I’m going to start with this aside, and probably put it at the top of most of these because I think its a very important thing when doing these formats. You have to draw a line somewhere, you have to deny the players things, you have to say ‘no’ to friends and acquaintances, and you have to then play games with them. It can be a challenge, but worse is The Unbearable Oppression of Happiness.
Organising the GMs
This will be one of the most important challenges of the whole process. You need a good team, people who will share the load of running games, managing players, and all the rest of it that goes with it. Every time I’ve had one of these unwind, unravel, or fall apart, was because the GM Team has not been able to keep up the load.
There is a bunch of stuff to consider:
- You need ‘too many’ GMs on your team. Because there will be people who get sick, who have things to do, will have their relatives come into town, their kids will come down sick, and so on.
- You need to be planned in advance. There’s a lot of little ‘system’ things. There are a lot of little administrative things. The lighter you can make the admin burden, the better.
- You need a venue that will support you. If you can’t team up with your FLGS, then I recommend places like Cafes, Bars, and similar communal spaces that sell drinks and food. If you pick the right time of the week, they will be appreciative of a steady flow of purchases even if you aren’t the biggest buyers. Maybe they will want a small fee for players; this isn’t uncommon even in Hobby Stores and I’ve seen table fees paid in plenty.
- You need a gap between GMs who might run a game sometimes and play a character other times, and the GMs who always run games. There will be bits of information people can know and can’t know, and good ways to keep that information secure.
It’s easier with Pen & Paper groups to control some of the administrative things. In particular, Experience Records, Character Sheets, and Loot Drops. If you’re playing online, this will likely mean something like a Google Spreadsheet, or some kind of Form linked to a Database… if you don’t have someone with the right skills this will be a big logistical challenge.
You need to record some basics, these are the sorts of things that were recorded in systems like Living Greyhawk, and I presume Living Faerun. I haven’t seen the DDAL but from what I hear it is the progeny of LGreyhawk and LFaerun.
- What stories/modules/missions has a Character been upon?
- What rewards did they get from those missions? (XP and gp are commonly tracked)
- What specific loot did they get from those missions?
- Did they have any specific interactions that may have large long-term impacts (i.e. did they rescue a noble, did they offend a noble, do they have allies in Group X, etc)?
But for administration with the GMs you also need to consider the following:
- Recording which sessions they ran, and getting any ‘key events’ from the session back.
- Getting an idea of what are the likely outcomes of running the sessions (i.e. if they do this then X or Y will happen elsewhere in the world)
Levelling and Advancing the Characters
While it seems like you can just ‘let people level up whenever’, I strongly recommend you plan a few things about how you will ‘level up’ the Characters.
This section is much much easier to do for a 3.5E game than it is for 5E. There was a clear expectation of ‘encounters per level’ in 3.5E which was consistent across all levels. That is somewhat absent (see this article by Old Guy Gaming). Decisions about this will also impact how your games run.
- How often should characters level up?
- Will there be ‘costs’ to level up? (Time, gold, ???)
- How often will we be playing?
- Are we rewarding anything else above and beyond merely ‘kick open doors and kill things’ (which is the D&D default mode). Have a read of Dogs, Stones, & Column Inches for some advice on how to make this set of decisions.
- Are we going to be allowing or creating classes specific to this campaign?
So to give you an example, the two long running ones I had were called Occassus and Aquil Dora. Both were under 3.5E and ran under the following premises:
- Each session will be 3 hours of gameplay
- There will be 2 such sessions a month (they were held on Saturdays and the dates chosen to stay clear of Easter, and often abandoned at Christmas)
- Each session should have three encounters in them matching the Effective Character Level of the Party; encounters should be scalable or interchangeable to meet this requirement (This creates a design element challenge)
- Encounters need not be combat encounters, GMs can propose alternative encounters, but it should be clear that it is a challenging encounter. This also means you can’t set ‘impossible challenges’ like convincing someone that fire is cold.
- Experience will be awarded based on the ECL of the Party
- Bonus XP may be awarded, with advanced planning, for specific conditions (i.e. If the Party achieve Goal A with this additional outcome, they gain a Bonus)
- Bonus XP may be awarded by the GM on an ad hoc basis for things such as ‘gameplay bonus’, ‘playing your character well’, ‘solving a situation with out of the box thinking’.
- Players that attend every session, will gain a new level approximately every 2 or 3 months (4 levels a year roughly)
- Over three years, our highest level character will be Level 15 at most (Level 3 was the starting point) if they attend every session, and do not die.
- Being brought back to life is possible, but will cost and be a logistic challenge.
What is the starting Power of Characters
We wanted people showing up, and we weren’t planning a bunch of ‘Funhouse Meat Grinders’. Thinking of it now, it might have been quite an interesting thing to spend a year sending a mass of players into a ‘Funhouse Mega Dungeon’. I may write one of those up sometime.
So we made them Level 3. Past the super-squishy point of Wizards (where 2 angry house cats are a lethal threat, because you can only be sure to kill one with Magic Missile), and also just past the point where Fighters will drop from one crit. It’s a nice spot to give Characters some durability.
5E makes this a bit obvious, because it rushes through the early levels and then immediately slows them down upon reaching 3rd.
We were running 3.5E so we let them buy as if they’d been adventuring and had cash equal to the ‘Character Wealth’ table, with the proviso they could have at most one magic item (IIRC).
How will we keep track of the Characters locations?
At some point, a group will want to wander off into the wilderness. This leaves you with a few paths:
- Lock them into a long story until they return. They just play session after session until the story is resolved. It’s not bad, but it can cause problems. It also tends to make that one story suitable to only run once. Those players that are in it are the only ones who ever do it. (It can be hard for GMs to refuse to rerun them…)
- Force them to spend downtime to return ‘home’.
- Make every story loop back home and cap the number of sessions they can be away. (Really doesn’t suit West Marches or the alternative format I’m putting out called “Frontiers of the Empire” **).
- Start a new ‘home base’ somewhere else, which may split the GMs or it creates split player bases and hence requires 2) to be used to transfer them between home bases.
You will need a record that GMs can check about which character is where if you do either let them establish a new home base OR have multiple-session arcs that lock Characters away from the rest of the group.