You can spearhead a successful tabletop RPG campaign at your FLGS, and here’s how.
Smaxx Rockatanski, the fighter: “Those naughty giants are no match for us, Goose. We shall smite them all.”
Goose Bronze, the ranger: “With my archery skills, we shall be triumphant this day.”
Smaxx: “Both my shield bearer and my standard bearer will bask in the warm glow of glorious battle.”
Goose: “Let the giants summon their deity, and we’ll vanquish him too.”
Smaxx: “Well, that’s getting ahead of ourselves, but I’m inclined to believe you!”
The running of a table-top RPG campaign at the FLGS is a fun challenge for any referee, a nice way to meet new friends, and an ever nicer way to keep old friends together. It’s a lot like boating. Sometimes there’ll be choppy waters and inclement weather. Sometimes there’ll be smooth sailing and sunny skies. It’s all part of the adventure.
Know the system, love the system, nurture the system, and respect the system. Whether it’s first edition AD&D, Boot Hill, Call Of Cthulhu, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Gamma World, Hackmaster, World Of Darkness, Pathfinder, Star Frontiers, Traveller, Vampire: The Masquerade, or any of the many other tabletop RPG options available to us these days. Follow your heart, and allow the game to take on a life of its own.
Do your homework. Read through the source material, at your own pace, until you feel familiar enough with it. If you are running a home-brewed sandbox campaign setting, remember to read (and re-read) all of your notes, before the campaign begins. This will give you the confidence that you’ll need, to be at the helm of this wild ride, and you’ll then be prepared to help steer the sessions in directions both expected and unexpected.
Brimming with confidence, you’ll be ready to establish the framework of your campaign. Find your happy medium between oversimplifying things and overcomplicating things, then go for it. You’ve probably seen the KISMIF acronym before (“Keep It Simple, Make It Fun”). It helps to see this again, and to keep it in mind when preparing any tabletop RPG campaign.
Examples of oversimplification include:
Having the PC’s interact with the King directly, when they arrive at the royal castle to obtain their mission.
Wouldn’t it be more enriching for the players, if they interacted with members of the king’s court as well? Think of all the fun a referee can have, with the King’s trusted advisors, alchemists, chancellors, nobles, princes, princesses, the Queen herself, and, of course, the jester. The sky is the limit here.
Having the PC’s interact with the barkeep directly, when they arrive at the Lightning Inn (in Lightningfoot), in search of adventure, the imbibing of beverages, and the hearing of rumors.
A referee might also want to allow for interactions with the bearded stranger warming his old hands near the fireplace, or the foppish dandy fellow with the well-oiled mustache standing near the wine cask. Perhaps they have some rather interesting tales to tell. Sure, the barkeep is fun to chat with, but it needn’t stop there. Tavern encounters can be populated with a colorful cast of NPCs. Remember that old chestnut, “getting there is half the fun”? The same can be said of NPC creation for your campaign adventure as well.
Having the PC’s travel across a hex map without frequently encountering commonfolk during their travels.
Remember to include other adventurers, caravans, charlatans, farmers, merchants, peasants, soldiers, and as many others as your imagination will allow. A favorite trope is the henchmen-for-hire. For every PC in the party, there ought to be plenty of porters, shieldbearers, standardbearers, and torchbearers, who the PCs can meet and hire for their next dungeon delve, by enticing them with a share of the loot and more.
Examples of overcomplication include:
Having more than one major antagonist in the picture at the same time.
The players will be plenty satisfied having to thwart just one major villain at a time. It’s perfectly acceptable for the referee to sprinkle minor villains into the adventure as he or she pleases, but a surefire way to elevate your campaign’s chances for being a memorable one is to inject major villains into the campaign’s bloodstream only sparingly.
Thinking of the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Players Handbook as rulebooks.
There’s a reason why the word “Rules” appears nowhere in the titles of those classic books. They are guidelines. A referee may include sections of those books in their 1E AD&D sessions, modify them to suit your sessions, or exclude them altogether. If a particular section of those books stands in the way of your tabletop RPG players and a good time, just skip it.
Having ten different blacksmiths in a village, when all that is needed to serve the purpose of the adventure, is one or two blacksmiths.
Two is perfect, actually. Have them be rival blacksmiths! Remember to also include a whitesmith (yes, there is such a thing.)
When your preparations are complete, and you are ready to begin refereeing the campaign, it’s time to approach your FLGS, pitch your campaign idea to them, and inquire about your chances of running it at the FLGS. Be humble. Be polite. Be grateful for the opportunity. Bring positive energy along with you when you enter the shop. And, remember, KISMIF.
Ask the FLGS about their existing table-top RPG schedule. See which games are represented. If you see that your game system is already represented on their gaming schedule, that’s no cause for alarm. It actually helps your cause. It means that the FLGS is already familiar with your system, and they are overtly supportive of it. If your game system does not appear on the list, this helps your cause too. After all, variety is the spice of life. And you’d be bringing something entirely new to the table; pun intended.
Recruit the players. In an open-gaming format at a FLGS, ask your friends to join in as well. The FLGS can actively provide players too. Many referees consider the “sweet spot” to be 6 or 7 players, for a table-top RPG. 3 players is also good, as is 8 players. In my own experience, any fewer than 3, or any more than 8, can jeopardize a campaign, regardless of how well-thought-out it is. Have a care, not to understock the fridge, and not to capsize the boat, as it were.
Promote the campaign. Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media can be used with great effectiveness. If the FLGS has a website, offer to write a fun blog there, chronicling the campaign along the way. Not only would this be a shining example of your dedication to the craft, but it also boosts awareness of the FLGS. Everybody wins.
Keep a close eye on player chemistry. Sooner or later, there will be a turnover of players. There’s no way around it. “Stranger danger” is a thing. Not all personalities mesh well with those of others. After a while, you’ll develop a keen ability to identify which players are having fun – without it seeming like they’re trying too hard (and also without getting on the nerves of the referee or the other players). Those are the players you’ll want to keep. Remember to liberate other players often, so they can find other gaming groups instead, which are a better fit for them. Excellent chemistry in a gaming group also means that there’ll be a happy referee. The campaign becomes an easier sell to prospective players at the FLGS when player chemistry is already excellent, and every FLGS likes that.
Keep the adventure going, in-between gaming sessions. And again, this is where social media comes in. Your gaming group can have its own secret Facebook group, for example, in which the referee posts little tales about other events happening concurrently in the same region. It widens the scope of the campaign, and it gives the referee a broader canvas upon which to paint his or his masterpieces. Don’t fret about metagaming. It’s acceptable for players to know about other goings-on in the realm (even if their PCs aren’t supposed to know such information.)
Volunteer to host painting parties at the FLGS (for the painting of minifigs), on days when it won’t interfere with campaign gameplay. Activities like this are healthy for morale, and it lets other gamers in the FLGS see how much fun your chosen hobby is. It grants you the opportunity to hone your skills as a painter of minifigs (never a bad thing,) plus, in my own case, it gives me the chance to finally get around to painting that paladin (and that beholder, and that shambling mound) that I’ve been meaning to paint for the last seven weeks, while enjoying the camaraderie of kindred spirits at the same time. Two birds, one stone.
Another fun way to lend a hand at the FLGS is to demo a game; be it a boardgame, a cardgame, or another RPG. I particularly enjoy doing this with foreign games. We see so much of the domestic games, and it’s nice to be thought of as “that cultured individual who introduced me to a game from Italy, or from England.”
Invite your photographer friends to come and take pictures at the FLGS, preferably while your tabletop RPG is being enjoyed. Smartphone cameras are great and all, but nothing trumps a real camera in the hands of a real photographer. Everyone loves fifteen-minutes-of-fame. The photographer gets to feel special for a day, and gets to expand their portfolio a little bit. The players get to later see themselves being tagged in pictures on social media. The FLGS benefits from the extra exposure. It’s more win than win/win. It’s win/win/win.
Begin each session at the FLGS with a quick-and-dramatic recap of where the adventure had last ended. Top it off with a monologue. For example, “And so, the curtain rises on this next chapter of our Maure Castle adventure. When last we left our heroes, they had slain Rockfist Rockheart; a deity of the stone giants who dwell beneath the north face of the Zooberus Mountains. The killing blow, as delivered by Clint Beastwood the ranger, appears to have triggered a deadly cave-in! We’ll need to see seven successful DEX checks for each PC and NPC right now, if they are to escape unscathed from the crumbling sanctum of the stone giant lord!”
End each session at the FLGS with a cliffhanger of some sort. For example, “And so the curtain falls on another chapter of GDQ1-7, in which our heroes arrived at the port town of Urseid, only to find that it has been ruined by a posse of bloodthirsty hill giants. The wharf is in pieces, many of the dwellings of the townsfolk are in shambles, and perhaps most troubling of all…Weird Peet’s Potions & Puddings is now a heap of smoldering wood. What has become Weird Peet? Will the port town of Urseid be able to rebound from this sad state of affairs? Join us next time, and let’s all find out, shall we?”
The ending of each session, should also include an open-and-genuine expression of gratitude towards whoever is at the helm of the FLGS that day. If the owner is present, thank the owner. If it’s the manager, thank the manager. Let your players see this. If reflects well on you, and it reflects well on your campaign. Be appreciative. Be courteous. Encourage your players to do the same.
Communicate with the owner and/or management when it’s time for a shake-up. If there is an attendance shortfall in your campaign that meets on Saturdays, close the book on it, thank everyone involved, and announce that a new adventure begins in four weeks. Keep those players who you’d like to keep for the next adventure. Liberate the others, and keep your FLGS in the loop. You can even allow the FLGS to contribute ideas towards the next adventure. Perhaps the FLGS also knows of other players who’d be a good fit for the new adventure. You’ll know, better than anyone else in the group, when it’s time for a shake-up. When the time comes, pull the trigger and keep the wind in your sails.
Read more books. A great way to impress the FLGS is to always be creative. A great way to stoke the fires of your creative mind is to read. Whether you’re reading the Appendix N authors, or reading a back-issue of Dragon magazine, or reading a Tim Kask module, or reading a play by George Bernard Shaw, or reading an action thriller by Brad Thor, it’s all good. Do yourself this one favor. Read. Inspiration awaits you.
Distinguish the campaign, and make it stand out from other campaigns. There are countless ways to accomplish this. Give it some thought. Surprise yourself. Reward PCs with XP bonuses when the players wear certain shirts at the sessions. Reward PCs with combat bonuses when they personify excellence in role-playing. Have one day be “Double Damage Day”. Have another day be “Double XP Day”. However you choose to go about it, go ahead and add a little spice to your campaign. It will endear your campaign to both the FLGS and the players. And, who knows? Perhaps your innovation will even catch fire with other gaming groups. In this age of viral videos, there’s every reason to believe that your ideas can become an overnight sensation somehow.
One example of an idea, with a 1e AD&D campaign at our FLGS, is the “BOOMdice” idea. Here’s how it works. When a PC rolls a natural 20 in combat, that’s double damage. Roll 1d20 again. If it’s another natural 20, that’s triple damage. Roll 1d20 again, last time now. If it’s another natural 20, the player then gets to roll ALL of his or her dice for damage. KISMIF.
You and the FLGS are on the same team. Many things will happen along the way. Players will come and go. It is the natural ebb and flow of things. Lighten up. Loosen up. And remember the wisdom of these parting words: The less you expect things to happen, the more prepared you are for the unknown.
Smaxx: “I knew it! Those dastardly giants were no match for us, Goose.”
Goose: “Right you are, Smax. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s no challenge we cannot conquer.”
Smaxx: “When my fellow fighters at the Order Of Emeffpi learn of this victory, there’ll be a celebratory parade in our honor.”
Goose: “When my fellow fighters at the Order Of Skagg Turrki learn of this moment, there’ll be a great feast in our honor, of wild boar and duck!”
Smaxx: “Well, what are we waiting for then? Let us be on our way!”