GMing with Joy: How to Run a Year Long Campaign

Here is a practical guide for a gamemaster who wants to start a table top roleplaying game with a group of players characters and have a series of sessions turn into a year long campaign or longer. Using a waterslide instead of a railroad of course.

GMingwithjoy.jpg

Florida Globe Miami - Free photo on Pixabay - Pixabay

Basic Beginning

You own, build, maintain, and run a waterslide that shifts and moves during the ride and has become so big even you don’t know all its workings. Five of your friends are with you at the top which is so high that clouds hide the bottom which you can’t see. Even you don’t know when or where this waterslide ends.

You’re on a little ledge sticking out with binoculars so you can see a few of the upcoming curves, slides, drops, and branching splits where riders have to decide which direction to go. Your current riders, rafts in hand, cannot even see beyond the first curve from their vantage point.

They load into the chute. Their rafts are connected together with Velcro although with a bit of effort they can take different chutes at the splits. All of them are laughing and a bit nervous.

With no ado you give the back raft a great shove. One glorious shared shriek later and your friends hurtle toward the first curve and start picking up speed.

You watch. They make the curve and finally see the first drop you prepared. The rafts plummet down. The screaming-laughter and laughing-screams are music to your ears. But you have to be ready. After a short slower slide the first splitting branch is just ahead. You don’t know if they’ll all take the same one, split up, or maybe even one rider will leave the waterslide all together via the exit platform. You hope no one exits, but still you can’t wait to see what happens next.

Advanced Start

Kick the player characters down the waterslide.

It doesn’t matter if a player shows up with the wrong RPG rules because you confused them (give them the right rules and stop confusing them). Or if they went the extra mile and created a backstory that actually meshed with the campaign brief you sent out (keep that to build future branches and drops to reward them). Maybe they have no idea how their characters know each other or why they’d adventure together. Or even how the rules work. Just give them a shove.

Here’s a secret: The players are completely in charge of the rules behind their characters (though you oversee the rules and can make suggestions and even say no if needed of course) and they make every decision for that character once the campaign starts if the character remains in his or her right mind.

Once the Campaign Starts...

As GM, you are totally in charge of everything that happens before campaign kickoff. So shove them down the waterslide. Here are some hot campaign starts to consider. If you can foreshadow a bigger bad without inviting the PCs to get killed, all the better.

First Curve and Then the Drop!​

  • The PCs wake up in a lunatic asylum in strait jackets. Advanced option: if the RPG has sanity rules, the player decides how much sanity the PC has, but they DON’T tell you. The doc seeing them can restore some sanity but the methods are arduous enough that sane people lose sanity. If the doc is good he’ll figure it out. If not, some sane people are in for some rough treatments if they don’t convince him otherwise or escape. There might also be a murderous ghost….
  • The back room of the bar is barricaded. A candle fell over and a fire is about to spring into uncontrolled life. Whatever monsters broke in, started killing, and left bodies strewn all over the main room are just about to break in. Just a few people are left and they never even got a good look at the creatures trying to break in and tear them all apart. And who is driving the monsters here to kill?!
  • Aliens swoop done and kidnap the PCs and some NPCs. The aliens do unpleasant things to some NPCs. Then something explodes and kidnappers and abductees alike start plummeting toward the planet below and possible doom. While survival comes first, the PCs can’t help but wonder what horrible place/horrible being were the aliens taking the PCs to?!
  • Watch a great sci-fi/fantasy/horror/action movie and steal the first scene (if you can do something with Deadpool please post here!).

Expert Follow Up: Take Notes and the First Branching Split

The players will continue down the slide as long as they are able if the ride is thrilling. The GM will be thrilled if his or her players are thrilled by the waterslide.

Here’s another secret. GMs make worlds. GMs and player characters gaming together make lasting campaigns. PC actions and player input should have the biggest world building impact in an TTRPG campaign. PC actions and player input turned into future adventures by a skilled GM is where the thrills for the entire table come from. And they keep a campaign sliding along month after month after month.

With this explosion of a campaign start, take notes. See how the players problem solve. What are they afraid of. What do they think is happening. What do they want to do next. What NPCs or enemies survive. What locations didn’t burn down or explode.

Depending on the answers these events may hand you your next adventure. Or circumstances may dictate what needs to happen next. If the alien craft crashed and the PCs figured out how to survive, the PCs have to gather supplies and start exploring and hope their alien captors all perished. If they seem stuck have three or four options they could pursue next.

Next Branching Split​

  • Take a conflict from a backstory and turn it into a session of play.
  • An NPC from the first session asks for help because they were cursed/infected/stolen from/are being followed by whatever enemy (or its master) kicked off the first adventure.
  • The PCs inherit/are gifted/find/a seemingly abandoned location/ship/vehicle that would serve as a good base for them. But is it truly empty?
  • The enemy behind the attackers in the first adventure makes another move and the PCs get caught up in it. Were they the targets this time?!
Take more notes. Keep track of NPCs who survive, enemies and allies made, locations visited, ongoing conflict and drama in the larger world, party dynamics, and backstories that could intrude into the world right now.

Advanced Follow Up: Curves, Chutes, Drops, and Branching Splits

The more sessions you run, the greater your options become. You may want to draw your waterslide, showing NPCs and conflicts and locations and connect those that go together. You may see possible connections between two seemingly completely unrelated sessions that the players can’t see. Connect these points and your players will think you are a foreshadowing genius.


Basic Adventure Seeds: The Support Structure for the Waterslide

For adventure seeds you really just need a villain or monster, a location (bonus if there is a map), NPCs, and a bit of lore. Maybe special items or loot for PCs to find. Find your favorite RPGs and yank adventure seeds out to build the support structure for your waterslide. If the last session doesn’t spark the next session idea, grab a seed and build a new drop or curve. Connect back as connections become clear to you.

If you’re running a fantasy RPG check out Forbidden Lands or one of the hundreds of old school D&D (OSR) modules and support especially Old-School Essentials. If you’re running a horror RPG check out Leagues of Gothic Horror, Vaesen, or Call of Cthulhu. Sci-fi: so many Traveller resources and adventures. For action check out Twilight: 2000, Everyday Heroes and D20 Modern, and with a mix of horror, Delta Green.

Expert Ending?

Start with a bang. Build on the bang or what the PCs want to do next or a backstory element. Build on the build to the bang. If you get stuck, grab an adventure seed or convert some or most of a module. Rinse and repeat.

Just do this over and over again. Players may come and go (and they will be sad if life makes them exit the waterslide let me assure you) but the group of PCs and their collected adventures continue. One drop builds into a slide which branches and the ride goes on with the sound of the riders’ laughing-screams and screaming-laughter ringing in your ears. Embrace the gaming lifestyle and game on!

Wait, you want to know how the waterslide ends? Good idea. I’ll be back with more soon.

Your Turn: have you ever tried waterslide GMing? How well did it work for you?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've found discord to be wonderous in this aspect. I'm not a good note taker offline, but since playing online I've gotten much better at it. The shared resource is also great for keeping the group up to date. YMMV.
I take quick notes during the session and then type up a brief-ish game log a day or two later, before I forget everything. The log goes online, though I'm not sure how often it gets read. :)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I take quick notes during the session and then type up a brief-ish game log a day or two later, before I forget everything. The log goes online, though I'm not sure how often it gets read. :)
I tired something back when I was doing F2F APs in PF1. Nobody really paid attention to them. However, now in discord, players tend to use it as a resource much more regularly.
 

GuardianLurker

Adventurer
I'll also offer that recent TTRPG trends towards adventure paths increases the effort gap between running out of the box and the waterslide approach, as there are many fewer stand-alone adventures that can be adapted. Cutting, lifting, and adapting a section of an adventure path is a little trickier. And I'd do either/both of these before trying the full waterslide.

Luckily, DriveThru RPG has tons of standalone modules from earlier DnD editions available, which are GREAT resources to adapt.

Also, when first trying to build a waterslide campaign, I would start with a waterslide adventure, or a choose-your-own-adventure path among multiple premade adventures.

And yes, these would result in a many-slides approach, but that's the preceding lesson, the traing wheels for the full technique.
 
Last edited:

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I'll also offer that recent TTRPG trends towards adventure paths increases the effort gap between running out of the box and the waterslide approach, as there are many fewer stand-alone adventures that can be adapted. Cutting, lifting, and adapting a section of an adventure path is a little trickier. And I'd do either/both of these before trying the full waterslide.

Luckily, DriveThru RPG has tons of standalone modules from earlier DnD editions available, which are GREAT resources to adapt.

Also, when first trying to build a waterslide campaign, I would start with a waterslide adventure, or a choose-your-own-adventure path among multiple premade adventures.

And yes, these would result in a many-slides approach, but that's the preceding lesson, the traing wheels for the full technique.
I actually find the adventure paths (Paizo) to be excellent water slide material. I cant speak for WotC ones though I dont have much, if any, experience with them.
 


I take quick notes during the session and then type up a brief-ish game log a day or two later, before I forget everything. The log goes online, though I'm not sure how often it gets read. :)
In my current campaign, I encourage the players to write the recaps from their character's point of view. They get in game currency (a Style Point as we're using Ubiquity) for doing so.

Only one has done so up to now, but another player plans to start. The great thing is I can pull what they really like directly from these recaps as they write down what really stuck with them. And it cuts down on my workload! And keeps them involved in the campaign.
 

I'll also offer that recent TTRPG trends towards adventure paths increases the effort gap between running out of the box and the waterslide approach, as there are many fewer stand-alone adventures that can be adapted. Cutting, lifting, and adapting a section of an adventure path is a little trickier. And I'd do either/both of these before trying the full waterslide.

Luckily, DriveThru RPG has tons of standalone modules from earlier DnD editions available, which are GREAT resources to adapt.

Also, when first trying to build a waterslide campaign, I would start with a waterslide adventure, or a choose-your-own-adventure path among multiple premade adventures.

And yes, these would result in a many-slides approach, but that's the preceding lesson, the traing wheels for the full technique.

While Paizo and WotC like adventure paths, there are plenty of companies making brand new stand alone adventures, with Goodman Games being the champ at this. Frog God Games, Necrotic Gnome, Exalted Press, and many other small press companies put out great modules all the time for all editions of D&D.
 
Last edited:

GuardianLurker

Adventurer
While Paizo and WotC like adventure paths, there are plenty of companies making brand new stand along adventures, with Goodman Games being the champ at this. Frog God Games, Necrotic Gnome, Exalted Press, and many other small press companies put out great modules all the time for all editions of D&D.
I'm glad to stand corrected!

@payn While I can't speak from direct experience of Paizo's APs, as I don't have any, I'm a little surprised that they'd be good waterslides. All of the good reports I've heard of them (of which are many, many), praises them for tight plotting and a swift flow, which generally doesn't lend itself to the more free-form model implied in the waterslide. I can certainly believe that they can be used as resources (cut-lift-n-adapt), but as written would be a little surprising.

The most non-linearity I've seen in published adventures is an unspecified order in plot-token acquisition, not an actual branching. Understandable really - a published, pre-built adventure can't afford to have large amounts of unused material in it. Something that can easily be worked around in a home game, where the unused material can simply be never-built.

I've also seen published adventures with large numbers of expansion seeds (X2 and Q1 leap right to mind) but those are generally detours or post-resolution hooks, and not actually part of the main plot.

And before it gets misunderstood, what I'm focusing on here are the precursor steps to the full waterslide detailed in the article. That is a great approach to a campaign. But it's not easy to step to that if all you've run are prebuilts.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I'm glad to stand corrected!

@payn While I can't speak from direct experience of Paizo's APs, as I don't have any, I'm a little surprised that they'd be good waterslides. All of the good reports I've heard of them (of which are many, many), praises them for tight plotting and a swift flow, which generally doesn't lend itself to the more free-form model implied in the waterslide. I can certainly believe that they can be used as resources (cut-lift-n-adapt), but as written would be a little surprising.

The most non-linearity I've seen in published adventures is an unspecified order in plot-token acquisition, not an actual branching. Understandable really - a published, pre-built adventure can't afford to have large amounts of unused material in it. Something that can easily be worked around in a home game, where the unused material can simply be never-built.

I've also seen published adventures with large numbers of expansion seeds (X2 and Q1 leap right to mind) but those are generally detours or post-resolution hooks, and not actually part of the main plot.

And before it gets misunderstood, what I'm focusing on here are the precursor steps to the full waterslide detailed in the article. That is a great approach to a campaign. But it's not easy to step to that if all you've run are prebuilts.
Not all, but many of the AP modules are essentially adventure kits. By that I mean they give a detailed village/town/city complete with NPCs, landmarks, bad guy motivations, etc.. While the reason for being there is set, how the PCs navigate through the adventure is very much up to them in a non-linear fashion. The details allow the PCs and BBEG to be proactive/reactive based on how things play out. For a great example I recommend Souls for Smugglers Shiv by James Jacobs. This module is a shipwreck island sandbox. It is a great waterslide example. Since its first level PF1, it would be easy to convert to any number of D&D editions or derivates. I do not recommend the entire adventure path for reasons ill leave out here.

Now, a lot of criticism is aimed at the adventure paths because of this. You may have heard the "meant for readin; not for playin" meme. A lot of that has to do with the kit nature. Folks are expecting basically a dungeon floorplan with little ado about why the PCs are there in the first place. The GM, in this case, will supply the reasons they just want a place with monsters to save time. That old school module expectation I believe is what gives APs a railroad reputation, on top of the bad module meme one they unfairly, IMO, have. YMMV.
 

GuardianLurker

Adventurer
@payn And again I learn things!

I thought all of the APs these days were published as single (or at the very least very few) books. I wasn't aware that they were being published in smaller parts. That would also bring it much closer to "adapting a standalone".

Also your comment about "kit"/"dungeon" is kind of what I'm alluding to - if you're used to fully pre-built adventures, running into a sandbox is a bit jarring, and a lot more effort on the GMs part than expected. Even if you're used to rolling and adapting your own adventures, transitioning from a top-down/GM-driven/non-sandbox campaign to a bottom-up/player-driven/sandbox is a big adjustment.
 

Related Articles

Remove ads

Latest threads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top