When the Campaign is the Game

One thing that Blades in the Dark has really made me think about is fruitfully constraining the setting of a game.  The Blades setting is actually pretty big and I could think of a LOT of games I could fit within it (up to an including Exalted) but as written it ignores all of those options in favor of a very specific focus within a very specific setting.

The focus is not as small as it could be.  The variety of crew types and the size of the city both leave a lot of flexibility, but it’s still a fairly narrow slice, especially when compared to most setting driven RPGs. 

Now, I admit, this is counter to my instincts. I’m a kitchen sink guy.  I want to offer readers as many tools and options as possible, and that can be great for certain things, but it definitely comes at the cost of focus. If I do zoom in, it’s usually in an attempt at brevity, but it’s worth noting that Blades is not a concise book.  I kind of want to deliberately subvert my own instincts and see what designing at a verbose but tight zoom would produce.

My current thinking is that its skeleton would need to be something akin to a certain style of published adventure, specifically a certain style of campaign book which evolves a particular location.  I mean, I guess I could make a game that is explicitly designed to do the Slave Lords arc, but i genuinely don’t see how that would work very well, since it’s just a series of dungeons and dick moves. But more specifically I’m thinking about things like Pool of Radiance or Ruins of Intrigue, where there’s a specific place to play in, with content that unlocks over time.   I could very easily see narrowing a game down and saying “Here are the rules for doing this well.  There is more in the world, and maybe there are other conversations about that, but right now? We’re doing just this thing”. 

So now I’m thinking about other adventures that might work for this.  I mean, there’s probably a whole game to be distilled out of Keep on the Borderlands, but that game might be called “Basic Dungeons and Dragons”.  Dragon Heist is awesome, but I already have Blades and Dusk City Outlaws, so I’m kind of covered there. 

Going to have to go through the bookshelf for ideas, so with that in mind, suggestions are welcome.  Bear in mind, it doesn’t really matter if they’re good adventures (The Pool of Radiance module is…not) but rather that they’re structured in a way that seems like it could contain a whole game. 

7 thoughts on “When the Campaign is the Game

  1. Matt Popke

    Thing that springs to mind as a possible example: The Pathfinder Kingmaker adventure path.

    The Pathfinder adventure paths sometimes tend to throw in everything and the sink by the time they’re done, but this one stayed pretty focused on the act of colonizing a territory of wilderness.

  2. Wil

    I think the Tribe 8 Cycle books kind of fit the bill. Sure, they’re mostly driven by the need to advance the game’s metaplot but thematically they were each different enough that they could have been games into their own right.

  3. Staffan

    The Dark Sun adventure Freedom! perhaps? It’s an adventure that starts with the PCs being enslaved for various things and forced to work on Kalak’s ziggurat while trying to make allies among other slaves and dealing with factions (the Veiled Alliance, the Templars, gladiator stables, other slaves with various opinions, nobles). At the end, the adventure turns into more of a disaster movie – lots of big things happening as a backdrop to the PCs own presumed heroism. As D&D adventures go, it’s fairly distinct.

  4. Staffan

    Oh, and an example of something that I think is a good example of what the end product could look like: Mutant Year Zero. It’s explicitly about post-apocalyptic survival, and the mechanics mercilessly reinforce scarcity and things breaking down, while at the same time having a small ray of hope. I mean, it’s a game where you roll each session to see how many NPCs in the PCs’ home base die off-screen due to starvation, rot (=radiation), violence, or whatever. That’s pretty harsh.

  5. Gerald Cameron

    So it’s kind of similar territory to Blades, but so think taking a slice of politics in the late (pre-Julius Caesar) Roman Republic (not coincidentally, the period covered by History of Rome and Revolutions podcasted Mike Duncan’s book The Storm Before the Storm) would make a good zoomed focus game. Then again I’ve been craving a good politics RPG for ages. It’s the one game I would be sorely tempted to design if I could figure it out and/or had a playstorming tolerant group.


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