Do I miss my online campaign?
I must confess, I thought the online campaign was a disaster. I had two agendas in mind when I started the campaign first on this blog before carrying it on to the other. The first was to demonstrate my technique as a dungeon master. The second, to have fun. I enjoy running games ... I thought I could enjoy it online.
Neither agenda came to fruition. I do not think this was anyone's 'fault.' I realized a few months into it that the necessary information could not be made available to the players to act upon primarily because of the limited nature of the back and forth. With discussion between player and DM being limited to a few sentences exchanged in the period of a day or two, players were being forced to decide the actions of their characters almost entirely in the dark. Players weren't comfortable with this, and as such either made extremely reluctant, conservative decisions, or tried to 'shake things up' by doing something flagrantly reckless. It was the methodology of delivery - lack of my voice, lack of my ability to offer reassurance and the lack of easily asked and answered questions that drove the campaigns in the direction they took - or in no direction at all.
In person, people are much more willing to ask twenty questions to get detailed answers, but after three or four questions online people began to apologize for asking too many questions. My reassurances that this was not a problem did not change the natural reluctance. When the number of questions can be seen, their presence is noted and it has an inhibiting quality.
At points, the exchanges did become light and comfortable, but once the immediate situation changed, the momentum was lost. I could not find a solution for sustaining it.
My campaigns are built largely on sustaining a set of sequences that lead to increased tension and frustration. In my present campaign offline, the party found a burrow hole, which led to a containment chamber for a horrible monster, which turned out to be the pet of a group of humans, who were discovered to be a thieves' guild, who were not quite all killed but from whom clues were learned about something the party was looking for, which has initiated a grand chase across the European continent in an attempt to catch a ship in Hamburg before that ship leaves port. How the ship figures into the whole matter is an utter mystery, but the party understands that if they don't want to lose the very indefinite thread of the object's acquisition, they MUST catch that ship. This is how I build adventures.
I was able to do something similar with the death of Jan in the online campaign. The party catches a coach, meets two people on the coach, gains odd clues about their behavior, are caught up in the events of a fire, which causes the party to be separated. The sudden knowledge that one of the two strange travellers is a dangerous charlatan, and that the other might be a wanted assassin, leads to a frenzied chase across the country to try to catch the coach in time, ending in a roadside battle that unfortunately does not prevent the death of a trusted friend. It worked quite well for awhile ... but after the death of the friend, there was no immediate place to take things. Normally, I might have had time to keep the party interested as they developed other plans, ultimately instigating the two criminals back into their lives ... but overall, online, this would take far too long. I never was able to keep things going otherwise to retain a positive dramatic track.
Online blogging is just too stale a format. Players and DM can dismiss a responsibility to post too easily, and it is that dismissal that drags something simple into a dull, boring month-long process. I don't feel that I was able to demonstrate my skills as a dramatic ringmaster to any degree that could be really understood by readers - or show how those skills, if emulated, could raise the quality of a reader's campaign.
Secondly, it just wasn't any fun. I was forced to write lengthy descriptions of things that didn't matter, which offline would take a minute or two. Online, it was ten minutes of careful writing, knowing that every word would be examined and re-examined. Offline, it is possible to throw out a casual word and not have it taken as gospel. Online, that's not possible. I had to carefully write and rewrite so as to not say something that was going to prove incorrect later. It was dull, difficult and annoying. Though its something I might do for a novel, or any artwork I appreciated, it seemed like far to much effort for a casual description of an unimportant NPC's behavior.
When things got dull, I began to loathe these descriptions. I knew they were the thing that was killing the pleasure for me. With the long, drawn out description of the little keep that would need to be renovated - requiring the description to be intense - I just hit my personal wall. After that, I didn't want to play any more. I don't think I quite knew that was the reason ... but it was certainly the breaking point, as I can see the whole picture now.
So no, I don't miss the online campaign. I haven't felt any strong need to initiate it again. A couple of months ago I was in a marvelous room, however. Let me explain it.
This was for my place of work. The conference table was 8 feet deep and about 15 feet long, in a great oval. On one side of the table were chairs, and on the other side, three wide-screen TVs. Each TV featured people sitting at a similar table in different parts of the country. The size of the TV meant that we were all lifesize, and were all effectively sitting at the table together. And the whole time of the meeting, I could only think of how this would work for D&D. I began calculating how much it would cost to build the room, how many rooms throughout Canada and the United States could be built and how much to charge per hour to let D&D players use it.
Because, I will tell you, there are four or five people I would love to play with, if it wasn't the damn hassle of them not living in the same city as me.
So far, I'm not impressed by skype. Tiny monitors, can't see people's whole bodies, have to muck about with cheap mics and cameras ... not quite perfect, is it?
The future is not coming fast enough for me.