WISH 93: Enough and Too Much

Wish 93 (Internet Archive) delves into an interesting subject: how do you deal with a campaign that has a long-running and detailed history? Here’s what Ginger asked:

“Does joining a game with a lot of background thrill or intimidate you? What do you do to try to learn the background, or to compensate for not having it? If you GM, how do you help newcomers to a background-heavy game? What has worked for you as a player/GM, and what hasn’t?”

I’ve never actually joined a richly detailed campaign that I didn’t have a hand in helping to build, so I can’t comment too much on the first part of the question. I will say a lengthy history wouldn’t keep me joining a game, but it might prevent me from staying on. It all depends on how easy it is to pick up the basics of the setting. In this, I think a commercial campaign has an advantage over a home-grown one; with a commercial game I can at least go out and buy one of the core books and get caught up on the basics; with a home grown I’m relying entirely on the DM and the party.

My own Greyhawk campaign has a very long history. While aspects of the campaign date back all the way to grade school, the core of it gelled during my college days at Lock Haven University in the early 1990s. The current campaign began in Fall 1996 and has run pretty much continuously ever since. That’s a hell of a lot of campaign history, and it could be intimidating for new recruits. So who do I deal with that? Two ways.

First, our campaign Web site — the Griffin’s Crier — offers an extensive (if incomplete) accounting of our campaign, including numerous adventure sagas and an overview of our home-grown base city, Obsidian Bay. The depth of the Web site, and the quality of the sagas, has drawn in more than a few recruits over the years.

Second is the “Player’s Guide to Obsidian Bay” that I wrote. It’s designed to be handed out to new players, and summarizes the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, the peninsula of the Pomarj, and the aforementioned Obsidian Bay. We haven’t had any new recruits since I penned it, but I expect that it will be very useful when new players do come on board.

There are two things I’d like to add to the GriffCrier to help both new and old players. The first are summaries of the campaign’s major story arcs, which I think would help newcomers get a feel for the nature of the stories we tell, and help them figure out who the villains and allies are. It would also go a long way toward explaining some of our rather cryptic in-jokes. The second is a fully-detailed, Campaign Cartographer-rendered, map of Obsidian Bay. We have a few sketches to use as references, but the city really demands a full-blown map.

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