Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Top Ten Campaigns

Going through my old notes got me into sort of a nostalgic mood, so I sat down and re-ranked my top ten campaigns. I've done it before, but I've played in a couple more games since then, and I had a sneaking suspicion a few things might have gotten moved around. Plus, I'm starting a new campaign through, and thought it'd be a good exercise, to re-evaluate my past gaming adventures.

Oh, and since I now have notes from all those old campaigns, I can now pin down with exactitude dates that were previously rough estimates.

The list, in its current form, stands as follows:

1. Is This Fair? Is It? Arcana Evolved (me) 2007
2. Space Tree GURPS 4th (quantumelfmage) 2007
3. Outlaws d20 Modern (me) 2003-2004
4. Star Wars Star Wars d20 (Artemis) 2005-2006
5. Desert Campaign D&D 3.5 (me) 2006
6. Drow/Evil Campaign D&D 3.5 (Karen) 2004
7. Evil God Dimension D&D 3.5 (quantumelfmage) 2004
8. Greek City States D&D 3.5 (saganatsu) 2007
9. Outlaws: Reloaded GURPS 3rd Revised (me) 2004
10. “UCF” Forum-brewed D&D 3.5 ("that guy") 2006

Two main things to keep in mind. One, this is not just my top ten campaigns, it's my complete gaming history. So the "UCF" is, without question, the worst game I've ever played in. Two, every other campaign on this list was, at some point, fun. The ones down at the bottom may have had fairly high pain/fun ratios, but they all had fairly high absolute levels of fun.

Organizing the campaigns like this gave rise to a couple of thoughts.

These were all really short. The longest, Outlaws and Is This Fair? were each about six months. Star Wars, Desert Campaign, Drow/Evil, Evil God Dimension, and Outlaws: Reloaded were each a couple of months. The others lasted four sessions or less. Is This Fair was planned as a six month campaign from the outset, one of the most successful technical aspects of that campaign was the neat execution of that timeframe. Drow/Evil and Outlaws also both had formal endings, but neither had the timing specifically planned ahead. The others just fell apart, mostly due to lack of player interest and/or GM frustration.

The other major factor was that, for the first part of my gaming career, my group had five members and four GMs. One guy tried it, but didn't like it; the rest of us all had games we wanted to run, so there was a lot of competition for game time. The reason Outlaws ended when it did was that Karen was ready to run her Underdark-based game with evil characters.

The top four campaigns are the ones that I consider really good. 5, 6, and even 7 were fun; after that the frustration index starts to really climb. But the top four were good. What's funny about that is that, at the time, Space Tree and Star Wars were sources of profound frustration.

Outlaws and Is This Fair too--both of them started to drift, in the third quarter; both of them were cut short to some degree to get into the end-game--but I was DMing. I knew exactly what and where the problems were, and it was in large part (though not, of course, entirely) within my power to correct them. Space Tree took ages to get going, character creation took weeks, and that, combined with the limited amount of time we had to play the game in, got me to thinking, "if I was running this game, we'd be playing right now." Whether that was actually true is immaterial; once we actually got the game going, I had a lot of fun.

Star Wars had a similar, though rather stupider, problem. It had been a while since I'd GMed, and I was starting to get tired of playing. So I was weird and distracted and generally a worse player than usual. Cleared up once I started running the Desert Campaign, for a different group, but I should have just gotten over it, because I had a lot of fun in the campaign once I started playing my character mostly sane.

Those games all had another major thing in common: crazy hi-jinks. I was happiest as a player when I was coming up with ridiculous lies, ramming judges at high speeds, and stealing carpet. I was happiest as a GM when the players were coming up with ridiculous lies, crashing weddings, and invading cities. The absolute best scenes, in all those campaigns, used the system to mediate some bizarre scheme that the players had come up with; the pure roleplaying encounters tended to run out of steam, the pure combats tended to be uninteresting, and the game was always more interesting when I was reacting to the players, rather than the other way around.

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