Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Campaign Reflections

I've been running our Swords & Wizardry campaign for a while now.  It's been going on 5 1/2 years over a course of 70 sessions. Our group has taken plenty of time off to play other games, some role-playing and some card and some board but we've always come back to the fun simplicity of this classic style fantasy RPG.  I thought that it would be good to reflect a bit upon what's gone on and what I've learned during these seventy sessions.

Like many of you players, I started with the hobby back in the late 70's with Holmes' basic rules.  I've written a bit about how we interrupted the rules to this very abstract game - which was pretty off base but still fun.  By the early 80's I moved away from RPGs and soon gaming as well.  Every once in a while throughout the years, I would try to run the game again but nothing ever really stuck.  Whether it was life, or 'growing up' or many other distractions (like having to make a living!), the games just didn't click.

Fast forward to the late 2000's....

Over the years I found myself always heading back to this fantasy RPG world where I could immerse myself in some other world or character. I found some enjoyment in playing MMORPGs such as Neverwinter Nights and was inspired by the abundance of fan created adventures based on some of the original TSR modules.  But I found those online games lacking the fun and intimacy of face to face table top gaming.

So like a Geas spell cast upon me, I began, once again, seeking out a way to get back into fantasy RPGing.

But the game had changed so much over the years....

I played with a group that ran a 3.5 game.  Man, this was not the game I remember.  Two hour long combats and railroaded story lines just didn't capture me.  I'm not trying to start an edition war here, I'm just saying that that version of the game didn't work for me.

Then I discovered what would later become the OSR - Old School Renaissance.

When I first started thinking about getting back into running a fantasy RPG again, I wanted something simple to run and rules-lite, much like the games that I grew up with.  I contemplated running Holmes basic or Moldvey basic but worried about getting copies of those rules to anyone interested not to mention many people seemed to be into playing more modern versions of D&D (3.5, Pathfinder) - see Why A Retro-Clone. I wasn't into those at all and wanted something that I was already familiar with.  I  looked into the new retro-clone rules of Labyrinth Lord and Basic FantasyRPG but eventually settled on Swords & Wizardry, which, for me, was the closest thing to what I remember running and playing.  These seemed simple enough to run with the modern life of making a living.

Next was to find players.  I thought I might get two maybe three players interested in playing an "old-school" classic style game.  I didn't think the interest was really there.  So I asked two of my comic book illustrator friends here in town and one guy I met through a RPG meet-up.  These guys turned out to be very enthusiastic about playing and even brought in more players.

Surprising to me, our first session ended up with 5 players which increased to 6 two sessions later and then 7 and then 8.  In fact, it was hard to fit all of us around the table at times.  I thought we'd be lucky to play through three sessions but the sessions just kept going and going.  We all really enjoyed ourselves and had lots of laughs face to face around the table.

I have to say that all the players, whom all work and have families and other obligations have always made time to attend out bi-weekly sessions.  All of us have had to cancel or miss sessions for those obligations, after all we're all adults with complicated lives, but if there is one thing that this game is about it's flexibility!

Some of the players were more use to the modern rules, others, like me, missed the lite game of imagination, others never played any RPGs before, but everyone embraced the fast-paced fun and loose style of Swords & Wizardry.

We began with the first printed edition of the S&W rules and our first session was October of 2009.  We moved to S&W Core and are now playing S&W Complete.

I had house-ruled the heck out of the the first edition rules, with many things I was picking up in the community online - new classes, rules for spells, combat.  Since then, the house rules have been trimmed back until now there's just a few very minor tweaks to what is in the Complete rule book.

My goal was to sandbox the campaign, to let the players create the world just as much as I did.  But I felt that to be comfortable in the role of GM I had to flesh the world out quite a bit.  I used a ton of material created by OSR folks on the internet along with original TSR published material.  I cut all that up and pieced it together into my campaign as needed - sometimes only using descriptions or just the maps or even just an idea.  The sandbox has worked out very well and it has kept me on my toes at the table.

One of the biggest things that I learned was to not plan too far or to much in advance.  In the sandbox setting, the players took things off the rails so often and so far that I found that those "unplanned" sessions were the best sessions.  Where I, as the GM, began to participate with the players more than just being a reactionary force behind a screen.  In fact, the screen was put away very early on and now I just use a small folded page of notes used mostly for critical hits and failures.

My other goal was to never ever fudge the dice.  I wanted to game to be pure and as random and undetermined as I could make it.  I've stuck to that with one exception which I rolled back into the campaign in quite a thrilling way.  You can read a bit about that here.

But I've learned to let the campaign be what it needed to be.  Sure, there was some gentle guiding along on my part, sometimes to keep things moving but the players determine the events in this world just as much as I do.  They've killed some NPCs that were, what I thought, important to the setting, but there is no character more important than the player's character and that is what this world is about.  These dead NPCs have made the game much more exciting for me as a GM.  These players have an effect on the events of the game world, sometimes small sometimes a bit bigger than small.  I think that's what I learned the game should be.  It's not my game, it's our game and it's been a great experience to have delved into this game once again.  I think even more rewarding than when I first discovered the excitement of the first fantasy RPG. 

Next:  Some Campaign Stats


  1. That's really awesome. It's so great to hear about success stories like this.

  2. I just wanted to leave a comment to let you know how much I've enjoyed your blog over the years once I realized just how long I've been reading (when you noted your earliest excursions with the first print of S&W). Ah. Gone are the halcyon days, huh?
    Anyhoo. I've had fun grabbing stuff from your words on this here web space. Keep on keepin' on (the borderlands).
    Eric ("machfront" on every rpg forum known to man)