Campaign Milestones

Following on from last week’s post, I figured that I could spend some time showing you what I have planned for the next couple of adventures. After all, with this plan in mind, I can work out the narrative and keep the campaign exciting.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the milestone method of advancement. That is, I prefer to dole out experience levels rather than experience. This is particularly useful with systems like D20, where you have a relatively uniform progression, so individual character experience becomes much less important.

That said, this can become an issue when you have a staggered party, with a mix of levels, for whatever reason. So for that reason, whilst I typically plan a campaign and it’s adventures based on experience levels, I do still dole out the experience rewards as set amounts. This way, whilst I can control to some degree the rate that character’s level up, my players also have some degree of control over what characters they want to advance, aware that taking higher level characters may not see them advance as much as others would.

Of course, I am running a fairly non-standard campaign. Due to the fact that there are only two players in my game, I have instead opted to go with an approach that focuses more on the campaign narrative than on the player character and party narrative. In this way, rather than sticking with one party with the same characters, the players get to swap around characters between adventures, for a more sandbox approach.

Now, I could repeat myself over the background, the whys and wherefores of the campaign, my choice of using starter sets, and the order they go in, and so forth, but that would get boring pretty fast. Instead, I am going to look at outlining the campaign roadmap, and how it relates to character progression.

Using starter sets means that I can break the campaign down into discrete chunks, often with a different purpose for each chunk. After all, this isn’t just a storyline, but a teaching method of the game, and for a geek like me, also a chance to look back at some great nostalgic treats.

In the discussion on Starter Sets, we can see pretty much three such chunks:

  1. The Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons Game Boxed Set (featuring Zanzer’s Dungeon).
  2. The Dungeons and Dragons Fast Play Series (featuring the Vale).
  3. The Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game (featuring D&D 3.x/d20).

The first was a single, albeit rather long adventure, in which the basics of the game got taught. In this way, my players learned how to create characters, how to fight, and how to adventure. However, because it’s only a single dungeon adventure, there wasn’t any need to worry about experience advancement. The characters started at Level 1, and would remain Level 1 throughout. Having escaped, the party would return to town, where rather than advancing to Level 2, we would leave them and move onto the next chunk of the campaign.

The second chunk consists of a number of adventures in a basic setting, known as the Vale. Here, having learnt the basics of adventuring in Zanzer’s Dungeon, the players get to learn about what makes a campaign. It is here that the players get to start thinking about the basics of advancement, although in the somewhat more restricted Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition system, as key decisions like character generation were already done, but the players still get the thrill of advancement, as well as learning things like how to prepare for adventures.

The third chunk of the campaign also features a number of adventures. This time, these adventures are played using the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules, which give the players much more freedom to adventure and advance, without overwhelming them with lots of possibilities. The adventures are still pretty basic, but there’s still that sense of accomplishment and learning, by the end of which, the players should be focused more on exploring options than worrying about what they can or cannot do.

After these three chunks, I have a treat for the players. In Zanzer’s Dungeon, a further adventure was teased – Stonefast. This is a partially stocked dungeon, which GMs can use to further practice their dungeon stocking techniques that they first learnt in the Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons Game. However, instead of stocking merely five rooms, they get to stock over thirty. This makes an ideal reward for the players, as I intend to use Stonefast to tie up the majority of the campaign, as well as seed any further developments and adventures to come. After all, I can place whatever I want here, and with several “villains” having fled during the adventures, it’s a good time to settle scores before moving on to other pastures.

These chunks are the milestones in the campaign, and I have a few, larger, so-called chunks to work on later on. For example, I am considering long-term plans to have the characters explore Thunder Rift and the Known World of Mystera at a later point, which may or may not keep the characters at early levels of the game in various ways.

But what about experience, I hear you ask. Well, this is easy, as the road map basically involves planning out adventures. I am lucky, in a way, my players aren’t very proactive, so they don’t often decide that they want to strike out in new directions. Instead, they seem somewhat happy for me to provide the seeds of adventure for them to follow. As such, I know that they will basically follow any adventure given to them, and tend to enjoy it, without too much worry about things like character narratives.

For the second chunk, I am using the Fast Play adventures Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern, as well as the three adventures in the Dungeons and Dragons Silver Anniversary Adventure Game which also takes place in the Vale. Now, both of the Fast Play adventures featured the same starter adventure, the Ruined Tower, which features four PCs, and then introduce another four additional PCs to choose from. These same PCs are also all featured in the Dungeons and Dragons Silver Anniversary Game, so carrying them over is pretty simple. That’s 8 PCs, or two different parties.

With this in mind, it’s simple enough to split these eight PCs into two groups. The plan is that one group will go on one of the adventures, whilst the other will go on the other. I will let my players choose which four PCs go on which adventure, of course, but they will need to think carefully, as there’s only a single cleric, and a single thief, amongst all 8 characters. As such, the players can’t neccessarily just take all their best characters on one adventure – to succeed, they must choose what characters they think will be suited to each adventure and play accordingly.

I intend to use Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern as the first two adventures to choose from, although I am currently only going to only present the Wrath of the Minotaur adventure for consideration. Basically, whomever doesn’t go on Wrath of the Minotaur WILL go on the Eye of the Wyvern adventure instead. Characters completing either adventure should gain enough experience to advance to Level 2.

After this, the players will again be presented with one of two adventures from the Silver Anniversary game. Once again, anyone who doesn’t go on the first adventure will go on the second. Characters completing either adventure will advance to Level 3. With this, a final mission will be presented, and four of the characters can be chosen to attempt this, advancing to Level 4 should they succeed.

The overall aim here is to give the players choices without overwhelming them. So I am not going with saying “Here’s twenty eight characters, choose who to play.” But I am not also going with “Here’s one character you get to play with for the rest of your life.”

The simple fact is that I know my players, and I know that they will get overwhelmed with decision paralysis. Thus, I want to limit their decisions to those that are meaningful, whilst allowing them to impact on the campaign. It’s a chance for them to explore what they want to play, without feeling too tied down or overwhelmed with the burdens of character creation and character advancement right at the start of the game.

The aim of chunk two is to give them that, in the context of a basic campaign, so that they can get used to making more and more decisions, representing the various stages of the game. In the first chunk, the focus was on combat decisions, as they went from one encounter to the next. In the second chunk, I want them to start thinking about how to prepare for an adventure, to take on some degree of party management, and get to appreciate character advancement.

As for the characters that have gone before? As stated before, none of them are gone forever. They are still there, as back ups, ready for play if the players want to have them explore Stonefast when it comes to wrapping things up…

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Da' Vane

I am the designer and writer behind the website.