For the last month of the year, I decided to release a list of tips regarding making a solo campaign. Not as in-depth as, say, The Solo Roleplayer’s tips on making solo campaigns a la EPIC, but these might help you think more about playing in campaigns.
We all want to do it at some point. Some of us already have. If you’re a solo roleplayer, chances are, you wanted to one day play a campaign solo. However, there’s a bit more bookkeeping to endure. I actually did a small campaign at one point and in this post, I will show you what I did and what I could have done during that campaign that might make that bookkeeping easier.
Note: This post is made with Mythic in mind.
Tip 1: NPCs
I’m not gonna lie. When I play a game with Mythic, I keep notes on every character that spouts a line of dialogue. Because, hey, you’ll never know when the shopkeeper will turn out to be the legendary hero of the town or when your suspected culprit turns up dead. However, the list will pile up and it will be massive. When randomly determining which NPC is going to intervene in the fight, it will be hard to find the right numbered dice to roll… Assuming you don’t just use a random number generator. So here’s what I did to fix that.
I keep the lists small. 20 characters is the max. But, I don’t just close it off once it hits that cap. No. When I get more than 20 characters, I split the list in two. Not into tens, but rather in a fixed ratio. The two lists will be based on people who fight with the PCs (Heroes) and people who fight against the PCs (villains) respectively. Then, when the engine asks for an NPC, I first roll a d100, 1-50 being Heroes and 51-100 being Villains. When one of the lists hits twenty, I split it up, this time I split it between people who have played major roles (Allies/Rivals) and those who have played minor roles (Folks/Mooks) respectively. When the number of lists becomes an odd number or it’s hard to split 100 up to different lists, have the remainder be a “roll again” option.
And so forth. You might also split the first NPC list into three lists, with the third being for neutral-aligned characters, characters that play both sides. When a character makes a betrayal (the good guy stabbing his friends in the back or the villain’s mistreated lackey bites back), shift their character over to the proper side. When a character is offed, bump them off the list unless you’re in a kind of game where death is a slap on the wrist. If in any case the total number of NPCs is reduced to below 20, then you can merge the lists.
Tip 2: Threads
I have a similar strategy with Threads, though it’s rare that you’ll be able to get more than twenty threads without completing a few. To get a better understanding of Threads, think of them like quests in Skyrim. There’s the Main Quests that drive the story and the Side Quests that, while contributing nothing to the storyline, gives your character development and builds your world. When I do get more than twenty threads, I split them into these categories. What feels ‘important’ and what feels more ‘a neat thing to do on the side’?
Of course, there is one more thing I want to bring up. Mythic, for those who don’t know, has a random event that can close your threads, as in resolves them. It can be any thread as I have discovered. I played a campaign where the overarching goal was “find a way home” and then I got a random event that called for its closing. I didn’t want the game to end so rushedly, so I picked something else, but it got me thinking…
How about a system that prioritizes important threads? This is what I call the Sagarc Threads. The basic idea is that you designate two threads as important threads that can’t be closed and must be resolved through gameplay and roleplay. These two threads will be your Saga Thread and your Arc Thread. Your Saga Thread is a core quest that encompasses a large chunk of your campaign while your Arc Thread is a quest that you undertake that will last a few sessions.
Let’s use Dragonball Z as an example. The show has several sagas with dozens of arcs in them. For this example, we’ll use the Android Saga. The overall Saga Thread would be “prevent Trunks’ future from becoming a reality” while the Arc Thread changes every so often. The idea is keeping the Saga Thread in mind when doing these Arc Threads. For example, “Train to fight the Androids”, “Stop Dr. Gero from waking up the Androids”, and “Defeat Perfect Cell” are all examples of Arc Threads. They all cover different things, but they all carry the same idea of the Saga Thread.
The idea is to put these two threads at the very top of your Thread List. They don’t count to that list’s 20 Threads. When rolling to see what thread is affected by events like “Move Towards a Thread” or “Move Away from a Thread”, roll the die with those top two threads counting as 1 (Saga Thread) and 2 (Arc Thread). But, if the event says to close it, don’t use the top two threads and instead use the bottom two in their place, or subtract two from the number you need to generate/roll.
There’s also a third thread, though it’s optional if you want to include it. It’s called a Campaign Thread. This is a thread that encompasses the entire campaign. If you’re playing a Sandbox-style game, this isn’t needed, but if you’re playing a game where there is a clear goal in mind that your hero needs to accomplish, then it can work.
Dungeons and Dragons’ Hoard of the Dragon Queen’s first three chapters is a perfect example of using Campaign Threads in tangent with Sagarc Threads. The overall thread/goal the heroes must accomplish, their Campaign Thread, is “Stop the Cult of the Dragon”. However, you can’t stop them in one day, you must hack away at it. And so, a Saga Thread is simply a phase in accomplishing this Thread. In this case, the Saga Thread would be “Force the Dragon Cult away from the Sword Coast”. The Arc Threads, then, are small steps in those small steps. It starts with “Defend Greenest from the Dragon Cult”, intercedes with “Rescue Leosin”, and ends the saga with “Raid the Raider Camp”.
On a Thread list, the ranking goes:
- Campaign Thread (Unclosable)
- Saga Thread (Unclosable)
- Arc Thread (Unclosable)
- Other Threads
With the Thread List having up to 22-23 Threads before splitting up. When an Arc Thread or a Saga Thread is complete, you may either immediately pick a new Arc/Saga Thread, or go a few scenes without it to play out a dénouement and figure out what the next step is. If you finish the Campaign Thread, then congrats, you won the game, though that might not stop you from continuing the game.
Alright, I’m back with two more tips. Same as before, they will be characters and threads to manage for long, epic campaigns.
Tip 2.5: Modify The Thread
As suggested by lino pang, I’m updating the tip. If you want, you can choose not to make your threads unclosable. In response, instead of closing the thread when doing random events, you modify the event.
To go back to our DBZ example, “Stop the Androids” wound up being the thread that would close. Instead of closing the thread, it instead is modified via the event meanings. And thus, it’s not 19 and 20 they must stop, it’s 17 and 18.
Tip 3: Character Frequency
Eventually, we’ll wind up forgetting about those characters that prop up in our game. Characters that we thought would be super important are instead just one scene wonders. However, I have an idea to fix that.
Assign an attribute to each NPC on the list. This attribute should state whether this is a major or minor character. How you decide this is up to you, but if you ask me, I weigh them based off plot importance, connections to major players, and even potential to be better. After assigning the attribute, add a number next to the NPC. This is their Absence Meter. It shows how long a character has been absent for in the campaign.
The way it works is that, at the end of each session, you take a tally and see who hadn’t made an appearance in that session. You can decide if this extends to mentions or brief encounters with them. For those that haven’t appeared, increase their Absence Meter by one. For those who have, reset them to zero.
The idea is that, when a character’s Absence Meter is high enough, whenever the engine asks for a character for the random event, instead of rolling on a list with all the NPCs, you instead roll on a list with all the NPCs who have hit their Absence Threshold. An Absence Threshold is how long someone should be absent for before they have to pop in again. It can be any number, but for me, major characters have the threshold of 3 while minor characters have the threshold of 6.
This is to encourage an environment where everyone has a chance to shine. The only downside is that there’s a heavier upkeep to have.
Tip 4: Session Threads
I based this idea off the dozens of one-off RPGs I played in, where the aim of the session was to accomplish a goal. “Get out of this place alive!” “Stop the cult’s latest scheme!” “Save your friends from a monster attack!” These are called “Session Threads”. These are Threads that tell you what you must do before you finish the session. It’s a good rule to have if you want to set an end goal.
Basically, it works like the Campaign, Saga, and Arc Threads. Important thread that sits on the top of the Threads list (in this case, #4) and can only be closed through gameplay and roleplay and not through a random event. A few of my sessions have examples of this:
- “Free Vermogen from Goblins.” (Pathfinder + Avalon & Mythic)
- “Stop the resistance from recruiting this man.” (The Matrix + CRGE)
- “Bust the ghost haunting the museum.” (Ghostbusters + Epic D6)
And that’s basically it. Once the thread’s resolved, play out a denouement tying up some of the loose ends in the session and end it.
Tip 5: Character Focus
If you have a party of more than three characters, it might be hard to maintain focus on them and make plot threads for each of them. That’s what this tip is for. Put a check mark next to every available PC you have. At the beginning of a session/adventure/arc/whatever interval you want, roll between each character who hasn’t been check marked. Whatever number comes up will be focused for that interval. Put a check on them and repeat the process until all are check marked, at which point erase the check marks and begin all over again.
If your game has heavy uses of NPCs and Threads in random event determination, then you might want to add a personal NPC and a personal Thread to each of the players. For example, perhaps one of the PCs has a sweetheart back home or has a goal of wanting to get revenge on the person who killed his dad. Well, that can be their NPC/Thread, and when they get the focus, if you don’t know what event happens that they can get involved in, you can use either of the two to drive the story.
Tip 6: Never Split The Party
Despite the name for this tip, this is for what happens when you do split the party. It’s rather easy. When the party splits, make a note of how many teams they split up in. Each scene, you alternate between the teams. It’s easy if there’s two teams, but for more than two, every scene you’re on, roll on who it is you’re focusing on next.
Keep any new NPCs and threads created during the time they’re split separate until they merge again. If you’re keeping track of a Chaos Factor, keep it separate for each team. An optional idea is to add the other PCs to the NPC list. For example, when Alice, Bob, and Charlie split, with Alice and Bob being Team A and Charlie being Team B. Charlie’s an NPC on Team A’s list, while Alice and Bob are an NPC on Team B’s list.
When the team reunites, compare Chaos Factors and have the average out of them. For example, if one team had 5 Chaos Factor and another had 7, the total Chaos will be 6.
Tip 7: Character Relations
Much like Character Focus and Character Frequency, Character Relations are also important. If you hadn’t already, take a look at the interactions your PCs had with each other, backstory and in story. Make notes on who got each other’s backs, who might be rivals, and who might have bad blood between them.
If you have a lack of a relation or if you want to improve one between characters, ensure a scene where they’re paired up. For example, perhaps the Bard and the Barbarian, two characters in your party who never had a moment together, are in a room together debating on how to handle their Orc problem.
Tip 8: Emotional Stresses
Things get worse before they get better. Case in point with this tip. Inspired by Cortex’s system and CRGE’s surge system, Emotional Stress is an additional die you roll when determining answers. When a scene ends and your characters are traumatized, agitated, scared, upset, or any other emotion that stresses them out, add a D4. If their situation hasn’t let up by the end of the next scene, step up the die to a D6, and continue stepping up when such a condition occurs until it’s a D12.
The opposite also counts. If the characters are happy, peaceful, accepting, or any emotion that leaves them less stressed, decrease the die size. If they are at a D4 when this happens, take out the D4 and add it back when they are stressed again. This is better used in Engines that use percentile dice.
Well, hopefully these tips help you out. If you need any clarification, let me know. Bon voyage, gamers.