What If I Had to Run a Campaign?

i’m so sorry for making this image

I don’t want to run campaigns anymore. But if I had to, what system would I choose?

I know a lot of people run extended campaigns using OSR systems, or even using lighter systems like Cairn or Into the Odd.

Honestly, assuming several months of weekly play, I think I would get pretty bored. These are systems that, to my mind, are very focused on one style or, perhaps more accurately, structure of play.

You’re “crawling” through something—dungeon rooms, hexes, points. There are things that drain your resources. You can only afford to lose so many resources before you die and have to make a new character.

It’s a fun structure! I’m literally designing two whole games around dungeon crawls.

But, I’m impatient. I want something new or exciting to happen every session. I get bored doing the same thing, playing through the same kind of scenario over and over again.

With Goblets & Grues, I hope that I will be able to get a lot of excitement out of running for lots of different people, many of whom (I hope) will be relatively new to RPGs. That’s a big reason why I’m trying to make it so light and accessible.

I imagine that will wear thin after a while, and I’ll want to play again with certain people. So I think what I ultimately want is to design several different one-shot RPGs that bring a wide variety of experiences (read: structures) to the table for each independent session.

But, okay, what if I absolutely had to run an extended campaign?

Honestly, I think I would just run Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Familiarity is a factor; it’s my first system, after all. But I also think 5E excels at providing a consistent experience throughout a wide variety of potential scenarios.

5E has sometimes (or, often, depending on your circles) been criticized for not providing any structure outside of combat. And sure, I think some example structures in the rulebooks would be helpful for new DMs—how to run a dungeoncrawl, how to run a mystery, how to run a sandbox, how to run a linear adventure (and yes, I think there’s a place for them!), etc.

But, two things:

  1. When there’s no overarching structure, it gives you (the DM) the freedom to apply pretty much any structure you want.
  2. When combat is heavily structured, and the players are constantly unlocking new combat abilities, it provides an underlying consistency that keeps the players on board with whatever you want to do next. There are very few overarching RPG structures (again: crawl, mystery, sandbox, linear, etc.) that don’t involve combat in some way.

I get the sense from the NSR Discord that a lot of people have been turned off 5E’s combat by players who insist on sterile, “rules-as-written” fights. But, in my experience, the combat system holds up perfectly fine for groups that want to improvise clever actions and their effects.

Some people also think 5E combat is too easy, but you can simply balance the fights to be harder (and I tend to think the game is more engaging when you do). The constant violence can sometimes bother me, but it’s trivial to substitute unfeeling golems, plant-things, and undead for cultists, goblins, and orcs.

What about my pet peeve—perception checks that hide information from the players? Well, I can always tell the players I’m consulting their passive perception scores. I can address certain information to the player with the highest passive perception. But, really, I’m just telling them everything they need to know.

I don’t know whether I will actually do this. On the one hand, it sounds fun; on the other hand, it sounds less fun than playing a variety of one-shots specifically designed around each structure I want to experiment with.

But, hey, WotC’s Saltmarsh campaign book looks kind of tempting. Or I always go back and fill out MCDM’s My Campaign worksheet and start something simple from scratch.


  1. I've been debating Saltmarsh myself. If you read it and think it meets your needs, I'd love to hear your impressions.

  2. Honestly, I would do exactly the same - of course I'd hack it to bits but I'd keep the basic structure of 5e

    One thing that I think you missed is the implied heroism/protagonist style that 5e caters for. I personally am turned off by this more than the combat - every single player ends up with magical abilities, or types of super-heroic class abilities which fail to be special if everyone is has similar types of power-creep.

    1. I think that depends on how long you intend the campaign to go. I might simply tell the players, "no one in this whole campaign setting has ever exceeded level 10 without being some kind of demigod."


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