View Full Version : What do you think of this campaign idea?

2015-03-07, 12:31 AM
A few weeks ago I thought up a rather interesting idea for campaign, inspired by the horrible DM threads on this very forum.

Basically my idea is that I tell my players to make characters for a stock D&D high fantasy campaign. The campaign starts with the PCs washed up on the shore after a ship wreck that they can't remember any details of. Almost immediately a epic level DMPC shows up. I describe how cool and awesome he is. He tells the PCs that the world is in peril and that they are the chosen ones who must save it from the stereotypical evil-bad-guy. The DMPC then tells them to follow him and he will lead them to the next destination. If they attempt to resist he will charm them into following...

Okay but basically it would be a terrible campaign with all the worst DMing mistakes. DMPCs, crappy plot, and massive railroading. All that awful stuff.

But the plot twist is the PCs have been captured by insane androids who delight into forcing innocent people to follow weird plots for the androids amusement.

The idea is the players would eventually try to escape and attack their captors only to discover that they are robots. It would eventually turn into a sci-fi game as the players desperately try to escape their prison.

2015-03-07, 01:32 AM
But the plot twist is the PCs have been captured by insane androids who delight into forcing innocent people to follow weird plots for the androids amusement.

This had better happen by the end of the first session, or else your players are going to go home thinking that it's actually

a terrible campaign with all the worst DMing mistakes
and might not all come back.

2015-03-07, 05:37 AM
I don't think it works. One of the recent advice for GMs (though it my go back further) is "don't be clever".

Tricking players by witholding critical information virtually never works out. Setting up a false premise and then turning the campaign into something completely different also never gets applause.

2015-03-07, 06:13 AM
I'll be more than happy to play now that I've read this thread :P

2015-03-07, 06:21 AM
Why insane androids instead of, say, demons? Or a psychotic archmage? Does the sci-fi element add anything that any other random powerful insane being wouldn't?

And I'm also unclear on the crossover. Is magic real and the PC spellcasters are actually able to hurl fireballs and stuff, or is the entire scenario merely a fabrication concocted by high technology to make the characters think that magic is real?

Jay R
2015-03-07, 09:59 AM
If all your players trust you completely, and know that you are a superior DM who will never, at any time, produce a dull game, then it might work. Otherwise, no.

2015-03-07, 10:15 AM
You are trying to be way more clever than you have to be. This plot-twist dependent campaign is difficult to pull off well, there's no guarantee that your players will understand what's going on even if you do pull it off well, and then there's no guarantee that your players will find it amusing once they discover the plot twist.

And then it's probably not going to be great storytelling to have your entire campaign hinge on one (admittedly elaborate) joke that your players may or may not find funny.

2015-03-07, 01:05 PM
I... almost find the clever twist to be more jarring than it would be if you just played the "bad DMing" straight. It's like "I know you guys are going to hate this, but wait, there's more: this is actually all about making you and your characters suffer!" Although I completely appreciate that they will be able to have retribution against the robots that are doing this to them. That is certainly a very cool aspect.

I guess if you go ahead with it, make sure that the "bad DMing" part only lasts long enough to set it all up, then quickly switch over to the retribution part. That seems a little more fun.

Oh, also, a genre shift from High Fantasy to Sci-fi could be pretty jarring, so either make sure your players are cool with it, or else make sure this is planned to be a pretty short campaign. Some of my players would leave the game if we ever played sci-fi. They wouldn't leave from the terrible DM stuff, but the second their character has a blaster rifle instead of a longsword? Forget it, they're gone! And that is without the switcheroo. With a surprise switch, I'd probably never see them again.

But this thread isn't about my players.

It's about your campaign idea!

I think that there is actually a really fun idea here. But instead of the genre switch, I would probably let the players know ahead of time: "I have an idea for a comedic high fantasy game, where I throw as many bad DMing tricks and over-used tropes at you as I can, and you guys react to it all however you want to." Then feel free to have the players go through the silliest stuff you can think of, but don't actually railroad them. Have the DMPC try the charm spell, but it fails, so then he tries to bribe them. Have the king be flabbergasted when the party doesn't save his daughter from the dragon for the 2nd time in a month. Let the players mock or have fun at the expense of the campaign, while still needing to slog through "Oldtropia" together as a team.

Essentially: imagine DM of the Rings (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612) as a campaign - but played for lighthearted fun, not misery. The characters are completely allowed to meta-game and be 4th wall aware. You are allowed to use the best (worst) storylines and tropes you can come up with. And if the players actually genuinely enjoy playing a storyline straight (like saving the princess from the dragon), let them do that too.

I guess what I'm recommending is a deconstruction of the typical badly DMed high fantasy campaign. Actually, I guess that is what your idea is, too. I would just go about it with more initial 4th wall awareness, and no genre switch. But if you think your players would be cool with it all, I would say go for it. It would probably be a pretty fun short comedic campaign.

2015-03-07, 06:58 PM
One of the more important lessons I have learned about being a DM is not to keep whatever is cool about your game secret from the players. Sure, you may like it, but from the player's perspective this isn't a parody of a bad D&D session, it's just a bad D&D session.

Or to put it in a different perspective:
Imagine you're reading the newest installment in a series from your favorite fantasy author. You pick up the book expecting it to be as well written and fun as all the others, and you are excited to find out what happens to the characters next. Little to your expectations you find that the first half of the Twilight series (or some other equally terrible series of novels) has been glued into the story in front of everything, and you have to read through all the pages in the order they were put in the book. Even if you like that kind of stuff, it's not what you would expect, which would make you disappointed. The good stuff happens later, but you have to suffer through all the drama and nonsense before anything good happens. Most people in that situation would just stop reading.

There is a way to accomplish your goals using this plot, but the players have to be aware that the game is working like it is. Maybe roleplay part of a session in which your players are sci-fi characters trying to infiltrate this android compound, until they are captured and forcibly hooked up into the prison-simulation machine which places them in this poorly written fantasy universe. At least then they will try to find bugs in the program, try to escape somehow. Maybe they team up with some of your NPCs in order to complete their quest to the portal to reality (or something like that). It will still feel like railroading, but playing a game as a prisoner who knows it and has a means to escape is much better than playing a prisoner and not knowing it, so it just comes across as a prison simulation.

2015-03-07, 07:03 PM
You read all those threads, but apparently didn't learn the very basic lesson that bait-and-switch is a **** move that rarely ends well? The ironic nod to bad-GMing doesn't really work when you're engaging in bad GMing.

2015-03-07, 07:26 PM
I find this idea rather akin to cooking a meal for your friends and deliberately using tainted meat. And then, after they've already eaten most of it, saying, "Oh, surprise! That stuff you just choked down was just a joke. I've actually fixed you a nice vegetarian pizza."

2015-03-08, 03:03 AM
I don't think it works. One of the recent advice for GMs (though it my go back further) is "don't be clever".

Tricking players by witholding critical information virtually never works out. Setting up a false premise and then turning the campaign into something completely different also never gets applause.

In my experience, it can work quite well. My favorite campaign had two major false premise/reversal moments in it. Another campaign I was in did it somewhat well, but there were a few shaky games in the middle due to some bad existential conversion mechanics for the transition. I've also used it to varying levels of success in my own games. In one, for example, the 'false premise' moment was well received, but the followup was bad because the goal of the next arc was very unclear and the players weren't sure how to proceed. In another, the PCs resolved their major plotline and so we went to a new set of characters for the next 'season' of the game, and the false premise was sort of retroactive (that is, the premise of the previous arc was discovered to have been false by the new PCs).

That said, its a tricky technique - you should first actually experience both a game that does it well and one that does it poorly before trying it yourself (or, have very understanding friends who are willing to help you learn the difference).

The OP's proposed one does not sound to me like one that would work well. Specifically, it has the following problems:

- Player unhappiness compounds: people will tend to remember the things they didn't like about a campaign, and many if not most people will let that harm their enjoyment of the good parts. On the other hand, player happiness does not - players remember the best highlights, but they won't generally add them together. Therefore, a plan that involves making the players unhappy for some period of time and then capitalizing on the relief of that unhappiness to make the highlight better is particularly problematic, because you have to time the period of unhappiness very carefully to prevent it from souring the entire campaign. Foreshadowing relief (e.g. the players know that the problem will be lifted within the next 3 games) is a technique to deal with this issue, but goes against the secret reveal.

- The basic premise sounds like a DM trying to make an excuse so that they can engage in their bad habits without having to try to hide them or fix them: "No, see, it had to be a DMPC because that's what the plot calls for." From the players' point of view, that won't seem particularly clever.

- The 'reveal' type plots that work out are generally when you're going from 'thing #1 that players like' to 'thing #2 that players also like, but keeping the parts of thing #1 that the players liked as well'. Essentially, its a good technique for creating mash-ups and cross-overs that flow more naturally than just starting with both things to start with. Ideally, the players should be excited by the hints of #2 that they uncover, to the point where actually forcing the reveal feels like a reward rather than a punishment or just-so event.

For example: if you had players who like zombie apocalypse games and who also like Whitewolf stuff, a natural 'reveal' game would be to have the players starting as regular people in a zombie apocalypse scenario, and then slowly discovering the existence of magic as part of the root cause behind the apocalypse, with the big reveal being an awakening of the PCs as Mages as the number of un-awakened mortals dwindle and the Consensus falls apart. Then the second segment of the game could be something where the PCs - now with the power needed to seize control of the zombie hordes - deal with the all the supernaturals who come out of the woodwork following the apocalypse. Since each arc needs a goal, the big target could be the possibility of bringing back all who died in the apocalypse, but that project requiring that the PCs invade the afterlife and seize the souls of those who died from the exalted who engineered the zombie apocalypse as a way to obtain billions of souls for their workings.

If your players don't like zombie apocalypse games, the above thing won't work well. They'll just feel that the game sucks. If they don't like Mage, the reveal will be the point where the campaign jumps the shark. If they like both, you have some chance that they'll like zombies + Mage even better together than each alone - but it could still turn out worse than either alone.

Since the players are likely to hate 'a game designed to be stereotypically bad', and probably won't be too thrilled by 'escape under the thumbs of super-powerful reality-altering androids' (its an agency-removing plotline), I wouldn't give this a much chance of working.

2015-03-08, 04:39 AM
It really depends. If your players trust you you can possibly pull it off. I'd probably warn them that there will be a rocky start and they just need to be a bit patient and observant. Just a little something like that will go a long way towards getting them to accept the game. You might consider it spoiling a bit, but in this case I think it's better for the game than trying to go for a complete surprise.

The stumbling block is the 'parody of a bad D&D session'. You need to really drive home the horribleness of it. It needs to be over the top, hammy, and extravagant. The players and PCs need to discover there is something off, and rather quickly. If it's not obvious that something is wrong by the end of the first session, something needs to be done. In short, you need to communicate quickly and obviously (if in not so many words) that you aren't intending to run a crappy DMPC-god game but that there is something else going on.

If any of my GMs were to try something like this what you suggest, I would almost immediately suspect that there was something other than bad GMing at work. I have played with them enough to know that they are better than that. Even when they do bad stuff it's better than outright sidelining of PCs like that. So I would metagame and trust that they had some real point to this. If someone I didn't know that well tried this I'd be very skeptical unless they managed to really convey that there was something weird going on. So trust and expectations are key.