Mine's Cthulhu vs. Conan in a Megadungeon


I was having breakfast with some gaming chums the other, when a rather interesting question barged into the conversation and plonked itself down at the table.

What does your perfect campaign look like?

I’ve never run my perfect campaign. In fact, until last week I’d never really thought much about it. After all, the pursuit of perfection is a fool’s errand. Even if you hit your target (which you won’t) the very best thing that can happen is you are satisfied.

That all said, it’s an intriguing question to ponder. With the vast body of options, mythology and games out there it should be possible—even if you can’t actually run it—to describe your perfect game.

Since that fateful breakfast, I’ve been pondering this question. Breaking my ankle while our running (my own fault) has “luckily” given me some extra time to think.

The Rules

So without further ado, here are some elements of my perfect campaign (assuming the Pathfinder rule set*):

  • Core Rulebook Only: I don’t need tons of options to have fun or to run a good game. I know this is where I lose a lot of people—shiny, new options are cool—but this is my perfect list not yours. I’d go 95% core, with the caveat that I would introduce certain options that made sense to the campaign and the adventures.

  • Low Magic: Magic is an integral part of Pathfinder and I love having it in my games. However, I hate the “Christmas Tree Effect” and magic shops with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. In my perfect campaign, I would radically alter the crafting rules—probably reverting to a quasi-1st edition solution—to reduce the over-reliance on magic items. (Perhaps I should blog about that!) I’d still include magic items (of course) but more of them would have their own back stories, flavour and atypical abilities.

  • Slow Advancement: I love the slow advancement track and including it in my perfect campaign is a complete no-brainer. I’ve previously blogged about why I love the slow advancement track, but in a nutshell I like the pace of the game it promotes and the PCs’ slower development.

  • Characters with Character: In a truly awesome campaign, the PCs would be more than just a collection of stats and magic items. They’d have backgrounds, personalities, hopes and dreams. They’d have successes and failure and would live in our memories for years. They would not be disposable and their personalities and priorities would drive the action.

*I’d also happily have a go at a 2nd-edition campaign, but that would require more thought as my 2nd ed skills are “somewhat” rusty.

Setting & Plot

So with the mechanical side of things out of the way, where would I set this mythical campaign? Obviously—if you know me at all—you’ll know that Greyhawk would be very high up on my list of places to set my perfect campaign.

That said, I’ve recently written my own megadungeon, Gloamhold, (well the 40-page introduction to the megadungeon) and I’d love to set a campaign there. I think megadungeon play has a lot going for it.

Conan Meets Cthulhu: I’m a sucker for pulp fiction; Howard and Lovecraft are my favourite genre authors. I love the world Howard created and I also loved the deep history and cosmic dread running through Lovecraft’s. And, of course, everything is better with tentacles.

Sandbox Style: I like it when players get to make their own meaningful choices to influence the campaign trajectory. That said, I think a sandbox needs boundaries. Limitless choice is rather difficult to prepare for, and just leads to a confused mess or a total lack of focus. It can also lead to choice paralysis among the players. A megadungeon and attendant city such as Languard (along with its hinterland) provide the perfect balance between choice and restriction.

Mix of Challenges: I love dungeon exploration, but sometimes it’s good to have a change of pace. I’d like events in Gloamhold to feed into adventures in the nearby city of Languard (and its surrounds). Obviously, I’d also like the reverse to be true.

And that’s pretty much it. I could waffle on about various points of minutia, but essentially the above represents the bare bones of my perfect campaign.

Everything is Better with Tentacles by Matt Morrow

Everything is Better with Tentacles by Matt Morrow

Just One More Thing…

I’ve got one final, crucial point to make. Everything above is completely irrelevant if I don’t have players who are excited to play in such a campaign. There would be absolutely no point trying to run this game if my players weren’t invested. Given this is my perfect campaign, and I’d, therefore, run it for a very long time, everyone would have to be excited beyond all reason to actually play in it.

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