If you are anything like me the coming summer months hold the promise of new events. And when it comes to these events there are few things that excite me more then the possibility of narrative campaigns. As I am sure we are all a little rusty when it comes to conducting these campaigns, I have written a few tips for any of you who are thinking about running your own. This article will focus primarily on tips for the initial set up of the lore of your campaign.
Provide a variety of event types
One thing I am trying for an upcoming campaign is giving my players a mix of event types during the course of the campaign. It can be tempting to try and design a tight campaign that tries to balance the power levels of the various players and attempts to make sure everyone plays at least once a week. However, I have found these inevitably fall apart as people flake out, or life gets in the way. One of the things I am trying this coming year will be to run what I call a hybrid campaign. Players will be free to play as many games as they want each week, and people can come and go as they please. Additionally, I am hoping to run one event a month that will bring together as many players as possible for a special battle. I think this will allow people who can only play a few events to get the most from the campaign, while also pleasing the more avid players. One of the nice things about the crusade system is that it has a way of trying to balance armies with different amount of crusade points. I will also be trying out a system whereby players can’t have more then twice as many Crusade Points in their game roster as their opponent (hopefully this will encourage players to spread out their buffs over multiple units).
Spend time on the Lore
Having a sizeable lore section for the campaign can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it helps players visualize their army’s purpose and why they are in the campaign, on the other hand some people won’t bother to read the lore (let alone any other rules you may have). For some organizers this will be the most tedious part of the set up (It can be frustrating to try and come up with a list of planets and interesting things about them). One piece of advice I have is to start small with a localized system and build up the lore by chaining successive campaigns. This is a trick I learned from a local player as I saw how he was able to build out a very interesting timeline of related events. This also gives you an opportunity to provide cause and effect into your players actions.
I was playing a large narrative apocalypse gaming where I was playing as a member of the Imperium team (we were tasked with capturing a warp gate for the inquisition). Realizing that our team was not going to hold it, I convinced the other imperium players to focus on destroying the gate instead (the goal of the Xenos players) Now the GM wasn’t particularly pleased by this turn of events and threatened that the Inquisition would be after me (jokes on him, I play Charcarodons and in the books the Inquisition is already after them). But by recording the events of these major battles he could factor in Inquisitorial retribution into the next campaign.
Explore other game systems
It’s very easy to fall into a rut with narrative campaigns. Okay we are fighting over this planet, which is vital for the sector (just like the last 100 planets we fought over blah blah blah.) As such, one of the best ways to spice up a campaign is to intentionally seek out ways to challenge your players with unusual mechanics or scenarios. Now this comes with risks, too much book-keeping and everyone loses interest, too complex of a system and people will forget rules or just get overwhelmed and not try to play the mission. Thus, it is hard to find a balance between a vanilla campaign and one that is too spicy and it will largely depend on the dynamics of your local group. In order to help think of new ideas or novel approaches I highly recommend playing other game systems (by the same company, or others, even completely different ones like board games) to get ideas for fun mechanics.
I have been playing a lot of Cursed City these past weeks and I have been enjoying some of the mechanics in the game. For example, I think there might be some fun play to replicating the search action in a narrative game. Beyond this I highly encourage you to dive into the older rule books from past editions. Some old books have special missions that can be adapted or updated for the current system. Others have campaign mechanics, villains, mini games etc. that can be incorporated into a special event. One that springs to mind is the special rules regarding sentries in the 4th Ed 40K rule book that allowed you to get a jump on your opponent. It played out as a mini game before the full battle began. As with all this advice your mileage will vary. Trying to gauge the interest of your local group is the most important step before you bury them under a codex’s worth of extra rules and options.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. As I practice what I preach I would love to hear any thoughts you may have on narrative mechanics you have enjoyed or thought were creative. I believe pooling these resources can be a great help to anyone who is just trying out running a campaign as well as more veteran players.
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