The Complexity of Creating Compelling Campaign Conclusions

With the announcement of D&D Next, many gaming groups are likely now in the process of forming an exit strategy for their 4th Edition campaigns. It is first worth noting that most D&D campaign do not reach a conclusion. Even DM Extraordinaire, Chris Perkins, recently commented, “A D&D campaign is like a television series; statistically, the odds are high it’ll get cancelled before its time. The first ten years I spent playing D&D, I never completed a single campaign, either as a player or as a DM. My experience up to that point taught me that campaigns only ended when the characters died or when the next campaign began.” This is not a unique phenomenon as veteran DM, Randall Walker from This Is My Game explained, “I’ve been DMing for about 15 years (although I’ve been playing the game for 30 years now) . . . as a DM, I have not had a campaign reach a finishing state.” Campaign conclusions are difficult for gaming groups, and an enormous challenge for DMs.

I humbly request for you to clear your mind and consider the challenges of successfully ending a campaign.

Many wars and feuds did Iddy fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand... But how should this story be told? This, Iddy contemplates...

Imagine you are a DM of a campaign that has played out over the course of multiple years. During that time, the DM has introduced his or her players to a variety of railroad and sandbox game experiences with a wide array of characters, storylines and plot points. The DM has managed content to accommodate individual player interests, which have taken shape over the course of the campaign and continue to change to the present day. Also consider the gaming group has not been composed of the same players throughout the life of the campaign; some players have been in the gaming group since Level 1. But other players in the group have only joined recently, and thus their knowledge of the campaign setting and associated characters, storylines and plot points are not the same as those who have been in the group since Level 1. In addition, players who participated in the campaign at Level 1 may no longer be included in the group because they no longer had time to participate and had to leave for other duties.  Each time a player leaves the group, a part of the shared experience is lost for everyone since the entire campaign is formed through a collaborative process between the DM and players.

In terms of successfully ending a campaign, the DM faces many obstacles to bring closure to the events in a manner that is acceptable to everyone remaining in the group. Imagine how this DM must feel with the responsibility of concluding a campaign on his or her shoulders. The DM must consider the preferences of each player left in the gaming group, who have all had a very individualized experience during the entire campaign. How does a DM find a way to unite a diverse set of characters, storylines and plot points with players who have experienced those factors in different ways or not at all? Picture that DM as they sit at a desk attempting to develop a clean conclusion to their campaign. Can you see the DM wrestling with the task?

Now imagine the DM is Bioware and the campaign is Mass Effect.

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Ego Check: Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Freelance Editor and Designer for Wizards of the Coast

Over the summer, I ran my group through the first adventure in Tomb of Horrors, and it was an enjoyable experience for everyone that culminated in our departing Paladin (leaving town for graduate school) sacrificing himself so the party could escape. I look forward to the group uncovering the remaining adventures in Tomb of Horrors throughout the campaign, so I was eager to interview one of the designers for the book, Scott Fitzgerald Gray.

In a sprawling interview, he offers advice to freelance writers in the roleplaying-game industry. He speaks about his design work for Wizards of the Coast (e.g., Tomb of Horrors, Seekers of the Ashen Crown) including a candid exchange about the level of lethality in 4th Edition and why some new DMs may not fully appreciate the fine art of customization and improvisation. He speaks about his latest book, A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales, details his writing and editing process and comments on the growing mainstream acceptance of the fantasy and science-fiction genres.

Settle into a comfortable chair and enjoy my interview with Scott Fitzgerald Gray.

Thank you for agreeing to spend some time discussing your work. The bio on your site answers several questions including the veracity of your name, and states you have been able “to make a living doing exactly what [you] want to do by way of creating and shaping words.” You have identified yourself as a writer, screenwriter, editor, story editor, script consultant, writing teacher, and designer and editor of roleplaying games. So I must ask, how did words become so important to you?

Happy to be here, and thanks for the opportunity.

That’s a tough question, insofar as I can’t really remember a time when words weren’t important, so it’s hard to judge. However, I think the easiest way to sum it up would be to describe myself as an imagination addict, and to say that words continue to feed that addiction. Everyone who has kids knows that very early stage, ages 2 to 3, where everything is imagination. I remember that stage in my own life, in faint and scratchy flashbacks. I can remember even as i was learning to talk, making up my own stories and my own little worlds in which those stories took place. I can remember learning to read a few years later, and the mind-blowing revelation that reading suddenly gave me access to other people’s stories and worlds. I can remember starting to write my own stories in fourth grade and the incredible feeling of accomplishment, as unaccomplished as those stories were. I can remember my first exposure to speculative fiction and fantasy, the first time i saw “Star Wars”, my first exposure to Dungeons & Dragons — all of these seminal moments of imagination which, taken as a whole, kind of underline a hunger for the worlds and experiences that all start with words.

Continue reading “Ego Check: Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Freelance Editor and Designer for Wizards of the Coast”