How I Made My Best Campaign Ever

The following concerns the campaign called Tiwesdæg Clíewen. There are many things to discuss about this. It was, overall, the most successful campaign I ever ran. "Successful" means that everyone had fun, showed up regularly, were interested, and remember the events of the campaign fondly and in detail.


The Group Gathers

I got a game group together in late 2005. (I give their online names here.) One player, Xypho, I knew already from previous games - we'd played one-on-one a lot. Another, Khaba, I'd met online - he was an Australian living in the USA, we chatted about his one-on-one games he ran with his fiancee, set in pre-Columbian North America. Playing in a rarely-explored historical setting, this sounded great to me - I love history, and I love original settings. So we resolved to game together whenever he got over to Australia. This wasn't for about a year, and even then he was living out in the boondocks so we couldn't meet up. Then one day he called me up - he and his fiancee, Ephera, had moved into the city - we could all game.


We all met up and had dinner, and everyone got along fine. I got out all my game books and tossed around a few campaign ideas. The players were keen on Chronogate EU, a setting where European Stargate-SG1-like teams go through gates not to alien worlds, but to parallel Earth worlds. We ran a couple of missions and were having fun, but felt something was missing.


At this stage another player, Tyberious Funk, answered my advertisement for a fourth player, and was quite keen on Stargate so thought he'd enjoy the campaign.


The Group Speaks

However, this was when we considered what we might do. It was at this point I considered the Player Preferences Questionnaire I'd had people fill out.


So I looked over what the players had entered for their preferences. I find this sort of list of questions is useful, if only for sorting out who the lazy and irregular players will be - if they can't even be bothered telling you what they like, then they probably won't show up regularly, or be very enthusiastic when they do show up.


Anyway, I didn't record all the preferences from a year ago, but what came out was a clear trend of their preferences,


So it seemed to me that the Chronogate-EU game wasn't doing what they wanted. Chronogate gave them Action and Exploration, but Character wasn't important. There was no continuity, it was, "go out, do mission, come home and rest." They wanted to have NPCs to have relationships with, rivals, friends, lovers, enemies. They wanted the story to revolve around people, not around events. Or rather, they wanted the people to cause the events. A mission-based setting just didn't do that.


I thought for a while about altering Chronogate a bit to make NPCs more important. But the trouble was that in the end the PCs could always walk away to somewhere it all didn't matter - another world. And the large scope of the campaign, with a cast of thousands, made individual NPCs less important. I decided that some GMs might be able to manage it anyway - by making individual NPCs and worlds so fascinating that the players wouldn't want the characters to leave - but that I probably couldn't do it.



The New Campaign

So I designed a new campaign. It was at this point that Tyberious Funk joined us. So he'd signed on for Chronogate, and the poor guy ended up with something else. He was happy in the end, but still... ;) As well as their preferences, I considered the personalities of the players. I considered whether they were active, reactive or passive; quiet or talkative; if they were creative and their style of creativity; and what parts of a game they liked.


Putting all this together I came up with Tiwesdæg Clíewen. Something else all the players but Xypho had in common was an Anglo-Saxon ethnic background, with Ephera having a German background. Xypho was French, but with all our one-on-one games I figured he'd have enough experience of getting everything he wanted, it was time to sit back and let others get it instead! That common ethnic heritage meant that some of the cultural aspects, while somewhat "foreign", would feel right to the players, and be easily remembered by them.


"Tiwesdæg Clíewen" is old English for "Tuesday Group." We met on Tuesdays, after all. Then I developed the village of Tiwesdæg. It was just a village rather than a country because I wanted to emphasise character personalities and relationships. I wanted the characters to begin humble in power and abilities - this means they're less likely to go wandering off they don't feel they're up to the challenge of whole countries! Its being in a village let them be big fish in a little pond, and meant that individuals were important.


So I developed some NPCs, with the idea of having some clashes between and within the NPCs drive the story. What causes conflict? People wanting different, incompatible things. When this conflict is within a person, we call it a "dilemma." I thought I'd save on NPCs, keep their numbers to a minimum, so instead of ten NPCs wanting ten different things, I could have (say) four NPCs wanting ten different things. In this way I'd be bringing in the "Character" aspect the players were all so keen on.


I brought in the "Exploration" aspect by saying that magic wasn't present in the village, but would be elsewhere. I put the source of most magic as some Elves in the forest, and some Dwarves high in the mountains, both hidden away; I didn't tell them where this magic was, just that magic was believed in, but rarely seen, and monsters were much the same. I told them that the motto of the campaign would be, Magic is magical, and monsters are monstrous. So their "exploration" would be discovering the magic, and the monsters.


I gave the players a description of the village and shire and some background to it, and asked them to make their characters.


One important story was of its founding.


The village and Shire of Tiwesdæg was founded in antiquity by the woman warrior Tiwesdæg. An ogre called Mundzuc had been roaming the land, slaying all, consuming livestock and crops, and rendering the land a waste. After the death of her husband a farmer, Đegn Tiwesdæg sought out Mundzuc and slew him with her great axe. She slew him by the stream which flows from the Lake, and ever since that stream's stones have been red from his blood. It is called the Ochre Stream. She bore his remains up into the hills, and there butchered his carcass, scattering his flesh to the four winds across the land, and making it fertile again. His bones remained, and the white rocks upon the hills mean that men call them the Ogre's Bones.


In gratitude for her heroism, the Cyning Ildebad granted her the ðegnship of the lands the ogre had devastated, the right to train her daughters in the arts of war, and to found a new Shire in her own name. This she did, and since then, the Daughters of Tiwesdæg have ever been warriors. When comes the Spring Choosing, when children of eight to twelve gather in the village square to be selected as apprentices to trades, girls may gather also, to become Daughters of Tiwesdæg - warriors.


This story, as well as telling them a bit about the place they were in, also let the players have "modern" sensibilities for their characters, rather than having to roleplay sexism. This was especially important as Ephera, a female player, refused to play male characters.


They developed the following characters,


Looking at Godmund and Aelwyn's backgrounds, I said to the players, "wow, this is rough and nasty - one child abuse victim, one orphan. As GM, I would never give such a background if I'd created the characters for you to play, it'd be too harsh. You fucked with your characters badly!"


They replied, "That's okay, those make interesting characters, characters who get fucked with. We give you a licence to use anything in our backgrounds, surprise us!"


"What, make it even worse than that?"


"Sure, so long as it's interesting."


Off I went and planned. I now had enough information. I knew the players' personalities, what they wanted in a game, and their characters. I created one basic storyline, it's an oldie but a goodie - Who Shall Rule?


Two collections of characters were rivals for the rule. It went as follows:


House of Osric


So far it's rather like a soap-opera. To make it into a fantasy game, we need monsters and magic! So of course an evil sorceror must be behind it all.


House of Faelsian


So now two of the four PCs were tied into the plot strongly. That was certainly enough to keep things going. I tried to think of ways to bring the other two in, and make them feel invested in the campaign. Xypho's Gwynaeth was a difficult one, because she was not a very deep character. So I just used her brother - figuring that if the PCs went against Faelsian, then at some point Gwynaeth would have to choose between her brother and her liege lord. Another dilemma!


Tyberious Funk's Berchtwald was most difficult of all. I could have had his brother be slain by Faelsian, I supposed, but this seemed like laying it on a bit thick. Tyberious Funk didn't choose any negative stuff for his character (we were using GURPS), so none of that offered itself as hooks the way it did for the other characters. And at that stage, I simply didn't know him well enough as a player - he was quite reserved at the start, and actually didn't realise that Xypho and me were the only ones who knew each-other well, that Ephera and Khaba we'd only gamed with a few sessions. I decided to "wait and see" on Tyberious Funk and his Berchtwald, that perhaps other things would develop during play. In any case, not everyone wants to be tied intimately into the plot, some people are happy just to follow along and adventure.


So that is how I came to create Tiwesdæg Clíewen, the best campaign I ever ran.