Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Open Table vs. Multi-tier Campaigns

Here are a few things from the Trollopulous campaign in 2022 that bugged me:

  • The emergence of the perpetual “mono-party” that is only marginally different from the “spotlighted” fellowship style party of conventional rpg play
  • The development of a single dominant patron that somehow gets involved in everything happening in the campaign
  • The first level player character that easily gains one or more levels every session when he tags along with a mid-level party
  • The guy that respawns as a new character in the middle of a complex sequence of sessions and that can sacrifice him in such a way as to disrupt a complex scenario that has developed organically over a long time
  • The “patron” player running a solitaire domain in the background who over time introduces so many characters, factions, and forces into the campaign that it becomes difficult for a mortal referee to create scenarios that accommodate them
  • The 6th level characters that have so many henchmen of so many types that there’s really no point for most of the other players at the table to even have shown up at all

Now, I hasten to add here that everybody had a blast last year, the people involved in making the things happen last year were all smarter than me and none of these things seemed out of line at the time. It’s only in retrospect that I think the setup of the campaign as a whole should be reassessed. Most people involved in the campaign don’t want to make any drastic changes to how we did things last year– it was that fun!

The reason I don’t take these protests seriously is because I don’t think it is consistent with how Gygax would have wanted it:

The danger of a mutable system is that you or your players will go too far in some undesirable direction and end up with a short-lived campaign. Participants will always be pushing for a game which allows them to become strong and powerful far too quickly. Each will attempt to take the game out of your hands and mold it to his or her own ends. To satisfy this natural desire is to issue a death warrant to a campaign, for it will either be a one-player affair or the players will desert en masse for something more challenging and equitable.

Anyone honest about it should be able to admit that this hits just a little too close to home for us to ignore it outright. In that light, these are some thoughts I’ve been kicking around to address this:

  • There should be a low level tier of play within the campaign where people can experience the challenge of actually working up a first level character
  • The middle tier of play should have a qualification level. If you don’t have, say, a third level character in your stable then you don’t get to play on nights when the midlevel characters are adventuring.
  • If there is some way that the name-level characters can enhance the experience of people playing at the other two tiers, I am all ears. But if these high-level characters want to play in the kind of epic monster game they truly deserve, they are probably going to have to wait for one our yearly throwdowns to get it.

The gut feeling of the game group is, I would say, that this would probably be an overcorrection given the number of things that actually went right last year. Obviously, with more players, more sessions, and a dedicated referee for each tier of play we would have more options in how we go about this.


4 responses to “The Open Table vs. Multi-tier Campaigns

  1. MishaBurnett March 21, 2023 at 6:57 pm

    There is an art to running an adventure with a broad range of PC levels. I think I’ve seen it done best when one or two high level PCs lead a group of low level PCs (Like Gandalf and the dwarves in The Hobbit). A low level PC in a high level group will feel useless and there isn’t much a DM can do to mitigate that. On the other hand, being the big wheel in a group of noobs can be fun, and even a single name level PC can’t do everything. So you might consider that as an alternative party configuration.

  2. Doof (@DoofMoneyz) March 22, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    I would think the boosting problem should be counteracted by experience-penalties when doing non-level appropriate content, prehaps it’s not enough

    • jeffro March 22, 2023 at 8:33 pm

      Someone suggested treasures divided up on the basis of level– with xp shares for treasure being the same.

      Of course, if you enforced that, then you would still need a low-level thread within the campaign so people could do the right thing.

  3. simontmn March 24, 2023 at 6:04 am

    My experience has been that the lowest level PC should be at least half the level (rounded down) of the highest level PC in the group. So some suitable level ranges are 1-3, 2-5, 3-7, 4-9, and 5-11.

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