Monday, June 20, 2011

Living Campaigns - Players and Paperwork

For the bulk of the time I've spent as an adult gamer attending annual conventions, especially Gen Con and Origins (where I am as of the publication of this post) the main reason I've made the annual pilgrimage is for tabletop roleplaying games in general, and to participate in living campaigns in particular. So, what's a living campaign? In short, a living campaign is run by a team of volunteers organizing a single campaign with a shared world that thousands of people at home, in game shops and at conventions participate in. That is an accurate summary that does a poor job of answering the question. I'll do my best to elaborate.

The earliest living campaigns were based on Dungeons and Dragons games or their derivatives, which typically have a single game master controlling the world, the story and all of the monsters and characters not played by individual players. The RPGA (Role Playing Game Association) originally came up with the concept of a game that could be played with players creating characters that conform to a published set of uniform guidelines, to keep individual “house rules” to a minimum. These characters would play a series of adventures published in Polyhedron, the RPGA newsletter, and track treasure and experience gained on a form kept between play sessions. Different groups could form under different gamemasters to play any new scenarios using the same characters, as the standards for character creation and session tracking kept everything organized and honest. Set in the Forgotten Realms city of Raven's Bluff, this first campaign was called Living City.

Living City became extremely popular at game conventions after its 1987 debut, new Polyhedron articles clarifying, refining and announcing various aspects of the campaign. Most new scenarios were written by RPGA members, and distribution over the internet for printing replaced a magazine-style publication allmost completely by the mid-1990s. Special treasures, titles or other important rewards were tracked using paper certificates signed by a gamemaster to indicate the reward had been earned in-game. Living City thrived until the release of the 3rd Editon of Dungeons and Dragons in the year 2000, but by then many other living campaigns had been launched for play by the RPGA.

Men and women of the RPGA playing Living Greyhawk.

Living campaigns offer an alternative to gamers who cannot find a group to play a standard campaign with that meets their schedule, or who prefer to play with a different group of people in a different environment regularly. The community aspect of participating in the same campaign world with thousands of other players instead of (usually) three to six other people makes a living campaign a good fit for convention gaming. Conventions also sometimes have larger scale events such as “Interactives” which might include Live Action Roleplaying, in-character item bazaars, or events hosted by campaign world organizations like guilds recruiting for membership or sponsoring a competition of some sort with a unique reward for the victor. Conventions also play host to the mega-event called the “Battle Interactive,” where a large scale fantasy war is played out with each table of players representing squads, and their table gamemasters playing a series of rounds representing important skirmish actions in the battle, with tables overall success or failure rate in achieving objectives determining the outcome of the war.

A Living City Interactive from 2001, "A Game of Masks."
Funny story, seven years after this picture was taken, I'd end up marrying the girl in green on the left. 

Some of the individual impact of characters upon a setting is lost in a game mostly played at conventions and in the back rooms of retail stores, but it is a different sort of experience for those who want to play many adventures with different people, but with advancements to a single character persisting throughout. The paperwork and tracking of certificates, experience and gold adds a bit of accounting to these games no present in a typical roleplaying game, and filling out the forms is daunting for some. Living games also require some suspension of disbelief as many players complete the exact same scenarios at different tables, but the game works best not trying to reconcile a singular timeline inclusive of everyone's different experiences in previous sessions.

Today, living games are run both within and outside of the RPGA, some to promote a particular game, others simply by groups of dedicated fans who volunteer to administrate and handle the questions and rulings that keep gameplay as universal and consistent as possible. I'm currently involved in the Chronicles of the Shattered Empires campaign set in the world of Arcanis, and preparing to play in the Shadowrun: Missions campaign as well. (Preparing my Arcanis character for the con actually is the reason for the extreme late time of this article's publication.)

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Alpha said...

Sounds awesomely complex.

Zombie Ad said...

Digital control and tracking has to be the way forward for these.

The Angry Lurker said...

Sounds good and I like the girl in green on the left reference, nice to hear.

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