March 9, 2010

Dynastic Campaign Part One

I have seen games that allow a player to build kingdoms and large organizations. I have seen game mechanics for playing the children of your current character; giving them inheritance and bonuses dependent on how well the character did before he died or retired. However, I have not seen a system for playing a dynastic family through several generations, as they change a campaign setting.

The basic premise of a Dynastic Campaign is that the story of the campaign is spread out over several generations of a family or organization. The idea is that no single character will be able to participate in the end of the campaign; instead one of his heirs will do that. The campaign is not defined by what is happening right now, not by singular adventures, but rather one in which a grand story is being told over several generations of characters, all linked through a common cause and ties of blood.

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Let the players know up front what the plan is. Players approach character generation and play style differently if they plan on playing that character until the end. Knowing the first character they generate will be handing on his legacy to another character changes how the player thinks and plays. This is a good thing. An adventure becomes more about the story that will be told after and the loot gained is not done for “selfish” reasons, but rather for something beyond that character.

Some good reasons to run a Dynastic Campaign:
• It allows for role-playing not often seen in a typical campaign. Securing a wife and creating children is not something often done by “lone-wolf” adventurers. With the players knowing they can not complete the campaign with their current characters they will seek out these sorts of role-playing encounters. These encounters will also carry more meaning than they typically do.
• Players will be less selfish for their immediate character as they realize the character will soon be gone, but something else will replace it. Their actions are more about securing the heritage of their successor and less about promoting themselves. As a side consequence, players will often alter their play style to be less “lone-wolf” and confrontational. Making an enemy of someone they do not need to may cause problems for their inheritor. The players become more aware of the consequences of their actions upon their next character.
• It gives the players a chance to try out different classes over the course of a campaign. Most long running campaigns will see a player playing the same class for years of real-time. This allows for a variety of classes and perhaps even different races as half breeds can enter the picture.

There needs to be a unifying theme or goal to the campaign; something that can allow different generations to contribute to the overall goal without bringing the story to an abrupt end. This can be done the same way as a regular campaign, but spread over generations rather than months. Similar to how a DM will keep the main bad guy in the shadows, the main object of the campaign can be kept out of reach from the players until the end. As time progresses the campaign becomes less about the characters and more about the goal.

Here are some quick unifying goals that can be spread out over a campaign.
• A prophecy reveals the death of an evil god (one who prevents heroic souls from journeying on to a heavenly paradise upon death) and outlines what must be done to accomplish this noble task. Different generations will be able to move this prophecy along its course.
• The world is under the control of an evil race and the players and their descendants work toward freeing the world from this tyranny.
• The world has lost an important commodity it needs to allow civilization to survive (something such as magic or water) and the characters spend generations fixing the root cause.
• Wilderness is cleared out and slowly, over generations and political marriages, a kingdom is formed and tested until one day it stands strong.

Character levels and leveling needs to be handled differently. From the start it has to be explained that the level of the characters will vary as generations change. Each generation will be able to level a few times before a new generation comes along, but the starting level of a generation will be different. My suggestion is to start the first generation at level 1, so the players get a sense of beginning anew.
Future generations can start higher or lower than previous generations depending on when they become relevant. If a generation is short then it makes sense for the descendants to be of lower level. If the current generation lives for a long time, it is easily conceivable that the next generation will already be experienced. In either case, fame is determined by actions rather than level, so it is possible to have a high level but not yet have the fame of the previous generation. Level is instead an indicator of how trained a character is as opposed to how much they have accomplished.
I would suggest allowing the “final” generation to play out the last 5 levels, perhaps even more. This time should be one of epic proportions and a lot of plot threads and story points will all need to be tied up and dealt with. A typical campaign will see about 5-6 generations.

Passing on legacy is an important part of such a campaign. The goal is to have each generation pass on something significant to the next generation. This gives the players a sense that their previous character’s actions were relevant and not wasted.
The easiest legacies to pass on are items, including such things as lands and titles.

I would also recommend using what I am calling the Moniker system. This consists of assigning a Moniker to the previous generation and allowing a special bonus to be passed on to the next generation. These Moniker bonuses can be carried over from generation to generation. By the time the last generation is being played the Moniker bonuses will have an impact on game play but should not be unbalancing. (If you are uncomfortable giving away free character bonuses you can make these feats and require a character to buy them.)

As an example let’s assume the previous character was named Borge and he was well known for his exceptional strength. It would make sense in-game that his children would have gained some of his strength, as well as future generations. Upon the death or retirement of Borge we can apply a Moniker to Borge and henceforth he would be known as Borge the Strong, as the tales of his deeds are spread. His children would be known as the children of Borge the Strong and no one would be surprised when the children displayed a greater strength than normal.

Sample Monikers:
“the Strong”, “the Mighty”, “the Powerful” +1 Strength
“the Enduring”, ”the Resolute”, “the Stubborn” +1 Constitution
“the Quick”, “the Nimble”, “the Agile” + 1 Dexterity
“the Witty”, “the Clever”, “the Gifted” +1 Intelligence
“the Wise”, “the Prudent”, “the Pious” +1 Wisdom
“the Beautiful”, “the Charming”, “the Magnificent” +1 Charisma
“the Lucky”, “the Blessed”, “the Fortunate” +1 saving throws
“the Sure”, “the Steady” +1 attack

The second part of this article will give a couple of examples of some full length campaigns so you can get a better idea of how one can be set up.
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