GM Confidence: I averaged 4.31/5 for the run, and that’s pretty close to my overall feeling—maybe 4.5. It was definitely a good run, and an improvement over last time, even if I didn’t quite avoid all of the old mistakes. What a difference four years makes! This was my second full-length (12 sessions) run for Olympus, and the first “sequel.”
See the introduction for reference.
This chapter ended up as a linear collection of self-contained episodes revolving (in the background) around Harmin of Grudgehold’s overly-elaborate revenge plot against the Heroes’ Guild. I tried to keep things simple—not trying to fool anyone with clever twists—working in all the fairy-tale and fantasy tropes I could.
In summary: Shelley (LabRat), from our Friday face-to-face group, created the character that I ripped-off for Rayna. Since Rayna had become an NPC, as a result of the player leaving the Olympus group, I gave Shelley “control” of Rayna and started working with her on The Guffin Hall Job, while I was working on the details on the run-up to the start of the campaign. She “accidentally” became an essential part of the GMing process.
Having someone with whom you can discuss the details, who isn’t playing in the game, is a big help—especially if they don’t think like you. I’ve made attempts at finding a proper “sounding-board” before, but this was the first time it actually worked out, and I highly recommend it.
Other changes from Chapter I
- The “new players for old characters” has been discussed before. That went well enough, though I decided afterward that, due to the players’ personality differences, I probably should have swapped the two. Both of them have said they will end up playing new characters in the next Chapter. Murdok will return to Dwarfmount to try to clear his brother’s name. Dustan is going to leave the Wizards’ Guild, though he may hang around as an NPC.
- Chapter I didn’t benefit from my later epiphany regarding campaign “Theme.” I supported the “Fame and Fortune” Theme in Chapter II with all the Bad Guys using the “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase, and the gradual increase in the PCs’ reputation and visibility, though I feel like I could have brought the “good or bad thing?” question into better focus. The secondary theme of “Family™” was an accident stemming from the PCs’ backgrounds; I didn’t intentionally push that one, but it did come up now and again on its own.
- As a group, we had stopped using “general purpose” Plot Points for a while now, for reasons. I kept the “special purpose” ones, though: we used Preparation Points quite a lot, and occasionally, Tactics. In place of the GP points, I continued the more-recent use of Bennies, which had been working out pretty well.
- I did the original “skeleton” of the campaign some years prior, and had enough time in the run-up to go through the entire outline and detail each session (more) fully before it started. This is probably the most well-crafted campaign I’ve run so far; unusual, as the last few have been sandboxes, where I had no real long-term plan at all. Behind-the-scenes, that meant I was able to use proper foreshadowing, and work in lore elements and threads I might not have, otherwise, on-the-fly.
- I also built a spreadsheet-based generator for Crusader Kings 2 “events” that I could work into the narrative, but those stayed in the background.
- I’ve found that I’ve gotten pretty good at eyeballing the session notes for pacing; every session ended within 20 minutes or so of my target run-time. However, no (or few) cliffhangers makes me sad 😛
- I used a lot of Skill Challenges (and derivatives) in this run—I tried to do one per session. As a group, we’ve gotten pretty efficient with these, so it didn’t require a great deal of handholding to get through, and tended to go pretty quickly. Best thing to come out of D&D 4e 😛
- Given the “compressed” nature of the self-contained sessions, I didn’t want to drag out travel segments when it wasn’t really the focus of the campaign. I streamlined the process where I could, applying some of the lessons learned from my other recent campaigns. I think using different images along the way gives a good feel of “progress,” but I also tried to use the same images for areas that were repeated, for familiarity—I can’t speak for the players regarding whether or not that actually worked.
- I did a number of different alpha-tests of my Action Challenge System throughout the run. They all had some minor issues, but those errors should translate to improvements down the road. I’m actually pretty happy with the progress, there.
- Even in Chapter I, I tried to push the idea of interesting “components/rituals” for the usual magic spells. In this run, I ended up granting a Benny (usable only on that spell’s effects) for a proper description. This worked out really well in the early part of the run, and I really liked the results. But sadly, its use slacked off over time. I wouldn’t call the concept a “failure” but I need to find a way to promote its use more.
- I continued using (when I could) the “Lock and Key” method for social encounters—pre-defining topics/approaches that will shut down the opposition or open them up. It still feels functional to me, but it also feels like it needs something. More definition? This will probably be worth its own article down the road, when I’m more comfortable with it.
- I intentionally avoided any actual “dungeon crawls,” even though they are a fantasy staple. They would take way too long on their own, and moreso when combats occur within them.
- I’ve gotten better about not letting my narrative desire—the “want/need” for something to occur in a certain way—drive the plot. I did run afoul of it here and there, but mercifully, it didn’t result in a disaster, as it did in the previous Chapter.
- It has been pointed out that there was a possibly-excessive amount of the GM speaking, compared to the players, in the course of a session. To some degree, this is a fact-of-life of playing remotely, and I’m not sure there’s an effective remedy, other than to make a focus of leaving enough space for the players to have their say.
- There was more than one occasion where I had friendly NPCs involved in a combat scene, and didn’t really have a plan for what to do with them. This is another opportunity for “show-not-tell” and lore-building that I really shouldn’t miss, but that’s difficult without preparation—I need to remind myself in the future.
- I have done a great deal of work on the lore, and the wiki, but there are some key bits I never really fleshed out. Specifically: the “mana versus sanctity” question, or requirements for guild/church advancement. Given those bits involved active PCs, I really don’t have an excuse.
Running gags and themes
- The “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase is the most important running gag, designed specifically to work with the campaign Theme. As previously mentioned, the idea was ripped straight out of The Middleman and similarly employed.
- By design, all but a few of the episodes started in the Heroes’ Guild tavern the same way: PCs have a pint delivered by Búrli, who either makes fun of Murdok or tries some culinary experiment, before one of the other guild officers delivers the mission, with a second to reinforce the narrative (and show some of the interplay between the officers, and demonstrate their character). Aside from the “start in a tavern” trope, and comedic potential, it served as a solid “get started/into character” moment players could latch onto.
- The Town Crier was a way to deliver bits of lore and/or useful information about current or future missions. Some of the bits of “news” were drawn from the CK2 events mentioned above. When I didn’t have that, I shamelessly ripped off “herald” lines from Assassin’s Creed 2. If you hadn’t noticed, I observed the Rule of Three, both with the number of news items and number of regular heralds.
- The original plan was for a running gag of people saying “Company of the Bere…Never heard of you”—which would have worked nicely with the campaign Theme. Not sure why it didn’t happen, exactly, but it was more-or-less replaced with the “Company of the Beer…sorry, Bear” gag. I didn’t think I could get away with continuing the previous “I thought there were more of you…” gag, as much as I liked that one.
To be (ideally) continued
By the end of the run, including several breaks, I didn’t feel so “exhausted” as I usually might, but I was certainly ready to stop. That said, I have already begun the Diversion I play-by-post (sort of) quasi-campaign, which is intended to lead into Chapter III, for which I have a “basic plan” now. I have no idea how long it will last, or how often progress will be posted, but it will appear on the blog when it happens. It’s a good excuse to continue updating the wiki and working on the lore—there’s plenty of that to be done.
There remains the possibility that I might run a separate Generica campaign on Fridays with the face-to-face group, likely revolving around Rayna and Guffin Hall, but I have no specific plans at the moment. And the Generica-based Keep on the Borderlands is still being considered, though I couldn’t guess, at the moment, the likelihood it will see the light of day.