Changing Games, the ongoing struggle of a DM to please everyone.

I roleplay every Monday evening, barring an issue arising that means not enough players can turn up or that prevents me running a game. Monday evening is my game, it has been for 14 years now (although not always on a Monday) and so, with a few breaks here and there, I’m always the DM. I relish being a DM, I prefer it to playing, because I enjoy crafting the story, providing the challenges and defining the world.

Being the DM of a long running group, year in and out, has it’s problems though, not just the normal issues of making sure everyone shows up, remembering rules (or making fair judgements to keep the game flowing), even crafting stories, but problems that are not so easy to solve. One of those is what to do when a campaign comes to a close and it’s time to start something new?

As a DM I firmly believe that everyone at my table has a say in what we play and who plays. If we need to introduce a new player then I’ll make sure everyone is ok with it and, when it comes to starting a new game I want everyone to have a say in what we play. That can lead to some difficult choices because, as a DM, I have a style of game I feel I’m best at running and certain games/systems that I really want to run but that doesn’t always mesh with what the players want to play.

At present we are playing Numenera, specifically The Devils Spine and have been for about 9 months. We are nearing the end of the campaign now and, from the start, I made clear that this was a short term thing (though I grossly underestimated how long we’d be playing it). I’m not continuing with Numenera post Devils Spine and while I want to come back to the setting, I’m done with it for now.

So, as I always do when nearing the end of a campaign, I raised the subject of “what next?” to my players. The intention always was to go back to Shadowrun, which we played for the 2 years prior to Numenera, because the campaign I had for that setting was only partially done (up to and including the end of the Renraku Arcology plotline). However, I know that at least one of my Numenera group won’t play Shadowrun as he just didn’t get on with it and at least one other was seriously tiring of it by the end (half a dozen character deaths will do that too you). Ultimately Shadowrun split the group, some likes it’s minute detail while others found it overly bloated and time consuming. From a DM point of view, the one thing I have against Shadowrun is that it takes much more of my time to get ready for a session that practically any other game, simply because I work very hard to do the rich setting justice.

Now, I didn’t just want to take suggestions from the players as to what they want me to run, after all I should be having fun too and there are certain things that I really don’t want to run, Cthulhutech is one, the 40k games are others and I’m not much in the mood for something like Starblazer Adventures at the moment either. Conversely, there are things that I really do want to run, like Trail of Cthulhu’s Armitage Files, Pendragon’s Great Pendragon Campaign and WFRP’s The Enemy Within.

Now, while I like my players to have input, I feel that it’s more important that I really want to play whatever it is I’ll be running, otherwise there is a good chance that I’ll lose interest and do a shoddy job. For this reason I compiled a shortlist of the games I’d be prepared to run and asked for further suggestions from the group, in case someone pitched something that I really liked the idea of. My pitch to the players went like this-

Shadowrun, Year of the Comet, Wake of the Comet

Shadowrun, we’d go back to the 3rd ed campaign we were playing and pick up 8 months post Arcology and begin the Year of the Comet plotline with a view towards playing 2061-2064 and concluding with the System Shock adventure that ended 3rd edition.

Shadowrun 5th Edition, Dragon Edition, Front Cover

Shadowrun, we’d give 5th edition a shot, starting fresh in 2075. This would mean the players would likely have to be willing to learn another relatively complex system though as it doesn’t bear much resemblance to 3rd edition 9though slightly more than 4th edition does).

The Great Pendragon Campaign, cover

The Great Pendragon Campaign. We’d play the whole 85 years of the campaign from the reign of Uther through to after Arthur disappears at the Battle of Camlann. The group would play each play 3 generations of their own family of Landed Knights, founding their own Knightly dynasty within Dark Age Briton.

Trail of Cthulhu, The Armitage Files, covers

The Armitage Files. We’d play this in Trail of Cthulhu which is a Call of Cthulhu style game that uses a system named Gumshoe that is custom built for investigative games and relies much less on the luck that is so common on Call of Cthulhu. This is a really unique campaign in how it is set up and how it is played. This is, of all of the games suggestions, my personal preference because I think it’s just amazing and I think that my forte as a DM lies in horror style games.

Warhammer 3rd Edition, The Enemy Within, box cover

The Enemy Within for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition. This isn’t the classic WFRP campaign but a modern reimagining. It’s a simple game with minimal book-keeping and is similar in rules to both Decent and Imperial Assault. I’d go with a slightly friendlier chargen option that allowed the party to pick from a pool of classes together, rather than relying on pure chance.

There was a little bit of back and forth and I was actually a little surprised that only one player liked the idea of Pendragon, but the discussion went as I expected, with some voting for The Armitage Files and others for a return to Shadowrun, specifically to continue the 3rd ed campaign I was running. There was a general consensus, however, towards giving The Enemy Within a shot, both because it would involve significantly less work for me and because the original version has a reputation as being one of the greatest campaigns of all time.

So that appears to be what we are going with at this point, The Enemy Within for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition. My players had a hand in choosing it, no-one voted against it and the it’s one of my picks, so it actually manages to please everyone, although it’s no-ones first choice. That’s the compromise you have to make sometimes though, everyone getting their second pick is better than one or two getting their first and everyone else being lumped with something they don’t enjoy.

For me it works well enough. I prefer fantasy to sci-fi anyway, despite my love of Shadowrun, and I think the Warhammer World is grossly underestimated as a setting, having been significantly deeper and more interesting that 40k for a good number of years now. Obviously the campaign is pre End Times and so it’ll be in the Warhammer World that was, rather than whatever GW comes out with next. It’s a setting all of my players know, to some degree, and it has enough horror at its core for me to work with while remaining darkly funny at times.

It should be fun, I’m even thinking of trying to keep a campaign journal on the site for this one, updating my players exploits week by week and keeping count of the number of characters that a particularly unlucky player of mine goes through, just for fun, but we’ll see if I have time for that. I’ve got a few weeks left in the Ninth World for now and we need to see if my players survive the final chapter of The Devils Spine before I start tempting them with dark pacts, eldritch secrets and the whispers of Dark Gods while they investigate the greatest threat to the Empire, The Enemy Within.

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