In the initial scene, players were tasked with fighting off Kobolds in an unfamiliar town. They had not yet met each other, so each player started in a separate part of town. In addition to this, the characters would have had no knowledge of the other player’s presence, and thus would have no reason to intentionally search them out.
To simulate this, I drew out the town map on a large sheet of gridded paper, and then cut the paper into smaller 8×6 areas. Then I provided each player with their specific region. In this way, players could freely explore, not being able to see where they were relative to the other players. From what I could tell, this element worked well with the players. They enjoyed exploring, seeing each new area as they walked into it. Slowly, the town assembled, and two players even ran into each other. My major mistake here was not marking doors on the buildings (many of the players started inside) so it was hard to tell where buildings could be entered and exited, but I just winged it.
After the players decided to pursue the wizard, they ran into their second encounter. Goblins were harassing two women and trying to steal their horse-drawn cart, which contained all of their possessions. However, players arrived late on the scene and they had to make a split second decision. I had them write down their characters action and reveal them all at the same time, so players wouldn’t be influenced by other players decisions – it had to be entirely based on what the character would do. 4 players pursued the women, the 5th went after the cart.
This was a full-on chase scene, however, so I had some additional rules. It was assumed that the cart, the women, and the goblins were moving at high speed (all were riding horses). Therefore in order to keep up, players would also be assumed to be moving at full speed each round on their mounts. Because of this, movement forward was extremely limited – 3 squares only, with full-round movement getting them 6 squares. Of course, they could stop which put them back 12 squares, but if they fell off the “grid” they were too far behind to catch up. I offered out bonuses for creative approaches to taking out the enemy.
This scenario was perhaps the best of the night. Players could easily imagine the thrill of a high-speed horse chase. There was danger in every maneuver – if they delayed to long, the goblins could get the women, if they were careless they could end up in the dust, left behind. I should also add that because of the rough ride, there were huge penalties against ranged, and even melee, attacks. Players used their ride skills to steady their aim, their acrobatics to jump from one horse to another (or from horse to cart) and took down the goblins. In the end, they managed to save both the cart and the women, granting them bonuses in XP and items. It was exciting, fast-paced, and allowed for some creative approaches to combat, more than “run up to goblin… hit with sword… etc. etc.” The fact that they were on horses greatly affect how all players and NPCs moved.
The final encounter involved a mysterious wizard’s tower, whose spiraling staircase went up 5 stories, but the center room always led back to the first floor. Eventually players awoke a magic wall decoration that read off a couple riddles. Some of the players solved the riddle surprisingly fast, but impressively, other player’s played their characters as if they hadn’t heard the players ideas or seen their character’s actions, and got stuck until the first players returned. I thought my riddle was fairly clever, but they solved it much faster than I had expected. Which was probably good, as it was quite late.
After solving the riddle, the players were able to enter the Wizard’s chamber, where a warning fireball met them. However, they soon figured out that they were not enemies, and avoided further combat. They rescued the princess and received information on 4 possible paths they could choose to complete the quest.
And therein lies perhaps my favorite part of the session. I provided each player with unique knowledge and backstory related specifically to the world and to the plot. Because of this I didn’t have to reveal all information to all players. Instead I provided basic options, forcing the players to use their character’s knowledge to decide which route would be best, and to convince the other players of this.
When decision time came, I simply sat back and watched the players, as their characters, work out the decision. Certain players had fears of certain places, others thought the other paths were less efficient. They discussed the matter, bringing in their character traits and personality. Eventually they settled on a decision, but as a Gamemaster, it was enjoyable to see my players work this out through their characters. As a result, I’m truly glad that I put in the extra effort to expand character backstories and give them sparse details which they could use. No need for knowledge checks of any sort, no need for a player to try and separate what the player knows from what the character knows. Providing the extra backstory took care of this gap, and I was really happy with the result. It was the Role Playing Game at its finest.
I should note here that each player did write his or her own backstory, and they created their own characters. I simply filled in details about the campaign that their character would know from their backstory, and added a few traits – prejudices, fears, etc. – that were appropriate for the backstory that was already there.
In future sessions of this campaign, it will be fun to bring out more challenges that target some of the darker aspects of these characters’ personalities. These challenges will move beyond simply making decisions based on a few known facts, but expose characters to very core parts of their being. Trust and friendship will be tested. And hopefully it will make an awesome story, the foundation of which was layed by myself, but which will be truly formed by the players.
It can be a challenge to build key parts of a campaign from character backstories – you have to convince the players to generate their characters and write out backstories, and in plenty of time – but it is mightily rewarding.
So, what are some cool elements of your campaigns?