Somehow I expected to be blogging a lot more during quarantine. Anyway.
There are as many ways to play RPGs as there are people playing them, so it’s worth making sure GM and players are on the same page before you start a whole campaign. No reason to assume that the game you want to run is the game your friends want to play.
The trick (assuming you’re the GM) is to make sure your prospective players have an good idea of what your game is going to look like, and what the tone’s going to be. Then you either convince your friends to try out your game, or go find a group which actually wants to play it. Nothing wrong with that! Just don’t run a game you’re not enthusiastic about for the benefit of your friends. That’s how we ended up with Peter Jackson half-heartedly directing The Hobbit.
My way of managing expectations is my Campaign Pitch Doc. I’ve set it up as a page on this site. It’s a document which describes all the campaigns I’m interested in running. (I got the idea from a Matt Colville video.) I try to make each pitch interesting to read and short. My friends have a high tolerance for my bullshit by now, but nobody wants to do RPG homework. If nobody can be bothered reading your campaign pitches, there’s no point in writing them.
Whenever I’m ready to start a new campaign, I either pick one from the list and send it to some friends who might be interested, or I send the whole thing to a group chat and let people choose what they want to play. It’s worked well so far. (I think part of the trick is that I try to keep my campaigns short, done within a year. If everyone likes a game, we can do a sequel in the same setting.)
Each campaign pitch in the Doc follows a set structure, based on what I think’s important in a game and what’s relevant to prospective players. Some things worth noting are: what are some pop-culture reference points for the setting? Will we need any safety tools? And just why the hell would people want to play in it, anyway?
Here’s an example of how I lay out a pitch: Midnight Sun, a game of dungeon-running “canaries” during the Klondike Gold Rush.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold; / The Arctic trails have their secret tales / That would make your blood run cold…
—Robert W. Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee
It is 1898, and gold has been discovered in the Yukon. Thousands of prospectors are making their way northwards to make their fortunes. They don’t know what they’re in for. The terrible things which spill out from the World Below have left dozens of mines abandoned and boarded shut. But there’s something about the thought of all that gold which plays on a man’s mind. There are those desperate enough, mad enough, to venture deep underground in search of abandoned gold. The miners have a word for you: CANARIES. Get rich or die trying.
Appx. N: Jack London stories, To Build a Fire, Dominion Creek, Songs of a Sourdough
Player buy-in: Snow cowboy dungeon-crawling.