I’ve written about the planned game for the Saturday group a couple of times, but one thing that’s been interesting for me is that various meta-considerations have altered my plans for it, though the general plan remains the same. So let’s talk about the way that’s happened, how the changes are generally pretty good things, and a couple of surprises.
I was originally planning to start running the game last month. June of 2020 was my original planned start window for the game, but several things happened to alter that.
One was that the Sharn game wrapped up and Grant decided he wanted to try his hand at running an official D&D campaign. This has proven to be a wonderful thing for everyone involved. I’ve heard a couple of complaints about Princes of the Apocalypse online, but I can only assume those groups didn’t have as good or entertaining of a GM and/or interpersonal dynamic, because we are having a blast. There’s a certain inherent goofiness in Princes of the Apocalypse that Grant has seized on and we are all here for it. It is probably the single most stress-relieving D&D game I have ever been in, and given the state of the world, that is super welcome right now. But we’re also a little less than halfway into the game (we’re level 7 and the module caps at 15), which means that my window to run something for the Saturday group has been pushed way back. Probably at least another year from now, realistically.
That’s good in a couple of ways, though: it allows me ample time to wrap up the Sunday campaign I’m running, and it also gives some other resources I’m hoping to use time to arrive. Finishing the Sunday game properly is going to take some time. I’ve set up three different potential big bads in that game, and I’d like to give the party time to deal with all three if they want to. There’s also a couple of “medium bads” from PC backstories that I’d also like to allow the PCs to deal with. So that game definitely needs some additional time, because there is no way I can run more than one game at a time at this stage of my life. I’ve already had to dial the frequency back to every other week and I had to bail on this weekend’s session to allow myself a bit of a breather. But I do still think I can finish the game and bring it to a satisfying close. My planned story capstones will hit right around the level 20 mark, and that party just level to 12. Once I finish that story, I’ll be happy to hand the Sunday game’s GMing reins to someone else.
More of a World
The second thing that’s been good is that the Sunday game has been developing the world I eventually want to run the Saturday game in. I originally created Plavithen to be a low-effort setting that allowed me to pull massive hunks of content from published resources, and it is that, but I also have done a pretty significant amount of world building as I went, both in doing a pair of World Anvil summer camps and in just the normal process of preparing adventures to run. The world as I was originally planning it for the Saturday group focused entirely on a small section of one kingdom. The Sunday game has developed into a conflict between empires with the PCs as key players in that conflict. It’s been an enjoyable experience, but it’s also really stretching me in ways I couldn’t have predicted at the outset.
Hint for other 5e GMs: use milestone XP. Especially once your players get north of 10th level, and particularly if you’ve given them some good equipment, you will find that you can make some pretty sprawling, interesting encounters, that are challenging but not unfair, but the XP mechanics will fail you hard at that point. I honestly think milestone XP makes more sense anyway – being able to have the PCs grow when it’s dramatically-appropriate (as a reward for besting some nasty foe or achieving some noteworthy story goal) is not only less bookkeeping-intensive, it’s also more dramatically appropriate.
So now whenever I get around to the Saturday game and their holdings, I will have a larger context to filter things through. News about the Stelavorn and Vanorax can filter back to the PCs and inform their choices, and certain global phenomena that I’ve come up with can also apply. That also works in reverse, too: the preparation I’d done of Karkovia for the eventual Saturday game makes them much more interesting than they’d be otherwise.
The other thing that I wasn’t expecting to have, but is absolutely going into the world is a small amount of published material from … me. I’ve been doing some writing for En5ider for a while, and one of the types of article they look for is organizations. So now my world has a pair of organizations that it didn’t have before, one of them based on the backstory of a PC.
Coming Down the Pike
Finally, the delay is also allowing certain additional resources to come out that will probably be useful. Chief among these is Kingdoms and Warfare from MCDM, which is due out roughly May-ish next year. I was originally planning to kitbash some abstracted mechanics for managing holdings, but if I can let an experienced game design team do it for me? I will take them up on it. Some of the players in the Saturday game are going to be more into those aspects than others, too, so I’m trying to figure out equivalent stuff to give to those PCs. In the meantime, most of what I was previously waiting on has landed, certainly enough to make everything I wanted to do in the setting in terms of monsters and technology possible and then some. The other big one I’m waiting on is Dungeons and Dilemmas, which I’m hoping to use to take some of my inclination toward black-and-white situations out of the game. I think Grant in particular will appreciate a bit more moral complexity.
I’m still really anxious to get to running it – it’s been ages since I’ve had a vision for a campaign that’s this clear. But as the situation develops, I also have come to realize that the slower pace of this build-up (it’ll probably be something like 30 months from the time I had the initial idea to the time I actually get to do it) is basically an unequivocally good thing. The archipelago game is about exploration, so I can create on the fly. The barony game is going to be in a more confined space, and that means that a lot more of the creative work will need to be done upfront – the PCs will have a fairly static chunk of territory that they will get to know over time.
I think the biggest revelation from this whole thing is that patience is a virtue as a GM and world builder. I remain anxious to dig into this planned campaign, but the longer I wait, the better it’s likely to be. It’s hard to feel too bad about that.