By - April 9, 2012 - 11 Comments

Making an RPG ‘Bucket List’

After a previous DM’ing article and the first commenter asked for more bucket list stuff I thought I would write an article regarding d10 RPG Bucket List items.  Here are mine.
1. Play a party that is the same race
We already have an article regarding this particular type of campaign.  But in order to summarize: imagine the awesomeness of a party that consists of only Halflings, Elves, Dwarves, etc.

2. Play a party that is the same class
Of course the most famous example of this is how Wizards of the Coast got its name, a party of all wizards who traveled Faerun’s Sword Coast… but in all actuality this has some amazing potential.
In almost every campaign there are organizations that cater to one specific class. I’m thinking guilds, colleges, churches, and the like. Perhaps your party wishes to be a new thieve’s guild and find an urban campign and all the political intrigue a welcome challenge. Or perhaps an ecumenical council made up of a variety of clerics wishing to stop a greater threat.
Multi-classing would most likely happen in such a party in order to grant greater utility. Perhaps one thief is also a cleric of the god of thievery or a cleric of the god of magic is also learned in arcane spellcraft.

3. Play characters that cross a variety of genres
This would be one of the most challenging campaigns, in my opinion. But with OGL systems and a variety of cross-genre rules sets it is not out of the realm of possibilities. If you would like to switch rules systems mid-campaign you are more than welcome to go for it but it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
How the genres are crossed is a decision that is both complicated and exhilarating. This could mean a straight genre mash-up like Cowboys vs. Aliens or an Aboriginal zombie apocalypse. Or is this expressed simply as planar travel? Time travel?
Or perhaps a TPK is actually the way the party moves on to the next world or genre (a’la  Stephen King’s Dark Tower series).This particular type of campaign now offers unique roleplaying opportunities. Do the characters remember everything from the past world/genre? How does a modern cop learn to use a crossbow? Or are only certain parts of the character kept whole from leap to leap (motivation, alignment, skills but not feats, etc.)
This may even allow for a DM switch without losing campaign continuity. For example, when the characters leave the aboriginal zombie apocalypse perhaps they are now transported into the Wild West. The old DM can step down and a player can become the next DM. An NPC can become a PC and vice versa.

4. Play a completely low magic campaign
This is usually called low fantasy, as magic is a staple in the fantastical stories that inspire such gaming. The standard D&D experience is one that relies on magic in the form of spells, weapons, armor, etc. It is written into the rules and so all sorts of game balance issues take it into account.  But if the characters intentionally don’t have access to magic (such as in the Bad-Guys-Won Midnight setting) then everything is different.  Now combat is quite dangerous because with no ability to heal or raise from the dead, characters need to rely more on stealth, diplomacy, and possibly even tactical retreats in order to survive in the long term. But this does not take the magical completely out. There can still be dragons and fey, but the party itself has little to no access to magic, thus making the characters take center stage and not the spells and items they wield.

5. Play a historical campaign
From “low fantasy” to “no fantasy” this is the rpg version of historical fiction. This of course is the inspiration for any number of historical war games, but in an RPG it allows you to get personal and really delve into the character motivations in any number of historical periods. Pick a historical period or an event and use it as inspiration. With so much history at our disposal from a variety of human cultures I believe there are limitless options even in a no-fantasy setting.

6. Play a complete sandbox campaign
The end of the railroad line, you’re in sandbox country now. Relying on nothing but random tables, this campaign truly offers the original D&D experience. Paizo’s Kingmaker is a good hybrid of the “railroad” and “sandbox” campaigns, offering major plotlines and quests but also having a good balance of random elements that require the use of encounter tables. But to go completely of the rails so to speak is a unique challenge that only the most stalwart and traditional of gamers still try to accomplish.
This doesn’t mean that your 1st level PC’s cannot ever truly experience a great wyrm red dragon should the DM roll that, just having it fly overhead can cause all sorts of roleplaying opportunities as they all dive for cover, tremble in fear, swear an oath to slay it or make a personal note of where it goes in order to steal its treasure at a later date.

7. Play villains
Many times we gamers prefer heroics. Or at the very least, anti-heroics (we all know Han shot first). All of our favorite stories ultimately are about good triumphing over evil. But sometimes it can be cathartic to break out of that mold. It is important to note that a master villain is typically played solo (with minions) because at the heart of evil is ego and selfishness. This means that a party of villains might end up stabbing each other in the back and this may not be so much fun (except for the last player standing).
To make it more compatible with the cooperative gaming experience that is group roleplaying, you could possibly use one of the previous homogenous campaigns in order to lend the party a greater sense of unity and purpose. That party of thieves, or hobgoblins, or hobgoblin thieves might offer some unique roleplaying opportunities. Can evil act with honor? Can evil act as a team? If a villain has a change of heart does she become an NPC?
But the players need to decide how dastardly they are willing to play. Graphic descriptions of evil acts may turn the stomach of many a player. To lay waste, rape, and pillage is all well and good when its kept to that simple list and the story moves on. But as a father of three I would be uncomfortable with other players describing, in graphic detail, certain evil deeds, for example those involving children. Does it happen in the real world? Sadly yes, but that might be a little too dark for some players.

8. Play epic
Start with epic level powers. Some campaigns never get to this power level. Why not start a campaign with the ability to bend reality? Many campaigns have “the end of the world” as an overarching threat. Now it actually makes sense as your characters, instead of being nameless peasants looking to make a name for themselves are already global power brokers. In fact, it might be cool to have your characters act as gods. They each take a particular role or portfolio, come up with their own personality, throw in some intrigue between the various powers and soon you have the beginnings of a new world for your next campaign. Let there be game.

9. Play with a celebrity
There are two distinct categories to this particular gamer bucket list item. The first is to play with a celebrity that other people outside the gaming world would recognize. For example, we have all heard that somefilm and television stars are known for playing games such as D&D. Heck, Vin Diesel even wrote the forward for the D&D 30th anniversary coffee table book.  The second, and let’s face it more likely scenario, is to play with a gaming industry celebrity. Not many of us can work at Wizards of the Coast or Paizo and work with some of our favorite game designers. Even less of us grew up as friends of Ed Greenwood or the late Gary Gygax. But when we have a chance to it can be a very memorable experience. If you don’t mind a little name dropping I’ll share two quick stories:

I remember when I first got to play Battlelords of the 23rd Century with Mike Osadciw, one of the game’s artists and designers at the now defunct UNY-Con. I was probably a little fan-boy-ish but it was cool to see how comfortable he was going through a scenario.  Not many people may know of BL23C or “Mike O.” but you might recognize the next industry celebrity DM I had the pleasure of gaming with: Keith Baker. A cool friend of mine asked if I wanted to play in a one time session with Keith Baker. I was familiar with his work, but not necessarily a fan of the Eberron setting. Regardless, I thought this could be really cool.

And it was.

Keith turned out to be a great guy and I was amazed at how fluid his DM style was. He made on-the-fly decisions without consulting rulebooks, he let me “bend the rules” slightly with creative descriptions of my character’s spell usage, and he offered a challenge unique to my D&D experience up until that time. He asked me to design a ritual inspired by four words that he gave me at the table. This was completely unexpected and exhilirating as I was now challenged to create something in a way I had never had before. It was truly a memorable experience and I while I may not be a the biggest fan of Eberron I am a huge fan of Keith Baker.

10. Play your own published adventure. Almost all of us DM’s play in our own worlds, games, and adventures. Many of us dream of one day being published so that others can revel in our creativity. I submitted a few proposals to Paizo back when it was publishing Dungeon and one of them even got greenlighted. Too bad that I never heard back because two months later the news broke that they would no longer be publishing that magazine.  But that didn’t stop me. Every year, except this most recent one due to the birth of our third child, I have submitted to Paizo’s RPG Superstar Contest. Admittedly I have never been chosen as one of the top 32 but I’m pretty sure I was 33rd or 35th at least a few years.

The Internet offers many free publishing tools so that we can do a lot of this ourselves. As long as you don’t mind people playing your adventure for free, you can post your own adventures and campaign worlds for the masses on a variety of web sites.

However you choose to get yourself published, the keys are: never give up, seek good criticism, and never give up. Who knows? You might end up fulfilling an item on some other gamer’s bucket list eventually.

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Written by Darkwarren

Matt W., aka Darkwarren, has been roleplaying ever since his older brother introduced him to the red box set when he was 7 years old. Since then he has game-mastered SSDC’s Battleords of the Twenty-third Century, WEG’s Shadowrun and Star Wars, and of course Dungeons & Dragons in a variety of forms. At thirty-four years old he takes turns on both sides of the screen with the group that he helped found in 2000 when 3.0 hit the stands and has met every week fairly regularly ever since. Currently they have been running a variety of the Paizo Adventure Path scenarios, so that’s his wheelhouse. He was almost famous when two of his adventures were green-lighted for possible publication right before Paizo relinquished the rights to publish Dungeon magazine.

Matt also has years if experience in improvisational comedy, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is currently working and studying to attain a master’s degree in theology, to enhance his career as a religious studies teacher. Lastly, his greatest passion is his family, especially the three sons and dog that he shares with his wife in upstate New York.

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Leave a comment (11 comments so far) »

  1. Darkwarren says:

    Another personal one of mine, as a father, is to eventually play with my children. They are only 4, 2, and 0 respectively, but the 4 and 2 year old have some great imaginations already. They love stories and heroes and I can see them really enjoying the hobby of roleplaying.

  2. Jake says:

    What a truly fantastic bucket list. On my bucket list is an adventure that culminates over several months. I’m sure many of you have the privilege of playing at regular intervals, but my friends who play with me all live a few hours away and so our games usually don’t make it past 4-5 total sittings (and more often than not a 1-2 pug). With the online advantage of systems like dropbox, I’ve been trying to develop a campaign that has both a “sit-down-and-play” element, but also a constantly evolving Map and document series that actively change depending on decisions made over the week while we’re not together. For example, all of my characters are generals of different armies and when we’re not together, they can choose to move those units into new areas and certain discoveries are made. Inspiration came from fusing both D&D and games like Rome: Total War.

    Again, fantastic bucket list. Keep up the great ideas, you’re truly inspiring.

  3. Darkwarren says:

    Thanks, Jake, I appreciate the kind words. I am lucky enough to have a group that is local and we can meet fairly regularly but I also can relate to your experience.

    Truly the internet has allowed for gaming to evolve. But it’s not just the fact that MMORPG’s are extremely popular, but that it can enhance the “tabletop-experience” as well. Many times my group uses websites like Yuku or Obsidian Portal to use message boards for roleplaying and character development. Not every body is good at improvisation at the table so taking a week or month between tabletop sessions to flesh out your characters’ conversation around the campfire can definitely enhance a campaign. When I was away at college I tried a variety of play by e-mail and play by post games. But they just couldn’t satisfy that table-top itch that many of us roleplayers are blessed (cursed?) with.

    Good luck fulfilling your bucket list!

  4. Darkwarren says:

    Any other items from your personal bucket list you’d like to share?

  5. Jake says:

    Since no one else seems to be picking up the ball here, I came up with my own D&D bucket list… granted, many are similar to Bucket List made by Darkwarren. Just wanted to give my enthusiastic perspective.

    1. Epic LENGTH Campaign: (as stated in previous comment) A campaign that consistently plays a few times a month and persists over a year.

    2. A Shared DM Campaign: The overall shell or lattice behind a given campaign is agreed upon by 2 or more DMs, but some players take turns DM’ing or using a PC. (Note: I’m actually just about to start a new campaign where this happens, a friend of mine and I share DM’ing responsibility and alternatively control a PC who has enveloped the soul of someone he slayed. This way we can each ‘take over’ the PC in fun/ unique ways, and each adventure is an exciting ‘add-on’ to the existent campaing.

    3. Same race/ class Campaign: Obviously the same as stated in the original article, but how genius of an idea is that?! The possibilities are so exciting. All halfling rogues, dwarven clerics, human paladins. The background that brings this group together would be so fascinating. The best part about his campaign is that from the get-go, the PC character relationships would be so integral to the overarching story line. I imagine a very supportive structure. Imagine for example, a group of warden shifters (Eberron ‘werewolves’), congregating together out of general exile and distaste from public view. Or Dwarven Runepriests banded together return an ancient dwarven relic that was stolen. So many wonderful options.

    4. Fantasy & Reality Fusion: I stepped in and played what was an NPC in a group who were mid-way in their campaign. They had fused true historical events (Rome cerca ~60BC) and the fantasy of magic and mythical races/ creatures by ‘rifts’ which had occurred and brought in these fantastical elements into an otherwise real world.

    5. Unique (Non-Epic) Story Line: We so often create campaigns based around being heroes who save the day. I have switched that up in campaigns in the past by being villains, by pitting PCs competitively against each other, etc. But one thing that never changes is that our characters are always ‘epic’ and have destinies that change the face of the world. What about starting a campaign with a much simpler plot? Ex: Suppose your party consists of a bunch of islanders. They’ve heard rumors about larger islands (ie continents) but have lived for generations on this island. They are an integral unit to society. If they want to explore they’d have to gather resources, get support from the island, build ships, make money to do so. If they make it to a larger continent, no crazy wars but perhaps natives. They don’t speak the same language. How do they survive? Do they start battle, do they congregate and isolate? Do they attempt to merge with the foreigners. Do they go back for more troops. My point is, not ever story line has to be about epic battle for the fate of the world. My favorite parts about our gaming adventures typically occur on the small scale.

    Bonus: Drunken Monk- This *was on my bucket list but I recently created one. If you haven’t made a drunken monk or had one in your party, you must try it! I created a very realistic and most certainly NOT overpowered alcoholic halfling monk. Being a halfing meant he got drunk easier. But for the first few levels of being a monk, there were no ‘benefits’ of drinking, but I did it regardless. Hilarity ensued, eg; In the middle of battle, I took a turn to dink more alcohol, crit failed my poison check, so I vomited and passed out on the ground. The other PCs really needed my help but I had just vomited and passed out for the next few turns. Ironically, one of the enemies ended up slipping and going prone on my vomit, giving our PCs an advantage. I’ve never had more fun that with this character.

    That’s all for now. Keep up the entries everyone, I’d love to hear more about unique ideas and ‘bucket lists’ for our D&D worlds.

  6. Jake says:

    Ugh. Pardon my egregious spelling in previous post. I should have proof-read, but my excitement in discussing thoughts on D&D and the 7 cups of coffee I’ve had at work got me a little too pumped up I think ;)

  7. Darkwarren says:

    Jake, the multi-DM idea intrigues me. We have a few DM’s in our group but usually a new one steps up when another one steps down. We have played with an assistant DM (which we quickly shortened to “Ass-DM”) who helped out with complicated combat and this particular Ass-DM was great at a variety of voices and characterizations that helped even mundane NPC’s come alive.

    But to have two or more co-DM’s seems to be a different beast. I wonder if this might work best with the multi-genre character idea I presented in the article. Other iterations might be to fill-in when one DM can’t make it, set timelines (one DM’s from level 1-3 and another from 4-6 or one for 3 weeks and another for the next 3 weeks), or even random DM’s. A campaign where every week the DM rolls the dice, based on the results a particular DM leads the session that night. Any time you have DM’s changing swiftly it seems that a sandbox campaign would fit this model the best.

  8. Jake says:

    I’m glad you liked the idea. Over a few drinks one night, I dared my friends that if we played D&D they’d love it and after several drinks they finally agreed. Now I have a solid group of friends who are always begging me to do a new campaign with them. Of all of my friends, only one has the aptitude and really care for DM’ing. He and I both enjoy being a DM as well as playing a PC. That’s when we recently came up with the idea, why not share BOTH responsibilities? My friend and I have known each other for a very long time, so it’s easy to pick up where one person leaves off as well as share a fun, unique character.

    Long story short, I’m at a huge advantage compared to many players because my friend and I are very close, so taking turns DM’ing and sharing a PC will simply keep this adventure constantly evolving, yet simultaneously cohesive. If you give it a try, please tell me how it goes.

    *Also, I love your point on incorporating this into a multi-genre character idea. Or perhaps a time variation, where one DM will bring the group to ‘flash-backs’ while the other DM sets the present stage.

  9. Darkwarren says:

    Hmmm… temporal changes in the story is also another intriguing development (flashbacks, flashforwards, a time stop spell gone awry, etc.)

    Perhaps those playing a longer-lived race could continue to keep that character while others (such as you or your co-DM) play the child(ren) of the shorter-lived characters.

  10. Jake says:

    … Brilliant! Older characters, younger children, past and present… fantastic idea.

  1. [... After a previous DM'ing article and the first commenter asked for more bucket list stuff I thought I would write an article regarding d10 RPG Bucket List items.  Here are ...]

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