Gabe, Ian and Steve wanting to play D&D has gotten me fixed back on the hobby. Just in time for 4th Edition too, although we’ll be playing under 3.5 rules…if we play at all. I’m always a bit skeptic, especially now that we’re no longer in school together.
Normally, starting the campaign is a bit of a hassle (and I’m sure they’re tired of it and want to get on with the gaming). I like to ask my players a few questions and gear the game around their answers. There are two “questionnaires” I give them. There aren’t too many questions but they’ll have to consider their answers carefully. I base the game off them, after all.
The first questionnaire determines the setting, a kind of world overview. The answers are usually determined by circling one of the three choices, although I sometimes have the answers on a 1-10 scale (1 being lowest, 10 being highest). Anyway, the questions are…
Low — Mid — High
The fantasy level determines the amount of realism. D&D is a fantasy game so there is no “none” option. No one wants to play in a game that’s completely real. Players want to do cool things and cool things are often unbelievable.
An example of a low fantasy story would be King Arthur or Robin Hood. Both have realistic elements, but fantasy woven in. Both seem believable, despite the fantasy within the tales (in fact, people claim King Arthur really did exist and can cite all sorts of historical evidence that he was real). Realism outweighs fantasy in these stories. High fantasy would be a world like Narnia, where everything is exotic. Even the animals talk! In a high fantasy world, nothing is believable. Mid-fantasy is average D&D.
Low — Mid — High
The level of magic determines how common magic is in the world, how big its role will play in the campaign, as well as the availability of magic items. Like fantasy, magic can not be completely eliminated in these games, but its role can be reduced.
Obviously, a low magic level means magic is rare. Wizards will be rare, as are magic items. Magic could be shunned or going extinct. In fact, a good quest might be to find out what happened to all the magic. Maybe the magical level was higher in the past, but fell off at sometime in the past? High magic is the exact opposite. Magic is so common, its a fact of life! In addition, magic items can be bought at the local store.
Low — Mid — High
I didn’t ask this question to my players because I misinterpreted the definition to my last group. Now, I’m going to use it to determine character generation. In D&D, you generate your character stats by using 6-sided dice (d6). In low power settings, characters roll 3d6 (three 6-sided die) six times. They can re-roll stats if their modifiers equal -3 or if they don’t have a score higher than 12. In a high power campaign, I have my players roll 5d6 six times and discard the two lowest die.
The problem with this question is that most players will want high power, or at least, a mid-power setting. And high power settings…if your character can beat anything, then there’s no challenge. And they have no flaws, which I like PCs to have. So, this time, I had my players roll 4d6 six times (drop the lowest die) and re-roll if their stats didn’t average out to at least a 12. A nice compromise.
Light — Mid — Dark
Tone and mood are both tools I use to set the story in. Tone is the attitude I try to convey (usually through descriptions) and mood is the feeling I’m going for, the feeling I’m trying to instill in my players as they play.
A light tone and mood would be similar to the average Disney movie. Always a happy ending, the good guys clearly own the evil ones, etc. I don’t really like light tone and mood because there’s so little substance and challenge to them. Just about every Disney movie (and fairy tale) annoys me because I know what’s going to happen. Prince Charming will get the princess, they’ll be each other’s true love, and they’ll live happily ever after, blah blah bleagh!
Dark tone and mood is just the opposite. The endings aren’t always happy. Prince Charming may have vanquished the evil wizard, but not before the wizard killed the princess. Sin City and Batman stories have a good dark setting to them. I like these stories because they seem more real.
Tone and mood also covers comedic elements. A light tone and mood would be a very humorous setting. Like Monty Python or Shaun of the Dead. Dark tone and mood is deadly serious. If there is humor, it’s really sick and twisted (like dead baby jokes).
Of course, players like having a happy ending to their story. They don’t want the world to be dead serious or a huge joke. They also want a challenge. So, a mid setting is fine. I can live with that.
G — PG — PG-13 — R
Determines language of descriptions and content. An R-rating will have NPCs cursing and lots of blood to accompany the violence. Think PG-13 for Lord of the Rings and PG for Star Wars. Star Wars is a great example because there’s lots of fighting but there’s never any blood (although they do some graphic shots of people losing limbs). And I like Lord of the Rings because it’s the most vivid fantasy that comes to mind. It mainly gets that rating through violence and not language, though.
I’ve thought about nixing the “rated G” campaign because I’ve never played with a group that suggested it and I wouldn’t know how to run one if they did.
My players’ answers rounded up to a mid-fantasy, low-mid magic, mid-dark tone and mood (biased towards dark) campaign that’s rated PG-13.
My answers? Low-mid fantasy, mid-magic, mid-power, mid-dark tone and at least a PG-13 rating.
“A wizard is never late. Nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to!“