Onwards! I’ve already blogged about some of the data I want to record in my upcoming D&D campaign. Today I want to write a bit about the nuts and bolts of the campaign itself.
I’m taking inspiration from roguelikes and retro video games. I’ve definitely got games like Dwarf Fortress adventure mode and the Ultima series in mind as I put this campaign together, and I’d like the focus to be on emergent sandbox play, resource management, and exploration. I’m also taking inspiration from classic play-generated documents like The Rythlondar Chronicles and the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive.
To that end, here’s a campaign checklist I’ve put together:
Players – Kind of important, right? I have a group of five or so players I’ve been gaming with weekly for several years. The campaign will mostly be online (given the pandemic), and five is probably the most I can realistically manage in an online session. However, I don’t want to be locked in to any online tools or systems, and I’d like to leave the option open to one day transition back smoothly to offline play (pandemic permitting).
System – I’m going to use Old-School Essentials. I considered using Dragon Warriors or Advanced Fighting Fantasy, but my players already know Basic D&D pretty well from playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess for a couple of years. OSE also has a fantastic “control panel” layout, the SRD is free and online, the OSE Advanced supplements add archetypal AD&D stuff, there’s tons of OSR content on blogs, and it’s well-supported on Roll20.
Setting – I’m using the “Northern Reaches” setting from The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia, which includes a regional gazetteer and a nifty pantheon of gods. For the wider world, I will use the implied setting of the “Aeternal Empire” from The Adventurer’s Almanac, which includes a calendar, historical timeline, and a whole heap of monthly events (which I will use very sparingly). If my players leave the starting area, then I’ll build additional content with generators (see below).
Adventures – I’ll be kicking things off with The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. It’s an old-school sandbox heavily influenced by the classic B2: The Keep on the Borderlands and has been described as “aggressively generic”, which I consider a plus as it sets up a solid framework of vanilla fantasy over which I can sprinkle the weird. I’ll also be tossing in a bunch of blank one-page dungeon maps from Axebane, Dyson Logos, watabou’s One Page Dungeon generator, and Dungeon Scrawl, filling in the details with the generators below. I really want to make sure I tie all these side dungeons into The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia through NPCs, factions, rumours, quests, etc., so they don’t feel disconnected from the setting.
Generators – I’ll randomly generate a lot of the content in the game, for example with the brilliant AX1: d30 DM Companion and AX2: d30 Sandbox Companion; plus a dash of Wilderness Hexplore (Revised), which compiles a bunch of old Judges Guild tables; a generous helping of the 1e AD&D DMG, and the cherry on the cake of the Old School Encounters Reference document. I’ll also add content using digital generators such as Wizardawn, and am considering how to integrate AI Dungeon content.
House Rules – I’m going to try to stick mostly to RAW, though I will add in extra rules from On Downtime and Demesnes, as well as the monk and mystic classes (and the psionics system) from PX1: Basic Psionics Handbook, plus Beyond the Black Gate’s Old-School Feats, and finally Animal Companions by PBE Games. I’m also going to reward players with either XP or possibly a free re-roll for uploading their own character sketches, drawings, or maps, and for completing post-session feedback forms (see below).
Game Night – Every Thursday night from 20:30 until 23:30 is game night. I would love to play more often, but I have a family, work, other hobbies and interests, etc.
Group Chat App – We have a well-established WhatsApp group for discussing sessions, sharing memes, etc. I will also set up another group for running downtime activities in between games nights, so that the sessions themselves are hopefully focused on adventure rather than shopping trips and calculating XP.
Virtual Tabletop (VTT) – I’ve been playing in a Roll20 campaign for about six months, and it seems a decent (albeit occasionally somewhat janky) option. I’m not going to upload maps to Roll20, but will rather keep the maps in my DM binder (see below) and use Roll20 as a kind of digital battlemat, as well as a place to log dice rolls and store character sheets.
Automatic Transcription – Roll20’s voice chat can be a bit glitchy, so we normally use Discord. However, for this campaign we’ll use Zoom instead of Discord so that we can make use of automatic transcriptions. They’re generally pretty accurate (maybe 75%?) and Zoom’s active speaker tracking means the transcripts have speaker identification.
DM Binder – I’m putting together a folder with old-school paper notes for this campaign. I’ve already got it planned out, and it will be a combination of rules reference, random tables, worksheets, and maps. Hopefully I’ll be able to index it, but at the very least I’ll put in some labelled tabs. Awww, yeah.
Campaign Wiki – I’ve been using Kanka.io for a Delta Green campaign I’ve been running and have been impressed with it. For this upcoming campaign, I want to try and draw and scan pictures of NPCs, locations, etc. I’m not claiming any artistic talent. If anything, these pictures will be deliberately scrappy and a bit shit. Old-school, innit.
Feedback Forms – I’ve had success using Google Forms for this.
Qualitative Data Analysis Software – Sure, this is silly, silly overkill. But I want to learn how to use Atlas.ti, and this campaign will (hopefully) give me a rich and varied dataset to play with. I’ve only just started to explore Atlas.ti, but I see this campaign as an opportunity to discover what it can do.
That should do me (for now).