Initial proposal

Multi DM’ing shared world proposal.

This is some suggested points for creating a multi DM shared world “campaign” for our gaming group.

Basically I would suggest we run a Non sequential, Non contiguous, Episodic procedural type story. It would not have the usual Event based meta-arc style of story, and would also not use the player decided “next objective” system that we’ve been experimenting with. I suggest we place our game in a Secretion style shared world setting.

I’m also suggesting that as a group we use: Obsidian Portal, and the d&d character creator, as well as the rptools map tool, and the d&d adventure tool for this campaign.

Multi DM

If you want to run a session or two without committing to a whole campaign this format is perfect. Anyone who wants to DM pre-prepares short scenarios (each two to four encounters in length) indicating when they have the episode / scenario ready.

When the current scenario is finished the group chooses from the readied pool of scenarios (select by which DM most wants, or whose been waiting longest). That DM takes over the running of the session and we play their scenario. NB – The DM’s player character obviously doesn’t “play” in their own scenario (npc sick / ignore any continuity error).

To count as prepared I’d suggest that a scenario should have: • Its objective / premise and who / what it involves defined • The decision points / scenes involved mapped (I use flow charts), • Most importantly the possible combats / and encounters should be prepared: o Mobs selected and readied (d&d Adventure tools awesome for this) o Maps made / terrain notes prepared (rptools maptool awesome too – want to use it on the tv if possible :) o Skill challenges, traps, and obstacle / movement challenges prepared • Also treasures should be prepared – although I’m suggesting we use book standard treasures (write up descriptions would be nice though). If we use the non-sequential aspect this also might not be as important.

When the DM puts their scenario up as ready they will have to say what its entry level is, and what the party’s situation is on entry, even what party makeup is preferred – (see below for why). Maybe we should keep a list (obsidian portal?) of scenarios that are up for action, have the date they were put up too…

Episodic Procedural

Each scenario would have a clear objectives set by the DM. Possibly even just having the set up told to the players as initial exposition if the DM doesn’t want to develop “hooks” or run “call to adventure” scenes in the short time length available.

This leads to a different style of play compared to what we have been doing, similar to the difference between an old style police procedural show compared to a soap opera. The specific situation and how the group handles it are emphasised rather than the twists and turns of who does what to whom and why… Player co-operation and a willingness to “go along with the story” are also required to a greater degree than in a long term drama based story. This keeps the action flowing and suits games with a large party size better.

Episodic procedurals suit short session length scenarios better as well, snapping into and out of the action more quickly and cleanly with less need for build up or character relationship maintenance scenes. If we moved to this dynamic I personally would go from writing up the session logs as a narrative on my website to writing up the scenarios as drop in modules for the use of other DM’s who find themselves in need / in certain situations. If you wanted to do something similar for your own scenarios I’d be happy to help you set up a google site and to link from mine to yours :)

So far I’ve brainstormed some situations that might be good for folk to make episodes from, feel free to jump in on these, or to develop the list further. Each idea can probably generate several variant scenarios, at the very least Heroic, Paragon, and Epic versions, as well as versions in different terrains and featuring different factions / mob types. • Jail break – recovering gear, other prisoners, objectives in prison etc • Smash an evil temple – muhahaha an “evil” temple • Rob a tomb • Assassinate someone – which we know is lots of fun • Hunt the monster in the Sewers / swamp / icy wastes • Take over a stronghold / keep / flying city • Go spelunking to locate a hidden place / thing • Hunt down a pirate ship • Smash den of brigands / a thieves den / a rebel hideout • Run a blockade / break through enemy lines • Beard a dragon in its den • Rescue someone from the pits of hell • defend a slow moving caravan / ship / refugee train • determine perpetrator of a murder and apprehend them • etc

I’ve also built up a very rough development schema for brainstorming working up ideas into scenarios. I’m happy to share it / work on it with you guys if you’re interested.

Non Sequential / Non Contiguous

This is probably the most radical of the suggestions in this proposal, but also the biggest solver of potential problems. Basically I’m suggesting we take advantage of the power of the character creator. Each scenario has an entry level, set by its DM, which the players prepare their characters to before play commences.

This benefits the players by allowing them free rebuild capacity. They can try out what they want. You can potentially even develop a stable of characters which exist in the setting and before each mission you select which character you want to take out for a run.

This benefits the DM’s because the scenarios you prepare never get overshot in terms of party level, and you don’t need to wait months or years for the party to get up to the right level range. It also avoids “collateral damage” that the situation needed for your scenario might take from the outcome of the scenarios which get run before it, (too much or too little exp, game breaking items given out, the destruction or altering of the faction you were going to feature, even the destruction or altering of the availability of the area you were going to set it in {don’t laugh its happened to me – in a different group right before my proud, hard worked drow slaver / city politics quest the DM of the scenario before me announced that the underdark didn’t exist…}).

Obviously we’re going to want some sense of continuity and place – see “secretion setting” below. But the primary conceit that allows the campaign to run along smoothly while swapping hands is that the events of any given scenario happen “some time” during the party’s career. One month we might be playing an epic mission set “oh yeah, when we were Exarches based out of that flying city in the astral domain of Pelor and Erathis”. The next month it might be a seventh level adventure from “back when we were temple guards in that city xxx (name not yet chosen)”, or the story of how the heroes got their first break as a bunch of dock workers and tavern rats…

The secretion method will help develop the feel of familiarity and involvement with the setting but by using this conceit we’re freed from the push needed to overcome the inertia involved in changing basis. It isn’t as big a conceit to swallow as it sounds either – we’re all adept at reading flash backs and embedded back-story in movies etc – and as gamers we’re already tolerant to a large degree to continuity errors arising from other factors like npc sickness and from having the long term DM simply stuff it up. All tabletop games have a compression conceit in their narrative anyway – at one session per week it would take multiple lifetimes to play through a adventurer’s career of “realistic” time span. So games either end up skipping large portions of time, or else describing a meteoric rise from newbie to power figure off of relatively few encounters. In this campaign the heroes can be grizzled veterans. There is always room for “something else” to have happened in their shared histories.

Primary side effect of having a non-contiguous game is that characters no longer accumulate exp… You start each scenario at the lvl of the mission after all so this gaming aspect is no longer needed, (which does remove one of the enjoyments). Note that DM’s will still need to budget exp in their design since in fourth edition that is how you assess the probable threat rating of an encounter etc. I’ve developed a bit of a spreadsheet for doing these calculations in various party sizes etc which I can share if you want.

Another major side effect is that the characters no longer accumulate wealth in the traditional way. The items a character takes into any given adventure would need to be pegged to the level they enter the scenario at. I’ve worked out how to do this using the idea of a level based equip budget and the item drop rules from the DMG (see character creation below) which will actually track better than a real game, (no more being item poor…).

Pegging items to lvl actually avoids the most massive accounting problem of multi DM games (which is the tracking of a treasuries worth of useless crap), as well as avoiding the collateral damage that a poor or too rich haul can do the next DM’s scenarios. If you want to “keep” an item that you gained in a previous scenario then you merely include it in your budget of items for the new scenario (this change actually empowers players to select their load out of even “treasure bundle items”). There would need to be some caution with DM created items. The DM building it would need to write it up (on obsidian portal), and assign it a realistic level (see the DMG, maybe group consultation). As well we’d need to keep a list of homebrew items so that a DM can bar game breakers from entering their scenarios, (and lets face it, there are now so many professionally made items that if you can’t find it then its probably not there because its a game breaker).

Last effect I can think of from using a non-sequential format is that the story will not support the usual Event based meta-arc of a traditional high fantasy. Ie, its almost impossible to co-ordinate the slow revelation of a threat, and the rising tension build-up to a final confrontation when the story is told in out of order fragments by multiple different storytellers who also play the characters… That’s fine, (I’m sure we’re all sick of struggling for years to prevent dead gods rising anyway), we just shift the meta-arc premise to a Character basis. That is the story of the whole campaign would be that of the rise and development of the heroes, where they’ve been and what they’ve done – more a photo album or adventures than a single action movie.

Secretion setting build up

The real dangers of shared world settings for stories and games are of stepping on each others toes, of over development, and / or of under utilisation of the setting (always introducing new material without ever using the previously established stuff). I think we can get around these by having a high tolerance for continuity errors and by using a “secretion method” – which is to say that when a DM introduces something then that thing (location, object, faction, npc) is there for others to use as well. This way the setting builds up in layers as folk reuse and develop stuff.

Obviously you want to use the stuff that’s there but we want to avoid just running around making scenarios which close out / shut down factions or npc’s that the other DM’s introduced. At the very least ask first, (although if someone does mess up the setting feature you intended to use then suck it up and either modify or just say your scenario was before the change).

As a general principle: if a scenario’s out come is destructive then make stories that involve a part, not the whole of the villainous faction, character, or location (eg – heroes destroy “A” gambling house belonging to organised crime syndicate, not “THE” gambling house and syndicate headquarters – or the villain to be killed is the prodigy of a mad scientist who got introduced earlier rather than killing off the mad scientist himself). Avoid random and major reshaping of the setting just for eye candy. Yes fantasy is great because you can have major events which reshape the known world – but that is Event based fantasy (“High” fantasy”), not the Character based story which our non-contiguous framework supports.

We should perhaps do a bit of brainstorming to create a common base for the setting – places where heroes equip from, things they might have loyalty too (will accept mission from), things that can be potential danger zones, hostile factions etc. I actually suggest we do some bare bones work on a few settings since there should be a ground shift, change in the place where the characters dwell and act from between the tiers (heroic, paragon, epic) at least.

I suggest an adventuring hub city for low heroic, unsure for paragon, and a heavenly (or hellish) domain for epic… need more input…

We might even want to predetermine a very sketchy timeline for pegging the heroes rough level range to years, and sketching in some world shaking events that might happen in those periods (that way we can sort of have our cake and eat it too :).

The Obsidian Portal site would be an awesome way for us to build up and keep track of characters and factions etc. If we make a group we can all edit the wiki creating a database of campaign details to draw from (and to check with when we forget stuff…). It also gives a place to write up a log / record of the adventures and discuss the adventures too (not sure if we can use the forum feature though). Personally I intend to write a sketch log of any scenarios I run then link with a “if you like this…” sort of thing to a write up of the scenario on my website for DM’s to use.

Remember that as a DM you don’t need to get too tied down by where the heroes should be at at any given moment. Using the non-contiguous conceit if it could have been a situation the characters might have been in then you can make a scenario about it… Eg, if the sketch setting says the low heroic characters were based in a city and you want to do a swashbuckling pirate story then you say that at some time during that period they must have done a short stint of travelling on the sea, maybe they spent a few months working the deck of a merchant ship… etc

I do suggest we use the bog standard cosmology from 4th edition for our world unless people are really into world building – this edition’s cosmology is awesome for its flavoursome yet catch all compromise and will do well as an underlying info basis for stories to be dropped into. The DMG and manual of the planes have good general descriptions for DM’s to build from.

Building your character

Basically I’m suggesting using the character builder in the usual way to create a character. The only difference is you build before each mission using the target level and situation specs posted by the next DM.

I can envisage players having a folder with versions of their character at each level, (which is pretty easy to do you just advance one level, save with level name in it, then advance next lvl, repeat). Of course it enables free rebuilding to take advantage of new material, ideas etc. It would also enable people to create a stable of characters to pick from which exist in the setting. We wouldn’t want too many so don’t go crazy here, but the ability to tailor the party to fit a particular mission would be nice, (for example if the next DM has let it be known that they want a stealth capable party for an infiltration – or maybe a durable party for a slugfest…).

For assigning items you “buy” them with a couple of different budgets – do not just use the money that character creator tool would give you. Instead you get a certain number of “treasure parcel” items some of which can be higher than your level. Then you get cash, equal to the share of monetary treasure you should have found, with which you can buy reagents, consumables, and items of your level or lower. Remember that these budgets aren’t a literal shopping spree for your character just before the mission – they’re just a way of saying how much is the right amount for the character to have, which is why you need to account for items you found in previous missions by “buying” them in the budget.

Treasure parcel items. Once you work through the guff of DMG treasure section (p124 to 129) you can see that per level a party of 5 characters should find 4 items ranging from 1 to 4 levels higher than the party level. I prefer to think of this as 4 items for each character’s 5 levels, each averaging +2.5 the level it was found with min/max being+1/+4.

To simplify it even further I suggest we make it one item per level, with max level of an item being lvl+3. (so if you were lvl 5 you could pick five items each with max level 8, 7, 6, 5, 4. Of course they don’t have to be at their max level)

Monetary Treasure is the stuff from parcels 5to10 in the treasure tables in the DMG. I once calculated that per character per level these parcels added up roughly to 2/5th of the value of an item of that level.

[The Character Builder actually has its own calculator for giving level appropriate cash. It gives different values (seems to be lower unfortunately hehe), but maybe we should just use it instead to make it easy? – Doc Dagless] {Ravek – hehe, sounds good to me, the easier to run the better so we’ll go with that hey}

Note that in the base rules (DMG 125, bottom of the page) it says cash from monetary treasure can only be spent on items of your level or lower. Once you’ve picked your treasure parcel items add the relevant amount of cash for monetary treasure to the character builder and spend it on lower level items and on consumables.

Using this method will still end up with the characters being much better supplied than in a “proper” contiguous campaign since it doesn’t account for item slot double up, or the prior consumption of consumables etc.

Rituals: I suggest that for any character with ritual caster feat we allow them 3 rituals per level (ie 3 first lvl, 3 second lvl, etc) up to the character’s level for free. They can buy extra rituals with monetary treasure by paying the market cost.

They must remember to buy components for casting the rituals using their monetary treasure budget.

Initial proposal

An Episodic Life Elenari