There has been some grumbling within my group over the use of several starter sets to create the campaign that we are playing set in the Vale. Mostly this is about the characters – they don’t seem to gain experience and grow, and it doesn’t seem as if their actions have any meaning to the campaign setting.
I can see where my players are coming from, the game has been going on for about a year, and in that time they have played three different sets of 1st level characters, often with the same composition of Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Mage.
Admittedly, some of this has been because of interruptions in our gaming schedule – including a three month hiatus when Sian and I were unable due to having foreign house guests with us. But even so, I can see why they might be getting a little confused.
The point is that I wanted to combine several starter sets together, because of various reasons. I wanted to use Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon because of the tutorial nature of it’s adventure – ordinary villagers escaping from a wizard’s dungeon. I wanted to use Have and the Vale because it is a simple yet well designed tutorial setting. Finally, I wanted to use the 3rd edition D&D adventure game because I still consider 3.x to be the simplest system, but capable of easy customisation. Not only does this mean three different starter sets, but also meant gaming across three different editions, and that can be quite the challenge for players and GMs in it’s own right.
The problem with starter sets is that they focus on simple, low level play, as they are a teaser often to encourage groups to purchase the full rules and supplements. They typically feature the same four basic classes, as these all provide the basic functions which are deemed neccessary for a decent party for the relevent editions.
A significant issue is that the low-level focus means a low-level limit. The Basic D&D game set provided information for levels 1 to 3. The Easy to Master Revised D&D set provided information for levels 1 to 5. Some starter sets also decide that the pregenerated characters should be higher level, often 2 or 3, as this makes them less fragile and more heroic for newer plays. All of this equates to a small window of growth, within which to squeeze everything.
This doesn’t make it impossible though, especially when you add the fact that many sets often include extra characters. This can make it more confusing than just playing a single party, but it does allow for more adventures, and a better campaign storyline that focuses more on what happens during the adventures, than what happens with the PCs.
This doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t advance. They will, and it’s no secret that I am a big fan of the milestone system, if only because it saves the maths involved in trying to keep track of experience. This puts me in more control of how and when the characters advance.
Now, I know that my players would prefer to have just one (or two) characters that they can level up, because they can get more into the role, but that’s just one way of telling the story.
I do have a plan on how I want the story to progress, and the adventures are simple enough that there’s not a lot of branching to deal with. I will give the players some control – mainly, which PCs to use for which adventures, but with some requirements, because I know that without them, they will want to stick with the same PCs, without even taking into consideration the level window of the campaign.
As an added bonus, there’s plenty of PCs to use as a back up should things go wrong. It can be annoying to lose a favoured character, but with a back up, it’s not so vital that they have to be revived, and even then, restoring a character can become an adventure in it’s own right.
Ultimately, this may not be the type of game that my players are used to in Dungeons and Dragons, telling the type of stories that revolve around a single set of characters. Rather, it’s an ensemble cast telling the story of an area and it’s past. In addition, the game is telling a story of D&D through time, and how it has evolved.
But mostly, it’s me pulling the strings and tying everything together in a way that I hope my players will ultimately enjoy, that isn’t just about characters gaining levels and getting stronger…