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Freeform Campaign?


Advice


So I'm currently working on a pathfinder conversion of The Dark Sun Campaign setting and I've been mulling over something new to me, the Idea of allowing The PCs to decide what direction to take the campaign. Decisions all made in game of course. Here is how I’d try and accomplish it; whatever they decide to do/be mercenaries, dune traders, rebels etc. I'd try and build an appropriate adventure around said direction and make it heroic and compelling. I am good on the fly and generally prep a lot before games, though you can never be sure what to expect sometimes.

Ok since I'm done rambling on my Question to you is have you ever tried running a freeform game like I described and if so were there any unique curveballs your players tossed your way? Additionally if you have pointers about running a freeform game they’re always welcome. My main concern is players wanting different things, but my group generally gets along and works together well.


My games tend to be relatively free form. That is, I present a world, let them pick a direction. Thus they get used to doing whatever the heck they want which can turn funny at points.

In one game, my player's went on a quest to get an artifact for a halflich that had charmed them(I gave them a relatively high dc save if they were to beat it and they got 1 save per day to slowly weaken it). Except several of them stopped trusting the halflich by the time they had the artifact in hand and then they ran off with it during the hand off. They did one of those everyone runs in a different direction things and some use invisiblility and then my lich fails several perception checks and through repeated bad luck, my halflich was unable to find them(I was unwilling to make my halflich auto find them since I do not like strong arming them).

So then my halflich was missing out on his plot object that would let him become a complete lich and raise very large amounts of undead. Thus my final battle occurred somewhat sooner since the final boss wasn't going to be as strong and the party eventually decided to kill my poor demilich with a healing potion.

Freeform is fun but sometimes your plot arcs and bosses get humiliated. So don't be too attached to the stuff you spend hours thinking up for them because the game isn't on the usual railroad tracks.


good point. I had thought something along those lines. When I say I prep alot I mean that I make a lot of Badies that can be changed and chucked in their quickly as well as stating out cities with lots of npcs to interact with. Story is important but It doesn't bother me if they get around something creatively in fact I usually reward them if they do.

Lantern Lodge

I almost always use pure freeform. One game of mine had a creature that I made on the spot for a purely random encounter turned into the primary quest of the characters with new info being added to the made up baddies at every turn.

My suggestion is have nothing set in stone until the players see it themselves.(npcs can always be lying) but always have a bunch random enemies and some info about the right dcs to use against the players so when you are struck by inspiration mid game you dont have to waste time finding what the dc is.

Get good at adjudicating on the fly and telling your rules lawyer to bring a bucket of chill pills. Freeform games work best when the constrictions dont get in the way of your ideas.

Letting your player name things and such helps alot too. I.E. a player "Well there is a town up ahead lets go find out where we are."
GM "you arrive and the gate guard asks what your business here is"
Player "My character walks up and asks the guard 'where are we?'"
GM"So whats the name of the town?"
player"Filigree"
GM is reminded of blacksmithing by that name so "The guard says 'This is Filigree home to the best smiths in all the land'"


I linked to this in another thread, but it's a pretty good idea: Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus.


DarkLightHitomi wrote:
Get good at adjudicating on the fly and telling your rules lawyer to bring a bucket of chill pills. Freeform games work best when the constrictions dont get in the way of your ideas.

I agree with this so long as the GM in question has a strong knowledge of the rules and thus an idea for balancing. I've had GM's like what you've just stated that didn't know that a 43 Diplomacy (without nat 20) at level 12 is moderately high


DarkLightHitomi wrote:

Get good at adjudicating on the fly and telling your rules lawyer to bring a bucket of chill pills. Freeform games work best when the constrictions dont get in the way of your ideas.

I enjoy my group greatly because we have no rules lawyers so no problem there. We have one power gamer (nothing wrong with that just not my personal preference) and the others are mostly RP oriented. So no one really argues with me over little things.

I was thinking about making up various little towns before game day and just plop em down as I need em.

I’m thinking freeform won't be as difficult as I first thought.


You know your group best. My group doesn't do very well with "SO, what do you do next?" unless I have laid out a couple of clear options. Thus we tend to avoid things being too freeform/sandbox. I, on the other hand, would love to play in a very freeform game - but have no one to run it for me.


Be prepared for players to sit there like complete tools.

MANY players have grown accustomed to being fed everything by their GM. They look for hooks that you provide but won't go far off the board.

I was running a level 1 adventure to let the player establish their characters and get to know them a bit so it was full sandbox. "What would your character like to do with his life? What are his goals?"

"I want to follow your adventure."

"Ok but you are just starting out and have no notoriety so no one is really looking for your help yet. What would your character do? Perhaps you could look for a job board or ask around for odd rumors?"

"what is there to do in this town?"

"I just made two suggestions and you get to choose what you'd like your characters to do"

"this is dumb and there isn't a story to this..."

Game over.


Wow Bltz!

Probably pretty accurate in a lot of cases though.


BltzKrg242 wrote:

Be prepared for players to sit there like complete tools.

Game over.

I don't think my group would have any trouble adjusting to a "freeform" style. I actually just ran the Idea past them and they seem really interested. I made it a point to explain in detail how the game would take place. I'm not saying you didn't it just seems like there was some misunderstanding with what you were planning on running and what they expected. Generally my group is mostly RP oriented. The combat is fun for them but their motivation is generally character development; so it may just boil down to different play styles with different groups being whether freeform will work or not.

I'm pretty sure I'm setting myself up for a little extra homework but it's cool I actually enjoy that stuff.


BltzKrg242 wrote:


"this is dumb and there isn't a story to this..."

Good point. My players like story and aren't particular good at creating their own from that side of the table. Make sure your players want a free form campaign before starting one.


I only hate it when you get told its Freeform, put in all the thought and effort as a player to build a bit of a vision, then the GM sets you off on a tightly constrained railroad campaign that has nothing to do with what you are now trying to achieve... :p


I explained that I would be freeforming it until they had characters fleshed out and we could then embark on quests that they felt personally involved with. I explained that I would be turning to them to name things and to them to explain what they see next and they seemed down for it. I got some good background stories from 3 of the 4 players...

Then nothing.

What's worse is that I had taken the very few items that had been indicated and was plotting some great adventure ideas.
Oh well.


Gamemastering
I run my campaigns extremely free form, all as advised in this book. I don't plan more than one session ahead. The key is for the players to have very well developed characters and to involve their characters in everything. I strongly suggest you give this link a look, it's been a huge boon to my GMing. It cuts down on how much work that you need to do and creates a better game for your players. Your job isn't to tell a story you come up with; it's to make a story with the players.
Essentially, the way it works is that you create a world and characters. That's it. You make sure people the players have connections to show up and that motivates them to act. It's very different from how most people run their campaigns and I think it's better.


Thanks Jack


Scott Carter wrote:
You know your group best. My group doesn't do very well with "SO, what do you do next?" unless I have laid out a couple of clear options. Thus we tend to avoid things being too freeform/sandbox. I, on the other hand, would love to play in a very freeform game - but have no one to run it for me.

Same here. My group tends to immediately ask where the tavern is and go and just get s***faced and do nothing. So I have to railroad them sometimes. Even in the middle of a quest, they'll be like, "I have no motivation to get this done besides money. And I feel they aren't paying me enough. Tavern time," in which case I as a GM get angry because they aren't doing anything.


BltzKrg242 wrote:
Thanks Jack

Of course! When I got this book (it's supposed to be free, by the way, so don't worry), I was so excited by the method is used that I ended my campaign right there and started a new one. Everyone was on board. We were only third level, but it was still six sessions in. We have a much better game now.

Sczarni

Played Power and Perils for almost 20 years in freeform campaigns. Its a lot of fun to wander around and just find things to do IMHO. If they players don't mind, that is. Its pretty easy to GM in details when you randomly run into a Giant to say that they were terrorizing the local towns and then the next one you go to has some sort of reward and perhaps you should go recover the decaying head from the body you let lay... but then there is some giant eating snake or worm when you get back, etc... (and where did THAT come from... dun dun dun...)

I find it second nature to do this sort of campaign... but then I have been doing it for 20 years or so...

Sczarni

I have also played in campaigns where SOME characters wanted to do something completely different from what the GM wanted them to do. Most of the party relented, but we had one hold-out who went down a dark tunnel and was hit by an Orge train (not good at first level to run into party CL worth of Orges). So after sitting out of the main play for almost two hours, it took him less than five minutes to kill himself. So that player was bored because of his own desire to not actually play the game. NONE of us felt bad for him. And we continued playing as he rolled up another character.


I will definately give the book a look through. Thanks Jack

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