The Farsea Swamps

dooley's picture
A map of the Farsea swamp in current Faerunian canon.

As campaigns go, I have a few that I'm especially proud of for their place in my growth as a story teller.

With the end of the current storyline on the horizon, I am proud to say thus far I've expertly handled each plot point and respective pay off and am excited for the next few sessions and what they'll offer in emotional rewards.

When we watch movies, read books, understand poems, and hear music, our emotions are being compelled. These things give rise to something in each of us. Memories, trauma, joy, anguish, and so forth.

When, as an artist in any medium, you can evoke emotion of your viewer, listener, or in this case, player, you are affirmed I think, as an artist who is doing what an artist must, and expertly if you are aware of how and why that emotion is being evoked, or invoked.

I'm proud of how this campaign has turned out because I set out with a specific goal in mind but not a specific path of how to get there. I, like the players, had a point of origin and didn't know where the path ahead would take me. I would do my best to write to the needs of the players and the needs of my characters and their arcs but especially to the goals of the story and how that works back upon our players.

It can be challenging to provide players with a compelling experience every session, but that in itself is not necessary. Show up, do your best, don't be attached to the results. It behooves you to do your prep, be assured of the direction you wish to go, and do your damndest within reason to provide your players with ample reason, direction, pedigree, and ultimately agency that they choose to follow the story at hand rather than do their own thing as so many memes complain or make light of.

When we look at what a story is and how it should involve players, I have, I think found a great way of delivering to my table, the necessary points for building their own backstory within a framework that allows me the freedom to tell my story while letting them tell theirs.

So how did I do this in my current campaign?

The first thing I had in hand was a reason for everyone to work together. The characters in this case all work for a patron. When it comes to writing their characters, I set forth a simple set of tenets which includes: A) No orphans, B) No evil (any alignment is fine), and C) No external third party canon and UA is case by case.

Beyond that, players are told where their point of origin is and what that point of origin is but asked why and how they got their. They fill in those gaps with some point form at the least and we're off the the races.

Now the big trick in providing for your players, a reason to follow your story, lies in reviewing that material and working with it. Sometimes, despite reviewing the material, you may find yourself surprised.

In my current campaign a half orc character blind sided me off the start with the statement that they were motivated to seek out support for their tribe. I had read over the back stories and already had the idea that they were working with the patron as that fellow was in return providing their tribe with salves, draughts and ointments. It was a trivial thing to impress this upon the player to their surprise and pleasure, and thus that character and player both have a foothold in the world and story.

Along with the point of origin, what I do is provide my players with a few simple points on why they might be somewhere. In the case of my Siphoners campaign, one very simple reason it that they were looking for work and found it with the patron. Another is that they're hiding away from the world. There were several other options, including one who chose to be a native of the swamp, thus has difficulty communicating with humanoids, but has no issue navigating and communing with other swamp denizens.

Each of these players and their characters is addressed on a case by case basis but the trick is always to keep things broad and then focus on specifics that provide the player with the bare minimum they need to build upon.

A story teller that front loads their players with too much may stifle players, and then find themselves asking why the characters seem drab or bland.

It is important to remember where art and design sit apart in story telling and games mastering. Art, says something different to everyone who experiences it. Design, says the same thing to everyone who experiences it. Operating a tabletop game for a crew of players exercises both and you must always let your players express themselves as their story is not their story. Their interpretation of your story is in fact their story.

Philosophy aside, the key to a good story is the objective. Every good story should have a goal, and meaningful stages. Your job as the story teller is set the goals that you want to reach and ensure you provide the steps for your players to get there. In my campaign, the patrons business is threatened by a rival and the crew is tasked with delivering evidence of the rivals wrong doings to the lord of the region. Let's break this down. We have an organization the players have a meaningful foothold in, a clear and meaningful objective for the players, and a clear and meaningful opposition. In short, we have the beginning of a robust story where the players have the foundation for emotional investment.

It's easy to get lost in flowery talk when it comes to story telling. Philosophies, perspectives and pontificating run abound amidst those who fancy themselves the expert playwright and director. I'm not exception I suppose. I like to think though, that after a decade of running weekly semi public games, I have something to show for it.

As we move to finish out this campaign and start the next, I look forward to setting the plot points for my next few weeks and working through them with my players. Should be a good show!