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D&D 3E
Cross-posted from my livejournal at akitrom's suggestion 
30th-Mar-2005 08:28 am
I’m once again over-analyzing a probable non-issue.

I’ve been playing D&D since 1977, GM’ing (and playing) D&D and other game systems since the 80’s, and running a 3rd Edition game for the past year. As a general rule, I only run published modules. I’ve tried to create modules and it has generally not turned out well. However, I can run a published module well enough that people who say they can’t stand playing in them enjoy it anyway, so go figure.

Up until 3rd Edition came out, my process of running a campaign would be: Tell people I’m going to run. Pick a module. Run it. Pick another module. Run it. Repeat until people get tired of their characters, or move away, or get scared of where the “campaign” is going and want to start over. I put “campaign” in quotes because I rarely have any sort of coherent plan for the long term of the game—I’m just buying modules and running them, so the only connection between them is either purely chance, or not my doing, if I run some set of modules with a story behind them (which I am currently doing—I’m running the d20 modules that first came out when 3rd Edition was published).

And therein lies the problem. One of the main things that I have seen that causes d20 to differ from previous incarnations of D&D is that, GM or player, you gots to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be concrete, or written out, but you have to have a general idea of where things are going and how you’re going to get there. If I had realized this far enough in advance, I would have read through all the modules and made sure to do more foreshadowing than is built into the modules. I would have made sure the players all had fairly definite plans for their characters so that I could build their plans into the plots of the campaign. None of that is vital to 1st or 2nd edition—a fighter is a fighter is a fighter, and you don’t really have to plan ahead for the future of the fighter.

In spite of all this, people seem to be enjoying the campaign. I seem to be enjoying running it. We’re starting to get into some conflicts because of rule variations, but that’s a whole different problem: There are some things that I’m not running by the book because I didn’t know any better, or because I wanted to enforce campaign history from previous FR campaigns, or because “D&D has always worked that way.” I’m now seeing that some of these mods have been poor choices, but I’m feeling like I can’t change them now, because people are used to them, or too much campaign history depends on them, or I don’t know how to fix them. It doesn’t help that they released the 3.5 rules in a horribly un-playtested form, so some of the 3.5 rules are wonderful fixes for awful problems in 3.0, and some of them make no difference, and some of them are horrible fixes for things that worked in 3.0, but you can’t figure any of that out until you buy the rules and use them for a while. That, and it costs $100 to buy a new set of the books (buying a whole new set of rules which don’t necessarily work, overall, any better than the ones I’ve got—now THAT is a great idea).

The next campaign is going to be different, and I think it’s going to be played closer to the rules, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to read every single thing I’ve got on 3.0 and 3.5 and figure out how I’m going to use it, and get all of that written out so that I can hand it to the players so they can give me feedback on it and not go running off in all directions.

Oh, and I’m going to have to come up with a set of modules that I haven’t run for this group yet that has a connected theme or plot. I might end up converting a set of 1st or 2nd edition modules to 3rd, but that would be a lot of work and kind of weird; plus, they’re old-time gaming geeks who have probably been through all of them anyway (Against the Giants, Slavelords, Dragonlance, Temple of Elemental Evil, things like that).

I am also having a serious problem with the Forgotten Realms, now that I know how much of the back-story for the things in the sourcebooks is buried in the novels. Somebody wanted me to run more stuff on the Harpers, and the Red Wizards, and the Zhentarim, and there just isn’t that much information in the books I’ve got on them, and there are very few modules featuring them. I’m not going to read 150 paperbacks so that I can try and write two modules.
30th-Mar-2005 02:38 pm (UTC)
Okay. I'm going to just ignore most of the rant.. and on to my specialty, forgotten realms.

Red Wizards- Find and read the book red wizards. It tells you more information than any other source about them. It's in the harpers series. Basically a group of wizards. The head wizards is in charge of the city-state (currently a lich). The other wizards try to kill or betray each other to climb up the ranks. I think this one is only 300 pages.

Zhentarim - It depends when you play. Once long ago this was BAne's city, but for a while it became Cyric's city, then Tzam's city, now Bane's city again. It's a military controlled evil city of ineffable evil. bad place, don't go.

The Harpers - Supersecret organization of good. FAmous members include Finder Wyvernspur, Elminster, Khelban Blackstaff. They give each other help and seek to keep the Zhents and other evil at bay.

The party should not see much of the harpers if one of them is not one. Zhents can replace bandits at any time. Red wizards now have "enclaves" in almosts every free town where they sell cheap magical items, run ins with them should be easy. Most of them are arrogant.
31st-Mar-2005 01:04 pm (UTC)
You mean Red Magic. There's also an old supplement called Dreams of the Red Wizards.
30th-Mar-2005 02:45 pm (UTC)
I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum, I guess. I've never run a published module for any game and I am continually trying to plan long, grand, epic story arcs. Hell, I don't think I've ever run a campaign in a non-homebrew world, even. So.

The trickiest part of writing your own stuff is not, in my experience, making it balanced and engaging and challenging and what have you ... it's the temptation to railroad the players into your plot. This gets even worse when the PCs take a back seat to plot-critical NPCs.

The easy way to do things is to set up some sort of very generic opening adventure or series thereof. A cave full of goblins. Kobolds in the sewers, digging to collapse the whole town. Along the way the PCs discover hints of something more / accidentally free an ancient evil / flesh out their characters enough that you get some ideas for how to weave them into the plot. Then basically all you have to do is cook up a villain and have him periodically do things the PCs have to thwart, in between normal adventuring. As the PCs get more powerful, the villain may start to do things directly to the PCs, until the whole focus of the campaign becomes PCs vs. villain down to one climactic showdown ... after which, of course, the PCs discover that there was an even bigger, badder evil further up the chain of command.
It's formulaic, but it works.
30th-Mar-2005 04:04 pm (UTC)
Couple of things...

D&D 3.0 vs D&D 3.5: You can get 99% of the 3.5 rules for free on Wizard of the Coast's website. The format is a very straight-forward "just the meat" kinda thing, but that might be all you need.

Converting modules: I'm not sure this'll help, but I ended up converting the old Temple of Elemental Evil to D&D 3.0 for FR and it went over quite nicely. I don't use published modules often, so I started getting creative once I got into the actual Temple itself (renaming the adventure the Bascilica of Bhaal and reworking the major villains...in the process, completely killing the whole node aspect). Still, was much, much fun. My group still makes jokes about Elmer (I think that's his name...the ranger pretending to be the town drunk).

Lucifer >:}
30th-Mar-2005 05:20 pm (UTC)
I think I'm going to have to do something along lucifer's suggestion and take some 2nd edition modules, file the serial numbers off, and translate it into FR stuff.

Red Wizards--they don't go into too much detail about what they do outside of Thay, and inside of Thay it's too dark to read. Sorry, that's dogs. Never mind. Anyway, my players would not do well travelling in a country of slavers.

Wait a minute. Slavers. Thay. Slavelords. Ooh, thanks!

Harpers: A super-secret organization that everybody knows about, all the high-level NPC's I find are either members or friends of members. It looks to me like the only people who don't know about Harpers are commoners who don't matter too much to plots.

The problem with using the SRD (which I have) is that in order to get a print copy, I'd spend so much money on ink that I might as well just buy the new books, and I'm philosophically opposed to that, particularly since only one of my players has them.
31st-Mar-2005 12:37 am (UTC) - Are you sure that you played 2nd edition?
One of the main things that I have seen that causes d20 to differ from previous incarnations of D&D is that, GM or player, you gots to have a plan.

I think that you're mistaking player preference for system necessity. I still have my 2nd edition books, but I don't need to flip through them to tell you that there's no list of random adventure seeds, no tables for fleshed-out human NPCs of any level, and there's NO mechanic for pickup up the monster mannual and finding a creature that will challenge but not threaten the party.

I'd go so far as to say that D&D is the one game that is most ready to run its game as-written without ANY prep work or planning whatsoever.

(Oh, and FWIW, you *did* have a plan in 2e. They were called modules.)

31st-Mar-2005 01:06 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised you were able to find enough 3e modules to keep you going. They have so few compared to 1st ed. Have you looked at any of the old Judges Guild or Role Aids modules? They don't compare well graphically with TSR's products, but their content equals or exceeds it.
31st-Mar-2005 01:13 pm (UTC)
It's taken them a year to get through The Forge of Fury, The Standing Stones, The Siege of Durgam's Keep, and The Dungeon of Death. They're currently in Heart of Nightfang Spire and will end up going through Deep Horizon, Lord of the Iron Fortress and Bastion of Broken Souls, if everything works out.
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