TYPES OF CAMPAIGNS
In twenty years of roleplaying I have seen, run, and played in a variety of campaign types, and though my personal preferences will probably show through, each type is worthy of play, exploration, and discussion. For convenience, I have categorized them by their general characteristics and present them here for your consideration.
The term "Hack and Slasher" describes a type of player who is primarily interested in killing monsters and testing their character's power. Unfortunately, they tend to be interested in little else. With a wink and a smile, Hack and Slashers have been referred to as "roll-players" as opposed to "role-players," often preferring the roll of the dice to determine most things about their characters instead of making decisions and playing a "role." The Hack and Slasher may wait patiently until the other gaming "garbage" is out of the way and the battle finally begins, or they may push through the more meaningful aspects of the game, such as character development, plot, and intrigue, while often deriding those who take pleasure in such things, urging them instead to quit wasting time and get on to the fighting. Between battles, they have even been known to utter comments like "Wake me up when there's something to fight." If they are persuasive enough, then the game becomes a Hack and Slash Campaign. If they cannot move the game in such a direction, they are frequently frustrated and will often quit the game or worse, refuse to pay attention to anything but the combat, choosing to read comic books, watch TV, draw pictures, or some other non-gaming activity. Usually, this makes them difficult to tolerate since they never seem to know what is going on.
Hack and Slash Campaigns may actually be dominant among many beginning gamers as they test the waters of FRPGs. And as many of the newer gamers are the ones currently buying gaming materials, it may not be wise, from a business point of view, to simply discount them or suggest they are the bane of gaming. The truth is, from these seeds good things may yet grow, so hopefully a H&S player may eventually find other aspects of gaming also to their liking. Hack and Slash Campaigns are also a good way of testing game mechanics and combat skills, and they can be very enjoyable when the majority of players and the Dungeon Master all agree on this style of play, but when interests are more varied, a single Hack and Slasher amongst the other players can bring the gaming experience to a new low.
The Monty "Haul" Campaign derives its name from the game show Let's Make A Deal where Monty "Hall" gave away prizes to contestants who had to do next to nothing. This campaign style is typified by the Dungeon Master awarding large amounts of experience, cash, magic, or other powers to the characters in short order. For example, a 1st-level party finds a Sword+5, Holy Avenger, a Ring of Three Wishes, hundreds of thousands of gold pieces, or some similar treasure that required little effort and far exceeds their current power or wealth. Many believe whatever equipment or magic the party finds should be earned; even then, it should just add a little to a character's ever-increasing power. Also, adventurers shouldn't be able to buy everything their hearts desire, nor should the awarded experience ever be sufficient for characters to go up several levels at once. This defeats the purpose of adventuring, and the overly generous nature of a Monty Haul Campaign belittles actual character achievement.
The experienced Dungeon Master will find it better to give out smaller awards over longer periods of time. If they don't, characters from the Monty Haul Campaign soon resemble the veteran characters that more seasoned players have been playing for years of "real" time. When relatively inexperienced players (often called Munchkins) from Monty Haul Campaigns hold out their 20th-level characters as a point of pride and accomplishment, it tends to rub the experienced gamer the wrong way, especially when the youngster delights in saying things like "My character is much better than yours," as if that were somehow the point of roleplaying.
Unlike most campaign styles, the Dungeon Master especially sets the standard for this type of game. If that standard is "something for nothing," then so be it. Most Monty Haul Campaigns come to an untimely end within a short 3 to 6 month period after the characters have acquired many of the magic items in the book. By then the characters are too powerful to migrate to another Dungeon Master's world without serious, downward adjustments.
If a Monty Haul player starts over again in a "less generous" campaign type, all too often they find it not to their liking. They now have to work their tails off for what seems trivial by comparison. Thanks to their earlier Dungeon Master, a great gaming experience may be ruined for them since they didn't initially "earn" their characters and generate a sense of accomplishment, history, and pride, and now find themselves unable to make the transition. Finding no challenge, they either quit role playing games all together, find a better Dungeon Master, or leave AD&D for a different roleplaying system rather than have another high-powered character handed to them on an electrum platter. Although a Monty Haul Campaign can be fun initially, these games tend to generate shallow, two-dimensional characters, which is fine, if you like that sort of thing.
These types of campaigns are truly epic in scope. The player characters make decisions of such importance that the consequences of their actions decide the fate of the city, the nation, the continent, the world, the solar system, the galaxy, or even the entire universe. What characterizes the Greater Epic from the Lesser Epic is the frequency with which these epic occurrences crop up, and/or the duration of the epic problem. Greater Epics experience many, short-lived epic problems. These types of problems appear less often in Lesser Epics, but tend to last for many scenarios, often with impending doom always lurking in the background. If the problem is a short-lived, one-time only event, another type of campaign style may just be experiencing an Epic Scenario.
Some examples of an epic scenario or story line include Captain James T. Kirk saving the Earth from absolute destruction for the fifth time, most time travel stories where all of history is riding on a particular character's actions, or a group of adventurers thwarting the advances of some incredibly powerful, god of destruction (yet again). None of these stories are bad as a once or twice in a life time indulgence, but to see them on a weekly basis is a bit much (and the mark of a Greater Epic Campaign).
If one does feel the need to delve into this type of gaming, I would suggest they aim lower on the epic spectrum. After all, if the adventurers routinely are fighting for the survival of the universe, only one such effort need fail to end all things. When a universal crisis happens this frequently, campaign realism becomes at odds with reasonable statistical probabilities. On the other hand, sometimes whole cities do manage to end in cataclysmic or mysterious ways. Finding out exactly why it happened, and preventing it from happening to your character's city has all the earmarks of a good Lesser Epic.
Unfortunately, a Lesser Epic also can become boring if no apparent progress is made toward the goal or nothing new is substantially learned about the epic problem each session. Instead, the characters continue to work at a seemingly hopeless cause, frequently becoming disheartened. A good Dungeon Master will make a lists of steps required to solve the epic problem, find a way to reveal one step each gaming session, and keep the characters interested and moving toward the completion of the epic goal. And though the players may engage in several tangential scenarios along the way, they will never lose sight of the underlying epic story.
The Epic Campaign does tend to have the incredible within it, and more in the foreground than most people would like. True, all AD&D campaigns may have the gods as NPCs, but in an Epic Campaign you'll probably interact with them more directly, more frequently, and more precariously than is generally considered safe. Many players don't like it when a campaign takes this turn, for if the gods become common place (or can be thought of as just more than average powered people), then the awe and mystery of life can be lost and the game quickly becomes ridiculous. With that in mind, most Dungeon Masters try to run a game which is more probable, still interesting, yet always fraught with peril. It is usually enough that the adventurers must fight for their own survival, let alone the world's survival.
The Story Telling Campaign is where the Dungeon Master has such flare that they can capture the interest and imagination of the players simply by telling a story. With a good storyteller, most of the gaming time can be spent with everyone listening to the Dungeon Master's story (whether it is an original story or a "borrowed one" the players haven't heard before doesn't matter). Naturally, to be a roleplaying game there must be some interaction, so there are many points in the story when characters must make decisions. Players must intensely listen to the Dungeon Master's story for background, clues, general knowledge, etc., as they are expected to be able to glean all required information during the "Telling Times" or "The Tell." When called upon to act, there is a reluctance on the Dungeon Master's part to give players any information that should have been gathered earlier, either from listening or asking questions at the appropriate time. After the Tell, players may still ask for greater descriptions, for example, of the door in front of them, but asking about the background of the coat of arms upon it is inappropriate (after all, who are the characters asking, the Dungeon Master?). If players miss important details early on, the Dungeon Master may elect to supplement the Tell through NPCs.
Many Dungeon Masters may lack the creativity for this type of game. Original, weekly stories of sufficient complexity don't grow on trees, and the skills and natural charisma of the storyteller may be lacking as well. This is also a hard game to run if Dungeon Masters allow their players a great deal of lee way since they will have to be able to write and tell the story as it evolves, possibly in directions never imagined. All Dungeon Masters tell stories and adapt to circumstances to one degree or another, but the Story Telling Dungeon Master may actually spend a great deal more time telling the story than the players spend doing things themselves.
One major draw back of this style may happen when the players arduously strive in a direction opposed to the story the Dungeon Master has prepared. Not being able to adapt quickly enough, the Dungeon Master may do horrific, unrealistic things or even have the PCs do uncharacteristic things in order to get them back on track. A great storyteller Dungeon Master will have several options ready for most foreseeable contingencies, or they may be so quick of wit and blessed with a glib tongue they can manage it on the spot without violating someone's sense of reality or sense of character. Another difficulty may occur when the Dungeon Master, as part of the set up story, describes things that player characters have done, and how they have come to find themselves in their current predicament. In most campaigns, only the players may make these decisions for their characters. Here, players are expected to trust the Dungeon Master not to put their characters into impossible or unreasonable situations, then grin and bear it, pay attention, and proceed from there.
Here is a small example: Dungeon Master: "Your characters have arrived at the village of Little Falls, a community whose businesses are derived from the fishing and traffic on Lake Rebel. While there, you all went your separate ways to explore the smallish village, and Bores, the fighter, got drunk and picked a fight with a local tough. Due to his inebriated state, Bores lost and was promptly imprisoned by Aron Fenlar, the constable who just happened to be in the bar at the time. Asking around, you also find the local tough who fought Bores and he readily confesses he was put up to it by the Black Smith of Little Falls, a man named Enri Torail. Why Torail "arranged" to have Bores thrown in prison is anyone's guess. Since you are rather tired and can't do anything more tonight, you all get rooms at the Happy Fountain, a local inn, and await the morning, but during the night you are attacked."
Characters are expected to pick up the story from that point. What will happen? Will they run or fight? What about Bores? Is this conspiracy more inclusive and are the other characters targets as well? Are these events even related? All these things and more may go through the players' minds as their characters spring into action.
Naturally, that was a simplistic example; the real story may have been several pages long, had a question and answer period right before the battle, and some consideration may be given to whether the group set up watches through the night. Floor plans would be revealed, character positions determined, and then the battle would be resolved. After the battle their players may determine the characters' subsequent actions or the Dungeon Master may have the next chapter of the story to read.
A Story Telling Campaign style frequently puts characters into the hands of the Dungeon Master with little or no player feedback. A good Dungeon Master will try to take the personality of characters into account when writing the set up, the middle, and the possible conclusions to the story. A bad Dungeon Master may not give a rat's tail that Jillian, the lawful good mage, would never have broken into the constable's office to gather information (or some similar story line). It may even be incumbent upon Jillian's player to eventually figure out why she would have done such a thing, given her personality, and this would become that player's contribution to the story. Together, the Dungeon Master and Players collaborate on the story.
However it happens, the Story Telling Campaign dwells more on aspects of the story rather than personal actions or decisions of the characters. Player input is important, but considerably less than in other types of campaigns. After all, input isn't everything. How much input does the audience have when they go to the movies or the theater?
A common variation of this campaigning style is when the Dungeon Master either emails the players or prints up several copies of the set up story. Players are expected to read it before game time, possibly even asking questions when next they see the Dungeon Master, and then the game is ready to go shortly after all the players arrive on game day. Frequently, the set up will have taken into account whether or not a player can make a particular session. In fact, poor Bores may have ended up in the slammer because his player couldn't make the game that week. All told, this campaign style has possibilities, but it may not be suitable for players who demand more interaction or absolute control of their own characters, and the required skill may be beyond many Dungeon Masters.
A Killer Campaign is essentially an oxymoron, for how long can the game continue when the Dungeon Master derives the greatest pleasure from destroying player characters? Everyone knows it is no great challenge for Dungeon Masters to throw whatever it takes at adventurers to kill them off. Their resources are limited only by their imagination (and that should prove sufficiently lethal even from the extremely unimaginative; not coincidentally, this is usually the case for Killer Dungeon Masters).
The only people who would like playing in a Killer Dungeon Master's world are those who love seeing their characters slaughtered as much as the Dungeon Master loves doing it, or perhaps players who mostly derive their enjoyment out of creating new characters rather than from playing them. I know of no one who is such a masochist that they continue to play in a Killer Campaign after it is revealed as such. Most Killer Dungeon Masters either have to adapt or quickly find themselves with a lot of free time on their hands.
This campaign type heavily relies upon the work of others and also the Dungeon Master's skill at understanding and presenting the material in an enjoyable way. Prefabs, or prefabricated modules, can be found in most hobby stores where AD&D materials are sold, and a string of these pre-made adventures can be used to make a great campaign. However, prefabs are best used as interesting starting points for campaigns or for providing supplemental ideas to existing campaigns. Most Dungeon Masters have at least a few modules lying around, but the more experienced Dungeon Masters usually prefer their own creations.
One of the great troubles with a Prefab is that at least one player may have already read it or played it. This tends to throw the adventure out of whack, gives that player an advantage, and cheats the other players out of the discovery. A good Dungeon Master, though, will modify the module enough beforehand so this cannot happen.
Another problem with some Prefabs is their lack of spontaneity. A monster in room 23 tends to stay in room 23 until the party of adventurers opens the door. It doesn't seem to matter that it should have heard the great fight going on in room 16 just down the hall. It should have investigated, but the monster unrealistically stays where it was placed. This phenomenon is known as the "static dungeon." Newer Prefabs have tried to correct this problem by describing several contingencies for many scenes, but no Prefab can take everything into account, and when the unforeseen happens, the Dungeon Master may falter or not know what to do.
Yet another problem with the Prefab is where the Dungeon Masters do not have a firm understanding of the scenario, wasting the players' time while finding the correct page and paragraph and subsequently reading large sections to themselves during the game just to answer a question or two. Also, many Dungeon Masters tend to read room descriptions verbatim, and this is less enjoyable than a Dungeon Master who paraphrases the description for the players, giving it a considerably warmer presentation.
A much better type of Prefab-Campaign is the Prefabricated World. These are entire worlds that are laid out in book or box set form. Dungeon Masters can read it, use what they like, and disregard what they hate, and write their own scenarios within its framework. These are especially good for those people who don't feel they are up to the challenge of making their own Whole Cloth Campaigns or simply don't have the time. For very little money, Dungeon Masters receive many maps, scenario ideas, community write ups, NPCs, secret organizations, special magic items, and a wealth of other information that will help them run a great game.
The pinnacle of original creation for the AD&D Dungeon Master, the Whole Cloth Campaign creates a whole world (or more) almost entirely from scratch. The Dungeon Master manufactures all maps, NPCs, communities, political backdrops, etc. Frequently, standard rules are heavily modified to that Dungeon Master's personal tastes and the obvious changes are pointed out to the players before the campaign begins (usually during character creation). Of course, not everything in a Whole Cloth Campaign need be an original creation of the Dungeon Master's. The collection of reference books for AD&D, such as the Player's Hand Book, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the various monster manuals as well as other standard reference books can and should be used extensively. However, simply because something is written within one of these manuals doesn't mean it may only be used in that form. Adding extra hit dice, changing alignments, altering powers, or in some other way tweaking the standard write ups of monsters, spells, magic items, etc., are all things you can see Dungeon Masters doing in their Whole Cloth Campaigns. In fact, it is these very differences that can give new flavor to things one may have played before, bringing a new interest and a sense of the unknown into the game.
The Whole Cloth Campaign differs from a Prefabricated world only in one significant respect; it is mostly the Dungeon Master's own original creation while still using the reference books. As such, any Whole Cloth Campaign should be sufficiently close to standard AD&D that a good player wouldn't feel hopelessly lost or fail to recognize the game as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, fitting right in with little in the way of instruction.
As an example, I will give an extremely abbreviated introduction to one Dungeon Master's Whole Cloth Campaign.
At that time the Dungeon Master will probably give a few major examples of the rule changes they have made. For most Dungeon Masters, it is important to play by their own rules when they find the written word unpalatable, but it is equally important for them to realize their players may have a different tolerance for what stinks on ice, and if a character makes an assumption based on an understanding of some standard AD&D rule which has been obliterated from the campaign, a good Dungeon Master should do everything possible to correct the situation with minimal damage to the PC and the current story line. This is usually a simple matter, but sometimes it can get dicier than many would like.
The major indication a campaign is of a Roleplaying style is the larger emphasis placed on roleplaying and character development coupled with the much smaller emphasis on combat and advancement of power. A soap opera could be an example of a Roleplaying Campaign (assuming the actors were making up their parts as they went, which isn't really what is happening, but you get the idea). Improvisational theater is an even closer example. Children playing "House" or "Make Believe" with dolls are probably everyone's first experience with roleplaying. The Roleplaying Campaign strives for character development, creating complex interpersonal relations between the PCs and NPCs (Player Characters and Non Player Characters, if you didn't already know).
In a Roleplaying Campaign, characters are usually a collection of powers and abilities as well as failings and weaknesses. Players tend to want characters with differing personalities, a wide range of abilities, a number of disabilities or weaknesses, and a few little quirks, all in the name of having fun with the role and not just trying to achieve greater and greater power. Even without the Dungeon Master's urging, the Roleplayer may take disabilities such a phobia or a compulsive disorder so they may have a more interesting and challenging role to play. Many Non-Roleplayers would never voluntarily take a weakness. Other game system also have weaknesses, but even they tend to have to bribe the player into taking disadvantages by giving them additional advantages in exchange. The Roleplaying Philosophy doesn't require any bribe other than the promise of new and unusual characters to play. Experience is awarded to those who play their parts (as they have defined them themselves), rather than only on who killed the most monsters or gathered the most treasure. It is a harder style of game for the Dungeon Master to adjudicate, but it can and has been done with great success by many.
Here is a game for people who love the art of combat. Although not devoid of other considerations, this campaign style emphasizes combat and battle, character power and level, and the minute details of game mechanics. Frequently, this style will force the Dungeon Master to use a variation of the standard combat rules if not completely new combat rules. Hit locations may be used, fatigue points may limit your character's endurance, armor is broken down and acquired by the piece rather than by the set, miniatures are almost a certainty, and the typical combat round is almost invariably broken down into a segment by segment affair (if not second by second). Combat modifiers are stressed and used, weapon and armor adjustments are probably memorized by the serious Combat Player, and rulers and tape measures will abound for line of sight and range calculations on the ever present battle board. A Hack and Slasher may find a home here, but the game can be much more than that. Even a Roleplaying Campaign can overlap with a Combat Campaign, combining the two and making a playing field second to none for the serious gamer. The Combat Campaign is not, however, identical to the Hack and Slash Campaign, the former including other aspects while dwelling on the minute details of game mechanics and combat, and the latter describing a lack of interest in anything but combat, no matter what level of detail that may have.
I have seen but a single example of this campaign, but it sticks out in my mind so vividly that I will briefly describe it here. The whole point of the Satire Campaign was to spoof other campaigns or make light of certain ridiculous aspects found in otherwise legitimate campaigns. Created for characters quickly approaching deity hood, the Pseudo Campaign (as it was named) was very funny. It always put emphasis on some ridiculous aspect of a typical game, exaggerated it a hundred-fold, and built a scenario around it for the evening. Not meant to be taken seriously, all the players could spoof themselves and each other (in character or out of character) while playing their characters who were, after all, nearly gods themselves. An AD&D game satire would be the Police Squad equivalent of a serious cop show. Everything was a joke and nothing was sacred. Little emphasis was placed on character development one way or the other, as I recall, since we were already so powerful it was ridiculous. I loved the game, but I cannot do it justice here. It probably wouldn't work for most players, but if your group is quick with the good-natured humorous quip and jibe, and your Dungeon Master has an eye for the sarcastic, then they might be able to make a go of it.
This campaign style puts a high emphasis on trade and commerce. The Dungeon Master will a.) have made detailed lists of which villages and cities produce which goods, b.) know what each city doesn't have and most desires, c.) have a good sense of the fair market value of these goods, and d.) have a firm understanding of supply and demand, making adjustments where necessary. In addition to the normal adventuring a typical game would have, in an Economic Campaign the characters are also very interested in using their surplus money in business ventures, usually buying wagons or ships, acquiring trade goods, and transporting them from A to B. Traveling and fighting off bandits or monsters or anyone else who would take their goodies, the party establishes themselves as powerful adventurers and respected businessmen in their community, possibly even employing many NPCs. This is especially a nice campaign type for those who love to build keeps and attract followers since the economics of their small community will usually be very important to them. As most AD&D games do not have institutions where the characters can earn interest on their surplus wealth, this is a realistic alternative and adds a variety of extra roleplaying opportunities.
I have seen entire computer games mostly devoted to nothing but this kind of trade, accumulation of wealth, and upgrades to bigger and better ships. They were fun in and of themselves, so when coupled with one's normal AD&D adventures, the Dungeon Master can hardly miss. Naturally, even though emphasis is placed on commerce and many roleplaying opportunities arise from the interactions in the market places, all of this usually takes the form of a backdrop story upon which to build other, more typical scenarios. Profits from business holdings may account for only 1/10th of their wealth acquired through regular adventuring, and many of the businesses will probably be run by followers or other NPCs under the direction of the PCs, leaving the PCs free for other, adventuring pursuits. Still, the underlying economic story line is very strong and can often dictate the direction the PCs will go in their other endeavors while simultaneously adding a distinct flavor to the game.
Here's a little game most suited for those who love maps and mapping, for it puts the characters in the dark (at the beginning), and forces them to explore and find their way from square one. We start with a group stranded on a large island continent (or maybe accidentally teleported to a new planet), and they have no idea of where they are and what's over the next rise (and may not even initially know each other). Typically, most campaigns come complete with maps (even when only of the local area), and the players have an idea of what's around them from the beginning. This game, however, denies them that little luxury, and it may take all their character's collective skills in wilderness survival and a great deal of cooperation just to survive and reach civilization.
I have found this type of campaign works best when the group is situated in an area with many natural borders that are not easily passed. From the snow capped mountain range to the shores of a great ocean, or a mysterious, impenetrable magical barrier to a tribe of monsters too powerful to pass (for now), they must negotiate their way around to find and map out the safer routes. Naturally, the campaign is designed for lower level characters since higher ones could easily teleport or plane shift out, and this campaign type also tends to evolve into another type after contact is finally made with more civilized areas that already have maps. However, the Exploration Campaign is great as a series of introductory scenarios to a larger, different campaign.
This is a campaign style tailored more for those who dislike the powerful and prefer the more mundane. The Poverty Campaign is one where it may initially be difficult to find enough to eat, let alone a banquet. It's a job and a half to obtain crude equipment, save top of the line (though mundane) plate mail. It's the sort of game where you may up grade from a wooden, fire-hardened spear tip to a copper axe (and be the best-armed man in the group). Later, if all goes well, one may luck out and find some bronze equipment. The PCs have heard of iron, but have never seen this "magical" metal (and certainly have never heard of steel or actual magic weapons). Of course, special rules may have to be adopted concerning the durability of weapons and armor made of various materials, but that is relatively easy to do as historical reality should suffice, or these statistics may be borrowed from other games. Also, this campaign may curtail the power of spell casters, perhaps initially using more powerful cantrips or special half powered spells instead of the normal ones, though sometimes certain spell casting classes are even disallowed altogether. The awarded experience may be very low, taking many gaming sessions to reach even 2nd-level, let alone the higher levels. All told, the Dungeon Master will frequently make changes toward less magic and less power, creating a game many do enjoy and would rather play than the higher powered styles of play.
The Poverty Campaign probably doesn't have magical healing readily available (like Cure Light Wounds), and will almost certainly rely on the healing and herbalism skills to a much greater degree. If a Raise Dead spell can be cast at all, it probably can be done so by only the highest level priest known (maybe an unbelievably high level priest, maybe even 9th level, gasp!), and this priest may be days away and across treacherous terrain. Can you get there in time? And what may they ask in return for this gift of life?
One of the nicer things about a Poverty Campaign is that it lends itself to more traditional story lines concerning wounds, injuries, and death. In standard AD&D we rarely see a wounded NPC gasping out his dying words (and clues) to the newly arrived party of adventurers. If you did, it should be an easy matter to save this NPC's life using one's medical skills (binding wounds) or even a simple spell like a Cure Light Wounds. This may put an undesirable NPC right in the middle of the Dungeon Master's story, and let's face it, that's probably not where the Dungeon Master wants him since the NPC may know too much and the Dungeon Master has better characters to run or more important duties to perform anyway. In a Poverty Campaign, a healing spell probably will not be always available, certain internal wounds are too dire for healing and herbalism skills to repair, and death has a greater finality to it than a campaign where a Raise Dead spell is relatively easy to come by (or come buy). Thus, the Poverty Campaign does offer many more traditional story themes and character feelings concerning injury and death. After all, a wealthy and ruthless man might not get so bent out of shape at the death of his only son, insanely tracking down the culprits to the ends of the world when a simple spell will extremely mitigate the loss, if not totally alleviate it. This is not to say there wouldn't be some payback due, just not as much as we might see in a more traditional story line where the son was permanently lost to him.
Certainly, this campaign style has it followers, and make no mistake, there is plenty to do, explore, and gain in such a world to make it a worthwhile game for several years. If desired, the level of technology can be slightly increased once or even several times to find a slightly different initial flavor for one's campaign. So whether starting with pointed sticks or copper equipment, copper or bronze, bronze or iron, iron or steel, steel or magic, and whether the PCs have enough money to buy food or shoes or, the gods be praised, both, each starting point can be the makings of a wonderful game, all with magic items something spoken of, but rarely seen; the sort of game where a Sword +1 is the stuff of legend!
Here is a link to an article I have written on one type of Poverty Campaign:
The Poverty Campaign (How To Run A Low Level Game, And Why These Low Level Games Are Great Fun)
This is a relatively new kind of game and can only be played on the internet via email (Play By EMail or PBEM, for a slower paced kind of game) or in a chat room with irc or icq or some similar software. Unfortunately, its appeal isn't what it could be, and finding enough good players who will commit to just a 3 or 4 hour weekly session can be a chore in and of itself. Thankfully, only a few players are required as the problems associated with Internet play increase dramatically with the number of players. Internet play also tends to tie up phone lines, and if your household has only one phone, that can be a problem. Though this usually can be solved by playing late at night, such as after 10 p.m., it still isn't that simple since the players may be in very different time zones from one another, or after 10 p.m. may simply be too late to play and still get a good night's sleep.
The Internet Campaign is much harder to run and slightly harder to play. It lends itself more to roleplaying and less combat since the kind of visual detail necessary for a combat game is somewhat lacking. This is why Internet Campaigns tend to favor the Roleplaying and/or Story Telling Campaign styles more than the others do. A lot of time the players would normally spend thinking about their characters is instead devoted to typing and reading what the other players have said and done. And if that's not bad enough, players must not only type in what they say but what their characters do as well, perhaps even describing their actions in great detail. All of this takes a great deal of time to absorb while making a mental image of the scene, and they would still be missing the visual cues as well as the social, personal interaction with the other players one normally gets in a face to face game. And even this assumes communications are properly working and the players won't have Internet connection problems or serious time lag delays between computers.
One advantage of this game style is there is usually a complete log or text file for the entire game, and one may quickly reread it in preparation for the next game and seamlessly pick up where they left off last session. A collection of these files (properly edited) can be a good read and a far better record of what happened in that campaign years later than even the collective memory of all the players in a face to face game. So the details which usually fade into the past in most games do not get lost in the corridors of time, and that's always a nice thing to have.
Most people I have spoken to confess to preferring real, face to face games, usually only resorting to internet gaming when face to face games aren't currently available to them. Nevertheless, with all its problems the Internet Campaign can and does work and I've heard of Internet Campaigns lasting for over a year. Unfortunately, many of them also die within a short 6 to 9 sessions and what really makes one work or another one fail is still unknown to me. As always, it is probably just the right combination of players and a good Dungeon Master rather than characteristics of the Internet itself that will determine the campaign's success.
Even though I do not personally recommend this type of campaign for most people, the internet can still be used greatly to supplement all other styles of play if your Dungeon Master and the majority of the players have email addresses. If they do, much more detailed character and story development can be done (possibly in between sessions during the week while waiting for the weekend gaming session). Also, the Dungeon Master can send players personal notes and disseminate information more selectively using email. Finally, as something that doesn't need to be done right this minute or during game time, email can be used to flesh out everything which one didn't have time for or simply didn't think of during the session, but would like to have done before the next meeting. If your Dungeon Master reads their email regularly, I highly recommend using the Internet as a fantastic supplement to your role playing experience.
For a more in-depth treatment on IRC Internet games, follow An IRC Gaming Primer link. This will give you some of the basic information required to play in an IRC Internet game.
For a more in-depth treatment on PBEM Internet games, follow The Play By E-Mail Game link. This will give you some of the basic information required to play in a PBEM Internet game.
The truth of the matter is simply this. There is no such thing as a pure playing style. Granted, when the dominant features of a campaign fit nicely into one of the above classifications it readily can be considered a campaign of that type, but most games are a mixture or composite of all these types, and most good Dungeon Masters have probably tried them all (with at most one or two exceptions).
Though I wrote this article under the assumption one would be playing AD&D, much of it is applicable to other genres as well as other roleplaying games. Under different rules, the Game Master may have a chance to try other styles, but many of these can still be considered a composite campaign, if not a pure playing style.
Exploring each campaign style and using what works for them, the Dungeon Master can freely mix these types without concern for the artificial boundaries I have herein described, and the results will probably be better games than you'd get simply by trying to closely adhere to any one type. As always, a great Dungeon Master can make or break any campaign, but what constitutes greatness is often not so much an intrinsic ability on their part, but a good match with the players, with everyone enjoying the same type of campaign. Remember, all these campaign styles are not simply what the Dungeon Master foist upon their players, but can equally be thought of as a style the players demand from their Dungeon Master. A great Dungeon Master is therefore probably one who knows, enjoys, and can run all of the styles described above, or one who can properly mix them to keep a varied group of players satisfied. Otherwise, the trick is getting a group of people together who all want the same thing, and that's not always easy to do.
All told, no matter what campaign style you decide to run or you happen to find yourself in as a player, they all have possibilities, and it is up to you to explore them. Every style can be the source of fun, and ultimately, that is the true purpose of playing the game.
© May of 1999