I sent a questionnaire to my players regarding our upcoming campaign, which I’d planned to set about 20 years after…

I sent a questionnaire to my players regarding our upcoming campaign, which I’d planned to set about 20 years after…

I sent a questionnaire to my players regarding our upcoming campaign, which I’d planned to set about 20 years after the end of our last campaign. The big bad would be an NPC they encountered briefly near the end of that campaign, who had spent the last 20 years gaining and consolidating her power. After reading their responses to my questions I’m going to have to switch gears.

Two out of my three players stated (in different ways) that they wanted to play a “less epic game”. One said he didn’t want to save the world from Sauron, he just wanted to play a guy that lived in a different world, and got to do things he can’t do in real life. The second said she only wanted to play and didn’t care about “doing epic s***”.

I guess I hadn’t thought about roleplaying that way. I’ve always thought about “how can we save the world THIS time”.

So I had a few ideas for a less epic game:

1) (From a trinket in the D&D5e PHB) Recover the missing pages of a Diary. This could be a campaign long goal, and still allows for lots of player input to flesh out.

2) (From a Shadows of the Demon Lord heritage (race) option): One character is an automaton, one of three (or whatever) created at the same time, and he’s searching for the others. Again, can be pretty long and lends itself to player input.

3) Build an airship and flee from this tyrannical continent.

None of these are about “Saving the World” or “Defeating the Big Bad”, but they could lead to that if the players wanted to go in that direction.

Which would you be most interested in if you wanted a “less epic game”?

EDIT: (Because this should have been included to begin with) – The theme idea that came out of the initial and follow-up questionaires is that the players want to “survive or escape” the big bad, rather than trying to save the world.

30 thoughts on “I sent a questionnaire to my players regarding our upcoming campaign, which I’d planned to set about 20 years after…”

  1. A less epic game probably shouldn’t have a lot of big plot hooks like this.

    I’d ask them for an initial idea of a “group concept” – are they traders? wilderness protectors? local thugs? Get an idea of what they want to do as a group, and then toss them situations that let them do what they want to do.

  2. Thanks Aaron Griffin. Some of that was covered in the initial questionnaire, and a lot more in a follow-up. The theme that came out of all of that was “lets not fight the big bad, lets try to survive or get out while we can” (and that would have been a goof thing to include in the original post).

    So my thoughts are that the diary (again, with some idea of how the players want to proceed) belonged to a man who had once escaped, when no-one thought it was possible, finding the other automatons is key to finding an underground sanctuary that the big bad can’t touch, and the airship is pretty self-explanatory.

  3. Those sound like direction for the group, but why are they a group? That makes a difference. A group of soldiers trying to survive / trying to get out is VERY different from a group of labor slaves trying to survive / trying to get out.

  4. all of these still sound like they might be epic driven… or tickets to GonzoVille (which isn’t a bad thing if that is what everyone wants)… is this the thing that your characters are looking for is a more realistic thing?

    More Blood and Mud vs airships?

    Are they looking for Conan an not robots?

    I would definitely get more feedback if I was you. Cause based on the answers you gave I don’t think any of those meet the requirements (noting that the diary one is pretty ambiguous and would be the only one I would consider in this case depending on what’s missing and what the ramifications are of finding them.)

    Recommend reading the Witcher books or any Joe Abacrombie First Law stuff if they are looking for a more realistic thing. (actually I recommend this if you haven’t read them period)

  5. Aaron Griffin, that’s true, but I don’t want to force anyone into a background right now. We’ll decide the who and why in the first session.

    Chris S, I have TONS of feedback from them, way more than I feel like posting here. I never said anything about more realistic, I only said less epic. Granted, “less epic” may have been a poor choice of words, because what my players mean is “We don’t want to be the one’s saving the world”. They just want a world to play in. They want to exist and roleplay in a world where they’re not the ultimate heroes.

    All of the thoughts I had about the three choices meet those requirements because none of them are about saving the world. And HOW they apply to “Survive or Escape” (maybe the diary pages hold the blueprints for the ultimate doomsday shelter, the automatons just want to meet each other before the world ends, or the airship is just meant as a distraction to keep their minds off of what’s coming) will come from “play to see what happens”.

    I just want a broad direction to have a basis for questions to ask during the first session. They might all be soldiers, or slaves, or a combination of both, or something entirely different. Maybe they’re chef’s and the missing diary pages are a recipe for Lobster Thermidor that they want to make before Sauron takes over the world (I REALLY hope not, but maybe).

  6. Chris S​​ I REALLY like the diary idea, I just wanted to throw out some other options. I know what I WANT the diary to be about, but I’m going to leave it up to the players and hope it doesn’t turn out to be a recipe lol

  7. So I’m pushing on this “but what to they do?” button a little hard because I think it’s a mistake to try to sketch out plot before you know what sort of group will be taking up the quest.

    If you don’t have backgrounds and concepts for the characters, it’s probably not a good time to start figuring out plot hooks. You can figure out the underlying story, sure, but what will pull them into it changes based on the characters they want to play.

    What if during session zero they all ended up deciding that they’d like to play a small group of travelling potion sellers, going from place to place as the world crumbles around them? Like they said “oh man, it’d be so cool if we only found out about the epic stuff through story and rumor and we were just trying to make a buck selling potions”

  8. Yeah that’s a good point. The plot hooks should come from the players backgrounds, not the other way around. I know pretty much what one of my players wants to do, but the other two haven’t really decided yet.

    I’m working on a Dungeon Starter and wanted to add “an interesting thing” or “trinket” that is “an old diary with several pages ripped out”, or “a need to find the others like you”, etc. I may be thinking too far ahead. Instead of making the trinket part of the plot, it only needs to be part of the characters background. Then we play to see what happens with it.

  9. One of my players just texted me “We’re members of an airship racing team and Sebulba destroyed our ship to prevent us from winning the title. Now we’re racing against the clock to field a new ship before the last race of the season”.

    Definitely not something I’d have thought of!

  10. Lauri Maijala, I’ll take a look, thanks.

    Nicolas Bohnenberger, I agree it’s about the characters, but the world they’re in has a hand in shaping them. By Crom, would all of that weird stuff have happened to Conan if he lived in Homer Simpson’s world? It’s the world that makes the stakes personal, because it’s what’s going on around you that drives your decisions.

  11. Brian Holland​, I was just countering the view of “the characters have to save the world”. They have to save themselves! Literally thats the only thing they truly have to do. All the rest is optional. My group got a lot more excited and active in the game when I shifted the focus to them.

  12. Oh, gotcha Nicolas Bohnenberger. “Make it about them” as opposed to “make it about saving the world”. I agree completely (although every campaign I’ve ever GM’d is usually “save the world” lol).

  13. Mark Tygart I was going that route lowkey ^^ But yeah, in general S&S has more immersion from the players imo, making about their characters, their personal stakes gets them more pumped up to see what comes next – and lends itself beautifully to DW, where everything can happen.

  14. Thanks to everyone who commented and voted. I really wanted to do the diary thing, but the players have decided to do the “airship race team” campaign that I mentioned above (and it’s cool that that’s where the vote stands right now).

    They’re pretty excited about it, and we’ve been throwing around ideas about a war that is causing certain teams to lose their funding, other adventuring parties (rival airship teams), and the races being in stages (one of them said that’s how they do bicycle races, so I want to find out exactly how that works).

    We can have entire adventures geared towards finding funding for the new ship, getting components, and actually building and testing the ship, with the campaign culminating in the final race of the season! It’s a totally different game than I’ve ever GM’d, but I’m looking forward to it.

    Anyway, I’m glad they wanted to do something besides “save the world”, because this sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun!

  15. I definitely will! We’re starting two weeks from today, so I have some work to do. I want to start the campaign in the final stage of a race (so I’ll need to come up with it for the first session), and have their finishing position determine how they need to finish the final race to win the title. So if they finish third in this race, they MUST finish first in the final, etc. After the race their ship will be destroyed by the rival. These two things will set the stakes for the game: “We have to finish [whatever] in the final, and we have to start from scratch to do it”.

  16. Yeah that’s better. Thanks. They want it to be about starting from scratch, or nearly from scratch, so they can build a new ship. So I guess instead of me saying “THIS happens” I need to let them narrate what happens.

    So that raises another question: Since they players WANT the ship to be destroyed so the characters can start from scratch, do I even have them roll dice or just go straight narrative?

  17. I would probably play it out, with the assumption that it will end in loss of their ship. It might explode, might be used to crash into a rival’s ship, or might get stolen. There’s a lot of best ways that cause them to lose their ship that could make for very different games. Plus, you have an antagonist right from the start.

  18. Brian Holland Yes, all that weird stuff would’ve happened to Conan living in Homer Simpson’s world. It would just be different weird stuff.

  19. Thanks Anne Ratchat. I agree, and feel it all comes down to expectations. I’m using the word “airship”, but my players are fully aware that what they’ll be dealing with are smaller, “pod-like” airships.

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