind any given subject to the players of different characters, depending on how their background would have colored their perceptions. Don’t ever assume anything I tell you regarding what you know of the world is TRUE, only true from your perspective. I do this with peoples’ backstories too. What you give me as past events may be interpreted very differently by other people in the world (PC or NPC). I’ve build entire campaigns on misinterpretation of fact. I don’t anticipate this game to go very far into different facets of the truth, but there will probably be some elements that work like this.
Similar to the previous paragraph, when practical I give information known to one character to only that player. It’s up to them how much they share with the group. I dislike answering knowledge questions at the table, but admit I often do it, because it’s not worth the game-distraction it takes to remove myself and one player from the game table for any length of time.
Despite what the above two paragraphs might imply, I hate information-hoarding characters. I give out information selectively so I can watch what happens in mistransmission, not so that it never gets out anywhere. Similarly, except in games I’ve designed for it (this isn’t one of them) I do not appreciate intra-party strife. I expect the PCs to be loyal to each other, even when there are NPCs trying to pull them in different directions. That doesn’t mean they have to like each other, but it does mean I do not expect one PC to swing on another.