Thursday, June 4, 2009

Settings with a difference: The Boat Game

Choosing a dynamic setting is one of the most important steps when planning a campaign.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to gloss over the setting when designing the overall campaign. This is regrettable since a setting that is a bit different from the norm can make help make the difference between a memorable game and a forgettable one.

One campaign idea I have found to work well in the past is one which we called “The Boat Game”.  When this campaign was conceived the Lords of Tyr had just ended a long running campaign that had brought our characters from first level to early epic.  One of our goals for our next campaign was to learn from the mistakes of the first one.  Some of our concerns included:

  1. Rotating DMs: This has actually proved a more of a blessing than a curse.  However, stylistic changes between the DMs could be a bit jarring at times.  We wanted to ensure that these stylistic changes could be minimized.
  2. Shorter Story Arcs: Our previous campaign had an epic feel and scope.  We were looking to move to a more episodic style of campaign.  Shorter story arcs would allow us to change out DMs more frequently and avoid burnout.
  3. Missing Players: Since we are an older crowd, real life often gets in the way of our gaming.  Still, it can be frustrating to deal with absenteeism.  We wanted to make the occasional disappearance of party members as painless as possible.

Our solution for these concerns was to create a boat based game.  All of the character in the game would be hired on as mercenaries on a merchant vessel.  This particular vessel would also supplement its income with occasional treasure hunting.

Most adventures would occur on land.  When the boat came into port either the captain would have some job for the characters or adventure would come to the characters.  The boat acted like a home base for the adventurers to return to, more like a town or local pub might act in a more traditional game setting.  The occasional adventure at sea would occur now and then, but would be more of of an opportunity to crack open the Monster Manual and use some of the rarely seen aquatic monsters.

More importantly, it addressed some of the issues I mentioned above.  Making the adventures occur when the boat made landfall both helped smooth over stylistic differences between the DMs and contributed to a more episodic feel.  Also, it helped minimize the problems caused by missing players, since it was easy to manufacture reasons for these characters to stay behind on the boat.

“The Boat Game” was a lot of fun.  In the end I suppose we didn’t end up sticking very well to the guidelines we created.  Once again we gravitated to an epic storyline, which pretty much shot the episodic nature we were going for in the foot. 

Ultimately, it ended sooner than expected because of some of those pesky real life reasons I mentioned above.  I still miss it though. 


Scafloc said...

I miss that game too. Curse you real life!

I did think that the basic concept of the game was a sound one, for the reasons you outlined as well as because it allows for northern barbarians, ninja, and effete rapier wielding bards to be in the same party without causing me headaches. To be honest, I always hoped it would run a little like WEG's Star Wars used to, with adventures starting in media res and generally being short, action packed, and witty, with any epic plots spread across many games (sometimes 4-5 apart).

Something I never thought of at the time, but which makes a lot of sense to me now, is that given the "shiny and new" nature of 4e, many players will want to try out multiple different characters, and a "boat game" style of play might work extremely well in allowing rapid character shifts (including easily shifting back to the initial character if desired). Such things are always an issue when they happen too often in a game, but in this case the harm would be at least partially abrogated.

On a more selfish note, are you intending to revivify the nautical concept for our electronic game concept?