What Do You Want to Run…

…but never do?

The other night, my wife and I were watching one of the old BBC Sherlock Holmes episodes (I still love Jeremy Brett as Holmes) and she was mentioning to me that she loves the stories where social propriety and status play a big role in how the story is shaped, how it plays out. I agree. I find those stories fascinating. And I’d love to run a game where that sort of thing really mattered. Combine that with the familiar refrain that I am currently without any gaming – a truly sad state of affairs – and I started thinking about all the campaigns I want/have wanted to run and just don’t/won’t.

1. I’d love to run a game set in a huge city where the players are all part of the very complicated apparatus of this city’s Thieves’ Guild (or guilds). Not that every player has to be a thief, you could have the bodyguards/heavies, the fences, the faces, even guild associated mages, nobles, etc. Personally, I find the idea of this amazing and would love to run this game – positioned in play style somewhere between Grand Theft Auto and Shadowrun in the way it would feel. I’ve had a stack of ideas for this game for a long time now but I don’t see myself ever actually running it…

2. I’d love to run a game that was basically what I describe as D&D meets the West Wing. I’ve actually started this game a few times… trying to set a group of player characters up in roles as young nobles in positions of value in a kingdom and giving them the freedom to devise their own plots while also dealing with outside threats. I had hoped when I began the Kingmaker AP that it would evolve into something like that… but it really doesn’t. I’ve started it from other beginning points as well but never been able to make it fly.

3. I want to run a war. A big war. A civilization-changing, nation-shattering, mind-blowing war. I’ve run games on the fringes of a war, or at the start of a war, or touching on a war… but never run just plain WAR. And that’s on my list of “games I want to run.” But every time I think about setting this game up I find myself pulling back from it because the way I envision it, I’m not sure I could ever make it work. And of the three games I’ve listed here, this is the only one that I blame on my interactions with rules… I’ve never found or been able to create a set of domain/mass combat rules that struck anything like the balance of rules that I want and that make it possible to actually feel good about running a domain level game. I’ve written about the domain-level game before and it honestly seems to me that narrative/fiat is really the only way to do it and not want to go around punching goblins in the face out of frustration…(which also means you’ve gone crazy enough to believe that you see goblins).

4. This one is incredibly silly, I know, but I would love to run a Masters of the Universe game. Like, totally over-the-top adventure with powers like “I have a really long neck and sensor abilities” or “I smash things with my head” or “I’m a bee-person.” Then there is that guy covered in scented moss…

Ultimately, there are a million campaign ideas… I’d love to run a lot of games and when I have the chance I do. But I think these have become my bucket list for the reason that I struggle with the knowledge that I want them to be really player-driven (well, except for #4) and I seem to be incredibly bad at convincing players that games should be this way… Player-driven play is pretty much what makes the games work for me as a player and a GM. It’s why I gravitate toward Amber, it’s why I’m currently sitting on the sidelines as a GM. I think – as well – that I gravitate toward a soap-opera style of play. I’m as concerned with the character’s inner lives as their outer ones. If we never “level” and spend three months playing talking-head relationship-building style sessions, I’ll be happy as a bug in a rug. But I also realize that I’m crazy and that most people would like that seesaw to swing both ways.

So – if you’re still with me, tell me – what do you want to run that you never have? Do you know why?

And as always, thanks for reading.


10 responses

  1. Honestly? I want to run Australia, but fantasy. PCs are all folks with [il]legitimate grievances against the Empire, are caught/captured at meeting of rebellion and banished over seas as a colony to sink or swim with a bunch of other malcontents.

  2. I’d love to run a game that emulates the old Dark Tower electronic board game, but with more of a FRPG immersion. Start out as minor champions, build a following, raid tombs and ruins looking for treasures, explore the wilderness, fight wizards and dragons, and finally storm the dark tower. Over the course of a day, a weekend, or an extended campaign.

    I’d also like to run a ‘Northern Marches’ type sandbox with a revolving cast of many players, who eventually start to scheme against each other.

    Oh, and something in ancient times with magic and monsters, sort of a Harryhausen epic, island-hopping, etc., like Jason & the Argonauts + Sinbad … Mazes & Minotaurs.

    But I keep running gonzo D&D campaigns instead (aiming for surrealism meets viking sagas, hitting stupid but fun…).

  3. Interesting question~ I’d like to run a Generation Game involving a large and widespread group of players, with no connection between the groups, in a shared world with a centuries long scope of play.

    I have forwarded the question to a slightly different audience, here:


  4. I’ve had the idea of running a campaign in an aquatic, aerial, or extraplanar setting in a way that allows real use of the third dimension.

    Most attempts at aquatic campaigns, for instance, just use a 2D map of the sea bottom showing undersea castles and caves, possibly paired with a map of the surface showing islands. But I’d like such a campaign to give the feeling of being able to travel through the depths as a continuous medium, rather than a vast undefined zone between the bottom and the surface in which the party will occasionally encounter a wandering monster.

    Aerial and extraplanar campaigns present a similar challenge.

  5. Wow. You guys are awesome. Those are some amazing campaign ideas. I love the exiles in a terrifying land idea… I love the idea of a game underwater but taking the third dimension into account.

    The whole concept of generational games is fascinating to me. I’ve had the chance to run games with PCs who were the children of the previous generation of PCs, and games where some players were playing children and some parents in the same game. I’ve never done it across vast swaths of time though… that would add a whole new element.

    I’m fascinated by the whole idea of running a game based on the old Dark Tower game… I still have my Dark Tower set (though the tower did finally give up the ghost…) and that board was always so interesting to just sit and stare at. It’s a crazy landscape.

    Thanks for the awesome comments… and a video response. It was all quite inspiring.

  6. Shannnon Lewis | Reply

    your 2. and 3. seem very much what you could do in A Song of Ice and Fire. It sets the players up for just that. Also Pendragon and Legends of the Five Rings provide platforms and frameworks to do that also. Consider looking as D&D’s War of the Burning Sky …there is an Atlas games one too called A Splintered Peace which I highly recommend.

  7. Shannon: I was thinking the same thing about A Song of Ice and Fire Role Playing. I have yet to run a game with this system, but I think it would work well overall for at least providing a basic structure to hang other things Micheal is using GM Fiat to do. It could be really cool with a very large group of players in multiple subgroups defining a living campaign world in a meaningful way. Consequences of War, politics, etc.

    I like the idea of running a game in a setting representing early Solar System colonization, like asteriod mining, rocketships, orbital elevators, etc.
    One neat experimental campaign I tried was to run a game where the players utlimately controlled multiple characters, but never simultaneously. I call it the “Ensemble Approach.” Each session could jump from party to party based on the immediate needs of the plot. The advantage was that I could cultivate a broad story with characters separated by thousands of miles, and yet give the players a satisfying story experience that the character’s themselves might not understand fully for some time. Another advantage is the character death can become not just a tragic consequence of mechanics, but also a necessary vehicle for telling the story, and because the players have multiple characters, character death is alittle less harsh.

  8. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve looked at Song of Ice and Fire and it is a neat game, but not one I see myself running… the world of Westeros is.. not really my idea of a fun game. That said, I know I could steal systems and run my own thing (it’s what I usually do anyway). I’m not really looking for another system for this kind of thing though… I made a habit of buying every game with a mass combat system or a domain system in it and it turns out that I’m better off without all that.

    Dave – that’s a fantastic and interesting idea. I can’t imagine doing it. I’m not really fond of games that “jump around” and prefer the tight focus on one small group of heroes but it could be a really cool experiment. I’m also just a “shrug and move on to the next thing” kind of player when it comes to PC death.

    Ah well.

  9. I’m with you totally on the first 3. I’ve had this idea in my head for years to recreate the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre from Dumas’ La Reine Margot in a fictional city with corresponding religious and social turmoil coming to a bubble and ending with weeks of bloodshed and running battles in the streets. It keeps getting mixed with the steampunk aesthetic of Castle Falkenstein (only not set in that world) with larger-than-life nobles, street urchins and thieves, musketeers (naturally) weird religious cults and a group of travelling wizards and low-key sorcery (magic is a virus). Oh, and flying ships, and trains with cannons on them.

    In my head it’s awesome, but I’m not sure I could ever pull off anything like it, and I doubt it’d be as much fun for the players since they always like to be at the centre of things, and this scenario requires events they can’t alter.

  10. It sounds awesome. I’ve often found that players don’t usually mind things that are out of their control – as long as it all feels right (and fair). Castle Falkenstein is an amazing game that sounds perfect for what you want to do. I’d actually also suggest Honor and Intrigue for this kind of game.

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