Hamblin’s 5E Living Campaign Wishlist

I’ve started a forum thread over at the Wizards LFR forums to discuss some of these ideas. Feel free to weigh in there, or in the comments here, or both.

With the announcement of D&D 5th Edition, we here at Roving Band of Misfits are thinking about all the changes the game has in store.  Since we have played a lot of Living campaigns (Living Greyhawk, Living Forgotten Realms, Ashes of Athas), we’re wondering what a 5E living campaign might look like.  Here’s my wishlist for what I would like to see in a 5E living campaign.

Meaningful Regions

The region system in LG was a bit of a mixed bag.  Various physical regions in the real world corresponded to regions in the game world.  For example, PA/NY/NJ corresponded to the region of Keoland.  The region you were in restricted the types of modules you could play.  There were about 20 “core” modules every year that people in any region could play, and each region published around 8 “regional” modules each year that could only be played in that region.  In addition, regions were grouped together into “metaregions,” and there were about 6 modules that could be played in any region in the group.

If that wasn’t enough modules for you, then depending on where you lived, you could travel to a different region and play the modules associated with that region.

By contrast, in Living Forgotten Realms, there were technically regions and regional modules, but there were no restrictions on what modules you could play where.

At first, it might seem that the LFR system is better: less restrictions means more people playing more D&D.  However, in LG, regions had more flavor.  You really felt like you were a citizen of that region, and you had a pretty good sense of your region’s storyline.

To me, the biggest advantage of the old LG regional system was that it encouraged small conventions that people could travel to in order to play out-of-region modules.  In addition, these conventions usually had one-time “interactive modules” that could be anything from a massive battle to a role-playing experience.  With the advent of LFR, these small conventions all but died out.

I’d love to see a new 5E living campaign that brought back a lot the regional flavor that made the LG community great.

Time Units

In LG, each character started with 52 time units.  Every time you played a regional or metaregional module that was in your home region, this cost you 1 TU per round (so 2-round modules cost 2).  Core modules and out-of-region modules (if you traveled to that region) cost double.  You were allowed to create a character whose home region was not the region that you yourself lived in, so that if you traveled to that region, then your character would spend only 1 TU per round for the modules associated with that region.  When your character ran out of TU’s, you couldn’t play it again until the next year.

There were some definite downsides to the TU system.  If you played with a group of friends, and your character ran out of TU’s before they did, then you could get stuck where you were unable to play with that group again until next year.

However, this system did have a lot of advantages.  It allowed TU’s to be used as a resource that you could spend.  Imagine that you played a module where your wizard met a powerful archmage.  The archmage will allow your character to study under him (gaining some kind of tangible advantage), but your character will have to stay with him for a month (costing 4 TU’s).  Do you do it?  Maybe you even have to decide before you know exactly what the advantage will be.  These kinds of interesting character and roleplaying choices were a lot of fun.

Here’s an idea: maybe to partially deal with the issue of friends not getting to play together when one runs out of TU’s, have a system where when you DM a module, you get to allocate 1 TU to any of your characters.  I’m not sure if that would be too broken…

Paperwork

This may sound strange, but I really miss the Adventure Records from LG.  After each adventure you would fill out a piece of paper that listed the XP and gold awards, as well as any other favors or item access that you obtained in the module.  Essentially, anything that in LFR appears on those little slips of paper was all written on a single 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper.

Also, it was very rare in LG to simply be awarded a magic item.  You got access to an item, which you then had the option to buy for actual gold pieces.  Plus, most magic items were extremely expensive, so you had to choose which items you bought very carefully.

Now, there was a lot of magic item imbalance in LG that is not really present in LFR.  However, in LFR right now, gold is pretty much irrelevant.  So I’d hope there is some kind of middle ground, though this will of course depend on how magic items are set up in 5E.

Modules for Many Players

Assuming 5E keeps the 1-30 level range, that is lot of levels to write modules for.  In LG, it was common for modules to be written for only two or three APL’s (average table level).  I remember being really frustrated as a new LG player that I couldn’t play the awesome APL 10-14 module I heard people talking about.  Not only couldn’t I play it at the time, but given the TU system and how long it took to level up, it might be a year or two before my character was even an appropriate level to play it!

I think LFR has the right idea now by having their modules be tier-wide.  So there are Heroic tier modules and Paragon tier modules.  I think there might eventually have been Epic tier modules as well, instead of the one module per level model they have now.  By having the module be written for an entire tier, it allows many more players to play many more modules.

I think it’s a good thing to allow a player (not a character) to play the same module twice.  Again, this allows more players to play more modules, and likely reduces the overall number of modules that need to be written.  In addition, I think something like “MyRealms” modules (with some tight restrictions) could work as well.

Conclusion

I think both LG and LFR got some things right and also some things wrong.  My hope is that whatever living campaign ends up coming out of 5E takes the lessons of the past to create a sustainable model for a fun campaign.  I can’t wait!

8 thoughts on “Hamblin’s 5E Living Campaign Wishlist

  1. Pieter Sleijpen

    Tier wide adventures at epic? ;) We are already running in some big story issues in regards to paragon where the level 18-20 characters can face minor demon princes and elder dragons that can flatten cities while letting level 11 PCs face those same enemies makes no sense. I suspect those would be really hard to deal with at epic levels. Of course, one of the biggest reasons we opted for the single story focus is simply resources and story. It takes a huge amount of resources to write an epic adventure even for a single level of play – just take a look at the long list of playtesters and I can tell you that encounters get changed significantly throughout the playtest phase. As for story, how many times can you rescue the world without it becoming really odd ;)

    As for replay, that is a mixed bag. It has done harm in regards to immersion. Players pay much less attention to what adventure has been played with what character and the more they play it, the less they remember what actually happened in what session. Others also concluded it harmed the number of people willing to run the games which I tend to agree with at least to some extent. On the other hand, nothing was more iritating as a player than not being able to play or an organizer to cancel a table because you could not find enough players to fill a proper table. It certainly hurt the ability for new players to enter the campaign. I really have mixed feeling about this…

    Reply
    1. James Hamblin Post author

      “We are already running in some big story issues in regards to paragon where the level 18-20 characters can face minor demon princes and elder dragons that can flatten cities while letting level 11 PCs face those same enemies makes no sense.”

      Why doesn’t it make sense? I think this attitude of “you must be level X to face this challenge” is what led to so many LG modules with narrow level ranges (almost always on the high end).

      Also, I think the scope of the LFR story got way too big way too fast. I don’t recall many LG modules that had worldwide implications, and those that did were usually culminations of several years of storyline.

      Reply
      1. Alphastream

        I’m actually a fan of any tier of play being “important”. While Epic PCs might confront an evil deity head on, heroic PCs could thwart the same deity by preventing the cultists from summoning him or her. But, those are clearly different stories. Writing “one mod fits all tiers” adventures is not easy.

        In my ideal world adventures are written for a narrow level band. It means the story fits, playtesting is more accurate (and thus DMs have an easier job of fitting the printed challenge to the table), and the tale is more commonly enjoyed in the same way (when sharing what you did with friends, you both fought the same things – not a goblin in one tale and a demon in the other).

        I am totally find with doing cool stuff at all levels, however. Temple of Elemental Evil is just one of many “world-shaking” adventures that work fine at the heroic level. But, the story is perfect for those PCs and is realistic.

        Reply
  2. Ian

    “Why doesn’t it make sense? I think this attitude of “you must be level X to face this challenge” is what led to so many LG modules with narrow level ranges (almost always on the high end).”

    An epic tier example- if the epic tier modules were written to be tier wide then you could fight Lloth as your very first epic adventure. What then is there? And how do you justify then fighting Errtu at 30th?

    Replayability is extremely important. My LFR community was extremely strong, and very active, as well as pretty large. A big part of this was because we never turned anyone away and we could always make a table. Most of the regulars had one or two characters at each level band, and that can only happen when replaying mods. Sure there were downsides (bad players got worse when the mod was repeated, and some DMs could get fatigue easier. I know I got bored with some mods after I learned I could run them from memory, even down to the maps and monsters), but replaying mods was a huge part of why the community grew so well and quickly, and it allowed us veterans to always be around to help out newbies.

    Reply
  3. Alphastream

    Good points, Ian. Replayability had many positives. It can be hard to separate them from other issues. For example, the way in LFR adventure releases forced you to have many PCs. Because there were more adventures for levels 1-4 than you could play initially, and then only a few of the next tier (4-7th), you ended up with multiple PCs. Whereas in LG I had a single PC at the end of my first year of (hardcore) play, at the end of LFR I had 3-4 PCs. I now have far more LFR PCs than I ever did for any other living campaign, and I’m clearly worse off for it. All the elements come together: I have too many PCs that are too disconnected from their regions and that are playing adventures I’ve sometimes played with other PCs. It robs us of story.

    There are many positives behind all of these factors, but how they come together really hurt the campaign, in my opinion. The current LFR system, where adventures come out in bands (such as three Calimshan adventures or three Netheril adventures) is far better for story and less likely to lead to multiple PCs and replaying just to play.

    Reply
  4. Alphastream

    I think it is really interesting that in the early days many said “good riddance” to ARs, but have slowly come to miss them. I don’t think it is the accounting portion, but rather how each log sheet helped create a memorable snapshot of an adventure experience. The top part of an AR often had rewards based on choices (which in reverse reminded authors to create choices). That part really helped players recall NPCs and past actions. The bottom part provided access, which meant you often came back to these sheets to see what you could buy… further triggering memories. I don’t want ARs to come back, but I do want to capture that memory trigger. There are real benefits to reinforcing what took place in previous adventures.

    Reply
  5. Brett

    Serious, serious flaw in LFR’s genesis was one regional mod per sub-tier (h1,h2,h3). That forced PC’s to travel far and wide to level up 3 times in other regions before they could return home, if they ever did, to continue that story line, after becoming involved in a dozen other story lines that were all likely disconnected from it and each other. It was years before some plots connected, and most never did.

    A new living campaign needs overall ‘behind the scenes’ machinations (Rary, Iuz, Lothe, Tharizdun) that the admins have developed rough strategies for and keep control of. Each region then has their own plots, and some hooks into the grand ‘core’ schemes they can develop. Regions should initiate adventures like LFR finally did in the MINI campaigns. I also favor the LG restricted model, but maybe, in advance, plan for authors to agree to ‘release’ the regions a year or so later for other regions.

    I think it is irritating that one of the kill-LG reasons was how restricted the adventures were; then WotC comes up with Encounters, restricted to only those that can show up in a store on Wednesdays.

    Brett

    Reply

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