Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Star Change" Campaign Post Mortem

The Star Change is a D&D play-by-email campaign I started in early 2001, using the Spelljammer universe. It is now late 2008, and we have started the wrap-up. During the course of the campaign we ported to the D20 3.0 system, and stuck with it when 3.5 and then 4.0 were released. We kept three of the original six players until very nearly the end, and a fourth who joined early on and stuck with it ever since, which is pretty damn good for this medium. If memory serves, five players have dropped out along the way.

We made it about 2/3 of the way through what I had initially thought of as "the campaign." I decided to move the ending up a bit as things threatened to drag out beyond the ability of the players and myself to stay involved--it would probably take another three or four years to get through the remainder.

As my first (and so far, only) extended GMing tenure, it's been a great learning experience. I have some thoughts as far as what went well and what went badly, but I'd like to hear from the players and any observers.

Things I think I need to work on:
  • Follow-though. Setting things up is easy; getting the conclusion to come off properly... hard. A related problem is impatience--there were moments when I should have, or would have liked to have, taken more time with something but cut it short for one reason or another. A lot of groundwork was laid and never used for one reason or another (including planning lapses on the part of yours truly).
  • Record-keeping. It's tedious, but I should pay more attention to it.
  • Pacing. Too often things lagged because I got distracted, or I didn't pester people or just move on without them when that might have been the better thing to do. It is crucial in PbEM that players be able to expect a certain level of posting frequency; if it drops, they find other ways to fill the time, and it's very difficult to get back up. Of course you have to take into account players' differing natural inclinations in this regard, too; some tend to be terser than others.
  • Managing expectations. It wasn't always clear to the players what was expected of them. The fact that a lot of the time I didn't actually have a preference on what they did was a big problem at some points, leading to a sense of aimlessness.
Other thoughts? What went well, what went badly, what would you like to see again, what should never come up again?

Thank you all. I am extremely grateful that you have given me so much of your time and thoughts and talents over the past seven years.


Brian said...

I'll have more concrete observations later, but the GMly part of my soul wants to know what your plan for the final third of the campaign was....

RJS said...

As originally planned, the current episode would have been mainly recon, and the third act would have involved you mustering a space fleet with which to take on the Hextorian armada, along with some old villains. There would have been a lot of Elvish interaction, and at least one character stumbling across their home world unexpectedly in the rearranged flow. It would have taken a long time to play out.

Brian said...

Hrm. Well, I'll add some more thoughts, much of which I've discussed with you as the game was going on.

1) Double check when the players are doing something that makes no sense to you. They can easily be misinformed, drawing the wrong conclusions or not understanding what it is the PCs are experiencing. It's OK to go OOC and ask _why_ the players think that X action is a good idea.

2) Give the players and PCs times to explore and feel a sense of wonder. Our various vacations on new worlds really stand out in my memory. Everything needn't be plot. You were really good at this, so keep it up.

3) When something does need to be plot, make sure that the players see the plot. If the players miss the plot on the first pass, be willing to backtrack the plot if they want to. This pertains to the Ghoul Hunting expedition on Bral that never happened, which resulted in one of the original players leaving the game because his plots were going nowhere. Backwriting, or character bending justifications for while we'd stop and go back to something, are perfectly fine.

4) No cut scenes, please. I know that you'd given them up by the end, but they always confused more than they elaborated, and made us feel like we were missing something.

5) this time around let us explore a single area a little more, and sometimes come back to it. The constant forward nature of this game - especially after the eponymous event - removed the joy of going back and revisiting old friends and enemies.

I'll likely add more later, becuase I talk a lot....

FleshyHeadedMutant said...

I'm not sure if you want me to comment or not, since I jumped ship (twice!) and saw relatively little play time, but you did send me an e-mail inviting me to comment so I will guess yes.

I had a hard time getting into character. I never felt Yestin ever really became my character after I inherited him, so I never could figure out exactly what I wanted to do with him. If I had it to do over again, I would probably have stuck with my original character idea (a ranger or paladin type assigned by the priesthood to bodyguard Lynden when she left).

None of which is feedback on the campaign I guess, so much as commentary on my specific situation as a player. Sorry.

I think I would probably echo Brian's fifth point. There were some places and characters I would have liked to revisit, but it always seemed that once we pushed off from a particular place or encounter that was not really an option--that the forward push of the central plot ensured we'd never see either again. So it kinda seemed like "What's the point in trying to make contacts or whatever when we'll be leaving them behind forever very shortly?"

I don't know if I am expressing that very well.

I enjoyed my brief stint with the game. My dropping out (twice!) was due to some RL difficulties (lame excuse), and nothing whatsoever to do with any dissatisfaction with the campaign itself. It was great fun and I sincerely wish I had stuck around.



RJS said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys! That's something that I hadn't really considered, so I'm glad you brought it up.

Hazel said...

Things I really enjoyed:

The in-character interactions, especially the non-plot driven sections like the card games, obviously the development of the Lynden/Emmett relationship and the exploration of new worlds are sections that stand out for me.

I appreciated the ability to do re-writes, especially when I/we'd misunderstood the nature of the encounters, etc.

Things that were frustrating as a player:

When I really didn't have clue what we were meant to be doing! I know I ought to have communicated my confusion to you more clearly (and sometimes at all) an I will work at that for the next campaign. I think reluctance to ask comes from having been hosed with a previous GM.

Similarly, having been hosed previously I found it difficult to be as 'heroic' as the campaign probably needed.

One issue that I think had an impact was the declining number of players which, especially toward the end put a lot of pressure of those of us left and sometimes precipitated major rewrites. I know it's out of the GM's hands and is likely as frustrating for you as me and I have no idea how to solve that but since you asked thought it was worth mentioning.

Also, as an aside note; Yestin was a great character but personally I'd have like Christian to have had a go with the paladin idea that was thrown around. I think that would have added another element to the dynamics and it would have been fun to 'corrupt' him (in the eyes of the bad guys that is.

There may be more, but I have throughly enjoyed the game since joining it and would like to say 'Thank You' for the initial invite and the years of play and excellent GMing.

FleshyHeadedMutant said...

By the way, I would be interested in lurking in your new campaign. I did try to keep up with Star Change even after I dropped out.


RJS said...

Sure thing! Our first lurker. :)