This week, my Shattered Star campaign turned two-years old! In a surfeit of celebration, we had cake.
The anniversary makes it—I think—my second longest running campaign. I’m chuffed (that’s English for proud). Inevitably, it’s got me thinking about the campaign. (Imagine me wearing a suave smoking jacket, clutching a glass of malt whiskey sitting in front of a roaring fire thinking deep game-related thoughts).
We started play on 25 February 2015. Since then, we’ve had 78 sessions and seven permanent PC deaths. (Three other PCs died, but subsequently got better.) Two players have left the campaign and two have joined.
The Shattered Star campaign is itself an outgrowth of my Borderland of Adventure campaign which ran for 79 sessions between October 2011 and July 2014. This means, excepting a brief break when a chum ran us through a dungeon to give me a break, we’ve been gaming in and around Ratik for the best part of six years. (More when you consider the Borderland of Adventure campaign was itself an off-shoot of my Kingmaker campaign which ended in not one but two rather bloody TPKs).
Anyway, the party has just completed the third adventure in the series, The Asylum Stone, as well as a couple of sidetreks (the truly excellent Carrion Hill and the pretty good if you ignore the gaping plot hole From Shore to Sea) as well as other little bits and bobs.
This means we’ve still got a couple of years to go before the heroes complete (or fail) their quest! What’s particularly cool for me is that this is the campaign in which my son started playing (back in session 10). He was 11 at the time, but is now about to turn 13. He’ll likely be 15 by the time we finish! How many other games could you play which would span a quarter of your life?
It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
The campaign has not been all sunshine and rainbows, however. Generally, we’ve had fun, but as a GM I have not been 100% successful. I’ll explain.
Part of the reason for running an adventure path was that I’m unable to spend enough time to create whole new adventures from scratch. Using an adventure path was meant to be a time-saving mechanic. And in that it worked.
But, I got lazy.
I’ve previously gone on record that I loath with the blazing power of 1,000 fiery suns the proliferation of options in today’s game. When we started the campaign, we decided to keep it core only to keep a handle on option bloat and power creep. But, as we’ve progressed it seems the designers added in more and more non-core races, classes, magic times and such like. Some totally made sense in regards to the story. Other times, it basically looked like someone thought, “I’m going to use every new undead creature in Bestiary 2” because they are all awesome.
And I left (most of) them in.
It turns out some of these monster were unduly tough. The playing field was not level, and it affected game play.
Luckily, we are all adults (except, of course, my son). Several sessions ago, we had a constructive conversation about what was and what was not working. It should not come as a huge shock to most readers that I’m a huge fan of looking to continual improve my gaming skills. I welcome these discussions as—shockingly—my GMing skills are not perfect. I got a lot out of it, and I’m glad we had the conversation.
Forward to the Future
As I cast my sinister GM’s eye over the next three modules in the series, I’m going to be making some changes.
One of the main complaints/observations I got from the players was that the adventures were very much a railroad. Of course, it’s an adventure path so that’s somewhat the point, but one of the dungeons in The Asylum Stone was particularly bad. You literally went from room to room with no meaningful choice about how to proceed. Most of the module also had a very odd mix of monsters, which made little sense to the players. That will be changing.
I think I’d lost sight a little bit of the over-arching theme of the campaign: the heroes are searching for the Shattered Star. With they hope to be able to break or reduce the power of Demogorgon’s death knights, and thus save Ratik. I need to keep that in mind as I craft and/or modify upcoming encounters.
The Final Word
I’ve had loads of fun over the last two years. Hopefully the next two years will be even more fun.
If there’s one thing running the Shattered Star has taught me it’s that it is worth checking in with the players from time to time. The plays the thing after all. Given we’ve spent roughly 312 hours thus far retrieving the various parts of the Shattered Star its worth making sure we all enjoy the next 300 hours.
If you are a GM, I encourage you to check in on what your players think of the game, from time to time. I’m not talking about obsessively searching for validation and praise. But remember, Rule Zero: the point is to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you are essentially wasting your time.