RPG a Day 2020, Part Two – How I Changed a Campaign Many Times For Better or Worse

Change is today’s theme. I’m a fickle GM and there are a few systems which I’ve grown tired of. Mainly D&D, admittedly.

I ran a troupe D&D Third Edition game for a little while. That sounds contradictory, but when I say ‘ran a troupe game’ I mean that. It started out with everyone running a session using the many d20 system adventures I’d bought and not read, but their stamina ran out. Most of them hadn’t run games before, so fear often took over. When they tapped out I ran more and more games until it was just another D&D 3.5 game I ran. I had two groups and three campaigns. I’d grown sick of it and once it was just me running it, I switched over to the Unisystem as the All Flesh Must Be Eaten zombie RPG had a fantasy system. It was great, but I chickened out as there were no methods to balance the game and I still believed that was a relevant factor in games. I then abandoned the troupe game and resurrected the old ‘main continuity’ campaign with Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play Second Edition (WFRP).

WFRP was great. I did have to fudge some things, by converting the characters and fake running them through progression to a spot where they went from their humble origins to their much more competent evolution. The world suddenly got a lot darker, to fit the style of WFRP. Mud, blood and shit-flecked. It’s been the best thing which happened to that campaign with some brutal moments and all the weirdness of a campaign I’d run since I was 16 and didn’t know any better. I’m probably going to drag my notes out when I run DIE sometime.

My later experience with switching systems was great at first but fell apart.

My ‘gritty BSG style reboot’ of my old campaign world basically took tropes and elements from the old campaign but nothing more. I loved Spycraft and the Fantasy Craft RPG was taking so long to come out, I decided to run D&D 4th Edition.

I ran a season in 4E and I enjoyed some of the combat mechanics, but it felt like the story and drama weren’t serviced by the system. Between season one and two I switched to Fantasy Craft, which was fantastic. I’d had enough time to learn the system and prepare what was going on. The group were fleeing their hometown which had been destroyed by the undead and dragons. I knew roughly what they were doing so I could manage the clunky GM-facing rules. The players adored their side of the rules and it was understandable. Compared to the other d20 system games it was more open, allowing more than just fighting in combat, having good companion rules and even a system for a court case which nearly broke the team apart.

Fantasy Craft was great, but as the game broke into more of a sandbox, there wasn’t any easy way of coping with that. I was going through a phase of loving the New World of Darkness, which was a great toolbox. I converted the game to that in time for the midpoint of season three and used the Changing Breeds book to deal with the animal totems the PCs were imbued with. There was a problem here. That book sucked. It was really unbalanced, and there were… other problems. We had some great sessions and the plot grew to some insane levels, but it was difficult trying to cover for the issues Changing Breeds had.

This is where things get shaky. I changed over to Fate for season four. Things escalated to a massive level. There were armies being gathered for one massive battle including wooden war-mechs and a cloud of dragons with blade-breath raining murder on the people below. Fate Core was on Kickstarter and looked fantastic. I fell in love and realised that as we needed less feats or merits giving fiddly little bonuses, but big iconic moves and things which impacted the narrative. We needed Aspects. This was, in theory, great. One problem was the conversion, which I tried getting the players to do, figuring they’d know what they’d want to be the core of their characters. One of them had incredible analysis paralysis with Aspects, let alone Stunts. Another player spent about 30 minutes after each session in a back and forth about how Fate didn’t work. We had our epic battle, closed out the season and sadly never managed to pick up for our final six-session season as one of the players moved out of the country.

I don’t think returning to Fantasy Craft could have been better as high level d20 always made things more fiddly. Returning to WoD wasn’t really an option. I still believe Fate was a great choice, but badly executed by me. Maybe changing over to WFRP 2E would have helped, although the characters were near superheroic by that point. I remember pondering Exalted, but then converting things from Exalted’s themes to Fallen Kingdoms’ would have been a nightmare. I guess my advice here would be that if a conversion is needed, open dialogue with the group if good, as is making sure what everyone needs from the game and what the system is capable of providing.

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