Mr. Moffat and the Art of Campaign Design

Bit of a mouthful the title, I know, but I’m directing a few grey cells at the moment to the question of campaign design as we slowly, incrementally head back to the gaming table after our long summer hiatus.

Mr. Moffat? Well I’d imagine that most people from the gaming world are familiar with the writer of the present Doctor Who series at least by name. He seems to polarise the fans a little, some hate him and others adore his work. I’m afraid I’m in the adoration camp. I think his conclusion of the Amy Pond arc was fitting and masterful.

Which brings me to the point I want to make – story arcs. As I see it there are essentially three ways of running a non-sandbox campaign:

  1. Stringing chapters together in a campaign

    A series of unlinked adventures

  2. A series of semi-linked adventures with touches of story arc
  3. A series of linked adventures along a story arc

Option 1 is the lazy one; just pick up or write a number of scenarios or adventures loosely hung together in a particular setting.

Option 2 is what I’m calling the ‘Moffat option’ – a series of episodes in the same setting, some connected, others not, but with parts of an overriding story arc connecting them, such as the River Song story in Doctor Who. This happens to be one of my favourite story lines ever in DW, partly due to the superb tongue-in-cheek characterisation by Alex Kingston. She doesn’t crop up in every episode and where she does, her story isn’t always the main part of the plot. But there have been other examples of this – David Tennant’s Bad Wolf, the Drumming and the Crack to name but three. Obviously Mr. Moffat wasn’t the first person to come up with this idea – episodic series are rife with such story arcs, but his are better than most (IMO).

Crack in Space and Time

Option 3 is a custom written single story line with little or no deviation from the central tale with one adventure more or less seamlessly fuguing into the next. This requires a lot of custom work from the GM or the ability to work on the fly (which I don’t possess).

I’m struggling at the moment between options 2 and 3. As a GM with a story to tell, my natural inclination is to go with The Moff – a series of semi-autonomous adventures with an over-reaching story that impinges on the players every now and then leading to a grand finale. On the other hand, I recognise the desire of my players for a more obvious story line that they can follow. My ‘touches’ are proving to be too subtle and in the absence of a lot of between-game discussion are tending to be missed. Story arc light works well when there is a lot of discussion between episodes, as there is in the online Doctor Who community (or so my wife informs me ;)).

So my inventive energy is going to be directed at pushing myself from option 2 to option 3 without breaking the game.

About Mike Page

I’m a Christian, a father, a husband, a biochemist (PhD), a photographer, a gardener, a lover of good rock music, food wine and beer, an ex-pat, a lousy pianist and a patent examiner.
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