Thursday, June 17, 2010

What's Campaign Scale ?

In developing my next serious campaign I've stumbled across something that matters to me and really impacts a lot of the game: Campaign Scale. By Campaign Scale I mean what the play sessions and in-between time are focusing on and what importance those events have on the overall picture. This is often expressed to GMs as time management for a campaign and a lot of it does indeed involve time but it goes beyond measuring time on a real-world or campaign calendar. It's about giving players and GMs a way to balance adventure and non-adventure in a campaign meaningful fashion.

Players will sometimes lament all the difficulties and troubles their characters are exposed to in a session of play and may ask; "how can we ever get anything done"? My usual reply is we don't often watch movies about those times Indiana Jones spends weeks teaching and researching or the times when everything is boring and modestly profitable for the crew of the Firefly. But if play sessions seem to only focus on a constant stream of detailed and frenetic activity one really must wonder...when the heck do PCs get anything done?

I suppose it's a matter of focus and time management which I've chosen to express as campaign scale. Sure when we game at the table top adventures flow by quickly in ten minute segments, sometimes days pass in moments and the resolution of actions resolved in minutes can actually take an hour to play out now and again. But the time experienced by the PCs is jam-packed offers little opportunity for anything other then conflict and unlikely survival. When and how do we resolve affairs of state and economics that could and should flow along with the heroic action in a campaign where adventurers can become lords and ladies?

The answer to the last question is to provide a lot more time between sessions. Does one day pass between game sessions? Is the passage of time between sessions flexible or fixed? Do we focus strongly on every moment of the PC's lives?

Notice I keep raising questions in this discussion? It's because the goals of the GM, players and their PCs have to be considered along with what will be supported by the rules and campaign.

We all want to have fun, that's why we're playing a game. The players and GM have to agree or be ready to play in a campaign where the PCs are more or less involved with events that happen outside immediate heroic action. Players have to know what resources they are going to have on hand to be involved in campaign relevant but not immediately adventure producing options. If character have jobs or demands that don't involve regularly kicking in doors and killing orcs they need some time to get those things done even if in the background. If in possession of holdings one must wait for development of estates, the construction of buildings and fortifications. The depth of involvement and desire to be involved with such things requires a campaign scale that supports these actions.

Outside of non-adventuring demands there are more adventure situations such as training time, research time, recovery from disease, healing of wounds, time to scribe scrolls and brew potions. Players need a chance to get some of this done and it's often more fun if it doesn't eat into or severely limit table time fun.
It's dependent on campaign scale.

A GM has to decide if the campaign scale is flexible or rigid and if it follows the real world at all. The dynamics of this can impact the campaign greatly.
one must also consider how play time eats into this time frame.

Campaign scale can have a time scale fixed between sessions regardless of the amount of action that occurs in a session. By example if a group meets once a week or 4 times a year they will know in the campaign 3 weeks will pass between sessions regardless of how much time a play session involved. This gives a consistent and regular amount of time for players to plan for.

The time scale of a campaign can be structured to flow at a regular rate and player actions will offset the players position in time. By example each real world day can be 3 campaign days and adventuring activities will eat up some of the days that will pass relative to the real world. Actions of players will separate PCs by time in such a campaign.

A campaign scale can be established where time relative to the real world is fixed and players aren't displaced in time by their actions but time itself is consumed. By example a campaign can be set where each session and the time that follow is one month and play at the table rats into that amount of time leaving the remainder to resolve non-adventuring options. Adventures that require multiple sessions to resolve will free up a lot of non-adventuring time if the session resolve a lot of furious action in just a short amount of time per session. So if a campaign scale is established to mean 4 weeks per session but an adventure requires 3 sessions to play out no more then a week worth of game time the players will find themselves with 9 weeks of non-adventuring action to deal with afterward.

With a campaign scale the GM gets to also pace how things develop outside the immediate interest of the PCs (but not so much it's wasted work). The time frame of campaign scale can greatly impact what happens in the rest of the campaign world.
Armies can march across borders and besiege towns and be worn out if weeks pass between play sessions or wars become an almost constant background for a campaign where only a few days pass between each pay session.

Resource management is impacted by the campaign scale. Pennies in ones pocket aren't so important the broader the campaign scale. One needn't fiddle with the costs of mead vs beer in tavern A or tavern B if weeks pass between sessions.
Players or GMs can establish a standard of living or a readiness cost that will consume wealth but provide a baseline of supplies to always be ready during those adventuring sessions. Resources rise or decrease in importance depending on campaign scale.

This certainly expanded to a much longer piece they I intended and I only touched on a few elements above. I'm certainly going to have to focus on more specific elements of campaign scale in future postings. Any input or questions would be immensely appreciated.

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